Moderation on both sides lifts Poland from crisis to uneasy truce
It is still an uneasy truce in Poland. But it was won ultimately by a mutual demonstration of moderation in which the hard-pressed communist government and the free trade union movement may now find it that much easier to live with each another.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee due to open in Warsaw today could mark a forward move for the reform program sparked by the August strikes and based on the terms on which they were settled.
If it does, it could mean a significant step away from the present shared distrust to the a partnership that both the government and the new unions with their massive worker following need if Poland is to come to grips with its crisis.
The committee plenum is a follow-up to the one that three months ago made a number of changes in the top leadership, including that of its first secretary. But that meeting failed to secure a conclusive majority among the committee members for the party's new program.
Since then, three months of continued labor unrest -- punctuated by crises that repeatedly brought the regime and unions to the brink of outright confrontation -- have kept divisions within the party alive, despite the removal of a score of known hard-line provincial government and party chiefs.
A week ago, the government was faced with the threat of a strike throughout the big industrial region around Warsaw in an angry worker response to the arrest and detention of two union activists involved in the leak and publication of a sensitive official document on Poland's various dissident groups.
The Solidarity union was not mentioned in the document, nor was its nationally accepted leader, Lech Walesa.
But such was the mood among the unions that the document was seen nontheless as an endeavor to establish a linkage between Solidarity and the dissidents despite the union's formal disavowal of a political role, or of any other role at all outside its basic unionism. At its 11th hour, however, a compromise was reached through concessions by the government, including the two men's release and an undertaking to negotiate on other issues, and moderation on the part of the unions, thanks to Mr. Walesa's intervention at a point when the militants in the Warsaw region looked very intransigent.
It was something of a victory for restraint and common sense on both sides. It seemed to set a new scenario in which the party committee plenum could be convened with a show of greater confidence. Its outcome could be enhanced authority for the new leadership, with the party as a whole brought more solidly behind its "renewal" program.
For its part, the union again demonstrated its tremendous hold among the workers. But still more important is the strength of the more moderate voices, represented primarily by Solidarity's national chairman, Lech Walesa, as opposed to those who some observers think have been "pushing things too fast and too far."
When Mr. Walesa counseled the workers and unions at large "not to risk everything we have gained by presenting excessive demands," it was a relief to a hard-pressed government.
He was, in effect, saying what the party itself would like to say, but at this stage the words carry a lot more weight coming from him than they would from the Communist Party.
But Mr. Walesa was speaking, too, for the many ordinary Poles who, however inured they might have become to political crisis these past few months, have begun to feel that the next one could prove to be the worst and the one most feared for external reasons.
What it meant for the regime was implicit in the leading article in Trybuna Ludu, the Communist Party daily, at the weekend. It admitted the internal party differences and that there were some opposed to reform of any kind and others who would go too far, that is, possibly infringing on the party's "leading role." That possibility is what lies at the crux of Soviet criticism and fears.
But now, the paper asserted, a majority within the party is committed to the promised process of deep changes that nonetheless will still safeguard the "socialist" character of the Polish system and society.
So confident a statement can only mean that a further substantial shake-up at and near the top leadership levels will result from today's meeting.
Already a score of regional government and party chiefs have been removed, and others are destined to follow. Changes are expected to be made in the party Politburo to bring in new men uncompromised by the social indifference and neglect of the previous regime and who are able to wield considerable influence and command confidence in the country's key industrial areas.
The general trend in the country as a whole and the will and pressure for change seemed highlighted by some of the least reported events of last week.
The release of two Solidarity detainees, who had been arrested because of a document on dissidents removed from the state prosecutor's office and then displayed in the factories, was achieved on the initiative of a "liberal" communist commentator, Stefan Bratkowski. Only a few weeks earlier Mr. Bratkowski was elected chairman of the Polish Journalists' Association after a "renewal" clean-out of its formerly slavishly pro-regime leadership.