Coming to Terms in Poland. SOLIDARITY: PEACEFUL REVOLUTION. Round-table talks near historic agreement
AT the entrance of the Europejski Hotel, an information board signals a peaceful revolution. ``Solidarity Press Center,'' it reads. ``First Floor Room 175, under the sponsorship of Lech Walesa.''
Only a few months ago, Solidarity leaders were restricted to holding press conferences in the safety of church basements. Now they appear on official television every night, reporting on round-table negotiations with Poland's communist rulers - the same rulers who once threw them into jail.
Unless last minute hitches prove more serious than expected, a historic new social contract will be unveiled this week. It doesn't just relegalize the independent trade union. It also calls for breakthroughs unparalleled in the communist world: licenses for private schools, a Solidarity newspaper, and, after new elections in June, a freely elected Senate.
``Both the communists and we crossed the Rubicon,'' reflects Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a leading Solidarity negotiator. ``It's really surprising how far things went.''
After two waves of strikes within the past year, the threat of a social explosion proved the driving force behind the dramatic agreement. Communist leaders calculated that only Solidarity could head off worse worker unrest this spring - and that a relegalized independent trade union no longer would spark anti-communist euphoria.
``We won't experience an eruption like in 1980,'' Politburo member Jozef Czyrek said in an interview. ``Solidarity is no longer a spontaneous movement.''
This confidence permitted surprising concessions. Solidarity activists had expected to receive only the right to organize by job categories within individual factories. But the round-table agreement permits the union to reorganize as a national movement.
``You just get the feeling that the authorities did everything they could to build up Solidarity as a responsible partner,'' comments one Western diplomat. ``They realize that they need a strong union in order to help keep the lid on.''
Solidarity leaders still wonder whether they will be strong enough to control mounting worker discontent. At best, they say, 5 million members will join the new union - much less than its former high of 10 million. Martial law and a crippled economy combine to create profound skepticism. Among many Poles, the same pessimistic refrain is heard: ``We've been cheated before.''