Wojciech Jaruzelski - a general shaped by World War II

It was shortly after 10 p.m. when our long talk finished. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski bade me ''good night'' and a ''see you again in Poland'' and turned back to his desk.

He would continue working at least until midnight, most likely later. The man who is Poland's prime minister and head of its Communist Party confides that his day frequently ends only at 2 a.m. and that he is back at work by 8:30.

Last Wednesday evening he had just come from winding up three days of government and party talks and factory visits with Bulgaria's President Todor Zhivkov. He showed no signs of fatigue but talked at ease in quiet, precise language with this correspondent for two hours on almost every aspect of Poland today.

Since becoming premier in February 1981, he has had little time or respect for normal working patterns, or for the ''time off'' vacation spots enjoyed by other leaders. Rarely does he take off either a weekend or one of the ''free Saturdays'' which are among the surviving reforms of the initial Solidarity period.

His life style - like Wladyslaw Gomulka's many years before him, but unlike his predecessor Edward Gierek's - is modest to the extreme. He has a small house in Warsaw but no country home, just a place in an Army rest center for brief vacations in Masuria.

His daughter, Monika, who studies at Warsaw University, is undistinguishable from other students. His wife, Barbara, many years a top-flight professor of German in the School of Applied Linguistics, is very popular with her students, who say her ways have not changed one iota with her husband's rise as head of the country's affairs.

The general's recreation used to be horseback riding, but today he mainly walks. His reading, entirely serious, includes only politics and history. Close aides do not recall seeing him with a novel. During his ''rests'' in Masuria, the official papers are taken to him every day from Warsaw.

His whole manner of life seems to have been determined by the abrupt break during his formative years caused by World War II, cutting him off forever from the comfortable background of a Roman Catholic, land-owning family. Only a few years thereafter, his whole existence was to become the Army.

In 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, Jaruzelski's parents abandoned the family lands in northeastern Poland to take him and his sister into Lithuania. And when the Russians took over Lithuania, they were among the first of many thousands deported to the Soviet east.

Neither his father nor his mother survived long. At 20, Wojciech entered a Russian military college before joining the first Polish Army units formed on Soviet soil in 1943.

As a field commander, he saw some of the fiercest fighting on the Red Army's road to Berlin. It included the battles on the Vistula and the liberation of Warsaw - after the Germans had crushed the uprising of 1944 while Soviet forces stood on the other (eastern) side of the waterway.

He joined the Communist Party in 1947, and rapid Army promotion followed. First he became head of the Army's chief political headquarters, then defense minister in 1968 (he gave up the post only last year when he became head of the all-important Defense Council), and finally a member of the party's Politburo in 1971.

The decision to become a communist was not just the result of a young radical's heavy theoretical reading, he explained in the lengthy interview. Rather it came from his wartime experience. This may sound like mere words, he said, speaking with strong feeling of the ''comradeship in arms.'' However, the conviction grew upon him then and there that his country's future rested in a firm and stable relationship with its eastern neighbor.

It was this firm belief that enabled him to make what he still unequivocally calls the necessary decision to institute martial law to damp down the powder barrel that had begun to smolder in Poland amid the violent domestic passions of late 1981.

That decision was to cost him the confidence of many Poles who, though anticommunist, had greeted his emergence as prime minister with some relief. These Poles had liked the uniform, and - after all the turbulence of 1980 and the worsening food situation - they also had liked the idea of the ''law and order'' that Jaruzelski set out straightway to establish, unhappily for Poland, without success.

Martial law cost him much of that confidence. And today, 15 months after martial law was officially suspended, he is still trying to win public credibility in his pursuit of moderate reform, while at the same time fending off hostile antireform critics within his own ranks.

For the moment he seems to have stymied the anti-reform hard-liners. But failure to make a real start in bettering the economic situation, and a consequent threat of public unrest, could easily persuade the hard-liners to try again to undermine his position.

The hard-liners' latest effort was seen at the start of this year. It was apparently encouraged by a critical article that appeared in a Soviet theoretical journal. Though ostensibly aimed at a prominent Polish pro-reform official, the Soviet article once again revealed the Russians' continuing concern about some of the ''institutional'' characteristics that still set Poland apart from the Soviet orthodoxy that prevails elsewhere in the bloc.

High on Moscow's ''anxiety'' list, of course, is the extraordinary place of the Roman Catholic Church in Polish life. This is a religious phenomenon with political significance which Jaruzelski, like his predecessors, knows very well.

Both he and Poland's primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp, have been at pains to minimize the possible ''fallout'' from last month's sudden bitter controversy over whether crosses should be excluded from schoolrooms. They have apparently contrived a compromise. It will allow students at the rural college where the trouble started to display their ''personal'' crucifixes on desks, as well as in their dormitories, but not on classroom walls where they are on general view.

But observers close to the church have detected some general cooling in contacts between church and state, related to two bigger issues.

One is the church plan to create an agricultural fund - with financial backing from Western churches - to support the private farms. These private farms hold 76 percent of the arable land. The proposal is already two years old, but not until last week did the government bring before parliament the legislation necessary to allow the plan to proceed. The authorities claim that much of the other spade work has been done, but skepticism of their final intentions persists.

The other area of apparent disagreement is in the three years of negotiation through the joint church-state commission to ''constitutionalize'' the church's legal status and its relations with the state authority. Last week, according to church sources, a hitch arose over a virtually agreed draft. The government wanted to substitute simply a ''joint declaration.'' The church rejected this as having no legal force.

It remains to be seen how serious this latest difficulty may become. But Prime Minister Jaru-zelski and Cardinal Glemp have met eight times since late 1981. And it was said to this writer that though there are ''some misunderstandings,'' both the government and the episcopate remain ''animated by the paramount value - the benefit of Poland'' and that talks would continue.

In the course of two hours of conversation, the general often appeared as the patient ''gradualist.'' He would like the restoration of the US-Polish relationship to move faster and he lashed out bitterly against US policy several times, but he already sees some reversal of US attitudes toward Polish affairs.

''We accepted with confidence the United States' declared will for stabilized , long-term cooperation,'' he said in an allusion to the 1974 joint agreement on ''principles'' reached when Poland's former leader Edward Gierek visited the US. ''We are paying a high price today for that credulity.''

His case against Washington turns also on what he sees as an unjust reversal of previously proclaimed American attitudes. For example, Washington's decision to apply economic sanctions against Poland followed by eight months the US veto in the United Nations of similar sanctions proposed against South Africa.

He is also a ''gradualist'' in domestic reform. He stoutly defends the new trade unions, saying they are intended to be genuinely independent partners with government in all social and labor affairs. He is not concerned that their membership of 4.3 million after 15 months is still less than half that of the now-banned Solidarity trade union.

''That (new trade union) membership,'' he says, ''now includes 60 percent of all workers. Some 200,000 people join each month. We don't want to force an artificial growth. We want the unions to 'ripen' of themselves.''

A similar moderation is evident in the general's view of the several hundred still imprisoned detainees. Prominent among them are the four leaders of KOR (the dissident workers' Self-Defense Committee, established initially to aid those sentenced following the 1976 food riots) and the seven former members of Solidarity's National Committee against whom quasi-treason charges were laid last year.

In the interview, General Jaruzelski declined to confirm that there would be a general amnesty, as widely anticipated, on communist Poland's 40th anniversary in June. He implied, however, that if there were to be a pardon, it could not in any absolute sense cover these more serious cases. His remark that ''we do not want to have political prisoners'' reflected a reluctance to hold trials that could be an unwanted embarrassment both inside the country and out.

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