Outward calm masks Poles' growing feeling of anxiety
For Poles, these are strange days. Outside this country, the air is thick with Western reports and speculation about the Soviet military buildup in East Germany on the country's western border and stern words from the East-bloc about its diffident steps toward reform.Skip to next paragraph
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Here, everything is quiet, calm -- and "normal" in the special meaning of the word for Poles.
Shops are full, but no fuller than usual. Howsewives still spend a large part of their day seeking to circumvent the shortages afflicting most basic foodstuffs and good. There is scant sign of Christmas fare. The extra stocks promised for the holiday season are slow in coming.
Papers carry nothing about Western concern over Soviet intentions. But Poles , particularly in the towns, know about it from foreign broadcasts. There is no visible sign of alarm.
But growing private disquiet has begun to show through among both officials and ordinary Poles. This comes less than a week after people seemed to be mildly hopeful that the country was at last getting a chance to resume normal work.
The official line on Western speculation about Soviet military moves and their possible meaning is that it is "helping to create an atmosphere of tension" -- making Poland's sensitive position even more sensitive. There has been a more direct reaction here to the dispatch from the Soviet news agency Tass Dec. 8, which alleged that "counterrevolutionaries" were manipulating some of branches of the Solidarity trade union movement into open confrontation with the Polish Communist Party.
A report, datelined Warsaw, drew a sharp denial both from official sources and from party and Solidarity union members. Further concern over the Tass statement was reflected in the Polish press, including Trybuna Ludu.
The party newspaper gave front-page prominence to a report on "place of work" -- a day-to-day review of what is going on in industrial plants formerly shut down by strikes.
Tuesday's review focused on Kielce, the town where Tass alleged that unionists at one factory had thrown out management and communist guards. Party workers at industrial plants in the town were having no difficulties, the report said. "Rhythmic work" was going on despite energy shortages. Workers at the controversial factory itself were quoted as saying, "everything is proceeding peacefully and effectively and not the least factor in this is the activity of Solidarity."
Western observers here saw the Tass move as extremely disquieting. The Russians have said similar things about Solidarity almost from the start. But this time the charges came against a background of declared efforts by both the party and Solidarity to cooperate in the titantic task of getting Poland moving again. Moreover, they followed the Warsaw Pact's pledge of support for the Polish leadership at a meeting in Moscow last week.
NATO military attaches traveling trhough the country --within the limits of East-West agreements -- report no signs of any unusual military activity.
The only report of unusual activity comes from college campuses: East German and Czechoslovak students have been called home. This certainly is intended more to insulate them from ideas of independent trade unions or other reforms than because of some pending military emergency.
There are no doubts here -- even among Poles -- that the Russians have carried out an unusual degree of military buildup and activity across the borders. Most Western observers, however, are still skeptical of an invasion, at least of an imminent one.
The broad assessment is that the military buildup and the Tass ploy to paint Solidarity with a counterrevolutionary brush are both part of Moscow's psychological pressure to remind Poles that Moscow holds the final say in its affairs.
There is not much more the Polish leadership can do other than try to strengthen the impression that it is really in charge. It is a situation in which neither the party nor Solidarity has any option but to work with the another. most observers believe the party is, in fact, slowly asserting control.