Poland's nonevent

Probably the most important world news of recent days is of a nonevent. We are now into the 13th week since martial law was clamped down on Poland and the independence of a national trade union called Solidarity was suppressed. The nonevent is that this has not led to an underground resistance movement in Poland or any major international crisis.

The story might well have gone the other way. The Polish people were shocked and resentful over the deed of Dec. 13 that suddenly took away from them the remarkable freedom they had won over the previous year. They had achieved a pluralistic society in which church and trade unions were free of government and party influence. What they wanted and had reached was pulled rudely away. Seventeen Poles died resisting the suppression.

The sequel could easily have been the mass of the Polish people going into an underground resistance movement that would have plunged Poland into massive bloodshed and a guerrilla civil war. It could have gone on for years. The urge to do so was strong. The Poles know the technique. They practiced it against the Germans during the years of World War II. Many members of Solidarity went into hiding on Dec. 13 and are still out of sight in the potential underground resistance.

In Washington some officials hoped for such a development in Poland and would have been eager to support it to the best of their ability for an obvious short-term military advantage to the West. Underground resistance in Poland would have strained the supply line from the Soviet Union to the Soviet Army of occupation in East Germany. Soviet military options in Central Europe would have been reduced.

But now, 13 weeks on from those days of mid-December, it is obvious that a minority in Washington was alone in wanting that trend. The West Europeans shied away quickly and firmly from encouraging the Poles to rebel.

Eyes then turned to Rome to see what the most influential Pole in the world would do and say. The Pope expressed every sentiment of compassion for his fellow Poles. But his counsel to them both in the open and in private was to avoid the shedding of Polish blood.

The Pope has spoken out repeatedly since then against the severity of the military regime. He has asked for release of the persons still in detention. But he has counseled against violence and physical resistance.

The Polish bishops took counsel with the Pope in Rome and returned to Poland calling for relaxation of martial law, but also stating that ''it is the duty of society to be directed by a feeling of realism in the assessment of the geopolitical position of our country.'' They ''expressed deep gratitude for the assistance received from abroad'' and noted that ''our country continues to require help from other countries.''

The implication was easy to read between the lines. The Pope and the Polish bishops were telling the Polish people ''to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.'' They have disassociated themselves from President Reagan's campaign of sanctions against Poland. The US withholding of grain shipments from Poland has increased the shortage of food in that country. The Pope has done all he can to protect the Polish people from further hardship and from a struggle in which many would lose their lives.

It should be noted that the Pope has also disassociated himself from the Reagan campaign for US military intervention in El Salvador. On Feb. 28, the same day the statement by the Polish Episcopate was read in Poland's 18,000 Roman Catholic parishes, the Pope spoke out about El Salvador in his Sunday remarks to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. His prayer was for ''a halt to the slaughter, (so that) the people of El Salvador can resolve, without foreign interference, the grave problems that afflict it.''

This aligned the Pope with the position of the Mexican and French governments , both of which favor, and are pushing for, a negotiated solution to the civil war in El Salvador, whereas President Reagan is pushing for a military victory by the Duarte government.

US Secretary of State Alexander Haig attempted this week to counter the campaign against US intervention on the grounds that the rebels in El Salvador are controlled by ''outside'' forces, by implication Cuba and Moscow. Hence, if others are interfering, the US is entitled to do the same.

The essential fact remains that the NATO allies are holding out against Washington on sanctions against either Poland or the Soviets and generally disapprove of US miliary intervention in El Salvador. The Vatican is in line with the allies, not with the administration in Washington.

The latest word from Washington is that the White House has recognized the impossibility of lining up the allies for sanctions against Poland or Moscow. There was a lingering hope until this week that they might still manage to block the completion of the gas pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe, but apparently even that position has had to be abandoned.

In other words, no one in Western Europe likes the suppression of the new freedoms in Poland, but none is prepared to push the matter to the point where the Polish people would be committed to an underground resistance movement. The status quo in Central and Eastern Europe is preferred to the uncertainties of a resort to violence. And Washington must conform to a position that is supported by all the European allies and by the Vatican.

This week Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski traveled from Warsaw to Moscow to assure Leonid Brezhnev that ''Poland will not abandon the road to socialism. It will not be its weak link.''

In other words, for the time being at least, Poland is back under Moscow control. Only in Washington is anyone still talking of trying to disturb this restoration of things as they were before the Poles reached for freedom. The Poles are back inside the Soviet empire, as they were before. Their European friends lament their fate, but act on the assumption that the time is not yet ripe for the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe. Mr. Reagan in Washington has no choice but to acquiesce so far as Poland is concerned.

The El Salvador situation is another matter. Mr. Reagan wants to send more guns to the governing junta. Congress is increasingly doubtful. One difference (of many) between the El Salvador affair and Vietnam is the position of the Catholic Church. It favored US intervention in Vietnam for the sake of the substantial Roman Catholic minority. In both Poland and El Salvador the populace is entirely Catholic. The church is opposing intervention that increases violence and risks more lives.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Poland's nonevent
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today