YThe Polish government has taken some first, tentative steps to give the country a new sense of direction. These include: a modes power- sharing gesture to the powerful Roman Catholic Church; substantial price encouragements to Poland's independent-minded famers; and some moves toward greater flexibility in economic management.
The Polish crisis is still far from over -- as the continued, sporadic threats of fresh labor unrest show.
But the Sejm (parliament) introduced the changes in a lively two- day session last week that was notable for its general mood of liberalization. Also very evident was the MPs' determination to use to the full the new opportunities for candid, open criticism and evaluation of the Communist regime's policies.
"Some progress is being made to sort things out," one of the most experienced Western diplomats in Warsaw summed up later. "It still is a very mixed picture, one of considerable concern, but not of unusual crisis proportions, though the economic outlook remains as bleak as ever."
It is clear, in fact, that the best the government can hope for at this juncture is industrial peace and its ability to begin to convince Poles at large that something sensible and just is being done about the country's problems.
The appointment of a Roman Catholic politician, Jerzy Ozdowski, as one of the six deputy prime ministers named in the Nov. 21 Cabinet reshuffle is a second striking concession to the most influential force in the land, the Roman Catholic Church. The first was the radio mass, which is now a regular Sunday morning broadcast.
For years the Catholic Church has been protesting that, however high their qualifications, openly practicing Christians have benn consistently excluded from government or almost any other kind of post of major responsibility.
An end to such discrimination and instead a society of equal oppor tunity for religious believers was frequently promised by former Communist Party leader Edward Gierek. In practice, the pledge was never implemented.
One of the rump minority groups in the communist-dominated coalition in parliament -- the United Peasant Party -- has had a deputy premier in government for some years.
The importance of Mr. Ozdowski's appointment -- he is an economist and agricultural expert -- is that he is the first ever of a handful of genuinely non-Communist Party, independent MPs with no tie to the coalition, to be taken into the Cabinet.
He is, moreover, a member of the tiny Roman Catholic ZNAK group which, ever since 1956, has been parliament's sole and often courageous voice of opposition.
His responsibility for a family and social affairs is a field of importance to the Catholic Church, not only on moral issues in general but also in specific campaigns such as that against the chronic alcoholism -- all politics aside -- is an undoubted major contributor to the poor work discipline and ineffi cieeconomic performance.
Meanwhile, Poland's perennial food difficulties have been seriously aggravated by the vast losses of grain, potatoes, and sugar beet in the capricious weather of late summer. Meat, butter, and lard are to be rationed in the new year, and the government has invited full public debate in order to devise an equable and acceptable system that will minimize new discontent in a winter that would be hard anyway.
Longer term, market supplies should improve thanks to the considerable inducements now being offered the private farmers who hold 75 percent of the agricultural land.
They are to get from 16 to 43 percent more for their meat, milk, sugar beets, and grain and first consideration in big new investments to provide more artificial fertilizers and equipment particularly suited to smallscale farming.
Obviously, however, it will take most of a year for this to have a noticeable effect on the market.
Politically, Stanislaw Kania, the new leader of the Communist Party, is winning favor with the party rand and file. But most ordinary Poles still show a cautious "wait and see" attitude while he goes about cleaning up the party at local levels.
No fewer than 17 of the first secretaries in voivodships (regions) hitherto identified as hard-liners have been removed. But opposition is still strong in some areas. The Solidarity union leader, Lech Walesa, has counseled his massive following against rushing into new strikes and to give the authorities a "breathing space."
This is what Mr. Kania most needs, not only economically but also politically , if some stability is to be restored in the country's life. He also needs time to build up the secure majority within the party he must have before he takes his promised "renewal" progrm for Polish society at large to a special congress.