Afghanistan has demonstrated vividly how relative is the public "right to know" in the different Soviet-bloc countries. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also has revealed the varying degrees of interpretation in which some East Europeans are better informed than others within the bloc.
For Romania, which had its own reasons for political prudence, Afghanistan was a matter of extre reticence. Its paper scarcely mentioned the invasion for 10 days. Reporting has been singularly meager ever since.
For East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria there were no such doubts.
From the start, the news media in these three most-conformist East bloc countries plugged the Kremlin's version of events. Their own reporters were dispatched to Kabul to provide native verisimilitude.
Poland, which was predictably uneasy, took its time before giving the Soviets backing. Its coverage has remained restrained.
So has Hungary's. Although comment finally adapted to the firm Soviet line, two other elements mingled with it to give an air of broader treatment.
One was frank official admission of public concern about detente and fear for the good relations Hungary has achieved with the West, especially the United States, in recent years.
Other was a degree of candor in informing the public simply by airing East-West differences and Western reactions by Russia's Afghanistan move, thus acquainting people rather directly with another side to the Russians' story of events.
For a long time Hungarian radio and TV have presented foreign affairs programs that often delve boldly into sensitive issues. Western reporters, for example, take part with Hungarian commentators and, usually, a Tass (Soviet news agency) man to provide appropriate balance on the strict party line.
The first of a new 1980 Radio Budapest "diary" a serious provided the most striking example thus far. A phone-in program on international politics, it focused almost almost entirely on Afghanistan and its effect on detente.
The panel was made up of the Communist Party's foreign affairs expert, Dr. Janos Berecz, and two Hungarian journalists. Two American commentators were brought into the program through interviews with the radio's Washington correspondent.
One was political science professor Eugene V.Rostow, the other Francis J. Seidner, public affairs adviser of the State Department's European section.
The program lasted no less than three hours, with a flood of questions in which listeners not only heard the professor airing a widespread American view that detente is "illusory," but also, Mr. Seidner stating squarely that invasion of Afghanistan by 60,000 Soviet troops -- at a time when there already was tension -- had "made the situation even more difficult."
"I hope," they heard Mr. Seidner say, "the Soviets will realize how great a danger they have created . . ., will withdraw, and [that] there will follow, once more, a safer time."
Many awkward questions were asked -- about hostages in Iran and Andrei Sakharov as well as Afghanistan. Dr. Berecz dealth with it all good humoredly and adroitly, keeping well attuned to Soviet policy and dispensing a good dose of criticism of US policy and its "cold-war-like hysteria" against Russia.
Someone from Moscow's Arbatov North American Research Institute was brought on the line to say the US "must realize that no major international questions -- e.g., the Middle East -- can be solved without Russia's participation."
All proper solid stuff along the Kremlin line, yet both questions and answers gave listeners a considerable insight on present conflicts between East and West , with a calculated touch of reassurance from a particularly Hungarian viewpoint.
On anxieties about Hungary's contacts with the US should US-Soviet relations worsen, Dr. Berecz said Hungary would maintain a cooperative attitude with American despite its "dual approach" toward the Soviet bloc.
Yugoslavia is the only communist state that, within its own certain broad restraints, has come to acknowledge the wisdom of freedom of information and discussion.
The public "right to know" is regarded as one of the surest props for the open system evolved as a direct result of the country's place outside the bloc.
Hungary, of course, has no such scope. Its new "radio diary" has "no go" areas. But, by East bloc standards, especially in a crisis period, it is a notable advance.