WARSAW — "I dream and long for the day when I can sit quite alone in my own armchair, in the privacy of my own small flat, and read a book." The speaker was a gifted and hardworkign 25-year-old gradutae who for the last eight years has lived in a cramped university dormitory or, since his graduation, shared a small room.
Even if the government can make good on its promises and plans to speed construction for housing, that student -- like everyone else here -- known he may well go on waiting for another eight years.
A "place of one's own" -- however modest -- has become a top priority for Polish youth. "It forces decisions on us -- marriage or what we really want to do with our lives -- before we are ready to make them," a young woman student says.
The Communist Party youth newspaper Sztandar Mlodych has just been asking young Poles what aspect of life in contemporary Poland troubles them most. No fewer than 87 percent answered without hesitation: housing.
They are not thinking in terms of the garish new houses standing behind iron gates amid the forests of one of the "millionaire miles" outside Warsaw. Such homes have been built by officials and by many of the entrepreneurs for whom Poland's economic chaos has meant boom times.
"Just the privacy of my own four walls," the graduate said.
Not many students read Sztandar Mlodych. It is aimed mostly at working teen-agers and young adults. But the personal dilemmas it has uncovered are very much those of all youth.
Nothing has concentrated official minds on the problems of youth like Pope John Paul II's visit and his allusions to youth's frustrations, particularly the lack of prospects and options as they complete their educations and look for jobs consistent with qualifications.
Over half of Poland's population is under 30, a fact which helped the formation of Solidarity and still worries officials today.
The Pope's allusions to the particular difficulties of youth drew a vehement rejoinder from a senior member of the government in defense of the regime's record on youth. Others, it seems, perceived that, while identifying with their manifest disappointments, the Pope also sought to give them a sense of perspective and patience.
Obviously, a lot has been done in Poland since the war to expand educational facilities and opportunities for all young people. But today's problems are not primarily those of bricks and mortar and new classrooms, however desirable and necessary better buildings may be.
Following the Pope's visit, "youth problems" have been discussed continuously in the press and on television. But most of the talking is being done by older people and establishment committees, including the government's Council of Youth.
The Communist Party has just held a meeting of young party activists during which party leaders exhorted them to fight for the minds of their generation. The July 3-4 gathering drew some 4,000 delegates.
The Communist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu carried a glowing article July 1. "The party directs itself to youth affairs" and "The generation of real chance" read its two big headlines.
Tygodnik Powszechny, Krakow's doughty independent Roman Catholic weekly, published the texts off the Pope's homilies in issues following the visit. But it skipped two -- including his Jasna Gora message to youth -- rather than run them with passages struck out by the censors.
Tygodnik, which is allocated enough newsprint for a press run of 75,000 had enough paper squirreled away to allow visit editions to run to 90,000 for three weeks. Given more paper, Tygodnik could easily sell five times as many, for it is "must" reading for serious students, who circulate a single copy hand to hand among themselves.
Representative yough have not been included in the press and television discussions, and the talk often reveals a failure on the part of officialdom to understand the concerns of young people. There is also an inability to find the right language in which to address a new generation that is demanding more than the political platitudes on which it has grown up.
Party politicians parrot the theme that too many young people are swayed by emotions, myths, and unrealistic beliefs.
"Most don't want to be active -- they just want to get along," said the woman chairman of a research center on the problems of youth who was quoted by Sztandar Mlodych.
In the party view, "active" means participating in party youth organizations and programs. But young Poles are looking for more -- and for the kind of answers to life's meaning and problems that those who control such organizations either do not have or disapprove of.
"The young people of today," the same woman researcher opined, "know too little about the reality to be able to analyze it on their own."
A young acquaintance says wearily, "Such talk and attitudes turn me right off , they make me go cold."
To any dispassionate observer, it is all too obvious that, although many may be emotional about a lot of things, that is to a large extent the fault of the educational half-truths and omissions to which they have been subjected for two and three decades.
Moreover, educated young Poles (as this writer's talks with many over the recent years of crisis have shown) have very clear and usually sober and modest ideas of what they want, quite apart from knowning what they do not want. They resent being partonized or talked down to, as the establishment so often does.
A Warsaw historian summed it up. Speaking about the current promises of change, he said, "We have to convince young people through facts." Confessing to past "errors" will carry no conviction, he said, without visible proofs of change.
Most serious, by the Communist Party's own admission, is the changes it has noted in what youth are thinking.
Seven years ago, Sztandar Mlodych said, a survey showed that 80 percent of young Poles were "for socialism" in some form. (This writer talked with serious youngsters who opted for "moderate" socialism, social democracy, a "labor party, " the Scandinavian and Austrian model of the welfare state, or even Titoism.)
Today, the youth paper confessed, that 80 percent has shrunk to 30 percent.
"We often feel lost," a talented young actress said in a recent newspaper interview.
Although she had won first prize at the prestigious Krakow drama school, she had not found it easy to get a start on the stage. Finally, she secured a role in the theater at Lodz, a grim industrial town, where she earns a subsistence salary of 6,000 zlotys (about $63 at te new rate as of July 1). That is considerably less than an office cleaner gets.
She reflected a common disappointment over the long evident downturn in the Polish theater, as in other artistic areas. It has been aggravated by a martial law purge that excluded many distinguished directors, writers, and other artists. Many other of the best talents decided for themselves that they could not, in conscience, carry on under the new conditions.
"Obviously we long for authentic values," the actress said. "We need to believe in something, we have to be able to trust somebody to whom we can look up."
It has just been announced that there will be 52,000 places -- four-fifths of them at the universities -- in higher education in the next school year.
That is some thousand fewer than last year. In many faculties and high schools, admissions have been reduced or suspended in an overdue move to cut down on the costly student overpopulation.
Newspapers here report a decline of interest in study and a deficit in entrants for medicine and teaching, in both of which pay and prospects are poor. Still, there will be almost twice as many candidates taking the entry exams as there are places.
Will the prospects of those who are admitted be any better than those of recent graduates?
A senior minister says that in the decade prior to the August 1980 explosion of Solidarity, 3 million jobs were created "specifically for young people." But, for more and more youth, and not just the educated, the question is -- what jobs?
The problem is more widespread than university output. Forty-five percent of youth generally could not find "appropriate jobs" -- meaning, fitting their training and skills -- according to a Sztandar Mlodych survey June 24.
The authorities promise "socialist renewal" in all branches of public administration, purportedly to curb the party's monopolistic exercise of power. This is to include more participation by the people, especially, it is said, young people.
But almost 50 percent of those polled by the youth newspaper said flatly that they felt they had no influence on or say in the country's or their own affairs and interests. One in 3 found no satisfaction in his or her job, and felt there was no opportunity to achieve his sociopolitical or other aspirations.
These aspirations are modest enough. They add up primarily to that small place of one's own, to being allowed to think for oneself and have some real prospect and possibilty or an individually fulfilling life style, and having an opportunity to travel.
Lack of hard currency is the official pretext that travel is currently forbidden. But young Poles do not demand first-class tickets and five-star luxury hotels any more than the Americans and other Westerners they see cheerfully hitchhiking with rucksacks across their own country.
In the Gomulka '50s when travel first became "free" and in the '70s when the doos opened again, they showed they were just as resourceful. They asked little of the government except the passport and the freedom to go where they would.