Polish government tries softer line as Solidarity nears second birthday

If today passes without major incident in Poland it will be a victory for moderates and common sense on both sides in this prolonged bitter conflict between government and society.

Aug. 16 is significant because it was on this day two years ago that the first strike collapsed, and Lech Walesa and the indomitable ''Red'' Anna Walentynowicz set up the committee to coordinate the wave of protest that subsequently swept Poland.

Workers have now started two weeks of remembrance to commemorate the Aug. 31, 1980 founding of Solidarity, the independent trade union.

The commemoration started Friday with demonstrations in Gdansk, Warsaw, Krakow, and Wroclaw, the biggest since nationwide rioting on May 3. The most serious confrontation was in Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity, where police opened up with tear gas and water cannons against a march about 10,000-people strong. About 200 people were detained after the clashes, according to the official Polish news agency PAP.

As a result, security forces and police remain on full alert against any possible repetition of the clash with Solidarity sympathizers here after a silent commemoration outside the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk.

Yet over the weekend there seemed to have been some calculated effort by the authorities to pacify the feelings aroused by Friday's events here and elsewhere.

* In Warsaw, the police had driven people from Victory Square and removed their floral cross to the late Cardinal Wyszynski. The next day they were allowed back and permitted to recreate the cross with fresh flowers.

* Here in Gdansk Saturday and Sunday there were far fewer police and ''zomos'' (antiriot police), who were uncharacteristically relaxed.

* Saturday night, Polish television's main newscast surprised Poles with a commentary that was not at all anti-union in tone. It assured them there would be ''an independent, self-governing union'' and apologized for not carrying the news of the commemorations from Gdansk and elsewhere the night before. The reports came too late, it was said.

The commentary seemed to answer a friend's remark: ''If they don't tell us what is happening in our own country, how can they complain that we listen to Western radio?''

It could make quite an important difference if the authorities again took the point.

Two years ago, this writer watched events here as workers made their stormy but finally victorious progress to an agreement with the government and euphoric hopes that Poland was ''set fair'' on a new course to reform.

As the two-year anniversary neared last week, security was increased all over the country, particularly here in the birthplace of Solidarity. Gdansk is still very much the heart of this nation's hopes and emotions as it was in 1980.

What happened Friday was not on the scale of the turbulent events which punctuated all of last year and recurred in May and June under martial law. It was intended to be a quiet gesture of support, not a public demonstration.

The government claimed with some justification after the event that the shipyard workers themselves were not involved. It was, in fact, mainly young people, from late teen-age to angry young men in their 20s.

Lech Walesa's parish priest, Father Henryk Jankowski, who was out on the street through the day, said to me: ''The shipyard workers went home. They were not involved in what happened.''

That Friday, he and four other priests had celebrated a 6 a.m. mass, with prayers for Walesa, at which Fr. Jankowski exhorted people to remain quiet and calm throughout the anniversary.

Even in such moments of conflict, the police took care to respect his office. When he approached antiriot police detaining young men and asked them to ''let them go,'' they complied.

The restraint shown by the men from the yard was a mark of discipline which in no way diminishes their unquestionable loyalty to their union and quiet determination that it be revived.

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