While Poland struggles, Gierek may get off with a public 'mea culpa'

Edward Gierek, Poland's communist leader for almost a decade, has formally assumed a major share of responsibility for last year's crisis. But, unlike former prime minister Piotr Jaroszewics, he will probably avoid expulsion from the Communist Party.

A meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party last December considered the cases of the two former leaders. Mr. Jaroszewics was raked over the coals as the key figure in the runaway economic policies that brought Poland to the verge of bankruptcy and amassed debts of some $25 billion with the West.

He has long since been replaced as premier -- at the start of 1980 -- and then in December he was expelled from the party. Reference was made to "abuses" of his position and an investigation of them continues. It could lead to prosecution in the courts.

However, there has been no suggestion that Mr. Gierek was involved in corrupt practices. Instead, the party committee criticized him for complacency about economic affairs, indifference to criticism, and undemocratic methods in leadership.

At the same time it praised his early efforts to overcome the December 1970 crisis that brought him to office. Hence he has been removed from the Central Committee but not expelled from the party.

Appearing before the formal inquiry commission May 19, Mr. Gierek claimed that he had worked "for the good of the country" and a modern economy. But he accepted "partial responsibility" for policies that failed to realize Poland's potential and eventually sparked the crisis that brought his downfall.

According to the official account, Mr. Gierek was "particularly self-critical" of personnel practices and antidemocratic methods in party affairs under his leadership. The party describes these as his "gravest errors."

His case to get further consideration, but it appears unlikely to be pressed beyond the customary disciplinary reprimand. The charges against his predecessor, Wladislav Gomulka, in the 1970 riots were much more serious. Yet he lives in honorable retirement and is said to be writing his memoirs "fo r posterity."

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