Has Poland won a breather?
After months of lurching from one menacing crisis to another, Poland has at last gained in breathing space. The possibility of military intervention by its communist allies to "save socialism" in Poland is deferred, at least for the moment.
In a week of high drama, two major events brought this situation about:
1. The plenum of the Communist Party's Central Committee, which strengthened the new leadership under Stanislaw Kania. While issuing tough warning to the militants, it welcomed the new unions (as well as the Roman Catholic Church) into what Mr. Kania called an "alliance of reason and responsibility."
2. An unprecented meeting of the Warsaw Pact. The Poles seem to have convinced their anxious allies they are on the way to solving the country's problems and that Poland will remain a strong link in the "socialist community." In return, Poland received a pledge that its communist regime can count on its allies for support.
Never before has there been a Warsaw Pact summit like this sudden gathering in Moscow Dec. 5. For 25 years the summits have been attended by party leaders, prime ministers, and foreign and defense ministers.
This time, the leding ideologists and security chiefs from the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Poland itself were also present.
Questions of defense turned on the vulnerability of Russia's vital communication link with its western-most defense line in East Germany, as demonstrated in this year's rail strikes in eastern Poland. Several times the Russians had warned that such threats to the bloc's defensive interests could not be tolerated.
Evidently the Poles gave a satisfactory account of themselves. There seems to have been no call for them to modify the reform program within the "irreversible" limits set by Mr. Kania in his speech to the Central Committee.
The Polish party, however, is clearly moving to take the iniative away from the new unions. It has also set the boundaries of its tolerance with hints of strong action against those dissident groups identified by Mr. Kania as counterrevolutionary "sowers of anarchy" and charged with spurring the unions on to ever more militant action regardless of the consequences for the country.
The party committee had adjourned Dec. 2 on a seemingly confident note. But public relief was soon disturbed by a surprise and grave declaration from the committee that the country faced "economic and moral destruction" if the industrial unrest was not halted.
In the background were reports of increasing Soviet military buildup on the Polish border and repeated Western warnings to the Russians that the consequences of any move against Poland would be greater than those caused by their invasion of Afghanistan last December or of Czechoslovakia 12 years ago.
Uncertainty was compounded by the Polish party spokesman. After charging the West with creating tensions by suggesting Russia was preparing to intervene, he declared the party would not hesitate to ask its allies for help should its own efforts to defuse the domestic situation prove unavailing.
The intention, apparently, was to bring the seriousness of the situation home to the populace even more clearly than the speeches at the party meeting had done.
It in effect precludes the necessity for any further call for "fraternal assistance."
The impact of a dramatic week has had its effects. Anxieties remain, but the situation and emotions are calmer.
Solidarity rejects charges it contributed to the political tensions. Hitherto very open to the Western press, officials at a meeting Dec. 6 adopted an uncustomary low key.
They refused to discuss an invasion threat, except to say there was no need for one because Solidarity accepted the party's leading role and Poland's alliances.
That new note would seem to reflect the continued, possibly growing, influence of the moderation shown by Solidarity's leader, Lech Walesa. He recently met with Mr. Kania and is awaiting government action to establish the kind of regular consultation on a national level that Solidarity already has with party leadership on its home ground in the Gdansk voivodship.
Following the massive aid promised by Russia for 1981, even East Germany, the harshest of Poland's critics, has extended interest-free credits. Meanwhile, the Poles themselves are arguing fiercely about the form meat rationing should take.