Recently, while watching the evening news, my stomach knotted in revulsion at the sight of the members of the Polish parliament congratulating a jubilant and grinning Wojciech Jaruzelski after the vote to abolish the Solidarity trade union Oct. 8.
I had a flashback to my last visit to Poland just three weeks prior to the imposition of martial law in December 1981. A grinning Jaruzelski seemed hard to imagine then. He never appeared in any photographs or on TV in Poland with anything but tight lips, an expressionless face and eyes hiding behind dark glasses.
Being in Poland then, before martial law, I sensed that the Polish People's Republic was truly behaving in accordance with the letter of the law of a workers' state. The workers freely expressed their views, which were sometimes contrary to those of the government, and chose their own union leaders in untampered elections. The people were expressing their heretofore stifled freedom of speech -- and all this in a surprisingly peaceful and nonviolent way. Whether I happened to travel to some far-removed village or a provincial town, or just wander about the streets of the capital city, the feeling and mood were the same -- a euphoria that could only have been matched by that felt by Poles on the day World War II ended.
In less than a year, however, a lot has changed -- martial law, the appearance of sinister ZOMO forces with their truncheons and tear-gas cannisters, further economic backsliding, repeated street demonstrations and deaths, too. The final nail was finally hammered into the Polish workers' coffin on Oct. 8. No matter that the date was the eve of Pulaski Day, when Poles and Americans join in celebrating the heroic deeds of one of their common freedom-fighters of the past.
If Jaruzelski saw fit to call on the action of the Polish parliament to legalize his otherwise illegal actions, then it would appear that the constitution of the Polish People's Republic (PPR), ratified in 1953, is still the law of the land. Against this background, a look at this constitution is necessary.
In its preamble, the constitution defines the PPR as: "a republic of the working people (that) follows the finest progressive traditions of the Polish Nation . . . and gives effect to the liberation of ideas of the Polish working masses . . . . The present government of the people of Poland rests on the alliance of workers and working peasants. In this alliance, the leading role belongs to the workers, who are the leading class of society . . . ."
Cited here are some of the more revealing articles of the constitution:
Article 1. The PPR authority shall be vested in the working people of town and country.
Article 2. The working people shall wield State authority through representatives elected to the Diet (parliament).
Article 5, No. 2. The PPR shall ensure that citizens participate in government and shall promote various forms of self-government by the working people.
Article 8. The laws of the PPR shall express the interests and the will of the working people.
And there are others.
The recent events unfolding in Poland force a number of questions: For whom the law? For whom the state? Who are "the workers?" Why a constitution?
If Jaruzelski can call on Polish nationalism to get the Polish workers to swallow his line, just as Stalin invoked Mother Russia to rally Soviet citizens in their darkest hour of World War II, the continued resistance of the Polish workers shows that Solidarity stands for something more: for principle.
There wasn't much fanfare in the United States over Pulaski Day this year. There should have been more. And if all we can do from our safe and comfortable distance for those courageous Polish workers is to send cheers of encouragement, then let it be "hats off to them" in this, their dark hour.