THE POLISH government could lock up Lech Walesa again, of course, or arrange to have him run down by a truck, or whatever. But then what? Gen. Jaruzelski must calculate the consequences in terms of the disruption of public order, the loss of any residual claim to the toleration and especially to the willingness to work of the Polish people, and the further deterioration of the country's international standing. On all these things, Poland's hope for recovery rests.
Though the government insists he is a "private person," Lech Walesa remains the most important public person in Poland. It is not simply that journalists focus on an attractive and accessible symbol of Polish striving. He is the authentic leader of a mass movement, Solidarity, which, though banned, lives in people's hearts. The regime cannot effectively govern without dealing with him in some way.
True, it can harass him. The other day, police dragged him out of his apartment for five hours. The nightmarish scene was witnessed by Post correspondent Bradley Graham, who happened to be there interviewing Mrs. Walesa, who was herself hauled in the following day. But the regime cannot hold him or do worse without tempting troubles harsher than those it cannot solve now.
The regime's tormented efforts to relax without relaxing are of a sort familiar to students of Soviet- dominated Eastern Europe. Mr. Walesa, however, is inventing a new political style. His purpose is to build a position that would force the government to grant relief to political prisoners and to reintroduce elements of a pluralistic workers' movement. Denied Solidarity's pre-martial law liberties, his tools are his pivotal place in the Polish scheme of things, his tremendous prsonal ingenuity--he eluded his police tails last weekend, for instance, and met Solidarity's fugitive underground leaders-- and his access to the international press.
Now Mr. Walesa and the government are looking to the scheduled visit of Pope John Paul II in June. Gen. Jaruzelski's desire to demonstrate that the regime has made some definite progress since the darkest martial-law days gives Mr. Walesa and others, including Cardinal Glemp, the opportunity to bargain for more. It is a painfully uncertain process, but there is one certain thing about it: Mr. Walesa and the Polish people are not going to let go.