Poland gets tougher with dissidents. Sentences given Solidarity activists signal less tolerance for opposition
In the trial and sentencing of three former Solidarity officials, the Polish government has signaled it does not intend to tolerate any lingering active opposition. The sentences meted out to the former officials of the now-banned union were less than the prosecution had demanded, but they were severe enough to indicate that the government is toughening its tactics against any opposition.
Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, a union underground leader in Wroclaw; Bogdan Lis, a leading Gdansk activist; and Adam Michnik, one of Lech Walesa's political advisers, were jailed Friday for 31/2, 21/2, and 3 years, respectively.
They were found guilty of organizing protest actions aimed at stirring public unrest over food price rises in February. The prosecuter had called for five years for Mr. Frasyniuk and four years for each of his co-defendants.
The somewhat milder terms may to some extent have been prompted by evident widespread public distaste at the manner in which this trial was conducted behind closed doors.
The sentences nonetheless were the harshest inflicted on Solidarity's underground leaders since the release of 600 martial-law detainees -- including the three accused -- under last July's amnesty.
Other trials had taken place in open court. The secrecy surrounding this trial -- the Western press was barred from observing any part of the proceedings -- was only part of the problem.
From the start there was disturbing evidence of conflict between the presiding judge, who made plain his own political prejudices, and the lawyers of the accused over their conduct of the defense case.
The defendants themselves protested several times that the judge was showing bias against them and preventing them from testifying freely. Their protests were brushed aside on grounds that they were simply trying to use the court to make political speeches for Western ears.
The result was a distinct impression that the defense was being allowed considerably less latitude than could be reasonably expected.
Judge Kryzstof Zieniuk himself virtually confirmed this when -- in delivering his judgment -- he subjected the lawyers to a sharp 20-minute lecture. ``They forgot their lawyers' duties in a socialist state,'' he said.
Some have seen this as a wholly Stalinist-style trial, but that is an overstatement. Nevertheless, the suggestion that the lawyers' first responsibility was to the state and not to their clients is certainly reminiscent of the view of a defense lawyer's function during the Stalinist period.
A series of recent happenings points to a new, tougher government line toward any opposition:
In April, history Prof. Bronislaw Germek, one of the team of advisers brought into the Inter-factory Strike Committee in the Gdansk shipyard in August 1980, was dismissed from the Polish Academy of Sciences, ostensibly because of a lecture critical of the Soviet Union's role in Polish affairs.
Professor Germek, a political moderate, was one of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa's most trusted friends and a key figure in formulating the strikers' demands in the negotiations with the government's representative.
Two Roman Catholic priests involved in the protracted tussle with the authorities over the display of crucifixes in state schools were sentenced and fined June 11 as promoters of a student sit-in at a provincial vocational school in December.
One was jailed for a year and the other got a 10-month suspended sentence and a 60,000-zloty (about $400) fine.
As the trial opened, the minister for religious affairs, Prof. Adam Lopatka, warned the church that unless priests stopped using the pulpit for politics, resumption of the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the state would be difficult.
Simultaneously with the Gdansk verdict, three other Solidarity activists were given shorter sentences on similar charges over the distribution of leaflets at Rseszow, in southeastern Poland.
A mid-May session of parliament approved several permanent amendments to the penal and misdemeanor codes extending the list of punishable political offenses as well as a new law tightening up summary procedures.
The amendments provide among other things for imprisonment for up to three months for merely participating in a political demonstration. Before, sanctions were possible only against the leader of a demonstration.
To this writer -- revisiting after a year's absence -- the current atmosphere has much to convey the suggestion an interviewer for the weekly magazine Polityka put recently to Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski, that the regime seems to be developing an ``excessive siege mentality.''
Mr. Rakowski did not altogether dismiss the idea.
In private, moderate-minded senior officials see recent events -- above all this Gdansk trial -- as a sign that the leadership is bent on a final showdown with all shades of opposition.
It may be because the economic situation -- regardless of some superficial improvements -- is, in effect, so much more desperate than a year ago. The ``luxuries'' of opposition, however insignificant the impact, are no longer to be indulged.
It may be because it is as much expected by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as by his predecessors, even if Moscow's continued approval of Polish internal policy was implicit in his five-hour talk with Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski during the Warsaw Pact meeting here earlier this year.
If, however, General Jaruzelski's position is -- as officials assert -- that much more secure than a year ago, then one wonders if he really needs it. Better relations with the West as well as with the Catholic Church are at stake.