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Polish Reforms Facing Trouble Left and Right

November 08, 1987|Tad Szulc | Foreign correspondent Tad Szulc revisited Poland this fall

WASHINGTON — An unholy alliance between Solidarity and hard-line communists--unwitting on Solidarity's part--could undermine the Polish government on Nov. 29, plunging the country into political chaos, putting Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's leadership in jeopardy--and leaving the old guard in triumph.

The turning point will be a national referendum called by Jaruzelski to seek approval for a prolonged period of "radical" change aimed at a basic improvement in the nation's economy and well-being, and at creating a "Polish model of thorough democratization of political life" for "strengthening self-management, extending human rights and increasing the participation of citizens." Specific plans include merging industrial ministries into one agency, slicing 25% of the government bureaucracy, permitting a larger number of private enterprises and encouraging more foreign trade.

But the Polish reform, formally launched last month as the model for economic and political change in Eastern Europe, is being fought and sabotaged by the democratic opposition as well as by entrenched hard-liners hankering for the grim joys of the Stalinist Days. For allies, Jaruzelski must look outside, to his Soviet friend, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington.

Wildly contrasting responses to the proposed Polish model suggest how deeply and rapidly political patterns have shifted during the decade of the '80s--and the extent of confusion currently prevailing in all camps. Gorbachev experiences similar pressures and attacks in Moscow, even though he has not yet gone as far as the Poles in actual reform programs. The Polish Parliament sanctioned the referendum last month, setting the stage for the first such national expression in 41 years. The Soviet leadership has not yet reached the point of organizing a referendum--and it may never do so.

Poland's survival as a viable, modern society depends on a new model. After four decades of communist rule, the current model proved a catastrophe for this nation of 37 million people, although even Polish communist leaders have always striven for a "Polish way to socialism." Today, the real search is for a Polish way away from socialism, although such language is still not for public use.

The surge of the Solidarity free trade-union movement in 1980 was what opened the way to the current push for reform. Jaruzelski's army and police smashed Solidarity--as an organization--with the establishment of martial law late in 1981. Yet these days the general is the first to admit that legitimate worker protests, the impulsion for Solidarity, were the forerunners of today's Polish model. Jaruzelski, in fact, began planning his reforms as early as 1983--two years before Gorbachev came to power in the Kremlin.

Even as this new chapter in the Polish drama opens, new perils loom ahead. Jaruzelski's proposals have been savagely attacked and sabotaged by the communist old guard from the very outset, mainly because the bureaucrats' power and privileges were threatened. The opposition within the party was critical of the relative political pluralism Jaruzelski tolerated after martial law was lifted in 1983 and, before Gorbachev, the old guard enjoyed support from Moscow. Now the Polish anti-reform faction has lost official Soviet backing, but hard-liners have found allies among workers and functionaries who depend upon a paycheck for security but who have little interest in improving production.

Jaruzelski has hidden enemies at high Communist Party leadership levels and theirs is a no-holds-barred struggle. A disinformation campaign tries to portray the general as weak, indecisive and hostile to democratization processes. The idea is to reinforce anti-Jaruzelski sentiment among liberal dissidents in the larger society and among the former Solidarity militants, hoping to isolate the general and his government from all sides.

A secret battle has raged in the Central Committee and its Politburo over reform and referendum since late September; the results appear mixed. At an October plenary meeting of the Central Committee, after several 17-hour Politburo sessions, Jaruzelski won approval for the referendum. He warned the nation, publicly, that the changes would be painful and difficult for the next three years--but inevitable for restoring national stability.

The general failed, however, at the October meeting to push through his most revolutionary political vision for the Polish model--to replace the 1952 communist-inspired Polish constitution with a new pro-democratic constitution that, among other things, would change the nation's name from the Polish People's Republic back to the Polish Republic.

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