In the Palace of Culture, a grandiose monument to 1950s-style Stalinist architecture, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski spoke of ``a return to normality.'' To the Polish leader's left sat Mikhail Gorbachev. At the end of the speech, given at Poland's recent Communist Party Congress, the Soviet leader kissed General Jaruzelski -- twice on the cheeks. That same evening late in June, thousands gathered in the northern suburbs at the small, nondescript St. Stanislaw Church. They held up banners of the banned independent trade union Solidarity and mocked the Palace of Culture as the ``Palace of Shame.''
``We are praying for freedom,'' said one worshiper.
Poland speaks with two strong voices: the communist orthodoxy of the Palace of Culture and the Solidarity heresy of the St. Stanislaw Church. Each voice pushes the other in the direction of unplanned and diverse change, one step forward, then a half step backward.
The communists align the country's foreign policy with the Soviet Union and insure that its domestic policy does not deviate too far from the Soviet model. The opposition sees itself as a vanguard of Western values, fighting for the right to believe in God, to read books critical of communism, and to work for themselves, not the state.
Oddly, these two views often exist in the same individual. Many party members attend Roman Catholic Masses and talk about the need to use more free-market incentives to spur economic efficiency. Many believers at the St. Stanislaw Church criticize the materialism of the Western world and say they want to construct a more religious and egalitarian society.
Throughout Eastern Europe, the scope of life outside official control is increasing.
In Czechoslovakia, for instance, instead of defying their doctrinaire, hard-line government, many Czechs reserve their initiative for their private endeavors. This phenomenon is visible in the national passion for securing, tending, and improving country cottages. ``You go to work all week and bide your time,'' explains Jiri Dienstbier, a spokesman for the dissident group Charter 77. ``Then on the weekend, you have your own place, your own garden.''
Many Hungarians meanwhile devote their energies not to promoting communist ideology, but to acquire a Japanese Sharp stereo or an American-made personal computer.
``People don't think about freedom of the press, freedom of political parties or trade unions here,'' says dissident economist Tamas Bauer. ``They think about getting rich.''
Poles directly challenge the state's grip. Opposition demands center around the right to form associations outside of state control.
Stanislaw, a musuem clerk, invites a Western visitor to church and then to his Warsaw apartment, where he shows off a copy of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's ``The Gulag Archipelago.'' The book is banned in Poland. Henryk, a private farmer, tends his own land near Torun. He produces almost everything for himself, buying just a few staples at the village state farm.
The private farmer and the Catholic believer were not always accepted. When communism first was installed in Poland following World War II, the party tried to collectivize agriculture. It also attacked the church. Contacts with the West became dangerous. It was a period of terror, shortages, and forced industrialization.
The society, at least outwardly, began to mirror the Soviet Union. Polish soldiers wore a version of the Russian uniform, literature was molded in the style of Soviet realism, and new architecture produced equivalents of Soviet sugar-cake skyscrapers, such as the monolithic Palace of Culture.
But Poles rejected this repressive communism.
By 1956, little more than 9 percent of agricultural land had been collectivized. To impose collectivization on Poland would have involved something close to armed invasion and occupation, and for all the nation's huge security forces and police, that was too much for the authorities to attempt.
Catholicism also remained strong. Although the leader of the Polish church's hierachy, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, was confined to a remote rural monastery between 1951 and 1956, the Communist Party refrained from making religious belief a disqualification for party membership, as in the Soviet Union. Such a step would probably have lost it more than half of its working-class members.
Over the years, opposition to the communist regime increased. Workers were dissatisfied with low living standards and attempts to raise the prices of their staple-foods. Intellectuals were dissatisfied with the lack of Western-style freedoms. And the church, which was opposed to what it viewed as an atheistic regime, identified itself with workers and intellectuals.
Crisis after crisis ensued. The 1956 strikes were followed by more strikes in 1970, 1976, and finally in 1980. That last upheaval produced Solidarity, the most serious threat yet to the communist monopoly on power in the Soviet bloc.
Jaruzelski crushed Solidarity by declaring martial law in 1981. But from his comfortable apartment in central Warsaw, Janusz Onyszkiewicz explains how the alliance among workers, intelligentsia, and the church which spawned the union remains active.
A soft-spoken, slim, fair-haired man, Mr. Onyszkiewicz was Solidarity's national press spokesman from April to October 1981. He received his political education in Western-style democracy during three years spent as a mathematics lecturer at the University of Leeds in England.
Returning to Poland, he began attending church meetings and joined KOR, the worker's self-defense committee that defended factory workers fired from their jobs for taking part in the 1976 protests.
Since martial law was lifted in 1983, Onyszkiewicz admits that Solidarity has become unable to mount large-scale work stoppages or street demonstrations. At the same time, he points out that the banned union still manages to print 500 books and pamphlets a year illegally, almost as many as produced annually by two of the largest official publishing houses.
``As much as the government tries, it cannot destroy us,'' says Onyszkiewicz.
As evidence, he points to a recent attempt by the Minister of Education to have him fired from his post at Warsaw University for his political views.
In theory, the state can fire anyone who opposes it. But in Onyszkiewicz's case, both the communist rector of the university and a communist-dominated council of professors defied their communist minister's wishes. The rector and the council voted unanimously to keep the spokesman in his post.
``We have won a certain pluralism,'' Onyszkiewicz concludes.
Despite its desire to represent all facets of society, the Communist Party has been forced to accommodate this pluralism. From his office in the country's parliament, Deputy Speaker Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the best-known advocate of communist Poland in the West, admits ``we cannot go back to before August 1980,'' when Solidarity was born.
At the same time, Mr. Rakowski describes how ``Poland has accepted socialism.'' Pointing to Solidarity's old demands for a more egalitarian pay structure, he says the Polish public clamors for ``socialism as a system of equality.''
In addition, he argues that a significant section of society has been integrated into the communist power structure. These people, privileged workers as well as party officials and members of the security forces, are highly organized. The unspoken message is clear: In the last resort they control the Army, as the 1981 martial law crackdown showed.
Rakowski is a product of this communist class. Recruited like half a million other peasant sons, he benefited from the system. The party let him study journalism, history, and political science. Becoming editor of the weekly magazine Polityka in the 1960s, he traveled to America and West Germany where he was feted as a liberal, open-minded man.
After Jaruzelski took office, Rakowski became a vice-prime minister and wrote a book proposing a wide range of reforms. He argued that economic planning must be decentralized and made more flexible, and that the party must be made more responsive to public opinion.
Since the recent party congress, Jaruzelski has followed this blueprint. He has amnestied political prisoners and begun preparing the ground for the establishment of a ``consultative council'' that would discuss national issues with workers, the church, and other segments of society.
But Rakowski warns that consultation does not mean sharing power. The party still will run the country, he says. The opposition can make its viewpoint known through its press, and individuals are free to attend church. It cannot, however, form into organized groups, and above all, it cannot question the alliance with the Soviet Union.
``To survive, we must live in the socialist world,'' Rakowski says. ``We must be realistic.''
But will the Polish public accept this ``realism?''
For the time being, the party and the opposition are jabbing at each other. Last month, Onyzskiewicz and other Solidarity leaders called for the reestablishment of their union and began to operate publicly for the first time since 1981.
Rakowski and other government leaders responded by declaring their actions illegal.
Certainly their confrontation will not result in Western-style democracy. Rakowski's party will remain in power. But with what type of leading role? Onyzskiewicz's opposition press will continue to publish. But with what type of voice?
Only one thing looks certain: In the days ahead, Poland will chart unknown territories, working to fit its pluralist nature into a communist structure.
Second in an occasional series. The previous article ran Sept. 19.