Vienna — Whatever the official motives, the unconditional release of Poland's political prisoners this past weekend is likely to help ease domestic concern for the nation's immediate future. The move, observers say: Could portend an upturn in cool relations between the communist government and Roman Catholic Church.
Signals, in effect, an appeal to the United States and West Europe to abandon economic sanctions and help Poland's ailing economy.
Indicates that Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski has grown more politically confident.
Only recently, the Polish episcopate issued a statement blaming official obstruction for the collapse of a church effort to promote an agricultural fund to aid Poland's poorer private farmers. The bishops also reiterated a demand for the release of all political prisoners as a primary requisite for improving church-state relations.
Though expected, the government's formal announcement Sept. 11 was somewhat of a surprise, especially the news that it would cover even the most uncompromising jailed activists of the banned Solidarity trade union.
The government says the country's increased stability prompted the move, a claim evidenced by apparent Soviet support of General Jaruzelski at the July Communist Party Congress.
The decision, nonetheless, is a bold one, carrying a risk that some of those freed may seek to practice open opposition. This seems to explain the accompanying police warnings to more than 3,000 known Solidarity sympathizers against trying to capitalize on the new situation.
But more than political courage, observers say, the compelling necessities of Poland's ailing economy dictated the move. Without fresh credits from the West, Poland cannot hope to repay its debts or attempt a meaningful economic recovery.
It is a truism that almost everything in Poland these days is dictated primarily by the state of the economy. The US, a well-placed Polish source said recently, made the freeing of political prisoners a precondition for dropping its veto on Poland's resumed membership in the International Monetary Fund last May.
``The economic outlook is grave indeed. Relations between the church and the state are at a standstill,'' says an authoritative church source, who is closely identified with efforts by Polish primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp, to preserve something of the former modus vivendi with the communist authorities. The church reportedly gave up on the agricultural fund because of government insistence on controlling its operations.
``The only hope,'' the church source continues, ``seems to lie now in Jaruzelski's expected visit to Italy,'' sometime this year, where he is expected to formally invite Pope John Paul II to visit Poland next year.
Another visit to Poland by the Pope might seem to be the last thing Warsaw's communist leaders would want. But, however much it reinforces the prestige of the church's voice in Poland, the Pope's visit could also work to the government's advantage by easing tensions with the nation at large.
The pontiff, in his public utterances, is sure to re-emphasis what he said on his two previous visits, when he upheld the church's rights but spoke also of the need for conciliation and the responsibility of all Poles to work for the good of Poland. Generating some measure of goodwill for government efforts to rally Poles behind its economic program would seem the least the church can do after having its aim of freeing prisoners met. The government would also seem justified in expecting a similar response from the West which has made renewed economic aid largely conditional on the same grounds.
An important question now is how Jaruzelski follows up on this expression of political clemency. His enhanced standing was undoubtedly behind the decision. But he is also fully aware of Poland's urgent economic plight. As well as mending church-state relations, he needs also to reach some modus vivendi with the workers. That might be attainable through Solidarity's old ``moderates.''
Lech Walesa was the prominent moderate, until government intransigence drove him into the arms of his union's hardliners. Whether after years of trying vainly to make Walesa an ``un-person,'' Jaruzelski is ready to try for a dialogue with formerly temperate leaders, like Walesa, among those just released remains to be seen.
But certainly the economy needs more than fresh Western credits and help from the IMF to succeed.