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Milk lines lengthen, inflation soars, but Poles see light at end of tunnel

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Every day Poland's inflation is fed by another billion zlotys (about $30 million), and there are no goods to absorb them. That, in a nutshell, is the problem of this country's beleaguered economy.

When Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski visited the Ursus plant to discuss the drop-off in tractor production, the workers' first questions were about day-to-day shortages.

One told him there were no cigarettes, no matches, no razor blades. Another, that people queue for two hours for a liter of milk.

In a supermarket, I watched 150 people line up to buy 100 grams of coffe beans apiece. A line of 120 dispersed when candy ran out. Such items often are kept at the cash registers, where customers may buy a bag when paying their bill.

Things are slightly better at the peasants' own fruitstands. More fresh vegetables are appearing -- cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, even strawberries -- but there is apparently no attempt to control speculative prices. They soar far beyond all but a few purses.

The latest economic report indicates that the consumer situation will get worse as the year progresses. It will be 1982 before the most modest improvement is realized, and two more years before any meaningful upturn can be expected. The promised increase in supports for private farms has hardly begun.

At this juncture everything depends on the assistance Poland gets from abroad , both from the West and from its East-bloc allies.

Western governments have already agreed to provide short-term financial help, pending final rescheduling of debt repayments due in the next few years. But the banks -- to whom Poland owes hfalf its total of some $25 billion of debts to the West -- are still making up their minds about the Poles' three-year "stabilization program." It includes greatly reduced investment and more stringent rationing of food.


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