THE communist regime's proposal sounded like a stunner - an end to all censorship. Solidarity's response was just as stunning: It turned down the suggestion. ``We realized that we needed preventive censorship to protect ourselves,'' explains Krzysztof Kozlowski, a member of the relegalized trade union's negotiating team on news-media questions. ``We don't have an independent judiciary like you in the West. Our authorities could just decide they don't like what we write, indict us for libel [under the vague charge of violating state secrecy], confiscate our newspaper, and destroy us financially.''
The paradoxical censorship debate, which took place during the recently completed talks between Solidarity and the Polish communist regime, suggests just how complicated a task lies ahead in unshackling East Europe's long-restricted media.
Throughout most of the region, freedom of expression is expanding in this era of glasnost (openness). But as old taboos vanish, independent journalists and artists face new challenges in creating an independent press.
Last week's historic agreement in Poland called for steps toward freeing the media, long unthinkable under communism.
Solidarity won the right to publish a daily newspaper with a 500,000 circulation - in 1980, it could only publish weekly magazines. The independent union will also have a one-hour program on state-run radio and a half-hour weekly television show - before, it never had access to television.
The Polish breakthrough follows Hungary's decision last week to end the Communist Party's monopoly on the press and permit any party or individual, including foreigners, to found a newspaper, radio, or television station. Although such freedom remains unthinkable in the hard-line East European countries - East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania - their restricted news media are also showing glimmers of candor.
A Bulgarian journalist recently interviewed Lech Walesa. His article criticized the union leader, but Solidarity advisors say their leader was ``stunned'' that a Bulgarian would ask to meet him. Official Czechoslovak and East German, as well as Bulgarian, journalists now admit that their countries suffer from formerly ``bourgeois'' problems such as drug abuse and AIDS. Only Romanian newspapers continue to print Stalinist-style paeans to leader Nicolae Ceausescu.