Paneuropean Picnic

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The Paneuropean Picnic (also spelled Pan-European Picnic) was an event that took place on the border between Austria and Hungary on August 19, 1989 near Sopron, Hungary.

The event

The event was planned to be a peaceful demonstration. Both countries agreed to open a gate in the border fence, between Sankt Margarethen im Burgenland (near Eisenstadt), and Sopronkőhida (Steinambrückl) on the Hungarian side of the border.

The leaders of the time were Otto von Habsburg and the Hungarian minister, Imre Pozsgay. The person who did the actual cutting of the border fence was the general secretary of the International Paneuropean Union, Walburga Habsburg Douglas. The gate was to be symbolically opened for three hours.

Problem

More than 600 citizens of the German Democratic Republic took the opportunity to cross and fled into the west once the Iron Curtain was opened. They had been informed of the event by its organizers. At that time, the Hungarian border police still had the orders to shoot those trying to cross the border illegally. They however acted with deliberation, and did not shoot at the fleeing people.

Result

The number of people who actually crossed the border to enter the west was limited to a few hundred on that day. The following days, the border was watched more closely due to orders by the Hungarian government. Therefore, only a relatively small number of people managed to flee then. Hungary opened its borders to citizens of East Germany on September 11, 1989.

Remembering the event

Today, the Paneuropean Picnic is seen as one of the important events that led to the end of the German Democratic Republic, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the unification of the two German states.

The event is commemorated every year on August 19, on the spot where the border was opened.

Memorials

Today, artwork made by Hungarian artists is at the place where the fence was cut. It shows an semi-open door.

In 1996, a 10 meter statue was built in Fertőrákos near Sopron. It was made by Gabriela von Habsburg. It shows a piece of barbed wire. From far away, it looks like a cross.

Other websites