Why Polish regime may be ready to lift martial law
Vienna — When Polish Prime Minister and Communist Party chief Wojciech Jaruzelski addresses parliament next week, he may well announce a time limit on martial law.
Several of his close advisers have hinted as much in recent days, and the country continues to be generally calm.
General Jaruzelski is also expected to ask the newly reconvened legislature to complete some unfinished business demanded by the Central Committee last November but interrupted by martial law.
This is contingency legislation designed to give the government extraordinary powers to deal with any new or prolonged crisis. Besides this ''stick,'' parliament is also expected to consider offering Poles some ''carrots'' in the area of social legislation.
It was tentative forecasts from two members of the government this week that has prompted speculation of a firmer pronouncement on the duration of emergency rule.
In a television appearance Monday Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski said that, if the country continued calm as now, martial law could be raised in ''a matter of weeks.'' Another deputy premier, Jerzy Ozdowski, made a similarly qualified statement that the authorities ''would like to end'' it by Feb. 1.
Several other factors suggest martial law may be lifted soon:
* The Christmas-New Year relaxations of the curfew and the reduction in its hours since then have passed without incident. There is apparently less passive resistance, too.
* The government is concerned about Western economic sanctions.
* Potentially just as damaging, Western governments and banks have taken a negative attitude toward Poland's pleas for more time for repayment of its massive Western debts and for fresh credits to sustain Poland in the process.
The official line is to present these Western reactions as interference in the country's internal affairs. But, as its economists are making clear, the government is well aware that the plight of the economy compels more realistic attitudes.
The lifting of martial law -- especially under the rigors imposed by an extraordinarily harsh winter -- would do more than anything else to begin to reconcile Poles to the even greater austerity measures that lie ahead.
But it seems certain that this will begin with no more than a partial dismantling of the measures that have militarized and disrupted -- and frequently paralyzed -- Polish life.
Some of the inconveniences for ordinary citizens have already been removed. Telephones are reconnected, though wiretaps continue. People may visit and travel, but need a special permit to go outside their own province. Public entertainment has reopened.
The next stage would be the lifting of the curfew. Most important of all would be the removal of the military personnel breathing down the necks of enterprise management and supervising activity in all phases of commercial and economic life.
Rocked by reports that the party was in a calamitous state, the Central Committee voted a resolution in November calling on parliament to give the government every authority to take ''extraordinary means'' against what it saw as the looming threat to the ''socialist state, law and order. . . .''
Now, parliament seems certain to endorse something along these lines, in effect providing more legitimization of the martial law decision. It may move on to the trade union bill; prepared before martial law, this was to have modified the right to strike. Now it is likely to suspend that right.
The Central Committee also urged a speeding up of the economic reform, and movement on some of the basic social issues.
Behind the scenes of military rule, parliamentary groups have begun work on this. The program includes providing a major spurt in housing construction by mid-year; providing a boost for the declining, stagnant coal industry; and devising a program to meet the needs of agriculture and food production.
The latter means primarily the private sector of farming, which accounts for almost 80 percent of all agricultural land.
Warsaw Radio Jan. 14 reported completion of the first reading of a bill guaranteeing private farmers security of tenure and inheritance. They have sought these for years.
Just as essential are the promises of higher prices for their products and more tractors and other equipment. Coming to terms with the farmers is going to be as crucial to the regime's efforts to pull Poland out of crisis as its ideas about and relations with a new Solidarity.