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Polish Church Abandons Effort to Help Farmers, Blames Impasse With Regime

September 04, 1986|JACKSON DIEHL | The Washington Post

WARSAW — The Polish Roman Catholic Church announced Wednesday that it has abandoned a five-year effort to set up a foundation to help the nation's private farmers with Western donations because of a "complete impasse" with the government over regulation of the program.

The announcement marked the end of a venture that has been a key issue in government relations with both the church and major Western governments and signaled a blow to Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski's efforts to improve those ties and attract Western investment.

A statement issued by the office of Cardinal Jozef Glemp said the church gave up the proposed foundation because of the government's refusal to allow its independent operation. Instead, authorities held up approval for the venture while insisting that final authority over its investments would have to be yielded to the minister of agriculture, the statement said.

"The two main positions of the organizers were that the fund should give relief to individual farmers and have autonomous institutions," said Slawomir Siwek, a church spokesman. "I can just express pain that it ended as it did. It was important not only for the church, the donors and the state, but it was important for the whole nation."

Government officials had no comment, saying an official statement will be made today.

The foundation, conceived in talks between Polish and West German bishops, was meant to channel hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the 4 million private farmers who hold 75% of Poland's agricultural land. Willfully neglected for decades by Communist authorities, who hoped gradually to eliminate private landholding, many of these farmers lack modern equipment and fertilizers as well as basic market services.

Backed by Pope

The foundation was strongly endorsed by Pope John Paul II as well as the independent Solidarity trade union and the Reagan Administration, which pledged an initial $10-million donation. Although European governments and churches in the United States and elsewhere also made pledges, total donations reached only $28 million, far below the $1.2 billion the church originally hoped to spend.

Jaruzelski repeatedly expressed general support for the venture and told both Glemp and the Pope in private meetings that government approval for the foundation would be granted, church sources said. In September, 1984, government and church negotiators reached tentative agreement on statutes for the organization that left control of its operations in the hands of the church, Siwek said.

However, government officials repeatedly backed away from concrete agreement on the initiative, raising new demands that blocked agreement, church officials contended. Publicly, government spokesmen argued that the small donations pledged to the venture stripped it of significance.

Western Condition

U.S. and West German officials pressured Jaruzelski to approve the fund, saying it was a condition for improved government relations and the lifting of economic sanctions imposed after the suppression of Solidarity in 1981. Only three weeks ago, the House Appropriations Committee voted to link U.S. votes on loans to Poland by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to the foundation's sanctioning.

High Polish officials hinted at concessions on the issue several times this year. Most recently, Finance Ministry experts summoned church representatives in June and promised a three-year tax exemption for the foundation once it was formally registered, church sources said.

However, church officials became increasingly exasperated at what they perceived as government efforts to make a show of progress on the initiative for Western consumption while continuing to block its initiation, sources said. They added that Glemp was concerned that even if it won approval, the foundation would become a source of conflict between church and state, impeding progress on more important issues.

Formal Legal Status

Through much of this year, church and government authorities have been negotiating a series of key issues, including the church's bid for formal legal status in Poland, Jaruzelski's wish for formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican, plans for church construction in the next five years and the scheduling of a visit next year by John Paul, who is Polish.

The collapse of the agricultural plan could increase the pressure on Jaruzelski to make concessions to the church in some of the other disputed areas, Western diplomats said. However, one said, the church's move will send a chilling message to Western investors considering ventures in Poland.

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