Poles squeezed out of vacations

Ask an average Pole where he or she plans to take a holiday, and you're likely to get a slightly condescending smile that suggests you don't understand.

''Holiday? What on?'' they ask.

Indeed, not many Poles will enjoy a vacation this year in any real sense of the word. Most just do not have the cash.

Travel to the West is out. The hard-currency shortage is the official pretext. There is little for essential food imports, let alone for holiday allowances.

Martial law has severed virtually all but official communication with the Western world, halting the individual travel to points West that, after the crisis erupted in August 1980, soared to 700,000 that year and 900,000 the next.

Even Poles who have an expenses-paid invitation from Western friends are denied passports. They are bitter, because they have the necessary hard currency , sent by relatives in the West or earned by working for foreign traders with offices here.

Last year, the families of more than 3 million workers took organized vacations subsidized by social funds at their workplaces.

Provision has been made for a similar number this year. But the Warsaw daily Zycie Warszawy reports that not many are showing interest. Only one in three of those who participated in previous years has applied this year.

Even subsidized holidays are costing more. The average price had been about 3,000 zlotys (some $35 at the official exchange rate) per person, with two-thirds of that coming from factory funds. When officials announced this spring -- following February's massive price hikes -- that the cost would be 8, 000 to 12,000 zlotys this year, there was a public outcry.

The price was reduced to 6,000. But even with subsidies, that is still too costly for many Poles. The average monthly wage is some 9,000 zlotys ($100).

''Cheap'' holidays have become illusory, the paper said, because people must still pay their own transport and all the extra local costs of a vacation.

''Today, if we haven't managed to save enough,'' it commented, ''we just won't go. Many people say, 'Better stay home. At least we shall have enough to live on to the end of the month.' ''

It hits the better-off, too. A senior journalist remarked: ''Holidays? I guess we'll just go some place in the forest near here.''

The authorities are encouraging the enterprise holiday program and trying to ensure priorities for big families, single mothers, and those at the bottom of the wage scale.

Zycie Warszawy reports that summer camps have places for 1.5 million youngsters, with another million in hostels and other housing. Food stocks have been assured. There are 100,000 paying work opportunities for students, and places in summer recreation-training camps for another 50,000.

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