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Poland offers an olive branch and a stick

A conditional offer of partnership to the independent trade unions. A call to the country at large for a "new spirit of cooperation." But a strong hint of sterner action against the dissident "opposition."

This, in a nutshell, is the Polish Communist Party's position at the end of a dramatic week that included yet another reshuffling of the party leadership. In a closing speech to the Central Committee plenum Nov. 3, party leader Stanislaw Kania declared his confidence that the regime was now on course to grapple with Poland's problems.

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He asserted that Soviet President Brezhnev had shown "moral" support for the new Polish leadership in a message outlining plans for the Soviet financial aid promised Poland earlier in the week.

It is this show of Moscow's continued confidence that prompts the Poles to regard with great skepticism the growing Western speculation about Soviet military intervention. They are convinced the Russians will not embark on a move that would have the most catastrophic international consequences.

Instead, they -- and reliable Western observers in Warsaw -- believe the Russians would undertake such a step only as a last desperate resort and only if the country and its communist system were to reach total breakdown. "Intervention would almost certainly wreck the Russians' whole security system in Europe," comments one source.

In fact, as the weekend approached, the Polish situation looked calmer than it has for four months. No strike or strike threat loomed on the horizon.

The crisis is far from being over. And the Central Committee's cry, "Countrymen, . . . unrest is leading our homeland to the brink of economic and moral destruction!" and an equally emotive statement from the National Military Council appears to be an attempt to wake people up to the dangers implicit in a continuing crisis.

The military council was said to have discussed "specific tasks" awaiting the armed forces if a situation placing the country's defense potential at risk continued.

This reflected awareness of a major fear professed by Poland's East-bloc allies. The key is probably more in the council's reference to a threat to social-economic order and the "functioning of the state as a whole."

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The military council said the country was undergoing a severe political crisis and all Poles were engulfed in "prolonged anxiety about the further destiny of the nation."

Poles have heard many such warnings in these past few months but none in such final terms. The warnings appear designed to alert Poles to the dangers if there is not a general return to work, and to make clear that an immediate response to any new major strike outbreaks could be a state of emergency. This would make strikes unlawful and bring in the troops to keep essential services moving. "Counterrevolutionary forces" would be under notice that more rigorous sanctions would be applied if they did not watch their step.

Soviet intervention is seen only as a last resort. Meanwhile, the Central Committee, unequivocally reaffirming the plan for reform, spoke of drawing all public groups into decisionmaking. More cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church was mentioned. The new unions were hailed as an "extremely important and constructive link in socialist democracy" to be involved in all socioeconomic problems in industry and society as a whole.

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