Through the new opening in the Iron Curtain, hundreds of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are coming to the Washington area.
Many are arriving in Rockville and in Montgomery, Prince George's and Arlington counties, where church and government social service programs have helped to settle more than 750 families from Eastern Bloc countries in recent months.
They are people like Nich Dilaneci, who now lives in Greenbelt. He left his native Romania after Nicolae Ceausescu's brutally oppressive regime was overthrown last December.
Dilaneci, 25 and single, jumped at the chance to live with relatives here. Now he is trying to learn English and savors life in a society where stores are full of choices and the government doesn't frighten him.
"Here you don't worry about the basic things," Dilaneci said.
Many others are Soviet Jews who have been assisted by the Jewish Social Service Agency and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, both based in Rockville.
U.S. immigration officials say that although the flow of Soviet Jews and Albanians through this country's refugee programs is expected to continue, the number of refugees from other nations in the region is expected to slow soon.
Moves toward democracy in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland have led U.S. officials not to accept any more applications from people seeking to come here as refugees.
The United States grants refugee status to people who are persecuted because of their political beliefs or their religion; most others seeking to come here must have relatives or a job waiting in this country.
Ivan Karonkova, 46, came to Prince George's County last fall from Prague. He had wanted to join family members here for years and was eager to leave when political change opened his homeland's doors last year.
"It was the chance of a lifetime," said Karonkova, an artist. "I had to come."
Often, more than one generation of a family arrives here at the same time. Soviet refugee Alisa Shestopalova, 35, moved to Arlington in April with her 10-year-old daughter, Lidya, and Shestopalova's 60-year-old mother, Galina Kogan.
They found an apartment in South Arlington with the help of a Jewish resettlement agency that also helped to support the family during a frustrating three months while Shestopalova, an architect, hunted for a job.
She recently began work as a draftsman with a Connectict Avenue firm, and although she is relieved to have found work in her field, her situation mirrors that of many Eastern Europeans and Soviets when they first come here.
"I want to be an architect, but this is a start. It's been a nervous time," Shestopalova said.
"You have a lot of proud, educated people who have to settle for lower-skill jobs at first," said Graham Taylor, supervisor of the county's refugee services program in Prince George's. "But for the most part, they are in a better position to succeed than most people who come here."
Roberta Drucker, director of the Jewish Social Services Agency's resettlement program, agreed that most of those who come from Eastern Bloc countries arrive well educated. The agency is part of a system that has resettled 500 immigrant families in the past year and is expected to handle another 500 in the coming year.
The key for them is learning how to adapt their professional skills to a capitalist culture, she said.
"They come here not knowing what it means to work hard to get ahead, and when they realize they can move up the ladder by doing good work, it's like a light bulb going off," she said. "They're flabbergasted that they can make more money."
A favorite story of Taylor's is about a Soviet couple -- he's a chemist, she's a biologist -- who came to Prince George's recently with only a few possessions.
The county agency helped the couple get jobs and a place to live, and 30 days after their arrival, they had a household income of about $40,000 a year.
"Only in America," Taylor said with a laugh.