Lech Walesa's choice

The chronology of events leading up to the release of Lech Walesa from nearly a year of internment is important to an understanding of the release and of the task ahead for Mr. Walesa.

The story of the release dates from Oct. 24 when Poland's Roman Catholic Primate, Archbishop Jozef Glemp, flew from Warsaw to Rome for talks with the Pope and with other Vatican leaders.

While the archbishop was in Rome the underground leaders of Solidarity issued a call for an ''obligatory'' strike of Polish workers to take place on Nov. 10, the anniversary of the legalization by the Polish Supreme Court of the charter of Solidarity.

The strike was to be by the eight o'clock morning shift in all Polish factories, mines, and shipyards. The workers were told to go to their places of work but do no work. They were told to demonstrate for Solidarity on the following day, Nov. 11, the anniversary of the liberation of Poland in 1918 from nearly 200 years of foreign rule.

The strike call was issued on Oct. 27. Archbishop Glemp flew back from Rome to Warsaw on Nov. 4. On reaching Warsaw he issued a statement saying that ''conditions are now ripe for the continuation of a dialogue'' between the state , the church, and the workers. He said he would soon be meeting with Poland's military ruler, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.

The meeting between the archbishop and the general took place on Nov. 8. A joint statement was issued after the meeting. It stated that the two men had ''reviewed the current situation in Poland and voiced their joint concern for the preservation and strengthening of peace, social order, and honest work.''

The statement also contained another and, of course, extremely important clause. The Pope would be coming home to his native Poland for a visit in June.

Accompanying the formal statement were informal statements by spokesmen for the Polish government that martial law would be lifted by Christmas, provided the country was reasonably peaceful and the workers were working by then.

In other words, here was an agreement worked out between the Polish church and the Polish state which clearly expected the workers to refrain from the Nov. 10 strike and to settle down to a steady work pattern. In return Lech Walesa would be set free. Martial law would be lifted. The Pope would be allowed to return to Poland.

It was a formula for making the best of a bad matter.

It is based on the premise that Poland will not be allowed by Moscow to break out of the Soviet system. That being the case, is Solidarity going into an underground resistance movement similar to the resistance which the Poles waged against the Germans during most of World War II?

Or are the Polish workers going to cooperate with the existing government of Poland on the assumption that rule by Poles, even when under Moscow discipline, is the lesser evil? The alternative would be the Soviet Army coming in and indulging the ancient dislike of Russians for Poles.

The test came on Nov. 10. Would the bulk of Poland's workers honor the ''obligatory'' strike or listen to the words of prudence and caution from the church?

Archbishop Glemp, with the obvious weight of the Pope behind him, had called for the road of compromise and caution. To play it extra safe over the decisive weekend, he invited all the Polish bishops to join him at the monastery at Czestochowa, home of Poland's most venerated Catholic shrine, the shrine of the Black Madonna. At Czestochowa there would be no danger of any of the more radical bishops urging their followers down the dangerous road of resistance.

Nov. 10 came. Most workers went to work. Most of them worked. There were some demonstrations in the streets when the morning shift came out. There were some street demonstrations on Nov. 11. But by and large the church's call for ''peace , social order, and honest work'' won out over the call from the underground for the ''obligatory'' strike. There was no strike.

Four days later, on Nov. 14, the state honored the first part of its side of the bargain. It released Lech Walesa.

The weight of the church is now firmly on the side of the truce, and of the return of the workers to regular work. They are being urged to join the new official trade unions and to try to make them work. The papal visit in June is a future reward for the workers. He will come, and will argue their case with the state, provided they shun the road of underground resistance and of continued civil contest. Lech Walesa can play a powerful role in making the truce work. Or he could wreck it. Which will it be?

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