BUDAPEST — AS Hungary's ruling party seeks to forge a new identity ahead of next spring's free elections, the country's first in 40 years, it is searching for an image that might attract voters. In discarding the old dogmas and ideology of communism, the newly established Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP) is also ditching the symbols of the ancien r'egime.
The red star on top of the parliament building that overlooks the Danube will soon be extinguished. At 6 p.m. next Monday, on the 33rd anniversary of the 1956 uprising that was crushed be the Soviet Army, the power that makes the red star twinkle is to be cut off.
``It is extremely important to change the party's image for the elections. But it is very difficult to build a new image, and there is very little time,'' says Professor Gyorgyi Fukasz, the head of the former party school that has been transformed into an elections center. ``It is very important to have good symbols.''
But the communists-turned-socialists are finding it a difficult task. A central problem appears to be that although it is aware of what it does not want, the ruling party is much less clear about what it actually does want.
In the attempt to hone its image, the party called a public relations firm. The experts came up with a large multicolored rainbow motif that merges into the Hungarian national flag, which is red, white, and green.
Immediately following last week's emergency congress that dissolved the Communist Party and founded the Hungarian Socialist Party, the fa,cade of the elections center was draped with a huge banner featuring the rainbow motif that proclaimed: ``The HSP, the road to the future, democratic socialism.''
But what does the rainbow signify? ``Colorfulness, the many-sidedness of the future, and in Europe the rainbow has connotations of hope for something good. We wanted to express this,'' says Peter Brody, a Budapest party official who runs the campaign headquarters.
He reveals that his team is working furiously on a symbol for the party. The front-runner is a red carnation. It has been suggested that it have a green stem on a white background, thus combining the socialist flower with the national colors.
A red tulip and a red rose are also under consideration. Brody prefers the carnation. ``A rose is a bit expensive, a bit exclusive. The carnation is a workingman's flower.''
But the issue of symbols and signals is a sensitive one. While eager to develop a fresh identity, the party is careful not to trample too heavily on the past.
In the foyer of the center, downstairs from the party functionaries' offices, a bronze frieze of a benign-looking Lenin still surveys the scene.
Since the party has just become the first of its kind in the Warsaw Pact to reject the legacy of Marxism-Leninism, some people might question Lenin's presence.
Fukasz is not sure. ``Whether Lenin stays will have to be decided by the new party presidium.''
Brody is much more assertive: ``The congress concluded that we must rid ourselves of the dogmas of Marxism and Leninism. But we do not need to get rid of Marx's ideas.''