External Affairs Minister Joe Clark visited Poland last week to determine if Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost— openness—was taking effect in that country. And Clark apparently left with positive feelings about what he saw. Following meetings with the country’s Communist rulers, leaders of the outlawed trade union, Solidarity, and the Roman Catholic clergy, Clark said that he had the impression Poland was “more liberal than one might have expected.” Expressing himself with characteristic caution after a 90-minute meeting with Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski at the Gothic Belvedere Palace, Clark added:
“There was an assumption in his description of the evolution of events in Poland that would lead one to believe there would be further steps toward liberalization.”
The Clark visit, the first by a Canadian foreign minister since martial law was imposed in 1981, took place at a time of important change in modern Poland. Before leaving Ottawa,
Clark had said that he wanted to judge for himself the effect of Gorbachev’s liberalization policy on neighboring Poland.
Vital to the Soviet Union’s national security because it lies on the traditional route of invasion from European powers,
Poland is an enormous financial liability for the Soviet bloc as it struggles with a $45-billion foreign debt. The Polish authorities, members of the Catholic church and banned Solidarity leaders who met with Clark last week all agreed that the change in leadership in the Soviet Union had offered exciting new opportunities to help them begin solving their severe economic problems.
But it was unclear whether the Polish authorities could seize those opportunities to undertake further political reform. Declared one senior Canadian external affairs official: “It is a very important visit at a very important time. We would like [the Poles] to turn back to the traditions of Western Europe, but we do not have many diplomatic arrows in our quiver.” Still, the official added, “the visits help.”
Indeed, Clark’s hectic two-day official tour, followed by visits to East
Germany and Hungary, was designed by Canadian officials to be the first step in a general warming of relations betwen Canada and the Warsaw Pact countries. Ties between Canada and Poland, in particular, were frayed in December, 1981, when Jaruzelski declared martial law to stifle the unrest, inspired by the successes of the Solidarity free trade union movement, that threatened to topple the Communist regime. Following the lead of the United States, Canada imposed an array of sanctions—including placing re-
strictions on Polish diplomats and suspending debt talks—to register its disapproval of the military crackdown.
Although Jaruzelski lifted martial law in the summer of 1983 and gradually released all political prisoners, he has since incorporated many of his harshest martial law measures into the country’s legal system. Included are severe penalties against anyone engaging in opposition activities and legislation banning all trade unions except the official, government-sanc-
tioned union movement. Until recently, Polish authorities had discouraged official visitors from meeting with leaders of Solidarity and others in opposition to the regime. But, Clark told reporters, the Polish government did not oppose his meetings with opposition elements and may even have helped to arrange some of them.
Indeed, in a step that observers interpreted as evidence of glasnost, Clark, his wife Maureen McTeer and the five members of Parliament in the 15-member Canadian delegation flew
to Lublin in eastern Poland and visited its Catholic-run university, the only independent university in the Soviet bloc. There, he stood in the shadow of a powerful statue of Pope John Paul lí embracing a kneeling Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski—the anti-Communist primate of Poland from 1948 until his death in 1981, who was a thorn in the flesh of the authorities during the 1950s and 1960s. Clark’s visit was hailed as a unique expression of the special relationship between Canadian
Poles and their homeland. At a luncheon meeting with Catholic priests and five Polish-Canadian students, Clark listened as a choir—dressed in brown cassocks and frilly cream shirts—sang a well-known 18th-century anthem, Poland our Motherland.
Earlier, in a little-publicized meeting at the Warsaw residence of Canadian Ambassador Eric Bergbusch, Clark met with three leading Solidarity members. Zbigniew Bujak, a top official of Solidarity and also leader of Poland’s underground political opposition, was present, along with Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Solidarity’s official spokesman, and Bronislaw Geremek, a well-respected intellectual in the Solidarity movement. Over tea, the Solidarity leaders told Clark that they would not support the tough economic measures that the government said would be needed to put the country back on its feet until they saw progress on political reforms. In an interview with Maclean's,
“[The people] 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 they will have the chance to participate, if they will have their own representation, if their interests will be genuinely protected by their own organization.”
Clark also discussed Poland’s crippling external debt, now nearing $45 billion. At the same time, analysts say that there is little prospect of paying either the interest or the principal without a major international rescheduling or a tremendous growth in exports—neither of which appears likely to happen soon. Said John Davis, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Poland: “You can’t mount an economic recovery out of the bottom of a huge pit of debt.”
But Jaruzelski still appealed to Clark for even more loan money, telling him—according to Clark—“You can’t expect chickens to produce eggs if you feed them nothing.” Canada is Poland’s fourth-largest creditor, with more than $2.1 billion outstanding. After the meeting, however, Canadian officials declared that Canada would not extend further credit until Poland reached agreement with Western
bankers and the International Monetary Fund to reschedule the existing debt burden.
Meanwhile, it was clear that the country still has major political and social problems as well. On May 3, Poland’s Constitution Day, a congregation of 2,000 in Warsaw’s St. John’s Cathedral sang protest songs and raised their hands in Solidarity’s V-for-victory salute. Then they went to the streets but were confronted by a cordon of plainclothes policemen and swarms of uniformed militia. In the clashes that followed, about 50 people were detained— among them a two-man TV camera crew from Radio-Canada, the French-language service of the CBC. The Canadi-
ans were released without charge and with an official apology, but only after police had removed the videotapes from their camera and magnetically erased the footage they had shot of the day’s disturbances.
Scores of arrests were made in other demonstrations throughout the country during the day—in Kracow, Wroclaw and Lodz, as well as in Warsaw. Declared one Western ambassador who has watched developments in Poland over the past 12 years: “It was a very strong show of force—and surprising. They are always nervous on May 3, but this year they were particularly uptight.” Clark complained about the de-
tention of the two Canadian newsmen when he met Polish Foreign Minister Marion Orzechowski the next day.
Later, Clark and his party visited the wartime Nazi death camp at Majdanek, four kilometres from Lublin. He told reporters that nothing could have prepared him for the shock of what he saw there. Etched onto a stone monument depicting the mangled bodies of the Nazis’ victims were the words “Our fate is a warning to you.” And Clark appeared visibly moved as he bowed his head and laid a wreath in honor of the 350,000 Jews and others who were murdered at Majdanek.
Behind the double layer of rusted
barbed wire lay even more grim reminders of Poland’s second-largest death camp after Auschwitz. There was a grass-covered ditch where on a single day in 1943 the Nazis killed more than 18,000 Jewish men, women and children. There, the gas chambers and the concrete ovens and a small pile of bones symbolized the thousands of bodies buried under the green fields. Said Clark as he laid a second wreath beside the bones: “Everyone who visits must be struck by the determination to ensure that atrocities like this are never forgotten and never recur.”
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