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German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked Hungary for the role it had played in the reunification of Germany, at an ecumenical service held in western Hungary’s Sopron on Monday, marking the 30th anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic, a pivotal event in the fall of communism in 1989.

We Germans are grateful for Hungary’s contribution to abolishing division in Europe and to German reunification. We thank Hungary for that”

She noted that thirty years ago, the Pan-European Picnic was organised as a demonstration for European peace and included plans to symbolically open the Hungarian-Austrian border for a few hours. East Germans, “vacationing at Hungarian camping sites,” have caught wind of the event and hundreds left all their belongings behind to try and reach freedom, she said.

Pan-European Picnic: The First Bricks Knocked Out of the Wall

Merkel called the picnic an event of historic importance and noted Hungarian border police’s courage who refused to shoot at those crossing the border.

‘Hundreds of East Germans came to get through the border. I only had minutes to decide whether I would stop them or not. I think I made the right choice’

The Pan-European Picnic has become a symbol of the era’s freedom fights, Merkel said. On September 11, Hungary opened its borders for good, and on November 9, the Berlin Wall fell, ending division in Europe, she said.

She thanked the organisers of the Picnic, those helping East Germans in their flight and all those fighting for democratic change.

‘Forced Foreign Ideology Became Too Much for East Germans’ – Interview on the Pan-European Picnic with Father Imre Kozma

Regarding the “enormous” challenges facing Europe, Merkel said Europeans should not lose sight of their shared values. “We have to be aware that any nation’s prosperity is conditional on Europe’s. Europe is only as strong as it is united. Europe is strong only inasmuch as it can make compromises in contested issues,” she said.

The European peace project “is not self-sustaining,” Merkel said, adding that shouldering shared responsibility for Europe and the world at times requires “stepping over one’s shadow”. The masses seeking asylum and needing protection in Europe from crisis regions of the world show how important it is to fight against the root causes of persecution and flight, she said.

Hungary, Germany and the other EU states are today partners in shaping the future of a united Europe, she said.

We have to proceed on the road to freedom, democracy and unity, and might be strengthened by remembering the Pan-European Picnic”

Merkel said.

featured photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI

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