Looking afresh at Poland

It is time for the United States to rethink its policy toward Poland. At the moment it still does not have an ambassador in Warsaw, economic sanctions remain in place, and cultural exchanges are dormant. Yet a case can be made that more is to be gained by opening the door to an eventual normalization of relations than by merely reacting negatively to developments in that anguished country. A more forthcoming US approach now could help Poland as it gropes for a way out of the persisting national stalemate.

This may seem a strange course to advocate in the wake of the third anniversary of Solidarity, the now-banned labor movement. Indeed, the world can never forget the extraordinary events of August 1980 when striking Polish workers won the right to form an independent and free trade union. Certainly the Polish people will never forget. Last week's mass demonstrations in Krakow, Wroclaw, and other Polish towns in commemoration of that anniversary bear poignant testimony to a spirit of liberty that will never die - no matter how often it is crushed.

But can US policy continue to be governed by the past?

Poland now begins the slow process of evolving something new. No one quite knows what this will be. But the realities are that the Jaruzelski regime has effectively put down Solidarity. It has also taken harsh steps against Poland's intellectuals - writers, journalists, artists. It apparently feels confident enough to tolerate a certain amount of dissent from the working class but it will not let dissent get out of control - witness the tear gas and clubs used against anniversary demonstrators.

The situation is not entirely without hope, however. Farmers are better off than they were before Solidarity came into being - with the right of ownership and inheritance now battened down legally. The Roman Cath-olic Church has strengthened its position as a mediating force. More than 3 million workers have joined the new state-sponsored unions which, to be sure, are a mere shadow of Solidarity but which could become a vehicle for workers eventually to reassert themselves. And when Polish state television dares show Lech Walesa criticizing the government, one is reminded that Poland is still more liberal than any other communist country.

The unfortunate thing is that General Jaruzelski and other government leaders still seem unable to communicate with the disheartened Polish people. Nor have they been able to articulate their economic ideas and plans even to the communist party members who will have to help implement them. It can be asked whether the regime's stubborn refusal to talk with Lech Walesa impairs its efforts to get a national agreement. As long as government and people talk past each other, impasse persists.

The United States, in any case, should be looking toward its long-range interests in Poland. Surely its objective is to make sure that Poland keeps its natural links with the West and is not driven more and more into an exclusive Soviet embrace. Why not resume cultural and scientific exchanges, so that more Polish intellectuals can travel abroad and renew contacts? It may be premature to lift all economic sanctions (though, ironically, Washington has been lifting them with Moscow even though they were tied to the situation in Poland), but eventually such a step might make possible a greater Western input in Polish economic reorganization.

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