Despite setbacks, Solidarity still offers hope for Poles
Solidarity is four years old tomorrow, and Lech Walesa has called for a day of celebration in honor of the founding of Poland's free and independent trade union. As one who lives in a free country with free trade unions, I want to congratulate Polish workers on their valiant struggle to keep Solidarity alive. Although Polish workers have had very little to cheer about since the imposition of martial law in December 1981, I believe there is hope for the future.
The release of 652 political prisoners last month is welcome news, but unfortunately there is no guarantee that the ''revolving door'' for Poland's political prisoners has stopped. When the amnesty was announced, government spokesmen made it clear that the state authorities ''reserved the right to arrest'' individuals and that any independent activity would be prosecuted ''to the fullest extent of the law.''
This revolving-door pattern of releasing and rearresting political prisoners occurred after the July 1983 amnesty. Then, as now, not all political prisoners were released. The Helsinki Committee in Poland wrote to the Secretary-General of the United Nations:
''Those who remained in prison have been subjected to more and more frequent acts of violence. Each month brings more shocking information of the authorities' consistent policy of using physical violence and psychological terror against imprisoned Solidarity activists.''
Recent reports from the Polish underground confirm that Solidarity activists continue to suffer physical abuse. One account states, ''An S. B. (secret police) functionary recently beat Bogumila Janas, the wife of underground Solidarity leader Zbigniew Janas who, has escaped arrest since December 13 (1981 ).''
The New York-based Committee in Support of Solidarity reports that at least 23 political prisoners were not subject to the provisions of last month's amnesty. One Solidarity activist who is still known to be imprisoned is regional underground leader Bogdan Lis, who was arrested for ''spying and maintaining contacts with foreign groups.'' Mr. Lis is viewed as particularly ''dangerous'' by the Polish authorities, because he is a founding member of the Temporary Coordinating Commission of Solidarity, which is the wing of the trade union that went underground in December 1981. Mr. Lis has been accused of ''high treason,'' a charge that has a grim tradition in Polish history. As Solidarity leaders Zbigniew Bujak and Wladyslaw Frasyniuk recently wrote, this is ''yet another episode in the campaign to portray Solidarnosc as a subversive organization and an agent of foreign intelligence services. It is also a further attempt to blackmail and intimidate (Polish society). ... Today Bogdan Lis ... tomorrow anyone who continues to engage in trade union activities. We cannot remain silent about the fate of Bogdan Lis.'' I might add that the US government cannot remain silent about the fate of Mr. Lis and other Polish political prisoners, including Piotr Mierzejewski, who has also been accused of ''high treason.''
Those political prisoners who have been released face harassment and deprivation of employment. The Helsinki Watch Committee reports that since the state of war decree in December 1981, deprivation of employment has been used ''on a scale unprecedented since Stalin's day.'' It is to the credit of the Polish people that Solidarity continues to live in a society where workers who refuse to sign a ''loyalty oath'' to the state and resign from Solidarity can lose their jobs ... in a society where the omnipresent secret police infiltrate the workplace and threaten workers to inform on one another in the spirit of ''collective responsibility'' ... in a society where the so-called ''wolf's ticket'' - the denial of employment for political reasons - is used unofficially and workers who strike find themselves literally locked out of the factory the next day ... in a society where 30 workers were fired from their jobs for laying flowers at a monument commemorating the victims of a June 1982 strike. The Helsinki Watch Committee sums it up this way: ''Polish workers have not been so completely at the mercy of managers since the days of Stalin.''
Considering the intolerable conditions that exist in Poland today, what do Solidarity supporters have to celebrate? I believe that most of all Solidarity activists should be congratulated for their persistence, strength, and courage. Second, I am personally encouraged that the National Endowment for Democracy is looking for ways to develop communications with various groups inside Poland.
If Solidarity supporters look at Poland's dismal record since December 1981, there is little to cheer about. But if we reflect on the strength and resilience of the Polish people and support specific measures that can help them in their struggle, then I believe we can join with Lech Walesa in calling this a day for celebration. Although it is difficult to say precisely how or when significant peaceful, democratic change will be achieved in Poland, I believe that continued pressure for free trade unions is the best means to that end. As Bujak Zbigniew wrote recently, ''Solidarnosc must live so that Poland may become a free country.''