15 years ago, East Germantourists breached Iron Curtain

20th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

20 August 2004, BUDAPEST - Hungarian human rights activists Thursday commemorated the 15th anniversary of a key event in the dismantling of the Iron Curtain - the flight of tens of thousands of East Germans to Austria through a defiantly relaxed Hungarian border. The event marked the beginning of the end of the hardline East German government under Erich Honecker, the last holdout in Moscow's European sphere against the growing pressure for democratic change and dissolution of the Soviet empire. Otto von H

20 August 2004

BUDAPEST - Hungarian human rights activists Thursday commemorated the 15th anniversary of a key event in the dismantling of the Iron Curtain - the flight of tens of thousands of East Germans to Austria through a defiantly relaxed Hungarian border.

The event marked the beginning of the end of the hardline East German government under Erich Honecker, the last holdout in Moscow's European sphere against the growing pressure for democratic change and dissolution of the Soviet empire.

Otto von Habsburg, a member of the European Parliament, said late Thursday that Hungary had "won the Cold War" by refusing to stop vacationing East Germans from driving across the border to freedom in Austria on August 19, 1989.

Just months later, on November 9, 1989, jubilant East Germans breached the Berlin Wall after the government conceded it could no longer hold back the forces for change.

"What happened that day was unavoidable," said Imre Pozsgay at Thursday's ceremonies on the Hungarian border town of Fertoerakos. He was a minister in the reform communist government in Budapest during that crucial year.

Discussion rounds and exhibits also marked the event in nearby Sopron and in the northern Hungarian city of Debrecen.

On August 19, 1989, Hungary relaxed its border controls in cooperation with the so-called "Pan-European" picnic, organized by the opposition movement Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) and European parliamentarians.

The three-hour event was to have allowed Hungarians and Austrians to mingle along the border, but well-informed East German tourists used the opportunity to escape.

Their tumultuous flight breached the first opening in the tight seams that had closed off Eastern Europe to the outside world for decades, and set off waves of mass street demonstrations in East Germany.

The Hungarian government had already laid the groundwork for such public venting in May, when it announced it would dismantle its life- threatening border barriers such as mines and automatic gun installations.

Shortly after that announcement, the Soviet Union said it would withdraw its troops from Hungary, which had been on the forefront of democratic change for decades in Eastern Europe.

On June 27, 1989, the Hungarian and Austrian foreign ministers, Gyula Horn and Alois Mock, performed a symbolic cutting of the barbed wire that had separated the two countries for more than three decades.

Hungary, at the time an ally of East Germany, officially opened its western border for East Germans on September 11, 1989. 

DPA

Subject: German news 

 

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