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Polish martial law went out with a whimper

As many Poles saw it, martial law may have come in with a bang Dec. 13, 1981, but it went out with a whimper last week. The nighttime curfew was gone long before the end-of-year official ''suspension'' of martial law. So were most other visible features of martial law, such as the repetitive shows of military strength on the streets.

Most Poles will not be greatly or directly affected by the controls that remain - except those that prohibit workers in important sectors from changing jobs. For the rest it boils down largely to:

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* Continued military supervision of the economy and administration, areas vital to the interests of the state.

* Continued military jurisdiction of certain allegedly ''anti-state'' activities, and ''various restraints on activity or persons'' deemed likely to ''provoke public unrest.'' Summary trials and military courts are mainly terminated along with internment.

All the internees have been freed except the seven radical Solidarity leaders who recently were formally arrested for investigation on quasi-treason charges. No official total of those sentenced for specific offenses against martial law is available, but estimates run as high as 2,000 to 3,000 people.

Moreover, the possibility of clemency for political offenders, held out by the legislation suspending martial law, may be tested soon. Officials said some 700 were immediately eligible to petition for a lifting of their sentences.

If clemency is indeed applied quickly and widely, the lifting of martial law could be accelerated. The visit of the Pope, scheduled for June, still is seen as a deadline for amnesty to be genuinely and substantively under way.

Increasingly, however, the key to the Polish situation is the economy.

The Poles sounded a mildly hopeful note about the economy at the last parliamentary session of 1982. The 1983 plan envisages a small growth in the national income, the first since 1979, and a 4 percent rise in overall production. But in the longer term, there are still too many ''unknowns'' that could wreck the best-worked-out timetable for reconstruction.

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[The new trade unions formally began working Jan. 3. Although 2,500 unions based on individual enterprises have been formed, only a small number of workers at any factory have gotten involved in them.]

The production of more food is projected. But three years of decline in animal production throw into question even the present per capita meat ration of 5 1/2 pounds a month.

The biggest question mark of all is over the West's economic sanctions. The Polish authorities are disappointed that what they see as an easing of martial law restrictions has not elicited any approving response from the United States. In Parliament last week it was said again that Poland's recovery depends on a ''realistic attitude'' from the West in enabling the country to meet its foreign debts.

It is doubtful that the Poles can service their huge debt load unless some form of ''assistance'' or ''understanding'' is forthcoming. Poland seems to have reached a stage in which only an initiative from its Western creditors could help it get back on its feet.

Recent inspection of Poland's industrial capacity by a top Soviet official and absence thereafter of anything specific about further Soviet support, seemed to confirm assumptions that the Soviets can or will do no more.

At best Moscow has agreed to let Poland's present heavy deficit in bilateral trade run for the time being and ''shown interest'' in helping the Poles operate some of the industrial capacity that is at present idle.

Poland's Western bank creditors are not so reluctant as governments to negotiate further rescheduling. The governments still seem unready to make a move here or over sanctions.

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