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For Many Poles, Economic Disparities Fuel Discontent

IN Poland, signs of growing prosperity are everywhere.New townhouses and villas dot the countryside on the outskirts of metropolitan areas. As in New York City the sirens of car alarms - bought to protect a growing fleet of Western autos - blare to the beat of everyday city noise. Even the bedraggled Polish zloty currency is actually in demand, sought after by poor Romanians, for instance, who roam Warsaw's central train station begging for money. But despite indications of an improving standard of living, many Poles are not happy. People here offer several explanations for this, most of them having to do with money. In the old days, says journalist Andrzej Person, Poles knew how to live within the system: "They knew that their brother-in-law's best friend could get them this or that. They knew when to queue for meat," he says. "They knew that work started at 8:00, but they didn't need to be there until 10:00, and maybe then they could drink a vodka with their boss because they were good friends." Now, offers Mr. Person, "you can buy anything you want, but there's only one way to get it and that is money - which, unfortunately, not everyone has." In the last six months, prices have stabilized, but at nearly Western levels. Incomes, meanwhile, have not risen proportionately. About half of all Polish workers are still employed by the state, which is suffering a budget crisis, and 10 percent of Poles are now unemployed. Adam Kropidlowski, a welder at the Gdansk shipyards, says "it's true" that people are disillusioned. "Let's take the vast subject of housing." "I earn good money," he says, "but now 50 percent of my income goes to pay for my apartment. My landlord just keeps raising the rent." What irks many Poles is the growing gap between the nouveau riche of the business class, and the rest of the population. "The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer," says Karol Szejko, a student at the University of Gdansk. Many Poles also believe that the new business class is riddled with former Communists or their friends - and that these people are now rich because of their connections. The fact that the Communists still control important government posts and factories, and that they have held two-thirds of the seats in the parliament, also angers the Poles. "There's an old saying," says Stefan Moskalewicz, an oil refinery worker in Gdansk. "When you catch a thief, you cut off his hand so he won't steal again. We never did this with the Communists." But Maria Rogovski and her husband Dariusz, both retirees in Warsaw, chide those who complain. "I think people have very short memories," says Mrs. Rogovski, after voting on Sunday. "I recall very clearly the situation in 1981 [martial law]. I think this was a very tough period and I would never like that period to be repeated. "We are both retired with pensions, so our financial situation is not really the best," she adds. "But I think one can survive a lot, suffer a lot, in order to improve the general situation.