Removal of Hungary's border fence with Austria
The removal of Hungary's border fence with Austria occurred in 1989 during the collapse of communism in Hungary, which was part of a broad wave of revolutions in various communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The border was still closely guarded and the Hungarian security forces tried to hold back refugees. The dismantling of the electric fence along Hungary's 240 kilometres (149 mi) long border with Austria was the first little fissure in the "Iron Curtain" that had divided Europe for more than 40 years, since the end of World War II. Then the Pan-European Picnic caused a chain reaction in East Germany that ultimately resulted in the demise of the Berlin Wall.
In April 1989, the Hungarian government ordered the electricity in the barbed-wire border fence along the Hungary–Austria border to be turned off. On 2 May, border guards began removing sections of the barrier – filmed by Western TV crews summoned for the occasion. On 27 June Hungary's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gyula Horn, and his Austrian counterpart, Alois Mock, held a symbolic fence-cutting ceremony at the Sopron (Hungary) border crossing.
The open border meant that it was easier for Hungarians to cross into Austria for goods and services; many Hungarians availed themselves of this to purchase consumer goods which had been unavailable or scarce in their own country; a visible sign of this in the first few weeks was that many cars could be seen in Austrian towns such as Graz with washing machines strapped to them.
The most famous crossing came on 19 August, when, during the Pan-European Picnic between Austrians and Hungarians, over 900 East Germans on holiday in Hungary rushed the border and escaped into Austria and then travelled safely to West Germany.
The open border infuriated East German officials, who feared a return to the days before the Berlin Wall, when thousands of East Germans fled daily to West Berlin. Although worried, the Soviet Union took no overt actions against Hungary, taking a hands-off approach.
- Hilde Szabo: Die Berliner Mauer begann im Burgenland zu bröckeln (The Berlin Wall began to crumble in Burgenland - German), in Wiener Zeitung 16 August 1999; Otmar Lahodynsky: Paneuropäisches Picknick: Die Generalprobe für den Mauerfall (Pan-European picnic: the dress rehearsal for the fall of the Berlin Wall - German), in: Profil 9 August 2014.
- Meyer, Michael (13 September 2009). "The picnic that brought down the Berlin Wall". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
- "On this day: 27 June - the Iron Curtain was breached". European Parliament. 26 June 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
- Woodard, Colin (10 September 2009), "How a picnic led to the fall of the Berlin Wall", Christian Science Monitor.
- 2 May: Hungary dismantles border, BBC
- 10 Sept: East Germans go West, BBC
- "Les 20 ans d'un pique-nique qui a fait basculer l'histoire" [20 years of a picnic that changed History], Le Monde (in French).
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