New mood in Poland as people welcome 'strong' government
The new Polish government is suddenly enjoying a measure of public confidence none of its recent predecessors managed to achieve. It is a confidence that would have been unthinkable even a week or so ago.Skip to next paragraph
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The team brought together by Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski has been generally welcomed. His first policy statement seemed to bring an immediate sense of relief. His appeal for 90 days free of social disruptions and strikes sparked a new mood. Even Poles themselves, who tend to be highly skeptical, admit the change in atmosphere.
In particular, there is a widespread feeling that this new government "must be given a chance" to prove itself. That alone is an achievement -- especially since one of the first things General Jaruzelski told the nation was that some of the social improvements promised in last summer's strike settlements will have to be weighed anew against the realities of Poland's still-deteriorating economic situation.
Housing is one likely case in point. Talk of reducing the present chronic shortage in five years instead of 10 was clearly impracticable all along. Only a very short time ago, however, any hint to tht effect would have sparked instant angry response.
How the planned ressessment works out in practice remains to be seen. For the time being, the review idea has passed without comment. Solidarity spokesman Karol Modzelewski has said the union will support the government even in unpopular decisions forced by economic circumstance, if the union is respected as a full partner.
Poles seem the sense they now have a "strong" government that means to govern -- without repression and instead with a genuine endeavor to come to terms with the national feeling represented by the workers and public opinion at large.
For the first time in six months of seemingly intractable disputes, the government, the union, and the Roman Catholic Church are all saying pretty much the same thing: that industrial peace is in the interest of individuals as well as the nation, and that, in the present spirit, it is even attainable.
Farmers, pondering the court ruling that they may form "associations" based on their interests but not a trade union in the real sense of the term, are still restless. Talks between protesting farmers and a government commission in Rzeszow resumed Tuesday when it was determined that the commission was, indeed, empowered to sign an agreement.
On the same Tuesday evening, the government appeared also to have reached an agreement with students which is likely to prevent the protests of the past few days mushrooming into the previously threatened nationwide student strike. The regime accepted registration of an independent student union and in return the students backed down on two other demands.
Meanwhile, Solidarity has given the government a considerable fillip by welcoming the premier's statement as creating "a new chance" for real dialogue between the regime and the nation.
Solidarity spokesman Modzelewski, in an interview front-paged by Warsaw's biggest daily, Zycie Warszawy, rejected accusations that the independent union had wanted to create a duality of power in Poland.
"This was not so," he said. "There was a crisis of power because the authorities were unable to adjust to the changes in the country. Instead, it was trying to confront us with faits accomplis and that, in fact, only weakened the government itself."
The news media have shown increasing freedom of content, and have been less impeded by censorship than for a long time. But the union is not satisfied with its degree of direct access to the media, and this will come up during fresh talks with the government this Thursday.
But the prominence given Mr. Modzelewski's interview seemed to indicate a more accommodating official attitude to Solidarity's demand that it be allowed to present its views in the national media and not merely its own publications, including a weekly newspaper to be launched next month.
In a statement last week, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church upheld the farmers' "natural right" to form "professional associations." But at the same time they echoed Pope John Paul II's call to all sides in Poland's labor disputes to exercise responsibility and restraint.
One unofficial Catholic source said the church would be ready to give "very effective support" to the government on the course the new premier seemed to have set. There obviously would have to be some concessions, he added, though church sources are not inclined to elaborate.
One example of how the church may be ready to back the government in return for government concessions could be the ultimate official handling of the private farmers' wish to organize. Another is the church's demand, vainly pressed for a long time, for a more legal standing within the present socio- political framework.
Essentially, according to one Catholic intellectual, the position of the church in the present situation may be summed up as: recognition both of the party's "leading role" ingoverning the country and of the country's international alliances (i.e., within the Soviet bloc); but insistence that the church, like Solidarity, be accepted as a real partner when it comes to question s of Poland's social and moral welfare.