East Germans, regime agree: Poles have only themselves to blame
* Throughout the country, Poles spend hour after frustrating hour standing in long lines to buy the most modest or essential items -- if they are available at all.
* In East Germany, there are no queues. Shops and delicatessens are full. There are no shortages of meat, bread, milk, or lemons. East Berlin hotels catering to foreigners (who pay in hard currency) offer fare that comparable hotels in Warsaw entirely.
Predictably, the East German Communist Party echoes the Soviet line as to why Poland presents such a contrast. Both cite "counter-revolution," and both hold a negative view of Solidarity, Poland's independent union movement.
The surprise is that ordinary East Germans are, in effect, saying the same things. They blame the current bleak situation in Poland on the Poles themselves, saying, "They don't and won't work for themselves." For East Germans , who prize their own tradition of industriousness, such and indisposition toward work is alien.
[Reuters reports that East German newspapers gave prominence Sept. 22 to a report from Warsaw describing the Polish situation as extremely dangerous and blaming "those who retreated before Solidarity's threats." This was the first firm signal that East Germany had lost confidence in the Polish leadership's ability to control the situation.]
At present the East German party seems to have little fear of ideological "fallout" from Poland. But it is apparently nervous that the trade dislocation caused by Polish shortages could, in due course, affect the East German economy and its relative "welfare state," making it vulnerable to dangerous ideas or some future political consequences.
East Germany is heavily dependent on Polish coal and sulfur. Poland's defaults on deliveries have forced it to buy elsewhere, at higher prices and often for hard currency.
Both East Germany and Czechoslovakia have cut their deliveries of vital goods to Poles because Poland is not meeting its commitments on essentials under trade agreements.
It seems certain that the Russians -- having increased trade quotas of consumer goods and raw materials to the Poles in the past 12 months of crisis -- are warning them that time is fast running out on such support.
One remarkable thing about East German attitudes to Polish events is that there appears to be a "coalition" of opinion between a communist party and a populace that is at best acquiescent to the party's dictates. When it comes to Poland, party and people take the same line.
German discipline and the German work ethic continued even under Hitler. It is not surprising they should do the same now with a regime, albeit a severely doctrinaire communist one, under which living standards are improving.
Another interesting factor is that the East Germans are easily the best informed in the whole East bloc about what is happening in Poland, thanks to West German radio and television reporting.
They can form their own opinions and judgments. Only among some intellectuals does there seem to be political sympathy with the Poles. Any meaningful sign of "solidarity" with Solidarity among the workers has yet to show itself. Some of the consumer largess in East Germany just now is political window dressing, of course. But estimates suggest this amounts to no more than 20 percent of the food and other goods East Germans can now buy in their own currency. These goods include Western semiluxuries that Poles must pay for in hard currency if they are available at all.
The rest seems to be the product of orthodox, centralized, but better and more realistic economic organization and a superior work effort from the people. It is, without doubt, giving East Germans the highest living standards in the bloc, higher even than Hungary, with its successfully reformed system of planing and worker-peasant incentives.
Westerners coming to Warsaw from East Berlin -- 300 miles to the west -- report full shops and delicatessens, as one Austrian put it, matching some of the best in Vienna.