Poland's official news media, in an apparently coordinated campaign against the independent trade union federation Solidarity, today gave prominent coverage to a bitterly worded Kremlin statement calling for decisive measures to counteract "a rising tide of anti-Sovietism" in Poland.
The Soviet protest was splashed across the front pages of all Warsaw newspapers along with a Polish government statement pledging to defend socialism in Poland. Measured in propaganda terms, it amounted to the strongest attack yet on Solidarity, which is preparing for the second stage of its national congress next week.
The clear implication of the reports was that, with Moscow's active support and encouragement, the Polish authorities are attempting to define the permissible limits of Solidarity's activity. Both Soviet and Polish leaders evidently fear that, unless the 9.5 million-member union is curbed now, there is a real chance of the Communist Party losing power in Poland.
What still remains to be seen, however, is how the Polish party intends to move from words to action. While the Soviet Union obviously is prepared to provide vigorous backing for any firm measures taken by the Warsaw leadership, there is still no evidence that it is yet prepared to take the definitive step of invading Poland.
Among Solidarity officials, there are differing interpretations of Soviet intentions. Some regard the latest protest, which was delivered in the name of both the Soviet government and Communist Party, as a calculated gesture primarily intended to stiffen the resolve of Polish leaders who have been arguing for a stronger line.
Others believe that the Soviets are in a dangerous and unpredictable frame of mind and that the statement reflected real anger at decisions taken during the first stage of Solidarity's congress. The meeting sent a message supporting independent trade unionists in Eastern Europe, a gesture described by the Kremlin as "an appalling provocation."
One of Solidarity's leading advisers, Bronislaw Geremek, cautioned today against attempting to predict how the Soviet Union would behave. In comments reported in a Solidarity news bulletin, he said: "We tend to underestimate the authorities' will to resist. They still have means of force at their disposal."
The full text of the Soviet protest, as published today, contained even harsher phrases than the partial extracts released last night--apparently prematurely--by the Russian-language service of the Polish news agency PAP. The statement said that the "scale and intensity of the anti-Soviet campaign in Poland" was reminiscent of "the anti-Soviet hysteria in some imperialist countries."
The protest reminded Poles that alliance with the Soviet Union was incorporated into the Polish constitution. It even accused the Polish authorities of effectively tolerating the anti-Sovietism by allowing meetings to be held on state premises and providing access to the mass media for opponents of socialism.
After referring to "the mounting sense of indignation" among the Soviet people, the statement concluded: "We expect the Communist Party leadership and government of People's Poland to take immediately decisive and radical measures to stop this evil anti-Soviet propaganda and actions hostile to the Soviet Union."
In Washington, a State Department spokesman called the Soviet message "interference in Poland's internal affairs." Spokesman Alan Romberg added: "We cannot accept the assertion that the Soviet Union for any reason has the right to dictate the policies of the Polish government."
The protest was delivered to the Polish leaders by Soviet Ambassador Boris Aristov, apparently at the end of last week. The delay in publication could mean either that the Polish authorities were taken by surprise and could not decide how to react or that they were waiting for the most effective moment to release the document.
Support for the second theory is provided by the well-coordinated propaganda campaign now under way against Solidarity. Communist Party and radio and television bulletins continue to carry daily attacks on the union with the apparent aim of undermining its popular support.
Some political analysts here believe that events may come to a head before the second stage of the Solidarity congress, which opens in Gdansk next Saturday. A session of parliament has been set for Thursday and Friday, and it is possible that it may debate a new law allowing the government to withdraw recognition of a trade union. Such a clause is unacceptable to Solidarity and could spark a major confrontation.
There have been some suggestions, both in Moscow and in Warsaw, that the authorities would like to prevent the second stage of the congress from taking place. It is difficult, however, to see how this could be done unless there is massive political repression.
Such repression would amount to a major change of political direction and, despite the toughness of the latest Polish and Soviet statements, it is doubtful whether this moment has yet been reached. A more likely course of action, at least in the short term, is the use of administrative and legal measures to push the union onto the defensive.
If this fails to produce the desired effect then more radical measures may be considered, including the use of force.
A possibly significant commentary in the official Communist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu today said nobody was attempting to destroy Solidarity. As a union, it had a lasting place in Polish society, but as a force for political opposition, it would not be tolerated.
The paper once again endorsed the "line of agreement" adopted by the Communist Party following workers' strikes last year under which the government pledged to solve all conflicts by negotiation rather than by force.