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Poland promotes a general

February 11, 1981



With every lurch of the Polish ship of state, the world's heart skips a beat. The ouster of the prime minister -- the fourth such change in less than a year -- is naturally cause for concern. But it is not cause for alarm. The Polish leadership clearly is trying to gain control of the current situation without, however, abandoning the push for economic reforms. The appointment of Defense Minister Wojciech Jarozelski as prime minister signals a firmer government hand in the face of growing industrial unrest and will therefore please the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact allies. At the same time it promises a continued reformist posture. President Kania has in effect strengthened his hand against hard-liners within the communist party.

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Poland's well-wishers abroad will be relieved to know that General Jarozelski , a law- and-order man, is nonetheless regarded as a moderate in political terms. From 1976 on he has argued against the use of troops to restore labor peace. One report credits him with warning the Polish Politburo in that year that "Polish soldiers will not fire upon Polish workers." Another has him telling the party after the August 1980 strikes that far-reaching economic changes were essential to internal stability. This gives hope that, while the threat of the use of force will now hang more pointedly over the Polish scene, the worker and party "revolution" will go forward.

Are the Polish people going too far? Outsiders must sometimes think they are as they hear of more and more strikes, ultimatums from the Solidarity free trade union movement, demands for a farmer union (denied), and now stirrings from the hitherto-quiet students. How much can the Russians tolerate? it is asked. Yet , to everyone's astonishment, the juggernaut of reform moves on. There is no doubt that Poland's workers have a legitimate cause in their attack on the corruption polluting the whole way of life in Poland and on the party officials, from top to bottom, who enjoy lavish perquisites at the expense of the proletariat they are supposed to serve.

Yet Solidarity leader Lech Walesa walks a difficult line in the ongoing struggle with the party. Radicals in the free unions, out of either mistaken activism or their own political ambitions, could undermine the whole movement by pressing too far. Students, without the experience of Poland's history behind them, could also ignite a Soviet crackdown. The landowning farmers, for their part, if they do not rest content with forming an association rather than a union, could similarly overtax the Kremlin's patience.

While the Polish people themselves must tread carefully -- just as the Roman Catholic Church has prudently kept a low profile -- the Polish party too has a profound responsibility. The recast Kania government must persuade the workers and indeed all Poles that it will carry out genuine reforms, reforms aimed at building a system that is economically efficient and, if politically Marxist, at least law-abiding and honest. The Poles have lived with lies for decades and they can be pardoned their cynicism. Whether the party can respond to the nation's yearnings for change on the side of truth, openness, and rationality is the fundamental question.

The opportunity for doing so is at hand. It would be tragic if it were lost. The encouraging factor at the moment is that Mr. Kania seems to understan d this.