Q&A: ONYSZKIEWICZ

Voice of the underground

June 8 1987
Q&A: ONYSZKIEWICZ

Voice of the underground

June 8 1987

Voice of the underground

Q&A: ONYSZKIEWICZ

As the official spokesman for the national co-ordinating committee of the Polish trade union Solidarity, Janusz Onyszkiewicz is continually under the watchful eyes of the country's Communist authorities. Onyszkiewicz (pronounced Oh-nish-kee-veetz), a mathematician who helped to form Solidarity in 1980, has been periodically detained since the regime of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski banned Solidarity and imposed 21/2 years of martial law on the nation of 37 million people in 1981. Indeed, in April this year he was subjected to interrogations for alleged involvement with Albert Mueller, the U.S. Embassy official arrested by Polish authorities on spying charges. Onyszkiewicz, 50, who lives in a third-floor Warsaw apartment with his wife, Joanna—the granddaughter of Poland's First World War military hero Marshal Józef Pilsudski—called the charges Upure fabrication. " Maclean’s Ottawa Bureau Correspondent Hilary Mackenzie recently interviewed Onyszkiewicz in his home about the future of Solidarity and of Poland.

Maclean’s: Where does Solidarity stand now?

Onyszkiewicz: Solidarity survived the martial-law period with its basic structures intact on the national, regional and the factory levels. At the national level we have an undisputed leader: Lech Walesa in Gdansk. Closely collaborating with him are two bodies, the activist Solidarity Council, which is public, and the representatives of underground structures in different regions—the socalled provisional co-ordinating committee. This triangle is our supreme decision-making body. Then we have similar councils at the regional level. At the lowest level we have only underground structures. The reason for this is that although people of national or regional standing are somehow protected against police harassment, people at the factory level could be quite easily harassed if the authorities knew about them, simply by expelling them from their jobs. Authorities know that they can sack people at the lower levels, and nobody will raise enough pressure. So making our factory committees open would be a recipe for the complete elimination of Solidarity from the factories. Maclean’s: How many members does Solidarity now have?

Onyszkiewicz: We don’t have a formal membership list—that would be folly when being a member of an underground organization is a crime for which you can go to prison for three years. But there are some indicationslike the number of people still paying union dues. That figure is somewhere between 500,000 and one million people. Most of our finances come from this source. There is another indication: how many people read our underground press. According to the official polls, about 10 per cent of Polish adults admit that they have access to underground publications. Then there are people who would participate in Solidarity activities and actions—and run a personal risk. Take the example of the 1984 funeral of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the proSolidarity Roman Catholic priest murdered by state-security policemen. Everybody felt that on that particular day everyone was quite safe and could safely attend the funeral. In Warsaw alone we had about 700,000 people at the funeral, and it was not 700,000 churchgoers—it was 700,000 Solidarity supporters.

Maclean’s: Ha» Solidarity been undercut by the Polish government's recent efforts to institute reforms? Onyszkiewicz: No. The state is simply receding or conceding certain things under pressure. In the Soviet Union they are conceding not under the pressure of the society but under the pressure of economic circumstances. In Poland all the liberties we have were bitterly fought for and won. We simply forced the authorities to accept certain things as a fact of life—there is nothing that they can do about it. We have more or less institutionalized opposition in this country —something not conceded gracefully by the authorities. It is sim-

ply won by many years of imprisonment and confrontations on the streets with the police force. This system develops from crisis to crisis, and only as a result of the crises, some new changes can be brought about.

Maclean’s: How do you assess Poland's future — and the future of Solidarity?

Onyszkiewicz: The main problem in Poland is our economy. But to put our economy in order, it is not enough to simply re-

arrange industry or the infrastructure. It means that we must make important political changes, because everybody agrees that economic reform must be market-oriented. It means we must have independent enterprises. Within the present framework of official institutions, it simply cannot be done because making enterprises independent is against the interests of the party apparatus, which so far controls industry on every level. Making it independent will simply reduce the sphere of their reign—so the party is certainly not interested in this kind of economy. The managerial group is not interested because the centrally planned economy is a

Onyszkiewicz: Employ-

very cosy system for them, and they made their careers in it. Maclean’s: How would reform affect Polish workers?

ees would be faced with periods of austerity because creating independent and self-financing industries means cutting subsidies on consumer goods, which means price rises. Restructuring industry also means at least part-time unemployment. So workers

will be asked to pay a heavy price for economic reform. The only way that you can convince them that they should pay this price is if there is a general consensus that certain economic programs should be carried out—and if there is some confidence that their sacrifices will not be wasted. The only way that they can get this kind of security is if they will have the chance to participate, if their interests will be genuinely protected. In particular, it is a question of the independence of the trade unions— and that is where Solidarity comes in. Maclean’s: How did you function after Solidarity was banned?

Onyszkiewicz: When Solidarity was banned we lost the possibility of meeting and our statutory bodies could not function. So we set up an underground co-ordinating committee that was accepted as the supreme executive body for the union at the national level. This still exists, although it is now mirrored in the open by an open council. That we could do only after last September’s amnesty granted to imprisoned Solidarity activists, when we felt that it would be extremely embarrassing for the authorities to carry on with the arrests. Maclean’s: Are you encouraged by the changes in the Soviet Union under General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev? Onyszkiewicz: Yes. They create a different atmosphere to which the stagnation in Poland provides a striking contrast. We do hope that this wind of change in the Soviet Union will also affect our ruling groups.

Maclean’s: But how far can you push the system and still safeguard the Soviet strategic interests in Eastern Europe?

Onyszkiewicz: We are quite convinced that we can go much further. For example, leaving the Communist party to have the final say in such matters as our foreign policy, our national defence and so forth would give the Russians enough guarantees that their strategic interests are safeguarded in Poland. But that still leaves a vast area for more or less free activities—and in particular it leaves the possibility for independent trade unions to operate in Poland.

Maclean’s: As a moderate, do you think that the trade-union movement could collapse because of more radical elements within it?

Onyszkiewicz: It could well happen, but it would be outside Solidarity. Younger generations who simply didn’t pass through the period of Solidarity realize that they have a very bleak future. The waiting time for an apartment is about 28 years in Poland, and the jobs that would give you job satisfaction are extremely difficult to get. So the younger generations are very pessimistic. They see that Solidarity is not moving fast enough for them so they may simply resort to much more radical measures. I hope that we will somehow manage to organize these people, and, in case of some major eruption, we will be able to organize this eruption and to channel it in a constructive way. But there is no guarantee. Time is running out.^