All quiet on the Polish front -- for the time being

Despite the ominous and confusing predictions and statements coming from Washington, Poland is as quiet as it has been at any time since the crisis erupted last August.

There was not a sign of the tense atmosphere generated by the succession of confusing utterances coming from the US Departments of State and Defense.

There is a big Army staff headquarters block just across the street from this writer's hotel.As usual, there was only a solitary guard always on duty at the main entry.

he joint Warsaw Pact exercises are well into their third week, but they are thought now to be confined to Soviet, East German, and Czechoslovak areas just across the Polish border. According to Western diplomats, Polish units previously involved are back in their barracks.

An acquaintance, driving from a point close to the Soviet frontier to Warsaw, reports meeting two Soviet Army oil containers en route -- going east. villagers said a convoy of five Soviet trucks had gone through a few days before.

This weekend included a "free Saturday," with only food shops open. In cool but brilliant sunny weather, the city has been virtually deserted.

Poles, relieved that last week's menacing crisis was averted, were drily amused at American official suggestions that Soviet intervention, was, so to speak, just around the corner. The subsequent White House statement that there were no indications that a Soviet move was imminent "or likely" seemed more in accordance with the facts.

An American businessman here on a private food aid mission met a deputy prime minister and the secretary of the Roman Catholic episcopate and found them both concerned by the situation overall but relaxed. At Gdansk he saw Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa.

Last month the union had prepared its members for both a general strike and a possible intervention. But the visitor found Mr. Walesa more immediately concerned with using this period of calm, however short it might prove to be, to get on with his delayed job of union organization.

All this does not mean the Poles reject the idea that the Soviet Union may at some time feel constrained to intervene.

"We have just got over another hump," a veteran former party member told me. "A general strike would have been a political and economic catastrophe. But it's not at all certain how long we have got. We are not out of the wood by a long chalk."

This was also being demonstrated in the latest harsh comments by the Soviets. To some extent these may be seen as a counterblast to all that Washington is saying, just as the continuation of the maneuvers is a continued "warning" to the Poles.

In its own calculated way, some of Moscow's comment is close to the actuality of what is happening here.For example, when Izvestia implies criticism of the leadership for the lack of discipline in the party's ranks, it is putting a finger on the party's main dilemma.

Since the March 29 plenum, the Politburo has been stumping the country to defend itself against rank and file protest at the failure to drop those standing in the way of reform. All the Politburo, including the leader, Stanislaw Kania, were given a tough time.

The latter's own meeting, in a radio plant, was described by the news media as an "open and polemical discussion [which] at times broke into sharp dispute."

"Our comrades expect more decisive leadership to implement 'socialist renewal' and eliminate those opposed," another member was told at a works with 4 ,000 party members.

At yet another meeting, a communist farmer told the party spokesman: "For years we were afraid to discuss, because if anyone stood up with sore problems, he was immediately silenced with a question, 'What sort of comrade are you?'"

All over the country this sort of thing is going on. The criticism is increasingly forthright, and the party is struggling to defend itself and aserting its commitment to reform.

The openness of the media reporting is entirely new. This is another development that must be causing the Russians tremendous anxiety. In Polish terms, it is aptly summed up in a cartoon in the first edition of Solidarity's weekly newspaper, named after itself, which appeared Friday.

It carries a day-by-day account of the Bydgoszcz affair and the police action that sparked the strike call. A cartoon shows a heavily bandaged patient in a hospital bed.

The doctor is telling him: "You know, this must represent some sort of 'renewal.' Not long ago you would have been beaten worse, and no one would know about it."

Solidarity has 16 pages and a press run of 500,000, which makes it easily the biggest weekly in the country. It was an instant sellout.

The appearance of the weekly is one of the gains Lech Walesa has in mind when he tells a visitor: "The important thing now it to consolidate, to hold on to all that we have gained. . . ."

His view is widely shared by the party's reformers and the rank and file majority as well as union members and the public at large. "The one hope is moderation," my former party member friend remarked, "and even that may not be enough unless the party can be pulled together."

At the moment, Solidarity's moderates are uppermost. But it still is a fragile victory. "Maybe the only way," my friend continued, "is to be content with a controlled democratization, something within the party's ability to show the Russians, if it can, that it is in control."

Big gains have been recorded -- Solidarity itself, the right to strike, the church's own new access to the media, the possibility even of Rural Solidarity (also strongly supported by the church) getting its union status.

Both the party and union know that in this last crisis it was the church and its counsel for patience that counted most in the end. Given the backing of a Polish Pope this in terms of political impact could still give Russia cause to pause before any drastic ste p.

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