French President Francois Mitterrand provoked a political outcry today by becoming the first western head of state to receive Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski since the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981.
Political analysts here said that the 80-minute meeting between the two leaders was bound to be seen in Poland as a symbolic turning point in the West's attitude to the man responsible for the crushing of the independent Solidarity trade union. Together with the United States, France has been particularly outspoken in condemning Jaruzelski's imposition of military rule.
In an unusual gesture, Prime Minister Laurent Fabius appeared to distance himself deliberately from Mitterrand's decision to meet with Jaruzelski. Addressing the National Assembly, Fabius described a question about the significance of the meeting as the most difficult question put to him since he took office in July 1984.
"The visit, though brief, of the Polish head of state troubled me deeply," he said, adding that he had shared his concern with the president.
The defense of human rights and criticism of political repression in the Soviet Bloc has been a major theme adopted by the ruling Socialist Party. When he was leader of the opposition, Mitterrand was severely critical of conservative president Valery Giscard d'Estaing for agreeing to meet with Polish and Soviet leaders in Warsaw following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.
Mitterrand, who scored political points here by accusing Giscard of acting like a "little telegraph operator" for the Kremlin, has now in turn laid himself open to right-wing criticism for welcoming Jaruzelski.
French commentators expressed surprise today at the president's apparent political insensitivity four months before important legislative elections. Several editorials asked what Mitterrand could possibly gain from agreeing to meet with the Polish leader.
Asked about the meeting last night at the end of a European Community summit, Mitterrand said he believed that the best way of helping Poland was through dialogue.
Government spokesmen went to considerable lengths today to play down the significance of Jaruzelski's visit, which they depicted as a "technical stopover" in Paris between trips to Algeria and Tunisia. They said that Mitterrand had reiterated French concern about alleged human rights violations in Poland and the suppression of free trade unions.
French authorities mobilized large numbers of riot police to ensure Jaruzelski's safety and prevent hundreds of pro-Solidarity demonstrators from reaching the Polish Embassy or Elysee presidential palace. The result was that the center of Paris came to resemble Warsaw under martial law, with police trucks cordoning off key intersections.
In an apparent diplomatic snub, Jaruzelski was received by a low-level protocol official at the airport and hustled into the Elysee palace through the back entrance after his motorcade was turned away from the front gates normally used by foreign leaders. Later, however, he expressed satisfaction with his talk with Mitterrand, saying that it had been "very important for me."
The official Polish news agency PAP also expressed satisfaction, noting in a dispatch from Paris that "the republican guard of honor presented arms and saluted in a way appropriate for a head of state on a working visit." PAP added that the leaders' meeting had lasted "much longer than expected."
The leaders of France's noncommunist trade unions joined French intellectuals and exiled Solidarity officials in demonstrating against the visit. One of France's most popular television newsmen, Yves Mourousi, registered a personal protest on screen by wearing dark glasses similar to those habitually worn by Jaruzelski.
A Paris tourist company refused to allow Jaruzelski to take a sightseeing trip down the Seine on one of its boats. The Polish delegation hurriedly switched plans and chartered a boat from a rival company.
In an interview with the pro-Socialist daily Le Matin, Mitterrand noted that a number of other western leaders had met with Jaruzelski since December 1981. He said that Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi had visited Warsaw and that West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had talked to the Polish leader at the funeral for Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko in Moscow.
French officials said that Jaruzelski's visit to France was arranged at the request of the Polish ambassador in mid-November.
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, questioned by French journalists at his home in Gdansk, said he would be in favor of the meeting between Jaruzelski and Mitterrand if he could be sure that "Polish society would benefit and not simply the authorities."