Merkel and Orbán commemorate escape via Hungary

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit the Hungarian city of Sopron today to commemorate the Pan-European Picnic together with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. On 19 August 1989 GDR citizens used this event to flee to the West across the Austrian-Hungarian border. Commentators find it notable that of all politicians these two are coming together to celebrate the first cracks in the Iron Curtain.

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Sydsvenskan (SE) /

Two leaders who could not be more different

Sydsvenskan draws attention to the two politicians' radically different approaches:

“Two leaders with completely different views about how the continent and the European Union should develop. Two leaders in one Europe, which to a certain extent could be split up once more into an eastern and a western half. Orbán represents the faction of nationalism and anti-liberal democracy among the EU's heads of state and government. Merkel, the stalwart centre of Germany and the EU in the times of economic unrest and the refugee crisis, is the chancellor with an open, democratic ear.”

Index (HU) /

Merkel grinning and bearing it

The German chancellor is making the trip to Sopron solely for history's sake, writes the independent website Index:

“The dismantlement of the Berlin Wall began in Hungary. The first step towards German reunification was the Pan-European Picnic, Helmut Kohl said in 1990 at the celebrations marking the reunification of the West Germany and the GDR. ... This sentence contains the reason why Angela Merkel decided to accept Viktor Orbán's invitation and attend the 30th anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic even though she has nothing like a good relationship with him. The last time Angela Merkel was in Budapest was in February 2015, and only last spring it looked like she wasn't too keen on the idea of celebrating with the Hungarian head of government.”

Kurier (AT) /

Still major gaps between East and West

Three decades after the Pan-European Picnic many hopes of a united Europe have been dashed, writes the daily paper Kurier:

“Thirty years after these epochal convulsions Europe has a different face today. The once communist states are united under the roof of the EU with the ideological enemies of the West. They share a political union but the two blocs have by no means grown together. The economic inequalities are too blatant and in certain parts of Europe it is permitted to talk of 'illiberal democracy' once more. There is still much to be done in the 'free Europe' to which several hundred GDR refugees so eagerly fled.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Don't be distracted by the mistakes

There is plenty of reason to rejoice, political scientist Steven van Hecke counters in De Morgen:

“What was unthinkable thirty years ago is now the reality. Just look at Merkel's career. But at the same time, something else no one thought would be possible has happened: democratic reversals in the heart of Europe, namely Poland and Hungary. ... Nevertheless we must not just stare lamely at the 'mistakes' in Poland and Hungary. Above all because the opposition in both countries is once again trying to get organised. What's more: the democratic protest movements in various other EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe send a message of hope.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

The West doesn't want prosperous countrysides

The inner-German border hasn't disappeared after all these years, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes soberly:

“The three most important keywords are well-known: exodus, lacking taxable capacity, too few companies setting up shop. It's like with climate policy: huge investment, disappointing results. But to change the methods also remains a pipe dream. Why? To be blunt: mainly because it is not in the interests of the protection of vested rights in western Germany. Otherwise special economic zones would have been set up in the east long ago, there would be more tax revenues, more incentives for companies to move there, less out-migration.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Today's Germany reminiscent of the GDR

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall historian Hubertus Knabe warns in Neue Zürcher Zeitung that many East Germans will see parallels between today's Germany and the former GDR:

“When the German parliament doggedly refuses to allow a member of the biggest opposition party [AfD] to become a vice-president it only encourages comparisons with the GDR's Volkskammer. Likewise, the decision of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution to up its surveillance of the AfD immediately activates memories of the Stasi. The obstruction of AfD rallies by counter-demonstrations, the exclusion of its candidates in the state of Saxony, the calls by prominent politicians to have the party banned or to strip certain individuals of their basic rights immediately evoke memories of the communist past in Eastern Germany.”

Mediapart (FR) /

Time for a new brand of socialism

Perhaps it's time to breathe new life into the idea of socialism, business journalist Romaric Godin suggests in Mediapart:

“In today's world, socialism could define a new form of progress as distinct from bureaucratic, authoritarian Soviet socialism as it is from neo-liberal late capitalism's mortifying dash into nowhere. It could be a liberating, democratic and humanist project that puts its faith in progress and resists both Malthusian pessimism and blind optimism in the mechanisms of the market. Of course we can't assume it will be easy to construct such a framework. It will be necessary to hash out and question ideas and overcome obstacles.”