Poland's communists regain balance as church turmoil ebbs

Poland's ruling Communist Party feels it has at last picked itself up from the floor of its prolonged crisis. It says it has regained a sense of purpose and - to use Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's word - reality.

But it now has the harder task of reestablishing a bond between itself and the Polish workers - and the nation at large. That, the general admits, is now the key factor if it is to implement a reaffirmed commitment to the promised reform program.

The party's next test will come with the local government elections in June. These will be another measure of church-state relations, which have gone through much turmoil in recent weeks.

The depleted Solidarity underground has already called for a voters' boycott. But a light turnout would be due not so much to political opposition than to voter apathy should the candidate-selection processes prove less ''democratic'' than the general has said they will be.

The Roman Catholic Church is not likely to give open public support to the government election campaign. But it is more hopeful than possibly ever before of securing legal status within Poland's Communist system.

That being so, the church might well concur with Jaruzelski's attempts at national conciliation and economic recovery through gradual reform.

The flare-up of Catholic feeling three weeks ago - with widespread protests over the removal of crucifixes from school classrooms in the town of Garwolin - momentarily aggravated Jaruzelski's difficulties with hard-line critics. But at a Communist Party conference last weekend, he firmly and tersely said that a conflict between church and state would be in neither's interest. The process of ''normalizing'' relations between them would continue.

In fact, though it had begun to look dangerous, the furor over the crosses seems to have been defused by contacts between two sides equally concerned that it not get out of hand.

Josef Cardinal Glemp quietly contrived an end to the hunger strike at a Warsaw church protesting the transfer of its militant parish priest. And it now seems that crosses hanging in other schools at the time of the Garwolin incident will be left in place on condition that others are not introduced elsewhere.

The party seems to have put some of its worst internal difficulties behind it.

Jaruzelski emerged from the conference with his own authority greatly enhanced. In two conference documents, he was lauded for the way he shouldered ''historic responsibility'' in a period of ''exceptionally hard conflict.'' Moreover, the documents implied that the party approved of his moderate policies and style of leadership.

As the year started, General Jaruzelski was still under pressure from party hard-line critics, particularly lately over accommodation shown toward the Catholic Church.

Amid the trubulence before and during the martial law period, the reformist aspects of the party's 1981 ''democratizing'' congress were inevitably put on the back burner. But they were firmly ''rehabilitated'' by General Jaruzelski at this conference.

This 1981 reform program, the general made clear last weekend, was based on the party's dominant role. Only the party, he said, could prevent return either to the ''pre-August distortions'' (of the regime up to 1980) or the ''pre-December anarchy'' (the turmoil over Solidarity in 1981, which led to martial law).

The party, Jaruzelski claimed, had made big steps away from the former style of command leadership. But he admitted that there needed to be more freedom of discussion and criticism, and that the nonparty Polish majority needed to be involved in the country's affairs and decisionmaking.

''There is nothing more important,'' he said, ''than to integrate around us people who are not party members, to set up a natural, everyday, sincere, and honest tie to nonparty people in solving common problems.''

In the conference, the party leader promised:

* More nationwide consultation on policy.

* A new promotion system in public administration - establishing merit, and not one's party card, as the criterion for receiving a senior post.

* A reform package enlarging opportunity for independence and initiative for local authorities and factory management.

* ''A great (democratic) chance'' for the nation to choose the ''best people'' as candidates for the June local government elections.

Of course, it remains to be seen how Poles will respond to Jaruzelski's conviction that their country is again becoming one ''about which one can begin to hope.''

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