Part 3 | Hungary - The Border Guard at the Iron Curtain

Author & Director:
Juergen Ast

Commissioning Editor:
Dr. Katja Wildermuth


LE Vision // ARTE

Hungary, early 1989 - the country is changing. During the early summer, tens of thousands of East-Germans are traveling to Hungary. They all are attracted by the hope of a better future and Hungary seems to be the loop-hole to freedom, to escape into the West. But agreements within the Warsaw-Pact destroy all hopes, the Borders remain closed. Countless refugees from the GDR are trapped in Hungary.

In the time, on August 19th 1989, close to the border between Hungary and Austria, next to the town of Sopron, a symbolic picnic of the East-West international understanding is taking place. Local reformists are responsible for the organization of the event. And for just a few hours they want to open an old gate at the border.

Actually the reformists in Budapest want to find out, how Moscow will react when masses of people try to break through the Iron Curtain. But no one of the local group responsible for the "event", nor anyone of the border guards is briefed. They all assume that possible refugees will be hold back long before they reach the border. The general orders for the Hungarian troops on duty on this day haven't been changed. "Hold back East-German refugees from crossing the border into the West, send them back - and, if necessary, use firearms is case of confrontation."

When hundreds of East-Germans suddenly make a run for the border, the soldier on guard, Officer Árpád Bella, has to make the decision of his life and everything hangs on it: either obey the orders and open fire, or throw away 20 years in military service. Either accept a bloodbath with all unpredictable consequences, or refuse to comply with the orders in the name of humanity.

His brave, lone decision and his courage make the wonder possible: a mass exodus of refugees, accelerating the collapse of the Eastern Bloc radically. Only a few months later - unthinkable for decades and for millions of people - the Berlin Wall fall and the Iron Curtain was consigned to history.