Polish Activist Reflects on Ethics of Compromise

FOR the last eight years, Jacek Czaputowicz has led Poland's independent Freedom and Peace youth group in its fight to win the right to conscientious objection. His actions included organizing street demonstrations and holding hunger strikes - and cost him two stints in prison. But now, the Polish government has allowed conscientious objection, relegalized Solidarity, and held its freest elections since World War II on Sunday. Mr. Czaputowicz received a passport for the first time this spring and recently visited Boston. Excerpts from his interview follow:

What did the recent round-table talks between the Polish government and Solidarity achieve?

The talks were a ``deal.'' The price was the recognition of a not fully democratic election.

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But the opposition gains more from those talks than anyone could expect: for example, weekly television time. Poland is the first to have an independent daily. Now Poles can see [Lech] Walesa and people arrested during the period of martial law on television.

Do young activists support the round-table compromise?

Many young people are against the system, and against this deal, because it implies recognition of a communist role. They were taught that moral resistance is the most important thing, that you should have no deals with communists. They see Solidarity negotiating with the same people that imposed martial law, that killed and imprisoned workers, and they are a bit lost.

But I believe this is the only chance. We must change the system gradually, not by violent means. In the 1970s, 10 percent of Communist Party members were young. Today, only 1 percent are under the age of 25.

Is there a conflict between Solidarity's role as trade union and its political activities?

It could become a conflict in the future. I'm not 100 percent sure that this way of Walesa will succeed. But there is a chance, and we have to use it. A lot depends on economics. After the signing of the [round-table] agreement, Poles started to think their economic situation would improve quickly. Of course, this is not possible.

But the first month after the elections will be important. Foreign aid will be very important. Without considerable economic aid, the chances for the reconstruction of Poland's economy are low, and the possibility of a revolt [from below] will greatly increase.

What do young people want from politics?

They can't accept the status quo. They are looking for overcoming the division of Europe.

Will they push for Poland to leave the Warsaw Pact?

This view is not in Poland yet. It is in Hungary, but not in Poland. But we have been developing contacts with European institutions. For example, there is talk of electing observers from Poland to European parliament. We understand that [to be integrated] in the future, Poland will have to be a democratic country. But I feel in four to six years, it is possible, because the next election will be democratic, fully democratic.

Would the Communist Party give up power?

They understand that the rules are changing and that if they change the rules, they may need to give up power. I think it's been a sort of revolution. [Polish leader Wojciech] Jaruzelski now feels he can be more independent from Moscow.

What political advice are you giving young Polish activists?

I say often ``Give Walesa a chance.'' There is a risk, because the authorities would like to co-opt this group of new parliamentary deputies, to build a barrier between them and society. But people are aware of this risk. If they cannot change the situation - improve the economy, change laws - they can change strategy.

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