Soviets maneuver as Solidarity meets
More confrontation or more cooperation? These are the options as the Solidarity union movement opens its first national convention Saturday after a tumultuous year of strikes, reforms, and rising and falling tensions.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, there is only a perilously narrow, brittle margin between the two options. Almost everything that has happened in Poland during the past year confirms this.
And both Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa agree that that is the choice that faces the nation.
Meanwhile, throughout the year, the Kremlin has kept a hawklike watch on the developments here. And, although the Russians have always been uncertain just how to meet this Polish challenge to the East bloc's ideological stability, they have applied just enough pressure to keep Poland guessing as to just how the Soviets might react if they deemed the situation here to have reached one confrontation too many.
There are further implicit reminders of this hardheaded concern as the delegates of the free and independent union movement born in the Baltic shipyards 12 months ago assemble in Gdansk for Saturday's opening of the congress.
The further attacks on Solidarity -- in the Soviet press Sept. 2 -- were predictable at this particular point. Accusations that the union is controlled by "anticommunists" bent on political power are repeated just to maintain the pressure and to renew the warning to the Polish party leadership to be very sure of its grip on events.
But, not so many miles away across the waters of the Bay of Gdansk, the Russians have assembled a massive armada of big warships, landing craft, and troops for exercises on the biggest scale seen in the Baltic for many years.
It will be a powerfully symbolic "watch on Gdansk," starting just as Solidarity's congress convenes.
A simple coincidence of timing? That is hard to say, but it certainly has psychological significance for the Poles.
Exercises of this kind at this time of year arecommon and the Poles themselves will be participating. But, on this occasion, it is the Baltic and a shared Soviet-Polish coastline that are chosen as the venue for an unprecedented show of Soviet military capabilities. Nobody can miss the meaning.
Prime Minister Jaruzelski told Solidarity that its decisions at this congress can have enormous consequences for Poland. The government, he said, would do everything it could to implement the promised reforms and improve living conditions.
Mr. Walesa -- in the first of the half-hour television programs the government has finally conceded to the union -- sounded equally familiar themes. "We should sit down and talk," he said. "The union wishes to serve the community, and it is time for radical, constructive action to get the country out of crisis."
Both sides have said it before. Too often, however, it has sounded like a "dialogue of the deaf" with each talking of working together but always evincing mutual suspicion and mistrust. The union, because of past experience with the regime; the latter, still unable to come to terms with the novel experience that a communist regime can no longer govern poland alone.
Too often government reactions have attached too much significance to the union's hard-liners, even though thus far, at the most critical moments. Mr. Walesa's moderation has been demonstrably decisive both with the bulk of his rank and file and with the nation at large.
The government has never seemed to recognize this. (The prime minister, for example, has never sought a meeting with Walesa, although the crisis would seem to many people to warrant it.) It has too often seemed to prove the militant's argument that only when it is pushed against the wall does it make a concession, even of something pledged in last August's strike settlements.
In this context, the tensions of recent weeks are hardly surprising:
* Printworkers virtually closed down the Communist Party press for two days.
* New trouble threatened at Radom, a center of the 1976 strikes that signaled the handwriting on the wall for the now-discredited Gierek regime.
* Earlier, Warsaw was brought to a standstill by a 48-hour strike over food shortages even though everyone knew there was little the government could do to ease the food situation.
Solidarity itself has often expected too much, given the prevailing political context in Poland. In the battle over media access, for example, it has won much. It has its own big weekly and numerous local papers and factory bulletins. It figures frequently in TV and radio panels on current affairs.
Its demand for absolute editorial control was obviously too much, but pressing for guarantees assuring the state-controlled media's "fair" reporting of its congress was understandable enough.
Yet the government allowed a new crisis to gather and left almost to the last minute the concessions that finally brought Mr. Walesa to the television screen Sept. 1.
In July, the party congress heard the mayor of Radom protest that although local workers had now been vindicated over their strike action in 1976, whose wrongfully punished still had not been reinstated.
It took another strike threat last month before the government announced that the cases of those convicted will be the subject of inquiry by judges acceptable to Solidarity.
Confrontation or cooperation? To most Poles -- fearful of a second year of crisis -- it is up to both sides. But the burden is still on the government to prove it really does intend to accept the new union as its partner.