WASHINGTON — In what a U.S. participant called "an extraordinary concession never formally made before," a Soviet delegation to a conference here of experts on Eastern Europe has effectively recognized that Josef Stalin imposed Communist hegemony on that key political region after World War II.
The Soviets, led by Oleg T. Bogomolov of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, implicitly acknowledged that the Kremlin had violated the Yalta agreement's promise of free elections in the six nations--Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria--that became Soviet buffers from the Baltic to the Aegean.
The concession, said Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser in the Carter Administration, vindicates much of the Western view that the Soviet takeover of East Europe largely initiated the Cold War.
"We now have growing agreement about the important facts of that time," Brzezinski added, "although we still disagree about their implications."
The Soviet acknowledgement comes at a time when the nation, spurred by leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, has embarked on radical economic and political reforms.
The convergence of views on the Eastern Europe issue is more than academically interesting, for the scholars on both sides are influential figures in the Soviet and U.S. governments. Agreement on the basic causes of conditions in Eastern Europe could make resolution of differences there easier.
There is growing anxiety about unrest in the region that could be harmful for the superpower relationship today.
"East Europe is gradually sliding into a classic pre-revolutionary situation," Brzezinski told a luncheon meeting of the conference last week. "Politically, it is becoming more volatile while its economies decline. The people are restless while the bureaucracies are demoralized and fearful.
"I'm not predicting upheaval, but the objective and subjective conditions exist for it," he added. "And a revolutionary explosion in East Europe is not in anyone's interest."
Some new basis for the Warsaw Pact--"geopolitical rather than ideological"--should be sought in which Soviet security is assured while East Europeans have greater political and economic independence, he said.
The Soviet experts, while accepting that Soviet rule was imposed on the region except for Yugoslavia and perhaps Albania, adamantly refused to take the next logical step. They refused to admit that the legitimacy of those Communist regimes in Eastern Europe is in question if those governments were not freely chosen by the people.
This issue produced the most heated argument between U.S. and Soviet delegates to the conference, which was sponsored by the International Research and Exchanges Board.
"If we open the question of legitimacy," Bogomolov said, "the West will see it as an excuse to try to change those regimes, and that would violate the Helsinki accords (of 1975), which provide for non-interference" in the affairs of European states.
The Soviet delegates refused to accept responsibility for rectifying Stalin's mistakes and for brutal postwar events such as the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush reform movements there.
Citing Gorbachev's current policies, Bogomolov said it is "unacceptable, unthinkable," that the Soviet Union would ever again take such actions. But he refused to judge those past actions as wrong, and he said that the Kremlin will not try to undo their effects or those made by the Stalinist economic and political models.
Bogomolov, who is director of the Soviet Academy's Institute of Economics of World Socialist Systems, offered no way to rectify the current problems in the region, although he hinted that the United States and Western Europe should now help bail out East European regimes whose economic systems have largely failed.