WARSAW, JAN. 2 -- For the first time in months, there were no miles-long lines of private cars waiting to buy gasoline in Bulgaria today.
Not because there was suddenly lots of gasoline. There was not. Not because the government had decided to charge real-world prices for gasoline, instead of the 55 cents a gallon it now charges. It had not.
No, the reason there were no lines at Bulgarian gas stations today was that the government announced it was suspending gasoline sales for two weeks.
In Poland today, on the other hand, there were very long lines for gasoline. Not because there was a gasoline shortage. There was not. Not because the government was afraid to charge real-world prices for gasoline. It was not -- the price soon will be $2 a gallon for premium.
No, the reason there were long lines at Polish gas station today was that the government had announced that prices were going up Monday.
Conditioned by decades of Communist queuing, Poles lined up to outfox the government. By spending two to five hours, they could save about 80 cents on a tank of gas.
Looking to the future in Bulgaria -- a former East Bloc country where free-market reform has gone nowhere -- the gasoline-supply forecast is grim to very grim. The gulf crisis and a decision in the Soviet Union to charge real-world prices for gasoline has seen to that. Moscow relented slightly over the weekend. It will trade 6.5 million tons of gasoline -- about a third of Bulgaria's annual need -- for fork lifts and other manufactured goods. How bankrupt Bulgaria can afford to buy the rest is a depressing question.
Looking to the future in Poland -- where economic reform is surging onward -- the gasoline-supply forecast is fair to middling.
There is enough hard-currency from booming export earnings to buy high-priced gasoline from the Soviets and from the West. Prices will go up and up again -- until they reach the $3 to $4 a gallon now being charged in Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
Until then,, regardless of supply, there will be long lines, as Poles outfox the government, waste their workdays and save 80 cents.