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The `normalization' of Poland

By Jim Courter / October 8, 1985



POLAND'S long-delayed parliamentary elections take place Oct. 13. For the Communist Party, they represent the final step in what the regime has called the ``normalization'' of Poland. Solidarity produced ``anarchy.'' Martial law produced quiet. Now elections are to produce legitimacy for the new ``civilian'' government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski. So important is the voting to the regime that it has reportedly negotiated in secret with the Roman Catholic Church: In exchange for a full Catholic turnout, the government may have offered parliamentary seats to a given number of independent Catholic candidates. But the church disliked the proposal. Jaruzelski is trying another approach. He has just told a foreign newspaper that voter turnouts of 75 or 85 percent would be ``of great importance to the decision to announce another amnesty'' for political

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prisoners. Lech Walesa denounced the offer as blackmail, and Solidarity leaders continue to call for a boycott of the elections.

They do so with good cause. With normalization under way, the party has been displaying its old confidence as it faces down and locks up members of the political, religious, and trade union opposition. After a heavily publicized amnesty nearly cleared Polish jails of political prisoners in July 1984, the numbers of the interned have climbed again to 250. Some are already familiar to jail keepers: They are the very persons freed under the amnesty, new victims of what Sen. Orrin Hatch called the ``revolvi ng door'' for Polish political prisoners.

Recent statutory changes make arrests easier. Indeed, they make Polish civil law increasingly difficult to distinguish from martial law. Never before could a man be seized for a political offense, convicted, sentenced, and jailed all within 48 hours and without a trial. Now he can. Previously there were minimal restrictions on police searches without warrant. These have been reduced. Ministry of Internal Affairs regulations formerly banned the use of force against pregnant women, small children, and cri ppled persons at public gatherings ``which threaten the nation's security.'' Not any more. And an appalling practice which prison officials cynically call ``the health walk'' -- in which rows of wardens with truncheons force prisoners to walk a gauntlet -- is reputed to be as frequently used in prisons today as it was during martial law.

Some 15 activists have been murdered by police or killed in suspicious circumstances since the end of martial law, according to the Polish Helsinki Committee and the former Polish ambassador to Japan. Political kidnappings are almost commonplace: Solidarity sources say there were at least seven in the Torun region during the first half of 1984 alone. The case of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko was merely the best known.

The trial of that Solidarity priest's killers is an effective illustration of the subtlety, as much as the brutality, of the Jaruzelski regime. Perhaps Americans were surprised by the trial, by the attention given to it by the Polish media, by the access granted to the foreign press, and by the convictions. But the proceedings were no mistake. The world was invited to see in them a government warning to Polish secret policemen, while the Poles were made to witness the exoneration of most of the higher a uthorities who issue the commands to suppress political activity by the church.

Everyone remembers the tears of the defendants in the dock. But never was there any official objection to the fierce Soviet criticisms of the Polish Reverend aired six weeks before his murder. Jerzy Urban, too, had railed against the priest's ``black masses,'' but remains the cocky spokesman for the Polish government at foreign press conferences. Those who did the killing are in prison under conspicuously gentle circumstances. Meanwhile, a Solidarity supporter has been jailed for daring to read a Popiel uszko sermon aloud in public, and by one report the stone mason who made the priest's tomb was later kidnapped, beaten, and thrown from a moving truck.

Yet every new arrest seems to be taken as a summons to resistance by other formerly silent Poles. A friend returning from Poland gives me reason to believe that beyond the plans for boycotting the Oct. 13 elections there are hopes of additional forms of peaceful opposition during the week of Nov. 3-10, before the Reagan-Gorbachev Geneva summit. The message these Poles intend for President Reagan is this: For five years the government has suppressed free trade unions, and for 10 it has dishonored the Hel sinki Accords. It has done so largely because the police and military powers of the Soviet Union make it necessary. Please remember this as you go to Geneva to deal with Mr. Gorbachev.

To offer Polish voices for freedom some measure of American congressional support, today I am introducing -- and Gary Hart is presenting to the Senate -- a Concurrent Resolution which asks the President to take the Poles' message to heart, and to place their words forcefully before Gorbachev.

In the foreword to a new volume of his speeches, General Jaruzelski makes a plea to English readers. History, he writes, has not been kind to Poland: ``What Poland needs above all is peace.''

But to the general and his party, peace is the pacific silence of a hard-working labor force. Peace is a stillness in Warsaw's fenced-off Victory Square, where tens of thousands once cheered their Pope. Peace is what the authorities feel when Poles remember the promises of Helsinki and the accords of Gdansk only as distant dreams. To the general, peace is what we know as order. While order is a civic virtue, it is also a characteristic of a prison. It is never, of itself, enough.

The elections and the summit are good opportunities to remind Jaruzelski, the ruler of Poland, and Gorbachev, the ruler of Jaruzelski, that peace is by nature inseparable from justice and liberty. They won't believe it, of course. But what we say is not for them. It's for the Poles.

Rep. Jim Courter (R) of New Jersey is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.