GARWOLIN, POLAND, NOV. 22 -- Loudspeakers blared rock music across the bedraggled town center here this morning in a limp appeal for gaiety on a bitter gray morning. When people left mass at the Catholic church and headed for the central bus stop, they encountered a huge television screen mounted on a corner and signs posted next to it: "Television meeting in Garwolin" and "Trial referendum."
This town of 14,000 southeast of Warsaw was picked by state-run television for a major propaganda event today. After a week of canvassing and visits by high-ranking officials, Garwolin's citizens were supposed to vote in a test run of the national referendum that communist authorities have scheduled for next Sunday on their program of economic and political change.
This morning, two local political activists dutifully waited with a ballot box next to the television screen as the big crowd poured out of church. Yet, despite their perfunctory urgings, not a single passerby stopped to cast a vote.
Finally, as the stream of churchgoers thinned to the usual trickle of pedestrians on a Sunday, the canvassers gave up and moved out of the cold to the straw poll's headquarters inside the town hall.
"People just don't believe it," one of the activists, a local teacher, explained with a shrug. "The authorities have pressured and appealed to them already a few times over the years and they just don't buy it anymore. What people are interested in is hard results -- food in the shops, money that's real money. Those are the only things that can win people's attention now."
State television, of course, was not daunted by the lack of enthusiasm. Tonight, it reported that Garwolin's residents had eventually turned out to give strong support to the two referendum propositions, which cover official plans for modest political changes and a major economic shake-up beginning next year.
Nevertheless, the scene here this morning was an indication of the troubles the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski is encountering as it seeks to launch the new policies. For the program to work, authorities say, it must win broad political backing -- and in particular, the tolerance of Polish workers for the planned doubling or tripling of prices for food, rents and other basic goods.
So far, however, the program has appeared to inspire more hostility than support and more panic than hope. The banned Solidarity union has dismissed the referendum as a propaganda stunt. It advised Poles not to vote.
The Roman Catholic Church has hinted that authorities must do more to work with society instead of dictating reforms from above. Even the official unions, headed by a member of the ruling Politburo, have failed to take a public stand on the upcoming vote.
Ever since the program was unveiled, nervous Poles have been buying up key goods -- sugar, vodka, jewelry and furniture -- at state stores, prompting fears of serious shortages. The value of the dollar on the booming black market has risen 30 percent, providing a curious counterpoint to its fall in western markets as well as a measure of Poles' plunging confidence in their own economy. The announcement a week ago that food prices were expected to be raised an average 110 percent in 1988 only added momentum to the shopping spree.
Official reports of government polls show that only 55 percent of voters now say they intend to participate in the referendum, up from 37 percent four weeks ago but still remarkably low by the standard of past Polish elections. According to the referendum law, more than 50 percent of eligible voters must turn out and vote in favor of a proposition for it to be approved.
In seeking to combat the apathy, the official election campaign has taken on a feverish tone in the last 10 days. State television was dominated last week by accounts of stumping by senior officials in Garwolin prior to its straw poll, while government spokesman Jerzy Urban devoted nearly an hour of his weekly news conference to an elaborately orchestrated propaganda account of alleged "terrorist" activity by Solidarity.
Most political activists and western diplomats say they believe authorities will find a way to announce victory for the referendum when the voting is over next Sunday. Regardless of the official results, however, the campaign now seems likely to fail in its underlying purpose of persuading Poles to accept the reform program, these analysts say.
"When the show is over next week, they are going to have to sit down and figure out what they can do that will get people to swallow what's coming," said a westerner. "They wanted the referendum to do that, but it's not going over well."
The danger that Jaruzelski faces is that workers will balk at the huge price increases that are the reform's most conspicuous measure, demanding even higher hikes in pay. That would force authorities either to abandon plans to restore stability to Poland's shortage-plagued market or to face down the workers, risking strikes or even more serious unrest.
There is evidence that the trouble is already beginning. Asked about reaction to the announcement of price increases, Urban reported that they were "the subject of animated discussion in many enterprises." Solidarity has advised its followers to defend themselves against the price increases by organizing in enterprises.
The vote's purpose is to head off such opposition by having Poland "identify" with the reform "as its own consciously adopted program," a Politburo document said.
Critics say, however, that authorities damaged the credibility of the vote by drawing up propositions that offer voters little choice. One question simply asks whether Poland should embark on a "radical healing of the economy," while the second asks Poles if they are in favor of a "profound democratization of political life."
In describing the alternatives, Urban, who appeared here Friday to answer citizens' questions, said that if the propositions are defeated "we shall proceed step by step and the situation will improve, not in three years but, let us say, in 15."
Government polls indicate 87 to 92 percent of those planning to vote, faced with such a choice, intend to approve the government propositions. The problem is persuading citizens to vote.
Even in Garwolin, blanketed with senior officials and coaxed on national television for a solid week, it did not prove easy.