Thank you for the notice this afternoon of the Presidential delegation to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
I understand that the Atlantic Council will present Freedom Awards to a number of individuals at this event. Inexplicably, the significant role of Hungary in the fall of the Wall was omitted from the AC's notice, and it appears that no Hungarian will be honored at the event.
I am writing to urge that Secretary Clinton mention and recognize Hungary and Hungary's substantial role in the historical events twenty years ago. This recognition would not only serve historical accuracy, it would be greatly appreciated by Hungarian Americans who have just commemorated the 53rd anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
While the press and historians have reflected on Hungary's significant participation, below is an excerpt from an address to be given by Geza Jeszenszky (Foreign Minister of Hungary, 1990-1994 and Ambassador to the U.S. 1998-2002) on Monday at the NATO School at Oberammergau.*
Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter and we look forward to the Secretary's address.
Frank Koszorus, Jr.
American Hungarian Federation
*By the 1980s a new generation emerged in Hungary who, having heard something
about the hidden past, wanted to know more about it. Films, university
lectures, underground publications gave more than hints: facts about the
crimes of Communism, about the Gulag Archipelago, about the Hungarian
victims of communist repression. The "war cry" of the growing opposition was
1956. A Committee for Historical Justice was formed; it demanded the
exhumation of the executed leaders of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, Imre
Nagy and his fellow martyrs, from their unmarked graves, and also a new
trial for them. In May 1988 Kádár, the man who betrayed the revolution in
1956 and, becoming a Soviet puppet, introduced terrible reprisals, was sent
into retirement. The cover page of The Economist showed a truckload of 1956
Hungarian freedom-fighters with the caption "It is Hungary Again," and that
was fully justified. Soon the first political parties challenging the old
order were formed: Fidesz (Young Democrats) and the Hungarian Democratic
Forum), followed a few month later by the Alliance of Free Democrats. All
three parties swore by the principles of the '56 revolution. For us 1989 was
1956 under more promising external circumstances.
In February 1989 Imre Pozsgay, the popular leader of the umbrella
organization "Patriotic People's Front," made a stunning statement: 1956 was
not a counter-revolution but a popular uprising. The dramatic, solemn
reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow-martyrs on June 16, 1989, was much more
then a traditional communist "rehabilitation"; it was an international
event. The whole world watched it, many foreign dignitaries attended it. It
was a unique expression of national unity, the reform-leaning government of
Miklós Németh provided security, and some members of the government (all
members of the communist party) were included in the guards of honour
standing by the six coffins. The boldest speech was given by the young
leader of Fidesz, Viktor Orbán, calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops.
That issue was considered a taboo, even the Polish Solidarnosc - aware of
"the geopolitical cage" - had not raised it. The burial was much more then
paying homage to the heroes and martyrs of 1956, it was a call for radical
change. It was also a call for Kádár, the traitor of 1956, to face his
responsibility. In less than three weeks he was dead.
In the summer of 1989 the government started the "Round-Table Discussions"
with the opposition parties, and by the end of September an agreement was
signed on the complete transformation of the political system. In the
following weeks the Parliament passed a series of cardinal laws, practically
adopted a new constitution, and thus a negotiated, peaceful revolution was
made. All the aims of the 1956 revolutions were met or were on the right
course to be realized.
In Poland the semi-free election held in June 1989 resulted in the
overwhelming victory of the opposition Solidarnosc. With the appointment of
the first non-communist since 1948, Tadeusz Mazowiecki as Polish Prime
Minister in August 1989, and the September agreement in Hungary on the
peaceful winding down of the communist system, it was still only those two
traditional pro-Western states where the days of communism were apparently
numbered. In December 1989 the European Community initiated economic help
for the two reformist countries. The name, PHARE, (Poland and Hungary -
Assistance with Restructuring the Economy) indicated that. But the wind of
change, also deliberately blown from the two, soon led to the collapse of
the whole artificial edifice called "Socialism" like a house of cards. Why
and how did it happen?
A turning point in history
Excerpts from a recent interview in the BBC: "in March 1989, Hungarian Prime
Minister Miklos Nemeth told the Soviet leader he planned to dismantle the
barbed wire along the border, as it was rusting and the replacement would be
costly. Mr Gorbachev reacted calmly and said border security was Mr Nemeth's
problem, not his. The Hungarian prime minister took it as a green light. But
could things have gone differently? 'Absolutely, we had worked out a lot of
scenarios,' Mr Nemeth told me. 'For me, the most important thing in those
days was how I judged the position of Gorbachev in power. If he's being
toppled, kicked out of power, that would have been a different story, I can
The so-called Pan-European Picnic was planned for Aug. 19, 1989 at the
Austrian-Hungarian border upon the initiative of the opposition parties, but
was endorsed as patron by Otto von Habsburg (then a Member of the EP) and
the leading Hungarian reformist communist, Minister Pozsgay. It was
originally meant only as a symbolic meeting between Germans, Austrians and
Hungarians by a fire: a call for a Europe where borders can be crossed
easily. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon the organizers, including Wallburga
von Habsburg, arrived and a temporary gate was to be opened in what was
still a border fence made of barbed wire, when the unexpected happened. I
quote from a recent article. "Lt-Col Arpad Bella, who was in charge of the
Hungarian border post, saw a crowd of men, women, even children rushing
towards him. Before his eyes, the first wave of East German refugees pushed
through a barbed wire-topped wooden gate into the West. Some cried, laughed,
embraced each other. Others kept running because they could not believe they
were in Austria. Without clear instructions from his superiors, Lt-Col Bella
decided not to shoot. 'It was terrible for me!' he said. 'Those two hundred
people were just ten metres away from freedom. So I took the decision that I
thought was best for Hungary and for my own conscience.'"
The breakout and the successful escape to the West was a sensation which
filled the western media. The news prompted tens of thousands of "tourists"
from the GDR to come to Hungary, hoping that they, too, could follow their
compatriots. I recall a cartoon from the Economist: two people stand in
front of the Berlin wall sign on it: "No exit, try Hungary!" That
unmanageable mass of people camping in the garden of the West German Embassy
in Budapest, but also in parks, loitering in the border area, compelled the
still communist Hungarian Government to start talks both with the
Bundesrepublik and with the Soviet leadership. Gorbachev told that it was up
to the Hungarian government what to do. The East German government protested
and demanded Hungary to repatriate all those East German citizens, referring
to a bilateral agreement. Hungary had recently signed the Geneva Convention
on refugees, not thinking of Germans but of Hungarians escaping from
Ceausescu's Romania, and that came in handy. Finally on September 10 the
Hungarian government decided to permit all East Germans to leave Hungary
through the border with Austria. At least seventy thousand left in a few
days. By that time many East Germans stopped in Czechoslovakia and demanded
similar treatment. The Prague government gave in and opened its western
border. All that had a tremendous impact upon the population of the GDR. The
Neues Forum, modeled on the Hungarian Democratic Forum, now emerged as an
umbrella organization demanding changes. The October visit of Gorbachev was
discouraging for the dictator Honecker. The successful escape of tens of
thousands of GDR citizens made it pointless to keep the Berlin Wall closed.
When a new, reformist leadership in East Berlin decided to open it, the
people smashed the Wall into pieces on Nov. 9.
That was too much for the Czechs to watch: a memorial meeting on Nov. 17
turned into a mass demonstration against the system, with the police
dispersing it, but the demonstrations continued in the following days, now
directed by the Civic Forum formed on Nov. 19 and the Slovak Openness
against Violence. On Nov. 29 the Prague government started negotiations with
the opposition and in December agreed to form a new government of national
unity, headed by the reformist communist Calfa, while the old parliament
elected Havel provisional President on Dec. 29. That was the "velvet
By that time Ceauşescu, the Romanian "Conducator" was dead. In December a
Hungarian Calvinist pastor at Timişoara/Temesvár refused to give up his
parish, and the people, both Hungarians and Romanians, demonstrated in his
support. Bloody reprisals followed, but a mass rally in Bucharest, convened
by Ceausescu, turned into a demonstration against him and ended in the
helicopter escape of the dreaded dictator. He was soon captured and
summarily executed. The Council of National Liberation was headed by his
former close ally, Iliescu, nevertheless the desire of the people to abandon
communism was genuine. Bulgaria changed more gradually (Zhivkov was replaced
on Nov. 10), and Albania in two steps by 1991. The failed coup of August '91
in Moscow was just an aftermath, completed by the restoration of the
independence of the Baltic States in September, and the break-up of the
Soviet Union itself in December.
I think it needs no further argument to say that there is a direct
connection between the Hungary of 1956 and the Hungary of 1989. But that is
not enough. 1989 was undoubtedly a turning point in world history. Both
world wars and the Cold War had started in Central Europe, this time it was
where the Cold War came to an end. 1989 was not inevitable, just as the
Soviet seizure of the eastern half of Europe between 1944 and 1947 was not
unavoidable. The end of the Soviet colonial empire was indeed inevitable, as
all empires disappear eventually, but it could have come much later and
under far less peaceful circumstances. The transformation in Poland and
Hungary was the model followed by the other communist-dominated countries.
By May 1990 most were already free, and the Age of Fear and Lies, the Age of
the Stupid and Vicious Party Apparatchiks, of the Irrational Command
Economy, the Age of the Cultural Wasteland was over. The Poles and the
Hungarians made the greatest contribution to winning the Cold War, without a
shot being fired. But I think 1989 belongs not only to a few countries and
their leaders. As a close American observer, Robert Hutchings stated: "That
the Cold War ended peacefully and on Western terms was an achievement
without parallel in modern history." The changes were not caused by U.S. or
western policies, "they were deeply rooted in history and driven by the
heroic efforts of democratic opposition leaders in Central and Eastern
Europe." (Hutchings, Robert L.: American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold
War, 1989-1992. Baltimore and London, 1997. pp. 1-2.)
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 6, 2009
Presidential Delegation to Commemorate 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, President Barack Obama extends his congratulations to the people of Germany – and the people of Europe. On November 9, 1989, Germans from both sides of the wall joined together, moving freely between East and West – something that had been denied them for over a generation. This year, we commemorate and recognize their decision, and the decisions of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 to choose freedom over oppression, liberty over captivity, and hope over despair.
President Obama today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to Berlin, Germany to attend the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 2009.
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, will lead the delegation.
Members of the Presidential Delegation:
The Honorable Philip D. Murphy, U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany
Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Ret.), President, The Scowcroft Group and former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic & International Studies and former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter
Mr. Craig Kennedy, President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States
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