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Patriot or commissar?

Almost three months after martial law was instituted in Poland, outside watchers of the scene still ask: Is General Jaruzelski a hardfisted communist beholden to Moscow who wants above all to restore the dominance of the party and silence the forces of democratic reform? Or is he a committed communist, yes, but first and foremost a Polish patriot who seeks genuine economic and social reform in Poland but within a political framework acceptable to the Russians?

The question remains open. Amid the many uncertainties of the situation - not least of all the position of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa - one thing seems clear. General Jaruzelski has pacified the country and taken firm charge. He has surmounted any immediate challenge from the extreme hard-liners within the party and bolstered military rule, even managing to add another general to the party Politburo. The party is dutifully taking a firm ideological line, warning of continued underground ''antcommunist'' activity and denouncing Solidarity extremists. Civil liberties remain curtailed and some 4,000 Poles are still in detention.

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There is little doubt that this pleases the men in the Kremlin. During his visit to Moscow this week General Jaruzelski is able to tell his patrons that martial law has succeeded in defusing a crisis and that Solidarity is no longer a force threatening party authority. In Soviet eyes, that would be the minimum prerequisite for any resumption of talks with the union. But General Jaruzelski is also able to tell the Russians - if one accepts the Polish-patriot thesis - that rule by coercion will not solve Poland's deep economic problems and that long-term stability will not be possible without the kind of national covenant urged by the Roman Catholic Church.

Certainly the church has the Polish peo-ple's support in calling for release of the detainees, amnesty for those condemned, restoration of basic liberties, and return to a dialogue embracing all social groups. But, significantly, the Polish Catholic hierarchy has been careful not to back the Russians to the wall with an ultimatum. It speaks of lifting martial law ''as soon as possible,'' of ''responsible'' national discussion, and of being guided by ''feelings of realism'' and remembrance of Poland's geopolitical position, i.e. its alliance with Moscow. These are cautious words presumably designed to assure the Soviet leadership and protect the church's position in Poland.

Will General Jaruzelski try to persuade Moscow of the importance of achieving some form of social accord? Will Moscow respond? It is abundantly clear that it will not permit the situation to return to pre-Dec. 13 when the military crackdown came. Solidarity is now shattered and no one thinks the Soviet Union or Poland's military rulers will allow it to become a political force again. But there remains a certain latitude for reform if the Russians have the good sense to know that Poland will never emerge from its present dead end without peaceful change - and if the Polish authorities are sincere in their pledge to continue ''socialist renewal'' and to honor the Gdansk agreement recognizing the union's right to exist and to strike.

Those in the West cannot but be disheartened by the continuation of martial law and the hardening Polish party line. But it is impossible at the moment to know whether this represents a final tightening of the Soviet screw, or a politically required paving of the way for a resumption of dialogue. For the sake of Poland - and of the Soviet Union - it can only be hoped that Wojciech Jaruzelski is more Polish patriot than commissar.

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