Poland's ascending reform movement climbs down

Poland's promised process of reform is to be modified -- or tailored -- under firmer Communist Party control to meet severe criticism from the Soviet Union and Poland's other two East-bloc neighbors, East Germany and Czechoslovakia.

Thay was implicit in the opening speech Stanislaw Kania, the Polish Communist Party's first secretary, made to the Central Committee on behalf of the Politburo. And as the meeting went into its second day June 10, ordinary, apolitical Poles as well as reformers seemed reconciled to the need to accommodate their critical neighbors.

Yet, even though the air of crisis persists, there is a modest confidence that the general line of reform will be maintained -- at least if Mr. Kania remains at the head of the leadership. "There is no sensible alternative," he said in his speech.

At the same time, Reuters reported June 10 a new dramatic turn: the decision of the members of the Polish Communist Party's Politburo to submit themselves individually to a vote of confidence by the party's Central Committee. The 140 members of the powerful Central Committee elect the ruling 11-member Politburo.

It is clear that there are going to be substantial "corrections" in areas that have come under strongest Soviet attack, especially the news media. Some of the country's leading daily newspapers, which have burgeoned into robust, informative, and questioning sheets, are likely to be seriously affected.

But new censorship legislation may allow them to retain much of their latitude. The new law is expected to reduce significantly the number of areas that in the past have been politically taboo.

The axe will fall heaviest on a host of thus-far-uncensored small publications and bulletins issued, for example, by local branches of the Solidarity union. These have provided a lot of the material for Moscow's charges of "antisocialism" and "anti-Sovietism."

The union's main publication, Solidarnosc, which gets a big enough newsprint allocation to make it the largest weekly in the country, is subject to censorship like any other publication of general distribution. So far it has neither greatly offended the censors nor greatly suffered at their hands.

On the basis of a general belief that no major leadership changes lie immediately ahead, the party is expected to look to union leader Lech Walesa and his strong "moderate" following to exercise restraint on the union's less official press.

Mr. Kania spoke of a "disquieting" manifestation of anti-Sovietism spread in leaflets and local newssheets. These -- and recent reports of desecration of Soviet war memorials on Polish soil -- obviously sparked Russia's professed concern about the general flouting of the Polish party's authority.

At this writing, some 40 members of the Central Committee had yet to speak. Some of the early speakers, among them people who have lost their posts in local party organizations because they are against "renewal," echoed the so-called Katowice Party Forum. This is the group of elderly, orthodox, dogmatic communists whose declarations about "enemies of socialism" manipulating Solidarity won instant Soviet approval and brought about the present crisis.

They have found their first support inside the party Politburo in the person of Andrzej Zabinski. At 43 one of its younger members. Mt. Zabinski is an orthodox communist and the leader of the Katowice provincial party committee. He was suspected of sympathizing with the forum after he made an ambivalent comment indicating he did not agree with "all" its propositions.

What he told the Central Comittee reflected not only the forum's view but also the Russians' main argument against allegedly weak and passive party attitudes toward features of the reform movement that have been Moscow's target all along.

One of the first of the open reformers to speak was Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski, who has frequently warned that disregard of the sensitive geopolitical facts of Poland's links with the Soviet Union could destroy all the hopes placed in the reform or "renewal" process. To survive this crisis, he said, the party had to win the "hearts and minds" of the working class and the nation at large, to persuade them of the realities and the political limits of reform.

For 48 hours, local party organizations have maintained an "alert" to every word from the committee sessions.

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