Poet, pianists get headlines, but Walesa captures hearts
Poland's celebrity Lech Walesa came to town again last week. It's a sign of the times that even outside the country it is scarcely necessary now to identify him.
He put on a characteristic show, walking from hotel to parliament, a posse of colleagues from his Solidarity union trotting to keep up.
TV cameramen jogged ahead of him -- backwards -- while reporters thrust mikes in his face for his usual brief, pungent comments.
Mr. Walesa and his fellow workers were here as members of a mixed commission set up by parliament to start drafting new labor laws, including free unions and the right to strike, won in the momentous August negotiations with the government.
But these days Mr. Walesa isn't the only one capturing the attention of Poles. Two of their countrymen are much in the news here also, though in different ways.
One lives abroad. Poet Czeslaw Milosz, the "reluctant exile" (as he calls himself, has lived in Berkeley, California since thelate 1950s. The other, who passed away more than a century ago, is Poland's musical genius, Frederic Chopin.
Both made the front pages of Warsaw's Communist Party press, which Mr. Walesa still has difficulty in reaching, even though he heads an army of trade unionists that now attracts some 6 million workers -- more than twice the size of the ruling Communist Party.
Chopin is in the news because of the international pianoforte competition in his honor. The just-ended contest brought some 180 pianists here from all over the world. It is held every five years and carries a $50,000 prize as well a prospects of a bright future for the winner.
This year's winner is Thai Son Dang, a Vietnamese. Garrick Olsen, an American, won in 1970 and has since had a distinguished international career. The 1975 winner was a Pole.
When Mr. Milosz's face appeared on Page 1 of Warsaw's prestigious weeklies, Kultura and Polityka, it was the first time most Poles had seen it, or his poetry, in many years.
He has been widely published in the West, especially in the United States. Here, a poem or two has appeared in an occasional anthology, but no more.
His exclusion since the end of the Stalinist period, which he had rebelled against, can only be attributed to the pedantic and often inexplicable censorship that set in after the bright "October" period of 1956. Relaxation of that censorship is one of the party's pledges for the present "renewal" process it hopes will help polish its image.
Things changed dramatically with news that Milosz had won the Nobel prize for poetry. There were front-page splashes. A first- ever public reading of his work was held -- and was crowded.
Now a Roman Catholic publishing house has been given the green light to print the first collection of his work to appear here. It will do an initial run of 10,000 copies.
Apart form pianists and poets, however, the papers have focused on a mundane but locally important subject -- potatoes.
In fact, potatoes and sugar beets have become as symbolic as meat amid the many market shortages fast becoming more significant in the public eye than the new unions.
A dozen new unions have won full legal standing, although the courts have rejected the registration of the Solidarity group. Mr. Walesa says the union will go ahead with or without the legal recognition.
It is all part of a tremendous and lively process. Each day, the papers report how workers everywhere -- not just miners and steelmen in the south or the vanguard in the northern ports -- are setting up autonomous, self-governing unions. Building and transport workers, computer scientists and architects, teachers and journalists, printshops and publishing houses, hotel workers and shop assistants, and everyone in medicare are all quitting or dissolving old associations and setting up new ones with independence on the masthead.
The papers report "stormy," "heated" discussions with government ministers about the reforms. One paper said Stanislaw Kania, the new Communist PArty secretary, "had many difficult questions to answer."
Poles face hard times ahead while the government takes the first emergency steps to correct the economic imbalances.
Meat rationing is imminent (to the relief of most ordinary Poles). Weeks of unremitting rain mean the potatos and sugar beets in the waterlogged fields will have to be harvested by hand instead of machine. Both crops will be millions of tons short.
Coal output is nearly 3 million tons off target for 1980.
Among the government's urgent new priorities, however, is the plan to slash investments and funnel more money into agriculture and food production. Domestic coal supplies, too, are being assured.
"No Pole is going to freeze or go hungry this winter," Henryk Kisiel, deputy premier and chairman of the planning commission, told this writer.
Conditions are serious, indeed. But when you look at a 20-minute newsreel of that peaceable but portentous "August" in the Baltic shipyards -- with its grim flashbacks to the cruel suppression of the 1970 strikes -- you realize how serious, how disciplined, and how resolute this great new force is in Polish life.
And how hazardous to trifle with.