Poland is preparing for a potentially historic set of negotiations between the banned independent Solidarity trade union and the communist government. Ever since the declaration of martial law in 1981, the government has tried to suppress Solidarity. But last month's strike wave was ended only after Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak met with union leader Lech Walesa.
That breakthrough meeting was arranged by Andrzej Stelmachowski, president of Warsaw's Catholic Intellectual Club. He is now setting up a second Walesa-Kiszczak meeting, which he hopes will take place Wednesday.
At Mr. Stelmachowski's small Warsaw apartment, the telephone never stops ringing. Obviously, mediating Poland's perennial political crisis is a tough job.
In an interview with the Monitor, Stelmachowski acknowledged the difficulties, but remained hopeful.
Are you optimistic about the upcoming negotiations?
Yes. The mistrust is enormous. The start is difficult. But I think both sides realize that urgent political economic reform is needed and that this common realization will push both of them to the round table.
What do you expect to happen with the round table?
There certainly will be hard bargaining. Extremists on both sides will be against any compromises. They wish to maintain their privileges, the existing status quo.
Who are the extremists?
On the party side, there are the apparatchiks who will lose their privileges. There also is the heavy industry lobby which wants no reduction in wasteful plants.
Among the opposition, there are active groups that would like to destroy the whole existing system, who want total independence from the Soviet Union, and won't accept any form of collaboration with the existing government.
Who then is working for an agreement?
On the government side, there are the people ruling this country, the generals who understand that their policies didn't work. They declared martial law, believing they could introduce economic reform like in South Korea - under the strong arm of the military. They forgot that in Poland pure economic reform could not be implemented without the consent of the main social groups. Our ruling group now accepts this hard truth.
On the Solidarity side, the old generation which created the great movement now belongs to history. It is being replaced by a new generation of workers who don't yet know defeat. There is a new dynamic, a new force, the force of youngsters who gave a new expression to the union movement.
The first wave of strikes in April still were weak, the second wave of strikes in August were stronger, but still not sufficient for total victory.
The workers now know they must compromise. The government knows that after two waves, they must do something. This drives both sides to the round table in search of a compromise.
What sort of compromise do you envision?
We must phase in fundamental changes to enlarge the margin of freedom, large enough changes to gain the general consent.
There must be a great historic compromise between the communist Marxist regime and the workers, with the Catholic Church in the background.
This process started in 1980 with the creation of Solidarity. After seven years of pause, it now is continuing.
What do you expect to happen at the second Walesa-Kiszcak meeting?
This will be a working meeting. There will be delegations for both sides. It will not be just a procedural meeting.
As the process advances, the number of participants will grow.
We will create several negotiating tables, like in a cafeteria, to discuss various ideas.
Will these talks lead to the relegalization of Solidarity?
It is possible. The government wants guarantees that a renewed Solidarity will be constructive and not ruin the present system. The government remembers Solidarity from 1980 to 1981 and fears that a renewed Solidarity will destroy it. But it realizes that it cannot guard a monopoly on power. The opposition also remembers the past. In 1980, it was without experience, and acted according to its emotions. It wanted everything. It was impatient. Now it has learned to choose its goals.
It is like a poker game. At first you cannot be sure what kind of solution can be reached. But the ideas are clear .... A new trade union must concentrate on trade union matters, and let political goals be realized within political clubs.
How long will it take to achieve such an agreement?
This process could last several years. There should be some solutions right away, others must be achieved step by step. This step-by-step process is necessary to construct durable changes. For example, new unions and associations should be permitted soon. Electoral reform can wait.
Would Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev accept such a process relegalizing Solidarity?
Yes. There no longer is a direct possibility of external intervention as in Brezhnev's time. Gorbachev wants to introduce new forms in his own country, so he cannot consider changes in neighboring countries as counterrevolutionary.
What if the negotiations fail?
We will have a third wave of strikes. Our social movements will become stronger and more radical, and that will result in a much more dangerous wave of strikes than the two we already have had. Angry youngsters are becoming more numerous as long as our political problems remain unresolved.