Poland helps and hinders entrepreneurs. Officials want efficiency, but are wary of threat to communism
Warsaw — Aleksander Paszynski is a private businessman who wants to create an association of entrepreneurs. Poland's reform-minded communists say they support both entrepreneurs and independent associations. Why then does his organization remain illegal?
The apparent contradiction says much about Poland's difficulties in reforming communism, and indeed about the difficulties in reforming communism throughout Eastern Europe.
Ideas that sound harmless on paper often turn out to be potent anticommunist weapons in practice. Thus the authorities may balk at carrying out such changes, leaving the public feeling cheated. No wonder Poles voted ``no'' in late November to an unprecedented referendum on reform.
``The government's words and actions go in different directions,'' complains Mr. Paszynski. ``The words sound good. The actions are bad.''
Paszynski's frustration reaches back to 1981, the year when martial law was declared and the independent trade union Solidarity was banned. Until then, he had worked as a journalist at the official weekly Polityka. Afterward, he decided to act against the government.
He founded Muratour, a company that provides advice on how to construct houses. In a country in which it takes decades to obtain state-built lodging, Muratour met a pressing need. It prospered. In 1983, its sales totaled 100,000 zlotys. Last year, sales reached 100 million zlotys.
Paszynski himself is now a mini-tycoon. Wearing a Western-style tweed jacket and tie, he occupies a large, spacious office. His earnings run to 100,000 zlotys a month, five times the average Polish wage.
But Paszynski's goals are primarily ideological. He sees private enterprise as a way of breaking down the state's monopoly in running the economy. If workers know that they can find employment outside of the state sector, they will feel freer to confront the state, he says; if entrepreneurs flourish - and organize themselves - they can share control of the economy with communist bureaucrats.
Solidarity activists agree. Many former union leaders, unable to freely engage in politics, have started up private companies. The most famous is Zbigniew Bujak, former leader of the Solidarity underground, who plans to open his own factory to produce nails.
Mr. Bujak and Paszynski are not alone, either. According to Dariusz Filar, an economics professor at the University of Gdansk, some 150,000 new private business have been launched since 1981, and the private sector's share of the country's gross national product has risen to more than 5 percent.
``The emerging generation of Polish small entrepreneurs has little in common with the traditional image of an artisan or craftsman,'' reports Professor Filar.
``They run small, highly efficient design offices, high-tech shops, and electronics and personal computer businesses.''
As these prosper, official resistance crumbles. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the government stifled entrepreneurs by taxing almost all their income and strangling them in a maze of restrictions and regulations. Under the new economic reform, the government declared its willingness to offer entrepreneurs equal rights with the state and cooperative sector - that is, equal access to bank credits and raw materials, and equal treatment in taxation.
``We must encourage private enterprise,'' says Wladyslaw Backa, president of the National Bank. ``It is dynamic, it exports, and it provides the needed competition to propel the economy.''
In order to buy good will for their economic changes, the authorities acknowledge that they need to offer corresponding political reforms. Their solution: Let Poles create independent associations. Entrepreneurs in Krakow grouped themselves together last spring to form a Krakovian Industrial Society.
``When we tried to reform in the past, we limited ourselves to economic changes,'' says Deputy Prime Minister Zdzislaw Sadowski. Real reform requires political change, ``reducing the scope of central government and letting individuals make decisions in small and big matters.''
What then went wrong with Paszynski's proposal? Paszynski wanted to form a nationwide association of entrepreneurs, including many with Solidarity backgrounds. The authorities wanted him to restrict his activities to Warsaw, just as the Krakow entrepreneurs restricted themselves to Krakow.
The association's goal would be to offer advice to potential entrepreneurs and to lobby for legislation favoring free enterprise - in short, Paszynski says, ``to act like the American Chamber of Commerce.'' The authorities wanted to have the group drop plans for publishing. Without the ability to publicize its views, Paszynski fears the association would be impotent.
Serious issues are embedded in the dispute. Powerful, financially independent associations eventually would pose a political challenge to the Communist Party's power.
Just as Paszynski's association could turn itself into a Chamber of Commerce, a social democratic debating club eventually could become a Social Democratic political party, a Christian trade-union discussion group could become a full-fledged Christian trade union.
``We want a strong private sector and we want free associations,'' insists Mr. Backa, the bank president. ``But new solutions don't arrive easily.''
Paszynski no longer trusts such promises. He is turning radical.
To him, the promised ``new solutions'' won't come as long as communists run Poland's government.
``Socialism is not reformable,'' he argues. ``The entire system must be changed.''