Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II; drawing by David Levine


Most of the reports on the new pope have had something to say about his part in the political opposition in Poland, but few have given any clear sense of who takes part in that opposition or how, over the last two years, it has become one of the most startling developments ever to take place in a communist country. Not only the Church but many people outside it have brought this opposition about. Twenty years ago it was possible to say that the regime, faced by a restive intelligentsia, a hostile peasantry and working class, and a powerful adversary—the Church—was uneasily allowing a semi-official “pluralism” to exist. The liberal Catholic coalition called ZNAK, for example, has since the mid-1950s been able, with edgy official tolerance, to send a few of its representatives to the Sejm, or parliament, and put out journals with carefully couched views critical of the regime. But during the last two years something quite new has taken place: a vigorous opposition working outside the system, criticizing official policies entirely in the open, and offering its own political programs. The regime has not been able either to crush these new opponents or to ignore them.

The most visible manifestation of the new situation is the number of samizdat, or, as they are called, “uncensored,” publications—by the latest count twenty-five in all. There has never been anything like it in communist Poland, or in any communist country. These papers carry the names and addresses of their editors, as well as of most of their contributors. Some consist of just a few pages, others of several hundred. Some are mimeographed and semi-legible, others photocopied and astonishingly professional in appearance. Some are aimed at specific audiences—e.g., Gospodarz (The Farmer) and Robotnik (The Worker). Others deal with large political and social issues, or with events in Polish history that have been officially suppressed or distorted. Some are essentially literary journals, while others provide information on opposition groups and police repression.

There is no way of knowing how widely they are read. Most members of the opposition will be the first to concede that not only the average Pole but even the average intellectual is reluctant to get involved in anything “political.” While reprisals during the last year or so have become considerably less severe than they were—forty-eight hours is the usual time spent in jail unless the authorities proceed with a criminal indictment—there is always the possibility of “non-administrative” measures: threats, lack of promotion, expulsion from the university, refusal to travel abroad. Often the security services resort to a mixture of threats and “requests for cooperation.”

Politically active people, however, have refused to be cowed by such tactics. Indeed, when I visited Warsaw last summer, the opposition people I met made it clear that one of their fundamental principles is to conduct their activities without disguise or concealment: they talked in their apartments or in cafés as if they could not care less if their walls were tapped or they were spied on.

Two recent books help to shed light on the opposition and its aims: Political Opposition in Poland 1954-1977, by Peter Raina, and Dissent in Poland—Reports and Documents in Translation.1 These volumes introduce us to the two major dissenting groups, one identified with the Committee for the Defense of Workers (KSS-KOR) and one with the Movement for the Defense of Human and Civil Rights (ROPCIO).

The causes of discontent in Poland, resulting in numerous protests, demonstrations, and riots (all of them well described in Mr. Raina’s book), have been similar from 1954 until now, and in their criticisms the spokesmen for both groups agree. Both denounce not only the repressive political apparatus of the Party but the disastrous economic policy that has prevented agriculture from developing rationally. They point out that national investments have largely benefited state and cooperative farms, which produce far less than family-owned farms, with the result that young people are leaving the land. In their journals and protests both groups reveal how the political elite enjoys privileges completely unknown to the average citizen—for example, special medical care and extra allocations of foreign currency with which to buy scarce goods. Both groups object to the cant and hypocrisy of the official press and television; both denounce censorship of literature, theater, and movies.

Such boldness has taken a long time to emerge. Only in October 1956, Mr. Raina notes, when Gomulka was brought back to head the Party and Moscow issued thinly veiled threats of military intervention, was the entire Polish nation, including an important faction of the Party leadership, united in active resistance. Since then, all manifestations of unrest have been the work of isolated groups pursuing strictly limited goals. The regime has kept the political opposition fragmented by offering paltry concessions, by inciting one group against another, by finding convenient scapegoats.


Its policy proved especially successful in March 1968 when almost all of the literary establishment was aroused by the banning of an anti-czarist play written by the nineteenth-century Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. Hundreds of writers and intellectuals signed protests against the system of censorship, and thousands of university students took to the streets in defense of cultural and academic freedom.

The authorities, alarmed by what seemed like a large-scale insurrection, swiftly mobilized groups of workers against the “long hairs,” the “privileged intellectuals” and “young hot-heads” who would “deprive the working class of its hard-earned benefits” and “restore capitalism.” The rebels were often portrayed as “Zionists,” or quite plainly as Jews who, with their powerful allies in Israel and America, had long been engaged in an attempt to “undermine the authority of the political leadership of Poland.” This they were accomplishing—as one typical editorial put it—by “shifting responsibility for the murder of six million Jews in concentration camps to the Polish nation.” The slogans and the tactics worked. Many writers were banned, censorship was, if anything, strengthened, students were beaten up, arrested, expelled. The poisonous anti-Semitic campaign resulted in thousands of Jews being physically assaulted, fired from their jobs, thrown out of the country.

In 1970, industrial workers themselves rose against the “workers’ state,” burning down several Party headquarters in protest against sudden huge price increases of consumer goods. Gomulka was replaced by Edward Gierek as a result of the riots by the workers. But the intelligentsia—still stunned—failed to make common cause with them.

In June 1976 the situation was altogether different. Again the government announced enormous price increases. Again there were riots, and again the authorities resorted to beatings and demagogic slogans. But by this time most intellectuals had given up any illusions about reforming the Party from within. Most important, they had come to realize that only by allying themselves with other aggrieved groups was there any chance of exerting pressure on the authorities. As Jacek Kuron, formerly a “revisionist” and now one of the chief spokesmen for the opposition, put it two years later:

The totalitarian power can strike against the village if in so doing it has the support of the city; it can move against the intelligentsia if it is backed by at least some workers; it can come out against a given group of workers if the intelligentsia and other groups of workers are with it. But no totalitarian power can afford to move against both the workers and the intelligentsia.2

It was precisely the riots of June 1976 that brought KOR—the Committee for the Defense of Workers—into existence. Instead of contenting itself with issuing appeals and manifestoes, the committee sent its representatives to the homes of striking workers, collected funds for their legal defense, and supplied them with lawyers as well. The results were dramatic: hundreds of workers signed appeals distributed by KOR and many individual workers established personal links with KOR intellectuals. The authorities’ first reaction was characteristically vengeful: thousands of workers lost their jobs or landed in jail, and many activists were also imprisoned. But as the movement gathered momentum, and the Western European press carried vivid reports of police repression, the regime retreated. In July 1977 a general amnesty for all those involved in the workers’ uprising was declared, and almost all the workers were reinstated in their jobs.

In the meantime KOR, heartened by these successes, embarked on two tasks: first, to build a network of institutions designed (as its spokesmen openly assert) to create a genuine system of social, cultural, and even political pluralism in the country; second, to present the population with a coherent and practical political program. It sponsored the Society for Educational Courses and its offshoot, the “Flying University,” which since January 1978 has organized, in private apartments, lectures by distinguished historians, economists, and political scientists. Hundreds of students have come to them to hear the kind of information and critical thinking absent from the universities. A number, of “student solidarity committees” have been formed with KOR’s direct support, thus offering an alternative to the government-run youth organizations.

Similar alternatives are offered by two “free trade unions,” and by the “peasants’ self-defense committees” which have now been organized in over thirty villages. These peasant groups first arose in the summer of 1978 to protest the government’s decision to force private farmers to retire at sixty-five and turn over their land to state farms. They soon made more radical demands—e.g., for “peasant participation” in all government decisions on agriculture.

KOR’s essential platform is contained in the “Declaration of the ‘Democratic Movement,’ ” published in October 1977. Its basic principles are in themselves unremarkable: freedom of belief, speech, and assembly, and freedom to work (which “does not exist where the State authorities usurp the role of sole employer while trade unions are subordinated to the ruling party”). What is striking in that “Declaration,” as well as in various KOR statements, is that in each case the statement of a broad principle is accompanied by a detailed criticism of existing institutions and practices, and by specific proposals.


In its recent “Appeal to the Nation” on October 10, KOR backed up its case against the government with concrete examples and statistics: on the alarming state of health service and the simultaneous construction of a modern hospital exclusively for government dignitaries; on the increased stratification of Polish society; on the practice of cutting down on cheaper goods and selling more expensive ones, thus replacing the abrupt price rises of the past with gradual and covert ones; on the increased exploitation of workers (longer working hours and—especially in coal mines—compulsory work on Sundays, with wage deprivations imposed for even legitimate absences); on the continuation of preventive censorship.

Many of these abuses, KOR (since September 1977 known as the Committee for Social Self-Defense—KSS-KOR) points out, could be corrected by pragmatic reforms. But none will ever be undertaken unless the population organizes itself, insists on its rights, demands the truth; unless trade union members elect only those representatives who will defend their real interests, and citizens who “find it impossible to work through the usually discredited official organizations” set up their own, such as the peasants’ “self-defense committees.”

The second important opposition group, the Movement for the Defense of Human and Civil Rights (ROPCIO), published its program in March 1977. Like KOR, it demands that the human and civil rights guaranteed in the Helsinki agreement be observed and urges that maximum publicity be given to all violations. For more than a year, ROPCIO has maintained information and consultation centers in eleven cities, whose purpose it is to “receive citizens’ comments and proposals with regard to the implementation of human and civil rights in Poland.” ROPCIO’s following, especially in the villages and among young people, is growing. It publishes two journals and clearly influences the views of the unaffiliated Gospodarz (The Farmer). ROPCIO has organized many public protests, and one of its major organs, Opinia, solicited a reply from President Carter during his December 1977 visit to Warsaw to a series of questions about US human rights policy.

While ROPCIO’s stated goals are strikingly similar to those of KOR, the contrast between the two movements is nonetheless significant. KOR may be regarded as the spokesman for generally liberal and social democratic tendencies; ROPCIO represents more conservative political traditions and tends to romantic idealizing of Poland’s struggles against foreign domination. (Opinia’s regular column, “From a Pole’s Calendar,” for instance, is devoted almost exclusively to commemorating patriotic—that is, principally military—events in Polish history.)

To KOR, genuine Polish independence is a distant goal, to be realized, in Kuron’s words, only after “we organize ourselves to create human conditions of life today.”3 For ROPCIO, “a free and independent Poland” should be of urgent concern right now. In KOR one finds some of Poland’s best-known intellectuals, in ROPCIO hardly any. Through years of confrontation with the regime, the leaders of KOR have accumulated political experience that helps them to enlist the support of Western public opinion. ROPCIO, on the other hand, seems more insular and parochial. Furthermore ROPCIO’s intense nationalism occasionally gives off a faint aroma of anti-Semitism. For all of these reasons some members of KOR tend to regard the rival movement with a certain suspicion and even antipathy, although the publications of both groups regularly report on each other’s activities, and the partisans of both movements—especially students—frequently work together.

KOR and ROPCIO are not the only political groups to have emerged in Poland during the past two years. In the spring of 1978, several followers of the prewar right-wing and anti-Semitic National Democratic Party began publishing a news sheet called Samoobrona Polska (Polish Self-Defense). The Polish League for Independence (PPN), an uncharacteristically clandestine group, has since 1977 issued a series of perceptive studies of social and economic conditions in Poland, and its advocacy of national sovereignty has been even more radical than ROPCIO’s. Thus far KOR and ROPCIO clearly dominate the scene. Yet as the march toward “pluralism” gathers momentum, other heirs to the country’s political past may well be encouraged to come out into the open.


The Catholic Church has been crucial in the growth of a political opposition in Poland. Had it not been for the support of the Church, even the new alliance between “the intelligentsia, village, and workers” to which Kuron refers would probably have failed to survive the hatred of the authorities.

The Polish Catholic Church, in spite of intense patriotism and a record of heroic struggle against foreign oppressors (3,000 Polish priests died during World War II, many of them fighting the Germans), had the reputation of being one of the most conservative, if not reactionary, of all national churches. Nor did it refuse to cooperate with authoritarian secular powers when its interests stood to benefit from such cooperation. Jerzy Zawieyski, a promiment Catholic intellectual long associated with the liberal ZNAK group, wrote of the prewar Church:

For what was the Church and Catholicism for us, erstwhile socialists and catechumens? I must admit with pain that for us Catholics, the greatest obstacle to faith was the Church itself, as personified in its official representatives. It was synonymous with anti-Semitism, fascism, obscurantism, fanaticism, and with all unprogressive and anti-cultural phenomena. The clerical representatives in the Sejm employed the most odious words and methods. They embodied everything that was reactionary, aggressive, and saturated with hate.

These words are cited by the young historian Adam Michnik, one of the most brilliant leaders of KOR, in his book Church, Left, Dialogue, which was published in Polish in Paris in 1977.4 Michnik’s intent is hardly to vilify the Church. On the contrary, one of his principal aims is to show how profoundly the Church has changed during the past thirty years. Michnik concedes that a large part of the clergy is still anti-intellectual and parochial. He acknowledges that the specific issues between the Church and the State have turned largely on Church interests, such as the right to build more churches and freedom to conduct religious instruction. Yet when the Church insists on its right to preach the Gospel, it is affirming values that are fundamentally humane, and fundamentally at odds with the claims of a totalitarian state. Furthermore, Michnik writes, “only a blind person can fail to notice the changes that are taking place in Polish Catholicism” in its concern for the social and economic well-being of the population at large.

Michnik’s book is a polemic, and he occasionally oversimplifies or exaggerates to prove his point. But the purpose of his polemic is to persuade his friends on the left that the Church is defending values compatible with the traditions of secular liberalism, and to urge the Church to realize that if it pursues and deepens its struggle for human rights, it can have no better ally than the secular left. And that purpose is both important in itself and for defining where the Church stands in the political opposition. Michnik explores the roots of the antipathy of liberal leftists toward the Church, their view of the Church as an implacable enemy of progress. If the Church had in the past been guilty of religious obscurantism, he says, the secular left has been equally guilty of “atheistic obscurantism.” Allying itself with the authorities against the Church, the liberal intelligentsia had in effect helped to strengthen both totalitarian control over Poland and the Church’s animus toward any expression of secular liberalism.

Why, Michnik asks, should “people of the secular left be concerned about the defense of religion and of the honor of the Catholic Church?” Because, he replies, by defending the Church they are defending fundamental “values.” The view that sees indifference to religion as furthering “intellectual and moral progress” is, in Michnik’s opinion, wrong, and is no more consistent than denouncing faith in general, for faith can lead to tolerance or intolerance, “self-immolation or the immolation of others.” Although faith “doesn’t always lead to good, the persecution of faith always leads to evil.”

Michnik agrees with views such as Zawieyski’s that the Polish Church could at one time be charged with lack of concern for social and economic justice, or with a narrow and purely institutional view of its spiritual mission, or with attempting to impose its own religious values on the rest of society. But he emphasizes that it has, in its conflict with the Communist regime, been forced at the same time to struggle for the “widening of the area of democratic freedoms.” That struggle was particularly cruel in the postwar years when the regime set up Pax, its own organization of “loyal Catholics,” headed by Boleslaw Piasecki, a rabid anti-Semite and a former leader of the prewar fascist organization, the Falanga.5 Trying to promote what it called “progressive” Catholicism through agents like Piasecki, the regime jailed Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, the Primate of Poland, in 1953. One response of the hierarchy was to give encouragement to liberal Catholic intellectuals such as those in the ZNAK coalition.

Furthermore, although the aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council and the new trends embraced by world Catholicism may have been slow in reaching Poland, reach it they did. Michnik offers a well-documented account of the Church’s increasingly intense interest in social and economic issues. In a letter entitled “The Polish Bishops to the Polish Priests,” written fifteen years ago, we find the following extraordinary passage:

We should like to share with you our concern for the troublesome state of our country’s economy. We should like to understand it—yet find it difficult to understand how some party leaders, supposedly representing the working class, show so little solicitude for the real interest of the worker or peasant, pay no attention to the problem of workers’ wages or the standard of living of his family. At the same time they try their best to get the highest income, so starkly in contrast to the average wage of an industrial worker, let alone of those who live off their own land in the village. From the point of view of a democratic economy one cannot but be dismayed by the rise of a new class—of many thousands—whose standard of living far exceeds that of the average physical laborer; nor is it a matter of individual aberration. What is so painful is that for these people a life of luxury, with all its indifference to the average man’s level of existence, becomes the rightful norm.

As time went on, the Church not only reaffirmed its right to offer what is in effect a social and economic program opposed to the regime’s; it voiced criticisms and views strikingly similar to those of the opposition, and especially to those of KOR. Immediately after the riots of 1976 the Episcopate—the central office of the Church—published a letter strongly denouncing the government for failing to “respect civil rights and conduct a true dialogue with the people,” especially workers who “took part in the anti-government protests” and “who should have their rights and social and professional positions restored.”

Since then, the parallels between the statements by the Church—and especially by Cardinal Wyszynski, whom Michnik strongly, if not uncritically, admires—and those of the opposition have become even more conspicuous. KOR has deplored the time and energy that Poles must waste while standing on line. Wyszynski speaks of “mini-revolutions that are born in the queues.” KOR raised funds for workers who suffered from government reprisals after June 1976. Wyszynski preached a sermon tacitly supporting those fund-raising activities. KOR and ROPCIO strongly advocate an end to censorship; so have both Wyszynski personally and the Episcopate—for example, in a pastoral letter of last September 19:

We must regret the persecution of people who have the courage to pronounce, orally and in writing, their judgment and opinions concerning public affairs, and the content of what is published by the mass media…. Without freedom a person is dwarfed, and all progress dies. Not allowing people with a different social and political ideology to speak, as is the practice of the State, is unjust.

Does this mean that the Catholic Church has now become a full ally of the opposition? As Michnik points out in his book, the Polish Church remains equivocal on a number of issues. It has evaded the question of separation of Church and State, taking somewhat ambiguous positions about its right to teach religion in the public schools. Neither the Primate nor the Episcopate has explicitly condemned (for instance, in March 1968) any manifestations of officially sponsored anti-Semitism—including the “anti-Zionist” campaigns in the publications of Piasecki’s Pax, which it must loathe. Wyszynski has occasionally insisted that “real patriotism” can only be based on Catholicism, and he has indiscriminately praised Poland’s “national traditions”—not all of which, as Michnik ruefully notes, have necessarily brought glory to the nation.

What recent developments show, however, is that the hierarchy has moved close to the position advocated for many years by the ZNAK people, and especially by the “Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia” associated with them. It has long been the view of this group that the Church must become more “open,” that it must become engaged more forcefully in championing human rights, that its mission must transcend its own institutional and religious boundaries. Since 1968, for instance, the two main journals identified with the ZNAK group, Tygodnik Powszechny and Wiez, have opened their pages to writers, some of them Jewish, who had been persecuted and blacklisted by the authorities. The editor of Wiez, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, has, along with some of his colleagues, been active in various KOR-sponsored activities, such as the Flying University. And the Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia have frequently invited leading oppositionists to speak at their meetings.

Cardinal Wyszynski is certainly sympathetic to the aims of this group. Even more so is the new pope, the former Archbishop of Cracow, Karol Wojtyla. Indeed, in the October 23 issue of the German weekly Der Spiegel, Michnik described the new pope as one of the two “co-founders of the anti-totalitarian policy of the Polish Episcopate” and as a strong supporter of the political opposition. For years the impressive liberal Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny has been published in Cracow under Wojtyla’s imprimatur. In March 1978, he allowed the KOR-sponsored Flying University to use one of the churches in his archdiocese, a practice that has now been followed by other priests. In 1968, unlike Wyszynski, he openly spoke out against anti-Semitism. His sympathy for Vatican II is known to be stronger than that of the Primate.

Wojtyla may now be expected to use his enormous moral influence to support the Polish Church in pressing its claims against the government. It still has no guaranteed “legal status,” and is still forbidden to issue its own publications or to administer its own social and charitable organizations. In 1977 Gierek claimed he was ready for a genuine “dialogue” with the Church, and he met with Wyszynski in Warsaw and Pope Paul VI in Rome in late 1977. Gierek badly needs the cooperation of the Church. He knows very well that the messages read out in the pulpits carry a moral power that his regime lacks. And the Church is willing to take a stand on some of the serious problems confronting the regime, such as alcoholism and thievery, bribery and swindling, which are now endemic in Poland.

But the Church wants serious concessions from the communists for its help in keeping the social order working—not only on religious and civil rights but on the direction of the economy as well. In his speech in Rome, for example, Wyszynski called for an end to catastrophic investments in heavy industry and for much more emphasis on agriculture. “We have,” he said, “all the possibilities of becoming the bread basket for Eastern Europe and for the Scandinavian countries as well.” So far Gierek, for all of his talk of “dialogue,” shows no sign of giving in on such questions.

The opposition assumes that Pope John Paul II will not only keep applying pressure on behalf of the Episcopate but will also back the general struggle for human rights and social justice in Poland. Indeed, the Pope’s influence has already made itself felt. Shortly after his return from Rome, Wyszynski on two occasions—once in the presence of high government officials—sharply attacked the existing censorship system. On November 23, the Pope sent a letter to Poland’s head of state, Henryk Jablonski, vigorously affirming his support of “freedom of religion, creed, and conscience” in his native country. Symptomatic, too, was a protest on November 14 by forty-two Catholic priests who threatened to stage a hunger strike and to set up a “self-defense committee of believers” unless the authorities ceased to draft seminary students for military service and other forms of harassment.

The atmosphere became even more heavily charged when the Polish government decided to censor the Pope’s Christmas, message to his old diocese in Cracow. The message called upon the Poles to observe the nine-hundredth anniversary of the death of the nation’s patron saint, St. Stanislaus, who was murdered by the Polish king Boleslaus II in 1079. As legend has it, the king had been excommunicated by Stanislaus, then bishop of Cracow, for his cruelty to his subjects. The political significance of the message was as obvious to the censors as to the rank-and-file Poles who heard it read from the pulpits and broadcast over Western radio stations. Such interventions by the Pope, and his scheduled visit to Poland in the spring, are bound to strengthen the resistance both of the Church and of the political opposition generally. The optimism of the opposition is altogether understandable: over thirty million Poles see their compatriot in the Vatican as an infinitely more admirable man than the Party’s first secretary in Warsaw.


What of the future? That the various institutions and activities I have described actually exist is itself proof of an unprecedented success. That hundreds of students have attended the Flying University and that several thousand copies of various uncensored publications are being regularly distributed suggest that the opposition has staying power. Of course the written word does not necessarily reflect—or affect—reality. The case of the two “independent trade unions” is illustrative: as one of the editors of Robotnik admitted to me in Warsaw last August, neither union has a chance of conducting any serious activity in the foreseeable future. This is something that the Party simply would not tolerate.

Indeed, the enthusiasm generated in the summer of 1976, when many industrial workers actually came to KOR with suggestions for setting up workers’ self-defense committees (rather than only the Committee for the Defense of Workers—a crucial difference), has been superseded to a considerable extent by passivity among the workers, and even by a susceptibility to government cajolery and outright bribery.6 This is not to say that the link between workers and intellectuals has been severed. Robotnik is much read, and meetings between individual workers and members of the opposition continue to take place.7 But it does suggest that for the time being, industrial workers will not emerge as an independent force—unlike the far more self-confident peasants, 480,000 of whom have thus far refused to pay the obligatory old-age pension dues, and several hundred of whom continue to be active in the peasants’ self-defense committees and to issue lively proclamations. Peasants’ self-defense committees recently organized brief strikes in two towns near Warsaw, withholding milk in protest against taxes and shortages of supplies.8

What seems indisputable is the fact that all the activities of the opposition have put the authorities on the defensive; so have embarrassing incidents such as the disclosure, in October 1977, of official documents testifying to the magnitude of censorship in Poland.9 Spirited protests by the Polish PEN Club, by the Union of Polish Writers, and by the Episcopate have led to conciliatory statements from the authorities, statements notable for their lack of reference to “hostile forces” or “foreign diversionary circles,” which had in the past always been blamed for any unrest.

Last January a group of prominent Party members who no longer hold important positions (among them former First Secretary Edward Ochab) sent a letter to Gierek criticizing police repression, lack of freedom of speech, excessive Party interference in economic, social, and cultural matters. Gierek replied with uncustomary civility, assuring the “comrades” that some of their suggestions were actually being implemented (they were not). In any case, Gierek said, the Party would not resort to any “administrative measures” to silence its critics. The steady pressure from the opposition may indeed be welcomed by certain people and factions within the Party apparat who are known to favor economic reforms and a liberalizing of the Party’s cultural policies.

The authorities, acutely aware of the precarious state of the country’s economy and of its dependence on Western sources of credit, as well as of the potentially explosive mood of the population, have evidently decided that another wave of arrests would risk disaster at home and a sharp decline of economic good will, not to mention Poland’s reputation, abroad. And so the regime has chosen a policy of partial concessions, hoping to win at least some tacit cooperation from the Church, to contain rebellious intellectuals, to stave off further outbreaks of discontent. This policy has the apparent approval of Moscow, which is also not keen on seeing thousands of angry Poles again taking to the streets and setting Party head-quarters on fire.

As a result of this conciliatory policy, the situation in Poland today is not as volatile as it was two years ago. But it is still risky for the opposition as well as for the regime. The opposition may be tempted to make more drastic demands and to engage in demonstrative gestures of little practical value. The regime risks making the opposition legitimate, thus in time turning the dream of “pluralism” into a reality.

Yet it is precisely the moderation and sobriety of the opposition that may well offer hope for the future. “Our situation,” a prominent Catholic intellectual told me in Warsaw last summer, “could change radically only if there were a radical change in Russia itself. And that,” he added, “seems hardly likely in the foreseeable future. In the meantime we have to persevere, to get our people used to the idea that the regime is not omnipotent; we must raise their cultural level. Only then will the regime begin to listen to us.”

Or, as another intellectual, Marek Turbacz, put it in a recent issue of the literary journal Zapis:

We cannot count on a sudden triumph. Nevertheless, by taking part in the movement of opposition, we do not merely struggle on behalf of ethical values. We also attain for ourselves the highest level of freedom that can possibly be attained in the present system.

This Issue

February 8, 1979