POLAND'S capitalist creditors, including the United States, have just spent three days in Paris pondering how to savesocialism in Poland. It is a task at once ideologically confounding and politically essential. The alternative to providing relief, the creditors correctly figure, is to see thePolish economy drag down the Polish workers movement. For the creditors, there is also the matter of getting back their money, some $25 billion, and sparing the world financial system the shock of a Polish default.
Poland's problem is specific: Since its debt is not only big but short-term, it must borrow more than $10 billion this year (and a similar amount next year) to finance debt service and to roll over the third of the debt coming due. The official creditors' problem is more diffuse: They must determine how important Poland is in their overall financial as well as geographical scheme of things, and what particular measures would best servetheir interests. To do all this was, it seems, too much for Paris. The creditors merely agreed on certain short-term aid and said they'd meet again in April.
That's fine. Itis, after all, Poland's debt, which is to say that the Poles must make it possible -- not easy, but possible -- for their creditors to work with them. The Poles have a long way to go. The new prime minister, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, in a striking act of political levitation, has gotten the people to agree to forgo strikes for 90 days. That would take Poland through the Communist Party congress scheduled for . . . April. There the gut question must be tackled: whether Poland will embrace the deep painful reforms -- decenralization, incentives, market tests -- that alone might revive the economy, provide the only economic foundation on which Solidarity can be sustained and, in the process, restore Poland's creditworthiness.
Poland's economic problems are manageable and potentially soluble with reforms, a new Heritage Foundation study suggests. That is, if the Kremlin lets the Poles try. If the reformers can make the difficult political breakthrough they need at the party congress, the situation facing the West will be transformed. A breakthrough would signal party acceptance, and presumably Soviet acceptance, that Solidarity is here to stay. It would indicate party and Solidarity agreement on the basic deal that remains to be made between them: a fair measure of internal liberty and dignity in return for hard work and delayed economic rewards. Itwould enable the West to consider serious debt relief.
Relief without reform is throwing good money after bad, doingMoscow more of a favor than Warsaw. But with reform, relief becomes feasible. With relief, reform becomes feasible. It's up to the Poles.