Bush Visit Boosts Polish Morale

But modest aid offer leaves some Poles feeling cheated and concerned about the future. PLAYING IT CAUTIOUS IN POLAND

AS a child growing up in Poland, Jacek Gavrikowski remembers, he was forced by his teachers to go and wave a hammer-and-sickle flag during visits by communist leaders. This week, Mr. Gavrikowski waved a Stars and Stripes for visiting US President George Bush. As the presidential motorcade passed, thousands of other well-wishers, three and four deep, joined Gavrikowski in loud cheers as they waved, flashed the Solidarity ``V'' for victory symbol, and threw flowers at the row of limousines.

``The only other person worth coming for would be the Pope,'' Gavrikowski said. ``I hope he [Bush] can bring us a little more democracy and prosperity.''

President Bush, whose three-day visit here ended yesterday, responded to the enthusiasm of the Polish people by mixing praise with caution.

Wherever he went, he saluted Poland's recent moves toward more democracy, including again legalizing the independent trade union Solidarity and holding partially free legislative elections.

But Mr. Bush also warned Poles that their task remains fraught with dangers.

``The future beckons with both hope and uncertainty,'' he said in his major speech before the Polish parliament, the only parliament in the communist world with an elected opposition. ``A profound cycle of turmoil and great change is sweeping the world from Poland to the Pacific. It is sometimes inspiring as here, in Warsaw. Sometimes it is agonizing, as in China today.''

The political situation in Poland itself could move either toward repression or freedom, longtime observers say.

After Solidarity's sweeping election win last month, the movement's leaders are weighing the formation of a government led by their own prime minister. After lunching with Bush, top Solidarity adviser Adam Michnik left for Moscow to confer with Soviet officials. Other Solidarity leaders will go to the Paris economic summit at the end of the week to discuss their plans with Western leaders. Meanwhile, Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski is reconsidering his decision to withdraw from running for the new post of president.

During Bush's visit, the aim of American officials apparently was to promote democracy without provoking destabilization. That meant not encouraging overly enthusiastic anticommunist demonstrations. It also meant not fueling Soviet fears that Washington wants to replace Moscow as the dominant force in Eastern Europe.

``If all the United States did was come in here and thrust a huge amount of money on the table, it could be perceived by the Soviet Union as merely an attempt to buy the Soviet Union out of influence in this region,'' White House Chief of Staff John Sununu said. ``If you do that, that's destabilizing. It's not good for Poland in the long run.''

As it turned out, Bush's offer of financial aid was modest. He announced a $100 million fund to encourage private enterprise, a $15 million venture to fight pollution, and support for a $325 million World Bank loan. Most important, he promised to push other Western countries at the Paris summit to defer payment of up to $5 billion of Poland's $39 billion debt.

US national security adviser Brent Scowcroft agreed that ``the direct aid from the United States is, yes, more symbolic of our support for what the Poles are trying to do.''

``Other than relief from some of the debt burden that they have, the Poles are going to have to do this by themselves,'' he added, ``and it's basically a tough job of economic reform and restructuring.''

The US message received a mixed response. Both Communist and Solidary leaders expressed appreciation for Bush's political support. Personal contacts, they said, were marked by genuine warmth.

``The atmosphere of the talks is perfect,'' said Col. Wiecyslaw Gornitski, a chief adviser to General Jaruzelski. ``When he comes and says the Polish government showed much courage by taking the path of the round-table [earlier negotiations with Solidarity], and the world is watching us, we can only appreciate such understanding.''

Solidarity leaders found other points to appreciate in the President's appearances - his constant evocation of human rights, of Poland's deep democratic heritage, and of Poles' strong religious faith.

``The President's words were well chosen, especially his insistence on our shared Western values,'' said Barbara Labyda, a Solidarity representative to the Polish parliament. ``But,'' she added, ``there's little [economic] substance.''

As much as the visit proved a political success, its economic aspect left the Poles feeling cheated. After Bush's aid offer, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa presented a plan for $10 billion in total Western aid when the two met Tuesday in Gdansk. Polish Communist officials expressed disappointment at the amount of the US economic aid offer.

``We made precise and clear our expectations,'' Colonel Gornitski said. ``Unfortunately, the material substance was limited.''

Without enough help from abroad, many Poles say there is heightened danger of a social explosion. There is precious little sugar, flour, or meat to be found in stores. And food prices are scheduled to be further raised at the beginning of next month.

US officials had hoped that Bush's encouragement would be enough to ease this tension and permit Polish democracy to move forward.

The trip did help improve the atmosphere. On the official level, the visit brought together Solidarity and government officials in a show of togetherness. At the US Embassy luncheon, Jaruzelski sat next to the men he formerly jailed - Mr. Michnik, Bronislaw Geremek, Jacek Kuron, and Janusz Onyszkiewicz.

``It's rather strange,'' Mr. Onyszkiewicz said, ``if you take into account that only a year ago I was in prison.''

``Something new is happening here in Poland when we all assemble here together,'' added Mr. Geremek. ``It's in moments like this that we think of the American founding fathers.''

On the street level, the visit also managed to infuse people with a sense of pride. Neither the hot, humid weather, vacation time, or political apathy seemed to prevent a large turnout. Thousands more Poles came out to Bush's public appearances than for recent visits by other leaders such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, French President Franc,ois Mitterrand, or even Mikhail Gorbachev a year ago.

In an impoverished country that still feels suppressed by the Soviet Union, the US still represents `the promised land,' and pro-Americanism runs high.

Millions of relatives in the US provide living proof of the ``new world's'' prosperity. Ordinary Poles didn't care as much about the details of official financial aid as the leaders. They simply rejoiced in American values.

``I thank the Lord that I finally can show my sympathy for democracy - and the US,'' said a beaming Krzyzstof Wojciechowski as Bush's motorcade passed. ``We didn't just want dollars, we also wanted moral support.''

But given its severe economic problems, moral support alone will not make life easier for Poles in the near future.

``This visit gives us a psychological boost, some breathing space,'' said Mrs. Labyda, the Solidarity parliament delegate. ``It will last a few weeks. The problem comes afterward.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Bush Visit Boosts Polish Morale
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today