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Peace and Security

Vienna Forum Reviews 20 Years Since the Fall of the Iron Curtain

Seebenstein, Austria - For the last several years, UPF-Austria has made it a tradition to organize a small Peace Festival at the time of the summer solstice. This year it was combined with a June 20 conference on “20 Years Since the Fall of the Iron Curtain.”

In order to commemorate the historical events of June 1989, the Hungarian Ambassador to Austria, Dr. Istvan Horvath, was invited to share his experiences. He had been Ambassador to Germany 20 years ago and he was involved when the Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock and the Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn symbolically cut the Iron Curtain at the border between Austria and Hungary in June 1989, allowing the East German “tourists” to cross the border, against the will of the German Democratic Republic’s Communist regime.

On the day of our Conference the Hungarian ambassador had to attend an important meeting in Budapest, but his deputy, Csaba Mazák, replaced him and spoke about the cooperation between Hungary and Austria in initiating the fall of the Iron Curtain. Over 100 guests from the Vienna area were in attendance despite heavy rain in this oasis of nature in the forests of Seebenstein. A video summarizing the events of 1989 as they had been presented on TV recalled vividly this memorable time for the participants of the conference.

In the second session, Austrians who had spent the time between 1980 and 1990 in countries behind the Iron Curtain shared some of their experiences: Christine Segato, who was coordinating the project “Mission Butterfly,” reported about adventurous journeys to countries of the former Soviet Union, hiding Bibles and other forbidden material in a specially prepared van.

Mag. Elisabeth Cook gave insight into the life of an Austrian student in Budapest in Communist Hungary, Mag. Elisabeth Brandner spoke of how it was to work as a Communist tour guide in former Yugoslavia, and Christian Zwerger explained how he was guided by God to find the most suitable person to help him spread the ideas of a God-centered life in Communist Bulgaria.

Classical music from Austria opened the final session, followed by two charming young folk singers from Romania. A round table discussion concluded the Conference. Students from Austria and East European countries were joined by the Russian anthropologist Alexej Klutschewsky and Juraj Lajda, a Czech publisher, who were imprisoned in Communist Czechoslovakia as a member of the then considered “dangerous” Unification Movement. They shared their reflections about the Fall of the Iron Curtain and the implications for today’s Europe. In summary, they urged people to keep treasuring freedom and use it to strengthen the bonds between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe.

As a conclusion, a young Korean opera singer expressed her oriental heart with music from the East and the West. The audience expressed their best wishes that the bamboo curtain in her homeland between North and South Korea may fall soon too.

A barbecue and a solstice fire had been planned for the evening, but due to persistent rain all morning, dinner had to be served inside. It gave the guests, Ambassadors for Peace from Austria and the neighboring countries of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Italy the opportunity to get to know each other and to share their views. And slowly even the sun started to shine.

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