The news that Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize has temporarily broken a quiet summer in Poland, the quietest since the summer of 1980. The award granted to the former Solidarity leader will likely not relieve a very insecure situation. Just how insecure is illustrated by the panic buying which greeted mid-September rumors of steep new food price increases - the tinder of open Polish revolt four times since the 1950s. The situation was cooled by an official pronouncement that said, yes, there would be increases - but not nearly as high as rumored, and not until Jan. 1. That, plus assurances that food shortages would not recur, stopped the rush on the shops.
The sudden panic showed with uncomfortable clarity, however, show thin is the margin still between government efforts to pull the economy around and the consequences of failure.
Much of the present superficial calm is due more to people's weariness than to official efforts or the modest economic upturn. If the government can assure Poles that present levels of consumption can be kept up through winter, it can probably avoid a return to confrontation.
But the current mood of tired resignation will not go on for ever. Living costs this year are already more than 30 percent higher than in 1982. Many families spend more than half their budget on food. The new January prices will add at least another 4 percent to living costs. The majority of the people, with monthly incomes no more than $130, feel even the smallest new financial squeeze.
The best news is that church-state relations show some signs of improvement. The chill following the Pope's visit and church disappointment over limits to the amnesty and restrictive replacing military law has thawed slightly.
Moves have been made at last to get the Roman Catholic Church's agricultural aid plan off the ground. This is the project to raise some $1.9 billion through Western churches for a development program spread over five years.
There have been differences. The sponsors have insisted the program be confined to the private sector (75 percent of Poland's arable land). The government wants to get a slice for the state sector. And there have been disagreements about how it should be run and by whom.
But the church-state joint commission discussed it. And the primate has also conferred with the United Peasant Party leader, Roman Malinowski. These signs are seen as confirming both government approval and a mutual wish to get started before 1984's needs present themselves.
There are disagreements within the Communist Party, too. But it is significant that the Politburo has just ordered state administrative and economic bodies to consult properly with the new government-initiated unions on all matters of economic planning and wage policy.
These unions obviously do not have the clout of the banned trade union Solidarity. Nor, since passing the 3-million member mark a few months ago, have they managed more rapid headway. But enough of them apparently had complained vigorously enough about not being taken into account to prompt a top-level response. The evident lack of workers' confidence had been producing too many unofficial stoppages as workers confronted management directly with their demands on local plant issues.
Giving the new unions a real voice - as the law creating them prescribes - would be one way the authorities could help get themselves through the precarious transition period still ahead.