Western nations consider rescheduling debts for post-martial-law Poland
As Western creditor nations meet today to discuss Poland's foreign debts, the question again arises: Have Western sanctions been successful in changing policy in Poland, and should they now be eased?
Talks over rescheduling the country's $26 billion foreign debt were adjourned when martial law was imposed 18 months ago. But since martial law was lifted July 22, some West European creditors want to consider first moves toward easing sanctions.
The United States thus far has been less ready to consider this than its allies, but it would seem difficult now for it to continue to hold back.
It is not being said openly, of course, but there is no doubt Warsaw is hoping current relaxations will persuade the West there is a changed situation here. Conventional comment is pressure from sanctions had nothing to do with the official end of martial law.
''No foreign dictate has ever or will ever influence our internal affairs,'' Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski said in parliament last week.
In one sense that is arguable. From the start, experienced observers here doubted that sanctions would, or could, have significant influence on the communist regime's policy under martial law. In this respect sanctions have served only to place Poland in an even less flexible alliance with and greater dependence on the Soviet Union.
Economically, however, sanctions have hurt. This was admitted by Vice-Premier Janusz Obodowski recently when he said preliminary estimates showed their cost to Poland to be some $12 billion. That is equal to about half the Western debts.
With prospects of a good harvest, Poland is hoping to produce a million tons more grain this year than last. But that will not compensate for the 2 to 3 million tons formerly imported each year from the US. Outside help is increasingly essential if the severe decline in livestock populations is to be halted.
Perhaps because of summer sunshine, a more assured market than for three years, and vacation time, the situation just now is calmer than at any time since the end of the '70s, when the country was already boiling up toward the Solidarity crisis.
General Jaruzelski in his speech conveyed an impression of growing confidence as well as an evident desire that the Russians, in particular, would now acknowledge that the Poles, at last, are starting to solve their problems ''their own way.''
Nonetheless, some ''encouragement'' from the West is obviously looked for, both to start closing an anguished period of international isolation and to open the door to fresh Western loans and credits, which are imperative if Poland is to pay its debts and begin real economic recovery.
Comfort came from an unexpected quarter last week during a visit by West Germany's usually most uncompromising politician of the right, Franz Jozef Strauss.
He pleased the authorities by calling recent events ''a step in the right direction.'' Without condoning ''all that has happened (in the last 18 months), '' he said, the West should now ''look for ways of helping the Polish economy.''