By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary on Monday, July 8, buried its former Prime Minister Gyula Horn, who played a daring role in the collapse of Communism throughout Europe and the reunification of Germany, by allowing thousands of East Germans to leave to the West when his nation was still a Soviet-occupied state.
As prime minister of a Socialist-Liberal coalition between 1998 and 1998, he became known for moving his nation towards a market economy, following decades of central planning.
Yet dignitaries agreed that Horn, who died just before his 81st birthday, really captured his place in history as foreign minister in 1989 when he symbolically dismantled the Iron Curtain. On a hot summer day he cut barbed wire at the Hungarian-Austrian border, with international television crews watching over his shoulders.
Soon after he somewhat diplomatically announced that 60,000 East German “tourists” — in reality political refugees –would be allowed to leave to Germany through Austria, despite opposition from what was then East Germany which together with Hungary and other nations formed part of the Soviet-led East Block. The exodus sparked the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall, politicians say.
“[He] was on the side of humanity and so he decided in favor of providing an exit for the refugees,” noted Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the famed former German foreign minister who knew Horn well.
“This is something that Germans will never forget,” he told the crowds attending the funeral at Hungary’s national Fiumei Street Cemetery in Budapest. “He solved the political problem with humanity.”
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament and a Socialist, reflected those sentiments saying at the funeral that the reunification of Europe and Germany would not have been possible without the Hungarian statesman.
Horn, he said, “helped to unite the artificially divided continent.” Schulz stressed that Horn “led Hungary to Europe and opened Hungary’s gates to Europe.”
Though a long-time Communist, Horn will be remembered as a “a historic figure and a modest man, and for that reason he would not only live in people’s memories but in their hearts, too,” Schultz added.
Yet not everyone agrees. In the 1990s Horn came under pressure following revelations that he had been part of a Communist militia that fought against those involved in Hungary’s 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination.
Horn never denied the allegations, but said he “never hurt anyone.”
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a firebrand anti-Communist and a political opponent of Horn’s Hungarian Socialist Party, attended the funeral but did not speak at the ceremony.
Instead Béla Katona, the former speaker of Parliament under the previous Socialist-led government, bid farewell to Horn on behalf of Hungary.
He told mourners that Horn impressed everyone in Hungary and abroad when as early as 1990, ahead of others, he urged his nation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.
“It’s trendy these days to portray oneself as a great reformer. However I daresay the process of change in the political system would have been much more difficult and much slower without Gyula Horn and the likes of him.” Katona said.
Current Prime Minister Orbán has come under international pressure over his perceived autocratic, nationalistic style and moving away from democratic reforms that were introduced in the early 1990s, charges he strongly denies.
The European Parliament last week adopted a report that expresses concerns over legal changes, including a controversial constitution, that it says threatens Hungary’s media freedom and the independence of other institutions ranging from churches and the judiciary to the Central Bank.
In an indirect reference to the political tensions, Schulz said Horn “made it possible to leave these divisions behind” and added that “now the time has come to again think about leaving behind divisions.”
PRIME MINISTER BOOED
When Orbán walked towards Horn’s coffin to pay his last respects, someone in the crowed reportedly booed at the prime minister.
The incident prompted Socialist lawmaker Ferenc Baja, a former minister in the Horn government, to say on his Facebook website this was “unworthy” of the event.
Horn was buried with military honors.
Several thousand Hungarians attended the funeral, many laying red carnations by the grave of the man they believe led this nation through turbulent times into a new era.
(As part of its extended coverage, Budapest-based BosNewsLife is keeping a close eye on general news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals, especially regarding faith, freedom of expression, and religious and ethnic groups in especially (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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