Hungary recalls end of Iron Curtain with mixed emotions

By Stephen Brown
July 2, 2009

Hungary has marked the 20th anniversary of a symbolic opening of the Iron Curtain, which once separated it from neighbouring Austria, amid warnings from churches that Europe remains divided.

"We, here in Eastern Europe feel that in this region and in this culture we need to run more, we need to worry more … than in the northern or western part of our continent," said the Rev Marianna Szabó-Mátrai, deputy bishop of the southern district of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary.

Szabó-Mátrai was addressing a 26-29 June 2009 Lutheran World Federation consultation in Budapest on "Church and State in Societies in Transformation", 20 years after the end of communism in 1989.

Young people in Hungary, she stated, had learned, "that they need to be first, they need to win over their peers and see them as adversaries. If needed, the fight must be hard and harsh." Along with this goes, "the idol of the post-socialist times, the honour of money."

The consultation coincided with the 20th anniversary of a ceremony on the Austria-Hungary border, when the then foreign ministers of the two countries - Gyula Horn and Alois Mock - took giant bolt cutters to the wire fence that divided East and West.

The 1989 ceremony was celebrated on 27 June at a commemorative session in the Hungarian parliament and served as a catalyst for changes that would sweep the continent, leading to the end of communism in the eastern part of Europe.

In a statement issued to mark the anniversary, the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe noted how between 2004 and 2007 most central and eastern European countries had joined the European Union.

"However, not all the promises of the new freedom in Europe have been fulfilled," stated the church grouping, which gathers more than 100 Lutheran, Reformed, United, Methodist and other Protestant churches.

"On the one hand are gratitude and joy at liberation from systematic and violent oppression and the positive experiences in growing together," it said. "On the other side, anxiety is growing about the great economic and social differences in Europe and a persistent mental division into 'East and 'West'."

Addressing the Lutheran meeting, Professor Tibor Fabiny noted how Hungary had been badly hit by the global financial meltdown and had witnessed the rise of an extremist political party in recent elections to the European Parliament.

"The experience of crisis, once again in modern history, has resulted in the sudden emergence and strengthening of populist and dangerous tendencies in the political discourse, the intensification of right-wing radicalism," said Fabiny, a Lutheran who is professor of English literature and hermeneutics at Budapest's Reformed university. "And this is not what we wanted 20 years ago."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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