Poles see no sign of Soviet troop activity near border

If the Russians are engaged in unusual military activity near the Polish border, it has certainly caused no excitement here. Attention at the weekend was almost totally concentrated on a religious service -- the first-ever live broadcast in communist Poland of a Sunday morning Roman Catholic Mass. For predominantly Catholic Poland, it was a great event.

US suggestions that the Russians were increasing military activity by moving troops both in the Soviet Union and in East Germany elicited little, if any, comment.

In conversations Sunday, there was little credence to be found for the reports.

This writer spent the weekend in and around Poznan, a key city in western Poland on the direct route to Berlin. Poznan would seem near enough to the border for word of any special military activity in East Germany to have trickled back. But there was no sign of it.

The US intelligence reports have not been published here. They came too late for Saturday morning papers. There are no Sunday papers. Sources close to official circles point out that movement of specific Soviet units during summer months is normal, apart from any large-scale movements such as took place during recent Warsaw Pact exercises in East Germany.

Any activity with special significance for Poland is considered quite inconsistent with the nonbelligerent attitude the Soviets have apparently decided to adopt so far toward the Polish crisis.

Meanwhile, the broadcast of a church service in communist Poland represents a unique development in the prolonged, troubled, and sometimes violent conflict between church and state in communist East Europe.

Only Hungary and East Germany in the last few years have allowed churches any access to the broadcasting media -- and then only on special occasions.

The live broadcast Sunday of a Roman Catholic Mass, carried live on five wavelengths by the state-controlled radio, is the first time a communist government has consented to a regular weekly broadcasting of a full-length church service.

The breakthrough is significant because it underscores the Polish regime's growing dependence on the Catholic Church to help pull it through its present crisis.

The vast majority of Poles are professing Roman Catholics. The church claims as many as 90 percent are adherents. Many party members acknowledge the nation's and their own Roman Catholic background, though the percentage who regularly practice or frequently attend services is much lower.

The Sunday broadcast had a tremendous audience throughout the country, both in homes and at workplaces. Employees who had to work paused to listen to the hourlong celebration.

It took the Catholic Church more than 20 years to secure access to the news media, including radio and television, and normal coverage of church affairs in newspapers.

The church won some concessions from the Gomulka regime in the late 1950s. These were enlarged upon by the government that succeeded it. But the media issue was extremely sensitive politically. It dragged on until last year, when Pope John Paul II's visit to his native Poland made official consent seem certain in due course.

In August, strikers at the Baltic ports incorporated the question into their long list of conditions for settlement. Government acceptance of that list included approval of the Mass broadcasts.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.