Thinking about the Polish people

Washington, in its righteous indignation over the suppression of freedom in Poland, has shut off the flow of food to Poland (except when given by private citizens) but continues to sell grain to the Soviet Union.

There is an unpleasant overtone here of punishing victims of the crime rather than the perpetrators.

This in turn is symptomatic of the Polish situation. Who is thinking about and working for the long-term welfare of the Polish people themselves?

Moscow is interested in regaining political control over the corridor through which it supplies its army of occupation in East Germany.

Washington is interested in weakening Soviet influence in central Europe in particular and in the world in general.

Most West European countries are interested in avoiding a dangerous deterioration in East-West relations.

The military regime in Poland is interested in getting the Polish people back to work in order to justify what it has done to them and thus gain the ability to construct a new Polish government.

Solidarity has gone underground in an effort to prevent the above from happening.

This makes the prospect for any early alleviation of the condition of the Polish people unpromising. Matters can get worse before they might begin to get better.

The one central feature of the situation is that Poland is economically in a disastrous condition. No regime or government can hope to get the country going again unless and until the Polish people will go back to work and revive the foundation for a viable economy.

The military regime in Warsaw has been able to stop strikes and public demonstrations. It has been able to coerce or persuade many Poles to go back to their factories and do time. But it has not been able to persuade them to go to work in that wholehearted way which would be a new beginning for a revived economy.

If this present condition persists it will become an excuse for the Soviets to push General Jaruzelski and his military regime aside and substitute a hard-line communist regime backed, if necessary, by the Soviet Army itself. The Polish people would then be again under the kind of hard-line tyranny from which they have been gradually emancipating themselves over the past 25 years.

The only possible way out of the dilemma would be an agreement, either tacit or formal, among the three main elements in the Polish situation - the army, the church, and Solidarity. If only the three of them could become co-conspirators in a program for the economic revival of Poland - then there would begin to be some hope.

But would Moscow tolerate such a condition? And could the Polish workers trust the military regime? For a revival program to work the Soviets would first have to renounce their practice of milking the Polish economy, and then allow the Polish military regime to enter into honorable commitments to Solidarity. Neither prospect is in sight.

In theory Washington could begin a process which might in the end bring back a reasonably good life to the Polish people.

There would have to be a serious negotiation with Moscow in which Washington would agree to finance the economic recovery of Poland if Moscow in turn would agree to fair terms of trade between itself and Poland. Washington certainly cannot be expected to go on financing an abundant flow of goods from Poland to the Soviet Union.

If you can imagine a decided improvement in US-Soviet relations then you can see a possible ray of hope for the Poles. Moscow's fear of losing control over Eastern Europe could be allayed. It might decide to allow a better life for the Poles. It might. But a precondition would have to be less rather than more tension in East-West relations. At the present time Washington seems to be seeking more rather than less tension. Conditions are not propitious for a more tolerant Soviet view of Polish independence.

And even if Washington and Moscow could agree, there is still a question about the willingness of the Polish people to go back to work under conditions of inevitable austerity.

In the US today the trade unions have come to realize that they may in some cases have to accept reductions in wage and fringe benefits to keep an industry going. But it goes against human nature anywhere to be willing to work harder for less return. It is particularly unlikely under an unfriendly and tyrannical government. There can be no economic revival in Poland without austerity. But as yet there is no sign of the conditions under which Polish workers could be expected to work harder for less.

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