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US Poles Cheer Solidarity Prime Minister, but Are Wary

August 18, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ Polish immigrants in this city, home to more people of Polish descent than any city outside Poland, reacted with enthusiasm and a great deal of caution Friday to news that a Solidarity activist had been chosen to be prime minister in their native land.

″The Polish nation has shown the world that they haven’t given up - even after 40 years,″ said Mira Puacz, owner of a Polish-language bookstore in the heart of the city’s Polish community. ″It’s unprecedented in Eastern Europe - it’s promising.″

A Polish government source said Friday that President Wojciech Jaruzelski had chosen journalist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to lead the Eastern bloc’s first non- communist government.

Poles in Chicago and in Hamtramck, Mich., another Polish center, expressed surprise at the rapid pace of change in their homeland. Eight years ago, the government banned Solidarity and even last year it was still outlawed.

″The changes in Poland have come around so fast that no one could have predicted one year ago, or even six months ago, that it would come to pass,″ said Kazimierz Olejarczyk, vice president of the Polish-American Congress in Hamtramck.

In June, Polish citizens worldwide cast absentee ballots in Poland’s first relatively democratic election since World War II, which had some non- Communist candidates running for parliament seats.

Back then, the 5,000 people who voted at the Polish Consulate in Chicago gave overwhelming support - 95 percent - to Solidarity candidates.

Mazowiecki, who spent time in jail for his anti-government activities, will have to persuade Poles to make huge sacrifices if he wants to succeed and get Poland’s economy back on track, Ms. Puacz said.

Barbara Zarnecki, a customer in the bookstore, said she believes Mazowiecki is the man for the job. ″He’s a very intelligent person,″ she said. ″I think he can convince people there needs to be 20 years of belt tightening.″

Others, however, were not so confident in Mazowiecki’s abilities or in the will of Poland’s communist authorities to give up power.

Wlodzimierz Dziubek, who moved to Chicago from Warsaw four years ago, said he feared things in Poland would get worse, not better.

″It’ll be a repeat of ’80 and ’81,″ Dziubek said, referring to the imposition of martial law that ended Solidarity’s first heyday. ″How many times have they said in Poland that they’ll change and there’ll be democratization? Fifty-six, ’70, ’80 - this is the fourth time.″

Marian Prusek, who owns a travel agency in the Chicago neighborhood, said that while the authorities would surely be reluctant to give up power, they may do so peacefully.

″From what we know of the communists, they don’t give up power without a struggle,″ Prusek said. ″But now we need to know what form that struggle will take - will it be in the parliament?″

While some people expressed fear of the Soviet Union’s reaction to a non- communist government in Poland, Chicago Alderman Roman Pucinski said Soviet intervention is unlikely.

″The winds of change are just too strong,″ Pucinski said. ″I think it’s too late. It’s too late for the Soviet Union to react in any forceful way.″

And considering the dire state of the Polish economy, authorities there may have no choice but to give Solidarity a chance to put things right.

″Poland is devastated economically,″ he said. ″If they want to get out of the crisis, they need some kind of change.″

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