POLAND STRIVES FOR NORMALIZATION

Poland in the early days of 1987 is a wobbly country catching at the straws of limited economic success.

Poland remains a country of austerity plus real hardship for many citizens as well as for some industries. Grumbling citizens are a commonplace. And, recently, some state-owned enterprises are going bankrupt and the government admits there are still hundreds of candidates for bankruptcy.But, at the same time, credit must be given Poland where it is due.

A number of Western business sources here offer tentative compliments to Poland's economic planners on some policies that became clearer in 1986 and that are gradually leading Poland toward at least a degree of normalization. With tight reins on economic excesses, and additional bold measures, the year 1987 could see a further trickle of progress.

The sources are almost categorical: Poland no longer seems the sick man of Europe that it certainly was in the early 1980s. Poland does not resemble an isolated country. Poland has not only recaptured some key markets that it had lost just a few years ago, but is wisely searching for new ones. It appears to be making new friends in the foreign business community.

Polish coal miners deserve credit for bringing their crucial industry back to normalcy. Polish coal is a vital source of hard currency income. Despite long-standing hardship in the Polish shipyards, there has been a zealous drive for new shipbuilding orders of all kinds. This zeal, say officials, has had some limited success.

Favorable tendencies are seen in Polish farm production, and Poles are making more efforts to increase food exports. After seven years of budget deficits, the draft state budget for 1987 envisages recovery of a balance between outlays and income. Polish officials predict exports to the West will grow by 8 percent to 9 percent over the next few years. They have pledged to effectively curb inflation between now and 1990.

All this, Western business sources acknowledge, was done by Polish brain and brawn and - needless to say - in the absence of any U.S. support. Indeed, the Poles complain that the reverse is true: That restrictions imposed by the U.S. government cost Poland at least $15 billion. And the pain still lingers.

Of course, the inability of Poland to repay its growing debt to hard- currency countries is a negative factor. In recent months some adjustments have been made between Poland and its creditors. The total debt is now over $30 billion. But Polish officials are cautiously hopeful that the debt problem will be solved before the close of the next decade.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of ifs in the Polish economic recovery equation.

What if the Poles instead of reducing material and energy consumption, increase it? What if the Poles resist the call for a collective effort to improve and accelerate the economic activity of their country?

The bitter pill is that the Polish nation has in the past made a habit of living beyond its means, swallowing as much as possible, borrowing heavily

from overseas (instead of saving), and tolerating the luxuries of sloth and complacency.

My experience is that too many Poles are attached to the old luxuries.

Here are two random examples. A Polish intellectual I know still contemplates how he can manage to visit London, Paris and Rome. He wants to buy parts in the West for his ocean-going yacht. A woman interpreter, absolutely charming to be sure, still wants her wardrobe to come only from Paris. (She insists that her father, who frequently travels abroad, help her in this respect.)

To this reporter, the gloom expressed five or six years ago by Western businessmen in Poland now seems gone. At that time not a few foreign company representatives began an exodus from this country. They loaded up their Mercedes-Benzs and drove across the border to the West, or to Scandinavia. Given the Polish muddle, I could hardly blame them.

But these days foreign entrepreneurs are visiting Poland in increasing numbers. You can see some of them conducting business in hotel lobbies. Western sources look for brisk business activity between Poland and foreign companies this year.

Frankly, it is hard to believe that just a few years ago Poland was in such a fix that some observers felt it could trigger a civil war.

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