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Playing a subtle hand; President Bush's visit to Poland and Hungary.

Playing a Subtle Hand

Some junior employees would find it a special honour to have their boss at their family dinner table because to their minds this would single them out as privileged subjects who, for some reason or other, enjoyed his special favours. If the higher-class dinner guest is a politician we can safely bet that such a social event is no more than a PR exercise designed to convey the image of a down-to-earth-guy-really-carin'-for-us. Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing surprised his fellow French a few weeks after his election in May 1974, by inviting a team of street-sweepers for morning coffee and croissants: he also used to invite himself to dinner at various workmen's flats. Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev was reported to have done a similar thing in Russia recently. While such little niceties are always carefully orchestrated for media coverage, many people are still prone to regard them as spontaneous gestures.

Much in the same spirit, President Bush during an official visit to Poland, made a quick trip to Gdansk to visit a Polish shipyard worker. The worker, Lech Walesa, happened to be the leader of the formerly dissident Solidarnosc trade union. He and Mrs. Walesa received Mr. and Mrs. Bush for lunch - with no Polish official present. Talks between the US President and Mr. Walesa were strictly private, to all intents and purposes, even though some eaves-dropping devices are quite likely to have relayed every sound to whom it may concern.

President Bush was by no means the first foreign dignitary paying a private call to Lech Walesa. The Polish union leader had also met Mrs. Thatcher and the Pope on earlier occasions, and he must be now feel quite at ease in the presence of VIP's.

The apparent change in the social structure of a number of nations in the Communist world in general, and Poland in particular, could not have been illustrated more blatantly than it was by this encounter and the circumstances surrounding it. In July 1981, dire need for essentials had prompted irate workers in Gdansk to occupy the Lenin Shipyard, thereby initiating a movement of protest against economic mismanagement at the government level. The movement came to be known as Solidarnosc. As usual in Eastern Europe in those years, the movement was immediately countered by brutal repression. Solidarnosc was banned, and those of its leaders who had not gone underground fast were arrested. There came the dreaded moment when the spectre of Soviet intervention hung in the balance as the Warsaw government showed signs of losing control. After the imposition of martial law Poland became isolated, its national economy in a state of utter ruin.

The rise to power of a group of reformers in the Soviet Union brought a turnaround of the political climate in Poland, illustrating to what extent Eastern European governments had been used to rely on external support just to survive political unrest. As Moscow gradually withdrew its protecting hand, Solidarnosc was grudgingly accepted as a negotiating partner. The Polish government, aware of their nation's dependence on Western capital in addition to a stay of debt redemption, finally faced up to political reality. Western leaders now make it a habit to listen to the Solidarnosc leadership when visiting Poland in order to hear both sides of the invariably sad story of economic hardship and how to overcome its effects. It is an irony of sorts for Lech Walesa now to urge President Bush, just as he had urged Mrs. Thatcher before, to comply with the Warsaw government's plea for accepting deferred debt redemption and renewing credits.

It was not by chance that following his Polish visit, President Bush also visited Hungary, another Communist nation struggling to overcome its past. Former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, Hungary's leader during the final phase of the illfated 1956 revolt against the remnants of Stalinism, brought to trial and executed on Soviet orders in 1958, is now officially rehabilitated. More than 30 years after his execution he was, at long last, given the honour of a Christian burial. In the process Hungary qualified for future United States economic aid.

President Bush, his seemingly halting start in office not withstanding, has played a subtle hand on his Eastern European trip. He gave the impression of leaving as a friend. At the same time he undoubtedly regained some of the initiative hitherto commanded by his Moscow counterpart, USSR President and Communist Party Secretary-General Gorbachev.

While these are comparatively small moves on the checkerboard of world politics, they seem to signal the direction of Mr. Bush's future endeavours. He will listen to what his advisors tell him about the pitfalls lurking in dealings with the Communist world, in spite of all the apparent effects of perestroika. Given his record of experience as a former CIA Director he will remain watchful without needing to be told.

One of pre-revolutionary Russia's famous poets, Maxim Gorki, suggested in an early drama that real power could well afford a humane face in the certain knowledge that it had the means to tighten its grip at any moment. Translated to the present, this implies that Mr. Gorbachev cannot single-handedly hold in check all the developments he initiated and achieve real power without the support of enough powerful allies in the Union's military and internal security establishments. Should he lose their allegiance, glasnost and perestroika would end as abruptly as Mr. Gorbachev himself.
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Publication:Armada International
Article Type:editorial
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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