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To Poland, West Offers Only Self-Help

POLAND needs aid, investments, and capital more than good advice, friendly comments, and encouraging words. Since the beginning of the Polish crisis, Western leaders have repeatedly made promises that genuine changes in the political system would be met with large-scale economic assistance. Seven years ago, on Feb. 9, 1982, after the introduction of martial law in Poland, Alexander Haig, the United States secretary of state, declared: ``The US has decided to join other concerned countries in offering a major program to help Poland overcome its economic problems, including agricultural shortages and massive external debt. This assistance will become available when the basic rights of the Polish people are restored and their quest for a more decent society resumed.'' Since then, three demands of the West were addressed many times to Polish authorities: to lift martial law, to release political prisoners, and to initiate a constructive national dialogue and process of reconciliation in Poland.

The result of internal developments in Poland is far beyond these Western expectations. But so far Western promises of assistance to rebuild the Polish economy have not been honored. True, there have been many new declarations of good intentions, new promises, and new political gestures. It's to be hoped that the decision announced in Warsaw by President Bush and the declaration on policy toward Eastern Europe adopted in Paris by the Group of Seven signaled a significant change in this respect: from promises to actions.

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The situation in Poland is not comparable with that of 1982. The fundamental changes were brought about by the decisions of the round-table, by the legalization of Solidarity and many other independent groups, by freedom of expression, and by effective exercise of the right to leave the country and to return to it. Many executive, legislative, and administrative measures were taken in order to respect and ensure the political and civil rights of individuals. The institution of ombudsman was established, and the Senate, the upper house of parliament, was reestablished. After the spectacular success of Solidarity in the first partly free elections, the Polish parliamentarian assembly now reflects a genuine pluralism of views and political forces.

But in other ways, as well, Poland is not the same country as it was seven, five, or even two years ago. The external debt has almost doubled; inflation is out of control. Shortages and growing austerity determine the national mood more than new laws, liberal rules, and democratic regulations. The Polish economy does not function. Not because of national character flaws, as some observers have suggested. The state of the economy in all the East European countries, and above all in the USSR, illustrates that disfunctioning and lack of efficiency are not so much the product of national psychology as the wrong political and economic concept of governing.

The legitimate question is: What American interests are to be involved in the fundamental changes in this part of the world? These interests are not economic but of a political nature. US imports from the Soviet Union and central East European countries are about half of 1 percent of the total imports; and exports to this region are below 1 percent.

The catastrophic economic situation in Poland is the product of a combination of internal and external factors. Moreover, the democratic changes in Poland are endangered by economic collapse. The results of President Bush's visit to Poland show that the administration properly assesses the political significance of the positive developments in Poland for East-West relations, and in the broader sense, for American security interests in Europe, but fails to understand the dire nature of Poland's economic crisis.

The six-point program of US aid presented in Warsaw by President Bush was rather far from the Polish expectations. US national security adviser Brent Scowcroft was right in saying that $100 million in direct aid was largely ``symbolic of our support for what it is the Poles are trying to do.'' The Western leaders in Paris did not diminish a discrepancy between a good atmosphere and high rhetorics on the one hand, and concrete economic assistance on the other. To use Mr. Haig's 1982 words, ``the Polish people want more, need more and deserve more.''

The decision of the Group of Seven summit was politically responsive but not adequate to the Polish economic-rescue program. The consolidation of political reforms and new economic structures in Poland, together with common action coordinated by the commission of the European Community, could help to bring the division of Europe to an end. Unfortunately the steps taken on this road so far are not very promising. Among many nice words addressed to Poland, two signals were readable: Help yourself and without illusions.

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