For the Poles the decree of September 11, 1986, seemed one of the most astonishing events in recent history. No one had expected it. All of Poland’s political prisoners, the official announcement said, would be released within five days. Zbigniew Bujak, the head of Solidarity’s Provisional Coordinating Committee (TKK), who only three months earlier had been arrested after eluding the police for nearly five years; Leszek Moczulski, the fiery leader of the small nationalistic KPN (Confederation of Independent Poland); Czeslaw Bielecki, the eloquent writer and architect who had been weakened by a hunger strike 1—all would now regain their freedom along with hundreds of others. In December 1981, Solidarity was caught off guard when Jaruzelski took advantage of the union’s self-confidence and, in a matter of hours, put the entire country under martial law and about five thousand Solidarity activists in prison. Now, when the General (as he is commonly referred to in Poland) seemed to concede one of Solidarity’s principal demands, its leaders were again taken unawares. For nearly three weeks they had little to say.

There were good reasons for the silence. Since martial law was imposed the government had decreed two amnesties, one in 1983 and one a year later. They were not exactly fraudulent, since a number of political prisoners were actually released. They were, however, accompanied by conditions, such as the requirement that everyone released swear he would not take part in “antistate” activities; and after each amnesty, the police rearrested some of the former offenders, and filled the jails with new ones. The language of the so-called Clemency Law, passed on July 17 of this year, was even more vague than previous decrees. The continuing campaign in the press against Solidarity, and especially against its “antisocialist” leaders and advisers,2 offered little hope that Jaruzelski was about to release his opponents from jail. Solidarity had consistently said that if all political prisoners were set free it was ready for “dialogue” and for discussion of “national reconciliation” (much to the dismay of its more radical spinoff groups such as “Fighting Solidarity”3 ). Jaruzelski spoke of “normalization”—a code word for bringing the opposition to heel.

Yet here in September was Interior Minister Kiszczak on Polish television, calmly announcing that some of the government’s bitterest enemies would be freed in the interests of “humaneness” and “national accord.” While the law, he said, would continue to deal harshly with those engaged in “espionage, terror, sabotage, or treason,” the authorities would show “maximum patience, calm, and good will” toward those acting “against the state and public order.” It would use “preventive” measures rather than “penal repressions.”4 (Some of those released under the amnesty had in fact been arrested on charges of treason.) On the same day about three thousand Poles involved in the underground were visited by officials of the Ministry of Interior who gently warned them that their activities would cause harm to their “common motherland” no less than to themselves—an adroit step designed to demonstrate that the regime knew exactly who was active in the underground and that it could be generous toward them.

There was more to come. The day after the decree, Silwester Zawadzki, a member of Poland’s highest government body, the Council of State, published an article in which he noted that a new “understanding” should not exclude “persons from the realistically oriented bodies of former Solidarity.”5 A few days later the General himself declared that “no one in our country is or will be discriminated against for his or her convictions,”6 a statement that then was repeated in the official press. Government representatives started discreet talks with the Church and with various intellectuals regarding the formation of a “Social Consultative Council,” a group that would presumably advise Jaruzelski on important political and economic matters. Finally, some conservative intellectuals, mostly lay Catholics, were given permission to publish a journal, Res-Publica, which in the past had come out clandestinely and whose editors had long attempted to get permission to publish legally.7 There was talk about the appearance of other independent publications.

Was this a new deal, then? Or a wily tactic? How would the opposition, and above all Solidarity, respond? Such questions were on everyone’s mind at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where I was attending a conference on the history of the Jews in prepartition Poland. One prominent writer said Jaruzelski was trying to match, if not surpass, Gorbachev’s proclaimed policy of glasnost—openness. The Polish press, he said, had for many years published articles unthinkable in any other country of the Soviet bloc—but in recent months the censors have been more lax than ever.

It is absolutely mind boggling. Internal Party directives—which I have seen—tell Party members to seek out opposition leaders and promise them practically anything if they agree to end their activities. Editors of newspapers and magazines have been ordered to stop “blacklisting” certain writers. The other day the Zycie Warszawy [a daily paper] had a remarkable piece on how the party has failed to attract any following among young people.8 The official publishing houses are issuing books that couldn’t have been published last year. The amnesty may prove a flash in the pan after all, but there is more going on than just the release of political prisoners.

A historian attending the conference spoke of the bitter controversies taking place within Solidarity. “The General must be rubbing his hands with glee,” he added darkly.


In Warsaw a few days later, I was invited to a private apartment where a group of about forty historians, sociologists, economists, and lawyers met to discuss “the new situation in Poland.”9 One of the most impressive talks took the form of a list of provocative questions.

Why was Solidarity so poorly prepared for the amnesty, and what other rabbits was Jaruzelski likely to pull out of his hat? In view of its failure to stage strikes or large protests during the past few years, didn’t Solidarity still tend to exaggerate its strength? Could Jaruzelski’s moves mark the beginning of a process of liberalization of the Polish political system? (As for “democratization,” which is to say basic changes in the system, the speaker added wryly that there is not a ghost of a chance.) Will Jaruzelski succeed in driving a wedge between workers and intellectuals, thus breaking the alliance created by the Workers Social Self-Defense Committee (KSS/KOR) ten years ago and firmly maintained to this day? Will he, for instance, try to seduce intellectuals with such tempting concessions as new journals, which would be of little relevance to the workers? Would Solidarity not be wise, perhaps, to curtail its activities, even to begin dismantling its “underground structures,” so as to allow other groups to emerge that might be more effective? On the other hand, how could one expect Solidarity’s Provisional Coordinating Committee, which has a committed following of perhaps tens of thousands of people, to pass into obscurity? Wouldn’t this mean not only the end of Solidarity as such but also the gradual eclipse of other underground institutions, such as the vigorous underground press? Still, wouldn’t it be realistic to assume that if a good many new pressure groups are allowed to emerge, Solidarity will sooner or later expire?10


In the weeks that followed, after hearing dozens of different speculations about what the General was doing, and what the opposition should do, I was struck by how much agreement there was among the Solidarity leaders and how much they themselves had changed. A few years ago it was common in opposition circles to view Jaruzelski and his ekipa (team) as a collection of incompetent fools, without any political imagination, lacking longrange programs, and skillful only at repression. No longer. The man who spoke in the Warsaw apartment, for instance, talked of Jaruzelski’s “political acumen”—a judgment no one present challenged. The historian Bronislaw Geremek went further, describing the present ekipa as “the most able and best informed of all that have ruled Poland since the end of the war.” When I talked with Lech Walesa in Gdansk, he agreed: “I must admit that in the past I had a very low opinion of Jaruzelski and the people around him. But having gotten to know them, I’ve changed my mind. They are first-class professionals [klasa], not to be underrated.”

Of course this perception does not imply a change of heart: the Solidarity leaders dislike and distrust the regime as much as ever. Clearly, however, the opposition now recognizes both the power and the shrewdness of the man it has to deal with. How, then, do the Solidarity leaders explain Jaruzelski’s peace offensive? They don’t fully accept the common view in the West that he had three main aims: to induce the United States to lift the remaining economic sanctions and Western countries to grant Poland new loans and credits; to cause further schisms within the opposition; and to persuade his perenially potential “partner,” the Catholic Church, to abandon its support of the opposition and reach a lasting modus vivendi with the regime.

To be sure, few people I spoke to would discount these motives. The government certainly wants an end to sanctions and it needs new credits. The Solidarity leaders do not underestimate Jaruzelski’s desire—and ability—to encourage divisions among the opposition (“the better,” as Jacek Kuron put it, “to destroy us”). As “David Warszawski” (the pseudonym of one of the most prolific and incisive contributors to the underground press) told me: “If some of the intellectuals yield to the temptation of joining the Social Consultative Council Jaruzelski wants to set up—without any firm guarantee that it will be more than a façde—or some other equally spurious body, some of our members will quit in disgust and others will join more radical groups. Either result will obviously be to Jaruzelski’s advantage.”


Nor is a new “deal” with the Church to be ruled out. The local churches are still the refuge of many elements of the opposition, but the Church is eager to bring the Pope back to Poland, while Jaruzelski is almost indecently anxious to be received at the Vatican. During the past few years the government has virtually lifted its ban on the construction of new churches and presbyteries, and has granted permission to publish a number of new, Church-affiliated journals. All this might encourage the Church authorities to silence a number of “radical” (that is, pro-Solidarity) priests, and to allow some of its representatives to join the new council.

Moreover, as some of my informants pointed out, the government is not necessarily wrong in counting on a degree of hostility among some Church dignitaries either toward Solidarity as a whole, or toward specific groups and leaders within it. Father Alojzy Orszulik, the press spokesman for the episcopate (the Church hierarchy), has made no secret of his loathing for KOR. Cardinal Glemp himself has complained that Solidarity has been infiltrated by “Trotskyites” and other “non-Catholic elements.”11 Only last August the first issue of the Paris-based semiofficial organ of the episcopate, Znaki Czasu (“Signs of the Times”), edited by the conservative historian Andrzej Micewski, published an article attacking Solidarity, and specifically Bronislaw Geremek and Tadeusz Mazowiecki (a liberal Catholic) for their “leftist” inclinations.12 The regime will try to exploit such sentiments.

Still the Solidarity leaders I talked to believed such calculations about the Church and the opposition to be secondary to Jaruzelski’s paramount concern: the precipitous decline of the Polish economy. Unless this decline is firmly brought to a halt, Poland is likely to sink—as one economist told me—“to the level of a third world country.” The statistics are frightening. Poland has one of the lowest growth rates in Eastern Europe, about 3 percent. Spare parts for industrial machines, as well as cars, trucks, and freight trains, are virtually unobtainable, and they stand idly rusting away. Sixty-two percent of industrial capacity is not being used. Ryszard Bugaj, the economist who was formerly an adviser to Solidarity, puts the rate of inflation at nearly 20 percent. State investment is growing at approximately 4.5 percent annually, but since consumption increases at little more than 2 percent a year, the average Pole’s living standard hasn’t improved at all. Housing construction is practically at a standstill—which means that young couples, even those with children, are forced to live in cramped quarters with their parents, a situation breeding domestic tension and divorce. Polish products, once fairly common on the international market, are now so shoddy that no one wants to buy them.

The one relatively bright spot is agriculture, largely private, which has been the most productive part of the Polish economy. Yet according to Bugaj (and others), good harvests are more responsible for this success than government policy. Should next year’s harvest be poor, the effect on prices will be disastrous.

The government has allocated about 30 percent of its investment to coal mining, and offers considerable cash benefits to the miners. But they work far longer than other industrial workers and now have been deprived of their two free Saturdays each month (a right won during the Solidarity period by all other workers). In the mines, which lack adequate safety devices, accidents have been frequent and they sometimes are ignored in the press.

Poland’s ecological situation is also desperate. Air pollution is among the highest in the world. About 10 percent of Poland’s territory, inhabited by about one-third of the country’s population, has been designated by the government as “ecologically endangered terrain.”13 Poland’s waters are largely undrinkable. In cities such as Warsaw and Lódz there is not a single water-purification plant14—one of the many reasons for the generally poor health of the population.

No visitor to Poland can fail to see the somber reality behind the statistics. Frequent and abrupt price rises drive people to despair and lead to the proliferation of conspiracy theories (the Russians are behind it, it’s all a ploy to make us stop thinking about politics, etc.) A “second economy” is openly thriving, along with the corruption, bribery, and theft that keep it going. (Gazeta Krakowska, Kraków’s daily paper, lists the black-market rate for the US dollar in nearly every issue. At both the Gdansk and Kraków airports the security guards who frisked me asked whether I didn’t “by any chance” have any dollars to exchange, illegally, for zlotys.) Many people moonlight to eke out a living. Poles have traditionally been known for their good manners, and in some circles courtesy still prevails. But fatigue and daily frustration can erupt in angry outbursts and ugly incidents.

This is the bleak situation that Jaruzelski and his team (many of them high-ranking army officers) now feel they must deal with—or so the Solidarity analysts believe—even if it means letting the opposition go free. They give Jaruzelski credit for allowing the publication of revealing economic facts that were previously kept secret, and for giving the official press permission to print surprisingly candid, even scathingly critical, articles about the country’s economy and economic policies. But how far will the General go? What was once generally accepted as the most promising approach to a revived and healthier economy—the program of economic reforms passed by the parliament in January 1982—has been distorted beyond recognition by the regime. That legislation provided for a mixed economy combining market mechanisms (such as giving smaller enterprises the independence that would allow them to maximize profits) with a measure of central planning, carried out through price controls, interest rates, and taxes. It included workers’ self-management councils that were supposed not only to increase productivity but also, as a British economist put it, to raise “the level of democracy in society.”15 Enterprises were henceforth to be guided by three principles: “independence, self-management, and self-financing.”

Five years later, some 12,000 acts of parliament and decrees by various ministries have undermined the major provisions of the original reform act.16 Branch ministries, intent on establishing their own authority, have stripped enterprises of independence. The workers’ self-management councils have, gradually but implacably, been deprived of their autonomy by Party apparatchiks determined to reassert the Party’s “leading role.”17

Nearly everyone seems to agree that the reform program has been a monumental failure, including economists who work for the regime. 18 Most of the people I spoke to believe that Jaruzelski himself would like to see the original program, or much of it, restored. For that, however, he needs support from “above,” in the state apparatus, no less than from “below,” i.e., from Solidarity and its sympathizers throughout the population. “Where is it to come from?” one of Solidarity’s principal advisers said to me, “and at what price?” He continued:

At the last party congress in June, Jaruzelski succeeded in eliminating his personal rivals, whether they were from the hard-line wing or the so-called liberal wing.19 Politically he is in control, and strong enough to announce measures such as the amnesty with impunity. But economic reforms are another matter, largely because the entrenched managerial bureaucracy is dead set against it, and the secret police view it with suspicion20—as it does any kind of display of flexibility. Jaruzelski apparently has support from one crucial source—namely, Gorbachev, who wants Poland to set its house in order if only to bring it in line with his own domestic policies and with the other bloc countries.21

Gorbachev, we have reason to believe, has urged Jaruzelski to move in the direction of economic reforms. But his support alone is not enough. Jaruzelski must find new sources of social support at home. Hence the amnesty, hence the talk about national reconciliation, hence the message, however halfhearted, that all is—can be—has been—forgiven.


This interpretation of Jaruzelski’s objectives, whether right or wrong, has compelled Solidarity and the rest of the opposition to define their response to the amnesty and consider what new position they should take. At first the internal debates turned on whether Solidarity should emerge from the underground, and if so, in what form. Those urging caution argued that only time would reveal Jaruzelski’s real intentions. Some of Solidarity’s leaders favored remaining underground no matter what. Some wanted to create a large open Solidarity organization that would include all regional union leaders. They were opposed by those who advocated a committee for the Legalization of Solidarity,” which would include well-known intellectuals not associated directly with the opposition; its purpose would be to negotiate with Jaruzelski on a variety of issues, including the status of Solidarity itself.

On September 29 a new policy was announced. In three statements issued simultaneously in Gdansk and Warsaw, Solidarity announced the formation of a seven-man “provisional council” with Walesa at its head, as well as a similar council for its Warsaw chapter. A few days later such councils emerged in several other cities, including Lódz and Katowice.22 (While coming out in the open, Solidarity at the same time made it clear that it would not dismantle its underground organization, at least until it regains legal status.) This was a calculated risk: Solidarity is still an illegal union, and its decision to flout the law may well invite reprisals. Yet the choice seemed popular throughout Solidarity. “History teaches us,” Bujak told me, “that once a movement accepts defeat—as the Peasant Party did in 1947—it can never be revived. We had to establish our presence, for all the world to know.” Even a Party newspaperman, speaking off the record, told me that the emergence of the union into the open was as wise as it was necessary, if only for symbolic reasons. Adam Michnik said it was “a splendid decision—but we must immediately proceed with definite actions; we must seize the initiative or else we’ll be finished.”

What actions, and what initiatives? In 1980 and 1981 Solidarity disclaimed any intention of becoming a political movement. Yet many of the original demands of its famous “Twenty-One Points” were intrinsically political—such as the demand for a “free and independent trade union,” and for the abolition of censorship.23 Soon the union was forced, by its own momentum, by an increasingly radical rank and file, and by the obstructive and dilatory tactics of the regime, to take explicit political positions. By October 1981, when Solidarity adopted a program for establishing a “self-governing republic,” its proposals for reorganizing the country’s legal, economic, and administrative institutions amounted to a political manifesto.

Five years later, as I was told repeatedly, Solidarity is now prepared to scale down if not altogether relinquish its political demands, and to concentrate on the country’s economy—the only part of Polish life that Jaruzelski, too, seems eager to improve. The change has come about after several years during which Solidarity’s leaders painfully reassessed their situation. Zbigniew Romaszewski, a distinguished physicist and the man responsible for constructing Solidarity’s underground radio (which cost him two years in prison), told me that in 1984 and 1985 some Solidarity members proposed creating an “underground parliament.” The leadership promptly rejected such a grandiose suggestion.

Now, however, the change in language is startling. Walesa told me: “Our 1981 program was a fine and noble document, but one built on slogans. Now those slogans must be translated into deeds. Let us forget about political struggles and turn our hands to the economic situation.” Bujak said: “There are radical groups in Poland clamoring for political action, for the creation of political parties, but I am against it. Housing, environment, culture, economic reforms—these must be our primary concerns.” A distinguished writer associated with Solidarity put it bluntly: “Economic reforms—or we sink…it’s time to concentrate on kielbasa.”

Sausage first, one might say. Industrial reforms, ecology, profit-making enterprises—such issues, during the past two or three years, have been the subject of detailed proposals in leading “uncensored” publications. What is new is that Solidarity is ready to support, as one union leader put it, “open legal structures that the government will tolerate”—that is, groups that have no direct connection with the union, or are unwilling to work under its banner. Some Solidarity leaders are even willing to think the unthinkable. Wiktor Kulerski, Bujak’s successor as head of TKK in July and a member of Solidarity’s Warsaw chapter, said: “We may eventually have to leave the scene altogether. But our aim, after all, is not so much to retain our identity as an organization as to see our ideas become reality. If our aim is achieved, what does it matter if we keep the name ‘Solidarity’ or not?”

Kulerski’s daring suggestion is not likely to go down well with most of his colleagues, nor, I suspect, was it meant to be taken at face value. But it illustrates the distance that Solidarity has traveled since the days when it proclaimed its resolve to remake the face of Poland. Central to the various proposals I heard was the need for lifting US economic sanctions, first because they have served as a convenient alibi for the government to do little while blaming the United States for its own inertia, and second to encourage Jaruzelski to continue with economic recovery measures. Credits, one economist said, are equally important—although they should be accompanied by conditions that would prevent the government from squandering them, as Gierek did in the 1970s with calamitous results.

Some Solidarity leaders, including Bujak, see legalizing Solidarity as one of those conditions; others would restrict the conditions to the economic sphere. Walesa talked of a Polish variant of the Hungarian model, with credits being channeled to specific enterprises, which would enter into direct relationships with foreign banks. Geremek suggested that the government should account for its expenditures of foreign credits in the Polish press: “the political implications,” he added with a smile, “would inevitably follow.”

Other proposals by the Solidarity leaders concern ways to increase productivity and improve the organization of labor. A wage freeze would be an intolerable hardship for the workers, Bujak said, but Solidarity could accept “drastic cuts in the number of workers who are not employed in directly productive labor but have bureaucratic and service jobs. They would be transferred to other industries or absorbed into the private sector.”24 Private business initiative, currently tolerated but hemmed in by innumerable bureaucratic obstacles, is much favored by opposition leaders, a departure from Solidarity’s earlier stand. According to Czeslaw Bielecki, the creation of small enterprises and cooperatives should be one of Solidarity’s top priorities.

Whether Polish workers are in favor of more private initiative is an open question. Ryszard Bugaj, for instance, claims that many Poles have been turned against it by the government’s unremitting “antispeculation” campaign. Walesa, on the other hand, regards the government’s campaign with scorn: “Can you imagine? A man buys some loaves of bread from his local bakery, then travels ten kilometers to a factory where he sells them at a profit, and the government calls him a criminal and a speculator! This is sheer idiocy!” Jacek Kuron, among others, urges the revival of “independent and autonomous organizations” such as groups of professionals that would negotiate with the state management on practical matters such as increased efficiency, cost reduction, and higher profit directly. Lifting the recent restrictions on academic freedom and the need to revise the present penal and labor codes are other urgent concerns of the Solidarity leaders. Tadeusz Kowalik, an economist and former Solidarity adviser, told me, “I can list ten areas of Polish society which cry out for immediate action. And they represent only a fraction of the total.” Above all, the Solidarity leaders feel that they must create fakty dokonane (“accomplished facts”): concrete improvements the government would find difficult to ignore, and, they hope, difficult to suppress.


In effect, then, Solidarity’s response to the General goes as follows: “We are willing to participate in a joint effort to put the country back on its feet. Our list is long, but we recognize that the most urgent and immediate task is economic and ecological improvement. We are prepared to help directly as well as by encouraging the formation of other independent organizations, whether or not they are affiliated with us. But you cannot ignore us. We are here to stay.”

No matter how reasonable and admirable this may sound, what grounds are there for believing that Jaruzelski and his ekipa would ever be prepared to collaborate with an organization—in whatever guise—they have done their best to destroy? Is Solidarity again deluding itself by overestimating both its potential strength (including that of the country’s “silent majority”) and the weight of the economic crisis it believes will impel the regime to undertake measures it has heretofore abjured? Even if Jaruzelski is indeed inclined to revive the economic reform program of 1982, why should he be any more likely to defy its enemies in the bureaucracy with the help of Solidarity and its allies? He has so far been unwilling to do so with the help of the Party apparatus he presumably controls.

Jaruzelski, too, surely must know the political price of, say, giving full legal powers to the workers’ self-management councils. The Solidarity leaders told me that they want Western banks and other lenders to insist that the way credits are spent be subject to “some form of social control.” This, I was told, is not a “political” but an “economic” demand. But is it? Not long ago the Church broke off negotiations with the government over its “Agricultural Foundation,” which was supposed to strengthen private farms with money supplied from Church bodies abroad. The government apparently refused to accept the Church’s entirely reasonable view that since it was providing the money, it should also be in charge of distributing it. In the eyes of the government, “social control” amounts to political control. This was clearly demonstrated in the fall of 1981, when Solidarity’s proposed “Council of Social Control” was rejected outright. It is difficult to see why this attitude should be any different now.

When I voiced such doubts to my Polish friends, the more pessimistic among them agreed that the prospects were indeed dim, but felt that even the smallest chance to liberalize Polish society must not be squandered. Even the more optimistic ones made it clear that direct negotiations between the regime and Solidarity are not about to take place; nor does there seem much prospect of re-legalizing the union.

Still, some of the more optimistic leaders, such as Geremek, feel there may now be room for maneuver. Solidarity is no longer a threat to Jaruzelski, nor is his government as weak or as beleaguered as it was in 1981. The government might be willing to meet and negotiate with representatives of other independent organizations if they emerge—a new writers’ union, perhaps, or associations of professionals; and since current legislation provides for “union pluralism,” a new nationwide union, under a new name, also cannot be ruled out. The regime has succeeded in crippling Solidarity, and in flaunting its power, but it has clearly failed to gain the confidence of Polish society. More than seven million workers still refuse to join the new unions the government has set up as an alternative to Solidarity. Intellectuals who collaborate with the regime are shunned. Jaruzelski, so the argument runs, is well aware of the prevailing malaise, and what matters most to him is not ideology but practical calculation. Sooner or later, therefore, he must reach out for popular support, especially since the economic reforms the country needs would mean that many workers would suffer. “It’s a matter of time. We must have patience.”

Whether patience will pay off remains the agonizing question for Solidarity. Thus far, the Solidarity councils continue to function, and none of their members has been arrested. Yet for how long? On October 24, the parliament passed a law leaving it to the discretion of local public prosecutors to decide which political cases are to be tried by the criminal courts (maximum sentence from three to ten years), and which by “misdemeanor tribunals” (up to three months in jail or a fine of 50,000 zlotys—the equivalent of two months’ average wages). In addition, according to the July 17 “Clemency Law,” all released political prisoners have until December 31 to report to the police and confess to having committed political offenses. Most Solidarity activists have refused to do so. Will they be seized when the deadline expires, or will Jaruzelski continue to close his eyes to their more and more visible presence?

The “Social Consultative Council,” finally established on December 6, also remains a subject of speculation. No one was particularly surprised to see among its fifty-six members the usual sprinkling of time servers, timid intellectuals, and two former Solidarity activists cordially despised by their colleagues (Jan Kulaj, the former chairman of Rural Solidarity who made a self-accusing statement after his release from internment in 1982, and Stanislaw Zawada, expelled in 1981 as the Solidarity chairman at the Lenin Steelworks in Nowa Huta on suspicion of working for the secret police). Nor did anyone expect, of course, to see any bona fide members of the union or Church representatives on the council. (The Church refused to participate officially, but raised no objections to the participation of Catholic laity.)

What was surprising was the inclusion of several prominent academics, such as Grzegorz Bialkowski, rector of Warsaw University, and Aleksander Gieysztor, president of the Polish Academy of Sciences, both of them free from any taint of “collaborationism.” (Another member, Andrzej Swiecinski, was forced to resign as chairman of the Warsaw Club of Catholic Intelligentsia—KIK—after announcing his decision to enter the council.) It was even more surprising that these men—and several others—agreed to join a council whose mandate and powers remain vague. None of the conditions specified by the opposition, above all the right for the council to shape its own agenda and to have regular access to the press, has been met by the government: everything is supposedly to be determined “in due time.” For the opposition, the council is, understandably, yet another of those bogus “national unity fronts” favored by the Polish and other Communist governments. Nevertheless, it is curious that Jaruzelski, instead of imposing his conditions on the council, is presumably leaving the door open for future negotiations. He must surely know in what contempt his previous “front organization,” PRON (Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth), created in 1982, is held by the population.25

Even more curious is the fate of a series of amendments to the legislation on economic reforms, submitted on October 23 to the parliament along with the new five-year plan. The bill met with a fierce show of opposition from the deputies, from the delegates to a conference on workers’ self-management held at the parliament between October 29 and 31, and from the press—so much so that the government on November 19 withdrew the bill “for reconsideration.” According to an article in the official economic newspaper Zycie Gospodarcze,26 the amendments represented “the most far-reaching curtailment of the autonomy of the enterprises and the powers of self-management”; they marked nothing less, a parliament deputy said, than a full return to “centralization.”27

What is the explanation for so defiant a stand by members of a notoriously docile body? The bill was prepared by the government’s Planning Commission and by branch ministers, whose opposition to economic reforms is a matter of record. What is not clear is whether the attacks were inspired by Jaruzelski. If they were, this would seem to suggest Jaruzelski himself is personally committed to reviving the reforms. Or the attacks may have been the result of the general ferment produced by the latest “peace offensive”—in which case they must cause the General and his ekipa considerable unease. What is clear is that Jaruzelski has so far not unveiled any bold program behind which the country, from the “silent majority” to the watchful opposition, could rally. And that Poland’s future continues to be grim and uncertain.


In the notes of my conversations in Poland, I find two recurrent phrases. One is kwadratura kola (squaring the circle); the other reads: “In Poland the impossible is always possible.” The first, a favorite among Poles, describes the country’s principal, and perennial, dilemma: the difficulty of applying solutions that nearly everyone agrees are correct to problems nearly everyone agrees require solutions. The second suggests that like some other Polish developments once viewed as unthinkable in a Communist state—agriculture under private ownership, a strong and independent Church, considerable cultural freedoms—the outcome envisioned by the opposition—economic recovery and, with it, the gradual growth of pluralism—may yet come true; the “liberalization” the Warsaw intellectuals talked of in the crowded apartment I visisted might one day become reality. Even the most dogged pessimist could not rule out that possibility. Even the most determined optimist knows, in his heart of hearts, that at best it could come about only after a long, grueling struggle.

December 18, 1986

This Issue

January 15, 1987