Pulling together in Poland

It is just possible the reshaped government in Warsaw will provide the combination of firmness and understanding needed to calm the nation after months of economic and political turmoil. The new prime minister, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, has made no bones about his fealty to the Warsaw Pact and his determination to keep Poland in the Communist camp. But he has reaffirmed that the government will carry out both the agreements made with the free trade unions and the party's plans to clean out its ranks. The respect in which the Polish Army is held -- perhaps the only Polish official institution that still commands respect -- gives hope that General Jaruzelski will succeed in beginning a genuine dialogue between government and people and thus enable the country to get on with the task of economic revitalization.

The signs at this writing are encouraging for Poland's stability. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa indicated he hoped the free trade unions would cooperate with General Jaruzelski's pleas for "90 days of calm" without strikes. In a gesture of good will coal miners in the south sent a telegram to the government saying they were willing to work voluntarily on "free Saturdays" for the next three months in order to keep coal production up. Workers in the Gdansk shipyards also offered their labor "for the good of the country." The private farmers, too , seemed to be relenting on demands for a free trade union of their own. If such a spirit of compromise, dialogue, and pulling together can be nurtured and grow, there need be no concern about adverse consequences for Poland's quiet revolution.

Ferment among the farmers is especially worrisome to the communist party. It is bad enough, in Marxist terms, for factory workers to set up independent unions. But they at least work for state-owned and state-controlled enterprises. For farmers who own their own property to form their own union -- and 75 percent of Polish farmland is in private hands -- would be politically intolerable to the party, for such a union would really constitute a rival power. Certainly the farmers have legitimate grievances against the government, which has invested a disproportionate, share of funds in the collective and state farms at the expense of modernizing private farming, but they must weigh carefully whether a frontal challenge to the Marxist system is the best way to secure their economic demands. The court has ruled that the private farmers cannot form a union but must rest content with an ordinary professional association.

In any case, it is clear that it will take candor, patience, and discipline on both sides -- workers and government -- to get Poland moving in the right direction. General Jaruzelski in fact seemed to invoke President Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" when urging every Pole to ask "what I can do and what I should do to check the course of events in our country." He did not absolve the government of mistakes but he made clear that Poland could not come to grips with its economic crisis in the midst of continued industrial unrest.

Poles seem to be responding favorably. But it hardly needs pointing out that much will depend on what the party does. It has decades of ineptness, corruption, and dishonesty to overcome. If it is the restore Poles' confidence in their own government, it will have to follow through on its promise of democratic "renewal." Poles watch to see if those officials in the localities as well as the center who have misused their positions for personal gain are removed, or forced to give up their perquisites, and if a new ethic is implanted in party ranks. They also await reforms to inject new life into the now-stagnant economy -- a prospect that has received impetus with the appointment of well-known reformist Mieczyslaw Rakowski as deputy prime minister.

The extraordinary story of Poland is far from over. If there are continuing dangers in the situation, however, there remain reasons for hope. And one is that the Poles, despite their ebullient nature, seem aware that self-discipline will be as important as determination in their struggle for thoroughgoing change.

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