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Bad News, Good News in Poland

POLISH politics have been sliding toward chaos of late, with finance ministers regularly spinning out of the government as parliament fails to heed their cries for fiscal responsibility. Last week, the government itself fell, after a five-month tenure. And with 29 disparate parties represented in its legislative body, Poland's chances of achieving something approaching solidarity - i.e., stability - appear almost nil. Almost.

The country's dominant political figure, President Lech Walesa, is determined to make a new government work. He designated the new prime minister, Peasant Party leader Waldemar Pawlak. At 32, Mr. Pawlak is the youngest prime minister ever, with moderate views and a conciliatory approach to governing.

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Ironically, the Peasant Party was for most of its recent history a "puppet" ally of the former communist rulers. The "red" taint may or may not adhere to Pawlak's party, but "red baiting" had a lot to do with his ascendancy to power.

The last gasp of the outgoing government, headed by Prime Minister Jan Olszewski, was its promulgation of a list of current members of parliament and the government who were alleged to have been used by the communist secret police as collaborators. The list - said to include even Walesa's name - was widely discredited as a fake planted by the police. Nonetheless, it unleashed a storm of criticism that toppled the teetering Mr. Olszewski. The resulting ill-feeling adds to the difficulties of organizing th e Pawlak government.

All this could induce gloom about Poland's future. But it's far from the whole picture. Poland's economic reforms are basically on track; the parliament passed a long-awaited budget, which conforms to International Monetary Fund requirements, soon after dispensing with Olszewski. The country's raucous democracy is not riven by the ethnic animosity evident in neighboring lands.

If the red-baiting genie can be put back in the bottle, the financial discipline of the new budget adhered to, and political ambitions, including Walesa's, harnessed for the cause of reconciliation and national progress, Poland could still lead Eastern Europe toward an era of stable democracy.

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