Hungary's door is open to East and West - even for Hungarians
''We are an 'open' country,'' said a high-level foreign affairs official here. He had a point. He was speaking of a continuing flow of high-level political contacts between Hungary and the West, as well as with allies from the East. Hungary is determined to keep its doors to both East and West in spite of the poor state of superpower relations.
This ''open door'' policy applies to the common man. Soviet vessels bring Russian vacationers up the Danube to Budapest. And Hungary is more open to Western tourists than is any other East European country.
There are no fewer than five border crossing points between Hungary and Austria. Travelers by car or coach, by ship or air, can get visas at the border or on arrival in Budapest.
On the political front, this year has already seen visits by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and two East European prime ministers. Other visitors have been the prime ministers of Britain and Italy and, most recently, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, which is Hungary's biggest Western trade partner.
It is all part of a boldly pragmatic view of the ideological divisions of today's world. The Hungarians insist a small country can still have its own outward-looking foreign policy.
Lately that view has been criticized by the more dogmatic of its East-bloc allies, like Czechoslovakia. But, if anything, the criticism seems to have fortified the Hungarians' confidence that their line is a correct one. So far Moscow has given them more tacit approval than disapproval.
Hungarian leader Janos Kadar and his colleagues insist it is a policy in which there is no conflict between the ''national interests'' it pursues and the country's ''international'' obligations, between ''identity of views'' with the Soviet Union on, say, the issue of United States missiles in Western Europe and a small Warsaw Pact ally which has its own characteristics and interests.
This, in Hungary's case, means its good relations with the US and its ''special'' relations (as officials here acknowledge them) with such Western countries as (neutral) Austria or Finland, Italy, and West Germany. This includes a readiness for still more active association with the world at large through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
There are few pretenses and illusions here. The desire to see a lowering of international tensions is motivated by a shrewd mixture of Hungary's economic interests and its recognition of the alliance with the Soviet Union as the overall guideline of foreign policy.
The latter is something Hungarians in general have come to appreciate over the years. When a popular bid to reform Stalinism was crushed by the Soviets in 1956, Hungarians went through what was by far the most traumatic experience of any nation in the new, communist Eastern Europe established after the war.
But that first bid for reform was followed in an extraordinary way by another , economic reform. Developments have demonstrated that this second effort was more solidly based on the new Realpolitik of a divided Europe, and the country as a whole has benefited.
Although its economy is currently in the doldrums, the causes come more from outside the country than from within. The reform is being pressed ahead, and the internal situation remains much more relaxed than elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
The ''open door,'' for example, is not for foreigners only. Hungarians may travel to the West as freely as to the East if their finances permit.
There are no longer separate passports for East and West, but a single one, valid for five years. Hungarians do not have to surrender their passports to the authorities - as do citizens of other East-bloc states - when they return from a trip.
To go West, they qualify for a not-ungenerous hard-currency allowance from the National Bank every three years. They may go more often if they have their own funds (individual foreign currency accounts are allowed), or if they are invited by Western friends.
Dissent is currently somewhat more pointed than a few years ago, and the authorities have toughened up against a lively samizdat group of openly active and articulate younger writers.
But most dissent bears the stamp of the younger generation's frustrations and impatience rather than outright opposition. The official response is still largely one of circumspection, bearing in mind Soviet ideological touchiness and the importance of being able to stick to the reform path.
A Politburo member or a minister will argue face to face with student protesters. And stiffer sanctions against ''illegal'' publications mean heavier fines here, not the severe prison terms of Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Romania.
Dissidents get passports to study in Western universities. Although Western newspapers are on sale only in the major tourist hotels, Hungarian radio and TV have gained a reputation for balanced, open discussion of international issues - with noncommunist Western participants - as well as for outspoken domestic criticism.
Despite the international overcast, current trends here point in the same pragmatic, liberalizing direction.