Exchanging tanks for talk to get Poland on track. Jaruzelski is trying to revive government-Solidarity dialogue
Five years ago, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski used tanks to try to bring peace to Poland. Today he is using dialogue. The Polish leader has discarded his military uniform for a civilian suit and tried to soften his austere image by mingling with factory workers and other common folk.
This past week, he inaugurated a ``consultative council'' designed to give the opposition a voice in government.
So far, though, the peace offensive shows limited results. Relations between General Jaruzelski's government and the banned Solidarity opposition, the Roman Catholic Church, and the West all remain strained.
What has disappeared is most government repression. After the declaration of martial law on Dec. 13, 1981, the general's troops seized and jailed thousands of Solidarity union activists. This September, he declared an amnesty and released 225 people, including the leaders of the Solidarity underground.
``We are the only country in the world without political prisoners,'' boasts one of Jaruzelski's advisers.
Even harassment of other opposition leaders has eased.
``Until the amnesty [this September], I would spend almost my entire week at the police station,'' says Bronislaw Geremek, a leading adviser to Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.
``Now the police no longer call.''
The new relaxed atmosphere originally brought hopes of a political breakthrough. The government and the opposition need each other.
Solidarity desperately needs government recognition in order to regroup. The illegal union can no longer call strikes or mass demonstrations. Its boycotts are largely ignored, and its leaders often find themselves quarreling over whether to continue fighting for restoration of the union or to apply pressure for change through such conventional institutions as housing cooperatives.
``People are tired of tilting at windmills,'' says Jacek Kuron, another top Solidarity activist. ``They don't see how we can be successful.''
Despite all of Solidarity's weaknesses, the government cannot ignore the union. The main reason is that nothing has emerged to replace the union. And in order to revive the country's shattered economy, the government needs a domestic consensus.
Exports, industrial output, and real wages all remain well below 1980 levels. Despite a rescheduling agreement reached last September with Western banks, Deputy Finance Minister Andrzej Dorosz conceded that Poland will not be able to meet the interest due at the end of this year on its crippling $31 billion foreign debt.
A tough austerity plan is needed. Minister Dorosz says the government hopes next year to slash government subsidies to companies and raise prices by as much as 15 percent - both unpopular measures.
With such pressures pushing the two sides together, what, then, went wrong?
The much ballyhooed consultative council inaugurated this week flopped because no important opposition figures showed up, and Jaruzelski seemed unsure about whether to give the council any real power.
Mr. Geremek, Lech Walesa's adviser, says that the government had put feelers out to ``many of my friends,'' though not to him or to Mr. Walesa, about participating in the council. But before they could participate, Geremek said, the opposition leaders had three conditions. They insisted that the council be composed of ``credible'' members, that it have the right to call meetings on its own initiative, and that it be able to publish texts of its discussions. The government refused, and the meeting became a nonevent.
Just like attempts to talk to the opposition failed, efforts to improve relations with the powerful Catholic Church derailed. In November, government censors blocked publication of an article written by the chief spokesman of the church hierarchy.
The article raised the most sensitive question of Polish political life: In precisely what areas can people form associations independent of the Communist Party and of state control? Government spokesman Jerzy Urban said the church already enjoyed the right to form such associations, so it should not be publishing slander.
In the resulting uproar, the church hardened its position on negotiations with the government. Pope John Paul II will probably still visit his homeland next June, and Jaruzelski still plans to visit Rome early next month, but the Holy See is also likely to continue witholding diplomatic recognition.
Other foreign policy problems hurt Jaruzelski too.
Although he had hoped his amnesty would bring the repeal of United States trade sanctions, which worsen Poland's economic woes, diplomats here say that strong opposition from conservative hard-liners within the Reagan administration and from the AFL-CIO trade union have prevented any improvement in relations between Washington and Warsaw.
The Poles made the diplomatic atmosphere even more tense this week by cancelling the scheduled pre-Christmas visit here by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts.
Overall, the country's outlook seems bleak. According to government officials, Jaruzelski aims to strike a Hungarian-style bargain - to introduce elements of free enterprise into the economy and to allow the people more freedom to express differing opinions, with the party having the final say.
``We would like to go even further than the Hungarians,'' asserts the Jaruzelski adviser, ``but Walesa and the others better accept that they will never take over power. They should have learned that five years ago.''
But Poland is not Hungary. The economy is in much worse shape than that of Hungary, and in Poland opposition to the regime is much more deep-seated. An official poll taken this year showed no Communist leader listed among people Poles ``most admired.'' Pope John Paul ranked first.
The people's dissatisfaction is visible even within government ranks. At the congress this month of the All-Poland Trade Unions Alliance, the government-sponsored union designed to replace Solidarity, speaker after speaker blasted almost every aspect of the government's economic policy.
The national economy is collapsing, union leader Alfred Miodowicy said, ``due to incompetence, lack of knowledge, the pursuit of private interests, and bureaucratic swank and arrogance.''
Overt opposition also may grow. Under the clergy's protection, quasi-political ``discussion groups'' called Catholic intelligentsia clubs have sprung up across the country sponsoring debates on economic, social, and spriritual problems.
In the coming weeks, churches will celebrate dozens of masses memorializing the victims of the martial-law crackdown; many of the gatherings can be expected to have strong political overtones.
``Jaruzelski has proved he can control the country by force,'' admits Janusz Onyskiewicz, Solidarity's spokesman, ``but he hasn't shown he can solve its problems.''