The awarding of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize to Lech Walesa refocuses world attention not just on the union leader himself at a time when he has been under increasing attack from the Polish government, but once again on the now- banned Solidarity labor movement. It is not really possible to consider Mr. Walesa apart from Solidarity. He was both a driving force behind that union as its head , and its most prominent international symbol.
The award will most likely have little impact on the vestigial Solidarity organization. Many workers have now joined the new government-sponsored unions - although their numbers may not be as high as state authorities would have the Polish people believe. At the same time, the award cannot help but keep the fire of liberty aglow in the hearts of millions of Poles - who will never forget the remarkable events of August 1980, when striking workers were accorded the right to form an independent trade union.
The Polish government was understandably chagrined at the official statement of the Nobel committee in selecting Mr. Walesa for the award. The committee said his battle to win workers' rights was characterized ''by a determination to solve his country's problems through negotiation and cooperation.''
Will Warsaw allow Mr. Walesa, or his wife, to travel outside Poland to receive the award?
The government is faced with a dilemma. To prevent such a trip would subject the Jaruzelski regime to world opprobrium. It could even lead to new street protests in Poland itself, something the regime obviously wants to avoid. On the other hand, in going, Mr. Walesa, or a representative, would have quite a platform from which to speak out on Polish unionism.
The award may now give Mr. Walesa a momentary respite from the propaganda campaign mounted against him in recent weeks by the government, including allegations that the union leader had tried to stash away $1 million in a Vatican bank.
For its part, the US should not use the Nobel award as part of any new hard-line campaign against the Soviets.
The US needs to fashion a new posture toward Poland. At the least this requires appointing an ambassador. (The US still does not have one in Warsaw.) Economic sanctions should be gradually lifted and cultural excchanges resumed. America's most vital long-range objtive toward Poland must be to ensure that Poland retains its links with the West - and not be driven further into the arms of Moscow.
Meanwhile, all persons committed to the goal of liberty cannot help but rejoice in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Lech Walesa.