Poland's disaffected youth: scared away from politics
Warsaw — Small children play ''Zomos and Solidarity'' here these days - instead of cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians. Even five- and six-year-olds are well aware of the Zomo riot squads and Lech Walesa's suppressed union.
Teen-agers are into punk music and awaiting a possible ''Miss Poland'' contest this fall. Political action has been set aside.
University students, too, have been scared away from politics. They are concentrating on getting their degrees, even though these are not necessarily a passkey to a good job. A friend who is a graduate student says simply, ''There is nothing else to do.''
Poland's younger generation is going through a strangely silent, uncertain period. And under the surface calm, disturbing, negative trends can be discerned, including an increase in use of alcohol and drugs.
Certainly there is little to be found in the current situation that the government might regard as ''positive.'' On the political front, the authorities are taking no chances that the campuses might serve as rallying points during Pope John Paul II's scheduled trip to his homeland June 16 to 22. Although exams are usually held in early July, this year schools will close in June - before the Pope arrives.
Meanwhile, a growing number of youths are becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs. The drugs involved are not imported, because no one here could afford them. Instead they are homemade concoctions that are just as demoralizing and dangerous.
The growth of drug use among youths worries the government and the Roman Catholic Church alike. The former has just appealed to poppy farmers to destroy all the residue when flowers and seeds have been legitimately disposed of, because it has become a highly marketable commodity among youth.
Alcohol abuse is traditionally Poland's major social evil - 1 divorce in 3 is directly attributed to it - and now it is spreading among youth. Again, neither the authorities nor the Catholic Church, for all its appeal, is able to check alcohol abuse.
University work is more or less back to normal after the time lost in the political fervor of 1981 and during the first two chaotic months of martial law at the start of 1982.
Programs have been restored and resumed, with changes of no particular significance except that studies stay more strictly within the party's political guidelines. As always, there are twice as many applicants as there are places, and enrollment is full.
There is nothing on the campus to recall Solidarity and its attendant activity. The old youth unions disintegrated amid the wider ad hoc movement that fought for (and won, for a short time) a new student and academic government charter. Only within close circles of friends is there talk of politics.
Students are interested in politics, but that interest is passive. Politics certainly isn't discussed in front of strangers. The big concern is how to make the best of life under present conditions.
Second- and third-year students - the Solidarity generation - listen to Western broadcasts. Younger ones do, too, but they don't talk about it much. There is always a sense of intimidation.
Not many took part in May Day demonstrations. Those who did contented themselves with shouts of ''Walesa! Walesa!'' There were no ''Down with Jaruzelski!'' chants as there had been the year before.
The new student association has not lived up to the expectations raised when it was formed last year with no political tag in its name. There was much talk about it being ''independent'' and having room for differing opinions. It has not turned out that way in practice.
Even mild criticism, let alone ''rebel'' politics, is taboo on campus. Students are subject to the penal code and expulsion for any ''illegal'' activity. ''People are not crazy,'' my friend says.
Students in their last year or two have a certain aura, my friend says, because they at least experienced ''the year of Solidarity'' and the chance to ''see the world'' which the union brought about.
Now that outlet is closed. The only foreign travel allowed this year is to the Soviet Union or other communist states of Eastern Europe.
There is an anomaly in what is apparently an unusually hard-working student community, since job prospects suited to qualifications remain bleak. That is, in part, because of more than a decade of university ''inflation.''
There has been some shift of emphasis because of the severity of Poland's economic crisis. A few classes and courses have been canceled - some of the rarer languages, for example. Otherwise the disciplines continue much as before but areas most relevant to the economy are stressed.
Why then are students taking their work so seriously? ''There is no alternative,'' my friend explains. ''As for the job, that is a problem to think about in the last year.''
Graduation itself, it seems, is the goal more than anything else. And, this being Poland, the explanation has to have a romantic touch.
''Graduation,'' my friend says, ''means joining a kind of 'nobility' - just like the old times when only nobles were allowed to study.
''A diploma means a special standing - even if you know you're going to be a taxi-driver or something like that.''