Poland's independent Solidarity trade union successfully shut down virtually all daily newspapers today in a protest of the government's exclusive control over the nation's media.
The government, in a largely symbolic move, used the armed forces to print and distribute a limited number of copies of the official daily newspapers of the Polish Communist Party and of the Polish armed forces.
In Warsaw, however, the strike was a total success. There were no newspapers to be seen anywhere in the city. Some newsstands displaying the red-and-white Solidarity signs were closed, while others sold weekly newspapers and magazines. The newsstand in front of the party daily Trybuna Ludu was shut.
By noon, even the government Interpress agency had not been able to obtain a single copy of Trybuna Ludu for working foreign press.
However, the newspaper, which appeared on two pages of glossy, high-quality paper, was obtained by foreign journalists from editors in the Trybuna Ludu's editorial offices. The armed forces daily Zolniersc Wolnosci was available at a newsstand in the editorial offices, where it was hidden under the counter.
There were no reliable reports as to how many copies of the two papers actually were printed at the defense ministry printing plant. Solidarity spokesmen said that about 10,000 copies of Trybuna Ludu were printed. The paper's usual daily circulation is just under 900,000. Editors at the two papers refused to discuss the press run or to disclose how the paper was shipped.
The party paper, in a note "to our readers" on its front page, vowed to continue publishing but refrained from attacking Solidarity. The Army daily, on the other hand, assailed the strike as a "blind blow" against Polish society that would only increase tensions in the country.
The protest was reported to have been equally effective in Krakow, Lodz, Poznan, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Bialostok, Olstyn and other large cities.
But most printers in three cities, Katowice, Bydgoszcz and Opole, refused to join the two-day protest. In the Baltic port city of Szczeczin, authorities managed to print 1,000 copies of the local newspaper in leaflet form.
It was unclear whether a public boycott had been successful in the three cities where newspapers were printed. Solidarity reported that the papers had been distributed by Army trucks.
In Bydgoszcz, police forces were deployed around the main printing facilities, where non-Solidarity printers accounted for more than 90 percent of the work force. Union activists, using bullhorns, took to the streets and factories to urge workers against buying the local paper.
Last night in Krakow, four union activists were detained by police as they were putting up posters urging people not not to buy any newspapers today and Thursday.
In another incident, three persons were arrested in the eastern city of Chelm for putting up posters protesting food shortages. The local Solidarity chapter immediately shut down two factories and threatened an indefinite strike to obtain their release.
In Warsaw, the authorities attempted to print one government-controlled daily at a small printing plant near the Central Committee's building late Tuesday night. But after about 5,000 copies had been printed, Solidarity members occupied the plant and halted its operation.
Sources at the paper Zycie Warsawy said editors had entered into negotiations with Solidarity members and offered to print a communique on the strike demands, the Associated Press reported. Editors left the talks after Solidarity demanded that the paper print a special edition excluding the official news agency.
By and large, the absence of daily newspapers does not appear to have produced any new public tensions in a country facing a deepening economic crisis. The government has extended its radio and television news programs, offering a major new broadcast on television as early as 10 in the morning.
There are clear indications that the authorities have chosen to avoid confrontation over the press strike because they see Solidarity as beginning to lose some popular support.
This view was expressed today by Miroslaw Milewski, Politburo member in charge of internal security, who asserted that "the growing strength of the party" following its congress recently "has unnerved our opponents." He made the statement in an interview published in today's Trybuna Ludu.