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Disc jockeys reap profits of Hungary's socialist way

Dancing to disco music has become virtually a national pastime for Hungarian youth. Discotheques have begun to be ''big business.''

They represent one of the profitable sidelines that are emerging under a pragmatic communist government.

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The Hungarian capital, Budapest, has nearly 400 licensed youth clubs. In most , the disc jockey reigns supreme. Over the years clubs have mushroomed in every town and large village in the country.

Purists of ''socialist'' culture may not be happy about this. But there has been no official attempt to halt it.

Instead, the Ministry of Culture has set up a light music training center. This gives authorities some ''ideological'' control over content and sets performance standards.

Aspiring disc jockeys must pass an exam in musical presentation to get a license in one of three categories. Authorized fees are regulated accordingly.

Top ''graduates'' may get up to 400 forints (about $12) for an evening, plus an equipment allowance. But the disc jockeys complain this does not cover the high costs of new records and equipment. According to the Hungarian press, their rates have soared with their popularity.

Last month, the Budapest daily Esti Hirlap commented there was hardly a disc jockey ''who will raise his hat at an offer of the official rate.'' Instead, apparently the fixed fee is backed by a so-called ''private wage'' that discotheque management pays from its own funds.

''They give a disc jockey a 360 forint job, and additional earnings - up to 30,000 forints a month at Lake Balaton (Hungary's most popular foreign tourist resort) in summer - are made up by the manager who has an interest in a good turnover,'' Este Hirlap said. (The average monthly wage in Hungary is about 3, 900 forint.)

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''Even inexperienced disc jockeys earn as much as they want.''

Disc jockeys continue in their own popular sector of the private enterprise that has become part of Hungary's ''way to socialism'' - a mixture of domestic tolerances with gestures to individual initiative in areas of considerable value to the economy as a whole.

The Budapest authorities dislike any suggestion that their economic realism and reform set them at variance with their allies.

All their ''new economic mechanism'' (NEM) does, they insist, is to pay heed to Hungarian conditions. These differ from those of the Soviet Union and elsewhere in East Europe, even though the fundamentals of ''socialist'' theory do not.

Still, NEM does set Hungary apart from the general practice. Introduced in 1968, NEM was slowed in the mid-'70s by spiraling world costs, but given its rein again last year.

Although 1981 was a difficult year for both industry and agriculture, Hungary still managed to reduce its trade deficits substantially - particularly with the West.

Typically, Hungarians were warned not to expect too much in '82, that the plan until 1985 is aimed at higher standards long term. But they were also given incentives in various spheres to spur production.

Three million industrial workers went on a five-day workweek Jan. 1. State employees, including schoolteachers, will follow suit later this year.

There is more encouragement for small-scale farming, which earns one-quarter of the $200 million garnered annually from cattle exports to the West.

Private artisans are being allowed to employ labor to provide better consumer services and to expand into small- and even medium-size manufacturing enterprises. Last year they provided 50 percent of basic services and were involved in building up to 60 percent of the new private flats and cottages.

Hungary's gain over its allies seems to be that it has established sufficient political stability to be able to apply strictly economic solutions to economic problems.

There have been price rises of the kind that periodically have set Poland alight. Hungary avoided such troubles by careful explanation of the why and wherefore, coupled with the visible benefits accruing to almost all branches of society.

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