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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Malteser Hilfsdienst in Budapest 

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Malteser Hilfsdienst in Budapest

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Malteser Hilfsdienst in Budapest, © Florian Gaertner/photothek.net

04.11.2019 - Speech

Holiday destinations are always subject to changing tastes among tourists. However, the wave of holiday traffic from the GDR which flooded into Hungary in the summer of 1989 exceeded anything that had gone before.

But the supposed tourists didn’t come because of Lake Balaton’s beaches. They travelled to Hungary because they had an image which they couldn’t get out of their minds. It was the image of a gap in the fence, a fence which had divided Europe for decades. For Hungary had begun to dismantle its physical border with Austria. People now came in search of the gaps in the fence with the West. There was no question of them returning to the GDR. The image had developed a momentum which was simply impossible to stop.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This momentum would have had no consequences without the great willingness to help in that summer of 1989. It is first and foremost thanks to the solidarity shown by Hungarians that the flow of refugees didn’t result in a disaster. They paved the way to freedom for the GDR refugees – although they themselves were still struggling to gain their own freedom.

And it was also thanks to the practical compassion shown by the Malteser. They were at hand when the West German Embassy had to close due to overcrowding. Your headquarters, this building, became a reception camp. Together with you, Father Kozma and Czilla von Boeselager, the Malteser organised the first public camp for GDR refugees in the church grounds.

Father Kozma, you hung up a sign at the entrance with a Latin phrase: “ianua patet, cor magis – The door is open, the heart even more”. How right you were.

Many of you here today helped to the brink of exhaustion. I would like to thank you most sincerely for your support. You generated hope in a dire situation. For many, however, it was much more:

a hope that was fulfilled. On 10 September, Foreign Minister Horn declared that the border would be opened for GDR refugees. In the days that followed, thousands of people from the GDR left Hungary for the West. They had little luggage but they all took with them the memory of the help they had received here in their hour of need.

We Germans will never forget that. For we know that the path to perhaps one of the happiest moments in our country’s history led through Hungary.

Ladies and gentlemen,

1989 showed what Europeans can achieve if they are courageous. Hungary’s decision to open the border was such a moment. It was a decision taken in the face of opposition from the GDR leadership. But it was a decision for humanity. This shared moment in history also brings with it an obligation: namely, to work tirelessly to build a Europe which lives up to the values and dreams of those who took to the streets in 1989 to fight for freedom and democracy.

Freedom also thrives on dissent. And democracy thrives on opposition. We therefore have to resist when the achievements back then are again called into question in Europe today.

Perhaps we should also take with us today an image to inspire us: the image of the Europe-wide solidarity in 1989. It shows how much strength we Europeans have when we act internationally and look beyond national interests. Even today. We just have to harness this strength.

Thank you very much.

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