Springtime is bringing signs of new life in Poland. The first free elections in 63 years are due June 4, the first free opposition newspaper since 1945 began publishing two weeks ago, and huge Solidarity opposition banners are sprouting all over the country like spring's red tulips.
Among the other changes, Marriott and Holiday Inn are racing to finish new hotels, the Polish secret police has stopped following U.S. diplomats, and the road from West Berlin is full of flat-bed trucks with Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs destined for Poland's new entrepreneurs.
President Bush is due here in July. His visit, say both U.S. and Polish officials, is to signal new and closer relations between the two countries and the United States' "delight" at Poland's new policies.
Poland is surprising even the Poles.
"I am like Alice in Wonderland. This is like visiting a foreign country," said Dorota Mieroslawska, a Warsaw housewife who says she and her family and friends talk through the night about the changes taking place.
As a result of the agreement in April between the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelksi and Solidarity, the trade union-turned-national movement led by Lech Walesa, Poland is at the forefront of the Communist world in reforming its society.
And reform here means just that.
The most visible change is the ongoing electoral campaign for the Parliament and Senate. With the dazzle and chaos of politics in democratic countries everywhere, this has turned the gray walls of Warsaw into the ideal backdrop for thousands of colorful campaign posters.
At its campaign headquarters in Constitution Square in the center of Warsaw, Solidarity has turned a popular bar, Cafe Niespodzianka, into a buzzing political center.
Through the windows, onlookers have a grand view into democratic politics. And dozens are glued to those windows night and day.
With a keen sense of marketing its product, Solidarity has provided a television set and constantly plays tapes of Solidarity's eight-year struggle against the government. Hundreds watch the tapes over and over.
One tape shows the Gdansk strikes; another, Walesa electrifying an audience. Until April, just having one of those tapes would have been sufficient evidence for a long jail sentence.
Trucks plastered with campaign posters drive slowly through neighborhoods, touting the candidacy of one of hundreds of candidates for the Parliament and the Senate.
"There are so many candidates, I am confused," a middle-aged man said.
"Isn't this just like the West?" asks Maciej Zaleski, a young Solidarity volunteer.
For Anna, a 52-year-old economist who works at a government ministry and still fears reprisals at her nation's newfound freedoms
job, the new-found political freedoms come not a minute too soon.
Anna said she will study all the ballots, weigh every option, then "I will vote for Solidarity candidates in every single race because I want to pay the government back for 40 years of nothing."
Political observers, including high-ranking Polish Communist Party officials, estimate that Solidarity candidates will sweep the election in such a manner as to make life miserable for the Communist Party.
"Our estimate is that Solidarity will probably gain between 85 to 95 percent of all seats they run for," said Mariwsj Gulczywski, a central committee ideologue and member of the round table talks that produced the accord.
The election for 460 parliament seats has some important restrictions. Solidarity will be able to run candidates only for 160 seats. The remaining 65 percent of the seats will be reserved for the Communist Party and three small splinter parties. At the elections in 1993, all 460 seats will be freely elected.
From the beginning, all 100 seats of the newly created senate will be freely contested.
The government strategy calls for playing the defensive role to Solidarity's political machine.
"Imagine that. They have the church, they have American money -- Solidarity has received $1 million from the National Endowment for Democracy -- and they have the entire Western radio frequencies supporting them," said Trybuna Ludu, the official government daily.
At Solidarity headquarters, the view is different.
"We have literally run out of money; we have totally exhausted our allotted television time, and we still have (two) weeks to go," said Andrew Urbanik, a campaign strategist.
But those seemingly insurmountable problems did not concerned him a bit.
"We will win big because people have swallowed so much for so long that they are ready to strike a blow for freedom, so even if we don't do one more thing, we will sweep," he said.
The feelings are less upbeat at Gazetta Wyborcza, the new Solidarity-supported newspaper, which began publishing in a converted child-care center in the basement of a suburban apartment building.
Helena Luczywo, the assistant editor who runs the daily operations, is more concerned about how to buy and operate a computer-driven typesetting system than with the ideology of Poland's first free independent paper in 44 years.
Until late April, she ran Poland's most successful underground newspaper, which, under the agreement between Solidarity and the government, will be permitted to publish up to 500,000 copies a day.
Already, because she decided to devote one of its eight daily tabloid pages to candidates outside the Solidarity slate, she is getting flak from Solidarity officers.
"It was more fun when we were underground. Then every weekly edition was romantic, an adventure. This is a daily headache," she said.
A few blocks away from the downtown storefront Solidarity headquarters, Boston-based Joost F. Mulder, a Marriott hotels executive, is climbing up and down concrete stairways inside the 42-story Warsaw Marriott, due to open Oct. 27.
"This is a frontier, a frontier for capitalism, and this country isn't going back to communism for anything. These people love good things," he said.