East Europe watches Poland

As the maverick, prudent reformer of the East bloc, Hungary has cast a less hostile but more anxious eye on Poland's roller-coaster reforms than any of the other East Europeans.

The Dec. 13 imposition of martial law appears to have made that anxiety doubly acute.

It has also stirred an ever-present fear in Budapest: that over-radical agitation for reform elsewhere can push Soviet tolerance too far and jeopardize its own steady but cautious experiments in moderate reform since the early 1960 s.

During Poland's fateful Dec. 13 weekend, in fact, the Kadar government in Hungary was already warning its own intellectuals against the hazards of abusing the opportunities for criticism and freedom of expression that developed after the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

The warning was delivered by Gyorgy Aczel, deputy premier and member of the Communist Party Politburo, to a meeting of Association of Hungarian Writers. It was not made public until Dec. 24, and the excerpts appearing in the Budapest press made no direct reference to Poland.

But its intention was clear. Mr. Aczel admonished Hungarians (who over the past year had displayed more and more open sympathy with the Polish ''renewal'') that the Polish militants' radicalism - and its challenge to the party - are not acceptable in Hungary.

For years now there has been an unwritten understanding of mutual tolerance between the modestly ''liberal'' leadership of Janos Kadar and the writers and other intellectuals. The government, Mr. Aczel told them, welcomed public debate and dialogue over its policies.

Unfortunately, he said, ''There are now those who have reached a stage in opposition and criticism where they consider debate beneath their dignity.''

''Our policy of tolerance and patience has not overstepped its well-defined boundaries in 25 years,'' he went on, ''but it is not wise if this patience is misunderstood.''

The warning was in the words ''it is not wise. . . .''

It was a clear warning that the Hungarian leadership thinks the Polish reform movement had gotten dangerously out of hand; and a reminder to the intellectuals that it was the pragmatic Hungarian way that had achieved viable economic reforms and leeway for social, political, and cultural tolerance that does not exist elsewhere in the bloc.

In their various ways, all the East Europeans have been increasingly shaken by the escalation of events in Poland ever since the summer 1980 strikes and the emergence of the first trade union in the bloc legalized as independent of Communist Party control. From the start Hungary, whose unions have latitude but not independence, was restrained in commenting on events in Poland. Only this year did it begin to echo its allies' criticism as Solidarity became more radical and political. Even then, Hungarian comment reflected its own special standpoint.

Predictably, the harshest note was sounded by the hard-line, orthodox, and antireform governments in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. They often took a vindictive tone.

The regime in Prague made much of Czechoslovakia's own experience in 1968, when Soviet intervention crushed the Dubcek regime. Presumably, the Czechoslovaks were counting on frightening a seemingly acquiescent, or increasingly powerless, leadership in Warsaw about the ''danger'' besetting communism in Poland.

There was considerable popular response in both Czechoslovakia and East Germany to official comment on the Poles' lagging work performance and their failure to meet their trade obligations while East Germans and Czechoslovaks were expected to ship more goods to Poland to help keep it from collapsing.

It was hardly surprising. These two neighbors had achieved the best living standards in the bloc. But, like the others, both were experiencing difficulties with declining economic growth rates and serious energy problems that threaten those living standards. Given Poland's example, all of these factors could have political repercussions.

There was increasing evidence that ordinary East Germans and Czechoslovaks resented Polish shopping sorties into the stores of East Berlin and Prague. They also resented being called on to provide the chaotic Polish economy with substantial credits and food deliveries well in excess of their contracts while the Poles were falling short on scheduled deliveries of coal and other raw materials to them.

When Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski announced military rule for Poland Dec. 13, it was not a moment too soon for Prague and East Berlin. For some time their criticism had been aimed as much at the Polish leadership of the Polish Communist Party as at the ''counterrevolutionary'' trade union Solidarity.

The Polish party, one sarcastic Prague comment said, was ''not short of good resolutions but it lacked resolution.'' This, it said, was being pointed out by the ''healthy forces'' - various hard-line groups and newspapers that came into being during the year - and ''these healthy forces need firm leadership!''

The imposition of martial law was generally acclaimed as the only thing the Warsaw leadership could do to forestall Solidarity's alleged bid for power and the civil war that would ensue.

Bulgaria and Romania, who are strictly orthodox and hard-line when it comes to any challenge to party dominance, saw it the same way. Hungary agreed, except that its comment implied - as the Aczel speech to the writers' union said - that going too far too fast could in the end only invite Soviet intervention, just as excessive demands had done in Hungary 25 years earlier.

Comment from independent Yugoslavia had a similar ring. The Yugoslav leadership considers martial law a ''necessary evil'' (brought about mainly by the party's ineptitude) but is deeply worried lest it lead to the greater evil of foreign intervention.

It is a point being made throughout the bloc. But in most cases outside intervention is seen as Western and particularly American interference in Polish affairs, especially since President Reagan announced economic sanctions against Warsaw's military regime.

Martial law has also prompted a revised view on Poland's need of aid from its East-bloc allies.

After the first week, East Germany began a big publicity campaign about the supplies it was sending. There were detailed accounts in the news media of road and rail transport being loaded with food and other goods.

Clearly East Europeans hope the Polish leadership will get by without having to call in the Russians to help restore order. It has several times said it would do so ''if necessary.''

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