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?