Commentary V4

PM Orbán and Chancellor Merkel remember first crack in the Iron Curtain

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán jointly commemorated 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.

The two heads of government attended an ecumenical worship in the Evangelical church of Sopron, a western Hungarian city near the Austrian border where the mass breach happened thirty years ago.

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.

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.

Both heads of state made a short speech at the worship.

PM Orbán said Helmut Kohl (a Christian Democrat), who was Germany’s chancellor at the time of the country’s reunification was well liked in Hungary and has a cult following to this day. He added that while Hungary’s founding king, St Stephen received his crown from Rome, he took a Bavarian wife.

Merkel said Hungarian border guards who allowed the passage of the East German refugees “put humanity above service duty” in doing so.

After lunch the two sides held a short press conference centered mainly around economic matters.

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Hungary commemorates first crack in Iron Curtain


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