Hungary had a huge role in the reunification of Germany. Of course, the friendship of the two countries dates back to earlier times than 1989, but the fall of the Berlin Wall was a defining moment for all of us – began his keynote speech HE Heinz-Peter Behr, Ambassador of Germany to Hungary on the March event of the Ludovika Ambassador’s Forum.
According to the ambassador, the fateful event occurred unpredictably, and it was due to external help only that things could proceed. It is no coincidence that Helmut Kohl declared in an interview earlier: the first brick from the Berlin Wall has been removed in Hungary. On 19 August 1989 when Lieutenant Colonel Árpád Bella decided not to disturb the westward movement of 600 GDR citizens despite the fire command in effect, the history of Germany took another turn. Although the actual opening of the borders was only sanctioned on 11 September 1989, the life of the East Germans trapped in the region of Budapest and Balaton has turned for the better in the same month. The ambassador himself has lodged 20 people in his office and the embassy contacted two hotels to provide three mails a day for the refugees. Among other things, 20 dedicated taxis were available and in addition to permanent medical oversight, a psychologist’s assistance was offered. Distributing food and erecting tents on behalf of the then young Hungarian Maltese Charity Service and the Roman Catholic Church, the support of Father Imre Kozma had also been most impactful. When Gorbachev paid a visit to GDR on 4 November 1989, it became clear to the East German leadership that changes have become inevitable. After the resignation of Erich Honecker the leadership fled ahead and acting in accordance with the Czech pressure, new border-crossing regulations had been set up. Following the televised presentation of these, thousands have gathered marching on the streets and after a few days the Germans on both sides of the Berlin Wall started the dismantling process with picks, chisels and even with their bare hands.
When the German unity was born, two highly polarized states found each other again – said the ambassador. Though there have been various social remedial measures introduced, such as the solidarity tax, the economic and cultural differences can be still felt today. Adding to this, Heinz-Peter Behr highlighted that it is interesting to see how the country after the reunification has moved away from the German national identity, showing a post-national, European distinctiveness instead.
On the roundtable discussion dr. András Hettyey and dr. László Kiss have agreed that even if Germany owes a lot to Hungary, the time has come for the two countries to implement actions with historic significance, for example in the management of migrants and peacekeeping missions.
Text: Dorottya Pétery
Photos: Dénes Szilágyi