Merkel, Orbán celebrate 30th anniversary of Pan-European Picnic

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán attended a celebratory mass in Sopron, western Hungary on August 19 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic and the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“We, Germans, remember with much gratitude how Hungary contributed to the cessation of Europe’s division and the creation of a united Germany,” Mrs Merkel said in her speech. “Sometimes we have to step over our own shadows and this is what refugees fleeing war remind us,” she added.

“In Sopron, we started demolishing a wall built by the East, from the East,” Mr Orbán said, stressing that Hungary had always been a supporter of German reunification. “We always knew, even when we were divided into two, that there is only one Europe,” he added.

Speaking after a joint press conference following the commemoration, the German chancellor expressed support for incoming European commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s attempt to restart relations with Hungary. “We have to be aware that the well-being of a nation depends on our common European well-being, as well. Europe can be strong only if it is united,” she continued.

Mrs Merkel said that Hungary “makes a proper use” of European funds, contradicting the conclusions of the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF.

“We have our own Hungarian way of life, with its constitutional foundations and the Christian freedom that we will always protect,” Mr Orbán told journalists, dismissing European critics who say that the Hungarian government has abused the rule of law.

The Hungarian PM added that bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to 54 billion euros in 2018 and that there are now 6,000 German companies in Hungary providing more than half a million jobs. The two leaders also discussed cooperation in migration, defence and EU enlargement.

Asked by the German press if he sees a contradiction between opening the borders 30 years ago and building a fence at the country’s southern border in 2015 to stem the flow of migrants, the Hungarian PM said that both events happened to ensure “freedom and security”.

Organised by the then still-evolving Hungarian democratic opposition on August 19, 1989, the Pan-European picnic was a civic gathering in the village of Sopronpuszta to symbolically open the Iron Curtain at the old Austro-Hungarian border. It resulted in the border’s actual opening when hundreds of refugees from the communist East Germany crossed it in order to travel on to West Germany.