MENU
Paneuropean Picnic in 1989

Picnic of the Century

The Pan-European Picnic is still hailed as Hungary’s bold moment in history.

Sándor Laczkó
August 19, 2019

It was exactly 30 years ago, on August 19, 1989, that - in a symbolic gesture agreed to by Austria and Hungary - a border crossing was opened on the 'Iron Curtain' for three hours. It was an event that eventually allowed hundreds of East Germans to flee to the West.

In the summer of 1989, popular sentiment in central and eastern Europe was nearing a critical juncture. People in the Eastern bloc, sealed off by the Iron Curtain, were raising their voice, demanding democratic elections, freedom of speech and travel, better living conditions. Hungary’s reform-oriented government authorized an informal gathering of Austrians and Hungarians along the border on August 19, so people from both countries could share the experience of a Europe without borders.
In June that year, Otto von Habsburg, the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, visited the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen to hold a lecture on Europe without frontiers. During a dinner that followed his lecture, Ferenc Mészáros, a member of the newly formed political party Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), suggested that a ‘picnic’ be organized along the border with Austria, according to a study by László Nagy, secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Pan-European Picnic ’89 Foundation. Mészáros eventually persuaded Otto von Habsburg and Imre Pozsgay to act as the sponsors of the event. Pozsgay was a member of the collective presidency of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, the communist party that ruled the country until the free elections in March-April 1990.

Picnic with an unexpected turn
In an effort to promote the notion of a united Europe, the Austrian and Hungarian governments agreed to open a crossing point at Sopronpuszta for three hours on August 19, almost two months after Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock and his Hungarian counterpart, Gyula Horn, had cut the border fence about 6 kilometers from that spot.
Tipped off to the event, hundreds of East German citizens rushed to the border in an attempt to escape to West Germany through Austria. In the absence of clear instructions, Hungarian border guards were at a loss as to how to handle the unexpected situation. In what later proved a historic decision, Lieutenant Colonel Árpád Bella, the local commander of the border post at the time, forbade the use of the weapons, thus preventing the celebration from turning into a tragedy.
The presence of the East Germans at the picnic site was no coincidence, Bella tells Diplomacy&Trade in a telephone interview. The former commander believes that Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh used the occasion to test Moscow’s reaction to East German citizens crossing the border to the West ‘all of a sudden’.
If the Soviet leadership turned a blind eye to the events of that fateful day, Hungary’s borders could then officially be opened to about 15,000 East Germans gathering in Budapest, at Lake Balaton and near Hungary’s western border.
“The problem was that even the officials most concerned – like myself – were not notified about this official intent while unknown people distributed flyers in refugee camps in the country saying East Germans should go to the border near Sopron as there might be a chance for them to get to the West. Some 600 of them believed in this opportunity and showed up at the frontier.”
The picnic was part of a process, an episode in a series of events that led from the erosion of the bipolar system to its disintegration, Imre Tóth, historian and the Director of the Sopron Museum, tells Diplomacy&Trade. The events of the day clearly showed that “history and politics do not take place in government quarters only. Civilians, private individuals find themselves sometimes in situations where they have an impact on the process,” Tóth says.

Only seconds to decide
A few days before the picnic, Bella received an official telegram warning him that a large number of East Germans may show up at the event and attempt to cross the border illegally. “For me, this meant that I should make plans to prevent this illegal activity. However, there also came a command, which turned out to have originated from the Prime Minister, that no uniformed personnel should be present in the one-kilometer vicinity of temporary border crossings, apart from those handling passports,” Bella says. The order applied to the entire strip of the Austro-Hungarian border and when Bella tried to get information, on the morning of the picnic, on how to perform his duties as commander of that particular crossing station, he received no instructions.
“At 3 p.m., we were supposed to let a hundred-strong Hungarian delegation through the border to Austria and later let them return with some Austrians. The crossing would be opened at three and closed at six and that would be it,” Bella says.

A few minutes before 3 p.m., Bella and his people caught sight of a large group of people moving toward the crossing point. At first, they thought it was the official delegation but as the group came closer, the guards realized they were East German civilians. “What crossed my mind immediately was that I had to stop these people from crossing the border. We were authorized to use firearms and I only had about 20 seconds to decide what to do before 100-130 people reached the six of us. It would have been hopeless to stop them and if we used our firearms, it would have been a shame for the country. However, if I had not tried to stop them, it would have been a violation of my duties as a guardian of the border. Fortunately, the crowd solved my dilemma by pushing open one of the wings of the border gate and swarmed to the other side.”
The rest is history. Hungary’s decision to let some 600 civilians from East Germany flee to Austria and eventually on to West Germany was an instrumental moment in the crumbling of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe over the following years. Dubbed by the German press as the ‘the first brick from the Berlin Wall’, the Pan-European Picnic was a harbinger of historical changes that would mark the end of an era.
Tóth strongly believes that “we make a mistake if we teach that Hungarian history was decided in the Buda Castle or in Visegrád. No, it is the people who shape history. The Pan-European Picnic is a typical example of that.”

Sándor Laczkó

No comment yet. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ten − 5 =

  • Top 5 Articles


  • Articles by Date

  • Hashtags

    #Abel Prize #Academy #Academy Awards #Accenture #Accident #acquisition #Adrian Ellis #Adriana Gonzalez #Advanced Power AG #Adventure #Advertising #Advertorial #Aerospace industry #Afghanistan #Africa #Agency #Agrarian industry #Agreement #Agricultural machinery #agriculture #Ahna Capri #air cargo #Air traffic #Air transport #air travel #Airbus Helicopters Hungary Ltd. #Airline industry #Airplane Gizi #airport cargo #Albania #Alberto Vercelli #Aldi #Alexander Tolkach #Aliza Bin-Noun #Allison Transmission Ltd. #ALTEO Plc. #Ambassador David B. Cornstein #Ambassador David Nájera #Ambassador Kumar Tuhin #Ambassador Kyoo Sik Choe #Ambassador Massimo Rustico #Ambassador of India #Ambassador of Malaysia #Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Hungary #Ambassadors #Ambassadors in Budapest #AmCham #American Airlines #American football #Amos Oz #Andersen Consulting #András Simor #Andrea Jádi #Andrew G. Vajna #Angela Merkel #Angola #Animal husbandry #Animals #Ankita Sood #Anna Nánási #Anna Olasz #anniversary #Annual report #Antal Dreher #Antal Rogán #Antal Vöneki #Anthony Nolan foundation #Antro Moveo #ANY Security Printing Company Plc. #Appeninn Asset Management Holding Plc. #Apple Design Awards #Ararat #archeological excavations #Archeology #Ariston Thermo Group #Armenia #Arms trade #Arraiolos Group #Arrow Architects #art gallery #Art Hall #Art treasure #ASEAN #Asset management #Association of Immortal Hungarian Athletes #Association of Innovative Pharmaceutical Manufacturers #aston martin #Astronomy #Athlete of the Nation #Attila Grandpierre #Attila Mesterházy #Auchan Hungary #Audi #Audi Hungaria #August 20th #August 20th national holiday #Australia #Austria #Automobile industry #Automobile sales #automobile trade #automotive #Automotive industry #Automotive sector #AutoWallis #AutoWallis Group #Avatar #Aviation industry #Award #Azerbaijan
    #bag tag #bakery #Balassagyarmat #Balaton #Bálint gazda (Master Bálint) #Ballet company of Gyõr #Bálna event center #Baltic Sea Festival #Baltic states #Ban Ki-moon #Ban on hospital visits #Bank for International Settlements #bank loan #Bank of China #Bank transfer #Banking #Banking sector #Banking system #banknotes #Barack Obama #BASF #basketball #battery production #Battle of Mohács #Bayern Munich #BBC #Beer #Béla Bartók #Belgium #Bell Food Group #Benelux #Best of Budapest and Hungary #BHS Trans Limited #bicycle #Bicycle path #bilateral agreement #Bilateral relations #Bio ethanol #Biotechnology #Bisnode Hungary #Bisserka Benisheva #BKV #Black Ribbon Day #Blood donation #BMW #BMW cars #BMW Group #Boglárka Kapás #Bond issue #bond market #book festival #book review #Border control #border crossing #BorderLINE Architecture #Bozsik Stadium #brandy #Brazil #Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) #Breast cancer #Breeding #Brexit #British Ambassador #British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary #British Council #British Telecom #Broadband internet #Bronislaw Komorowski #Buda Castle #Buda Hills #Budakalász #Budapest #Budapest Airport #Budapest Airport Co. Ltd. #Budapest Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BKIK) #Budapest City Branding Nonprofit Ltd. (BVA) #Budapest Dessert competition #Budapest Eurogames 2012 #Budapest Festival Orchestra #Budapest film #Budapest Fire Service #Budapest ghetto #Budapest Highland Golf Club #Budapest hospitals #Budapest Jewish Community (BZSH) #Budapest Marathon #Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony #Budapest Millennium Underground #Budapest Municipality #Budapest ONE office building #Budapest Opera Ball #Budapest sights #Budapest Sports Office #Budapest Stock Exchange #Budapest Strings Chamber Orchestra #Budapest Week Publishing #Budapest Wine Festival #Budapest Zoo #Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden #Buddhism #budget #Budget policy #Building supplies #Bulgaria #Bundesliga (Austria) #burglary #Buses #business #Business club #business costs #Business Council for Sustainable Development in Hungary (BCSDH) #Business Council for Sustainable Development in Hungary’s (BCSDH) #Business environment #Business promotion #Business services #Businesspeople #Busójárás #Butterfly Garden
    #cable car #campaign financing #Canada #Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hungary #cancellation #Cancún Climate Summit #Canoe #capacity increase #Capital Circus of Budapest #car market #car racing #car rental #car sales #car sharing service #Car trade #carbon neutrality #Card payments #Carl Bildt #Carl Lutz #Carnival season #cars #Cartel #Cash #Cash payment #CEE region #Celldömölk #Census #Center for Budapest Transport (BKK) #Center of Excellence #Central Bank #Central Europe #Central European Initiative #Central European Press and Media Foundation (Kesma) #Central European University #Central European University (CEU) #Central Statistical Office #Ceremony #CERN #Cervantes Institute #Cetelem Bank #Chamber #Chamber of commerce #Champagne #Chang Sun Dong #Charbel Stephan #Charity #Chemical Industry #Chemistry #chess #Chief Medical Officer Cecíla Müller #Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller #China #Christian Mühlethaler #Christmas #chronic patient #Chung-ha Suh #CIG Pannonia Life Insurance Plc. #cigarettes #cinema culture #Citibank #City diplomacy #Civil engineering #Civil Movement #CLA 250 e Coupé #CLA 250 e Shooting Brake #climate change #CMS Cameron McKenna #cobot #Code of Civil Procedure #Collector coins #Colleen Bell #Colliers International #Colorful City Group #columbia #Commemoration #Commemorative coin #Commerce #Commercial accommodation #Commercial Award of Excellence for Hungarian Products #Communications #Competition #Competitiveness #Concert #Conference #Conscious Consumption #Constitution #Constitutional Court #Construction #Construction industry #Consuls #Consultancy #consumer confidence index #Consumer prices #Contactless payments #contemporary art #contest #Convention tourism #Convertiplane #COP26 #Cordia #Corinthia Hotel Budapest #coronavirus #Coronavirus epidemic #Coronavirus test #Corporate issues #corporate merger #Corporate real estate #Corporate social responsibility (CSR) #Corruption #Count Andrássy Picnic #countryside #Courts #Covid-19 coronavirus #Covid-19 pandemic #Crime #crisis #Crisis management #Croatia #cronyism #Csodalámpa (Magic Lamp) Foundation #Csopak #cultural festival #cultural institute #Cultural Interview #Culture #currency #Customer service #customs service
    #D.C. #DAB+ #Dag Hartelius #Daikin #daily death toll #Dalai Lama #Dániel Gyurta #Danube #Danube Bend #Danube cruise #Darfur region #David Cornstein #Death #Debrecen #Debrecen Carnival of Flower #Debt #decision-making #Defense #defense industry #Deloitte #Deloitte Digital Hungary #Deloitte Hungary #Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA list #Delta Group #Democracy #Democrats Abroad-Hungary #Demonstration #Denmark #Denso Manufacturing Hungary #dental tourism #Deputy CEO of the Hungarian Tourism Agency (MTÜ) #Derks Wilhelmus Jose­phus #Deutsche Telekom #Deutsche Telekom IT and Telecommunications Hungary #Deutscher Wirtschaftsclub – DWC #Development program #Digital banking #digital channels #digital classroom #Digital education #Digital work schedule #Digitalization #Dimitris Yannakakis #dinosaurs #Diósgyőr Castle #Diplomacy #Diplomacy and Trade Business Club ('The Club') #Diplomatic Spouses of Budapest #Disability Caucus #Disadvantaged people #Disaster #Disaster Management #Disaster management legislation #disinfectant #Dividend payments #Domestic issues #Domestic tourism #Dominik Szoboszlai #donation #Dr. Andrea Jádi Németh #Dr. György Kárpáti #Dr. István Béres #Dr. János Szlávik #Dr. László Szabó #Dreher Beer Museum #Dreher Breweries #Drugs #DT April 2009 #DT April 2010 #DT April 2011 #DT Business & Culture Club #DT December 2009 #DT February 2009 #DT February 2012 #DT January 2011 #DT January-February 2013 #DT July-August 2011 #DT June 2009 #DT June 2011 #DT March 2011 #DT May 2010 #DT May 2011 #DT November 2010 #DT October 2008 #DT October-November 2011 #DT September 2009 #Dual education #Duna Elektronika #Duna House #Dyntell Hungary Ltd.
    #e-mobility #E.ON #East Central Europe #Easter #EBITDA #ECOFIN #Economic forecast #economic reform #Economic relations #Economic sentiment index #Economy #Edit Herczog #Education #Eger #Egg #Egyházasrádóc #Egypt #Eisberg #EIT Health #Elderly home #Elections #Elections in Hungary #Electric batteries #Electric charger #Electric vehicle battery #Electric vehicles #Electricity #electricity industry #Electro-mobility #Electrolux #Electronic industry #Electronic payment #Electronic Payment Service Providers’ Association (EFISZ) #Electronic Payment Strategy (EPS) #Electronics industry #Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis #ELTE #EMEA region #Emergency #Emigration #Emmy Awards #Employees’ rights #Employment #Enda Kenny #Endre Szemerédi #Energy industry #energy policy #Energy production #energy security #Energy supply #Engineering #Enikõ Gyõri #Enikő Mihalik #Enrique Pastor de Gana #Environment #environment protection #Eörs Szathmáry #epidemic #Epidemiological preparedness #epidemiological restrictions #Equestrian event #Equifest #Ernõ Rubik #Erste Bank #Ervin Zádor #Esther Horvath #Eszter Cseke and Andras S. Takacs #Esztergom #Ethanol #EU #EU affairs #EU cooperation #EU funding #EU funds #EU General Court #EU loan #EU Presidency #EU supported projects #EuCham - European Camber #Eucham European Chamber #Euro (EUR) #Europe Day #European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) #European Capital of Culture #European Central Bank (ECB) #European Championships #European Climate Bank #European Commission #European Court of Justice #European Court of Justice (ECJ) #European Day of Parks #European Football Championship #European Green Deal #European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) #European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) #European Parliament #European Super Cup #European Union #European Year of Volunteering #Eurowings #evacuation #Event industry #Exchange rate #Exhibition #Exhibition site #Export promotion #Exports #Exposition #External Action Service of the European Union #External trade
    #H-UNCOVER #Hableány (‘Mermaid’) river cruise ship #Hackathon #Haiti #Half-year report #Hamad International Airport #handball #Hankook #Használtautó.hu #Health #healthcare #Healthcare workers #Heat record #Heavy industry #Heim Pál National Pediatric Institute #Heineken #HEINEKEN Hungária #Hell Energy Hungary Plc. #Henkel #Herbert Fisch #Herman Van Rompuy #Hidden Power #highway #Hillary Clinton #History #Hódmezővásárhely #Holiday season #Hollywood #Holocaust #Home office #Home quarantine #Homokhátság #Honorary consul #Honorary consuls #hops #Horizon Development #Hörmann Hungária #Horse polo #horticulturist #Hortobágy Bridge Fair #Hortobágy National Park #hospital #Hospitality #Hospitality business #Hospitals #Hotel boats #hotelier #hotels #House concert #Household products #Housing #Housing market #Hoventa #HR Services #huawei #Human rights #Hungarian Academy of Sciences #Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) #Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S. #Hungarian Banking Association #Hungarian Chamber of Health Care Professionals (MESZK) #Hungarian Competition Authority #Hungarian cultural season #Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) #Hungarian diplomats #Hungarian economy #Hungarian EU Presidency #Hungarian European Business Council (HEBC) #Hungarian F-1 Grand Prix #Hungarian Film Week #Hungarian Foreign Ministry #Hungarian Foreign Ministry (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) #Hungarian forint (HUF) #Hungarian GDP #Hungarian gov't vs. EU #Hungarian government #Hungarian Holocaust #Hungarian Independent Trans­mission Operator Company Ltd. (MAVIR) #Hungarian industry #Hungarian Interchurch Aid #Hungarian inventors #Hungarian Investment and Trade Agency (HITA) #Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) #Hungarian Labor Code #Hungarian language #Hungarian League Against Cancer #Hungarian Maltese Charity Service #Hungarian Medical Chamber #Hungarian Meteorological Service (OMSZ) #Hungarian military #Hungarian Ministry of Finance #Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (KKM) #Hungarian Museum of Science #Hungarian Museum of Science Technology and Transport #Hungarian National Asset Management Inc. (MNV) #Hungarian National Blood Transfusion Service (OVSZ) #Hungarian National Gallery #Hungarian National Museum #Hungarian Olympic Committee (HOC) #Hungarian Open Air Museum #Hungarian Parliament #Hungarian Polo Club #Hungarian President János Áder #Hungarian Press Photo Exhibition #Hungarian Red Cross #Hungarian society #Hungarian Tourism Agency (MTÜ) #Hungarian-born #Hungarians abroad #Hungaricum #HungaroControl #Hungaroring #Hungary #Hungary tourism #Hungexpo #hybrid car #Hygiene #hygienic safety #Hyundai
    #Machinery industry #Madagascar #Mads Sandau-Jensen #Magyar Rádió (Hungarian Radio) #Magyar Suzuki #Magyar Telecom #Magyar Telekom #Magyarföld #Mahart Passnave #Malay Mishra #Malév Hungarian airlines #Mandatory quarantine #Manfred Bey #marathon run #Maria Assunta Accili Sabbatini #Marketing #Markku Virri #Martin Gauss #Márton Fucsovics #mask-wearing #MASTERPLAST #Mateco-Hungary Ltd. #Matei I. Hoffmann #Mátra Hill #Matriculation exam #Matterhorn #MÁV Hungarian Railways #Maximilian Hell #Media #Media law #Mediaworks #Medical industry #Mellow Mood Hotels #Memorial walk #Mercedes #Mercedes Benz #merkel #Messer #Mexican Embassy in Budapest #Mexico #MFGK Croatia d.o.o. #Michael Ignatieff #Midsummer night #Migration #Mihály Kolodko #Mihály Munkácsy #Mihály Varga #Miklós Radnóti #Mikulás Dzurinda #Military #Millennium generation #Minister of Agriculture István Nagy #Minister of Defense #Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade #Minister of Human Capacities #Ministry of Human Capacities (EMMI) #Ministry of National Development #Ministry of National Economy #Ministry of the Interior #Minorities #Miroslav Lajèák #Miskolc #Miskolc rally #missiles sales #Mitt Romney #Mobile base station #mobile broadband #Mohács #MOL #MOL Group #MOL Hygi #Monetary policy #Monostor Bridge #Monterrey #Moody's #Móric Benyovszky #Mortgage #Motion picture #motoGP #Motorcycle #Motorway #Mountaineering #Movement restrictions #Municipal elections #Municipality #mural #museum #Museum of Fine Arts #Music #Music in the Forest - Mátra Art Days #MVM Group
    #São Tomé and Príncipe #Sali Berisha #Sameer Hamdan #Samsung #Samsung SDI #Samyang Biopharm #Sándor Csányi #Sándor Demján #Sándor Képíró #Sándor Kiss #Sándor Kőrösi Csoma #Sándor Pintér #Sang Il Lee #Saudi Arabia #Scandal #Scholarship #School year #Schools #Science #scuba diving #second-hand car sales #security issues #Semmelweis University #Semmelweis University of Budapest #Sérgio Eduardo Moreira Lima #Service center #Service sector #sewage water #Shanghai #Shanghai World Expo 2010 #Shapr 3D #Shell #shopping #short film #shortage #show jumping #Siemens #Sika #Singapore #Singapore Airlines #Siófok #Skanska #Skanska Hungary #Slovakia #Slovenia #Slovenian Tourism Organization (STO) #Sludge #Smartphone application #SME Robotization Barometer #SMEs #Smoke-free future #Soccer #Social(i)Makers #Society #Society for Freedoms #Solar energy #Solar panels #Solidarity Club #Son of Saul #South Africa #Soviet Union #Space research #Spain #Spanish language #SPAR #Spar Hungary #special taxes #Sponsorship #Sports #Sports club #Stadler #Stalinism #Start-ups #State Auditing Office #State of danger #State of emergency #State of the Nation #Statistical data #Statue #Stefan Pop #stepdance #Stock exchange #Stockholm #Sudan #Suh Chung-ha #SUHANJ! Foundation #Sumatran orangutan #Summer Olympic Games #SunDell Estate Plc. #Sunshine Garage #Supercharge Ltd. #Superfast Internet Program #Supermarket chain #Suppliers #Suriname #survey #Sustainability #Sweden #Sweet Days Budapest #Swimming #Swiss Embassy - Budapest #Swisscham Hungary #Switzerland #Symbol #Syria #Szabolcs Takács #Szamos Marzipan #Szeged #Szeged Open-Air Festival #Szeged wholesale market #Szentendre #Szerencsejáték Plc. #Sziget #Szusza Ferenc Stadium
  • © Copyright 2020 Duax Kft. –  All rights reserved.
    searchenvelope-oalign-justifytwitterfacebookfeedinstagrammoon-osunearth