The small role that Hungary played in bringing down communism in the rest of Eastern Europe offers key lessons for how we can deal with China and North Korea today.
Following the 30 year reign of Hungarian General Secretary Janos Kadar, a new generation of young reformers came to power in the late 1980s.
One of those reformers was Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh.
In March 1989, Németh visited Moscow and told Mikhail Gorbachev that Hungary would open their borders.
The Soviet leader responded that Moscow would not use force to stop Hungary.
Along with rehabilitating the leaders of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the most consequential decision of Németh’s tenure occurred in May 1989. That was the month he opened the border between Austria and Hungary.
Without an electric fence on this border, East Germans could simply travel to Hungary and then escape communism by entering Austria.
Other Warsaw Pact leaders were outraged by Hungary’s actions, and all met in July 1989 in Bucharest to discuss Hungary’s defiance. More than anyone, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu seemed to fully grasp the situation, asserting that "Hungary will destroy socialism."
In turn, the communist leaders of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Poland each agreed with Ceaușescu.
Yet each time a communist leader would condemn Hungary at this meeting, Prime Minister Németh would look over to Gorbachev, who would give an assuring look to Németh that there would be no intervention from the Soviet Union. Without Soviet troops, the other leaders were powerless to stop Hungary.
As thousands of East Germans started to flee in 1989, it also inspired many dissidents to reform East Germany into a democracy. For almost a decade, East German dissidents in Leipzig had met at St. Nicholas Church every Monday to pray and discuss politics. By September 1989, tens of thousands would come every Monday to protest and demand change.
On Oct. 7, 1989, Gorbachev was invited to attend the 40th anniversary of the East German regime. Two days later, 70,000 East Germans would demand change.
As the protestors met the police at the train station, the police backed down. More protests emerged throughout the country.
East Germany’s leader, Erich Honecker, resigned shortly thereafter, and his successor was in no position to crack down. East Germany could not pay off their loans without help from the West.
On television, it was announced that the government would loosen restrictions on emigration and travel at all border crossings, including Berlin.
As a large crowd of people gathered, the border guards were outnumbered.
The guards decided to let these people cross on Nov. 9, 1989.
That night people started to demolish the Berlin Wall.
Less than one year later, Germany was reunified.
It's not impossible for this to happen in North Korea as well.
Much like the former communist governments in Eastern Europe, the North Korean regime would immediately face an existential crisis if South Korea opened parts of its border to North Korean refugees.
If American abolitionists in the 19th century could build an underground railroad, the United States and South Korea can similarly find ways to aid fleeing North Koreans.
Even publicly weighing this option could scare the North Koreans back to the bargaining table, and into giving up their nuclear weapons program. In many ways, President Trump is an ideal spokesman for this idea.
Since Trump believes that open borders would be detrimental for our country, it would seem credible that he would want to inflict open borders to pressure an adversary.
Much the way that President Reagan’s threat of developing the Strategic Defense Initiative brought the Soviets back to the bargaining table, the "Hungarian option” could be politically useful against North Korea.
As for China, Hong Kong is the Berlin of the 21st century.
And progress in North Korea will embolden dissidents in China.
The United States, the European Union, and other countries can work together to discuss providing an escape hatch for disaffected or endangered citizens of Hong Kong.
Through its secrecy and/or negligence, the Chinese Communist Party had a hand in exacerbating America’s death toll from COVID-19.
We need a Cold War with Beijing to peacefully bring down this regime.
We must encourage China’s best and brightest people to leave for the West.
We defeated Nazi Germany in World War II and the Soviet Union during the Cold War in part because a brain drain had occurred under both of these dictatorships.
The United States was able to develop the atomic bomb before Germany because our country was a beacon for many of Europe’s best scientists who were forced to flee from the Nazis.
The Manhattan Project itself was launched because a Hungarian Jewish scientist, Leó Szilárd, wrote a letter that was signed by Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt.
Szilárd wrote this letter with the help of Hungarian Jewish scientists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner.
As for the Russians, from 1991 to 2001 alone, more than 500,000 Russian-born scientists and software developers emigrated. In 2002, it was reported that Russian-speaking developers were responsible for 30% of Microsoft’s products.
If America is going to outcompete the Chinese in the 21st century, we need to offer opportunities for their best and brightest to defect to the West.
This could promote freedom in corners of the world where it is yet to exist.
Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. His work has appeared in a range of publications, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. For several years Robert worked closely with Peter Hannaford, a senior aide to Ronald Reagan, as the primary researcher on four books and numerous columns. Robert has also worked on multiple presidential, national and statewide campaigns, including as a field office staffer for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Due to his own Russian-Jewish heritage, Robert has a keen interest in the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. In 2017 he was the co-organizer of an effort that erected commemorative statue of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Robert graduated with a major in Political Science from the University at Buffalo, and received his Master's in Public Administration, with a focus in healthcare, from the State University of New York College at Brockport. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in Rochester, New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.
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