Freedom and Peace Prevail
After a long battle, the Polish human rights group Freedom and Peace—founded three years ago by young people opposed to conscription—has won two startling victories. This summer the Polish parliament agreed to change the wording of its military oath. Soldiers will no longer be required to swear allegiance to Poland's "fraternal alliance with the Soviet army."
And in a related move, the government promised to release from prison all conscientious objectors and announced that conscripts will now have a civilian alternative to military service. About two dozen Freedom and Peace members have sent back their military service cards, and 14 have been jailed for refusing to serve. So far, none have been freed, but Western observers believe the government is just waiting for the most advantageous time to begin the release.
Freedom and Peace's efforts to carve out an area of life free from state control have thus far been successful. The Polish government's decision to allow civilian service marks the first time a Marxist government has recognized that an individual may put his conscience above the demands of the state. The government of Hungary has already indicated that it may follow the Polish example.
Composed mainly of university intellectuals, Freedom and Peace has been very active this year. The group acted as advisors to Solidarity in its most recent strike, helping to coordinate the activities of local strike councils. "The alliance of labor and intellectuals is a new development in Polish politics and something the government must take very seriously," says Barbara Sall, a representative of the group's Western arm.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Freedom and Peace Prevail".