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Showdown nears on pledge to ease Polish censorship

Already at odds with the new unions and with a large body of militant private farmers, the Polish government now is moving toward a showdown over its pledge to reduce political and literary censorship.

Greater freedom to express and publish opinions was among the 21 points won by the Gdansk shipyard workers under the August agreement. In a parallel agreement with the Szczecin strikers, the government committed itself to specific limits to censorship. Both agreements called for a draft bill to be laid before the Sejm (parliament) within three months.

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The deadline has passed without a draft, but also without the issue coming into open conflict, because of the more immediate social and organizational tensions between the regime and the unions.

Even with one deadline missed, however, the Solidarity unions' legal advisers and the Ministry of Justice have still to reach a compromise bill for a new parliamentary deadline Jan. 15. If a single text cannot be agreed on, both Solidarity's draft and the ministry's will be put before the parliament for debate.

One of the most contentious arguments over the new law surrounds who is to control censorship, and to whom the reduced censorship office is to be responsible. The unions want censorship to be a parliamentary prerogative. The ministry wants to leave it where it is, under government control.

But there may be a certain impetus for having parliament control censorship, in that the Sejm is to be given a real voice after years as a rubber stamp.

A first move in this direction involved the Chamber of Supreme Control, a body that is supposed to keep watch over cabinet and individual legal infractions. It has been removed from the jurisdiction of the prime minister and made strictly accountable to parliament.

Censorship, according to the August agreements, is to be restricted to protection of state interests. This would seem natural enough. But in Poland there is the problem of special sensitivities about relations with the Soviet Union. So far, censors have been going even so far as to exclude historical references, even in literary works, for fear they might upset the Russians.

Even most leading communist authors favor removal of the arbitrary censorship rules which, with the arbitrary censors, increasingly crippled social-political comment and cultural and literary freedom during the Gierek years.

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The new mood is already apparent in the openness with which the press is now handling public affairs. But, unless it is institutionalized in a new law, the current latitude could in time be restricted again, many fear.

On the union front, the government was confronted with a unilateral Solicarity vote Jan. 7 declaring a five-day workweek. In southeast Poland there were token stoppages by peasant farmers protesting official harassment of their efforts to organize.

The government had proposed two Saturdays off a month, with gradual increases in the number of free days, arguing that Poland's depressed economy would not tolerate a decline in productivity.

Faced, however, with the Solidarity vote, the government has accepted the five-day principle but asked for an extra half-hour a day to help make up.

This, with a change of government attitude on Rural Solidarity's registration , could easily be the basis of a new compromise. Censorship is a more ticklish thing. But even here, the current national mood offers room enough for common-sense responsibilit y on both sides of the argument.

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