11 FEBRUARY 1989, Page 13


Anne Applebaum on the Warsaw government's latest attempt to square Solidarity

Warsaw THE Sunday night edition of the Polish television news featured a special advance report on the forthcoming 'round table' negotiations between the banned Solidar- ity trade union and the Polish government authorities. Following a bird's-eye shot of the doughnut-shaped, 28-foot diameter Pinewood table itself, the camera panned slowly in close-ups of the 56 empty seats, and the chandelier hanging above. The announcer remained silent, allowing only solemn, marching band music to accom- pany the film. No other comment was Provided, and indeed very few comments over the past few weeks ptepared Polish society for the start of the talks on Mon- day, which were, in the words of one Solidarity activist, a 'made-for-television event'.

All nine opening speeches were televised in full on Monday night, as was the crowd outside the Palace of the Council of Minis- ters (the site of the negotiations) shouting 'Solidarnosc!' and 'Down with commun- ists'. This same crowd turned briefly into a mob when the Solidarity delegation drove UP, 13 minutes late, in a red minibus. Under a column of umbrellas, the laughing delegates shoved their way towards the iron gates of the palace through the chant- ing demonstrators.

The government participants had thoughtfully arrived earlier. Representa- tives of the Communist Party, of the officially sanctioned government trade un- ions, of the officially. sanctioned 'Catholic delegation' (which is not officially sanc- tioned by the Catholic Church) and of the two officially sanctioned political opposi- tion parties: the United Peasants Party and the Democratic Party, who have been in existence since 1949, subordinated to the Party, were safely cloistered within the Palace long before the crowd looked as if it might become ugly.

Perhaps they feared the demonstrators might remember that eight years ago, some of these same party officials threw some of these same Solidarity leaders in jail, when Martial law ended Solidarity's 16 months of legal existence in 1980-81. Two and a half Years ago, at least four members of the Solidarity team were still in jail, General Czeslaw Kiszczak, who is among other things responsible for Po- land's internal secret police, underlined the leadership's change of heart before Mon- day's meeting by firmly shaking hands with every member of the Solidarity delegation as they walked through the door of the conference hall. Most remained express- ionless. Jacek Kuron, long singled out as an especially dangerous radical, lowered his head in a mock bow and said briskly, 'Jacek Kuron, pleased to meet you- General Kiszczak.'

For all the histrionics, no one questioned the historical significance of the meeting. The two sides (and despite the shape of the table, there are only two sides) have an overwhelming task in front of them: how to stave off the utter deterioration of Poland's economy, and how to prevent the disin- tegration of this first step, perhaps because re-legalisation is so distasteful to the au- thorities, that achieving it will serve as undeniable proof of their honest desire for change.

But the 'price' for re-legalisation is one which sounds odd to Western ears. Although it would seem counter-logical, the government's main goal is to persuade the opposition to participate, as hilly as possible, in newly devised, semi-free elec- tions. Although Solidarity is not a political party, it will be expected somehow to

You can only donate one, I says, but would he listen...'

support a list of candidates who are either competing for, or appointed to, 30-40 per cent of the seats in the Polish parliament. Some of these new MPs will eventually be expected to form part of a coalition gov- ernment. The point, clearly, is for the government thereby to gain a measure of domestic and international legitimacy, and to make Solidarity appear co-responsible for harsh economic reforms.

Fighting off this potential co-option, Solidarity leaders say they will not partici- pate unless their portion of the election at least is conducted democratically. Optim- ists, of which there are currently few in Poland, see these potential elections as a first step on the road towards total political pluralism. At its recent Ideological Confer- ence, the party encouraged this view by suggesting out loud that it might be willing to excise the 'leading role of the Party' from the Polish constitution. It might also be willing to create a Polish presidency. (When asked whether this post might be slated for General and Party Leader Wo- jciech Jaruzelski, one Central Committee member hastily replied, 'No, no, I would hate the thought of losing such a good boss'.

But pessimists note that lurking behind the fierce debate about the exact form of the new electoral law lie the vastly diffe- rent goals of the participants. The Polish officials think a measure of pluralism will stave off real democracy, and may be their last chance to save socialism. The Solidar- ity team think pluralism is their last chance to dismantle socialism peacefully. Revolu- tionary postures and slogans are appearing on both sides: splits into counter- accusatory radical and moderate factions, General Kiszczak's talk of creating Madisonian 'checks and balances' on leg- islative, judicial, and executive branches of the Polish government; Lech Walesa's decision to appoint a 'Citizens' Commit- tee'.

There are other issues at stake besides political and trade union pluralism. Some- how, Solidarity will have to set a limit on strikes without putting itself in the awk- ward position of fighting with its members. Somehow, it will have to organise itself as a trade union, and not let itself turn into an anti-Communist resistance force. Some- how, a mutually acceptable economic re- form programme will have to be created. This last problem, although the underlying raison detre of the round table, will prob- ably not be solved during the six-week period of negotiations. 'We all agree on what's wrong with the economy,' says one opposition economist, 'hut we can't agree on how to change it until the political means to do so are in place.'

Whether the round table is in the end successful, its short-term effects are already beginning to be felt: a few taboos have already fallen. A post-round table press conference given by Jerzy Urban, the odious government spokesman, was infil- trated by several scruffy reporters sporting the familiar red, squiggly `Solidarnosc' badges and calling themselves members of 'Lech Walesa's News Agency'. They were still not permitted, one of them told me, to give the precise name of their respective illegal publications. Nor were they told whether they would be allowed in until five minutes before the scheduled start. But he seemed to enjoy himself despite the discri- mination. A few minutes into the confer- ence, he grinned, raised his hand, and asked, `Mr Urban, are you glad to see us here again?'