Hungarians are seeking to avoid Polish pitfalls. Activists seek union rights - but slowly

The Hagi, a spare, smoke-filled restaurant in the back streets of the Hungarian capital, seems far from the front lines in Gdansk's Lenin Shipyard, but not on the night after the collapse of the Polish workers' strike. About 100 leaders of the ``network of free initiatives'' met there to discuss their efforts to create independent associations.

They addressed a petition to their government for a free press, free unions, free political parties - and for the same freedoms in Poland.

``For people in our circles, Poland is very important'' says Miklos Haraszti, a network founder. ``There is no way out of their situation without dialogue.''

Eternal optimists and hardened fighters, the Hungarian activists refused to believe that their Polish trade union heros could be finished.

On Saturday, Pal Forgacs plans to announce the formation of Hungary's first independent union.

Compared to Poland's outlawed Solidarity trade union movement, it will be small, consisting of only a few hundred scientists, predominantly PhDs working at research institutes.

The mass of Hungarian workers remains indifferent to their preoccupations.

``Solidarity was first,'' says Mr. Forgacs. ``It is our model.''

Forgacs still hopes that Solidarity will make a comeback. Like many others assembled at the Hagi, he believes that Solidarity leader Lech Walesa made a tactical retreat by walking out of the shipyard.

``This was not a surrender'' he says. ``Walesa knew it must be better to wait and organize a national movement.''

Hungarian communists have developed a similar analysis. They don't believe Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's government has managed to bring real stability to Poland.

``To work, the Polish experiment needs political stability'' says Janos Fekete, president of the National Bank. ``Jaruzelski is a Polish patriot, and I wish him well.''

A lesson is visible in their Polish colleague's dilemma.

It's not that Hungarian communists fear the creation of an Hungarian Solidarity - while Forgacs's new union would set a dangerous precedent, it would be limited to a few isolated scientists.

From their perspective, what is important is taking the necessary time to ensure thorough public debate about reform measures.

Like Poland's Jaruzelski government, the Hungarian Communists hope to redirect resources toward efficient industries. As as in Poland, this means closing unprofitable factories and raising consumer prices.

But the Hungarians would never follow the Polish example in declaring economic reforms by decree.

``The Poles moved too quickly in instituting their reforms'' says Mr. Fekete. ``You must take time to explain the problems.''

The Hungarian opposition also needs to take its time and be careful.

On the one hand, it feels a need to work with other East European opposition groups.

On the other, it realizes that a joint rebellion of Moscow's East European satellites would provoke an angry reaction from the Kremlin.

According to the activists assembled at the Hagi restaurant, Mikhail Gorbachev offers them some space for increased action, but they note that the Soviet press responded with stiff criticism of the Solidarity movement.

``The dilemma is, if we don't work with Poland and the others, then we can be defeated one by one, while if we go together, then the chances of a Soviet intervention get bigger,'' says Gyorgy Gado, a network activist. ``We must find a difficult harmony.''

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