There is more to the Soviet-American dialogue than talk about warheads, antiballistic missiles, and star wars. Even as world attention is focused on the coming Reagan-Gorbachev get-together, another East-West dialogue will soon be under way to deal with such issues as literary censorship, radio jamming, and minority rights.
This is the Cultural Forum, which will open in Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 15 as part of the ongoing Helsinki human rights process. To be attended by leading cultural figures from 35 nations, the forum will last until Nov. 26 and provide a kind of barometer of the Kremlin's mood as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan meet in Geneva.
Administration officials are preparing for the event with the mixture of hope and uncertainty that comes with plowing new ground. This is the first such East-West forum and the first Helsinki meeting to be held in a Soviet-bloc country.
``From our point of view we're trying to expand freedom of cultural exchange, travel, and information, and we'll be discussing the impediments that now exist,'' says Walter Stoessel, a former US deputy secretary of state who will head the 45-member US delegation.
``Our hope is that all these cultural figures will have an interaction among themselves that can be useful.''
The Soviets generally take an orthodox party line at such gatherings. The meeting of human rights experts in Ottawa, Canada, last June -- the last function attended by the signatories of the Helsinki Final Act -- was marked by heated polemics. It ended without a final document.
But with music, poetry, dance, paintings, and books providing a zestful and entertaining backdrop to the discussions, it is hoped that fruitful exchanges will take place, at least with the non-Soviet East Europeans.
``We don't want a bland restatement of platitudes,'' says Ambassador Stoessel, who once served as envoy in Moscow. ``But if we can state the problems and impediments and have specific proposals to overcome them, that could be worthwhile.''
Hungary is seen to be in a delicate position. Although it is a member of the Soviet bloc, it has managed to expand trade and other ties with the West and permits an unusual amount of market economics.
But with so many Western and other cultural figures descending on the capital, Moscow is nervous and the Hungarians must be sensitive to its concerns -- even while wanting to host an enjoyable cultural fest and conference.
Diplomatic observers are watching to see just how Budapest maneuvers. According to congressional sources, Hungary raised a few difficulties over visas and is putting restrictions on what delegates from nongovernmental organizations may or may not do in Budapest -- with respect to holding informal symposiums or press conferences, for instance.
The forum will be divided into six working groups: painting, graphic and photograhic arts; theater, dance, folklore and music; design, architecture and preservation; film and television; literature, publication and translation; and mutual cultural knowledge.
Among the American participants will be such prominent cultural figures as playwright Edward Albee; pianist Eugene Istomin; artist Larry Rivers; sociologist Nathan Glazer; dancer Trisha Brown; Daniel Boorstin, head librarian of the Library of Congress; architect Peter Blake; and movie actor Cliff Robertson.
Many cultural events will take place outside the confines of the conference, including film showings, dance groups, art exhibitions, and string quartets.
It is hoped that in this cultural atmosphere delegates will relax and talk frankly -- with a minimum of ideological rhetoric -- about human rights problems.
Washington's concerns include the continued jamming of Western radio broadcasts, literary censorship, and restrictions on the travel of literary figures.
Also of concern are suppression of minority languages and restrictions on foreign journalists.
The Cultural Forum springs from the Madrid follow-up conference (1980-83) held in accordance with the declaration signed at the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki.
The Madrid conference scheduled a series of meetings dealing with human rights, including the Ottawa conference; the Budapest cultural forum; and a meeting of experts on human contacts that is to be held in Bern, Switzerland, in April 1986.
While the so-called Helsinki process has yielded only limited gains, American officials view it as useful for keeping a world spotlight on Soviet human rights abuses.
This keeps the Soviet leadership talking about human rights and hopefully will encourage the gradual easing of some of its repressive practices.