Poland's iron fist relaxes slightly, economy improves

A dozen Zomos - members of the motorized antiriot squads - lounge on the steps of the hotel - one of several Warsaw buildings requisitioned as barracks when martial law came to Poland a year ago.

''Bah!'' the young cabbie explodes in fractured English as we pass. ''Police! Eat, drink. . . . Nothing else!''

The disliked Zomos have been visibly less active since protests have subsided in Poland, but everyone sees they are still around. The question for Poles is how much longer their presence - and the martial law they represent - will continue.

Poland's parliament convened Dec. 13 - at Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's request - to begin dismantling martial law.

(In a television address on Dec. 12, General Jaruzelski announced that martial law would be suspended before the end of the year, although some restrictions would be maintained. ''The suspension of martial law means that its basic rigors will cease to function before the end of this year,'' he said. ''Only such regulations should be binding either in full or limited dimension, which directly protect the basic interest of the state, create a shield for the economy, and strengthen the personal security of citizens.'')

Since July General Jaruzelski has said that martial law could be suspended or ''even repealed'' by the end of the year, providing the security and economic situation of the country were right.

How far have his criteria been met?

The economy looks better, though the general rightly calls it only ''convalescent.'' The market - with basic food rationed and strict distribution - is stabler than for a long time past.

There has been an impressive spurt in coal output, with export margin big enough to start earning badly needed hard currency after last year's slump. Shipbuilding and activity generally at the Baltic ports have picked up.

The party also has begun to pick up the pieces, party leaders say. But people ''still do not flock to join,'' explains one of its senior officials. The party chief in an industrial voivodship, counting 400,000 members, claims it has begun to recover its credibility but admits that only 800 new members were recruited during the year. Tens of thousands have quit the voivodships since the labor unrest of August 1980.

The underground, to all intents and purposes, has been effectively contained. It has been virtually silent for a month. The Interior Ministry has just catalogued the break-up of some 700 well-equipped clandestine groups during the year.

But ''there are still many dangers for the party from both external and internal opponents,'' says Politburo member Gen. Miroslaw Milewski.

(In a Dec. 4 letter to General Jaruzelski, former leader of the outlawed Solidarity trade union, Lech Walesa, urged Polish officials to restore independent trade unions and release remaining internees.)

The regime lately seems less certain about security, which is why the ''repeal'' of martial law - suspension of some of its features - was expected.

The ''dangers'' perhaps are being exaggerated just now in order to justify a continuance of martial law and ensure that it does not proceed too quickly before the leadership feels it has more public acceptance.

Parliament, in fact, is being asked to do no more at this stage than approve the principle and to draft some legislation to ''regulate'' a transition period from martial law and - in General Jaruzelski's words - the return to complete ''normalization.''

This, including special government powers to handle any emergency, is expected to be done before Christmas. For the rest, there is no deadline - except the one implied by the Pope's scheduled visit next June.

Undoubtedly Poland, though still weak and struggling, is in better shape this winter than it was for the last. Then, coal stocks were nil. Power cuts were common. ''On the threshold of this winter, industry and households are well-prepared,'' says the official Communist Party newspaper, Trybuna Ludu. ''There should be no power or fuel shortages.''

But the newspaper was on much less sure ground when it claimed a ''first stage'' reached in ''convergence between official intentions and society's expectations.''

Public mood remains apathetic and, at best, an uncertain factor. After some initial excitement a few weeks ago at General Jaruzelski's bidding to parliament to ''vote the lifting of martial law at the earliest opportunity'' - the feeling quickly subsided.

The apathy, of course, is partly due to the preoccupation with Christmas. But it is much more the reflection of the wait-and-see, refuse-to-be-optimistic mood of the Poles.

There is a kind of - acceptance, albeit reserved, of General Jaruzelski and his professed intentions. People now, in fact, appear to give little thought to the fact of military rule. The internees are being rapidly released. Most or all of the last 300 are likely to be out for Christmas.

Overall, however, there remains the crucial question of basic credibility and trust. Until the regime begins to win that, with or without martial law, it will have an uphill job ahead in stimulating the national effort that alone can rescue the economy - and Poland.

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