The political opening to the West that Poland had hoped for this autumn after nearly three years of diplomatic quarantine has gotten off to a shaky start.
Critical remarks by Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and contacts with Polish opposition figures by a visiting British official last week have drawn expressions of sharp disapproval from the Polish government.
In a vociferous outburst today, government spokesman Jerzy Urban attacked France for refusing to join in a current series of visits by senior West European officials. As a result of what he called France's evident lack of desire to "resume serious relations," Urban said Polish authorities were considering dropping French language courses in schools.
Such displays of irritation belie the image communist officials had sought to convey of ties between Warsaw and the West Europeans returning to normal.
Portending additional complications, Urban also declared that the government would "take legal steps" against opposition activists forming human rights committees to monitor the performance of police following the murder of Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko. Although the spokesman said the nature of the crackdown would depend on what the new committees do, his statement raised the possibility of Polish jails filling up again with political prisoners. The release of such prisoners last summer under a broad amnesty was a main basis for the end of the diplomatic boycott of Poland by the West Europeans.
By launching a vigorous investigation into the murder and promptly arresting four secret police officers in connection with it, Polish authorities have tried to limit the crime's damaging impact at home and abroad.
But the tragedy has clearly disturbed efforts by Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski to portray his country as calm. It has also spurred western officials to issue new denunciations against Polish repression and to honor Poland's political opposition. At a press conference last week, Urban voiced the government's "surprise" at a statement by Craxi saying people in Poland who have the courage to demand the right to freedom become the victims of people who do not recognize human rights. Craxi was quoted here as speaking of a widening of the division in Poland between authorities and society since the murder of the priest, who supported the outlawed trade union Solidarity.
"I think the premier of Italy should be the last person to generalize from one isolated crime in order to give a negative characterization of the government in Poland," Urban said. "In Italy, terrorism and political murders are so frequent that this event should have given the Italian premier something to think about as far as his own country is concerned."
Polish officials were also irked by the behavior of British Minister of State Malcolm Rifkind who made a five-day visit here last week. It was the first visit by a ranking British official since before martial law was declared in December 1981.
Rifkind took time out from official meetings to have a cup of tea with four senior Solidarity activists, to lay a wreath at Popieluszko's grave and to deliver some remarks to foreign reporters endorsing the values that Popieluszko stood for as those of the Polish people.
Urban accused the British official of not minding his own business.
"We have no wish to hear people lecturing us," said the spokesman. "Nor do we want any future visits by guests from the West to be used for propaganda."
The remarks were widely interpreted as a warning to foreign ministers Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany and Giulio Andreotti of Italy, both expected here soon, to stay within official bounds when they come.
Despite the Polish rebukes, the West Europeans have shown no signs of drawing back from their diplomatic initiatives with Poland. They still believe Warsaw can be encouraged to introduce more reforms if channels of economic and political cooperation to the West are reopened.
The Reagan administration is less certain. It has moved more slowly to reestablish contacts, keeping in place the economic sanctions costing Poland the most, including a veto on Polish membership in the International Monetary Fund, suspension of favorable tariffs for Polish imports into the United States and a freeze on commodity and trade credits.
France remains the biggest problem for Poland among the West European states. The government of Francois Mitterrand has angered Polish officials by its critical response to developments here since the crushing of the Solidarity movement.
Urban accused France of carrying on "a monologue on Polish subjects." He added that authorities were considering a cutback in the teaching of French in the schools, saying it "has ceased to be recognized as one of the world's main languages."