Jaruzelski drops the curtain on Polish actors' union

Poland's expectant public mood at the likely lifting of martial law later this month has been clouded by a drastic clampdown on the acting community.

Authorities have shuffled major theater managements, dismissed a leading director, and dissolved the actors' union.

Apart from the initial shutdown of all cultural and entertainment centers when military rule was imposed last Dec. 13 - most were re-opened early in the year - there have been no other comparable administrative actions against any other sector of Polish society apart from the police measures to put down strike threats and street demonstrations.

The blow was not totally unexpected. It follows a year of conflict between the government and a majority of Polish actors and actresses - including almost all the country's leading and best-known performers - in a boycott against appearances on state television and radio.

Nonetheless, official announcement of these government reprisal actions on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 still came as a shock. It burst with the effect of a bombshell not only on those directly involved but on public opinion and theater-goers generally.

Public expecations of what may stem from the lifting of martial law are not high, apart from the release of more or all of the remaining 600 to 700 Solidarity internees, or hopes that it will dramatically change present conditions.

But it is generally awaited with a quiet measure of relief by the public. Authorities hope it will be an important psychological element in gaining greater public confidence.

Much of that, on both counts, may be undone with the effect on the Polish public opinion of the government's move against the actor's union which seems singularly ill-timed. This is despite the fact that many Poles have had reservations about the merits of the actors' stand.

''Why could (the government) not wait until, say, January, after martial law has been suspended or removed,'' commented one intellectual who believes the boycott had been unduly sustained. ''Then public opinion surely would have shared the government's view it was time to call it off.''

The brusque announcement on Tuesday was made by the Ministry of Culture and Art, which stated that it would take over three of Warsaw's principal theatrical institutions - the Great Opera House, the National Theater, and the Drama Theater - as well as the National Philharmonic Orchestra. All will in future come under the minister's direct control.

The Drama Theater as such comes to an end and will be reopened as a new ''theater of the republic.'' It is ironic in the fact that only 10 days previously it had been the scene of a brilliant first night of a widely acclaimed new production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. (This political tragedy, set in Rome, involves a class struggle between the weak and the powerful in which Coriolanus is portrayed as a flawed ruler, who cannot brook opposition though he is easily manipulated by his enemies.)

Also involved in what the papers here euphemistically headlined as ''the reorganization of the Warsaw stage'' was the nationally revered actor Adam Hanuszkiewicz, who is sacked from the directorship of the National Theater which he has held for some years.

Before the stir caused by these events could begin to subside, it was revealed Wednesday that the Warsaw-based Association of Polish Theater, Film, Radio, and Television Actors (ZASP) had been dissolved.

The Ministry of Culture's spokesman claimed that the theater had been left very much to itself during martial law - even though some productions infringed established cultural guidelines - but that, despite this latitude, the theater community had maintained a ''politically motivated'' boycott of radio and television. Moreover, it had ''blackmailed'' those who ignored it .

ZASP was suspended with martial law and was not in fact allowed to reappear until July. By then, the authorities were clearly already greatly concerned at the low entertainment quality levels of radio and TV, and hopeful also that restoration of ZASP might prompt an end to the boycott.

On Oct. 18, there was a stormy meeting between Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski, Gen. Jaruzelski's ''trouble-shooter for the arts,'' as he was called last year in the vain negotiations with Solidarity, and a substantive group of prominent actors and actresses.

Later publication of Rakowski's speech revealed the toughness of the debate. It was seen that only a few of the group supported the government's desire to see the boycott ended.

It had all too clearly become a typically Polish extravaganza in mutual intolerance, with a highly vocal majority of actors labeling the minority ''collaborationists.'' Vehement charges and countercharges were made on all sides on the merits of conscience and compliance or noncompliance with the ''blacking'' of the nation's TV screens.

Mr. Rakowski could point to a long ''liberal'' record, as longtime editor of Poland's best-known weekly Polityka, in defense of maximum artistic and cultural diversity consistent with Polish conditions. His claim that, under martial law, there has been only a few official interventions against the theater repertory is a valid one.

The Theater Powszechny, for example, is currently staging a play about the defeat of the Paris Communards in 1871 which is full of sympathetic analogy with the Solidarity situation last year, with an implied lesson it could make the same tragic mistakes.

Mr. Rakowski had warned at that Oct. 18 meeting that the government's patience with the theater world was running out. It was an evident ''call off your boycott, or else. . . .''

But this week's move - regardless of the merits of the dispute - leaves wide open a question about its timing. It may be intended as a reminder, as officals seem to suggest, of the likely limits of toleration even without martial law.

But it can well be counter-productive when the regime is bidding for what it needs most - public goodwill. ''You can agree or disagree with the boycott,'' a respected senior and moderate commentator remarked. ''But this is an extremely harsh administrative action.

''That it should come only 10 days before Dec. 13, which should open a new and more positive chapter, is an ominous sign and can only create new barriers and a new pessimism among the intellectuals in their relations with authorities.''

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