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Gyula Horn, The Man Who Tore Down The Iron Curtain, Burried In Budapest

posted 8 Jul 2013, 07:26 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Jul 2013, 07:26 ]

Hungary's former prime minister and the last communist foreign minister Gyula Horn, who tore down the Iron curtain, laid to rest in Budapest.

 BUDAPESTHUNGARY (JULY 8, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Gyula Horn, who as Hungary's last communist foreign minister ripped a hole in the Iron Curtain in 1989, was buried amid military honours in Budapest on Monday.

Horn died at the age of 80 after a long illness on June 19th.

His decisions helped trigger off tumultuous months in which European communist regimes collapsed like dominoes, the Berlin Wall was trampled down and Soviet tanks prepared to rumble home from land they had occupied for nearly half a century.

For Horn, it was a breathtaking year in a career marked by paradoxes.

The man who helped dismantle the East Bloc was never forgiven by some of his countrymen for his role, long before, in helping to crush the 1956 Budapest uprising against Soviet domination.

And by 1994, Horn the former communist was back in power - as prime minister of the post-communist state.

Horn was foreign minister in the late 1980s as Hungary and other satellite states ofMoscow began to exploit new freedoms under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He and his Austrian counterpart Alois Mock posed for cameras on June 27, 1989 to cut through a barbed wire frontier fence, in a largely symbolic act of rapprochement which had been planned months before.

Within weeks tens of thousands of East Germans, who travelled to Hungary with "tourist" visas, headed straight for the unfortified border and walked into the West.

The fall of East German communism and the process of German unification had been launched.

With dizzying speed, communist governments in the region succumbed to popular uprisings and sheer fatigue. Within a few years, the Soviet Union itself had evaporated.

In his memoirs, Horn himself recalls a meeting of his prime minister in 1989, Miklos Nemeth, with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to discuss the East German refugees in Hungary: "Both of them were gripped by emotion when I said: I don't know how we will resolve their issue, but we certainly won't extradite them (back to East Germany)."

European Parliament President Martin Schulz who gave a speech at the funeral called him a great man of the European Community.

"For us Europeans, and especially for Germans, re-unification of the Continent and of Germany would have been unimaginable without Gyula Horn" Schulz said.

"The brave act of this man was what made it possible to reunite our artificially broken-up Continent," he added.

Also attending the funeral was former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher who negotiated with Horn at the time and called him a personal friend.

"What began in Hungary became full-fledged in Berlin in November 9, 1989 with the Fall of the Wall," he said.

"This historical event will forever be intertwined with the Hungarian people,Budapest and the name of Gyula Horn," Genscher added.

Horn and his party were ousted from power in 1990, but four years later he returned as prime minister, persuading Hungarians his party had split with its communist past.

He is credited with steering the country away from economic disaster in 1995 with austerity measures.

In 2007, then Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom declined to grant him an award on the occasion of his 75th birthday, citing his role as member of the "pufajkas", an armed unit in 1956-57 which helped in the bloody crushing of the uprising against Soviet rule.

Asked about his role in 1956, Horn said: "So what?"

The stocky, flint-faced Horn had a tough upbringing.

As a youth, he attended night school in Budapest while doing manual jobs by day. His father was executed as a communist by the Gestapo in 1944.

Communists took power after the war and Horn studied bookkeeping in the Soviet Union, then returned in 1954 to work in the finance ministry as a section head.

In the 1960s he was a diplomat in Bulgaria and Romania. He rose through the ranks to become head of the foreign affairs department of the Hungarian SocialistWorkers Party central committee, where reformers were starting to tinker with economic changes that decentralised decision-making.

As Hungary began moving away from orthodox Marxist ideology, the communist leadership began building up contacts with the West in the 1970s.

Horn said he began to question communism's future in light of the material and social conditions the West had to offer and began his conversion to a social democrat.

With Moscow's tacit support, Hungary legalised opposition parties and negotiated free elections in 1990.

Thousands of mainly Socialist party supporters attended the funeral and paid their last respects. Many people felt nostalgic towards the times when Horn was in power. Many felt he has not been respected in his homeland for his achievements.

"He did not get any award in Hungary, not one but abroad he was well respected and appreciated and this is a great thing for us," one supporter Ilona Kovari said.

In his later years, Horn's illness kept him out of public view, and he did not even attend the party organised by the Socialists for his 80th birthday. He was praised there as a central figure of the momentous era which saw the fall of communism.