Brexit: When the Wall fell, we celebrated. Now the UK is putting one up – Angus Robertson

Hard to believe, but this week marks the 30th anniversary of the event that marked the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain.

Otto Habsburg was a convinced pro-European. Picture: Getty
Otto Habsburg was a convinced pro-European. Picture: Getty

At a picnic on the Hungarian-Austrian border in 1989, hosted by the Pan European Movement, the border was opened for the first time, and hundreds of East Germans were able to flee to the West.

Within two months more than 70,000 people had made the same journey and the wall came down in Berlin and the rest of Germany too.

The border picnic is an interesting story itself, as it was deliberately organised as a way for the Hungarians to test the reaction of the Soviets to the opening of the border. They had suffered brutal repression as a Soviet satellite state in 1956, with Warsaw Pact troops taking to the streets of Budapest.

Curiously, the border picnic was organised by Otto Habsburg, the son of the last Habsburg Emperor-King. A convinced pro-European, he had close connections with the different nations that made up his father’s realms.


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Long after the end of the Habsburg Empire he is famously remembered for quipping about an Austria-Hungary football match “who are we playing”?

Now, 30 years after the barbed wire came down at the border picnic on the western Hungarian border, it has been reinstalled along the south of the country to keep refugees out.

Meanwhile, in the UK, we are about to end freedom of movement for European citizens as a result of Brexit. Having benefited from so many young Hungarians and other central and eastern Europeans coming to our country, the UK is about to turn its back on them. What a shame.