To Dr. Zdzislaw Najder, a visiting scholar at Oxford University and co-editor of Poland's Literary Journal, the drama playing itself out in his country, under the baleful eye of the Kremlin, is more than a distant morality play, with the Soviets as bad guys and the Polish workers as white-hatted freedom fighters.
The high stakes in the gamble Polish workers are taking with Soviet patience, a tottering economy, and national determination are to him all too exhilaratingly and chillingly real.
Dr. Najder was given a six-month leave of absence to go to England and visit his old college in Oxford. While he was there he accepted a State Department invitation to visit the United States.
A few days ago, he made a trip back to Poland; and now he sits in this restaurant talking heatedly about the nearinsurrection that grew out of Polish patriotism and resistance to a despised government.
"The atmosphere is exhilarating in Poland now," he says."This is a very revolutionary time. Democracy is in the air. There is hope. I wouldn't say there is certainty. But, by and large, people are hopeful, although apprehensive."
Like nearly one-third of the workers in Poland, Dr. Najder is a member of Solidarity.
He was with a group of Polish intellectuals who visited the Gdansk shipyards on the Baltic coast where the wave of strikes that has rocked the country started last August. There, he met Lech Walesa, the nation's worker-hero-leader , whom he describes as "temperamentally a moderate, a man who can sniff out when the other side is afraid. He's tough but not a firebrand."
Dr. Najder makes it clear, though, that Poland's current "experiment in democracy" is not the brainchild of Mr. Walesa, nor of any other leader.
It is, he says, the inevitable outcome of 25 years' imposed rule under a foreign system of government, of bureaucratic corruption and ineptitude, and of what he calls "Polish public morality."
"it's not the antisocialist opposition that got this whole thing moving," Dr. Najder observers, taking sharp issue with recent allegations in the government-controlled press of Poland and its Eastern neighbors. "This is a spontaneous movement of the workers, and it is based on our society's deepest values."
These values, difficult to articulate, are obviously important to this loquacious scholar, whose easygoing demeanor, tousled gray-brown hair, and soft features belie an inner determination and fierce patriotism.
He is highly respected by Polish expatriate organizations, and is adjudged an ethical, dedicated Pole, who "certainly is not connected with any communist organizations," in the words of an American-based Polish newspaper editor.
"I have never been a member of the Communist Party." Dr. Najder says. "God forbid! And I am no Marxist." The scion of a civic-minded, "socialist family," whose grandfather was killed in the 1905 uprising against czarist Russia, Dr. Najder says he was reared with a strong sense of "patriotism, as opposed to nationalism."
"George Orwell made the distinction between the two quite clear in an essay," he observes, moving aside his water glass and leaning his elbow on the table.
"Nationalism is aggresive; it means you want to impose your country's values on someone else. Patriotism means that you cherish your nation's values, but you don't want to impose them on anyone."
His feeling for his country is evident in the following story:
"Between 1963 and 1965, I tried to get an exit visa to travel to England, where my future wife, who is Polish but has a British passport, was waiting to marry me. The Polish authorities turned down my repeated requests until I was near to giving up in despair.
"Then, in 1965, I fell ill with a problem that Polish physicians couldn't diagnose properly. The Ministry of Health recommended I go to England, of all places, even paying for all my medical expenses. And, once I had their recommendation, I managed to secure a visa. In England, I was treated and cured.And, of course, I also got married."
Much to the surprise of English friends who knew of his earlier ordeal, he decided later to return with his wife to Poland.
His principal reason for returning, he explains, was a feeling of guilt. "I had seen people die in the resistance during the war. I had seen others going to Stalin's prisons for their convictions. After that, one begins to feel guilty living in the West wondering, Why should I have it so good?"
Right now, few people in Poland seem to have it very good. The economic collapse looming on the country's horizon has produced shortages of almost every necessity, he complains. But the hardest thing the Polish people have had to swallow, he says, is that these troubles were brought on by the systematic betrayal by a bungling and corrupt government, which for years lied to its own citizens.
Much of the deception and incompetence, he charges, resides in the encrusted Polish bureaucracy, built up over a quarter of a century and dedicated to its own survival.
A case in point is the agricultural bureaucracy, which has fiercely resisted the proposed farmers' union known as Rural Solidarity.
Dr. Najder charges that the backbone of this resistance comes from an entrenched army of "several hundred people working in state and party agricultural administration who will become superfluous when farmers get organizes. Their principal function has been to make an utter mess out of Polish agriculture. they drink too much and take bribes, and most of them don't do any work. Hence, they form a strong lobby against Rural Solidarity."
As a result the workers are very suspicious, making negotiation nearly impossible, Dr. Najder says. "they've been cheated so many times. They don't want to give up [putting on the] pressure until they have some real evidence of change. We know we are going to be asked to accept austerity. But why should we trust the government? We've been lied to for such a long time."
These lies, he charges, were part of an elaborate government scheme of deception in dealing with political unrest.
"The government policy for the last 5-10 years has been, no basic economic reforms, no basic political reforms, just pouring in dollars borrowed from the West as a way of bribing the people to keep them quiet. It worked for a while, but after 2 to 3 years of this, everybody began to realize we were headed for economic disaster."
The road out of this economic disaster is a dangerous one, he feels, but not impassable. It depends on the expanding of civil liberties.
Dr. Najder can speak with authority about the need for civil liberties. As co-editor of the country's leading literary journal, he constantly rubs up agianst the rough underside of government censorship.
Every three months, he and his fellow editors assemble 120 to 124 pages of essays, reviews, and commentary on Western literary publications. When they send this work to the government censors, a third to half is routinely dropped into the wastebasket.
Until official fashion changed, Dr. Najder's chosen specialty, Joseph Conrad, himself a Pole, was banned in Poland.
"From 1949 to 1953," Dr. Najder recalls, "Conrad was under ideological disfavor, because he was considered anti-Russian and anti-communist, and all sorts of stupid interpretations that he was an apologist for capitalism. But this is all a matter of the past now."
What is not a matter of the past is the widespread banning of authors who have signed protest letters, published abroad, or in some other way earned official disfavor. All the books by the recent Nobel Prize winner, Czslaw Milosz, were banned in Poland, and even his name could not appear in widely circulated weeklies or dailies. Other authors are banned in certain publications, depending on the publication's audience size and the degree of offense the author supposedly committed.
Dr. Najder's own books could not find their way into print for a year and a half, he says, because of a protest letter he signed.
The censorship system is so clandestine that he and other authors are not sure they are banned, unless a friendly publisher privately informs them that this is why their works are held up.
The worst of it, according to Dr. Najder, is that with no censorship laws, censorship is arbitrary and unpredictable.
He says the right to publish freely, within reason, is a fundamental necessity for true social reform in Poland.
Right now, his countrymen are risking everything for such political and economic reforms. Are the hopes worth the risk?
"What choice do we have?" Dr. Najder asks rhetorically. "The only other choice is to lie down with the country in ruins. The leadership was completely discredited; the party admits it is to a very large extent corrupt. We have to have something to say about the future of our country's economy."
But according to Dr. Najder, the Polish people are asking for more than an economic voice: They want democracy.
"Democracy is virtually everyone's ideal," he says. Everybody in Poland accepts freedom of speech as a principle. Between 70 and 80 percent of the samples in sociological research show this, although everybody understands there have to be limitations, especially in regard to what we say about our neighbors [other East-bloc nations and the Soviet Union.]"
Dr. Najder is pragmatic about the possibility of radically altering the form of government in Poland. When he speaks of "democracy," it is evident that he is not thinking of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. He seems to be reaching for something that would come closer to a codified socialist form of what already exists in Poland.
Socialism, he says, is the ideal of the Polish intelligentsia, although he acknowledges that "socialism is a very vague word."
"The unrest is necessarily political in Poland, since anyone speaking against government policy becomes, by definition, political without even trying.
"In a country where the government says there is no God, for instance, if you say there may be a God, you automatically play a political role."
It is politically dangerous then for workers and students to be arguing that "we should elect our own representatives, and that nobody should impose his solutions on us."
Right now, Poles see both these possibilities looming on their immediate horizon: the promise of elected representation, in the form of secret ballots for official societies and newly powerful trade unions; and the specter of Soviet intervention.
Does Dr. Najder think he will wake up one morning to hear the tread of Soviet tanks in Warsaw streets?
"Oh, I think I'll hear about it before then," he jokes lightly."
"We hear much more about Soviet intervention abroad than in Poland," he observes. "The reason is that most non-Poles do not understand our situation. Everyone says Poland is like Hungary, like Czechoslovakia: Well, it is exactly unlike Hungary, unlike Czechoslovakia. The situation in Poland is entirely novel."
Part of why Poland is different from Czechoslovakia and Hungary, he feels, is because it is not committed to a prescribed new social order.
He says the economic protest in Poland is a "massive, spontaneous thing, springing from the workers themselves," not an ideological revolt inspired by an upper strata of intellectuals and activists.
Another element that makes Poland different is the strength and authority of the Roman Catholic church there.
Asked what effect the naming of a Polish Pope has had on events in Poland, he said that at the time, "the general effect was electric." He also says that the move strengthened the position of the church in Poland and led to the feeling among Polish beleivers that "somebody up there [he points to heaven] has his eye on us."
This Pope is "very popular, especially among intellectuals," he observes. "He's apparently a very open man. He was easily accessible to the intelligentsia while he was here. But he is also very popular among the populous, as well.
"His visit to Poland was the biggest event there since the end of the war."
Did this visit help to create the current situation in Poland by inspiring a sense of national pride and unity?
"It very easily could have."
According to Dr. Najder, however, the main contributing element in the current unrest there has been the fact that Poles have been existing under "a system imposed from the outside."
"This is our great political problem," he says. "The political and social order of our society have been contrary to the [natural political instincts of the Polish people]. In the best of all possible worlds, Poland would be a free and independent state able to make its own decisions and go its own way."
Dr. Najder acknowledges, however, that Moscow may be refraining from action because Poland presents it with a quandary, rather than out of tolerance for social experimentation. He repeatedly refused to speculate about how far the Soviets might allow Poland to go in making its own decisions.
Still, he maintains that there is reason to hope the party and Moscow will accept basic political and economic reforms.
"Western journalists all said it was impossible to get the concessions the workers secured in the shipyards in August. Well, it turned out that the party accepted these reforms. Because never before had workers rebelled as quietly, in such an organized way, and so massively. It is a whole new situation."
This new situation may provoke new problems for the Soviets: A Romanian who defected only days ago to the West told this reporter that "awareness and admiration" of the Polish experiment are widespread in her country.
So, since his country's experiment could prove catching, Dr. Najder acknowledges that armed Soviet intervention is a real threat.
"I can't say I'm not afraid for my country," he confesses, as he crosses a busy New York street, his car coat pockets bulging with papers and his mind fixed on his nation's dilemma.
"I'm very worried. We are all very worried. We are a frustrated society. We are aggressive, and we drink far too much, because we are so frustrated.
"To find a way out of this situation will require much patience and a lot of imagination.
"The workers have shown a willingness to accept people in government that they do not trust, because they see no alternative. Solidarity could bring down the government in 48 hours. But nobody wants that, except perhaps the hotheads Walesa keeps complaining about. . . .
"Our only hope is that [the Soviets] understand us better.
"[They] have to countenance the future. They cannot remain in the past. They have to accept that things are changing. Any Marxist should see this. You cannot make history stop."