Suslov returns empty-handed; Polish leaders push ahead with reforms

Mikhail Suslov came, saw, but did not conquer. That seems to sum up the results of last week's visit here of the Kremlin's chief ideologue, the man largely responsible for the successful intervention in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

He received the customary assurances of Poland's commitment to the Warsaw Pact alliance. But otherwise he returned home empty-handed and, if anything, the visit stiffened Polish resolve.

True, the presence of this veteran of the Stalin era momentarily introduced an uneasy note into what has been Poland's quietest month since last summer. And the Tass agency then added to this pressure by releasing a new Pravda criticism of the Polish leadership, implying that it is tolerating "revisionism" among the party rank and file.

But as the Kremlin visitor arrived, Polish Communist Party leader Stanislaw Kania had just assured a youth conference that the reform process is irreversible. And by the weekend the Polish government had embarked on its most intensive round of talks with Solidarity since the new union was registered. Indeed, the Polish party leaders have shown a surer, more confident touch these past few days than for some time.

As if to make a point of the continuing reform process, almost the whole of the main evening television news show April 25 was devoted to the government-Solidarity talks which ranged over issues covered by last August's strike settlements. The TV coverage included:

* The start that day of negotiations between a parliamentary commission and a union delegation headed by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa on the government's draft trade union law. It was a kind of congressional-style prelegislative hearing. The draft, it was said, will be published in a few days.

* Discussions with Justice Minister Jerzy Bafia on "law and order problems" and the revision of legislation to ensure strict impartiality for all before the law as well as stringent sanctions against official corruption.

* Talks in a commission of 50 which is looking into the revision of other laws in the light of last summer's Baltic strike settlements.

All this contributed to the general calming of the atmosphere evident here. Once the Poles got over the surprise of Suslov's visit, his presence disturbed the country much less than some outside readings of Pravda's latest criticism might have suggested.

The communique on the Suslov talks made no reference to the Polish "renewal" process. But nor did it make any concession to the Warsaw Pact's call in December for "turning back."

Moreover, it is noted the Poles took care to announce the new date for their deferred central committee meeting -- now April 29 -- beforem Suslov flew in; and then, almost immediately after his departure, got down to the talks with Solidarity.

Two other interesting "straws in the wind" appeared this weekend.

One was the expulsion from the party of two senior officials (one a former industry minister) identified with costly errors in planning and management as well as personal corruption.

The other was the release of three of the nine dissident figures associated with the minuscule "Confederation for an Independent Poland" under detention since fall. A trial of the group's principals, which was said earlier to be opening at the end of the month, has now been quietly dropped.

The leadership has a long way yet to go to satisfy its generally militant rank and file. But this last few days suggests the start of the more dynamic approach that Solidarity and other critics have urged on it for months.

This was evident also in the highly relaxed manner of a senior member of the party apparatus who had a wide-ranging interview with the Monitor and three other Western journalists for 90 minutes some hours before the Suslov visit concluded. He said, inter alia, that he hoped the Soviet leader would return home with "greater understanding" of events here "than on his arrival."

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