Unlike American presidents, incoming Polish prime ministers are not granted a "honeymoon." But, by the standards of the troubled times, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski can derive some satisfaction from his first day in what has become one of the world's most difficult jobs.
After weeks of industrial unrest and political uncertainly, some progress was reported on at least two fronts: with striking students in the central city of Lodz and workers in the southwestern province of Jelenia Gora. Mine employees in the south were still threatening a strike over working Saturdays, but the danger of a major confrontation with 3.5 million peasants appeared to have receded -- at least for the time being.
While Jaruzelski, a career Army officer who fought alongside Soviet troops in World War II, considered appointments to his Cabinet, the center of Warsaw was taken over for the day by thousands of peasants. They had come to the capital to lobby the Supreme Court on legal registration for a rural branch of the independent union Solidarity.
It was an emotional scene similar to many Poland has witnessed over the last six months -- and a reflection of the tactic of passive resitance that Gen. Jaruzelski will have to tackle once his appointment as prime minister is formally confirmed by parliament. A great phalanx of peasants from all over the country -- good humored, patient, but also quite determined to right their grievances -- stood in the freezing outside the court.
Pointing at the court's huge granite facade, one ruddy-faced peasant remarked: "If they don't agree to register our union, a million of us will come back here and dismantle that building brick by brick."
In the event -- after four hours of singing, praying and simply waiting -- the peasants were told that they did not have the right to form independent unions. Instead, Rural Solidarity could apply for registration as "an association," a process that could take several months more.
This Solomon-like decision (the Communist authorities had flatly ruled out an independent farmers' union) was described by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa as "a draw." He appealed for "peace, calm and reason," adding that farmers and workers would stick together and fight for each other.
The crowd moved off through the streets of Warsaw in a demonstration that was part political, part religious and part nationalistic. Policemen held up traffic as the demonstrators passed, carring Solidarity banners and cross -- rugged sheep farmers from southern Poland, village priests in their flowing cassocks, mountaineers in white woolen britches and elaborately decorated sheepskin coats.
When the hour struck, a new honor guard of three soldiers goose-stepped into the mass of peasants surrounding the monument. Silently the crowd parted and there shouts of "Long live the Polish Army." Tears came to the eyes of one of the soldier, perhaps the son of a peasant himself, as the Polish national anthem welled up from all sides.
Earlier, the Supreme Court's hearing had to be suspended twice because of the deafening singing by the peasants outside the building. At one point, the the judge's voice was almost drowned out by the slow, haunting chant of "Oh God Who Protects Poland," a mournful yet finally triumphant religious anthem.
On the pleadings of the peasants' leaders, the crowd quieted down and began saying prayers.
There was little reaction at the demonstration to the appointment of a new prime minister. One peasant remarked: "We've lost confidence in all them, that's the problem. It's as though they're playing a game of musical chairs."
Peasant leaders recalled attending negotiations with Jaruzelski's predecessor, Jozef Pinkowski. They said that, at one point during the talks, he had begun reading a newspaper.
"That shows how much he cared about us. Well, he'll have plenty of time to read his newspapers now," one commented.