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Anti-government protesters outside the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest (Getty)

There is occasionally a happy ending, a free lunch. Europe was all set up for the war which really would have ended all wars, a war which would have made the First World War look like, well, a picnic. In Berlin, two superpowers glared at each other over a wall. People either don't recognise or forget that it wasn't just a debate about how to run your economy or what design your national flag should be, it was a face-off between two vast armies, nukes between their teeth. Then, in 1989, everyone got tired of it.

One of the most favoured clichés is the whimper. However, I maintain that the Soviet Empire didn't go down with a whimper, but rather with a satisfied burp and a glass of wine.

Sopronpuszta is a tiny place unknown even to most Hungarians. It was there, on Hungary's border with Austria on 19 August 1989, that a group of provincial politicians in the newly overt democratic movement (politicians most Hungarians had never heard of and whose names mean nothing now) held a Pan-European picnic. From Budapest, they invited Imre Pozsgay, the Hungarian communist who had become the opposition's protector, and from Austria they invited Otto Habsburg, to enjoy an "open" day on the recently relaxed, curtain-free border.

I doubt if anyone will ever unravel the whole background. Who knew what. Who was expecting what. Pozsgay would never have attempted to create his "pet" opposition without Gorbachev in Moscow, and without the Magyar stampede to democracy, many East Germans wouldn't have been hanging around Hungary that summer, hoping events would give them a way out.

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