Poles Hold On in Trying Times
Despite inflation, prospect of rising unemployment, people have hope in `our government'. REBUILDING AN ECNONOMY
THERE is little besides hope in Poland these dark and cold November days. Two months after the formation of the government led by the Solidarity trade union under Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, life here continues to be very hard. The economic crisis has deepened, prices are skyrocketing, lines in the stores are as long as ever, and no improvement is in sight. Still, the worst may be yet to come: bankruptcies, unemployment, and a lowering of the standard of living for at least a third of the population.
The government is rapidly trying to correct 40 years of mismanagement, and to turn totalitarianism into democracy, and socialism into a market economy. On television, the new government has called for understanding and support.
``Poland's future lies with us,'' said Mr. Mazowiecki in one recent appeal. ``We shall take this future in our own hands and make Poland a normal, affluent country.''
And Jacek Kuron, a former dissident who is now labor minister, urged people last week to help rebuild Poland ``from scratch,'' saying that although the country is ``ruined and destitute,'' there is an opportunity for everyone to contribute.
So for the first time in postwar Poland there is hope and trust in the government, in ``our government'' as so often is said here these days. In the latest poll by the Center for Public Opinion Research, 73 percent thought favorably of the government.
Stanislaw Chelstowski, editor of the leading economic paper Zycie Gospodarcze, says there is still time to turn the economy around. ``This government has a chance no other Polish government has had since the war, but success depends on the social endurance of the people, of the whole society,'' he says.
The government knows that it has to hurry, and that the patience of the population won't last forever.
``If we can make it through the winter, I think we will be alright,'' says Housing Minister Aleksander Paszynski, ``but there is so much to do and so little time.''
Adam Bromke, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences, gives the government a good grade, but he gives it only six months to show progress. Journalist Danuta Zagrodzka at the Solidarity paper Gazeta Wyborcza, agrees that the government has to hurry, but she adds that people realize the need to make sacrifices.
``The problem is that they don't know what the sacrifices will be,'' she says.
It is, however, in the dreary lines in badly stocked stores all over Poland, that the fate of the Mazowiecki government will be decided.
Marian and Ewa Zdziarski, who work as a driver and as a hospital aide, respectively, have have been waiting more than an hour in a downtown Warsaw supermarket to buy sausage for dinner for themselves and their two children. They spend hours commuting every day, have no car, and the family lives in one room and share a kitchen. Mrs. Zdziarski says she spends at least three hours a week in line to buy food.
``I get physically and psychologically sick,'' she says, ``and the lines are getting longer. There might be more to buy, but the prices are increasing.''
The Zdziarskis' big dream is to have an apartment, but there are none in sight. And with inflation at about 900 percent this year and projected to be almost 600 percent next year, they see no sense in saving their money.
But still, they say that they support the new government and the new situation. ``Of course, everyone does,'' they say with conviction.
Elzbieta, a young economist who declines to give her last name, is standing in a line to buy some chocolate in a hard-currency store. She realizes, she says, how difficult it is for the government to change ``everything.'' But people trust the government, she adds, even though they lack certainty and security in their lives and don't know about tomorrow. ``But I think it will get better.''
``At least, now we can breathe freely and say what we want,'' says an older woman, who has found some bananas, which are scarce here.
However, the first grumblings against the government can also be heard. A Mazowiecki appeal to the coal miners to start working again on Saturdays because of the falling coal production was not received well.
And Jerzy Turowicz - who for years was a leading opposition voice as editor of the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny - recently saw the need to plead for support for the new government. ``Understand, do not forget. Give the government a chance,'' he wrote. In these exceptional times, he continued, ``absolute solidarity of the democratic forces with the government'' is needed. ``So criticize to help, but not to impede. Otherwise, the attempt to move from totalitarianism to democracy will fail, and we shall all pay for this,'' he ended.
Not the least among the government's many problems is that it is precisely its support groups that will be hardest hit by the present economic policy. These groups, which consist mainly of workers, have so far shown patience. The criticism these days comes from Polish intellectuals, who claim that the government has no coherent political message, that its information policies are weak, and that it is just plain bad at public relations.
``There are enormous changes occurring, but there is no feeling of the changes, no sign of them,'' says Marcin Krol, editor of the monthly Respublica. ``The government is making a mistake by not communicating a sense of urgency to the people.''
This criticism is supported in the latest opinion poll in which only 14 percent of those polled said that they are very familiar or quite familiar with the government's economic program; 82 percent answered that they knew very little or nothing about it.
Jadwiga Staniszkis, a Polish sociologist, is not optimistic about the government's future. She thinks it was a mistake for Solidarity to agree to form a government; in her view, Solidarity has no real program and is weak and on the defensive. She is afraid that Mazowiecki will be forced to compromise on the economy and that Poland will lose yet more time.
``It is time for a much more aggressive government. It is time to fight, instead of relying on the passive trust of the people,'' she says.
But few here think that Solidarity could have avoided the responsibility of power. The new government has a real battle to wage. Millions of Poles hope that it can be won.
Zbigniew Kilian, a retired geologist, is one of those millions. Times are hard for him. He eats every day in a simple restaurant called the Golden Chicken on Marszalkowska Street. It is one of the Polish Red Cross's soup kitchens, and Mr. Kilian comes here with his daily coupon worth 800 zlotys (around 15 cents).
``I've had to hide my pride and come here when my stomach is empty,'' says Kilian, whose monthly pension is 90,000 zlotys - ``just barely enough to make ends meet''.
``I voted for Solidarity , so I hope they will give us something better fast,'' he continues. The other elderly people around the table nod in agreement. But he concludes by citing an old Polish proverb: ``Hope is the mother of the stupid.''