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Jaruzelski Steps Down as Polish Premier but Keeps Communist Party Leadership

Times Staff Writer

Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski stepped down as premier Wednesday but retained full authority as first secretary of the Communist Party.

The move appears to mark a new effort by Jaruzelski to revive the moribund party as the dominant center of power in Poland, diplomatic observers said.

As a newly elected Parliament convened for its first session, Jaruzelski presented Zbigniew Messner, a 56-year-old economist and his immediate deputy, as the new premier or head of government.

The 460-seat Parliament, or Sejm, also named Jaruzelski to replace Henryk Jablonski in the largely ceremonial post of chairman of the Council of State, the equivalent of a parliamentary president. For the purposes of protocol in foreign relations, this ranks Jaruzelski with heads of state.

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Under the new alignment of power, Messner, who was previously in charge of implementing Poland’s largely stalled economic reforms, will have day-to-day responsibility for the operations of government, including most of industry, which is owned by the state.

Jaruzelski, as head of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo, retains his authority over economic and social policy touching every aspect of life in Poland.

A four-star general, Jaruzelski, 62, was minister of defense in February, 1981, when he was named premier at the height of a political crisis in which the independent Solidarity labor union and its 10 million members had sapped the authority of the government and the party and gravely alarmed Poland’s neighbor, the Soviet Union.

Suppression of Solidarity

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Jaruzelski took his third title, as Communist Party leader, in October, 1981, and two months later suppressed Solidarity as leader of the Soviet Bloc’s first martial-law regime.

Martial law was lifted in July, 1983, and in that same year Jaruzelski gave up the post of defense minister. He remains chairman of the national defense council, which oversees defense and internal security matters.

Although the new power arrangement announced Wednesday leaves him fully in charge, diplomatic analysts said the changes are important, both for symbolic and practical reasons.

First, diplomats said, the changes mark a step back toward conventional power alignments in the Soviet Bloc, in which the head of government answers to the party leader.

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“Poland has been unique in recent years among Soviet Bloc countries in that the government has actually been governing,” one diplomat observed.

The authorities are expected to hail the separation of the two functions as a symbol of political “normalization” and “stabilization.”

Bland Personality

Another diplomat noted that by handing responsibility for the government to Messner, a former professor of economics whose bland personality has made little impression on the public, Jaruzelski has not only freed himself from many administrative burdens but has also put a potential scapegoat in place if the country’s battered economy fails to revive.

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Poland’s foreign debt, which continues to rise slowly as exports fail to generate enough income to meet interest payments, now stands at about $29 billion.

With only an indirect hand in running the government now, Jaruzelski is expected to concentrate on reviving the shattered Communist Party and ensuring that his relatively moderate reformist line prevails when a party congress convenes next May to set political, social and economic policy for the next five years.

Nearly a million members of the Polish Communist Party--about a third of its membership--have quit in disillusionment since martial law was imposed in 1981.

Because many of those who left came from the liberal end of the spectrum, Western analysts believe that the net effect of the exodus was to erode support within the party for liberal reforms and to shift the internal political balance toward conservative Marxist orthodoxy. Many observers believe that Jaruzelski faces an uphill struggle to maintain the primacy of his own views at next year’s party congress.

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Formal Resignation

Following much of the form but little of the substance of Western parliamentary democracies, Jaruzelski appeared before the inaugural session of the Sejm to present his government’s formal resignation. Attired in a dark blue business suit rather than his customary military uniform, Jaruzelski was elected to the presidency and then nominated Messner as premier.


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