Country Listing

Hungary Table of Contents


Border Guard

In 1989 Hungary's Border Guard numbered 16,000, operating in eleven districts. Conscripts totaled 11,000, or nearly 70 percent of the total. Although nominally controlled by the HPA, the Border Guard Headquarters of the Ministry of Interior took orders from both the party Basic Organization in the ministry and the Government Administration and Administrative Department of the HSWP's Secretariat (see Party Structure , ch. 4). The Border Guard Command was established in 1946 and reorganized in 1950. Its tasks were governed by Decree Number 40/1974, which brought border regulations into conformity with those of other Warsaw Pact countries. The exact level of party and Communist Young League membership among the Border Guard was unknown, but it was certainly higher than that of the army. For this reason, Volgyes argued that the regime may have considered this organization to be more reliable than the army as a whole, although the high percentage of conscripts left this contention open to question.

Border Guard work in Hungary required a high level of education, political training, good health, "good appearance," and even a knowledge of the foreign languages necessary for work at border crossing stations. Statistics from 1987 showed that 40 percent of guards at border crossing points had finished secondary school or university. In 1986 border guards checked the documents of 50 million people visiting or transiting Hungary through sixty-six highway, rail, river, and air border crossing points.

In the late 1980s, a permit was nominally required to enter a narrow zone along the western and southern borders, but according to Major General Janos Szekely, chief of the Border Guard Headquarters, "anyone who applies to the proper agency for a permit usually gets it." An estimated 900 voluntary Border Guard auxiliary groups aided in the arrest of about 20 percent of border violators.

During the late 1980s, Hungary's borders with two countries received international attention. On May 3, 1989, Hungarian soldiers began removing the barbed wire fence on the border with Austria. Calling the fence "outdated" and superfluous, given the existence of Hungary's new (1988) liberal passport law, the Hungarian government publicly stated that all sections of the fence would be removed by the end of 1990. Although the Austrian government publicly welcomed this development, it privately feared that other East Europeans, especially Romanians, would travel to Hungary in order to escape into Austria.

It was not Romanians but East Germans touring Hungary in the summer of 1989 who took advantage of the newly opened border to flee to Austria. The Hungarian Border Guard interfered only sporadically with this flight, and eventually the Hungarian government allowed the East Germans to leave through Hungarian border checkpoints. In September 1989, the government announced that it would allow all the East Germans in the country wishing to emigrate to the West to leave Hungary. By the beginning of October, more than 35,000 had left the country to go to West Germany. The East German government protested that Hungary had reneged on its border agreements with the other members of the Warsaw Pact, but the Hungarian government claimed that it was merely following the spirit of the Helsinki Accords that were signed as part of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975 and the border remained open.

Data as of September 1989