The Polish Communist Party announced its choice for a new premier Monday, selecting Mieczyslaw Rakowski, a former newspaper editor known for his mixture of liberal views and his tough stance against the banned Solidarity union.
Rakowski, 61, the party's chief of propaganda, was recommended after a daylong meeting of the Central Committee. The choice will get the rubber-stamp approval of the Polish Parliament, the Sejm, today.
Rakowski will replace Zbigniew Messner, who resigned along with his entire Cabinet a week ago. The Messner government had come under intense criticism for its handling of the economy and, in effect, served as a scapegoat for the worst outbreak of labor unrest here since Solidarity was banned in 1981.
Some party insiders suggested that Rakowski's role as head of the Polish government--which plays a subservient role to the Communist Party--could be transitional if Poland continues to move toward a more open system, as suggested by the government's recent proposals to hold what it calls "round-table discussions" with various groups, including Solidarity. The discussions are supposed to begin next month.
Hard Line on Solidarity
Rakowski was known as a hard bargainer against Solidarity during the union's period of official existance in 1980 and 1981, when he led the government side in negotiations with Lech Walesa and other Solidarity leaders. In the years since, he has defended the government's decision to outlaw the organization, the first independent trade union in the Communist Bloc.
At the same time, Rakowski has been considered one of the party's leading liberals, a reputation established in his 24-year tenure as editor of the party's weekly, Polityka. Rakowski left the paper in 1982, but he had ushered in a new era in which writers were free to criticize the Communist system and to advocate reforms that disturbed party conservatives.
Party sources say Rakowski campaigned actively within the party for the premier's post, in contrast to another leading candidate, Wladislaw Baka, a party economist, who was said to have turned down the position.
Solidarity leaders were cautious in their reaction to Rakowski's appointment.
"It is not the problem of a change in government that is important now, but the problem of a change in policy," said Bronislaw Geremek, a senior adviser to the union. "If Mr. Rakowski brings a political program of a new, open policy of dialogue with society, then it will be very good."
"We hope that he will come with pluralism," Walesa said, "with a new willingness for reform, which is what the country needs."
Takes Middle Road
Some diplomats suggested that Rakowski has positioned himself carefully to win support from both conservative and liberal branches of the party, recognizing the deep conflict in the system that has ruled Poland since 1948.
Party sources say that the "apparatus," as they call the sprawling structure that includes both government and industry, has been shaken by the government's overtures to Solidarity. Members of that structure, they say, fear that any recognition of the opposition organization ultimately threatens their positions and power.
At the same time, the party's leading theorists have come to believe that Poland's socialist system cannot weather crisis after crisis without building broader public support--support they feel could be gained by including at least the symbolic participation of opposition forces such as Solidarity.
The problem that Rakowski and party leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski face in the coming months centers on finding a compromise that will satisfy both sides.
While grappling with these ideological issues, they are also faced with economic problems that may not wait for answers: a 60% inflation rate, recurrent shortages of consumer goods, an increasingly restive labor force, a foreign debt approaching $40 billion and a rejuvenated Solidarity.