A drive by Czechoslovakia to modernize its economy through increased Eastern Bloc trade and continued central planning is proving a glaring contrast to the economic experiments of its Communist neighbors at a time when the region's reformers face uncertain relations with Moscow.
In contrast to such neighbors as Hungary, Poland or East Germany, Czechoslovakia's Communist authorities are drawing up a new five-year plan that excludes market-oriented changes in the orthodox socialist economic model or reliance on western trade for new machines and technology.
Instead, the administration of veteran leader Gustav Husak is redirecting trade from West to East and pressing for increased integration of Soviet Bloc economies while preparing only modest changes in the central economic administration.
"As far as the economy is concerned, Czechoslovakia is a country that doesn't rush into things," government spokesman Frantisek Kouril said. "We don't consider all these reforms a wonder. We would like to get our modern machines by division of labor among the Comecon countries." Comecon is the Soviet Bloc's common market.
"I can tell you that our experience with the experiments of Poland and Hungary is not positive," said Vaclav Vertelar, the first vice president of the state planning commission. "We are convinced that for us it is not the way."
At the same time, Prague officials said they are preparing a series of changes in management of industries that would represent a significant relaxation of the central command system. Kouril said the aim will be to raise productivity of factories by increasing the responsibility of local managers for investments and production plans.
Beginning next January, Kouril said, factories will be allowed to keep a considerable part of their profits and will be responsible for drawing up their own investment projects. At the same time, production plans in many industries will be determined by contracts between producers and suppliers, rather than a central bureaucracy.
"Only several key products will be centrally planned," Kouril said. "Nobody's going to say to anybody how many nails to produce."
No longer, Kouril said, will industries' investment money be drawn from the central state budget. All firms will be expected to generate profits, and managers who fail will be removed.
"We intend to promote more young managers," he said. "The generation that has managed our economy during the last 20 years can't get used to the problems of today."
Western diplomats said these steps, not yet publicized in the official press, would be a significant move toward reform for the Prague leadership if fully implemented. But they noted that the government appears divided on the question of reform, and hard-liners have blocked such action in the past.