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Economic change inflates Polish suicide rate.

WASHINGTON - Recent economic and political changes in Poland have left thousands of Poles unemployed, fearful and so depressed that suicide, it appears, is becoming the only way out for some.

More than 3,000 people in Poland committed suicide in the first half of this year compared with 3,657 for all of 1989 - the year Poland began its uncoupling from the Soviet Union and launched its transition toward market-driven economic reforms.

"It was as if Poles had been taken out of a deep freeze after 45 years," said Catholic psychologist Halina Grzymala-Moszczynska, a professor at the Institute for the Science of Religion at Poland's oldest university - Jagiellonian - in Krakow. As a result, she said, Poles have developed a "learned helplessness syndrome."

The economic forecast shows inflation reaching 35 percent this year. An abundance of Western goods in shops but a lack of currency to buy them, job losses in the coal and steel industries and the incompatibility of most people's skills and educations with the changing economy have caused what Grzymala-Moszczynska calls a "social schizophrenia."

A major upset in September's legislative elections - though not a return to communism - also effected drastic changes for people in Poland. Now allies of the old regime control a third of parliament.

Perhaps no one was more shocked by the returns than the winners, said Grzymala-Moszczynska, whose research offers a cross-cultural analysis of religion, psychology and economics. The professor spent much of last month lecturing at colleges throughout the United States. She also addressed the annual meetings here of Christians Associated for Relationships with Eastern Europe and the American Academy of Religion.

The victors were the Democratic Left Alliance and the Polish Peasant Party. Each nearly tripled its numbers in parliament, even though both wanted to become "the creative opposition" and to persuade former Premier Hanna Suchocka to stay on after the no-confidence vote in May, Grzymala-Moszczynska told NCR.

The professor called the Catholic church's involvement in politics "the biggest mistake" it has ever made in Poland, beginning last year when the church "did not distance itself politically from the ultrarightists." (In the 1993 elections the church backed the peasant parties, reflecting its own greatest support in the countryside.)

Meanwhile, the church is increasing efforts to help Polish citizens. The nation's bishops have termed unemployment, which nears 100 percent in some areas, "the ultimate evil," she said.

Catholic media outlets have called for the placement of efficient managers in industry, in opposition to the sale of plants to Western capitalists. The church also has proposed that industrial giants, like the Krakow steel works, be converted into groups of smaller, independent and more flexible units. In addition, it recommends extended financial help and job training to the unemployed, especially for parents of large families.

Locally, many dioceses and parishes have begun to offer support to those looking for work, including counsel on resume writing and job interviews. These efforts are all "firsts" for the church, said Grzymala-Moszczynska.
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Author:Lefevere, Patricia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 17, 1993
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