Europeans mark anniversary of fall of Iron Curtain
BUDAPEST - European leaders yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the symbolic fall of the Iron Curtain, often described as the first crack in the Berlin Wall and one of the key episodes leading to the end of communism in Eastern Europe.
In Budapest, the presidents of Germany, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, and Switzerland, as well as high-ranking officials from Poland, Britain, and more than 20 other countries, participated in a commemorative session at the Hungarian Parliament and a gala event at the Hungarian State Opera House.
On June 27, 1989, the then-foreign ministers of Hungary, Gyula Horn, and Austria, Alois Mock, cut through barbed wire on the border between the two countries, putting a symbolic end to a physical and psychological boundary.
“Looking at the entire chain of events, we rightfully and deservingly celebrate June 27 as the day in which the partitioning of Europe came to an end,’’ Hungarian President László Sólyom said at the start of the special session in Parliament. “We have every reason to celebrate together. The cut barbed wire fence was an immediate symbol that helped the whole world understand what was happening here in the center of Europe.’’
Hungary had begun to dismantle the Iron Curtain nearly two months earlier, on May 2, 1989 - partly because border guards said it was in such poor condition that even small animals were setting off false alarms along the electrified fence.
Still, pictures of the event were published around the world and inspired tens of thousands of East Germans to leave their country, find temporary refuge in Hungary, Poland, or Czechoslovakia and wait for an opportunity to travel to West Germany.
By the end of the summer, thousands of East German “tourists’’ were living in tents on the grounds of the West German Embassy in Budapest and in several other locations around the city, including church yards and the site of a communist youth camp.
After allowing some of the “Ossies’’ to leave for West Germany via Austria in August and then some more a few weeks later, Hungary finally decided to let all East Germans out from Sept. 11, 1989.
Within two months, on Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany’s reunification was formalized in October 1990.
Yesterday, German President Horst Koehler thanked the Hungarians for their solidarity with the East Germans and their contributions to German unity.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer drew parallels between the 1989 transition to democracy in Eastern Europe and the current protests in Iran.
“1989 was a dramatic year but it had a peaceful outcome,’’ Fischer said. “No dictatorship, however solid it may seem, can ever feel truly safe.’’
“These were events which can motivate people in Iran to feel that their democratic opinions can be expressed,’’ Fischer said, drawing applause from hundreds of guests in the upper chamber of Hungary’s Parliament on the banks of the Danube River.