Poland and the West

Xan Smiley

What should the West hope for in Poland – let us say, within the next decade? Should the maintenance of a balance of fear between East and West remain the target – at the expense of the freedom of Poland? Or can the twin goals of Polish emancipation and East-West peace be achieved together? Even among liberals sympathetic to the people of East Europe, there appears now to be a consensus, buttressed by an instinctive reaction against whatever line the current American Administration may take, that popular national movements towards democratic freedom in Eastern Europe are enemies of world peace. The corollary is that Solidarity is (was?) a particularly dangerous nuisance. ‘The good news is the crackdown in Poland,’ Ian Davidson wrote in the Financial Times. ‘General Jaruzelski’s intervention, however deplorable in many ways, nevertheless offers the last faint hope for the reform movement in Poland.’

At the same time it is often conceded that for real stability to be achieved, nations, especially those like Poland where nationalist fires burn so brightly, must consent to their governors. The head of Solidarity may have been chopped off, but the body will twitch for a long time, and may soon start kicking again. (‘The winter is for Jaruzelski; the spring will be ours,’ say the latest Solidarity slogans.) The General may decide that the body is more likely to be quiescent if reunited with the head. Yet the head refuses to be put back in place until the body, too, is given its old freedom of movement. Present result: paralysis.

If, however, Jaruzelski or his successors do manage to forge a rapprochement with Polish labour, so that it gradually regains its rights up to the level, say, of summer 1981, then the whole process will surely start again. Once again, Solidarity will argue that Poland can function effectively only with a wider measure of democracy and independence. Perhaps they are right: would not a stable, prosperous, contented Poland on the edge of the Soviet orbit (still within the Warsaw Pact, but ideologically and economically more of a mixture) be better for Russian security than a truculent, economically burdensome, politically repressed Poland? Optimistic gradualists argue that the USSR might come to see that it could be in its own interest to rewrite the Yalta Treaty, or at least to fulfil those of its provisions – namely, free and fair elections – that were so flagrantly abused in 1947. Such a loosening of the tie between the USSR and its most difficult satellite would be to everyone’s advantage, the argument runs. But would the Russians ever see it this way? That is the real question for the West.

The three basic demands of the EEC, the USA and the Vatican – the lifting of martial law; the release of detainees; the resumption of dialogue between the Government, the Church and Solidarity – are vague and short-term. Of course, the West wishes East-West stability to be maintained; of course, the West wants the Polish economy to recover enough for its billions of dollars to be paid back; but, with idealistic sights set at their lowest, it must be assumed that, for those two targets to be met, the Poles need to achieve a measure of economic reform which can be effected only by an accompanying degree of political reform. Beyond that, questions of Poland’s evolution into a truer democracy or of its place as a Soviet satellite can temporarily, for the sake of finding a lowest common denominator in the formulation of Western policy, be discarded.

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