A certain tension always grows as I approach a border. While I have never been turned back or been subjected to delays of more than a couple of hours or so by customs or security agents, still the dread of some unforeseen crimp in a crossing always rears up for me.
The train from the Wien Westbahnhof in Austria’s capital city to the Keleti Pu station in Budapest, Hungary now takes just under three hours. Thirty years ago it seemed to take a lot longer. One reason for that, of course, lay in the great forbidding metaphorical barrier that then stretched across central Europe from the Arctic Ocean to the Adriatic Sea, the Iron Curtain. It slowed everything down.
Approaching the border crossing near Hegyeshalom, Magyarorszag (the name Hungarians or Magyars prefer to call their country) on my first trip behind the Iron Curtain over three decades ago I recall a shadow falling over my compartment mates in our train coach. Reflecting the sombre change in their attitude my pulse rate rose.
As it turned out the high-hatted, brass-buttoned border officials gave my foreign passport just a perfunctory glance. Returning nationals, however, got their fuller attention. The security apparatus of the state at that time geared itself more towards controlling their own citizens than countering any foreign threat. In fact they welcomed the tourist invasion and the hard currency we left behind in our rampaging consumer wake.
A line of grey, hulking Soviet-era tanks visible from the coach window, though, provided concrete evidence of the then malignant ideological stand-off between the East and West.
Before the Berlin Wall fell and with it the Iron Curtain, I crossed over the divide three times. The people I met and talked to there made me more than aware that by countless daily acts they and their fellow citizens were tearing down the wall and shredding the curtain, brick by brick and thread by thread.
We remember the dramatic act of people climbing over and dancing on top of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Memories of the Hungarian government’s dismantling of its border defences with Austria in late August of 1989 or allowing more than 13,000 East German ‘tourists’ to escape through a ‘back door’ in the Iron Curtain that September aren’t so widespread. And all but ignored is our recognition of the years of effort punctuated some dramatic acts but mostly small, local and practical deeds that build up an unstoppable consensus for change.
Collectively we have abetted the construction of so many other walls by our acceptance and passive support for the current global system. These barriers divide us. They keep dreams of a just, sustainable world on the other side. They muffle the cries for equality from the fifth of the world’s population that earns only two per cent of the global income.
We have to take down the “junk wall” of mass consumption that mollifies us with the false security of needless things at the expense of the environment.
The “military-industrial complex wall” which tries to convince us that peace is made by waging war or that security comes from the barrel of a gun rather than seeking justice, has to be broken down brick by brick. How many other walls of age old intolerance or modern delusions do we have to surmount?
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, November 8 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark 12: 38-44.
Monday, November 9 – The Berlin Wall falls in 1989 on the anniversary of the Kristallnacht attack by Nazis on Jewish shop owners in 1938.
Tuesday, November 10 – Martin Luther is born in 1483.
Wednesday, November 11 – 90th Remembrance Day.
Thursday, November 12 – Baha’i celebrate the birth of their founder Baha’u’llah in 1817.