Walesa's Nobel prize hangs over Poland's debt talks with West

Representatives of 15 Western governments have just concluded four days of economic fact-finding before setting up talks with the Poles about rescheduling their massive debts.

The timing of that next move by the West - which will affect sanctions as well as rescheduling - will be influenced largely by what the Warsaw leaders decide to do about the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Lech Walesa on Oct. 5.

But their decision seems likely to be influenced by renewed pressure from Moscow as much as by sober Polish consideration that the award might present an opening for one more attempt to reach some understanding with Solidarity's former leader.

The virulent attack on Walesa this past weekend in the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia seemed designed to remind Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski to go on refusing to have anything to do with him.

But the general knows that Walesa was considerably more than a ''ringleader'' - Izvestia's word - and that he headed not some puny opposition group but a mass union movement that embraced at least three-quarters of Poland's total labor force of about 12 million workers.

General Jaruzelski also knows that the new unions created under the law adopted a year ago during martial law have so far attracted only about 3.3 million members. Their membership has grown only slightly since early summer, and apparently enrollment has virtually halted since then.

The total, moreover, is still less than the enrollment in the pre-1980 ''branch unions'' that were rubber-stamp organizations controlled, in the orthodox communist style, entirely by the government.

Neither the persistent belittlement of Walesa nor, most recently, the attempt to saddle him with financial irregularities over the large sums donated to Solidarity by Western unions and other institutions has diminished Polish workers' opinion of Walesa.

He remains a symbol of the labor movement, the person through whom the government could still reach an agreement with labor if it was so inclined

It would seem sensible for the authorities to take a low-key approach to the Nobel award and allow Walesa to collect it in Oslo without fear of being denied reentry into Poland.

It is not, of course, an easy decision for the Polish leadership to make - especially with the Russians watching from the wings, and knowing how the Soviets handled their own Nobel-winning dissident, Andrei D. Sakharov, in similar circumstances.

But Jaruzelski finally did succeed to a considerable extent in persuading the Soviets to let the Poles handle their martial law situation themselves. The general can also point to some success in pacifying the country - it is no longer disrupted by periodic outbursts of outraged public feeling.

Two key questions hang over Poland before these crucial debt talks take place.

* Can the Polish authorities accept Walesa as a phenomenon that is not going to go away simply by ostracism?

* Can they, in turn, persuade Moscow that no great harm could be done, and possibly something useful could be achieved, by at least hearing what Walesa wants to say in this quieter domestic situation?

Underground opposition is, to all intents and purposes, spent. Walesa himself has indicated readiness to forgo any future leading role. He has also suggested that he has his own fresh concepts in mind for the operation of the new unions.

The government can argue that, on the face of it, guarantees of their independence exist within the new law. But Solidarity's prize achievement - the right to strike - is hedged in with cumbersome arbitration processes that are likely to forestall strikes, except in circumstances as dire as 1980's.

Now, momentarily, there is a situation in which both sides might achieve their own ends: Walesa exerting his moderate and still commanding influence to call off the opposition, and the authorities talking with him as the only acceptable voice of most of the workers.

There is just a chance it could open a way to a new start. The alternative can only be continued domestic immobility and isolation from essential economic relations with the West, already in damaging suspense for 21 months.

Obviously, the Soviets will make a further clamor should Walesa be admitted even to exploratory talks about possible union cooperation.

But, in the present international situation, the Soviets would hardly be courting a major new upset within the bloc. They still might prefer to leave Jaruzelski to soldier on on his own rather than to endure the ever-more-costly stalemate or ro risk fresh conflict in Poland.

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