THE HISTORY OF PANEUROPEAN PICNIC, AUGUST 19, 1989
The Paneuropean Union Hungary was established in 1927. However, in 1948 the communist regime forbade the operation of all democratic political parties and organisations of civic society, among others the Paneuropean Movement, which was fighting for the unification of our continent. The reorganisation started in 1988, treading all the steps of illegality, then the tacit tolerance of the regime, then being acknowledged legally. In 1989 the Hungarian Paneuropeans, made their first public appearances, working actively together with, or sometimes within, the emerging groups of opposition.
In 1989 already the whole country was aware of the fact that for the first time since the 1956 Hungarian revolution and freedom fight a real chance was given for gaining back the independence of the country and for the re-establishment of parliamentary democracy. The emerging opposition (grass-root organizations, human rights groups, political movements with increasing popular support, such as the Hungarian Democratic Forum) paved the way of the internal democratisation.
After this significant success it was important to secure that the positive process which had started could not be reversed. For this, the gaining of the active external support of the West was of foremost importance. This is how the idea of a “Paneuropean picnic” was bom. Representatives of the paneuropean Union, Hungary, together with supporters of the Hungarian Democratic Forum and other oppositional groups decided to invite for a short visit to Budapest Dr. Ottó Habsburg, member of the European Parliament a personality equally well- known in Western-Europe and in Hungary. On June 20, 1989, in front of an audience of four thousand people Dr.Ottó Habsburg gave a speech in which he reminded them of the fact that the International Paneuropean Union had never accepted the “Jalta border” and that “Paneurope is the whole Europe”, thus the unification of the Western part of Europe only is not satisfactory, and the regions occupied by Soviet forces should not be forgotten. Now the time finally came for Hungary to gain back its independence with the support of the West and especially the active support of the European Union.
In the meeting behind closed doors that followed this programme, a proposal was made and then accepted, that on the Austrian-Hungarian border a Paneuropean Picnic should be organised, where participants from both sides of the border demonstrate the unity of our continent. This programme had as an implicit objective the abolition of the iron curtain in a peaceful way.
By July 3, 1989, the exact schedule of the Paneuropean Picnic was fixed with a site near Sopron and the programme precisely outlined.
From the side of the official Hungarian leadership, the support of Imre Pozsgay, the state minister in the government of Miklós Németh, was gained for the cause. The organizers found tactically important to ask him to be one of the patrons of the picnic. In the following events he was the only representative from the state and party leadership who stood by the organising of the Paneuropean Picnic, and doing so he took great political risks. Dr. Ottó Habsburg was asked to be the other patron. As international president of the Paneuropean Union and member of the European Parliament, he was expected to ensure the support of the West and to inform the widest possible circles of the Western public opinion. Austrian politicians and officials also demonstrated sympathy. The Austrian Ministry of Home Affairs gave permission for the participants to cross the border on the day of the event, for the duration of the programme, even without official documents.
The organisers also got in touch with pastor László Tőkés in Timisoara (Rumania), who, in the name of millions of Transsylvanians sent a message to the participants of the Picnic drawing attention of the West to the suffering of the citizens of Rumania under the Ceaucescu terror.
Right before the day of the event State Minister Imre Pozsgay informed Dr. Ottó Habsburg, that the Hungarian Government and the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party are not willing to support the Paneuropean Picnic in Sopron. Even “they cannot guarantee personal security”. Imre Pozsgay was concerned that too much publicity would possibly cause heavy opposition from the side of the official leadership and-wanted to protect the leaders of the event from this. Those days, it was impossible to determine precisely how the Soviet Union would react to the “attack against the unity of the socialist group”, as the Paneuropean Picnic was titled East German official circles. Although state minister Pozsgay declined from the invitation, he also made sure that on the day of the Picnic, August 19, on the assigned borderline hardly any border guards were present, and even they, literally speaking, turned their back to the event.
On 19th of August, on one site of the picnic near Sopron, the organisers cut the barbed-wire fence with wire cutting knives at several places, thus breaking a real big hole into the Iron Curtain. Representing her father, Walburga Habsburg also took her share from the job. Afterwards an event took place which was not planned in the original schedule: More than six hundred east-Germans, coming from Budapest to participate in the event, seeing the several holes cut in the barbed wire fence, literally charged towards the whole width of the border section and breaking it through landed in Austria - leaving behind their cars and all their possession. On the other side of the border the Austrian border guards and the participants having gathered for the event received the refugees with warm welcome.
After this, the messages of the two main patrons and that of László Tőkés were read out. A number of Hungarian opposition politicians also appeared there and greeted the participants of the event. The evening was concluded with barbecue and singing in the tents due to the rain, but in very good spirit. The participants were by now aware that this was an historic day not only for Hungary, but for Europe as a whole. This is how the then German chancellor, Helmut Kohl put it: “The first brick of the Berlin wall fell out at the section of the Iron Curtain at Sopron”.
After the picnic, from the end of August, militiamen and strengthened borderguard troops were ordered to border stations, and on some occasions even arms were used. However, by the end of September 1989 the Hungarian-Austrian border was officially opened and the East-Germans who flooded Hungary from East Germany and Czechoslovakia, gained officially free exit.
It is an unhappy fact that although the historic significance of the Paneuropean Picnic is well-known to the public of the West - thanks to the testimony of East Germans who gained their freedom due to the event -, official rewards and acknowledgement have so far been bestowed upon those who at that period did not support the event or actually tried to prevent it with all their strength until the last minute.
This is why I turn your attention to this event, and I present the candidacy of the Paneuropean Union, Hungary for your consideration for the Robert Schuman Prize 1999 (also considering the occasion of the tenth anniversary).