HEGYESHALOM, HUNGARY - The state commemoration of the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and the opening of the Hungarian-Austrian border 20 years ago began in Budapest on Saturday (June 27) with a ceremonial raising of the Hungarian flag in front of the Hungarian Parliament.
Delegates from all over Europe then gathered for a family photo followed by a reception around the ancient Hungarian crown.
Taking an enormous risk, Hungary was the first country of the former Soviet bloc to dismantle the barbed wire that became notorious as the Iron Curtain. The dismantling of the fences officially began on May 2, 1989, and progressed at such a rapid rate that by the time Austria's then foreign minister, Alois Mock, and his Hungarian counterpart, Gyula Horn, were to cut through the border fence near Sopron during a symbolic ceremony on June 27, the fence had temporarily to be restored for the occasion.
"The Iron Curtain cut through the whole of Europe. It was not only an ill-omened division line but a closely guarded real dividing wall," Hungarian president Laszlo Solyom said in his speech to the gathering.
"Orders to shoot, people shot dead while escaping, series of tragedies are linked to it. The barbed wire cut through immediately became a symbol that made the whole world understand what was going on in the middle of Europe. The other former Socialist countries had their own opening of the borders but the border opening between Austria and Hungary had such consequences that directly contributed to the reunification of Germany and a re-settling of Europe," he said.
Hungary earned praise not only by daring to tear down the Iron Curtain but also for taking in tens of thousands of East German refugees during 1989.
"This [dismantling the fence] encouraged people all over Europe also in the GDR [East Germany] where people were still fighting for their freedom. This was a peaceful revolution and climax of that process was the reunification of the two parts of Germany. We Germans consider our reunification as the reunification of Europe itself so for us it was absolutely natural that we link the reunification of Germany with the integration of Europe," the Federal President of Germany, Horst Kohler, said in his speech.
Commemorations in Budapest will continue with a street photo exhibition, and a celebrational concert in the evening.