The amnesty for Poland’s political prisoners announced on July 21 is a victory for the four leaders of KOR. They had turned down a bargain to exchange freedom for political silence, negotiated under the auspices of the church, and now, after thirty months, can leave jail with heads held high.
It is a victory for Solidarity, whose 658 imprisoned members and sympathizers will be freed. Lech Walesa has foiled the officials, attempt to divide it into good proles and evil intellectuals by paying warm tribute to the members of KOR.
Yet it might also be a victory for General Jaruzelski. The authorities can claim that they are strong enough to be magnanimous- and respectable enough to receive needed foreign credits from the West. For his part, the general has been spared an awkward performance. Today in Warsaw, or anywhere else in Eastern Europe, it is impossible to stage a trial on the ghastly model of the Moscow trials of the 1930s.
A Jacek Kuron or an Adam Michnik would have used the dock not as a confessional box but as a political platform. Could the amnesty also mark the victory of common sense and the timid resumption of the process of change dramatically interrupted by the military coup in December 1981? The situation is one of stalemate. Solidarity, still able to publish papers galore, can no longer paralyze the country with a general strike. The regime, for all its power, has failed to attract the intelligentsia or regain the vital support of the mass labor movement. That equation reveals both the necessity and the difficulty of a compromise.
Foreign credits will not be enough for genuine economic reform, which stands a chance only if it is backed by the working people of Poland. That will require a revival of the Gdansk agreements, in terms reflecting the new conditions. Such collaboration would be perilous at best and would involve some sharing of power. Why should Jaruzelski accept now what the regime rejected three years ago?
Indeed, the amnesty itself contains the seeds of discord. The political prisoners are being freed conditionally. If they repeat their “crimes” before the end of 1986 they will have to serve the remainder of their sentences. Perhaps the terms will be interpreted loosely, pleasing those who saw in the resurgent Polish labor movement and in the Gdansk agreements the first signs of a socialist resurrection. But if Jaruzelski uses the amnesty merely to impress the West or to reach an agreement with the Catholic Church above the heads of the workers, his will be a Pyrrhic victory.