Poland finds lifting martial law is easier said than done

Politically the removal of martial law in Poland is even more complex than was the military operation that imposed it.

For that reason, the first stage - Dec. 13 - likely will be ''suspension'' of emergency rule while legislation is prepared to cover what is expected to be a regulated transition from martial law to total ''normalization'' before Pope John Paul II comes here in June. The new legislation will be put to Parliament a few days before Christmas, it is said.

The pace of release of internees has been quickening since summer. A fortnight ago a government spokesman said ''something like a thousand'' remained in detention.

Since then, the release of another 300 or so has been announced - including 32 from the Warsaw area. Regional governors of Katowice, Poznan, and Wroclaw - all centers of considerable resistance - are said to have freed those detained under local jurisdiction.

At time of writing the best estimate was that some 500 are still in detention. Many are the ''hard core'' of Solidarity officers or other activists who have resisted government efforts to win them over or neutralize them - or who decline to give any guarantees to ''behave'' once they are freed.

They constitute one of the trickiest problems as authorities proceed with dismantling martial law.There has been speculation the authorities might release all but hard-line radicals, who could be detained on some legal ground. But a very senior official has indicated, in an interview, that all ''probably'' would be freed.

The case of the dissident group referred to as the ''KOR five'' transferred from internment last month to formal arrest for investigation of charges they plotted against the state is more complicated. But the recent handling of Jacek Kuron, the best known of the five, sheds some light on the authorities' concern.

Last month he was given compassionate leave because of the terminal illness of his wife. It was a ''parole d'honneur'' without surveillance, he said in a private conversation.

After his wife's funeral, he reported to the authorities and - without requesting it - was given an extended leave until Dec 6. It is seen as a hint the government would like to avoid beginning a new year with a dramatic dissident trial and sentences. Mr. Kuron's could still be an influential voice.

Another problem is the many persons from clandestine urban or factory groups arrested for activities outlawed under the martial law decree - through propaganda or protest actions - and given substantial jail terms (in many cases before military courts).

Few numbers have been cited. Only those involving well-known figures, such as union activists, have been publicized. But by official admission as late as November proceedings under the emergency powers were instituted against some 225 individuals. That suggests the number for the year must be at least several thousand.

Sentences have ranged up to six years. In a few cases they have been longer. But the authorities' formal call last month on Parliament to lift martial law as soon as possible also urged an early start with amnesty.

This will come, but it will take some time, if only because amnesty is likely to be granted quickest to lesser offenders.

And taking down the martial law structure itself will be a formidable task. Counting the Army, the security forces, the police, and the vast auxiliary administration, it has probably involved at least half a million persons.

Many troops are already back in barracks. Since the summer's last street disturbances the ZOMO riot squads have spent most of their time in hotels taken over 12 months ago.

In many of the 200 major workplaces that have been militarized the situation is still sensitive - as the slow pace of recruiting for the new unions shows. Some military controls will be kept in place for some time.

Official anxiety as to ''what comes after?'' was reflected by the Communist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu Dec. 3. It claimed the ''overwhelming majority of us'' wants the return to normal life, but went on to ask: ''Will the yearlong lesson be enough to ensure (recognition) that law means permanent law?

''The worst possible effect of the lifting of martial law,'' it added, ''would be the necessity of . . . reimposing it.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.