His hands tremble slightly now, and the flesh around his eyes makes them seem smaller than they really are, heightening an occasional glare, muffling his frequent shy smiles. Yet Janos Kadar still displays the same unexpected charm and cool canniness that have helped make the onetime typewriter mechanic the boldest and most beloved leader in Eastern Europe. Wearing a tailored gray suit and a wine-red silk tie, Kadar chain-smoked Symphonia cigarettes while talking for two hours with a group of TIME visitors in his office in Budapest's Central Committee headquarters. Any initial reserve that the General Secretary displayed quickly vanished. Present at Kadar's first interview with a U.S. publication in two decades were TIME Managing Editor Jason McManus, Chief of Correspondents Henry Muller, Deputy Chief B. William Mader, and Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Kenneth W. Banta. Excerpts from the session, which consisted of answers to written questions followed by a lively, give-and-take discussion:
Q. Under your leadership Hungary has been more successful economically than most other Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) bloc members. How do you explain this performance?
A. In my view there are both common characteristics and particularities in the development of members of the bloc. Since their endowments are different, I can see no reason for the economic results of the individual countries being compared superficially--and even less for their being contrasted.
As for the Hungarian economy, I think we are pursuing a policy whose main lines have been justified by practice. An important factor is that we are a small country of 10 million people, requiring large imports of raw materials and energy. As a result we are heavily influenced by the state of the world economy. That is reflected in our vigorous economic growth from 1960 to 1975, and, later, a slowdown in the rate of development.
We do not underestimate our problems. We have not yet found the formula for a more effective and lasting improvement of the economy. We are not applying the results of science rapidly enough. Some of our products are not competitive enough, and the organization of work leaves much to be desired.
Still, an indication of our overall success is that since 1960 industrial production has increased more than 3 1/2 times, agricultural production has nearly doubled and national income has nearly trebled. That we have held ground, particularly in the past five years, is, I think, of no less significance. In the past few years we have stood the test of unfavorable international economic conditions, halted the process of accumulating debts, preserved the country's solvency, and even slightly improved upon our achievements. It proves that the political and economic foundations of our society are firm. When accounting for these results, I should like to lay particular emphasis on the fact that our people feel this country belongs to them. To sum up, let me say that in the past four decades we have built a new country here along the Danube and Tisza rivers, namely socialist Hungary, whose people are incomparably better off both materially and culturally than ever before and enjoy more extensive rights and greater freedom and democracy than at any other time during their long history.