A s foreign minister in Hungary during its dramatic overthrow of the Communist order, Gyula Horn probably did more than any other political insider to dismantle the system that gave him privilege and power.
The diminutive diplomat snipped the first hole in the Iron Curtain in 1989, opening Hungary's border with neutral Austria , then shrugged off East Berlin's fury when that symbolic opening became a corridor to freedom for East Germans fleeing a reform-resistant regime.
Now 62 and the newly elected Hungarian prime minister, Horn is sorting through the aftermath of four years of an experimental center-right government and four decades of ruinous rule by his Communist colleagues. He was interviewed by Times correspondents Carol J. Williams and Tyler Marshall in his Budapest offices.
Question. When you were cutting through the fence between Austria and Hungary, what did you expect to be the consequences of that action?
Answer. I hadn't realized that such historical change would come after that, but I was sure of one thing--that life would not go on as it had before. We were strongly criticized for taking that step, by Moscow and by the other countries of the Warsaw Pact. But it was decisive that (then Soviet leader Mikhail S.) Gorbachev and (then Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A.) Shevardnadze were in control of the Soviet Union's foreign policy at that time, and they were against any kind of intervention.
Q. Did you think that you were taking the first step toward the destruction of the Berlin Wall?
A. I didn't consider that step of mine the first one. . . . It was a kind of process, with two principal aims: We wanted to assert an independent Hungarian foreign policy instead of one that conformed to the standards of the alliance, and secondly, we wanted to emulate the European concept of human rights.
Q. You say that Gorbachev and Shevardnadze's policies allowed Eastern Europe to take these steps. Did you have any prior consultations with the Moscow leadership?
A. Never. . . . We did not want to put the Soviet leadership into the position of having to determine the balance of justice in such matters as our opening of the borders to allow movement of tourists from the GDR (East Germany). We said we were doing this as a sovereign step and that it had nothing to do with the Warsaw Pact. That made it easier for Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, as they were already under pressure from orthodox Communist hard-liners for allowing other relaxations of foreign policy.
Concerning what the past five years has brought, we hadn't expected that getting rid of the aftermath of Stalinism would be so difficult. It will take many long years. It was relatively easy to create a multi-party system, to declare a Western orientation and to take on other important political issues. But we did not realize what a terrible economic situation we inherited from the former regime. . . .
We have also been unfavorably affected by recession in the West, which is only now starting to ease. Developments in the European Union have also had some difficult consequences for us. Western Europe has been in a process of transition as well, with the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty, which has diverted attention from our region.
Q. Has the West lived up to the promises it made at the time of the revolution?
A. The West did not promise anything. The West did not say that, if Hungary makes this turn, we will be rewarded. So I am not disappointed. . . . I do, however, think better cooperation is needed. The West was not prepared for a lot of things that have happened, first of all that new wars could burst out in this region. The nationalist conflict in Yugoslavia has been a big challenge for the West, a very difficult challenge, and its responses have been quite soft.
Secondly, the West doesn't seem to have expected such big migrations as have occurred, and it can't respond to this simply by closing borders. . . .
Thirdly . . . a kind of security vacuum has formed. I support the idea of the Partnership for Peace . . . but it does not substitute for the need our countries have for either NATO membership or some security guarantees. . . .
Finally, in the matter of economic and social relations, a list of requirements should be set out to explain what Hungary . . . must do to join the European Union.
Q. With all the realities you know of now, what do you expect your children's and grandchildren's Hungary to be like? Will their Hungary fit into Europe?
A. Hungary . . . is in a unique position as the only country that has huge minorities living in its neighboring countries. And this is a sensitive situation now because almost nowhere are the rights of these minorities fully respected. . . . That is why European integration is so important for Hungary, as this would reduce the tension. . . . Within a European Union, the problems associated with borders would be neutralized. . . . The future presents us a mixed picture. It doesn't look too much better for our children right now, but maybe for our grandchildren.