Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Interesting TV Report

So I watch this show called, "European Journal" from time to time. It's the English language version of Deutche Welle. Mostly, it is filled with cheer-leading for the EU. It has interesting human interest stories from various member states. The spin is almost always positive with regard to the EU etc. This time, it was a story about the "pan European picnic" on the Hungarian-Austrian border in 1989. This was the event that evolved into the mass exodus of East Germans to the West that in turn lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Warsaw Pact and East European communism. Part of the story was an interview with a retired Hungarian Lt. Colonel who was in charge of the border post where the Germans crossed into Austria.

He said that he had six men with him and was confronted with a large crowd of Germans who just came on and crossed the border. (He spoke fluent German so I suspect he was from the border region himself). He also said that the Hungarian border patrol was so underfunded at the time that they had to buy the spare parts for their fence and observation equipment from France - at high prices. The Soviets had long since stopped making the stuff they needed. At the same time, relations with Austria had long been improving. So this Lt. Colonel simply told his men to stand down and let the Germans go. Hungary has since given him a medal for that.

I don't know what my point is with post about this story. It's just an interesting story. I suppose I think its funny that with all the fear mongering about the Soviets and Reagan posturing about "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" etc. it had already fallen down in large sections. The Iron Curtain had rusted away. East Germany couldn't easily restrict travel from E. Germany to Hungary. But Hungary had largely given up on maintaining its section of the Iron Curtain. I just find the whole thing interesting.


The Law Talking Guy said...

Much of the same info has been in the US Press, although not the comment about insufficient Soviet funds. I presume what really happened was that the possibly hung over border guard looked at the small crowd of Germans and found it easier to let them go than do anything about it. What he did not expect was for thousands to follow.

We actually don't know how many times this sort of thing happened without having any ramifications or making any reports. Perhaps what we are starting to learn is that the Iron curtain was never quite as impermeable as we thought. Given what we know of Soviet workmanship generally, is that any real surprise?

Raised By Republicans said...

Your theory about the hung over guards is exactly the kind of situation I imagined. He as much as said in the interview that he saw a group of people demonstrating and expected 3 or 4 to come to him as a delegation but instead the whole bunch came at him running across a space of about 100 yards or so. He really had no choice other than to open fire or let them through. And if he were hung over, ... oooo.. guns are LOUD!

Pombat said...

Oh good grief! Where to begin?

LTG: I appreciate that you've spent time in civilian Russia/Soviet Union and thus consider yourself the resident expert on the region. However, trust me when I tell you that when it comes to military hardware, 'Soviet workmanship' is really very good - it was getting a great deal of funding during the Cold War period after all. They have some of the best surface to air missile systems in the world, and anyone who has ever seen any of the MiG demonstrations will agree that there's some phenomenal engineering in those babies (plus some crazy pilots - I would not be remotely surprised to find that the first question to qualify as a MiG pilot is "do you believe in physics?", with the correct answer being a dismissive "Pah!". I had the pleasure of working very close to the Farnborough airfield in the UK, and so got to see all of the Farnborough airshow flight demos - no pilot, of any nationality, wanted to follow the MiGs, they were amazing). For publically available info on any military system, try Janes.

Now, onto your (both of you) incredibly offensive statements about the guards probably being hungover. I have had the honour of working with many fine military men and women - and still do - and I cannot say that a single one has left my life less rich for knowing them. I also cannot say that any one of them was anything less than the utmost professional. Yes, many of them drink (often to try and forget, just for a little bit, the worst of what they've seen), but they all take their responsibilities incredibly seriously, and do not overdo things - it helps that they're young and incredibly fit & healthy, so can recover from intoxication rather better than most.

Your implication that the only reason the Lt Col (rtd) performed this incredibly compassionate, brave (since he risked personal punishment), and when it comes down to it, honourable act (few things are more dishonourable than opening fire on unarmed non-combatants), for which he received a medal, was because he was hungover and didn't fancy the noise of the guns?! I only wish you could see the disgust on my face at the fact that you'd even think about saying such a thing, because I lack the words to adequately express it.

Imagine if that was an American soldier you'd been talking about, and I'd commented that he probably only acted in that way because he was hungover - neither of you can honestly say you would be anything less than apoplectic in your defence of his honour (or honor, I guess). As I said at the start, good grief.

And I guess the other reason I'm upset is that I'm disappointed - I came onto this thread expecting maybe a mature discussion on how the actions of a few individuals, especially when it builds to being the actions of many individuals inspired by the first few, can bring about real change despite a lack of Government regulations forcing that change, or in fact in the face of Gov't regulations resisting it.

The Law Talking Guy said...

If this is not a "mature" enough discussion for you feel free to look elsewhere.

Raised By Republicans said...


I think you miss read the tenor this thread has taken on since the original posting.

But if we MUST have a serious discussion about Soviet era military equipment and training standards among border patrol units in Warsaw Pact military lets have it.

A friend of mine from Sweden (who does research on tank armor), was an officer in the artillery as youth. After 1989, Sweden purchased a significant amount of East German tracked vehicles as surplus to save money (the alternatives were to buy either American made equipment or to design and build a Swedish alternative to their needs). I think they were self-propelled artillery vehicles. His assessment of the quality was "You'd be surprised how many ways there are to lose a finger in a Russian tank." He told me that Sweden had to spend all the money they saved and more bringing the Soviet equipment up to Swedish occupational safety codes.

But of course, we aren't talking about tanks here. Or MiGs. We're talking about fencing, motion detectors, telephone wires, roads for patrol vehicles and the other necessities of border control. This is far less glamourous stuff. It's more like what we see in your average Soviet era apartment bloc in Warsaw than in a high profile international air show.

It was the Hungarian Lt. Colonel himself who said, in the TV interview, the Soviets had stopped making the stuff they needed to keep the border a going concern and he said they had to buy replacement parts from French companies (who would only sell them at a substantial mark up for reasons that seem pretty obvious to me). The place was literally falling apart around him.

As for LTG's tongue in cheek comment about the watch at this sleepy border outpost being hung over several things. First, I'm more than pretty sure he was at least half kidding. Second, I just did a simple google search on "alcoholism in the Soviet military" and easily found a number of sources from the period, including scholarly publications, about it. I don't think we're the first ones to bring this up.

But let's take a closer look at the stereotype behind the joke. It was in large part based on the remoteness of post. I don't think you'd be likely to claim that a remote border crossing in the forrest with a staff of less than a dozen guys would be considered a plum posting for a Hungarian officer. This guy was probably not an elite professional or flag waving true believer in The Party.

As for a serious consideration of the event: I doubt he was a Lt Colonel at the time of this moment of truth. He was probably a junior officer who has since been promoted and heralded with medals because of actions or, to put more accurately, timely lack of action that day.

In his interview, he said that he only considered that he might be punished for it after he was one his way home later. It was a heat of the moment kind of thing. Certainly the couple of hundred East Germans who crossed the border that day as his post, are lucky his gut reaction was passive.

Pombat said...

Hmmm. I didn't realise you could edit comments after posting (I knew you could alter original posts). "...miss read the tenor" is certainly an improvement on your original "Lighten UP" though.