Warsaw — After months of dodging and evading, the Polish government is beginning to face up to the central issue here: what to do about Solidarity and its leader, Lech Walesa.
Sunday, June 13, marks the six-month anniversary of martial law. Walesa has spent those six months under house arrest, his union suspended.
In the resulting political vacuum, some union activists have started to reorganize underground. Resentment against the regime has mounted, especially among youth.
But now, at last, there are signs that the authorities may be edging toward freeing Walesa and reactivating, in some form, the once vigorously independent union.
In mid-May Walesa was allowed to see an International Labor Organization envoy.
Soon after, he was visited by a top aide of the Polish minister for trade unions. They talked for four hours about conditions for reviving the unions.
On each occasion, high officials later acknowledged, Walesa exhibited a ''moderate'' attitude and readiness to cooperate in getting the country out of its crisis. That cooperation depends, of course, on Solidarity's restoration.
Since those meetings, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the head of the ruling military council, has indicated in the most precise terms he has used under martial law that he is urgently concerned to bring about a dialogue with a still-unreconciled society at large - including, of course, Solidarity.
''A basis is being established for building national accord among all patriotic forces . . .'' he said. ''Unless adventurous internal turmoil (recurs) and if foreign interference is abandoned, it will be possible to make substantial progress in this direction.
''We shall be patient and consistent in these actions,'' the general said.
On June 7 he spoke to regional governors about a ''coalition front'' in terms that had been used often before martial law but not since its imposition.
Predictably, he insisted the Communist Party must lead. But the coalition would include not only the two noncommunist parties collaborating in government, but also parliament's Roman Catholic groups and lay independents, intellectuals, and the ''inner emigration'' (Jaruzelski's term) of prominent people who have withdrawn into silent disapproval of martial law.
This week, the episcopate and the mixed governent-clergy commission for religious affairs confirmed that Pope John Paul II will visit Poland in August as planned.
Apparently each side watched his nonpolitical pilgrimage through Britain, noted his decision to visit Argentina as well, and concluded that the ''state of war'' (as martial law is constitutionally described) need not preclude a similar visit here.
Many observers here hope the visit will encourage some movement toward the common sense and tolerance needed to help Poland out of its troubles. Part of this common sense, they say, is that sooner or later the government will have to accept Walesa as a party to any dialogue with the nation.
It has not been in a hurry. Conventional official wisdom has writen Walesa off as a man ''impossible'' to deal with because he ''agrees something one day and changes his mind the next.''
The record offers a different picture. And the government's awareness of his relevance was revealed by the nervousness with which it reacted to an ''underground'' strike call in early May, whisking him from a villa near Warsaw to one in remotest southeast Poland. Officials did not want him close at hand if there was real trouble.
Walesa, it is clear, is still a national symbol. He may have been less politically astute than his more politically motivated advisers and showed more than a taste for the theatrical. But he had enormous confidence that he was ''born'' to the occasion.
He spoke the workers' language and knew their hardships as no communist leader ever had. He displayed intuition and awareness of the needs of the moment.
He said to me not long after the Aug. 31 agreement: ''I have one goal: independent, self-managing unions. This we are attaining. I am not interested in politics. I am a union man. Our job now is to consolidate what we have won and organize our union.''
Within months, he was desperately trying to defuse a crisis over the incident at Bydgoszcz, in which police who broke up a union meeting were charged with brutality.
Walesa succeeded in cooling that crisis but was savaged by union radicals as a ''feudal monarch'' who decided everything himself. He stuck to his guns: ''We should abide by agreements and consider how best to benefit from them.''
Through the summer Walesa was, as he put it, having to ''put out fires.'' But the radicals pounced on his decision to compromise with the government to avoid another showdown (over factory self-management) on the eve of Solidarity's convention.
Several times he left the convention hall in anger and frustration as one radical resolution after another was voted through.
When the union presidium threatened a general strike, the government responded with a move to outlaw it. The Solidarity era was over and martial law took its place.
Winter saw scattered underground activity by leading unionists who eluded the Dec. 13 police net. But the ''spring will be ours'' prophecy has not come about. In a message via his parish priest, Walesa disassociated himself from radical opposition.
Now, after months of stalemate, things may be starting to change. There are Jaruzelski's recent olive branches (seemingly meant also to persuade the West of conciliatory intentions) and Walesa's criticism of the union and his mood of compromise in the recent talks.
A similar declaration attributed to a group of interned moderates is said to have the approval of at least one leading militant.
Huge obstacles lie ahead. But perhaps it is still not too late to tackle this crucial one.