Commentary V4

Hungary commemorates first crack in Iron Curtain

Hungary celebrates the 30th anniversary of a mass breach of the border by then citizens of East Germany fleeing to Austria, an event that later turned out to be a key moment in the process of dismantling both the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain dividing Eastern and Western Europe.

On that day – one day before Hungary’s St Stephen Day celebrations - several hundred East Germans crossed the frontier between Hungary and Austria during the Pan-European Picnic, part of the events that began the process of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Hungarian police and border guards – under orders from communist Prime Minister Miklós Németh – made no attempts to stop them.

"I was in my office all day, I was nervous, very nervous. Luckily, there was no knocking on my door by the Soviet ambassador, no telephone calls from Moscow," Németh said in an interview at the end of the year.

After secret consultations with the Soviet Union, Hungary eventually opened its borders to citizens of East Germany and other Central European countries on September 11th, the first time a Central European border was opened to citizens of Eastern Bloc states. A few months after the opening, more than 70,000 East Germans fled to West Germany via Hungary.

The commemorative event will be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

“We will always be grateful to Hungary for its contribution to German unity,” Merkel said in a video message posted on Twitter.

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