Poles relieved that they have moved out of the world limelight

"We're glad to be less in the world limelight. We prefer a quiet Poland." So says a senior official with a wry smile after the two calmest weeks Poles have seen in a year.

For ordinary Poles, Easter, which is an even more elaborate feast here than Christmas, is momentarily uppermost in thought, though rationing is severely limiting the table.

The official Polish news agency PAP had announced April 14 that food rationing would be extended on May 1 to include butter, cereals, and flour, but later withdrew the report, saying it was published prematurely.

For the regime, each day has to be used to put the nation's political house in order, lest another crisis arise. The next stage, it is hoped, will be the Communist Party congress, expected to be held in July.

[Reuters reports that Communist Party activists from all parts of Poland held an unprecedented rank and file conference April 15 that ended with sweeping demands for personnel changes in the party's leadership and large-scale democratization.]

Meanwhile, preparatory work is intensifying for the party congress in the hope that things are improving. "We have a better chance [now]," the official said.

Is that hope justified?

Inevitably, the circumstances of this Polish spring prompt recollections of the "Prague spring" of 1968.

Then, the Czechs and Slovaks planned a congress to strengthen a leadership that would be able to overcome conservative opposition to its reforms (which is what the Poles also want to do).

When the congress was held, however, Soviet military intervention had already made sure the reforms would never be accomplished.

In 1968 in Czechoslovakia, it was the doomed "action program." In 1981 in Poland, it is "socialist renewal."

For various reasons, the Polish program seems to stand a better chance of being realized. Prague's reform movement was inspired by intellectuals. Here it is the new independent unions, which are supported not only by their massive membership and the bulk of the Communist Party but also unquestionably by the majority of the population.

It is the working class -- along with the peasants and white-collar workers -- that is influencing and determining events more than any other element, more even than the "party of the working class" itself.

That is why Poles reckon that the Russians -- dislike it as they may -- will stop short of actual intervention.

"The balance sheet of enormous certain losses and nil gains still militates against a step that would put paid to much more than Mr. Brezhnev's detente," a Polish official remarked.

He went on to list the other losses:

* An end to hopes of new East-West disarmament talks, in which continued Soviet interest was amply demonstrated by recent talks in Moscow with West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and by Mr. Brezhnev's wish to continue them in Bonn later this year.

* Another major blow to the already divided international communist movement as well as to Soviet standing in the third world.

* Occupation of a country with massive foreign debts, an economy near collapse -- a problem that did not exist in Czechoslovakia in 1968 -- and an utterly hostile population.

[Reuters reports that PAP, the official Polish news agency, has stated that Poland's exports fell sharply in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period of 1980 and its balance of payments problem remained serious. Exports to noncommunist nations dropped by 28 percent, while those to communist countries fell by 17 percent.]

On the question of possible Soviet occupation, a high Solidarity source said, "People simply would not work. And, if they did, there would have to be a guard watching every worker."

The Russians might shore up the most sensitive sector of their Western security zone by stationing troops in much greater strength than they did during World War II. But if they do so, it would be only at great political cost.

The Poles were greatly perturbed by Washington's stream of dire predictions of Soviet intentions during their last big crisis as March ended.

"Such things can be counterproductive," the senior official cited above commented. "They create their own psychological atmosphere, which can be extremely dangerous."

It is conventional wisdom here that American warnings were at least in part intended to pressure NATO allies on the missile deployment issue in Western Europe.

But, at the same time, it is acknowledged that what ostensibly prompted these warnings was the Warsaw Pact maneuvers in and around Poland, and that these undoubtedly constituted a Soviet wish to influence events here.

Poles feel themselves squeezed between the two super powers. For that reason they still cling to a conviction that despite the rebuffs from President Reagan, detente remain a priority for Mr. Brezhnev.

They continue to profess confidence that the Russians will finally leave them to sort out their problems themselves (albeit with predictable, periodic pressures from the Kremlin). But there is scant optimism about East-West tensions in general.

"For us," a Foreign Ministry official observed, "there is no more alarming thing today -- not only for Poland but in the whole international context -- than the present disastrous state of US-Soviet relations."

He added, "There seems no ground for hope of any early change.We see no light yet at the end of that tunnel."

There is deep anxiety about what is seen as the Reagan administration's total intransigence toward the Russians. The Poles argue that American policy is confusing firmness with reality and that it offers no reasonable encouragement that might induce the Soviet leadership to be less rigid, more flexible, more "give and take," even over as difficult a question as Afghanistan.

The new US stance vis-a-vis the third world is also criticized. "Can the Americans be surprised," the official asked, "when some of those countries look to Russia even when obviously they know there would be greater advantage in more natural ties with the Western world?"

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