The Poles and the bear

Moscow once again is growling rather loudly about events in Poland. It watches as the Polish reformist movement gathers strength and worries that the communist party there will lose its commanding role. How ominous are the Soviet growls? Is it time to worry anew about a possible Soviet move into Poland? At the Moment that seems highly unlikely. Rather the tough talk seems to indicate the Russians are deeply agonized over the Polish question and, uncertain what to do, desperately hope they can simply jawbone the Poles into not going too far.

What set off the latest verbal assault in Moscow was a polish party forum in the town of Katowice. At that forum old-time party hard-liners -- themselves clinging desperately to power and hoping to undermine the reform movement -- raised alarms about "revisionism" and "opportunism" within the party and suggested the party was losing control. Aha! said the Russians, seizing upon the Katowice statements and airing them widely and prominently in Soviet media.Soviet reporters, meanwhile, have been scurrying around the Polish countryside trying to dredge up signs of popular dicontent with Poland's liberalizing course and writing of a breakdown of law and order.

Two can play at the game, however, and Poles are proving their talent for political mav neuver. The Polish Politburo no doubt hoped to ignore the whole Katowice affair. But, challenged so frontally by Moscow, it has issued an official statement carefully and effectively denying the Katowice charges. Inasmuch as this is the first time the Polish ruling body has openly put itself at odds with Moscow, the net result is probably to strengthen the Kania government in the eyes of the Polish people. President Kania would at least be seen as not being a tool of Moscow.This could in fact help him and other party leaders in their bid for election as delegates to the upcoming polish party congress. That congress will be crucial in setting the future leadership and policies of Poland and is in fact what the Russians now are most concerned about.

As for the alarums raised in the Soviet press about supposed chaos in Poland, these reports are mostly unfounded. There have been a few untoward incidents involving the police and public, to be sure. But law and order has not broken down. In some places in fact production has begun to pick up. The Lenin Shipyard, for instance, where the whole worker revolution began, proudly announced that in the first instance, where the whole made up the shortfall in production of the last half of 1980. Hence the picture is nowhere as bleak as the Soviet press would make out.

Following the twists and turns of Polish politics is an esoteric undertaking for most outsiders. But the important thing to remember is that the reform movement is not static. It is a dynamic process, constantly changing as it reaches into ever-wider areas of Polish life. As this movement evolves, it sets forces and counterforces in motion. Conflicts arise between those striving to keep power (even at the cost of Soviet intervention) and those who want to overturn the old order and move quickly to fundamental reform. In between are voices -- within both the party and the unions -- caution against either extreme and prefer to keep democratization moving along on a steady, but cautious course.

In this situation there are bound to be times of lesser or greater tension where the Russians are concerned. In the months and even years ahead we might see not one but repeated crises. For the moment, however, the men in the Kremlin appear to be swallowing what for them must be the most galling developments in an allied and communist country. This tells us again that military power is not always the helpful advantage it is cracked up to be.

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