MY PARENTS WERE born and married in Austria, lived and procreated in Poland, were killed in Germany and were buried in an unmarked grave in the Soviet Union, all this without moving from the same house in the same street in the same city of Lvov (otherwise known as Lviv, Lemberg, etc.)
I was born in that house in capitalist Poland, and became a political refugee for the first time at the age of 17, fleeing from Lvov to Romania. I returned to a communist Poland, by which time Lvov had been annexed into the Soviet Ukraine, and in 1969, 30 years later, I became a political refugee once again, this time in Atlantic Belgium with my new family.
These experiences have inspired in me a profound mistrust of all ideological attempts to change the destiny of humanity. That mistrust has been reinforced during the past year by the reaction in my new world -- the West -- to the historic events in Poland. A year after the military coup that installed a martial law regime in Warsaw, it is obvious that the West has not been willing or able to accept the double challenge -- moral and political -- posed by the Polish events.
Of course the western world could agree quickly in principle. NATO and the Common Market could unequivocally denounce the military putsh in Warsaw. But when it came to finding practical ways to express western outrage, deep divisions were immediately apparent.
It was never realistic to think that the West could take concrete measures against those in Warsaw and Moscow responsible for the coup without doing some harm to Western interests as well, but this is what most politicians in the West seemed to want.
To be fair, the Polish coup came at the worst possible moment. When it occurred, the West was split by economic crises, internal disputes within the European Community and tensions between America and West Europe brought on by the "Reagan syndrome," which made the Europeans worry that the new administration's crusades would disturb the non-ideological approach characteristic of their diplomacy towards the Soviet Union. The best the western countries could do was band together in vigilance against the eventuality of Soviet intervention in Poland. That is why a large armada of AWACs planes and spy-ships was monitoring each movement of every Soviet tank. But no one, in spite of warnings from lucid observers (I immodestly put myself in that category), accepted the possibility of a Polish military coup.
When that coup came, each western country had more or less credible reasons for refusing to take action or to participate in a collective policy of sanctions against the U.S.S.R.
Defending the French gas deal signed with the U.S.S.R. soon after the coup in Warsaw, French Prime Minister Andre Mauroy offered this historic justification: "One must not add to the Polish drama the sufferings of the gas consumers in France."
The socialist Greek premier, Andreas Papandreou, has so easily forgotten his own colonels that he has not only refused to join the European Community even in a purely verbal demonstration of indignation, but accepted the dubious honor of being the first Western leader to chat amicably with Gen. Jaruzelski in Moscow during Leonid Brezhnev's funeral.
Bonn simply refused to put its Ostopolitik on the line. Too much was at risk: family links with 20 million Germans living behind the wall; the hostages who live in West Berlin; 300,000 jobs created by trade with the East; and billions of marks -- one-third of Poland's huge debt is owed to West Germany.
So at the moment when the coup was staged, Helmut Schmidt, then still the West German chancellor, refused to leave the dacha of Erich Honecker, his East German counterpart, where he happened to be on an official visit the night of Dec. 13, 1981. Schmidt's explanation of his decision to stay with Honecher may be morally ambiguous, but remains absolutely convincing in terms of realpolitik.
After a cordial breakfast with Honecker and a trip to the beautiful cathedral in the town of Gustrow, Schmidt explained that there was no reason to let relations between the two German states deteriorate because of the events in a third country.
President Reagan, whom ordinary Poles regards as the last if not the only Western leader sincerely committed to their fate, also forgot the Polish context when first he decided to increase the sales of grain to the Soviet Union, and then when he lifted the pipeline embargo.
Like the West German rationale, Reagan's was perfectly logical in financial, electoral and diplomatic terms, but its rhetoric was disastrous, precisely in the Polish moral dimension. Reagan's rationalizations -- that grain embargos should not be used for diplomatic purposes, and that technology transfer in the pipeline deal was somehow more helpful to the Soviets than American grain -- both suit Reagan's political needs, but not reality.
To put it bluntly, the Polish nation is today the only nation that supports Western economic sanctions against itself.
Neither the Americans nor the Europeans have ever elaborated a clear, long-term strategy toward the Soviet Union regarding the Polish case in particular or East Europe in general.
Western statesmen could never agree that it was really desirable to "improve" the situation that emerged from World War II. That situation has proved comfortable for the West: There has been no war in Europe since 1945, and no direct confrontation between the superpowers. The price for this peace has been paid by the Eastern Europeans, doomed to remain on the dark side of a divided European continent.
A year after Jaruzelski's coup, three revealing West European descriptions of events in Poland remain valid. The first came from Claude Cheysson, France's foreign minister,,who observed on the day of the coup: "It is a Polish affair that must be resolved by the Poles. We do not see for the moment any trace of a threat of foreign intervention. Of course, we are not going to react."
The second came from Joseph Luns, the secretary-general of NATO, who said: "NATO was not created to protect Poland from its own allies."
The third was Chancellor Schmidt's. Discussing Polish attempts to gain more freedom, Schmidt declared (as Brezhnev once did and Andropov does): "Any attempt to undermine Yalta would be equivalent to a third world war." It is not a coincidence that this agonizing perception of Yalta is shared by the two nations that started World War II -- the two nations which, on Sept. 17, 1939, divided Poland for the fourth time in its history.
The Poles, who were not consulted at Yalta in 1945, despite the fact that they paid a high price in the war and ended up on the winning side, finally organized their own consultation, 35 years late. It was conducted between August 1980 and December 1981. Those months of Solidarity will not bring to an end Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. But they have great moral significance. They were a necessary episode in the Polish struggle for independence.
If the West has failed to elaborate a long- term strategy, it has not lacked for words -- or for deeds that contradict them. On the one hand the West declared in moral outrage that there could be no return to business as usual with the East. On the other hand the West reached a record level of cooperation with the East after Poland.
In 1982, the year of the "unacceptable'" Soviet-sponsored military dictatorship in Poland, Soviet imports from the West (principally linked to pipeline and grain deliveries) jumped 16 percent. Trade between the Soviet Union and the West was the most dynamic element in the depressed trade outlook in the industrialized world.
This is a moral scandal that is, understandibly, quite difficult to confess. Therefore, some Western politicians have fallen back on the old standby of substituting rhetoric for reality.
It is a myth that the experiuence of the 16 months of Solidarity can be eradicated by a miitary coup, by the vote of a puppet parliament or by a year of repression. Obviously Solidarity and the Polish people have lost a battle. But after 37 years in power the Communist Party lost virtually all that remained of the little legitimacy it may have had. It is finished as a Polish institution.
It is a myth that Gen. Jaruzelski, like a Shakespearian hero, had to chose between a Soviet invasion or a "Polish" one, and therefor he is a Polish patriot who can one day succed in normalizing the country. The Poles know that Jaruzelski was never their loyal partner. They know that when Jaruzelski met Primate Glemp and Lech Walesa at the famous "summit meeting for national entente" in October, 1981, in Warsaw, the date for the putsch had already been set. For Poles Jaruzelski is typical of the leadership caste throughout the Soviet bloc. For them Jaruzelski is as Polish in 1982 as Petain was French in 1940.
The church is playing one of the games to which only it has held the key for 20 centuries. In negotiating with the junta the package deal whereby the announcement of the Pope's visit and the liberation of Walesa constitute the most spectacular features, Primate Glemp took serious risks. He conferred some form of legitimacy on the junta and agreed to participate in the "normalization" it now pursues, as indicated by his subsequent request to Polish actors to end their boycott of official radio and TV.
By announcing the junta's willingness to allow another visit to Poland by the Pope next year just a few hours before the strike scheduled for Nov. 10, and by bringing Walesa back to his family a month before the demonstrations scheduled to mark the first anniversary of the military coup, Glemp minimized the chances of any new workers protest. He also undermined Solidarity's underground leadership, whose credibility and autonomy would have been tested by the November and December demonstrations.
Many Poles fear that the primate has agreed to additional concessions, perhaps including church support for a new trade union to be formed under communist sponsorship, or church willingness to lobby in the West for an end to the remaining sanctions on Poland. Whether or not these are in the offing, the timing of Glemp's recent gestures produced climate of anger and bitterness among the population and even within the clergy.
It must be noted that Glemp made his deal while Polish prisons were still filled with Solidarity's militants. Just as Walesa left his prison, his historic companion, Wladislaw Frasyniuk from Wroclaw was condemned to six years in jail, and another, Anna Walentynowicz from Gdansk, has been sent to a psychiatric "hospital." The leaders of KOR, the group of intellectuals that included some of Solidarity's principal advisors, are awaiting their trial in a Warsaw prison.
But the church was not alone in running serious risks. While -- thanks to the church -- Gen. Jaruzelski has managed to enforce a very fragile and temporary peace over Poland, he knows that his regime is so unpopular that a mere spark could provoke an explosion. To avoid this, he gambled by announcing the Pope's visit and freeing Walesa and some of his companions. The short-term palliatives may haunt the general eventually.
The Pope's forthcoming visit has given Poles a new reason to unite and a new source of strength. In 1979, when John Paul II was in Warsaw, the Polish people's spontaneous reaction turned out to be a plebiscite against the communist system. That visit inspired the foundation of Solidarity and the rebirth of national identity and dignity.
The general, of course, can still cancel the Pope's visit under any pretext whatsoever. But then he would risk a violent reaction from the public. Anddthis will no longer be strictly a Polish affair.
Obviously, this scenario could not have been written just by Glemp and Jaruzelski. In fact it had at least four authors. The Pope must have agreed to the announcement of his second visit to Poland under such unusual circumstances. At the same time, a visit to Poland by the Pope described in the Soviet- bloc press as an "instigator of the destabilization" or the liberation of Walesa had to be approved in the Kremlin.
Today a new myth is in circulation -- the proposition that a year of martial law followed by its replacement with a less onerous "state of emergency" can bring stability to Poland and increased security to Europe. The fact is that during an entire year, the police and the army were unable to eliminate the embarassing spectre of "Red Bonapartism" by putting civilian communists back in control, if only for the sake of apperances. This indicates how the regime has decomposed, and how great is the danger of popular explosion.
It is also a myth that the crisis in Poland is just a crisis for the Warsaw Pact that need not greatly concern the West. In fact each crisis within the Eastern Bloc weakens it. Each popular uprising amounts to an attempt by the people most directly involved to improve our chances in the global struggle between the democratic and totalitarian systems. And these attempts are vastly more efficient than a cruise, Pershing or even an MX missile could ever be.
Poles will not accept the general's regime, especially after tasting freedom for 16 months with Solidarity. Everything that Solidarity accomplished was unique in Polish postwar history, but before Solidarity, Poles had brought down communist regimes on four different occasions. They will do it again.
And then the West will face once again the same challenge. The question is now whether the West will once again put forward the spectacle of egoism, disunity, confusion and inability to react which characterized its attitude and its policy during the 365 days of military rule in Poland.
Antoni Slonimski, poet, writer and essayist, one of the most brilliant Polish and European intellectuals of this century, gave this advice to some young people who got into trouble with the authorities: "When I do not know how to behave, I try to behave like an honest man."
In the case of Poland, the West did not behave like an honest man. Let us hope that the free world will behave more honestly when it faces the next crisis.
It will come soon -- and this is not a myth.