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A Turbulent Initiation for Mazowiecki Amid Political, Religious Controversies

September 10, 1989|Dawid Warszawski | Dawid Warszawski is the pen name of an independent journalist in Warsaw.

WARSAW — At long last, Poland has a government. The parliamentary crisis, which had assumed almost Italian proportions, has finally been resolved with a clear-cut Solidarity victory. Meanwhile, in the offices of the Communist caretaker government, officials are busy shredding documents. The transition is under way.

The new Catholic prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, 62, a lawyer, is not only a prestigious social thinker but also an astute negotiator. During the Round Table talks between the Communists and Solidarity this spring, Mazowiecki won Solidarity's renewed legitimacy with only minor changes in its status--a ringing success few had believed possible.

His major handicap is that he has never headed a staff of more than a dozen; now he is charged with running the government. Along with being a neophyte in bureaucracy, the new prime minister faces some monumental problems.

One of them emerged Aug. 26, when the Catholic Church stirred controversy with anti-Semitic remarks by Cardinal Jozef Glemp. The cardinal's statement, regarding Jewish opposition to a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, has been widely popular at home, but has caused sizable political and economic damage for Poland abroad. Mazowiecki, who has a long record of personal integrity and of opposition to official anti-Semitism, cannot afford to confront the church on the issue: He needs all the social and institutional support he can get.

The same is not true of liberal elements within the opposition, who feel threatened by the possibility of a xenophobic and clerical turn in the life of the country. Solidarity's newspaper published a highly critical editorial the day after Glemp's homily. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, sensing the danger, covertly criticized Glemp, but his statement was not reported by the Polish media.

In attempting to govern, Mazowiecki faces a double threat. On the one hand, the opposition has had no opportunity to develop skills in administration, and its members are ill-prepared for the job. A Solidarity columnist recently quipped that Mazowiecki's Cabinet will be "government by the opposition."

On the other hand, the Communists, though defeated, are by no means out: Their nomenklatura, a Mafia-like system of political nominees, 900,000 strong, is the administration, and no viable massive replacements are in sight. What is more, the constitution gives the president top authority in matters of defense, security and foreign policy, which means that the party, whatever the government, will continue to run the armed forces and the police.

But the party has lost one crucial battle. The Foreign Ministry goes, against all expectations, into non-Communist hands. The new appointee is an academic who is strongly pro-Solidarity: Krzysztof Skubiszewski, an expert on international law from the University of Poznan who has been a foreign-affairs adviser to Cardinal Glemp. He is an expert on Germany, a fact that points to the new government's priorities in foreign affairs. His appointment is a sure sign of Communist weakness and is bound to irritate Prague and East Berlin. It is small consolation that two other ministries--Transportation, important for Soviet strategic interests, and International Ecomomic Cooperation--that is, relations with Comecon, the Communist trading bloc--remain safely in Communist hands.

Solidarity also has problems with its new allies, the Peasant and Democratic parties. To save their political necks, the two parties have broken their decades-long association with the Communists and formed a new coalition with Solidarity.

The Peasant Party, Solidarity's major ally, demanded six ministerial posts, arguing that the Communists had offered them as much, but settled for four: Agriculture, Environmental Protection, Health and Justice. The party is split, however, between its old-time nomenklatura and its reform-minded Parliamentary Club. Aleksander Bentkowski, president of the club, is slated to be minister of justice, much to the disgust of Solidarity human-rights activists who wanted the job for one of their number. The current minister of agriculture and vice prime minister, nomenklatura representative Kazimierz Olesiak, will lose his job to a respected Peasant Party professor.

The Democrats also got a vice prime minister's post and two minor ministries. Solidarity takes the rest. All the economic ministries are filled by partisans of a free market. This is true in particular of Tadeusz Syryjczyk, the new minister of industry, who is a Solidarity activist turned private entrepreneur. Of the ministers drawn from the ranks of the erstwhile opposition, only Jacek Kuron, the new minister of labor, represents the traditional Solidarity ethos.

The Sejm, or lower house of Parliament, meets next Tuesday to act on Mazowiecki's nominations, following parliamentary hearings over the weekend.

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