Poland's deepening plight

The world sorrows at Poland's plight. Any early hope that martial law would be bloodless and brief has been dashed as the army has imposed a repressive and harsh rule. The tragedy lies not only in the suppression - once again - of Poles' poignant struggle for a measure of freedom and a better life. It lies also in the tyranny which has ruled the Russian people for so many centuries and rules it still. How much time must pass before they, too, are free and have a government that feels secure enough to leave its neighbors alone? The extent to which the Soviet Union was directly involved in the Polish crackdown is in a sense irrelevant. The fact is, it has imposed a monstrous system on Eastern Europe that has prevented self-determination and provides the soil for popular opposition.

Everyone must pray that further violence in Poland can be avoided, for if the situation deteriorates the possibility of open Soviet intervention grows. All must also ardently hope that the Poles - government and Solidarity - can still work out a modus vivendi making it possible to save something of the reform movement. This looks to be increasingly difficult, now that it is known how many months the government had been planning a crackdown. Whatever credibility the regime had must certainly now be utterly shattered.

Yet General Jaruzelski must know that, while his troops can force the factories to open and even force Poles to go to their jobs, he cannot make them work with the enthusiasm and discipline needed to revive the economy. The economic crisis will only persist with workers bitter and demoralized, and tempted to passive resistance.

At this stage it remains to be seen what role the Roman Catholic Church might play as it tries to forestall more violence. Can it be instrumental in bringing about a negotiation? For such a negotiation to succeed, all sides would have to be prepared to live with a situation different from that which existed earlier. The government would have to adjust to Solidarity, the union would have to adjust by pulling back its demands, and - not least of all - the Soviet Union would have to adjust to a changed Polish structure. Poles would end up with much less in the way of freedom than Solidarity initially aspired to, but surely this would be a better alternative to stalemate, civil disturbances, and a ''Soviet solution.''

The West, which is morally offended by the jailing of Solidarity activists, closing down of the free press, and other acts of force, is not entirely without resources. The Polish economy cannot get off the ground without continuing Western aid and a rescheduling of Poland's massive debt. President Reagan and other Western leaders are right to tie economic help to the end of martial law and to economic and other reform measures.

The Soviet Union, for its part, just as in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, has confronted another tide of resistance to communist rule and sanctioned a counter-effort to put it down. The result will be even greater Polish hatred not only for Poland's own communist system but for the Soviet Union and its people - and thus, ironically, even less security for the Soviet empire. Surely the men in the Kremlin realize that, while the Polish rebellion may be suppressed for a while, it will never be snuffed out. This time it was joined by virtually the entire nation - workers, intellectuals, students - and it is certain to reemerge.

If the Poles seem to have forgotten their geography in their overambitious reach for freedom and change, the Soviet leaders would do well not to forget the Polish spirit of independence. A political compromise in Poland is still preferable to armed intervention - even from the standpoint of the Russians.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.