Polish factions draw together and defuse political crisis

Poland seems to be drawing back from the brink. In the last few days the country's three great power groups -- the ruling (albeit still struggling) Communist Party, the mass-membership new trade unions, and the Roman Catholic Church -- have moved closer together in a common bond of national unity and awareness.

Observers generally see this, as do all the Poles one talks with, as the only way the country may be steered through its present immediate crisis without courting Soviet intervention.

Saturday, the party leader, Stanislaw Kania, again reaffirmed the regime's undiminished commitment to the communist camp and to a reform program that does not overstep politically acceptable limits.

The Catholic Church has also said that demands for reform must be kept within bounds and addressed a solemn warning to the dissident opposition groups that extremist or provocative acts and statements can only expose Poland to the risk of losing its present freedoms and any hope of extending them.

There is, in fact, a quite distinct difference in the atmosphere here now compared with the perilous tensions of a few weeks ago.

And there have been a few signs that the pressures from the bloc have been somewhat eased, at least allowing some margin of time for the leadership and the country to show itself capable of solving its own problems.

This week, the whole nation is joining together to remember the last tragic crisis in its history -- the December 1970 riots in the Baltic ports that toppled the Gomulka regime.

It was followed six years later by more violent industrial unrest. That, too , is being remembered.

Gdansk was at the center of the storm in 1970 just as it was in this summer's crisis, which brought the new Solidarity independent union into existence.

The Aug. 31 settlement included government agreement on erecting long-delayed memorials to the 46 workers who died on the streets of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin 10 years ago.

The Gdansk memorial, which is to be unveiled Dec. 16, is a 130 foot-high composition of three crosses in stainless steel erected at the gates of the Lenin shipyard.

Menacing as it was, the "War of nerves" conducted against Poland by its "fraternal allies" in military movements and a barrage of media attacks helped the leadership here.

Much more than the latter's own somber warnings, it brought home to Poles of all shades of opinion a realization of what probably lay ahead if moderation was not permitted to prevail.

Party and government will obviously by reckoning to build more on this foundatin at Tuesday's commemorations.

If these events, however emotion charged, pass off peacefully (and most people seem quite confident they will) it should bolster the regime's confidence. It still shows much uncertainty.

Increasing pressure has been exerted lately on the authorities about the large Western media presence here from the very outset of the crisis.

Last week saw a frenetic display of official indecision before a ruling that some 25 journalists must leave the country before the Baltic anniversary, even though they hold valid visas, was revoked.

After all the fuss, a big press center is being established at Gdansk and ambassadors from East and West have been invited so that everyone may see that everything is under control. The chairman of the Council of State, Henryk Jablonski, is expected to attend. Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, who succeded Pope John Paul II as archbishop at Krakow, will be there to represent the 78 year-old-primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and othr bishops.

The commemoration began Sunday with the reading in churches throughout Poland of a pastoral letter calling on all Poles "not to expose the security of the country to any risk." This, the letter says, is "not the time for mutual recrimination or accusations, and all Poles must unify their efforts to guarantee the institution of the state and the sovereignty of the country."

The church's part in recent events has been tremendous. It took a wisely moderate line from the start of the crisis in August, and at one point even Catholic workers in the Baltic yards professed disappointment when the primate seemed to be asking them to take the regime's promises on trust and return to work for the good of the nation.

The church, however, continued to advise caution and political realism. It is this that is winning through and, in this last period, the church has emerged in the most striking manner as the nation's counsellor.

It is said, in fact, that last month the party leader asked the primate to return earlier than planned from a sojourn in the Vatican and, immediately after his return Nov. 24, told him the country was on the brink of a grave crisis.

Unless it was calmed, he reportedly told the cardinal, there would be no alternative but to call a state of emergency with all its probable consequences, including even Soviet intervention.

Previously, the primate had already urged Solidarity to base its demands on what the government "can give and what it cannot give today." The union's restraint since the November crisis shows that finally the moderates were able to carry this realistic view.

The Episcopate met Dec. 12 and afterward issued its warning against extremism and a similar appeal for moderation. "We are for the 'renewal,'" its spokesman said, "within existing constitutional order."

It was the clearest public gesture of support for the party and its efforts to bring the situation under control the church has yet made. It could be the deciding factor.

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