INTERVIEWER: Right, shall we move on to when you decided to open the border with Austria, on May 2nd. Why did you, why did you decide to open the border?
MIKLOS NEMETH: I have to go back a bit. January, February of 89, I faced an important issue. How to react to the influx of refugees crossing the Hungarian Rumanian border, coming from Rumania. And not just Hungarians, Rumanians, Saxonians, some Jews who left Rumania at that time, mainly from the region of Transylvania, dominated by the Hungarian minority. And they left their native land because of the famous so called famous Ceaucescau rehabilitation program on the Hungarian villages mainly. based on a very old treaty bilateral treaty signed by the party bosses in the mid 60s . I would have got any other option, just to force them back, even by administrative means. You can imagine if I am doing that, with my, with my Hungarians, how the whole society, would have reacted to that governmental action. So I have asked certain specialists for certain advice and I got a very good advice, namely that these are bilateral treaties, signed by party bosses. Which as a as an act are valid ones or were valid in those days. If you want to overrule them, you should join and sign an international treaty, because according to the legal, the legal advice I got, the international treaties superseding or overriding the bilateral ones. So in may, march and may, Hungary, first country out of the Warsaw pact countries, joined the Treaties on the refugees, the Geneva Treaty and the New York accord, were signed by us officially. That gave me enough legal ground to argue against the Romanian request to send the refugees back home. But this fact in itself, that the Hungarians and the Romanians were not forced back gave an important message to the former GDR citizens. If the Hungarian government, not sending, forcing them home, what if we stay, in Hungary? That was not clearly publicized or stated by anyone but the facts spoke for themselves. And because the Lake Ballot on, during the summer holidays was an important meeting point for the relatives, from both sides West and East Germans. Some smart east Germans translated the actions of the Hungarian government into their favor. So in late June, early July, I got the first report that these, these visitors, these tourists were staying longer than they used to. And their number just piled up, accumulated. And when I returned from my vacation, and I visited a friend of mine, who happened to have a house close to the West German consulate General's house, I had to step over certain lying bodies on the pavements, waiting for the next morning opening trying to get a west German visa into their passports. So I personally physically with my eyes I faced that crisis situation, so after this experience I called for an urgent meeting and at the end of that meeting I made the decision that the only way out, not waiting 'til the Autumn, when, when you have some weather problems in Hungary, or could have some weather related issues. we decided to have a clear cut solution on this and
INTERVIEWER: That was to open the border?
MIKLOS NEMETH: To open the border.
INTERVIEWER: Now be, this is the September 10th opening.
MIKLOS NEMETH: That's the September, but you know in May, there was a, another important step made during this process, when the then time two foreign ministers in front of the journalist public, they cut the symbolically they cut the iron curtain. I refused to give to the Home Minister money in that year's budget for the renewal of the refurbishment of the old, old barbed wire system, and before we have done that, I have approached Chancellor Ramitski, several times, when he heard from me first time that we will not renew the system, his reaction was "Oh okay fine, this is very important, but our authorities should realize, strongly and co-ordinate the actions, because if, if you don't strengthen the border, you know the traffic through the border, sometimes drug trafficking, sometimes refugees from the former Soviet Union or from Romania, will lead to a certain problem for the Austrian government. So he wanted a stronger relationship immediately between the two countries' administrative bodies to tackle the crime the drug trafficking and so on and so on.
INTERVIEWER: Now how did, how did the GDR React to the even though symbolic opening of the border?
MIKLOS NEMETH: I remember that officially, they, they contacted my defense minister, asking him, what's going on in Hungary, because this is, this is quite unusual, and they wanted, they offered planes, special trains to be sent to collect the GDR citizens and transporting them back home. we refused those. We said this is absolutely out of the question that that you will hunting after them here and bringing them administratively to the stations be that at the airport or the railway station. but the decision was kept confidential, and it was made just in the second part of August, and the first party who heard of the decision of that small group of people was the West German chancellor and that time foreign minister.
INTERVIEWER: Right now can we go onto the meeting at the Schloss Gymnich where you met the West German Foreign Minister Genscher, can you...
MIKLOS NEMETH: No that was Genscher was present, but that was a meeting between the Chancellor and me, attended by the two foreign ministers.
INTERVIEWER: Right, now what was the date of this one?
MIKLOS NEMETH: The 25th of August.
INTERVIEWER: Right well can you describe, who was there at the meeting?
MIKLOS NEMETH: Just at my request an interpreter, not two, just one, provided by the Hungarian side. Which was again, something very unique, because according to the protocol and diplomacy, you know you have helping hands on both sides. But based on experience that sometimes we planted deliberately certain information into the system and we, we saw later on that those information has reached via the German system, west German system, has reached Berlin, or ended up in Berlin, so because of the importance and the sensitivity of this issue, I have, I did ask the Chancellor's closest associates to agree on just one interpreter being present, and provided by, by me. By the Hungarian side.
INTERVIEWER: So you initiated the meeting by
MIKLOS NEMETH: I initiated the meeting immediately after that meeting in my office when we concluded that we would be opening the border, I called up the Hungarian Ambassador to Bonn and via him, I requested an urgent meeting with the Chancellor, and I did not give even to the Hungarian Ambassador the subject, just that evening when I talked on the phone to Horst Teltschick on that line I hinted the subject. Then we got back the request, can we wait at least for a day or so, because Genscher is just coming out of the hospital. He had a heart problem. And I said a couple of days, a few days fine. So then we fixed the day, the 25th and in that room, when I briefed the Chancellor on my decision, just 5 of us, were sitting. The interpreter, Chancellor Kohl and Genscher, my Foreign Minister and me. And the on our way home, on the plane when we when we assessed the whole meeting, we came to the conclusion that we have to be sort of gentleman like, vis a vis the East German leaders. So now today we briefed the Germans, west Germans, we agreed on certain dates for instance as a task force a small commission was set up in Vienna. Vienna of course the go between point between Budapest and Bonn, and just when all parties agreed that all the preparatory works done properly, just after that notification, we will announce the day. And on the plane back home, we agreed that we will offer this visit to the East Germans also, but because Honecker was in hospital then the prime minister, Vilistov was hospitalized also, I refused to head a delegation to see a party boss, below this level or a governmental person. So we agreed that the Foreign Minister goes there and telling them the decision.
INTERVIEWER: Right now what, what did you agree at the meeting in terms of the kind of support that West Germany would be prepared to give you and why was that support necessary in terms of the possible reaction of the Warsaw pact countries. But first of all what support did you
MIKLOS NEMETH: I did not ask for any support number 1. Chancellor Kohl asked two or three times the question, now what do you want as a gesture from me. And you know I got the feeling he thought that maybe I'm asking for money. I made clear to him that I, the Hungarian government is totally different from Ceaucescau. And I told him that "You made a big mistake, when you agreed on certain price tags, on Saxonians." and Israel did the same because they paid money for lone bunnies to this,. to Ceaucescau and his regime. And Ceaucescau did let them lead the country. It was a quite well known price tag on their heads. 20,000 Deutschmarks for a person, you know! So I said "No, no money, I am not asking you." By that time we had prepared a very important loan agreement with certain German, West German banks and as a curiosity, we needed that money. But what I ask him to agree on was we will cancel it and tell your bankers, because I do not want to be seen, or perceived by the public, be that Hungarian or international, that I don't we done this or did this because of the money. The money no. We did it because this is the best interest of Europe the best interest of my country and who knows, maybe it will lead to a big event.
INTERVIEWER: But the
MIKLOS NEMETH: On the plane back home, one of my advisor, I will never forget his sentence, he told me "You know the importance of this decision, maybe will not be recognized immediately. But you never know, maybe within 5 - 10 years time frame, this will lead to a very important change on the historical map of Europe. It took only 3 months.
INTERVIEWER: But your relationship, your relationship with the West Germans before had been one where the West Germans had made it clear that they wanted to support the liberal reforms that were taking place in your country is that not correct? And that, and that they backed that up with financial credits, with trade agreements and so on I mean is that in fact the case that the West Germans had indeed supported, encouraged in fact
MIKLOS NEMETH: Since, since the mid 80s especially I encouraged the leadership at that time to support the new generation into key positions, and they, they sent the message quite clearly to the highest level if you do follow this, if you make very important reform steps, we will support that financially. They did it. For instance, the relationship between Franz Joseph Strauss who was a real right winger even in western terms and the communist party leader Yan Oshkana (?),was quite warm, friendly.