Reagan's first 50 days: blitz of policy changes; An array of critical issues suddenly confronts Poland
The Polish government is bracing for an extremely critical week. At home, storm clouds have suddenly gathered in political skies that had seemed to be clearing and bluer in recent weeks.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Next door, signs have been multiplying of increased Soviet watchfulness over Polish events -- even as the customary springtime East-bloc military exercises get under way.
Government officials and the moderates in Solidarity's leadership have both expressed dismay at the worsening of the domestic situation. Yet the two sides may find themselves face to face this week in the first confrontation since Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski appealed for a 90-day truce in mid-February.
Ordinary Poles are deeply disturbed. The fragile optimism encouraged by the conciliatory "good start" seems to be evaporating. "We can go right back to square one," one Pole remarked ruefully.
The Sunday announcement that Prime Minister Jaruzelski would have a first meeting March 9 with Solidarity chairman, Lech Walesa, eased tensions a little. Obviously it offers hope of a last-minute compromise, but that will depend on good sense and realism on both sides.
Despite widely differing ideological standpoints, both the premier and the labor leader are moderates. General Jaruzelski is among those in the Communist Party Politburo who, from the start of the crisis, have opposed coercion and stood firm for dialogue with the strikers and their union.
But he would have little choice but to use the emergency powers already available if he saw the national interest endangered, for example, by the present strike threat from Lodz.
Mr. Walesa yields to no one in demanding honest implementation of the August agreements. But he knows the geopolitical situation and, during the midwinter strike wave, showed a strong preference for negotiation rather than militant action against the state authority.
The trouble is that several immediate and sensitive issues have now cropped up, each capable of sparking renewed hostility:
* One of these -- the firing of five Solidarity activists who worked at a police hospital at Lodz -- seems to have been brought about by arbitrary local officials. The union claims the central government ignored many protests over the dismissals and has called a brief stoppage throughout the textile city's industries Tuesday, with more action to follow if the men are not reinstated.
Local security authorities apparently jumped the gun on a pending law on labor relations and unions. The draft precludes troops, as well as civilians employed in the Army and security forces, from becoming union members. But Parliament -- despite its built-in communist majority -- could still exert its recently strengthened muscle to compel some modification before the bill becomes law. Even General Jaruzelski might conceivably support an amendment.
* At Nowy Sacz in the south, similar local feeling is running high about prolonged refusal to remove or suspend officials against whom serious corruption charges were lodged.
* At the same time, in the background are recent signs that the regime, under further Soviet pressure, is feeling it has no alternative but to toughen up against dissidents. This issue, too, includes all the ingredients for a highly danger-fraught clash.
* On the university front, the government may well feel it is being unfairly harassed. It was at the University at Lodz that Polish students recently won recognition not only for an independent association but also freedom for a wide range of uncensored university publications and academic latitude generally.
Now another university figures in General Jaruzelski's present "sea of troubles." He will not -- in Hamlet's words -- "take arms . . . to end them." But without an agreement with Mr. Walesa he will have little choice but to oppose them with some kind of firmness and show of strength.
The university is the one here in Warsaw. This week it is observing the anniversary of March 1968 student demonstrations, which were harshly suppressed by the Gomulka regime. Their observance is to be confined to the campus (which, under the recent agreement, the police cannot enter without the rector's authorization) and the gates shut to outsiders.
But the authorities are concerned because the program includes lectures by two wellknown dissidents, Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik. Last week both men were ordered to report to the police every few days, a move Solidarity sees as contrary to last year's undertakings about freer expression of political views. It may mean only that the pair are to be barred from entering the university. But the serving of antistate indictments on four other dissidents already under detention suggests a more serious intent.
* On the rural front, 1,000 private farmers and their advisers have gathered at Poznan in western Poland for a national congress March 8 and 9. They are raising what is emerging as the touchiest national issue of all -- the question of a farmers' union, or "Rural Solidarity."
Like the students, private farmers secured long-awaited concessions last month: legal guarantees of ownership, expansion of production resources, better prices. They got almost everything they wanted -- except permission to match the workers' Solidarity with a trade union of their own.
The party is strongly opposed. In a potential Rural Solidarity, the regime scents a real political rival -- a new party -- among a deeply orthodox Roman Catholic, conservative peasantry having the support of the church, with whom its own political influence is negligible.
The prospect is all the more unpalatable at a time when a shaken and deeply critical communist rank and file is pressing numerous challenges to the party's classic monolithic structure. At the grass-roots level many communists want major structural changes to give a measure of meaningful democratic pluralism and curb the old autocratic leadership.