Amid Soviet calls to allies, Hungary reaffirms Westward bent
Budapest — Midway through the Soviet Communist Party Congress, heads of most Western missions here were called to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. Once there, they were handed a memorandum which set out the Hungarian government's interest in further expanding substantial economic -- and other -- links already established with most of the major Western capitalist states.
Hungary, the statement said, would like to see current relationships expanded -- and not only in the area of trade. Other Suggestions included increasing political, scientific, technological, and cultural contacts; and direct investment by Western companies, many of which already are involved in Hungary's socialized enterprises.
In essence, the Hungarians were saying nothing new. As a result of their wide-reaching market reform model, they are -- despite membership in Comecon (the East-bloc Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) and ties to the Soviet Union -- already economically more involved with the West than any of their East European allies.
What did make this new reminder of interest notable was its timing -- it was conveyed to the Western ambassadors Feb. 28, day 4 of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's party congress.
The timing prompted the recipients to view it as an assurance that Hungary's rather special relations with the West are not going to be affected by the new emphasis Mr. Gorbachev is putting on greater ``integration'' within Comecon.
By integration, Gorbachev clearly means increased cooperation -- through joint specialization and investment contributions by the East Europeans in Soviet efforts to develop new resources.
One Western diplomat sees this latest Hungarian statement as a way of saying: ``Nothing has changed. We are still going ahead. There will be no going back.''
Hungary, with its reform solidly founded, has more options than other East Europeans who are either nibbling at reform or shunning it altogether. But, given its current economic difficulties, it will be an uphill task to stay on its ``open'' course and pursue the diversification of which its economists talk -- even if Comecon's demands do not increase.
Hungary's ties with the Soviets and Comecon are still a crucial matter of market and trade necessity -- and are politically and ideologically paramount.
Since mid-November 1985, Hungary has signed no fewer than 40 bilateral agreements with Moscow. These cover trade until 1990, planning coordination, energy and raw materials, industrial cooperation, and a wide range of general economic and technical joint activity.
All this may cramp the Hungarians' style and further growth of Western ties on which their export-oriented economy, which is also in need of modernization, counts so much.
Such uneasiness apart, officials here are at least satisfied that whatever Mr. Gorbachev said about reforming and streamlining Soviet economic practices -- even if he was not very specific -- means a continued green light for them.
It is some encouragement also to other East Europeans, particularly the Poles. Poland is still trying to put into practice essential reforms that were seen as overdue political crisis struck in 1980. Subsequent Western sanctions made reform even more difficult.
However, Comecon's ``conservative'' members -- Czechoslovakia, for example -- are pleased the Soviet leader went no further than he did. A regime which has ignored reform promptings for 15 years will be relieved that there is to be no undue pressure from Moscow as Prague prepares to stage its own congress later this month.
East Europeans interviewed found so little new in Gorbachev's focus on communism's domestic concerns that interest perceptibly flagged through the 10 days of debate -- despite dutiful news media coverage -- just as it did in the West. Concern over superpower rivalry
East Europeans were noticeably more alive to, and concerned about, the new friction apparent in the latest Washington-Moscow exchanges.
President Reagan's letter on arms control, sent to Gorbachev on the eve of the congress, drew adverse comment here. So did Mr. Reagan's show of impatience at Moscow's delay in ``naming the day'' for the next summit.
East European spokesmen in general -- not just Hungarians -- complain that Washington has neither read Gorbachev's congress speech nor taken his various disarmament and security initiatives seriously enough.
There is a growing apprehension that a new impasse may be developing between the two superpowers. But the onus is placed primarily on the United States.
``There has to be some interim agreement,'' say foreign policy officials here, ``to ensure some substantive result'' from the next Reagan-Gorbachev summit.
One suggestion offered is that Mr. Reagan could ``prove'' himself serious by agreeing to a ``trial'' run for the Soviets' nuclear testing moratorium proposal -- one which the President has thus far adamantly rejected.
``If only for three to six months,'' a highly qualified foreign affairs source said, ``it would engender confidence that the President's intentions are more serious than have seemed evident in his own latest pronouncements.''
The nuclear threat, as Gorbachev said in his congress speech, is global. But East European reformers, of course, have their special stake.
``If the threat is not lifted it will be goodbye to more reform,'' said one. ``We will all be trapped one way or another in `star wars' or whichever kind of new arms race develops.
``It will mean greater military spending for all of us and that in turn will put more limits on already strained development resources.''
This, in fact, seems to weigh more heavily on East Europeans than uncertainties about the likely demands of Comecon's future economic integration.