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TV: Plodding through Poland

The Struggles for Poland PBS, Tuesdays through Sept. 6, 9-10 p.m., check local listings. Narrator: Roger Mudd. Poland has always been exposed to the crosscurrents of international politics, often seemingly crushed and annihilated, only to rise again in one national form or another. ``The Struggles for Poland,'' which claims to be the first historical examination of Poland ever undertaken by Western television, tries to remedy the neglect with nine hours of solid, old-fashioned documentarymaking.

What emerges is essentially a Polish ``Roots,'' without melodramatics. The series is ``must'' viewing for those of Polish descent, and instructive viewing for students of history, international politics, and geography. But for the average television viewer, it is overkill - too much of a dry history lesson, despite attempts to turn it into an entertainment with rare stills, previously unseen archival film, and important interviews.

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The first episode, ``Once Upon a Time,'' is a once-over-lightly treatment of Polish history from 1900 through the end of World War II. Fortunately, pre-1900 Poland is disposed of with benign neglect, or the series would have been at least 10 hours long. From its disappearance as part of the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian empires at the turn of the century, a new, united Poland began to emerge, only to be reconstructed as a Soviet satellite at the end of World War II.

The series does not attempt to hide the recurrent anti-Semitism which marred Polish society at many stages of its development. And in the third episode (``A Different World,'' on July 26) there is a profile of Polish Jewry from 1919 to '43. The eighth episode (``In This Life'') examines the role of the Polish church, and the final episode (``The Workers' State'') deals with Solidarity and sums up the ``new proletariat'' in Poland.

``The Struggles for Poland'' is earnest, plodding, and well-meaning: It will undoubtedly prove to be an important classroom device in the years ahead. Right now, it is a fine antidote to the flood of mindless failed pilots and summer reruns available on most television channels. But it is not the television equivalent of an easy beach read.

An ideal companion piece is Filmmaker Richard W. Adams's ``Citizens, '' a very personal documentary on the human dimensions of the Polish Solidarity period, airing on some PBS stations (check local listings). Its strength lies in areas where ``Struggles'' is weakest: the sense of individual commitment - that of Solidarity members as well as of independent filmmakers.

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