Will Poles roll up their sleeves now that party's over?
Warsaw — The party -- or rather, the Communist Party congress -- is over. The delegates have gone back to report to their constituents, and in general they are more optimistic than they and the rank and file have been for a long time.
The net result for the partym looks good.
But all the questions of the past year of agonized crisis still hang in the air as menacingly as ever.
Apart from the current two strike threats -- unresolved at this writing -- labor unrest is never far below the surface. The staggering economic problems remain, as do the daunting questions of how to solve them.
At the close of a congress that ran two days longer than planned because of the intensity of feelings among the delegates, party chief Stanislaw Kania (heartened by his rousing vote of continued confidence) warned the delegates that the time had come for action.
"Don't let this congress go down in history as one where Poland was talked to death!" he said amid applause.
The party, in fact, has emerged with a democratized hue in many ways like that essayed by the "liberals" in Prague in 1968, but it has prudently stayed within strictly defined limits.
Poles as well as outside observers are asking if the congress is going to be more than a pause, so to speak, for a "stocktaking" and a settling of accounts with the past.
In short, is it going to work? Can the remodeled party -- with both this different kind of congress and its new charter making an advance toward democratic procedures -- rouse the country and get Poles to work seriously on solving this crisis?
Time alone will tell. The crucial test here and now is: Can and will it provide stronger leadership than it has managed at any time this past year?
Last August the party leadership was knocked completely off balance by the strikes and the general national breakdown that followed. It still showed scant sign of meaningful recovery just prior to the congress.
When Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski took office at the start of the year, he appealed for 90 days of industrial peace.
Despite the euphoria that accompanied the general's appointment, little changed. Only a month after he took office the country was gripped in one of the most dangerous moments of the whole crisis.
Party and government never looked as though they were leading from strength or assurance. Will they do so now?
To this observer, the congress had a very positive side, although not all the reformers' hopes were realized.
The congress has also given the regime its first real chance -- and, should the promise be unfulfilled, it could well be its last -- to show the kind of leadership so many ordinary Poles appear to be looking for.
One of the most thoughtful Western diplomats here put it this way: "Are party and government going to lead now or go on struggling? The time has come. They have their chance now really to demostrate they are able to 'take charge' of events and govern."
Among responsible, nonparty Poles whose attitudes hitherto have been indifferent or resigned, a similar reaction is already noted. The removal of the party's economic profligates of the 1970s drew a positive response. Now they are waiting for real initiatives from party and government to prove that things are beginning to move and are really going to change.
The new charter is good -- for the party. The direct and secret elective processes practiced at the congress now apply at all levels.
Rights that no other East-bloc party allows are institutionalized for the rank and file. The congress delegates retain their present mandates and may demand a recall conference if the Politburo and Central Committee seem to ignore the new rules of full consultation and discussion of policy and decisions.
The party's "leading role" and "democratic centralism" are upheld, as far as words go, according to the Soviet axiom. But here they are given a distinct nuance -- quite close, in fact, to the Yugoslav concept.
"It requires unity of action once majority decisions are made," a younger party member commented, " but allows for real diversity of opinion. Before, we had 'bureaucratic centralism.' Provided the new statute is observed, it will really be 'democratic centralism.'"
The party in some sense has been "parliamentarized," with executive Politburo and Central Committee, a "government" strictly accountable to the membership.
The parliament -- already strengthened since the crisis began last August -- should now acquire more authority and independence.
What seems most necessary, in fact, is for these changes within the party to be given a much broader application to bring a noncommunist nation-at-large into the picture -- including even the Roman Catholic Church and the independent union, Solidarity.
To this end changes are contemplated in the Front of National Unity -- the umbrella group of political parties that traditionally has organized Polish elections. It has served largely as a rubber-stamp for the ruling leadership.
But what Poles want most just now is leadership that really begins to lead and to show a strong sense of direction.
[Reuters reports that PAP, the official Polish news agency, says that a Polish LOT airlines plane with 50 passengers on board was hijacked Tuesday to West Berlin. PAP said the plane had been taken over by a terrorist who threatened a stewardess with a gun.]
[The Polish agency said the twin-engined Antonov-24 turboprop was on a flight from the Silesian industrial city of Katowice to the northern port of Gdansk, and that there were a number of foreigners on board.]