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Laa an der Thaya

Cutting the Iron Curtain in Laa an der Thaya


On the 16th of December 1989, the phone rang in the town hall of Laa. It was the Foreign Ministry in Vienna. There was a request for a public gathering the next day. This brought initial confusion. ‘All that one knew’, according to Manfred Fass, the future mayor of Laa, ‘was that the whole thing had something to do with the border.’ Two weeks earlier, Czechoslovakia had begun to remove border barriers to Austria.

On a Sunday morning, many of the Laa citizens gathered in the town square, including some neighbours ‘from over there’. Now the reason became clear: the foreign ministers of both neighbouring states, Jiří Dienstbier and Alois Mock, had just arrived, along with an entourage of journalists. In the meeting room of the old town hall, it was declared that travelling across the border would soon be possible without requiring a visa.

Then they stepped forward to ceremonially cut the Iron Curtain. For Alois Mock this was already the second occasion, after having done the same earlier at the Hungarian–Austrian border together with his counterpart Gyula Horn. Both foreign ministers took relish in the job of cutting through the barbed wire.

For Jiří Dienstbier there was also a reunion in store with his daughter Monika, who had been living in Vienna since 1984. Back then, during the time when Gustav Husak was head of state, the saying went: ‘The border is not a promenade!’ But now it would be that once again. Alois Mock spoke in Laa about the start of a development that would change all of Europe.

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