Coming to Terms in Poland. SOLIDARITY: PEACEFUL REVOLUTION. Round-table talks near historic agreement
AT the entrance of the Europejski Hotel, an information board signals a peaceful revolution. ``Solidarity Press Center,'' it reads. ``First Floor Room 175, under the sponsorship of Lech Walesa.''Skip to next paragraph
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Only a few months ago, Solidarity leaders were restricted to holding press conferences in the safety of church basements. Now they appear on official television every night, reporting on round-table negotiations with Poland's communist rulers - the same rulers who once threw them into jail.
Unless last minute hitches prove more serious than expected, a historic new social contract will be unveiled this week. It doesn't just relegalize the independent trade union. It also calls for breakthroughs unparalleled in the communist world: licenses for private schools, a Solidarity newspaper, and, after new elections in June, a freely elected Senate.
``Both the communists and we crossed the Rubicon,'' reflects Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a leading Solidarity negotiator. ``It's really surprising how far things went.''
After two waves of strikes within the past year, the threat of a social explosion proved the driving force behind the dramatic agreement. Communist leaders calculated that only Solidarity could head off worse worker unrest this spring - and that a relegalized independent trade union no longer would spark anti-communist euphoria.
``We won't experience an eruption like in 1980,'' Politburo member Jozef Czyrek said in an interview. ``Solidarity is no longer a spontaneous movement.''
This confidence permitted surprising concessions. Solidarity activists had expected to receive only the right to organize by job categories within individual factories. But the round-table agreement permits the union to reorganize as a national movement.
``You just get the feeling that the authorities did everything they could to build up Solidarity as a responsible partner,'' comments one Western diplomat. ``They realize that they need a strong union in order to help keep the lid on.''
Solidarity leaders still wonder whether they will be strong enough to control mounting worker discontent. At best, they say, 5 million members will join the new union - much less than its former high of 10 million. Martial law and a crippled economy combine to create profound skepticism. Among many Poles, the same pessimistic refrain is heard: ``We've been cheated before.''
``The big danger is that the people will reject the agreement as a lot of words,'' says Jacek Wozniakowski, director of the Roman Catholic publishing house ZNAK. ``They want to see factual steps forward, improvement in their daily lives, more goods in the stores, shorter queues for apartments.''
Solidarity could crack under these pressures. Conservative nationalist groups such as Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPN) are threatening to boycott June elections. KPN has organized large street demonstrations in Krakow to back up its rhetoric. ``Almost any little event could set fire to the country,'' says KPN leader Leszek Moczulski.
Intense pressure for compromise came from both West and East. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher traveled to Gdansk in November and embraced Mr. Walesa.