Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the city of Sopron Monday to commemorate a pivotal moment in the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
The commemoration will be a rare encounter between the two leaders.
Hungary, the first country to dismantle the east-west frontier, was also the first to fortify its southern border against a big new influx of Asian and African immigrants. Hungarians who helped bring down the Iron Curtain resent any parallels with Hungary’s current southern border fortifications or its practice of keeping immigration next to zero, saying such practice is necessary to preserve the Europe that the events of 1989 created.
While Monday’s meeting will see them celebrating the tearing down of a historic barrier in Europe, the question of how the continent’s borders should be managed now has strained the relationship between the two in recent years.
Merkel and Orban will mark the 30th anniversary of the “Pan-European Picnic” at the Hungarian-Austrian border, during which at least 600 East Germans crossed the border and escaped to freedom in the West.
The events at the picnic represented the first massive exodus of East Germans since the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and was a key factor in the fall of the wall itself three months later.