Gyula Horn: Politician who helped bring down the Iron Curtain


Gyula Horn was the last Communist Foreign Minister of Hungary, who started opening the Iron Curtain. On 27 June 1989 he joined Alois Mock, the Austrian Foreign Minister, to pull down a section of the barbed wire dividing their countries. During the following months thousands of East Germans used the route to emigrate to Austria and West Germany. It was the beginning of the end for East German Communism. In Hungary Horn is better known for a massive austerity programme when he was Prime Minister in 1995. The package sparked massive opposition.

The son of a Communist executed by the Nazis in 1944, Gyula Horn was born in a working-class district of Budapest in 1932. Horn was brought to believe in Soviet Communism, and this was reinforced by the liberation of Hungary by the Red Army in 1945. He studied in a technical school, going on to higher education in the Soviet Union. In 1954 he graduated from the Rostov-on-Don College of Economics and Finance and returned to Hungary to work in the Ministry of Finance.

These were the years of Matyas Rakosi's Stalinist dictatorship, one of the most extreme in the Soviet bloc. The harshness of the regime, along with Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956, led to the Hungarian revolution in October of that year which was crushed by Soviet tanks and a minority of the Communists. Horn sided with the hard-liners, serving in a militia to hunt down anti-Soviet elements.

He worked in the Ministry of Finance from 1954 until 1959, then the Foreign Ministry. There he was engaged in the important independent Soviet department. In the 1960s he was sent to the embassies in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia then in 1969 was ordered back to Budapest to work in the foreign affairs department of the Communist Party; he became its head in 1983. Two years later he was appointed deputy ministry of Foreign Affairs. His final appointment before the fall of the Communist regime was as foreign minister, in 1989.

Unlike their East German comrades, Hungarian Communists were moving to a more relaxed style of government under the influence of Mikhail Gorbachev. In February 1989 the Communist leadership endorsed in principle the multi-party system and the characterisation of the October 1956 revolution as a “popular uprising”, rather than, as earlier, a counter-revolutionary coup. The Hungarian parliament adopted a package for democracy which included free trade unions, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of the press and a new electoral law. A radical revision of the constitution was agreed. The Soviet Union signed an agreement in April 1989 to withdraw Soviet forces by June 1991.

So the stage was set for Horn's dramatic media event, which was carefully staged as Horn and Mock cut the only remaining section of the Iron Curtain on the border. The decision had already been taken to disassemble the physical barrier. East Germans, who had entered Hungary as tourists, were allowed to cross into Austria on 19 August 1989 as refugees during a civic gathering on the border that came to be known as the Pan-European Picnic. Tens of thousands followed after 10 September 1989, when Horn announced that Hungary would open its border the following day. The Berlin Wall came down inNovember.

Elected to Parliament in 1990, after a period in opposition, Horn led the socialists to a huge victory in the 1994 election. His reformed Socialist party won a majority but he invited the free market liberals to join the government, which then introduced a major austerity programme, splitting the party. Horn's government privatised state enterprises, devalued the currency, restricted imports and lured foreign investment, boosting growth and winning approval from the business community. But welfare cuts soon alienated many ordinary Hungarians.

Horn relinquished leadership of the party after the Socialists lost the 1998 election and gradually withdrew from political life. In 1990 he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize by the city of Aachen – joining past winners Winston Churchill and Vaclav Havel – for laying “one of the foundation stones for European unity”. He died in hospital after a long illness.

Gyula Horn: politician: born, Budapest 5 July 1932; married Anna Kiraly (one daughter, one son); died Budapest 19 June 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent