Poles go to the 'polls' -- and the issue is freedom

Will Poles be given the new, more democratic freedoms they have been promised during the past few turbulent months? A good part of the answer to this vital question is even now beginning to emerge as grass-roots elections winnow out the delegates for July's all-important Communist Party congress.

The problem is that Communist Party first secretary Stanislaw Kania, Premier Wojciech Jaruzelski, and their Politburo colleagues have a much more limited concept of reform than do the vast majority in the rest of the party and the country as a whole.

The resolution of the two opposing points of view will determine whether the leadership can begin rebuilding its credibility with the people -- essential to any long-term resolution of Poland's deep-seated political and economic problems.

Selection of delegates is already under way in the basic party organizations -- the party groups in industrial enterprises and other work places and in small local chapters. The rank and file remain concerned with what happens -- and how it happens -- at the lower levels. Some fear the central authorities might still adopt at regional levels people the party cells have rejected as candidates.

Although the changes have yet to be written into the party statute, it is understood that they will include a limit of two terms in office --

But grass-roots demand for "democratization" of relations between local groups and higher party bodies remains ambiguous. At this point, top party groups can still exercise almost arbitrary control over party activity.

The call for democratization has grown from the movement for "horizontal" linkage of all lower party units in a coordinating committee that will serve as a watchdog on the Central Committee. Linkage is designed to close the gap between local groups and leadership, which is seen as the main cause for the collapse of confidence in the party.

In line with this, two workers were added to the Politburo during the recent Central Committee plenum. But the expected shake-up did not occur. Instead, there was a show of "unity," and party leader Kania continued to steer his "safe ," middle-of-the-road course.

The rank and file remain concerned with what happens -- and how it happens -- at the lower levels. Some fear the central authorities might still install at aregional levels people the party cells have rejected as candidates.

The leadership has not yet decided how to handle the situation. Dismissing it out of hand could produce more rank-and-file pressure.

So they acknowledge the claim as a reflection of legitimate concern over past failures of leadership and as a sign of party revival.

The vital question is: How far can the trend go without -- as Mr. Kania has warned --power"? The Russians would surely see such power centers as another impermissible weakening of party control.

Another sensitive matter is the reformers' declaration that a majority of delegates to the congress must come from the workshop floor.

Mr. Kania has voice disappointment that not enough workers have been voted into office in basic organizations in recent months. If that voting pattern persists, a major hope for "renewal" would be greatly weakened.

Overall, even though the threat of direct Soviet intervention has receded in recent weeks, one question is critical: How far can chan ge go and still not upset the Russians?

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