Hungary's leaders still condemn Imre Nagy and brush off ideas of his ultimate rehabilitation. But, for the first time, they are not averse to discussing the leader of the short-lived democracy movement of 1956. ``Downstairs in the lobby,'' said Karoly Grosz in his office in the Budapest Communist Party headquarters, ``you can see the memorial tablet to honest Communist Party workers murdered in the uprising. Nagy must bear responsibility for things like that, as well as the counterrevolution.''
Nagy was executed in 1958 for treason for his role in the popular uprising. Not long ago, a single sentence in a newspaper here reported his wife's death. It described her merely as ``the widow of I. Nagy.''
In answer to a direct question, Mr. Grosz gave what he saw as a direct reply. ``No,'' he said, ``we wouldn't execute him today. But you have to bear in mind the atmosphere and events of 30 years ago.''
Grosz was unequivocal in discounting the rehabilitation of Nagy. But he agreed that there could be a new - and presumably more generous - ``evaluation'' of Nagy's ultimate place in Hungary's postwar history.
That was as far as any of a number of senior establishment figures interviewed would go. After all, it is what the Soviet leadership seems to be doing now with Leon Trotsky and other long-disgraced figures in the Soviet pantheon.
A literary magazine recently acknowledged that the '56 uprising - which it called a ``tragedy'' - had become uppermost in the ``collective consciousness.''
Indeed, ordinary Hungarians as well as intellectual critics of the regime have increasingly called for greater ``openness'' about 1956. It seems generally accepted that this desire will soon have to be accepted officially. So far as Nagy is concerned, however, reevaluation will probably have to wait, so long as Janos Kadar is in office.