Warsaw Pact talks about Helsinki while sizing up Poland

On the surface the meeting of Warsaw Pact foreign ministers has ignored the continuing unrest in Poland, choosing instead to focus on preparations for this fall's review conference of the Helsinki Final Act.

In a low-key communique issued Oct. 20 after their talks, the ministers urged the West to match the East bloc's "goodwill" at next month's conference in Madrid. And, as expected, they renewed the Warsaw Pact proposal for a new conference of all the Helsinki signatories on military detente and disarmament, which will be the Soviets' main thrust at Madrid.

The communique contained the standard allusions to "imperialist confrontation policies," but declared there are no international problems that cannot be solved peaceably. It did not mention Poland's promised new free trade unions or Afghanistan, whose invasion by Soviet troops last December chilled the whole detente process.

The ministers called on the West to cooperate in a "stage by stage" effort to continue the detente process and urged more confidence- building measures between the rival blocs.

The Warsaw Pact meeting was routine. Its results were predictable. Its most significant background element -- represented by the fact the ministers were meeting in Poland only two months after labor unrest rocked the regime -- went unmentioned in the communique.

Nevertheless, the situation here was fully discussed. The ministers met with both Poland's new Communist Party chief, Stanislaw Kania, and the new premier, Josef Pinkowski, who also is a member of the party Politburo.

As a relative newcomer to the Politburo -- he joined it only in the 1970s -- Mr. Kania had not often met with the Soviet leaders before he took over the party leadership.

Andrei Gromyko, his Soviet counterpart, is a member of the Soviet Politburo as well as foreign minister, and will be reporting in the Kremlin his assessments of both the man and the situation here.

For the Poles, his presence was an obvious opportunity to reply to repeated criticisms -- some in exceedingly brusque terms -- from the Russians and their hard-line allies in Eastern Europe.

The main target has been the new, independent unions that already have won allegiance of two-thirds of the labor force and now represent an entirely new kind of popular authority here, akin to that long exercised by the Roman Catholic Church. Mr. Kania may be presumed to have reiterated his earlier admission that the strikes were a justified workers' protest and that any role of so-called "antisocialist forces" was much less relevant than the Russians and their more doctrinairely conformist friends alleged.

It may also be assumed, he pointed out, that acceptance of the unions and other reforms was the only available option as a "guarantee" of good faith to the workers and the government's only acceptable way out of the present crisis.

At the same time, he surely set himself to convincing the Russians and Poland's other allies that the party is again in control of the situation and that the country can still be counted on as a thoroughly reliable member of the alliance.

In a welcoming speech, Mr. Pinkowski had spoken of Poland as "an enduring link in the socialist [i.e., communist] community."

Thanks to the "unbreakable alliance" with the USSR, he said, Poland is "now able to exist in secure borders" and it wanted to contribute to the strengthening of the alliance for the benefit of peace and security.

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.