PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH has met the victors and the vanquished of Poland's first democratic elections since World War II. What he has met most of all, though, is a nation vanquished by 40 years of misrule and denial that anything was wrong. Solidarity's platform is simple. The West should float Poland some $10 billion in aid. Its agenda and the Polish government's really go no further. All anyone knows is that things cannot be as they are now.
But Poland's and the West's shared joy at the communist defeat should not blind us to the fact that no one has really won. The election was not a vote for anyone or anything. It was a vote against 40 some years of communist rule.
Solidarity is still only an amorphous trade union, and although its legacy is remembered by all, the youth of Poland have almost as little patience with it as they do with the party.
Solidarity's candidates did not have a platform in the election, and still don't. Their main credential for government service was their own lack of government experience. They ran against what is. Less convincingly, so did the communists.
The men and women who rode Solidarity's bandwagon won. But they are a varied group of men and women who hold every view under the sun. When they ran for office, it was easy to say, ``This is not our mess.'' Now, by virtue of their numbers, it is their mess to straighten out. Given the condition of the Polish economy and the morale of its people, the cleanup will take years and a miracle to succeed.
They will not be able to turn for guidance to the skilled and savvy men who opened the door for the trade union's political triumph. These establishment mavericks thought voters would recognize that they fought with their own hardliners to make the historic compromise with Solidarity, and put themselves up for election on a national list. But citizens fed up with communism and martial law crossed all but the last party name off the list.
True to their word, the reformers accepted their defeat. The men they found to run in the second round of the elections are as inexperienced with the realities of rule as their Solidarity partners.
George Bush and the promise of Western capitalism are the last hope for the Poles. Mikhail Gorbachev has told Poland and Hungary that they can find their own path, just as long as they make good their debts to the Soviet Union.
The Poles, and their Hungarian brothers, now have their taste of democracy. Soon we will learn if they can meet the challenges of this new order, setting aside ideology and pride for the sake of compromise.
Taking the road to capitalism is not enough for a country whose infrastructure is rotting away. Instead of meeting members of the Polish Little League, Bush should have visited a children's hospital and seen the lack of medical supplies. He should have met deaf children who must wait six years for a hearing aid. Or he should have visited sunbathers at Gdansk, who cannot cool off in the Baltic because it is too polluted.
Then maybe he would not be so quick to gloat over the retreat of communism and the triumph of Solidarity. It is going to be a very expensive victory. Unless the West comes quickly to her aid, Poland will slide down the road of economic impoverishment and political chaos, regardless of who is at the helm.