Outspoken Hungarian communist calls for radical reform

Imre Pozsgay makes Mikhail Gorbachev look cautious. A member of the Hungarian Communist Party Central, the 54-year-old Pozsgay takes Gorbachev's example and calls for political change that goes further. In a Monitor interview, he even expressed willingness to consider the creation of an independent trade union in Hungary like Poland's Solidarity.

This radicalism makes him vulnerable. Like other septuagenarian leaders in the East bloc, Hungarian party chief Janos Kadar is wary of the Soviet reforms and steers toward the center. In a leadership shuffle last summer, Mr. Kadar left Mr. Pozsgay out of the Politburo.

Nonetheless, Pozsgay remains influential. From his Central Committee post, he campaigns openly for his ideas, outlining how far reform could go if applied to Eastern Europe.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Why do you call for dramatic political reforms?

Our present-day economic stagnation is not economic in nature as much as social and political. Since the 1968 [economic] reform, we have faced a specific contradiction. By organizing our economy around money, commodities, and market relations, interest groups have developed within the economic organizations. But we continue to have an administrative political system.

What type of changes do you envisage?

The political life in our country must provide for the emergence of interest groups, groups which have autonomy. These groups would have a positive relation with the state and government. They would have appropriate legal platforms. No longer would we only have one alternative in political life.

Exactly what types of groups?

The goal of the changes is to get the citizens more involved. It should be possible for citizens to establish clubs. Parliament should become more powerful and play a more predominant role. The system of government no longer should be one of passing decrees which are not discussed publicly. When the government is asked to report various facts and figures, they should be given.

Would you legalize a Hungarian Solidarity?

I would accept that if such an organization regulates itself. When we talk about Solidarity, I don't name any problems from the type of [1980] agreements signed in Gdansk [between striking workers and the Polish authorities]. But Solidarity was unable to limit itself and pushed the government to extremes.

What would such changes mean for the one-party system?

I don't think of establishing a multi-party system in a socialist system. There is one historical fact we cannot ignore: Our political stability and the integrity of the system is linked with the one party. I think it would be too easy to destroy this stability.

For this reason, the most important matter would be for the party to withdraw itself from its present relationship with the state and society - and to establish a new relationship.

Are your ideas accepted by the Communist Party?

There are some who accept them and others who make strong polemics. My way of thinking is becoming stronger within the party. True, it is not expressed in my party functions.

But I'm a member of a small committee appointed by the Central Committee to work at these ideas. I would say that I have the ability to take part in polemics. For this task, my character is apt. I am patient.

Party leader Janos Kadar is 75 years old. Do you hope to succeed him?

The trouble here in Eastern Europe is that we talk about succession at all.

That's a problem. I'm interested in a way of eliminating problems concerning succession.

In a system like this, [it is a] matter of chance if a positive figure like Kadar gets into his position or a negative figure. We must institutionalize guarantees to prevent mistakes.

Within the party, democracy should be upgraded. We must limit the duration of time people should hold top posts. ... [Elections of leaders] should be done in open and in front of the public.

What do you think of Soviet leader Gorbachev?

Last winter, I spent six weeks in the Soviet Union. This summer I spent three weeks. ... I arrive at the conclusion that while Gorbachev is personally a strong figure, he cannot manage a country full of contradictions. He has the burden of a difficult heritage. I hope he will prove to be successful. But I am concerned about the pace of progress.

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