As the fifth anniversary of the turbulent August that spawned the Solidarity trade union revolt nears, the Polish government is confidently pursuing harsher, more restrictive policies in the belief that it has divided the political opposition, according to western diplomats and Polish analysts.
Since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Warsaw in April, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's government has carried out several stern actions, including food price increases, longer prison terms for dissidents and new curbs on academic freedoms. The coincidence does not surprise Soviet Bloc analysts here, who believe that Gorbachev insisted on a crackdown.
While disdain for the communist authorities seems as profound as ever, the harsh measures have provoked few signs of unrest. The public mood seems more sullen than angry.
The subdued response has stemmed in part from continuing disarray within the leadership of the banned Solidarity movement over which strategy to follow in challenging official policies. While some opposition spokesmen believe it is inevitable that economic troubles and public disgust with communism will erode the government's authority, pragmatic leaders such as Lech Walesa believe that Solidarity must stop being solely a protest movement and come forward with practical social and economic proposals of its own.
Last week the Solidarity underground called upon supporters to boycott elections to the Polish legislature Oct. 13. But opposition figures have argued in favor of participation, if only to test the government's offer to permit the fair election of some noncommunist independents to the 460-seat assembly.
"Part of Solidarity wants to grab whatever slice of power it can get right now, while another part says it is only a matter of time before the government can be brought to its knees," a western diplomat said. "As a result, you have something close to paralysis."
The debate, however polarizing, demonstrates the extraordinarily vibrant life within Poland's political underground. Even if the government maintains the upper hand in enforcing policy, the opposition continues to stimulate and set the pace for political thought. The clandestine press still teems with newly published tracts, and Radio Solidarity occasionally gets on the air.
The election will be a central test in a revived propaganda battle between Solidarity and the government. It is expected to intensify in August with the commemoration of the dramatic events five years ago that gave birth to the anticommunist trade union movement.
Walesa, now vacationing with relatives outside Warsaw, has promised in recent interviews to announce ideas for specific reforms next month so that Solidarity supporters can demonstrate in favor of something instead of just against government proposals.
Walesa's emphasis on the need to propose reforms has emerged out of concern that Solidarity has concentrated too much on street and factory protests that have proved largely ineffective, while the government has been pushing through tough new measures.
The government won a major gamble this month when it completed a three-stage plan raising food and meat prices 10 to 15 percent without inciting significant protests. In 1980, an attempt to increase meat prices triggered the rebellion that led to Solidarity's creation.
This time, the communist government was so confident that the new price increases would not cause trouble that it did not bother to summon extra security forces to critical street and factory sites in Gdansk and Warsaw. The Solidarity leadership had called for a one-hour work stoppage, but western diplomats said the protests had little impact because they were largely invisible to the public.
Unlike last year, when the authorities released more than 600 political prisoners as a conciliatory gesture, this year has given the government no cause to solicit cooperation from its political opponents. Last week government spokesman Jerzy Urban told western reporters that no amnesty would be granted on July 22, Poland's national day, to the 200 persons jailed for political reasons during the past year.
In addition, the government unveiled this weekend a big bronze monument honoring the 22,000 members of the internal security forces who died putting down anticommunist resistance fighters after World War II.
Last October, several security policemen were tried and convicted of the grisly slaying of the pro-Solidarity priest Jerzy Popieluszko.
Paying homage to the security police so soon after the trial was "like pouring salt into the wounds of the political opposition," a western diplomat said.