Not only has the Polish government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski recently released 225 additional political prisoners, but it is also encouraging the start-up of private businesses.
Many of these have been organized by former Solidarity activists who lost their jobs when the nation was operating under martial law.Some of the energy exercised in the Solidarity movement is being channeled into private enterprise. Young Polish engineers are financing new businesses with venture capital obtained from Solidarity sympathizers who originally fled to the West but have been lured back home by high-technology business opportunities.
Inter-Design, financed by a $3,000 investment from a Swedish businessman in 1983, is typical of the private firms that have emerged in the past three years. It produces microcomputers and process control devices for Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China, and computer software that it sells for hard currency in Sweden through a Swedish-American firm.
According to its president, Leonard Zablielski, the firm is extremely profitable and employs nearly 30 people, most of whom are highly motivated, top-flight electrical engineers attracted by "good pay, hard work and extremely interesting projects."
None of this should come as a complete surprise, since an IBM personal computer, which costs $5,000 in the United States, sells for $30,000 on the Warsaw black market. President Reagan's technology embargo against Poland and a stiff Polish business income tax levied in the fourth year are the two biggest obstacles to Inter-Design's future success. However, private businesses are subjected to much lower tax rates than are state-owned companies.
Two engineers, both of whom were Solidarity activists, started a thriving electronic auto alarm business two years ago. Their only reliable source of high-quality electronic chips is the Sunday morning market, which operates in the wee hours each Sunday morning near a sports stadium in Warsaw. Several hundred vendors sell, among other things, a wide variety of electronic devices and components.
Biala Dalia, a private up-scale restaurant in the village of Konstancin near Warsaw, which caters to Polish yuppies and Western tourists, epitomizes the new entrepreneurial spirit. When asked how the two-year-old restaurant was doing, a waiter responded, "it's flourishing. It has to."
And how does the Jaruzelski government cotton to all of this? They love it. Much of the resurgence of the private sector is attributable to the three- year tax exemption granted to new businesses by the government.
Over the long run, the government hopes to gain much needed tax revenues and generate new sources of foreign currency to help pay off Poland's $32 billion foreign debt. Also, successful Polish entrepreneurs have neither the time nor the energy to engage in anti-government political activities.
General Jaruzelski's strong personal relationship with Soviet leader
Mikhail S. Gorbachev has provided the government with increased confidence to pursue Hungarian-like reforms. Lately, some party leaders have advocated the use of the private sector to inject new vitality into Poland's lagging economic reform movement, which has been bogged down in a sea of bureaucratic inertia. "Our management systems must become more compatible with those of the West, if we are to compete successfully in the international marketplace," says Wieslaw M. Grudzewski, deputy minister of Scientific and Technological Progress.
General Jaruzelski, who is an avid reader, is seeking input on government policies from a broad range of people by creating a consultative council of prominent individuals from all walks of life - an idea traceable to the days of Solidarity. Although Solidarity has limited political influence today, it remains an important cultural force.
The biggest impediment to further reforms is the never ending feud between the Catholic Church and the government. On Aug. 31, nearly 15,000 Poles attended an outdoor mass at St. Stanislaw Kostka Church, where pro-Solidarity priest Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko is buried, celebrating the sixth anniversary of the Gdansk Agreement.
The mass consisted of a two-hour diatribe against communism and the Soviet Union without any constructive suggestions for healing Poland's severe economic and political wounds. Recently, Primate Joseph Cardinal Glemp ended negotiations with the government over the controversial, Western-supported fund to aid private farmers.
Perhaps one reason why the Church and the Polish government have so much trouble getting along is that they are too much alike - rigid, hierarchical, and authoritarian.
While the Church and the state continue their battle, the Polish people are quietly getting their act together. The new breed of entrepreneurs is telling the Church and the government that, "It's high time we put aside ideological and political differences and get on with the job of rebuilding Poland." When asked what his principal long-term objective was,Inter-Design President Zabielski responded, "survival." Can the new entrepreneurs help save Poland? Maybe, Maybe not. But time is running out.