Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

How Communist hard-liners put a grinch in Poles' Christmas

By Eric BourneSpecial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 21, 1982


There have been plenty of Christmas trees on sale here for the past few days . . . but not much else.

Skip to next paragraph

The rationed staples such as meat, and extra sugar, seem adequate. The herring and carp that are seasonal ''musts'' for Poles have been promised, but they will become available only later this week.

Almost everything else is in the usual short supply.

''The fight for goods in the big stores is terrible,'' says one Pole. In the city's central emporium there are police patrols, ''just in case'' of trouble. There are long lines for mechanical Czech and East German toys and for the kilogram of lemons and grapefruit permitted by the children's ration cards.

There is, in fact, not much evidence of a ''happy Christmas'' - even with the Polish disposition to make the best of things and leave cares for the morrow.

The suspension of martial law has proved to be a letdown for the nation. Probably there was too much euphoria at the start of the month. People assumed too quickly that the emergency would be lifted altogether, not merely reduced. The early government statements had encouraged that assumption.

But early in December there were two Communist Party meetings that were largely overlooked but whose significance is now becoming apparent.

At one, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski met with the regional party secretaries. The other was a long and less than equable session of the Politburo at which the hard-line members seem to have checked the whole ''normalization'' process.

The news media quickly reflected the change. An official statement that in a year of martial law almost 700 underground groups were broken up was followed by a flurry of reports revealing continued opposition activity.

The reports, apparently intended to counterbalance any impression of ''confidence'' conveyed by the first statement, included the arrest of 10 members of a so-called ''regional resistance group'' at the coastal industrial town of Slupsk; the jailing of eight members of a ''Solidarity resistance committee'' at the city-port of Szczecin; the apprehension of the suspected leader of the shipyard strike there in the first days of martial law. Pro-Solidarity print shops were uncovered by the police in Opole, Gdansk, and here in Warsaw.

The authorities seemed to be using all this to justify a much more limited curtailment of military rule than most Poles expected. Justice Minister Sylwester Zawadski, in a Polityka interview, blamed the Solidarity underground.

''All the bolder steps taken by the authorities previously to lessen the rigors of martial law were read as a sign of weakness,'' Zawadski said. ''But for the events (demonstrations) of May and August we would have been much nearer full elimination of martial law.''

But there have been many indications that continued in-fighting within the party apparatus is the real cause of the sharp ''teeth'' fitted into the legislation passed Saturday to giving the government special powers. These powers - including the ability to reimpose martial law regionally or over the country as a whole - apply to the period between martial law's scheduled ''suspension'' Dec. 31 and its still-promised but uncertain ultimate lifting.