Polish crisis -- Phase II: listening for Soviet growl
Phase II of the Polish Crisis is beginning. It is less immediately dramatic than Phase I, but it is likely to keep Europe on a tightrope on the question of possible Soviet intervention.
In the wake of the workers' apparent victory over the Communist Party in Poland, the reaction of the party-controlled press in the Soviet Union, in Poland, and in other countries of the Soviet bloc is double-edged:
First, it is a calculated effort in damage control -- to prevent workers in other bloc countries from following the Polish workers' example and to warm the Polish workers against pressing too far the advantage they have won.
Second, by identifying so-called anti-socialist and reactionary Western elements supposedly trying to exploit the situation in Poland, the Russian press reports lay the groundwork for either Soviet intervention or local government crackdowns, should one or the other be deemed necessary in the last resort.
This was the initial pattern of Soviet reaction to the "Prague spring" in Czechoslovakia in 1968, brought to a brutal end by Soviet tanks in August of that year. From the outset then, the same two options had been left open as now: acceptance or repression. But it would be unwise to assume in the changed circumstances of 1980 that the unhappy example of Czechoslovakia will necessarily be followed through in Poland to the same tragic end.
None of the party newspapers in the Soviet bloc (except in Poland) has given its readers details of what the Polish strikers in the Baltic shipyards or the coal mines of Silesia have won. Significantly, there has been no reference to the Polish government's promise to permit free trade unions. But in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, people can pick up Western television transmissions from either West Germany or Austria. As a result, they are very much aware of what has been going on in Poland.
The communist leadership in Hungary has been more flexible than most over the past couple of decades, and is probably less nervous than those in East Germany and Czechoslovakia about the domestic reaction to the recent events in Poland. The sensitivity of the latter two is reflected in articles about Poland Sept. 4 in both the East German and Czechoslovak party newspapers, Neues Deutschland and Rude Pravo, respectively.
The keynote for both newspapers seems to have been given in Moscow in a Sept. 1 commentary signed "Alexei Petrov" -- a pseudonym used for more important pronouncements -- and carried in the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, Pravda. It spoke of "antisocialist" elements with "counterrevolutionary aims" and having links with "subversive centers" in the West.
The next day, the Polish party newspaper carried a commentary under the heading "Calculations which failed" accusing the West of attempting to split Poland from its Warsaw Pact allies in the Soviet bloc. The Soviet news agency Tass quoted at lenght from the article Sept. 3. The following day, the Czechoslovak and East German party newspapers took the West to task for alleged intereference in Polish affairs.
Douglas Fraser, head of the United Automobile Workers in the US, disclosed on television Aug. 31 that US unions had contributed "cash to the Polish cause," clearly meaning to the Polish workers then on strike. The contribution was channeled through the International Federation of Metalworkers in Geneva, Switzerland. A figure of about $25,000 was subsequently mentioned by another union spokesman. The AFL-CIO was reported Sept. 4 to be planning to channel "seed money" to the Polish workers to help them set up the free trade unions their government has consented to.
Union officials in the US were quoted as saying Western European trade unions have already been giving financial aid to the Polish workers. A wirephoto circulated by UPI last week showed Polish strike leader Lech Walesa holding up Austrian currency notes, part of a donation of about $12,000 from Austrian trade unionists.
Last week, too, President Carter sent a letter to West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, French President Giscard d'Estaing, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher urging allied financial aid to the Polish government. Presumably this would help the latter meet the commitments made to the strikers. Mr. Schmidt was quoted in a West German newspaper interview Sept. 3 as saying US help to the Polish government should be 3 1/2 times the size of the $674 million West German loan to Poland arranged last month under West German government auspices.
To balance all this, the official Polish news agency, PAP, gave considerable play Sept. 3 to a report that the Soviet Union (not the West) had pledged hard-currency credits to Poland of an unspecified total to help buy raw materials for the country's steel plants and light chemical industry. PAP also reported that other members of the Soviet bloc had promised food deliveries to Poland.
The East German party leadership betrayed its particular discomfort about events in Poland by harping back to old ethnic rivalries between Slavs and Germans. Neues Deutschland accused "revanchist" groups in West Germany of wanting to dismember the present Polish state and regain territory in East Prussia, Silesia, and Pomerania lost to Poland and the Soviet Union after World War II.
Behind this East German sensitivity probably lies:
* Irritation at the Polish government for short-sightedly (as the East German party sees it) letting West German television crews cover recent events in Poland so freely.
* The chronic East German party feeling than they can run a better disciplined organization than their fellow (but Slav) communists across the Oder River in Poland.
* The party's equally chronic awareness of the deep division in East Germany, just below the usually well-disciplined surface, between governing and governed. There is a parallel awareness of the vulnerability of the East German communist state because the division of Germany into West and East prevents its being synonymous with German nationhood. As Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandy would say , there may be two German states -- West and East -- but there is still only one German nation.