“A World Without Walls“:
An International Congress on "Soft Power", Cultural Diplomacy and Interdependence

(Berlin; November 6th - 9th, 2009)

"1989: The Year that Changed the World"

May 2nd

Hungary removes border

Hungary opens its borders with Austria; Mass exodus begins
May-2nd.jpg
May 2nd: the Warsaw bloc nations of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania were in a state of fear and outrage. The People's Republic of Hungary had made the decision to remove the barbed wire and electric fences that run along the country's western border with Austria.

For Hungary, it was the continuation of a reformist agenda that had begun from within the Communist Government under new leader Imre Pozsgay. After the ouster of hard line Communist leader Janos Kadar, the Hungarian parliament adopted the "Democracy Package", which allowed for trade union pluralism, expanded freedoms, overhauled electoral laws, and among others, the lifting of travel restrictions to countries outside the Warsaw Bloc.

For East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, however, it was a cause of great concern. The opening of Hungary's border with Austria had created fear amongst them that their own citizens would use this opportunity to escape their countries and flee to the west. Adding to this fear was the fact that Moscow had refused to do anything to stop it.

Repeatedly, Hungary re-assured its Communist allies that it would not be used as a gateway to the west, but as the months progress, and hundreds of East German citizens "on holiday" in Hungary cross the border into Austria, it became painstakingly clear that the government would have difficulty stopping the exodus of citizens from the Warsaw Bloc.