Austria

The world turned upside down during my 10-day stay in Poland. So recently a nation exhilarated by its heady brew of increasing union power, Poland is now grim.

There is no fervor there anymore, only determination. People believe they are right, but there is little of the sense that right makes might. Being right may not stop a tank.

The Poles I encountered are not particularly emotive. They do not denounce the government loudly and excitedly, but quietly and firmly.

At a strike meeting in Cieszyn last week following the declaration of martial law, the workers listened quietly. But when the vote came, all but four of the 200 present raised their hands in favor of a strike.

IN THE STREETS, life goes on much as before, at least in southern cities such as Cieszyn and Krakow. Only workers in the factories and large businesses are on strike, so the small shops remain open and the buses and streetcars run.

Shortly before 6 a.m., when the curfew ends, people begin emerging from their houses. Wrapped in overcoats and clad in heavy boots, they shuffle toward the bus stops or form lines in front of the shops, waiting for them to open. They greet each other quietly, talk a bit and stamp their feet against the cold.

In their cozy homes, the Poles warm up and discuss the rumors they have heard about the strikes. Their tones are grave, concerned but matter-of-fact.

IN CIESZYN, a man waited for news about the new rule in Poland. But the news was not good.

His stomach tightened. His hands clenched. He stared fixedly, angrily at the television set.

Seven workers were killed in nearby Katowice, the announcer said. They resisted when the militia stormed a mine that strikers were occupying. The militiamen fired only to protect themselves from the violent workers, the announcer reported.

"They are lies," the man said. He paused and reflected sadly, "We made so much progress. And now it all ends, like that."

Life in Poland is like that now. Vignettes of anguish, anger and anxiety. Worries about the future. And overwhelming sadness that the gains made by Solidarity will be replaced by a repression harsher than ever.

AT THE LENIN steel plant near Krakow -- an enormous complex employing 40,000 workers -- a strike was declared almost immediately after martial law was announced. Government forces set up roadblocks and guarded the front gates of the complex, but the fence around it was unguarded.

When I approached the fence with an American friend, the strikers demanded to see my passport as proof I was not a spy. Then I was invited to climb over the fence and meet with their leaders.

Inside the headquarters, the local Solidarity chairman, Mieczyslaw Gil, was pacing about, directing operations like a general in the field.

He would answer a question and then listen to a query from someone who had burst in from the field. After barking out an order, he would turn to his questioner again.

Solidarity suffers without Lech Walesa, who is reportedly under house arrest. But there are many other capable -- if less well-known -- leaders like Gil. As one is arrested, another takes his place like clockwork.

THE POLISH customs officials were thorough in their searches at the Polish-Czechoslovak border as I left the country last week on the nightly train to Vienna. The agent reacted sternly when he found Solidarity publications in my luggage. He summoned his superior.

"This is war," the superior told me, patting his pistol for emphasis. He confiscated the Solidarity material and told me that I would never be permitted to return to Poland.