Soviet bloc digging deep into pockets to help Poland

Poland's East European allies and the Soviet Union are speeding up equipment deliveries to keep Polish production going.

Under an emergency decision of Comecon, the East block equivalent of the European Commission, they are also digging into their pockets to help Poland stave off defaulting its Western debts.

The Russians -- by informed estimates -- have already put up $1.2 billion to help Poles pay their creditors since summer 1980. Between them, the smaller Comecon countries are said to have mustered another $750 million.

The Soviet Union is the major contributor to the salvage operation. Under 1982 trade protocols it has shipped machinery, spare parts, and other farm equipment well ahead of delivery schedules.

It has also helped supply raw materials Poland is no longer getting from the West, placed new orders from Polish shipyards, and agreed to participate in finishing and operating plants that Poles would have to abandon otherwise. The smaller Comecon allies are also helping.

Last year Poland's net industrial production fell by 15 percent, back to the 1974 level. The January-February gross industrial output still further declined compared with last year - despite martial law disciplines - and 1981's agricultural level was the same as in 1972.

Only coal, which tallied an encouraging 14 percent increase over January-February of last year, and other mining branches showed any upturn. Some of the most vital manufacturing industries are still operating at little more than 50 percent of capacity.

All this raises grave questions: How much help must Poland get to stop the rot? How much more can its partners afford when so much of what Poland needs is precisely the resources they need themselves?

The best-informed view is that the Soviets will continue to find the essentials to bring enough stabilization in industry and agriculture to fend off Poland's collapse.

This must also mean much greater Polish dependence on the Soviet Union, followed by further weakening of Western ties.

This -- the Poles say uncomfortably -- will happen anyway, because of Western refusal to provide new credits to maintain and stimulate economic activity based on Western technologies and because of sanctions that hit Poland's most pressing needs.

Some Western countries have indicated they would consider helping Poland if martial law were lifted and meaningful talks initiated with Solidarity and society at large, about how to deal with the problems.

Similar propositions were made by the Polish episcopate's ''council of social accord'' in a plan for dialogue published April 13, together with a warning of the dangers of continued stalemate.

At this writing there has been no official reaction to this effort.

Although the authorities may say the church's demands set too unequivocal a return to conditions and liberties which existed before martial law, the church council also held Solidarity ''partially responsible'' for the crisis and hinted strongly that a new union should keep out of politics.

The document reflected Poles' concern that the authorities are, in effect, sitting on their hands and doing little to mend the breakdown in communication.

Allowing Lech Walesa to reunite with his family at his internment villa over Easter may have been meant as a gesture. But it will require more than that.

A dialogue has to start soon, unless (as many fear) the regime is reconciling itself to indefinite military rule backed by continued Soviet-bloc economic support.

That might keep Poland in line. It might also bring about closer, more conformist bloc integration that has eluded Moscow.

But it would also be an integration in which political moderation and economic commonsense would fall to hard-line orthodoxy. That is something for the West to ponder.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Soviet bloc digging deep into pockets to help Poland
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today