Both the Poles and the Soviets find the cupboard is bare

Martial law may have done what the Polish authorities wanted and restored a semblance of ''law and order.'' But it has not done anything to halt the country's economic decline.

Nor is there any sign of a thaw in the extreme winter, the Sy- - ZO -/O/ years. It is (ampering industry and the movement of supplies and making everyday life harder.

If anything, the economy and conditions continue to get worse as the country enters its fifth week in the harshly restrictive grip of martial law.

Some relaxation of martial law has enabled foreign journalists in Warsaw to provide the first clear pictures of a country living through a month almost in a state of war. What their dispatches show is a nation that by official admission is virtually bankrupt and at a standstill.

The gravity of the situation was brought home Jan. 9 when Vice-Premier Janusz Obodowski disclosed that:

* Poland's debts to the West have reached $28.5 billion, with another half billion to be added for last year's food purchases. This is at least $3 billion higher than the peak figure reported in 1981.

* That, for each quarter of this year, the country must have $1.5 billion in fresh credits if it is to begin the mountainous task of getting back on its feet.

* That it will require at least a year's grace in meeting repayment obligations on Western debt due this year.

In what had all the appearance of a desperate appeal to the West, the deputy premier said the Western freeze on further credits would only compound Poland's difficulties.

''If we do not get these funds,'' he said, ''we shall have significantly to curb home supplies and production and partially to replace them with tightening of our links with Comecon.''

Mr. Obodowski admitted that Poland could not be saved just by its partners in the Soviet bloc. Its principal bloc partner, the Soviet Union, has come up with further help in new long-term credits worth some $3.4 billion.

These are to cover Poland's 1981 trade deficit with the Russians and help pay for additional supplies this year of oil, natural gas, and raw materials for which Poland is dependent on the Soviet Union.

But Mr. Obodowski made clear that the Soviet Union alone could not meet the entire burden of Poland's needs for recovery. ''We need Western technology,'' he said.

Both Russia and Poland have protested Western reactions to martial law, in the one case against US sanctions and in the other against the prospect of greatly reduced help for Poland from at least some of the West Europeans.

The censorship relaxation may have been prompted at least in part by the need to convey to Western creditors the idea that helping Poland's recovery is their only hope of getting their money back someday. But it was also an urgent appeal to Western governments not to ''cut off links'' and to reconsider their present attitudes.

Certainly Poland's rulers are fully aware that none of the country's other problems can be met if the economy is not wrenched from its present morass. They must also know that to encourage fresh confidence in the West, their calls for help must be accompanied by meaningful gestures toward at least modifying, and ultimately, removing the image of martial law, no matter how much they insist it was the only alternative to a threat of civil war allegedly arising from Solidarity's extremism.

A variant of this explanation, incidentally, has appeared with some semblance of authority from official sources. It is said that senior military men in the Communist Party learned of a plot by a group of discredited hard-liners to seize control of the apparatus and, if necessary, to invoke direct Russian help to enable them to take over the party.

It was then, apparently, that the Poles themselves, having informed Moscow of their intention, made the decision to set in motion the contingency plans for a state of emergency that had been under active preparation from very shortly after Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski took over as prime minister last February.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Both the Poles and the Soviets find the cupboard is bare
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today