Hungarian leader Janos Kadar opened his party's 13th congress here yesterday with a strong reaffirmation of continued economic reform and a sober, unequivocal warning to the nation that only hard work and stronger social discipline will see it through its economic difficulties. In his speech to the meeting, he claimed solid but ``modest'' achievements over the past five years. He candidly acknowledged public disappointment at unfulfilled expectations and a stagnation in living standards.
He said that the only way to tackle the problems was to persevere with reform -- to modernize it and make management still more flexible. This, he said, would secure modest but real growth in wages and living standards under the next five-year plan, beginning in 1986.
``We can only distribute what we produce. There are no magicians here, no miracle workers, and no one expects this congress to work wonders in four days,'' he said.
It was a low-key, characteristically workmanlike speech, concentrating on economic essentials and backed by a plea for public understanding of the difficult economic international environment in which a small country like Hungary has had to work since 1980.
This whole congress setting is typically ``Kadar.''
There is no public portraiture of Mr. Kadar or his principal aides, no streets and buildings plastered with slogans and red (or even national) flags.
At the main railway station, where many foreign communist guests arrived, there was a single banner saying, ``Welcome to the delegates!'' -- and beside it a big ad for Pepsi-Cola.
Inside the recently completed conference hall (largely built by an Austrian construction firm) there was no more than a podium backdrop with a head of Lenin and the words, ``Forward on Lenin's road.''
The 935 delegates applauded as Kadar led the party leadership and foreign delegates -- including Soviet Poliburo member Grigory Romanov -- onto the stage. There was another modest round of applause as Kadar took the floor to speak and only a slightly longer, warmer one as he completed the speech one hour and 50 minutes later.
There was no ``standing ovation'' of the kind accorded most other East-bloc leaders and none of the ``cult of personality'' razzmatazz which is always a feature of Communist Party occasions in neighboring Romania.
Kadar touched lightly on sensitive issues, such as the party's evidently mounting concern at public skepticism and the ideological weaknesses implicit in its failures in putting across its essentially ``work now, cake later'' economic policies.
He also acknowledged such failures in terms of widespread indifference and a glaring lack of ``socialist consciousness'' among young people.
``There is a saying,'' he said, ``that a people lives in its language and I believe that is particularly true of a country like Hungary. It owes much to it in its survival for 1,100 years. We must encourage our young people to use a human language and not just emulate those Western youngsters who can only chant `yeah, yeah!' I think we have had a little bit too much of that.''
Kadar gave no inkling of what further concrete measures might lie ahead to make the reform more effective and to overcome the social problems caused by political decisions -- such as pay differentials as a reward for meritorious and conscientious work.
He emphasized continued ``full employment'' as part and parcel of economic policy. But he also spoke of ``efficient'' employment and made clear that the mobility of labor is going to be more firmly adjusted -- as well as management made more strictly accountable -- to the needs of the economy. This, he said, was in the workers' and the nation's own interests.
Another strongly stressed thread running through his speech was insistence on ``equal opportunity for all'' in all public affairs -- an echo of the party and nonparty theme in his first efforts at national conciliation after the 1956 uprising.
In this context he referred to the new law under which two or more candidates will be required to run for each seat in parliament and local councils in next year's elections. (This move does not entail any concession to party pluralism or revision of the single party ``socialist'' state.) Kadar also spoke of wider powers for the trade unions, though these so far would seem to rest in the letter rather than effective practice.
Some pre-Congress speculation on major changes in the party leadership -- involving even Kadar himself -- would seem to be completely misplaced.
Some Hungarian officials, but not senior ones, talk of a possibility that at mid-term between this and the next congress five years hence, Kadar, having reached 75 years of age, might be relieved of some of his burden by being elevated as party president with a new first secretary chosen from among the two or three Politburo members currently seen as his most important aides.
Kadar is surely going to be reelected later this week and there was nothing in his demeanor yesterday to suggest the contrary.