Page 7, 14th June 1991

14th June 1991
Page 7
Page 7, 14th June 1991 — Papal trip to Poland — visiting a sick relative?

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Locations: Warsaw


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Papal trip to Poland — visiting a sick relative?

Peter Hebblethwaite reflects from Warsaw on the Pope's homecoming.

PRESIDENT Lech Walesa swore a mighty oath — so help him God! — to observe faithfully the Polish constitution. The trouble is that there isn't any Polish constitution for him to obey.

Not only that but the relationship between the president and the Sejm (or lower house) is precisely one of the constitutional questions being much discussed.

Is he to be a figurehead president like Richard von Weisaeker of Germany or a chief executive a la Francois Mitterrand?

There is no doubt what sort of president he would like to be, and he is a hard man to keep down for long. But this question indicates the state of chaos, bordering on anarchy, in which Poland now finds itself.

That is why abortion poses such a problem. No one knows how many there are — maybe 600,000 each year — but that is a figure plucked from nowhere, and abortion is almost completely deregulated. The truth is that in this Catholic country abortion is used as the regular means of contraception.

That is one reason why something needs to be done about it. But once again, the constitutional question comes up: who is to legislate on abortion?

The Sejm? But that is still an assembly stacked with communists and their supporters to the tune of 65 per cent. The constitutional commission? But should such matters be enshrined in a constitution?

The best suggestion so far is for the combined legal commission of the ministries of health and justice to prepare a bill to be laid before the new and genuinely democratic parliament that will be elected next October. But that doesn't stop the guilt or the pain or the killing.

I began to think of Poland as an immense building site. People are moving material all over the place. They are not actually building anything yet. They are getting the building blocks in place. They hope it is the right place.

So I wrote a lazy sentence for which Halina Bortnowska, an old friend from the second Vatican Council took me severely to task. I had said that Poland has to "start all over again from scratch, in a situation for which there are no precedents and no models".

I was thinking of the way all political principles have to be rethought here. For example, what is a political party for? I've heard one political philosopher describe a party as a reservoir of volunteer workers; US political parties only come together for elections and don't have "policies".

In the end a political party must organise and express a set of opinions that are widespread in the country. It puts into words what people feel but have not yet said — though I admit that's also the definition of a demagogue.

But that illustrates the problem. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first non-communist prime minister, failed partly because he paid no attention to what people were thinking and nobly tried to do the best for his country. I fear he may be gone beyond recall.

What Halina objected to in the notion of "starting from scratch" is that communism is like a disease that leaves you impeded and convalescent even when you can manage to shrug it off.

Or in Halina's more vigorous metaphor, "removing communism as a system of government was like removing a very extensive cancer; not only does the patient feel weak, but he or she is missing some vital organs".

So now one can see the meaning of this papal visit. Pope John Paul II is both hospital chaplain and a close relative of the patient. He knows the past history. It was he who insisted the patient go to hospital to have the cancer removed. It was painful, but necessary.

There are indeed some signs of recovery. The most unusual event so far has been the encounter with the Polish armed forces. General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former president (non-elected) was not there as far as I could see. Indeed, some 256 generals have taken an early bath, and now there are only 85 of them, average age 55. How many generals do you need to fight a war?

I don't know. But the point about this new model army is that its function is to defend, not to oppress, the people. Throughout its entire time in the Warsaw Pact, the Polish army never once took action against an "enemy" but only against the people of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Poles themselves when there was trouble at Gdansk. There shots were fired in anger.

The beauty of the Solidarnosc revolution was that it did not use violence because to do so would be to descend to the methods of the other side. It was a matter not so much of demonstrating smug moral superiority but of showing there was a better way.

So now the central committee building can be turned into . . . wait for it: the stock exchange. So far only five companies are quoted, which from memory are Pimex, .Timex, Wilcx, Timex and Tipex. But I may be maligning them.

It is rather like Polish prehistory , as recounted in folklore. Once upon a time there were three brothers. Lech, Czech and Rus. Lech went off to found Poland, Czech Czechoslovakia and Rus Russia. I would put money on Lech coming out on top in the end. He has the greatest powers of resilience.

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