WORLD

The abduction of a firebrand

SUE MASTERMAN November 5 1984
WORLD

The abduction of a firebrand

SUE MASTERMAN November 5 1984

The abduction of a firebrand

POLAND

Admirers compared his charisma and pulpit performances to a rock star’s. Thousands of devout Poles flocked to his theatrical sermons in Warsaw’s St. Stanislaw Church. And activists in Poland’s banned independent trade union, Solidarity, praised his vigorous attacks on Poland’s Communist leadership. So when rebel priest Jerzy Popieluszko, 37, was kidnapped on Oct. 19 while travelling near the northern town of Torun, his followers immediately suspected a government plot. Last week the suspicions seemed well-founded. Although spokesmen denied that Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski’s regime had ordered Popieluszko’s abduction, police arrested three interior ministry officers after strands of Popieluszko’s hair were found in the trunk of a car. Indeed, one of the suspects said he had killed the cleric, but a government spokesman said police had not been able to find a body. Commented Solidarity chief Lech Walesa: “Responsibility for the present situation falls squarely on the authorities.”

For Jaruzelski, the Popieluszko affair could not have come at a less opportune time. The regime has only recently be-

gun to enjoy improved relations with Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church and with the West. Indeed, the incident marred Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou’s state visit last week, the first by a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leader since Warsaw outlawed Solidarity in 1981. At the same time,

Jaruzelski has carefully nurtured delicate negotiations on a churchsponsored agricultural fund that would aid impoverished farmers and give the clergy administrative powers in the countryside. However, hard-liners within the Polish Communist party, known locally as “concrete heads,” oppose such designs for national reconciliation, as does Soviet Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev. In fact, they have made no secret of their desire to replace Jaruzelski with a more pliable party official. Declared Jaruzelski’s spokesman Jerzy Urban: “This event strikes

against the government. It is a political provocation.”

As officials conducted a nationwide search for Popieluszko, and the faithful maintained 24-hour prayer vigils, Solidarity leaders claimed that Popieluszko had been kidnapped by the Anti-Solidarity Organization, a shadowy group of government leaders and policemen previously linked to beatings of union supporters. Authorities declined comment on the allegations, but Popieluszko was an obvious target for hard-line Communist factions. His patriotic sermons often reviled what he called the “falsification of Polish history,” embarrassing not only the government but the church hierarchy as well. Few Poles believed the priest would survive his ordeal. “If he doesn’t turn up in the next few days,” one Warsaw citizen said last week, “then all that will be left of him is the memory.” Jozef Cardinal Glemp, the Polish primate, agreed, declaring, “We fear that a killing may have occurred of the kind exemplified in countries afflicted by the plague of terrorism.”

-SUE MASTERMAN in Vienna.