Polish soldier-premier acts quietly but firmly

Poland's new soldier-prime minister, Wojciech Jaruzelski, has moved quietly but firmly to calm this much-buffeted country. In his first address as premier to the Sejm (parliament) Feb. 12, the army general:

* Called on Poles to set aside strike action "for 90 days of calm, for three hardworking months."

* Reshuffled the Cabinet, bringing in as one of the deputy premiers a man associated with reformist and pragmatic policies.

* Reaffirmed that the government intends to implement the letter of both the August agreements with the unions and the party's own "socialist renewal."

* Implied that he will adopt a firmer approach to the unions and the dissident "opposition" by saying that it was not "mistakes" that were the main source of the present disputes but rather "counterrevolutionary elements" seeking to penetrate society and the Solidarity union movement in order to weaken the socialist state.

General Jaruzelski's low-key style seemed to make an impact on Poles with whom this writer viewed the new premier's initial televised speech to the nation. He made no bones about being a soldier.

"I have been assigned a difficult task in a difficult situation," he said. "And, as a soldier, I regard a political duty as a military duty."

There was almost a touch (which Poles enjoyed) of John Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you . . ." when the general said that each Pole should ask his conscience "what I can do and what I should do to check the course of events in our country."

Both sides (government and Solidarity), he said, have made mistakes in these last stormy months. The situation was "something new" for both, and mistakes were inevitable, he said.

As he spoke, Solidarity disclosed that it had counseled the printing unions to forgo a threatened "day without press" action the next day. AT the same time Solidarity made it clear that it shared the printers' impatience at delay in implementation of the law reducing censorship and the as-yet-incomplete arrangements for its own more independent access to the state-controlled news media.

The censorship law has been held up by disagreement between the former government and the journalists and other unions on the question of who will control the official hand on the press.

General Jaruzelski made only a passing reference to that question. He spoke at greater length about such legislation as the law on labor relations that is to be based on the principles of independent unions and the right to strike.

Much has been said here this week -- first at the party plenum and now again by General Jaruzelski -- about a greatly enhanced role for parliament as "supreme authority in the state."

If this is going to mean in practice what it appears to mean, then compromise between the demand of the unions, which want the censorship office to be responsible to parliament, and the party, which prefers its continued control by the government, should be possible. At the least, they should be able to agree on definitions and avoid the kind of arbitrary rules and treatment of writers that frequently reduced cultural and literary freedom to a painful farce during the Gierek years.

Cabinet changes announced by General Jaruzelski included the appointment of Mieczyslaw Rakowski as a deputy prime minister. Mr. Rakowski is a member of the Communist Party Central Committee but is better known as editor of the highly regarded weekly Polityka.

The paper, with a newsprint allocation that limits its press run to 350,000 copies, is in demand among Poles and can be obtained only through permanent subscription or under the counter.

Mr. Rakowski was a participant in the publicly anonymous seminar of academics , economists, and professionals that, in the last Gierek years, produced two incisive reports setting out pragmatic and highly reformist ideas of what must be done to halt the increasing stagnation of Polish life.

He is a firmly committed but thoughtful party member, and as vice-premier he is to have responsibility for union affairs and culture. Many Poles will hope that his ideas of greatly restricted and more intelligent censorship, often expressed in Polityka (which itself has had many conflicts with the bureaucrats) will carry weight in shaping the new legislation.

Just now the country looks calmer than it has been for a long time. The one cloud in the sky could be the farmers' union movement. At least one section -- at Rzeszow, the original peasant base in the southeast -- has reacted sharply to the legal ruling that private farmers cannot under law form a labor union as such but must content themselves with an ordinary professional association.

These farmers sent a delegation to Solidarity's Gdansk headquarters Thursday to enlist support for further action. It seemed questionable whether they would get more than qualified backing. Solidarity appears inclined to give the new administration time.

The Roman Catholic episcopate upheld the farmers' "right" to a union and laid the blame for agricultural decline squarely on the regime. But it also called on all Poles to refrain from impetuous actions that could create new dangers for Poland and its internal peace.

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