BUDAPEST, NOV. 21 -- Peace activists, intellectuals and dissidents from East and West held a clandestine meeting today for what they called an unprecedented debate on Soviet reforms, the future of Europe and a joint democratic movement.
"Such an event has never happened before in Hungary," coorganizer Tamas Mezey said before delegates left the city for a venue kept secret from the authorities.
"This is important as a precedent. It will be very difficult for them to step backward after this," said Dieter Escher, a coorganizer of the meeting and veteran of East-West dialogues in Amsterdam, West Berlin and Perugia, Italy, since the Helsinki Act of 1975.
The authorities wanted the meeting held under the auspices of Hungary's Peace Council and forced meeting halls to cancel three previous bookings for the two-day forum, which continues on Sunday.
Shortly before the meeting was to start, Deputy Culture Minister Ferenc Pusztai gave permission for it to be held at a university hostel if necessary. But the meeting went ahead at the hall of a music school near Margaret Island on the Danube River, an address previously known to only two of the organizers.
"They recognized that people would hold it anyway and saw they had to allow it," Escher said.
The meeting was attended by 70 delegates from the East and 70 from the West, including peace and antinuclear campaigners from Western Europe and the United States, Jacek Czaputowitz of Poland's Freedom and Peace movement, members of Hungary's unofficial Democratic Opposition and two members of Hungary's official Peace Council. All speeches were made in English.
Hungarian writer Mihaily Vajda said East European intellectuals were more skeptical than western leftists about the reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
"But we have another kind of wishful thought," he said. "We want to see a real society behind the new Soviet leader, a society which can articulate itself and express its real wishes."
Dissident Hungarian philosopher Janos Kis said all Eastern Europe was sinking progressively into "unilateral economic dependence" on the West. "This is an extremely important phenomenon which will be decisive for the next decades in the evolution of the European scene," he said.
Delegate Mary Kaldor, a British antinuclear activist and political scientist, said it was unique for such a meeting to be held legally in Eastern Europe. "If this is possible, then meetings like this will burgeon and this will be an important way to get detente from below," she said.