Hungary has evoked the admiration of the world in 1989; at the time Hungarian people had leaders who have had the courage to take risks and their decisions meant the only glimmer of hope to refugees, said father Imre Kozma, founding president of the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service at the opening of the event series called ‘Day of Welcoming’ in Budapest this Thursday.

Twenty-five years ago, tens of thousands of East German people have arrived to Hungary as refugees with the decision of never returning home. On 14 August 1989, the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service has opened the first refugee camp in the garden of the Zugligeti Church. Through this, the largest humanitarian action of former Europe was triggered, in which the charity service has aided 48,600 people for more than three months. Since that, this day is celebrated each year as the Day of Welcoming.

While remembering the accommodation of the nearly fifty-thousand refugees, Imre Kozma said “we celebrate that the members of the Zugligeti Parish gave the only valid response to the events in 1989, which is acceptance.” He recounted that when he and Hungarian-born German baroness Csilla von Boeselager said yes to the request of the West German embassy seeking help in taking care of the East German refugees, “that was a very credible response” and for this response the “members of the Zugligeti community had already trained their souls for years.”

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The founding president of the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service highlighted that the reception 25 years ago meant life itself not only for East German refugees, but also for those who did it, because “people need to feel what fills you out when you are doing good”. Imre Kozma thanked former Prime Minister Miklós Németh for being a regular visitor to the Zugligeti refugee camp 25 years ago and with his presence encouraged the inhabitants of the camp. In rewarding his efforts, Imre Kozma awarded him the Csilla von Boeselager Prize, founded for this very special occasion.

Monika Balatoni, State Secretary for Cultural Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade stressed that Hungarians are the “people of liberty”; thus by opening gates and borders “the path of freedom has opened for East Germans through Hungary”. As she said, the former political leadership needed a serious political strategy in order to reach that East Germans could return to their home country.

The State Secretary stressed the importance of remembering, because – as she said – time passes, so more and more people disappear among those who remember what have happened in 1989. She added that emphasis should be given to the engagement of Hungary should remain successful in posterity; hence the slogan of this year is “Shared Success”.
Monika Balatoni also said that it should be remembered how much the Hungarian people have done for the freedom of in Central Europe. “Hungary has a big heart” and in 1989, she had leaders who have had the courage to take difficult decisions in a historical moment.

She also stated that the loving work what was carried out by the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service is a serious glory of Hungary and shows that this nation had and has great figures. “We can be proud justly of these events”, she added in referring to the happenings of 1989.

At the beginning of the press conference, a video message of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was showcased, in which she praised the work of the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service and thanked Imre Kozma and his staff which helped East German refugees in 1989. Angela Merkel also stressed that Germans are grateful to Hungarians because they have contribute to the achievement of the German unity.

After the press conference, Imre Kozma and Monika Balatoni symbolically cut through the Iron Curtain-installation of 1989 on the grounds of the re-constructed refugee camp.

(MTI, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)