East bloc on Andropov: shrewd, tolerant

Moderate leaders in East Europe seem to like the look of Yuri Andropov, the new general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. They see him as a man whose mind is not closed to moving with the times.

Such leaders anticipate some demands for a ''firming up'' of the East European ranks. But they are not perturbed by the tough ''we will not beg peace from the imperialists'' note in Andropov's first statement following his appointment.

Rather, he is regarded as firmly attached to detente and easing of East-West tensions - and that is one of East Europe's principal yardsticks for measuring domestic options as well as possibilities for international relations.

Anything along these lines could boost moderate forces within the Communist parties of East Europe, especially those favoring change in economic relations.

As far back as last June, East Europeans in authoritative positions were speaking of him as a politically qualified and shrewd realist. They said that, as ambassador to Budapest during the 1956 uprising, he saw that Janos Kadar's subsequent ''middle way'' was the only one by which to get Hungary out of its crisis.

They took care to portray him in very different terms from his popular image. As head of the KGB, the Soviet secret police, for 15 years, he had left that position only a month before these conversations.

''It is wrong to regard him just as a policeman,'' a well-placed source who had known him in Budapest said. ''Keep in mind that when he took over the KGB, it was already then a very different thing from the terror institution of Stalin's time. His appointment was a party one intended to bring the organization more under party control, which it was and has been till this day.''

These Hungarians pointed to other stages in Mr. Andropov's career. For example, at one period he was close to foreign affairs. They noted personal characteristics observed during his four years in the Budapest embassy, including his ''understanding of our situation.''

Neither the Hungarians nor the other East Europeans, however, anticipate major changes in relationships with Moscow now that he has, indeed, succeeded to the top job.

According to East Europeans, although Brezhnev expected deference to Soviet ''experience,'' he never tried to play the blunt dictator in day-to-day relations with them. There was ''the major lapse'' when Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia but that, said one, was to end a major crisis. Brezhnev had appeared hesitant to take direct action against the Prague reformers in 1968.

It was credibly believed to be the same with Poland in 1980. Until things began, in Moscow's eyes, to get out of hand in the summer of 1981, he was widely seen as ready to accept economic reform and even Solidarity, just as for a decade he had more than accepted developments in Hungary. Not only had Brezhnev ''tolerated'' Hungarian pragmatism, but also he recently lauded it - especially in agriculture - as an example for the bloc.

Both in 1968 and 1980, Andropov is reputed to have taken the same position. Earlier, he had taken a highly tolerant view of ''what Kadar was setting out to do,'' a Hungarian closely placed at the time told me.

If Andropov learned something of the merits, or inevitability, of a ''middle way'' in Hungary, it would show itself in the intellectual field - where he is reputed to have gained some standing with Soviet intellectuals - as well economics.

It has been another aspect of ''Kadarism,'' which has handled dissent with an almost laissez faire degree of tolerance, with only occasional (and then extremely mild) penal action against it. In Poland, the same applied till last year.

If all that is said about Andropov in this direction be true, then it might conceivably be expected a different handling of Soviet dissidents, could emerge.

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