HUNGARY will fall silent about 10 a.m. today. The unprecedented minute of mourning at Budapest's Hero's Square pays tribute to Imre Nagy, the prime minister in 1956, and dozens of his associates who were executed after the Soviet invasion. Tens of thousands are expected to attend the memorial ceremony - which many here say will accelerate Hungary toward democracy.
``Everybody is talking about Nagy and the ceremony,'' reports one Hungarian official. ``It is becoming a national obsession.''
Earlier this week, the country's ruling communists opened talks with the noncommunist opposition. The goal is to find a formula for Eastern Europe's first totally free parliamentary elections.
The talks resemble Poland's recent round table between communists and the Solidarity trade union. Hungary's communists agreed to negotiate with a joint delegation of eight opposition groups. Hungarian TV broadcast the event from the Budapest's parliament building.
Until now, the communists had insisted on negotiating separately with each opposition movement. Opposition leaders had rejected such a move, saying it was designed to split them.
As in Poland, Hungary's communists hope to build a new national consensus by dealing with the opposition. And as in Poland, they say only a broad coalition would have the necessary strength to deal with the country's serious economic problems, which include double-digit inflation and a heavy foreign debt burden.
But big problems still must be overcome. The opposition movements are weak. Each only counts a few thousand members, and their leaders are aging.
The Communist Party also is split. Reformers under Politburo member Imre Pozsgay who want to create a new Social Democratic movement out of the Communist Party recently held a meeting which resembled a Western-style political convention. Party leader Karoly Grosz warned that he would not support radicals who he claimed want to take Hungary out of the Warsaw Pact.
In this tense political atmosphere, both the opposition and the communists are counting on the Nagy ceremony for a needed boost of legitimacy. Both see the event as a way of healing the wounds left by the traumatic 1956 events.
``It is clear that neither public opinion nor the majority of party members consider 1956 as a counterrevolution,'' says Mr. Pozsgay. ``This position should help bring together the position of politicians, historians, and public opinion.''
Until now, Nagy has been buried in an unmarked grave. When this correspondent tried to visit the grave three years ago with Imre Mecs, a leading opposition activist and coordinator for student groups during the revolt, three burly mustachioed men in jeans and leather jackets rushed up from their grey Lada and flashed police badges. They took away Mr. Mecs' identity card - and his bouquet of flowers.
``Is it forbidden to place flowers on a gravesite?'' Mecs asked.
``Yes,'' came the answer. ``We received a new decree last week.''
The party's historical commission has ruled that the 1956 events were not a ``counterrevolution,'' but a ``popular uprising.'' Hungary's foreign minister, Gyula Horn, recently described Nagy as victim of a ``show trial.''
After the Soviet invasion in 1956, the former prime minister took refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest. He was executed on his return to Hungary in 1958.
Analysts here say the death sentence bears the signature of Janos Kadar, Hungary's longtime leader after the 1956 events. Mr. Kadar was ousted as party leader a year ago and dropped from the Central Committee last month.