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Partnership for Poland? | The Nation

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Partnership for Poland?

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Warsaw
 
There was no miracle at the polls for the regime of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski. Although the final results will be known only after the second ballot, on June 18, the popular verdict is already unmistakable. It was a landslide. Solidarity won most of its contests at the first go, and may now hope to conquer virtually all the 100 seats in the Senate as well as all 161 for which it was entitled to compete in the lower house, or Sejm. The ruling coalition will not even get all the remaining 299 Sejm seats since, despite Lech Walesa's last-minute hint not to do so, Polish voters massively crossed out the names of most of the party V.1.P.s on a special list of thirty-five who were to be elected by the nation as a whole on a single ballot. The government clearly miscalculated: Solidarity now has a veto in Parliament, and even General Jaruzelski's election as president will not be possible without its backing. The regime made a false assumption. It has not been rewarded for its recent opening; rather, it was judged and sentenced for its past performance, including its military coup.

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Daniel Singer
Daniel Singer, for many years The Nation's Paris-based Europe correspondent, was born on September 26, 1926, in...

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It is a battle royal, and it foreshadows many more like it in the struggle for the economic mastery of Europe.

This election was a referendum, and the defeat of the party was matched by the success of Solidarity. All its leaders were elected triumphantly, even those who did not have the blessing of the Catholic Church. (Notably, Jacek Kuron in Warsaw and Adam Michnik in Silesia won their battle for the Sejm despite the fact that on the eve of the poll, the Polish primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp, gave an ostentatious audience to their respective right-wing Catholic rivals. Jan Jozef Lipski, whose predicament is described below, was forced into a second ballot.)

Yet, the general victory was tempered by two considerations. First, there are the 38 percent of Polish voters who stayed at home, a higher proportion of abstentions than was recorded in the 1987 referendum, when Solidarity called for a boycott. This is a reminder for Lech Walesa and his friends that for most of their compatriots, after more than seven lean years, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The second problem springs from the very size of the success. Solidarity is driven by the logic of Poland's historic compromise to fill the political void. Will it now accept the offer to enter the government or at least to join the ruling coalition as some kind of critical partner?

Poland is setting a precedent for the transition in Eastern Europe--in rather special circumstances. The following brief extracts from my electoral diary try to stress the contradictions, hopes and dangers contained in the new situation and to look beyond the poll itself at the potential splits and realignments in this apprenticeship of democracy.

Changing Moods. In the Saxon Gardens in the heart of Warsaw, the chestnut trees were blooming beautifully in the mid-May sunshine. In their shadow, the new national headquarters of Solidarity, a dignified but rather decrepit building that served as a bank before the war, was full of electoral bustle. Throughout the country, posters large and small, on trams and buses, on walls and shop windows, always with a picture or a signature of Walesa, urged the electorate to vote for Solidarity. What was criminal a few weeks before had become perfectly legal.

Clearly this was history in the making. Yet just as obviously, people had no sense of a great occasion. The mood was very different from the almost unanimous euphoria of 1980, when the strikers of Gdansk first won the right to form free trade unions. Some even thought that the result of the June 4 vote might be very close. Within a few days the forecasts altered altogether, and the prospect of a landslide raised questions about strategy and the very nature of the historic compromise. If Solidarity told its supporters to vote against all party candidates without distinction, it might find itself in Parliament without its negotiating partners. But if it urged its electorate to back some "reformers," it would be seen to be moving toward an open alliance with the Communist Party. Though hesitant and divided, the leadership of Solidarity opted for a compromise. On the eve of the election, Walesa said publicly on television that he would vote for the national list.

A Fabian in Warsaw. Zoliborz is a vast district in the north of Warsaw, and Jacek Kuron was running there as a Solidarity candidate for the Sejm. At his first public meeting, in a theater hall designed to hold a few hundred, we were packed in like sardines. Outside; a crowd listened to loudspeakers. Kuron, at 55 a jail-hardened veteran of political struggle, was in full control. He began with a self-critical autobiography, apologizing for his early years in the party. He even disowned his "Open Letter," written in 1964 with Karol Modzelewski, because it was conceived from a Marxist point of view and he is no longer a Marxist. Yet he showed none of the zeal of the turncoat. His main argument was for a society that would gain mastery over its fate, and the foreign model he chose was Swedish social democracy, not the British Thatcherism that is "admired by the government." His fundamental plea was for reform instead of revolution--the interest being not to bring the system down but to change it gradually. The Fabian road and collaboration are chosen consciously as both the safest and ultimately the most efficient. I will hear the same refrain repeated time and again, notably by Zbigniew Bujak, the union leader of the Warsaw region. It is partly aimed at the younger generation, which, having deserted the party, is now showing diminishing enthusiasm for Solidarity, which stands accused by some young workers and students of having gone soft.

Question time in the hall brought up another awkward issue: abortion. Poland had a tough, prohibitive law under Stalin, which was liberalized in 1956. Seventy-six deputies, some of them linked with the party and others with the Catholic Church, proposed last month to make abortion a criminal offense once again. One purpose of the move was to split Solidarity. Kuron, who had a rightish Christian Democratic rival for his seat (which was reserved for nonparty candidates), was naturally asked for his views on the matter. When he said that, although not religious himself, he was personally against abortion, he was applauded by half his audience. When he then spoke about Pharisees, about men legislating for women and a law designed to hurt the poor, the other half applauded. Here Solidarity was audibly divided.

Not So Radiant in Radorn. I was thinking of the growing shadow of the church over the social life of the country as I traveled to Radom by van with Jan Jozef Lipski, who was running for the Senate there. Some sixty miles to the south of Warsaw, this industrial town was in the news in 1976 because of riots that were bloodily suppressed. lt was then that a handful of intellectuals set up the Committee for the Defense of the Workers, or KOR. This is one of Lipski's links with the town. The other is that he is also leader of a small socialist party, the P.P.S. (Before 1939, Radom was a stronghold of the prewar P.P.S.) It is also an open secret that such a heathen newcomer has not been particularly welcomed by the local bishop.

In the center of town, there are a few nice old houses after the usual unfinished-looking blocks of flats. But also, next to the Solidarity offices, the dirtiest of dirty lavatories, apparently the only outlet for two apartment houses, a reminder of the prewar era. The meeting itself was held in a plant that produces telephones. Over a hundred people, mostly technicians and very few women, gathered-not on the shop floor but in the large boardroom. No bread-and- butter questions, only ideological ones. When abortion cropped up, the candidate for the Sejm who is the bishop's favorite took it up. No Kuron-style balancing act for him: It's a question of Christian morality, of life and death, the works. A shiver down the spine. Lipski, whose party is not very radical ("closer to the church than to Man") was questioned about his differences with Catholic doctrine. In response, he mentioned his belief in the existence of class struggle. He is a very honest man, though certainly not provocative. If the election had been held in Radom alone, he would have won. But with the church's influence in the vast rural areas, the outcome was uncertain at the time of my visit.

The way in which the party has waged its struggle against the labor movement in the past nine years has helped the church to tighten its stranglehold. On my arrival in Warsaw I was told that Solidarity was distancing itself from the Catholic hierarchy, that Walesa was leaning toward the "lay left." (Professor Bronislaw Geremek will certainly be the parliamentary leader; Adam Michnik is the editor of the electoral Gazeta; and Kuron is an influential adviser to Walesa: None of the three can be taken as representatives of the Catholic Church.) But how radical is the left and how outspokenly lay? I didn't hear a single Solidarity candidate dissociate himself publicly from the church's position on abortion. The only consolation is that the church may have overreached itself, for the nation, in which half of all pregnancies end in abortion, is divided on the issue. In the train taking me back from Radom, a Catholic working-class woman told me with passion: "I had two kids, and by that time my husband was a drunkard. To have forced me to have a third would have been criminal."

A Party in Disguise. It was not easy to follow party candidates around the hustings. Naturally enough, in its electoral campaign the governing P.Z.P.R. made full use of radio and TV and its tremendous advantage in the press. For many seats the party cleverly picked fellow-travelers with a reputation: a well-known zoo director for the Senate in Wroclaw against Modzelewski; the head of a hospital in one place, TV personalities somewhere else. Yet even in seats that were plainly reserved for the P.Z.P.R., its candidates preferred to keep their party cards in their pockets. They insisted on, say, their managerial skill rather than their political outlook.

It took several calls to the Central Committee to get a meager list of party meetings. The one in central Warsaw was really an electoral show for television. In an artificial boxing ring stood the candidate, Grzegorz Tuderek, the smartly dressed director of Budimex, "the sixty-first building company in the world and eighth in Europe. * He is a tycoon and talked like one. With him in the ring was not a rival but a compère. Only with the TV cameras safely out of the way did he face the small audience. Asked why he, a party member of long standing, was now full of praise for the American model, he assumed that the questioner--actually a man of the opposition--was a party diehard, and gave him a rhetorical reply: "What do you want, ideology or goods in the shops?" Tuderek clearly belongs to the growing managerial wing of the party.

In search of a party gathering I had to travel by a suburban railway line to Legionowo, home of a tank brigade. The fair they had sent me to see was under way, but the only political note was the posters for the party candidate that were stuck on the tents housing the various commercial stands. Otherwise, on a sunny Sunday we were offered in the open-air theater a show with poor rock singers, attractive chorus girls and quite a few comedians. I even learned a good Jewish joke. As he leaves a Chagall exhibition, a rabbi shakes his head: "The times are too hard for people to fly." (Jews may be gone in Poland, but Jewish humor lingers on.) Among the graffiti there were two I can't resist repeating. Next to a poster praising vegetarianism this small reminder: "Vegetables, too, have feelings.'' And the sinisterly surreal: "Paranoia is our hobby."

Seemingly United They Stand. An electoral campaign favors polarization and conceals the differences within each camp. The same party spokesman who last November had assured me that Kuron and Michnik would never sit around the negotiating table was now talking perfect social democratese. He even revealed plans for a Warsaw conference next year, to be attended by members of the French, German and Swedish social democratic parties. Yet at the same time he did not deny that the threat of General Jaruzelski's resignation had been needed to carry the day in the Central Committee, that the majority of the party was against the roundtable and that the strains might again reach the breaking point if the electoral defeat were a heavy one.

The opposition, too, is torn apart. Small groups to the right and left of Solidarity were advocating a boycott. The inner division between free marketeers and social democrats is even more explosive. And though it may now look like an electoral machine, with only a dozen workers among its candidates, Solidarity is still in essence a labor union. It is for that reason that Walesa himself, Wladyslaw Frasyniuk in Silesia and Bujak in Warsaw are not entering Parliament. Bogdan Borusewicz, president of the Gdansk region, insists more than anyone that labor is the rock on which Solidarity rests. But he also admits that the ambiguity of its economic program-- the absence of choice between privatization, various forms of shareholding and self-management--reflects divisions on the subject within Solidarity.

In fact, the Communist Party is equally ambiguous and divided on this crucial issue. A clever journalist close to Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski suggested that the party is more managerial and Solidarity more autogestionnaire, perhaps because of its origins as a union. If it is ever tempted to forget that heritage, the official unions are there as a reminder. Alfred Miodowicz, their wiry 60-year-old leader, seemed full of beans. He denied any attempts to outbid Solidarity: In their unions and ours, he said, the rank and file are more radical than the leadership; we are keeping them in check. Will Solidarity be able to do so in a tough economic climate that shows no sign of improving?

Tea at Gesslers'. On my last day in Warsaw, I went back to the chestnuts of the Saxon Gardens. I sat in the open air at Gesslers', the posh cafe that is prohibitive for most people who earn their living in zlotys. Two women from a nearby office of public transport were sipping a fruit juice at my table. They had not been warned, and they were shattered by the bill. Three days' pay, said the elder; no, only two, said the younger. This, too, may have been an exaggeration, but it reflected their shock. We got into a conversation about income differentials East and West. The Poles are still far away from the Milken standard, but their allergy to inequality is also greater.

In the evening, on the plane taking me back to Paris, Adam Michnik developed the Fabian thesis in his elegant way. Is it possible to change systems gradually, by peaceful means? We are encouraged in our perilous venture, Michnik said, by the precedent of Franco in Spain. He was clearly puzzled by my objection that in Spain, while the political institutions may have been overwhelmed, the basic economic system was not. Yet, does Solidarity want to alter the economic foundations of society? And if so, what does it want to put in their place?

I was suddenly reminded of a small gathering at Warsaw University, addressed by a lecturer, the young leader of another, more radical splinter of the Socialist Party. I found his plea for an election boycott unconvincing, but one of his sentences stuck in my mind: "The peak of our dreams is to repeat the mistakes of others." Is there really no choice for Eastern Europeans but to move from neo-Stalinism to some form of neocapitalism? Sometimes, listening to Poles from each side speaking Thatcherese, one is tempted to paraphrase the graffito: Paranoia is their hobby. But the solution does not depend only on intellectuals. Poland may have a third way thrust upon it, both because of the potential strength of its labor movement and because of the existence of public property that will not easily be privatized. This election, while more than a beginning, is still only an episode in a pioneering process.

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