The Polish government's announcement yesterday of an intense two-day drive by police that turned up 145,000 martial law infringements is seen here as a warning and an admission: a warning not to take martial law too lightly and an admission that many Poles have been doing just that.
The report was accompanied on the evening news by a film clip of a young man stopped for driving after the 11 p.m. curfew. He was taken to a police station for questioning, found to be unemployed and suspected of gambling, then summarily sentenced to three months of sweeping streets without pay.
Most of the violations cited have been of this minor nature. The police spot checks have been enough to irritate, but there is much less of the terror of the days that immediately followed imposition of martial law Dec. 13.
Bulletins from underground groups linked to the suspended independent trade union Solidarity report continuing resistance, ranging from work stoppages to hostile graffiti, in 16 of Poland's 49 districts. In the face of the massive display of military force that Polish authorities have mustered against their own people, the demonstrations in Gdansk and Poznan within the past month are astounding shows of open defiance.
In this uncertain and uneasy situation, the security forces remain in their element and maintain a high profile. Police patrol the streets of the capital in teams of three, four or more, their long white clubs at their sides, in clear view against the blue-green of their uniforms.
Private cars are randomly halted and searched. An occasional armored vehicle can be seen parked at a main intersection, looming large amid the passing traffic of Polish Fiats.
Attempts at joking with the militiamen can prove risky. A woman carrying a shopping bag on a main street was stopped and asked what was in the bag. "What are you looking for?" she asked. "Leaflets," they said.
"Oh," she replied, "you don't have to worry then. I just have a bomb in the bag." Whereupon she was whisked into a car and hustled to the station. The woman ended up apologizing many times over for her flippancy.
Others have taken to expressing their disregard for the police more subtly. A Polish journalist, his car halted, was asked by a policeman for his identification papers. "Thank you," said the officer handing back the papers.
"Don't thank me, I confess to you sincerely," said the journalist, quoting part of a famous verse by Adam Mickiewicz, one of Poland's most revered poets. "You can finish the quote."
The policeman, looking bewildered, waved the journalist on, evidently not knowing that the verse continues: ". . . because I would have shattered a stick on your head had it not been for children's prayers."
Although Poland's police are still the butt of public derision, the army seems to have retained some of its respect as a symbol of Polish national identity despite being used as an instrument of national repression.
A troop parade through Warsaw's Victoria Square, marking the anniversary last month of the liberation of Warsaw on Jan. 17, 1945, by Polish and Russian troops, drew applause from a crowd of what appeared to be ordinary bystanders. Street conversations with Polish soldiers tend to involve more friendly bantering than do exchanges with the police.
But as much as Poland's Communist Party leadership may have been relieved to see the army called out last December to bring order to the country, one worry now among party members is that the security forces may be developing a taste for their governing roles and could resist stepping back when the time comes.
Of greater concern among party hard-liners and reformers alike is the difficulty of whipping Poland's splintered and demoralized Communist Party into freshly united action while the security services are running things.
A document prepared by the hard-line faction of the party complains about "harmful slogans like, 'The army defends the homeland the and party defends itself,' or 'The party operates in the shadow of the army.' "
The "passive role of the party in social-political life during martial law makes it impossible for the party to regain its credibility, trust and authority," the document said.
For Poland's leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the essential point is likely to be whether there is an alternative yet to military rule of the country.
The Communist Party, which Jaruzelski also heads, is only now in what appears to be the final stages of preparation for a Central Committee meeting that is expected to endorse Jaruzelski's policy of conciliation. The two minor parties that, with the Communists, make up Poland's government--the United Peasants' Party and the Democratic Party--have already done so. It is a measure of the disorientation among the Communists that their party's main policy-making body has waited so long since the declaration of martial law to meet.
Efforts reported recently by party hard-liners to capitalize on the military crackdown and launch a new assault on party reformers has made good theater. But some Western analysts say the infighting is being exaggerated for the West's benefit.
They note that such senior Communists as Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski and political scientist Jerzy Wiatr, both identified as proreform, have lately received as much or more space in the press to present their case as have Politburo member Albin Siwak and other renowned hard-liners.
By this sort of analysis, there might also be some meaning in the fact that Rakowski's weekly paper Polityka reappeared today for the first time since martial law was imposed but no new issue of Rzeczywistosc, the weekly favored by the party hard-liners, has been seen. (Polityka, it should be noted, has paid a price: a third of its editorial staff resigned rather than accept new censorship.)
To the extent that anything might be divined from public appearances, former party chief Stanislaw Kania--relegated to a mere Central Committee post after being replaced by Jaruzelski in October but still a target of the hardliners--was spotted at a meeting of the Polish national assembly Jan. 25 dressed sportily and laughing in conversation with Kazimierz Barcikowski, a Politburo member also hunted by the conservatives. Neither man had the look of an endangered species.
Except for a turbulent period in 1968, the hard-liners have never had control of Poland's Communist Party. They are a small fraction of the membership, drawing backing from the security police and from part of the armed forces command, a corps of Stalinists and current-generation firebrands.
It is unclear to what extent the Soviets really want them in charge. They might serve a useful purpose in reminding Jaruzelski and other senior Polish officials what the party's true religion is. But Poland's Communist hard-liners have themselves proved fiercely nationalistic in the past and wary of the Soviet Union's interference in Polish affairs, as Moscow no doubt recalls.
One Polish party member, who considers himself a moderate, when asked what has been holding up the party's resumption of power, said it has been "a case of the center against both wings." He sounded confident the center would eventually hold, if shifted perhaps slightly toward the conservatives.
All the same, Jaruzelski's announced commitment to a policy of conciliation appears far from fixed. It has not won the public sympathy and understanding that the authorities had evidently hoped. There has been stubborn resistance from interned Solidarity Chairman Lech Walesa to whatever terms the government might have been seeking and there are expressions of renewed concern from the Roman Catholic Church, which has tried to mediate.
Jaruzelski's ability to follow through on his pledge is questioned increasingly by church officials and by those senior Solidarity advisers who have received hints in contacts with the authorities of new union-government talks being considered.
So far, these sources say, there are nothing but words on which to hang their hopes. Meantime, the police actions continue.
"The regime still has a real interest, in both domestic and international terms, in getting something restarted with Solidarity," a Western diplomat said. "But the key question still is, on what basis. Just stopping the union has proved such a big job that it seems to have absorbed the full energies of this security-minded regime."