The symbolism was scarcely encouraging. As Solidarity leader Lech Walesa’s white Polski Fiat stopped at an intersection on the way to last week’s historic meeting among union, church and state, an overzealous photographer forgot to brake and rammed it in the rear. Later Walesa’s vehicle managed to limp alongside Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski’s
blue BMW and the black Mercedes of Archbishop Jozef Glemp to the heavily guarded government residence where the talks were held. But while the inauspicious beginning did not prevent the three participants from reaching an agreement that seemed to promise conciliation, Solidarity spokesman Marek Brunne was suitably wary when the meeting ended. “The encounter broke a logjam but it didn’t remove any of the snags lying down the river,” he said. “All we’ve done essentially is to agree to start agreeing for once.”
Nevertheless, it had been an enormous step forward. In just over two hours, with the primate’s prompting, Jaruzelski and Walesa had managed to agree on the possibility of forming a “national front of understanding” to lead Poland out of turmoil on the basis of a negotiated settlement of union claims. While the formula fell short of offering the 9.5-million-strong Solidarity union a direct say in running the country, an optimistic Walesa claimed the government was ready to make concessions. Poles now had “a reason to regain lost hopes,” he declared. After a meeting of Solidarity’s National Commission in Gdansk, union leaders said that talks between the Communist leadership and Solidarity might begin as early as this week. And Archbishop Glemp, apparently satisfied with the outcome, flew to Rome to brief Pope John Paul II on developments at home.
However, if Solidarity hailed the agreement, more cynical Poles viewed it more as an element in the unimaginative stick-and-carrot strategy embarked upon by Jaruzelski when he took command of the party last month with a mandate to lean on the union. “The government just wants to gain a breather and perhaps some sympathy. It leaves us no closer to home,” said one Warsaw resident. What counted was not the leadership’s readiness to bargain—it had been compelled to talk with Solidarity all along—but “what powers the party is willing to relinquish.” The press was more upbeat, perhaps reflect-
ing the average Pole’s need for cheerful news to balance the daily diet of economic and political disaster. “This unprecedented meeting may be of crucial importance for a quick establishment of a platform of national agreement,” said the daily Zycie Warszawy. But on the same page the paper was reporting that the wildcat strikes that had brought Poland close to military rule were continuing, with an estimated 150,000 workers defying government and union pleas to get back to work. If Walesa’s car had survived its crunch at the intersection, it had yet to find the road to industrial and political harmony. —PETER LEWIS
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