Poles proceed more cautiously with reform process

If all goes well, the Polish Communist Party's all-important special congress will be under way in less than four weeks. If it is held, it may set a seal of some kind on the crisis that has immobilized the country since last September. If. That is an emotive word here just now.

The general public judged last week's Central Committee meeting a success for the reformers. Hopes rose.

But few people are completely sure about the coming month.

Asked directly by the Monitor, "Are you quite sure the congress will now take place?" a very senior official replied after momentary hesitation: "I think it will. I hope it will." He would not go further.

So often over the past nine months, whenever Poland has seemed to quiet down, a new crisis has flared to upset whatever delicate balance seemed to have been achieved.

The party committee's last session was an emergency one. It was necessitated by Solidarity's new challenge over alleged government procrastination in clearing up the Bydgoszcz affair of March 19, when the police beat up Solidarity activists.

In turn, it prompted a stern Soviet warning to the Polish leaders to assert control of the situation or, it was implied, let others take over who might.

The Polish leadership declined, as before, to reverse the reform process. But it also signaled a tightening up of party authority in the most sensitive areas.

One involves some "musical chairs" in editorial offices designed to bring overzealous reform news media back to the safer middle course the Kania leadership clearly sees as the only option. In another, Solidarity is being warned to stick strictly to its union charter, with a strong hint that the old party-tied unions (however truncated by the exodus to Solidarity) are going to be beefed up as at least partners on equal terms with the new independent movement.

Everyone seems to be accepting the realities of this adjusted approach to reform. Ordinary Poles are tired of tension and strikes and are still deeply skeptical anyway of how much "odnowa" (renewal) really will change the quality of their lives. Their minds are on the ever more daunting problem of feeding themselves.

Psychological reactions here have gone beyond this basic concern. One hears of people exchanging vodka for gasoline -- the latest "run" on the market -- and meat coupons even for cigarettes.

Solidarity's leader, Lech Walesa, shows himself increasingly aware of this pressing need for moderation. Though never hesitating to speak out against any possible Soviet intervention, Mr. Walesa is conscious of the consequences for his country of any breakdown or new domestic confrontation pushing the Russians inexorably toward some such move.

There are some positive aspects in the picture. The way in which the voivodship (province) elections of delegates to the party congress are proceeding is an example.

These elections take place at conferences of representatives who themselves have been chosen by secret ballot in all basic party organizations in the region.

The latest, at Krakow June 13, saw party leader Kania chosen.It was a remarkable triumph for a man whose future some people called in doubt only a week before.

He won the votes of 365 of the 396 participants and got the kind of enthusiastic, warm reception accorded no party leader in Poland this last nine months.

While immediate political pressures seem to have receded momentarily, the economy of Poland stands perilously close to collapse as Premier Wojciech Jaruzelski warned last week. The position worsens daily, as do ordinary living standards.

Still there are potential friction points such as the irksome Bydgoszcz affair. That problem has been temporarily defused, but a settlement has to be found by J uly 3 if more trouble is to be averted.

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