Poland: time for restraint

THIS is a particularly sensitive moment for Poland. That nation can either move forward toward a new period of internal stability, or revert to the ugly confrontationalism of the early 1980s. Last month Warsaw stunned Western governments by announcing an amnesty for political prisoners. Some 225 dissidents, including a number of key leaders of the underground Solidarity trade union movement, were released.

Since then Solidarity, still banned by the government, emerged somewhat from behind its protective covers. Recently, Solidarity leaders, including Lech Walesa, met in Gdansk and announced the formation of a new union council to work in public, easing ``the transition from clandestine activities to legal and open undertakings.'' The Polish government promptly announced that such a council was illegal -- and that the Solidarity leaders involved risked imprisonment.

Warsaw -- and certainly Moscow -- cannot help finding it difficult to tolerate any new militancy on the part of Solidarity. The economy is in trouble. Warsaw wants a new infusion of Western loans. Internal stability is crucial to rebuilding the economy.

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And yet, it also seems evident that Poland's industrial revival is in large part dependent on the ability of Polish workers to feel a sense of kinship and common purpose with the government. Solidarity claimed 10 million members.

The United States should vigorously support the broadest possible reconciliation in Poland as part of a larger overall US effort to upgrade diplomatic, trade, and cultural links with Eastern Europe in general. The US should announce that it will seriously consider lifting -- either later this year or sometime next year -- those sanctions still in place with Poland, provided that Warsaw does not follow its easing of restraints on activists with other kinds of repression.

Washington should also privately get the message across to Solidarity leaders that while the US continues to support democratic pluralism -- including the struggle for free trade unionism and greater political participation for the Polish people -- it seems only prudent at this time that no side in Poland, including the dissidents, take actions that could break the relative calm that has been prevailing within that nation.

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