Poland's rollback of free market policies viewed as move to avert rebellion

August 11, 1991|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- Trashed by public opinion polls, Poland's post-Communist authorities have begun to roll back some of the free market policies they so wholeheartedly endorsed less than two years ago in what two leading economists see as an attempt to stave off a popular rebellion.

Recent developments have included:

* Government intervention in the affairs of state-owned industries in an effort to prevent bankruptcies.

* Protectionist import tariffs on some goods.

* The imminent departure of free market economist Leszek Balcerowicz, deputy prime minister in charge of economic reform. Mr. Balcerowicz, the international guarantor of Poland's commitment to a market economy, announced last week that he will seek neither a Cabinet ministry nor a parliamentary seat after the Oct. 27 elections.

"This is indeed a rollback," commented Andrzej Krzysztof Wroblewski, editor of Gazeta Bankowa and a leading management expert connected with Solidarity's secular faction.

"But it is better than being swept from power by a mass rebellion, which might be the alternative," he said.

Recent opinion poll results are the blackest of the post-Communist era and indicate popular dissatisfaction and distrust of the authorities almost as marked as that registered under the Communists.

Already in July, one in four respondents said that communism had been replaced by another dictatorship, that of Solidarity. Nearly twice as many disapproved of one-time hero, President ++ Lech Walesa, and his closest advisers as approved of them.

Some 72 percent characterized the economic situation as bad, 81 percent said living conditions were unacceptable and 91 percent said that society was in a state of tension.

This was hardly heartening news to a political establishment in pre-election mode, facing an autumn of further price increases, unemployment and labor unrest.

"Quick, radical economic change is best -- in theory," said economist Pawel Bozyk. "But it is impossible in Poland due to social protest."

Mr. Bozyk said that Poland's only course was "to introduce a free market in a much more evolutionary way. . . . It is a job for at least 10 years."

Mr. Bozyk, a maverick critical of Communist and post-Communist regimes alike, warned, like Mr. Wroblewski, of unrest.

"If Balcerowicz tries to continue his policies into the autumn, I am sure the whole country will be on strike," he said. "There are 10 strikes and protests a day now."

Labor Minister Michael Boni recently warned of an imminent "social explosion."

President Walesa has said that he will use force if necessary to prevent the country from sliding into anarchy.

"But the first man killed by Solidarity," Mr. Bozyk said, "will destroy the Solidarity ethos."

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