Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Hungarian Picnic 

AP reports on the anniversary of an important picnic put together by some clever Magyars:
"It was a picnic that changed the course of history.

"Twenty years ago Wednesday, members of Hungary's budding opposition organized a picnic at the border with Austria to press for greater political freedom and promote friendship with their Western neighbors.

"Some 600 East Germans got word of the event and turned up among the estimated 10,000 participants. They had a plan: to take advantage of an excursion across the border to escape to Austria.

"Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in festivities Wednesday marking the 20th anniversary of the 'Pan-European Picnic,' which helped precipitate the fall nearly three months later of the Berlin Wall.

"'Hungarians gave wings to the East Germans' desire for freedom,' Merkel told an audience that included politicians, diplomats, former East German refugees and several of the picnic's organizers.

"One of the key factors allowing the Germans to escape: the decision by a Hungarian border guard commander not to stop them as they pushed through to freedom."
There is an old saying about Hungarians (and I have joke-telling immunity here, since my mother was born in Hungary) -- they can go into a revolving door behind you and come out the other side ahead of you. Maybe the picnic crew put the most attractive women (of which there are many in Budapest) in the front of the line as they approached the border guards. What was the commander going to do?

Arpad Bella was that commander that day, and he decided to let everyone through. The trickle of Iron Curtain citizens heading west turned into a flood, thanks to Soviet inaction, and the Wall eventually came down.


By Blogger Dan Collins, at Wed Aug 19, 09:36:00 PM:

I can vouch for the numbers of attractive women in Budapest.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Aug 19, 10:05:00 PM:

Re: the Fall of The Wall

I had a Berlin friend who I popped over to visit for a weekend in 1985 while I was working in London -- it was the same weekend Reagan spoke at Bitburg, coincidentally. Arnold was a decade older than I, had lost both parents in WWII and was raised by grandparents in West Berlin.

The Wall took an often silly zig-zag course through Berlin -- like a gerrymandered election district. During my stay, Arnold purposefully set out to show me its absurdity. He drove me to a remote corner of West Berlin where the Wall almost met on both sides -- it was 50 yards apart for nearly half a mile, until it opened into a large cul-de-sac. There were ten or so very large homes in this cul-de-sac -- each on an acre or two or three of land ... The Wall was in their backyard ... complete with guard towers staffed by East German soldiers with machine guns, 24 x 7.

I'm sure the West Berliners in their fancy estates learned to tune out the East German guards, but it'd be hard duty to look down on fancy backyards each day only to go home to a cramped East Berlin apartment ... all in the name of protecting the State against the virus of capitalism.

I never thought The Wall would fall in my lifetime, but the better angels in our humanity prevailed.

If you haven't see it, I recommend the flick "The Lives of Others" which speaks to this. It won the Best Foreign Picture Oscar for 2006, managing to beat Pan's Labyrinth which I thought was a bet-the-house lock.

Link, over  

By Anonymous tyree, at Thu Aug 20, 08:46:00 AM:

Thanks for that.
Growing up in Orange County, CA in the 1960's WWII was 20 years into my past. The current 3rd graders have the same separation in time to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's history needs to be preserved so the younger generation can see what Communism and Socialism were all about. Some of the younger generation throw Hitler mustaches on our images of our political leaders and have no idea of the comparison they are making.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Thu Aug 20, 09:33:00 AM:

I knew three refugees from Hungarian communism in Latin America.I worked with two.One was the son of a Hungarian diplomat in Japan who got stranded with the change of government back in the 1940s. The other fled Hungary as a child with his family in the wake of the failed 1956 revolution.

The third was an aerospace engineer whom the Russians had jailed after WW2 in the hope of getting him to change his mind to their wanting him go to Russia to work for them. They let him go after 2-3 years in prison when it became apparent he was never going to change his mind. He and his wife left. This must have been in the early years before after WW2 before the Commies took complete control, because they did let him go. It is hard to imagine their letting him go when they had complete control.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Thu Aug 20, 03:40:00 PM:

Boludo Tejano - The years 1945-48 were kind of a transition period for Hungary. It gradually became clear that the Soviet Army was not leaving after the defeat of the Third Reich, and that the Hungarian Communist Party puppet regime was going to be in power as a result. It was then that my grandfather and his third wife (my mother's parents had divorced in the late 1920s, my grandmother married an American in the 1930s and moved to the States, followed by my mother a few years later) escaped through Italy and moved to Buenos Aires. My grandfather was a member of a party that would be roughly analogous to the more modern Christian Democrats in Germany, but non-communist parties were being outlawed and the leaders were being offered all-expense paid trips to Siberia. So, he got out while the gettin' was good.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Thu Aug 20, 04:59:00 PM:

Escort81: all of the three Hungarians I discussed moved to Argentina. The aerospace engineer lived in Jujuy, in the north. The other two were from BA. Coincidentally, my hometown had a strong Hungarian tinge: perhaps a quarter of my classmates had Hungarian surnames. One of my classmates didn't speak English until he was 4; his Hungarian-born parents then decided he had better start learning English.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Thu Aug 20, 06:11:00 PM:

George Gamow had another joke about Hungarian mountain climbers: "According to my reading of the map, we're on top of that mountain over there."

Dan is right about the women of Budapest. Yet the pastries might exceed even their charms. Whenever you hear the words "pastry" and "Budapest" in the same sentence, drop whatever you are doing and find out what's up.  

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