Warsaw — Krysztina remembers feeling exhilarated by Solidarity's birth back in 1980. Today, the young housewife spends more time worrying about her family than rejoicing at the prospect of the outlawed union's rebirth. ``You used to have so many hopes, perhaps too many hopes,'' she recalls. ``Now you ask, `With prices going up 100 percent for food and 300 percent for coal, how can I feed my family and how can I heat my home?'''
Krysztina's day-to-day preoccupations underline Poland's tepid atmosphere as round-table negotiations between Solidarity and the beleaguered communist government draw near. Like battered prizefighters in the 15th round, the two sides are eyeing each other cautiously. Neither side has the strength left to land a knockout - or recreate the energy and excitement of eight years ago.
Communist Party chief Wojciech Jaruzelski landed a small punch last Monday, firing Prime Minister Zbigniew Messner and all 19 of his ministers. The move is designed to deflect criticism away from the party. It also lets General Jaruzelski name a new government, probably this Tuesday, which might decide to recognize Solidarity or to crack down on it.
``I don't know whether Jaruzelski wants to stall or just doesn't know what he wants to do about Solidarity,'' says Tadeusz Maziwiecki, a member of the Solidarity delegation which talked twice with former Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak. ``We spent both meetings talking only about Solidarity and union pluralism - and we got no clear answer.''
Skepticism mounts among Poles as these deliberations drag on. After two waves of strikes this year, first in April and again in August, many workers ask what they have won. The answer - the right for a Solidarity delegation to sit down at a table with General Kiszczak - depresses them.
``Poles don't consider talks to be a victory,'' says Maciej Plazynski, a Solidarity activist in Gdansk. ``What we want are concrete results.
It was different eight years ago. Shops then were perhaps even more barren of goods than today and life just as tough, housewife Krysztina admits. But the excitement of creating the communist world's first independent union produced a precious commodity: hope for a better future.
That hope now has been replaced by a cold, calculating cynicism. An estimated 500,000 Poles have emigrated since Solidarity was crushed under martial law in 1981. For most who remained behind, the old fervor has faded.
``We're burned out,'' admits Antoni Grabarczyk, a veteran leader of the 1980 strike in Gdansk. ``The recent strikes were out of desperation; they didn't overcome the mistrust in this society and mobilize the entire nation.''
Poland lacks even the excitement of Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union. Pavel, an engineer, recently returned from Yerevan in Armenia, where huge nationalist demonstrations have taken place this year.
``There is incredible enthusiasm and energy, just like here in 1980,'' Pavel recounts. ``When I came back home during the middle of last months' strikes, everyone here seemed to be gloomy.''
Ironically, optimists believe that this very gloom gives the negotiations an opportunity for success.
``Both Solidarity and the authorities have learned from 1980-81 that conflict is not advisable or productive,'' says Daniel Passent, a columnist at the official weekly Polytika. ``The authorities realize they cannot run the country without the cooperation of the opposition. The opposition understands that it must compromise.''
There are other significant differences from 1980. Unlike former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Passent says, Mr. Gorbachev will give Poland room to maneuver.
Jacek Kuron, a Solidarity leader, says not only do the Soviets want to avoid a crackdown, but that Jaruzelski's regime itself is too divided to restore martial law. As evidence, he points to the official trade union's call earlier this month for the resignation of Mr. Messner.
``Before, Jaruzelski had tanks waiting at the border to back him up,'' Mr. Kuron says. ``Now he couldn't muster the necessary tanks from the outside, or even from the inside.''
For argument's sake, both Kuron and Mr. Passent agree the authorities may be prepared to re-legalize Solidarity. But there is no assurance that either Jaruzelski or Solidarity leader Lech Walesa can sell an agreement to hard-liners in their respective camps.
``What form would the new Solidarity take?'' Passent asks. ``Would it be free to call strikes? To have candidates for Parliament? To function as a legal, political opposition?''
``Our real problems will start once we get back Solidarity,'' adds Kuron. ``We'll be expected to provide quick solutions to problems which have no quick solutions.''
Many Poles now predict a third wave of strikes. It could come if the negotiations break off, or even if they continue, perhaps as soon as next month when students return to school.
``People are really skeptical, mistrustful,'' says Andrzej Sosnowski, a student leader from the University of Gdansk. ``If Solidarity isn't legalized quickly, then there could be a terrible explosion.''