Scenes of a government campaigning for acceptance:
A conference of 2,300 factory representatives, half of them said not to be Communist Party members, is called in Warsaw to muster support for an unpopular austerity program. Speeches from the floor sound programmed, but during breaks, workers buttonhole government ministers in hallways for a more spontaneous airing of grievances, snippets of which get televised nationally.
* A Solidarity leader from Wroclaw, Andrzej Konarski, comes out of hiding after more than 15 months and is hustled by police to Warsaw for a friendly televised meeting with Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak, who a few days earlier had appealed to underground activists to surface.
* On Easter weekend, a major Warsaw newspaper devotes a quarter of its front page to a theological essay about the cross--an exceptional show of deference to Christianity by an official paper in this Communist-ruled capital.
The impression is one of flexible government and nascent social dialogue, and these developments last week highlight a considerable shift from the tanks-and-tear-gas tactics of martial law last year.
But mixed with such gestures of leniency and concession are continued acts of repression and officially dictated terms of agreement on issues. For many in Poland, the stick still stands taller than the carrot.
As this Soviet Bloc country enters an uneasy spring, nervous with expectation over the planned June visit of Polish-born Pope John Paul II, a critical phase of political maneuvering begins.
Although ostensibly a religious pilgrimage, the papal visit presents a political pivot around which opposition groups and Poland's large Roman Catholic Church press demands for less government oppression. The Communist authorities, just by allowing the visit, see a chance to win points with the church, society and world opinion.
So far, the opposition has defined its wants more clearly than the regime has its intentions. Western governments watch both sides for signs of a new social agreement emerging that would lead to the lifting of economic sanctions.
Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, questioned by tax authorities and attacked in the Polish press, now calls for "harder tactics" against the government, but he lacks a specific action program.
The leading underground group--the five-member provisional coordinating committee of Solidarity--urges peaceful demonstrations in May to mark national anniversaries but wants nothing that could force cancellation of the papal trip.
The church seeks an amnesty for political prisoners. The numbers involved are not large. Of 1,500 convicted of political crimes, about half have gotten suspended sentences and several hundred others are out of jail on six-month furloughs, according to a church source. That leaves "a few hundred" actually confined for political reasons.
The significance of an amnesty, said the church source, would be as "a sign of a new attitude toward society" by the government of Wojciech Jaruzelski.
But while Polish society thinks politics, the government, absorbed by the gargantuan task of reviving industrial production, talks economics. When the official discussion does take note of critics of the regime, it produces harsh comments such as this one by Jaruzelski to a workers' conference last week:
"It is a peculiar type of patriotism which praises passivity or outright harm to one's own state but allows for, or even appreciates, actual collaboration with foreign centers. Let us say point-blank: there is often only one step that separates posturing for the opposition from standing on the verge of treason."
Such extreme blasts may seem overdone in view of the relatively small crowds drawn to recent demonstrations in Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Kalisz. The 13th of each month--the date on which martial law was declared in December 1981--remains a traditional day of mourning. But the rallying cry is considerably muted.
"I would say 50,000 to 100,000 people would risk something now," said a former leader of Solidarity, which once boasted 10 million members. "The rest have become afraid to stick their necks out. We'd first have to break the fear again."
Still, the government turns the screw. In a persistent crackdown on dissent, police raids continue and are regularly reported by the official press agency PAP.
Much of the recent police activity appears directed at underground printing presses. The aim seems to be to break up remnants of the Solidarity movement and prevent released prisoners, or those former union activists still in hiding, from reviving segments of their old organization, which was abolished Oct. 8.
Some trials of activists are featured in the press, presumably to discourage public support for underground activity. A court hearing opened this week in Warsaw for nine people said to belong to an illegal group called the Solidarity Interfactory Workers' Committee that police said operated in 63 factories.
While pursuing such prosecutions, officials have also pulled some punches lately. In a much-publicized trial, Anna Walentynowicz, the crane operator who played a major role in the emergence of the Solidarity labor union, received a suspended 15-month prison sentence last week on charges of inciting an unlawful occupation of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk two days after martial law was declared. The light sentence defused tensions over a case that former Solidarity officials had regarded as a provocation.
Authorities also dropped investigations against six leaders of the anticommunist Confederation of Independent Poland and decided not to pursue cases against 40 other group activists based in factories in Warsaw and Poznan.
But lest such developments be read as signs of official benevolence, government moves in other fields suggest that the room for compromise is still narrow.
A deal that the leadership of the suspended Writers' Union thought it had with authorities fell through in February. According to a union source, authorities had agreed to reactivate the group if it widened its executive council to include members more to official liking.
Now Communist officials are insisting the union's statutes be changed to ban from membership writers who cooperate with foreign "centers of anti-Polish subversion" or whose works are published by underground presses.
Last week authorities also threatened to close down the Polish Artists' Union unless it retracts resolutions including a call for amnesty for political prisoners and a declaration of support for Solidarity. The former actors' and journalists' unions have already been dissolved for their strongly autonomous stands.
In general, the government's task this year could be considered more difficult than it was last year. Then it was crushing Solidarity--an act that took simply military muscle. Now it must motivate the nation behind an economic reform plan that demands active public support. That requires shrewder tactics.
To the government's advantage is the public's apparent eagerness to avoid a confrontation that might endanger the pope's visit. This may be encouraging officials to introduce unpopular though long overdue economic measures now, force less compromising terms on cultural associations and push police actions.
But some critics of the regime suspect Communist forces of trying to provoke trouble to bring a crackdown that could scuttle the papal pilgrimage.
Still another view holds that authorities have not resolved long-festering internal differences between hard-line factions that want tighter central control and others who regard a further crackdown as counterproductive.