Poland's lesson for superpowers

The Poles believe their peaceable settlement of the strike crisis that had threatened to create grave new East-West tensions in Europe carries a valuable lesson for the big powers and international relations in general.

"It has shown," a highly experienced senior Polish diplomat told a small group of Western journalists here, "that there are no political problems which cannot be solved through political means and dialogue."

The Polish strikes began in July on issues of wages and prices. When they brought the maritime north to a standstill, then spread to all parts of the country, they had moved beyond economic issues to confront the government with highly political demands that could have brought it into dangerous disagreements with Russia.

It was undoubtedly Poland's potentially gravest hour since World War II. In the last week of August there were voices saying some kind of coercion was "unavoidable" to break the crisis. Soviet intervention could still come later.

But at least in the short term that option has been rejected because everyone -- the communist authorities, the strikers, the Roman Catholic Church -- seems to have shrunk from the prospect of what it could have involved.

"We have proclaimed -- and we do proclaim -- that we are against the use of force or the threat of the use of force in international relations," the diplomats said in a long, wide-ranging talk. "We have applied this principle to our difficult internal problems. We would like to see others draw conclusions from the lesson we ourselves have learned."

The Polish government would like to see its immediate application at the forthcoming Madrid review conference on the way 33 European nations, the United States, and Canada have lived up to the five-year-old Helsinki agreement on peace, security, and cooperation in Europe. The Poles know Western criticism over Afghanistan (though not on the agenda) and over Soviet and other East- bloc performances on basket 3 (human rights) are bound to come up. They scarcely dispute the validity of much of this. But they want the three Helsinki baskets to have equal emphasis.

The Polish priority is for military detente. "We cannot have political detente and the arms race," the diplomat continued. "Sooner or later that will lead to trouble and, without satisfactory agreements and disarmament, we will all come to a very difficult situation."

Earlier this year, Poland revived a proposal for an all-European disarmament conference -- the US and Canada included -- to be held in Warsaw. It received a mostly indifferent reception in the West.

But the Poles hope NATO countries will now take a more positive view when they bring it up again in Madrid because the Warsaw Pact has since adopted the idea. They believe the European neutrals and nonaligned Yugoslavia will support them.

"We know a dialogue will be difficult," the diplomat said. "But we have to avoid confrontation."

He went on to praise the "overwhelming majority" of governments involved in Helsinki for taking the stand that the strike crisis was Poland's internal problem. He singled out Soviet authorities because they "assured us they considered it to be our affair and of their confidence that we will solve it ourselves."

Inevitably, Afghanistan came into the conversation. The Poles apparently view the Soviet action there from the same basic standpoint they apply to the concept of noninterference nearer home.

According to the Poles, both the Kabul government and Moscow, which keeps it in power, would be "very happy" to see a political way out. But they think it unrealistic, even hazardous, to ask the Russians for unconditional withdrawal. The result would be a bloody civil war destabilizing the whole region.

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