It is always to be cynical in looking at world affairs, especially at those where Soviet-power impends. But I have to say that after watching the commemoration at Gdansk on television the other evening, it was hard not to feel that the Poles may make it after all.
It was a lustrous event whose two defining aspects were caught, perfectly, in a CBS piece reported by Bert Quint. First there was the tableau of union, party and church leaders honoring workers who had been killed by army guns in a protest 10 years ago. Their grave Polish faces exuded an overwhelming sense of a shared fate.One did not have to hear, or later read, the words of national reconciliation and unity that they spoke in order to grasp their common purpose.
Then there was the unutterably dramatic reading of the names of the dead -- the core of a ceremony composed by the noted film director Andrzej Wajda ("Man of Marble"). An actor, Daniel Olbrychski, stood spotlighted in the otherwise darkened outdoor plaza where half a million Poles had gathered around the tall modernistic monument to the Gdansk dead. In the light he read a name, and from the darkness the crowd chanted after each name "He remains among us" -- words recalling both a religious litany and the labor solidarity of "Joe Hill." There was the same intensity of emotion and historic occasion that one could see when Anwar Sadat alighted at Jerusalem and Willy Brandt knelt at Auschwitz.
As the world's eye, television embarrasses those with something to hide. But here it was invited in by Warsaw authorities eager to show that they have nothing to hide. They had three tings to demonstrate: that they could manage a huge public meeting on the explosive theme of homage to Polish victims of Moscow imposed communist rule; that by joining the meeting and identifying themselves with a truly popular national renewal, they could profit politically; that they could do all of this without losing control.
Some large part of the electricity running in Gdansk on Tuesday arose from the prospect that there would be trouble, perhaps violence. Either hotheads or provocateurs (including perhaps Soviet provocateurs) would light a fire, or an emotionally aroused crowd would surrender to romanticism, the Polish disease. But, thankfully, none of this happened. Poland (and perhaps the KGB) passed a symbolic test.
Watching on TV, I had the feeling for the first time since the independent workers' movement flowered last summer that Soviet intervention was not an inevitable thing.
The reason does not lie in any thought that the Kremlin has developed secret favor for Lech Walesa -- that is inconceivable -- or that it shrinks from paying the large costs of an intervention -- there is every reason to believe it will pay whatever the bill, if it concludes there is no alternative way to keep Poland within bounds. The reason is, I think, that the Poles are working with the utmost seriousness to show Moscow they are staying within bounds.
The two crucial elements are to hold a place (call it a "leading role," if you wish) for the Communist Party, and to get the country back to work.
It will take self-discipline, which the Poles showed at Gdansk. It will also take mutual tolerance, a talent for pluralism, which the Poles also showed at Gdansk. Fortunately, though they have lived for 35 years under Moscow's heel, the Poles have a historical memory and a cultural base that have ensured preservation of this last quality.
But another quality was evident at Gdansk, one suggested by Lech Walesa's powerful evocation of Polish nationalism: "I call on Poles to take full responsibility for the fate of our country."
There was, superficially, a romantic note in that appeal, as though Poles could, by wit and will actually assume full responsibility for their country and somehow evade the menace of Soviet power. But the true meaning may have been exactly the opposite.
Lech Walesa was saying, if I caught him correctly, something much more subtle and rare. In declaring that Poles would "take full responsibility for the fate of our country," he was saying that Poles would act within the inescapable limits of circumstances, even while trying to expand those limits; that Poles would not push things so far that others, the Soviets, would take over responsibility for Poland. His message, in brief, could not have been less romantic.
There is a line between lacking the dignity to demand all that one is due and possessing the dignity to accept less than one is due. Walesa is on the right side of that line, and so perhaps is Poland.