the Prime Ministers of both countries and a European Union official inaugurated a renovated bridge, and commemorated last month’s terrorist attacks on the United States.
Thousands of people, some of them dressed in local costumes, watched as leaders of Jewish communities and Christian churches blessed the Maria Valeria bridge, which they hope will become a symbol for peace.
The bridge, between Hungary’s Catholic Capital Esztergom and the Slovak town of Sturovo, has been named after the daughter of Austrian-Hungarian Emperor Ferenc Jozsef. It was opened in 1895, but blown up by retreating German troops at the end of World War Two.
Especially ethnic Hungarian families living on both sides of the river Danube, were suddenly faced with what some later called the Liquid Berlin Wall.
Under Communism residents in Esztergom and neighboring Sturovo often waved to each other, hoping that one day they would be re-united.
"Their dream has now been realized," 33-year old bridge engineer Janos Karkus told BosNewsLife. "When this last unit was placed in its final place, it was quite touching to see elderly people with tears in their eyes, because they have been waiting for this event for 57 years," he said.
His words were reflected by Prime Ministers Viktor Orban and Mikulas Dzurinda, who officially opened the bridge by cutting through ribbons in the colours of the Slovak and Hungarian flags.
Dzurinda said the bridge was a symbol of re-united people living in a Europe which in his words "changed because of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11", when hijacked planes plunged into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
Before the ceremony began, both Prime Ministers placed wreaths at the Slovak side of the bridge, to commemorate the thousands of victims killed in these strikes.
The leaders also made clear that the bridge underscores the friendship between Hungary and Slovakia, whose relationship has often suffered under ethnic tensions. Current Slovakia, once part of the Austrian Hungarian empire, has still an ethnic Hungarian minority of an estimated 600-thousand people, which till recently reportedly experienced discrimination.
However the Enlargement Commissioner of the European Union, Gunter Verheugen, suggested that small, green painted span, symbolizes reconciliation in Eastern Europe, where traditional churches play an important role.
"The European Union decided to financially support and to contribute, because this bridge is much more than just a technical connection between two places," he said about the EU’s decision to invest nine million dollars in the project.
It is a very, very strong political symbol for that what is Europe about," Verheugen added.
He stressed that the Maria Valeria bridge should become part of a peaceful future for Europe, as it prepares to become part of a global war against terror. "As we have been told the Maria Valeria bridge was (very often) destroyed in wars. That must never happen again. There must never be war again in Europe. And there must be never be bridge by war in Europe," Verheugen said, interrupted by laud applause.
The EU commissioner pointed out that the Maria Valeria bridge connects two countries who are both key candidates for European Union membership. Verheugen said he hopes to welcome Hungary and Slovakia together, as full EU-members by 2004. In addition he later told reporters that following recent elections, the new Government of Poland would also speed up its integration into the EU.