opinion
Icons of the End of Cold War
By Ulrike Reisner
Self-employed political analyst, lecturer & journalist, based in Vienna / Austria, political analyst with "Creative Diplomacy" (PICREADI).
In the picture: Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock (left) and his Hungarian counterpart Gyula Horn symbolically cutting the barbwire at the Austro-Hungarian border in summer 1989

A picture made world history and an event became an ingenious media coup ex post. Consensual construction of meaning and symbolic politics at the end of the Cold War illustrated by the example of the opening of the border between Austria and Hungary 1989.
Introduction

In 1989 Hungary was at a turning point in its history. Measures to reform the socialist system had already been taken in previous years, such as the country's admission to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank or the reform of the banking system. With the implementation of an electoral law, a Court of Audit, a Constitutional Court and a National Bank, the way to a constitutional state had been paved. This reform process was stipulated by the elites [1] and accelerated by the country's difficult economic conditions. In the early 1980s Hungary had oriented itself more and more towards its western neighbour Austria, especially in economic terms. In 1978, for example, the country had abolished mandatory visa and thus enabled moderate tourism between the two countries.

From an Austrian point of view the Province of Burgenland had developed into a "bridge of understanding" [2] after Second World War. Not least with its support of refugees within the framework of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, this most eastern Austrian province contributed significantly to a peaceful coexistence, characterised by mutual respect and trust [3] .

This special relationship between Hungary and Austria in the Cold War era was all the more significant as Austria, due to its neutral status, was not an integrative part of the confrontation area between the two blocs. However, it was clear to the political actors of the Austrian Second Republic that conflicts in the neighbouring states of the Warsaw Pact had to have an almost inevitable impact on their own country due to their geographical location [4] . After 1955, public opinion, which was shaped not least by politics and the media, increasingly confirmed the view that Austria - due to its neutral status - was not affected by the various conflict areas of the Cold War [5] .

Against this background, the foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, met in June 1989 at a border crossing near St. Margarethen in the Province of Burgenland. In a symbolic act they cut through a piece of barbwire in front of the cameras of media representatives from all over the world. Hungary had already started dismantling border barriers in May 1989. However, the photos, that were taken on June 27th, 1989, are still regarded as icons of the end of the Cold War [6] .

Two months later, on August 19th, 1989, more than 600 GDR citizens fled to Austria across an already "permeable" border on the occasion of the so-called Pan-European Picnic. On September 10th, 1989, Gyula Horn finally declared that Hungary would open its borders to all those wishing to leave, whereupon on September 11th, 1989, some 60,000 GDR citizens left for the Federal Republic of Germany via Hungary and Austria. With the opening of its borders Hungary not only accelerated the system change in its own country, but also indirectly influenced the system change of the GDR [7] .

This article examines the events of the summer of 1989 on the Austro-Hungarian border from a constructivist point of view and is intended to make a contribution to coming to terms with these events that will have their 30th anniversary this year. The constructivist perspective may provide information as to why this violation of norms (opening of the border) was not seen as an act of hostility and aggression but as a symbol for overcoming the European separation and the ideological rifts of the Cold War.

This article focuses on the media coverage of the border opening between Austria and Hungary as well as on the reception of the photos showing the two foreign ministers. Why is an analysis of this topic all the more politically relevant? Contemporary witnesses emphasize that the coverage of the Western media in 1989 not only strengthened the citizens of former socialist states in their aspirations for freedom, but also weakened the power structures of the ruling elites, especially in the German Democratic Republic [8] . "Pictures, as Sandner [9] puts it, suggest authenticity, generate emotions and trigger chains of associations."
Research Design

This article summarizes the findings of a far more detailed research work mainly consisting of an individual case study [10] in the form of a descriptive study. The opening of the Austro-Hungarian border in the summer of 1989 was defined as a case in the sense of a spatially and temporally delimited investigation unit [11] , with a restriction to the element of communication by the media.

The research question then was:

Q: How did the media report on the opening of the Austro-Hungarian border in the summer of 1989 and how did this reporting change in the process of time?

Conceptual parameters were defined for the processing of the empirical part:

- The opening of the Austro-Hungarian border was linked to two historic events - the visit of the Austrian and Hungarian foreign ministers at the border near St. Margarethen in Burgenland on June 27th, 1989 (event 1, where the photo was taken) and the Pan-European Picnic on August 19th, 1989 (event 2).

- The investigation period was limited to June - August 1989. Further periods of investigation were set for June - August 1999 (10th anniversary) and June - August 2009 (20th anniversary) to find out whether and how the reporting changed with time distance to the event. These further investigation periods should also give information about whether the media reporting also had a history-making effect.

- For reasons of limited capacity, media analyses focused on print media in Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany, which was – at that time - particularly affected as a neighbouring country and destination for most GDR refugees. Due to language barrier and limited access, Hungarian print media were not included in the analyses. For reasons of topicality, the selection of print media mainly included daily newspapers. A total of around 50 editions of various print media were selected for the reasearch. Published articles were considered "appropriate", if it directly referred to the opening of the Austro-Hungarian border in the summer of 1989.
Basic considerations

From a constructivist perspective, ideological structures and cultures shape the players' actions in the international system. From a constructivist perspective, states adjust their relations according to how they interpret their relationship to each other. From a constructivist perspective, this is why cultures of friendship or partnership develop on the basis of shared ideas and convictions. In these cultures, political structures, actions and contents are formed differently than in cultures of enmity: in the course of socialization processes, communities of values are formed to transfer common ideas and norms to new members. A core hypothesis of constructivism is that the likelihood of peace and international cooperation increases as states share common ideas and values.

Path dependencies play a role that should not be underestimated, especially in long-term and complex social processes. Due to the common history in the 19th and 20th centuries, Austria and Hungary at that time had and today still have a special form of neighbourly relationship. This culture of friendship was strengthened during the 1956 Hungarian uprising and manifested itself in the aforementioned bridge of understanding in the Cold War Era.

Moreover, in order to understand the dynamics framing the opening of the border in the summer of 1989, Austria's role as a neutral mediator in the bipolar world of the Cold War Era should not be ignored. Both the good neighbourly relations and Austria's role as a mediator between the East and the West contributed to a common understanding and thus shaped the communicative actions of the players in 1989.

As described above, the media's contribution to the political discourse on the opening of the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1989 was of primary interest: Which reality was constructued by the media? In which social contexts were the reports put? Which ideas, social images, patterns of argumentation and symbols characterized the media discourse? Was there a change in the discourse over a period of 20 years?

From a methodogical point of view, the challenge lay in operationalization. For the purpose of the research, the discourse theory developed by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe on the basis of Michel Foucault's concept of discourse [12] and a corresponding proposal for its operationalization [13] were adapted. In their theory Laclau and Mouffe distinguish between elements and moments in the case of the significants: in different discourses, one and the same signified, the designated, can be attributed completely different meanings, elements. An example: depending on the discourse, the crossing of the Austro-Hungarian border by a GDR citizen in the summer of 1989 can be described as a "border violation" (element a) or a "step towards freedom" (element b). According to Laclau and Mouffe, such elements may temporarily solidify in specific discourses and thus become moments. Therefore, a discourse is an attempt to fix the meaning of elements and transform them into moments of a discourse [14] . In social processes, discourses help to form, change or consolidate player's identities and other social institutions. Accumulations of moments in a discourse (nodal points) strengthen the consensual construction of meaning and common ideas between the players. Nodal points have a community-building effect and thus also enable differentiation from what is different [15] .

Accordingly, the following indicators (i) were defined for empirical analysis:

Independent variable: Austro-Hungarian border opening 1989

Dependent variable: Media Coverage

i-1: Which elements solidify into moments in media reporting?

i-2: Are there nodal points in the narrative patterns of reporting?

i-3: In a time comparison of 1989, 1999 and 2009, are there any shifts in the media
discourses towards new elements or moments and do they form new / different narrative patterns?

Analysis of the empirical case study

As already mentioned Hungary started dismantling electronic surveillance systems along the borders to Austria as early as May 2nd, 1989. Analysed media reports of that time pointed out that Hungary lacked the financial means for maintenance and that the defective safety installations had already caused problems, for example in the form of false alarms. From June 20th, 1989 onwards, citizens of the GDR repeatedly sought refuge in the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Budapest. On June 27th, 1989, the Austrian and Hungarian foreign ministers cut through a piece of barbwire fence near St. Margarethen in Burgenland (event 1) with the active participation of international media representatives. A few weeks later, on August 19th, 1989, border controls were suspended for a short time and around 600 GDR citizens arrived in Austria (event 2).

Investigation period June-August 1989

For this time period it was striking that the media coverage of event 2 was much more extensive than that of event 1. In the analysed Austrian and German newspapers the photograph of the foreign ministers was even not printed - a remarkable fact from today's historic point of view. This symbolic act at the Austro-Hungarian border was not given too much attention, at least in terms of the media. In the dissolution process of the communist power bloc this event was only a marginal note. While in the summer of 1989 media in the Federal Republic of Germany already dealt with questions of reunification, the possible entry into the European Union was in front of political minds in Austria, with foreign minister Alois Mock being an ambitious promoter. The Hungarian foreign minister's visit to Austria was therefore reported in the context of economic issues but also of democratisation efforts in Hungary.

However, a nodal point could be identified in the media in connection with event 2. Here, the coverage in words and pictures was much more extensive than in connection with event 1. In the media discourse, elements such as "mass flight", "border violation" or the "terrible situation of many refugees" solidified into recurring moments. These moments could also be identified in parallel media discourses of that time, such as GDR's mass flight. Interesting enough, this exodus also stirred up xenophobia in the Federal Republic of Germany and respective quotations were spread by the media [16] .

In general in can be concluded that the reports of summer 1989 still corresponded to the consensual construction of meaning of the Western community of values during the Cold War Era.

5. 2 Investigation period June-August 1999 and 2009 respectively

With regard to event 1, the results of the media analysis for the periods 1999 and 2009 were significantly different: The photo showing the two foreign ministers cutting through the barbwire dominated the reporting and thus formed a nodal point not only visually, but also - at least as far as the Austrian print media were concerned - in terms of content. It would go beyond the scope to recite the numerous anecdotes portraying the origin of this photo. However, it should be noted that the research results contained growing evidence that the photo shooting at the border had been a staged action for the media. This resulted in new narrative elements such as "photo shooting", "television" or "media hype".

Concerning event 1, a historic comparison of the time periods analysed revealed a shift in the media discourse from the former nodal point "GDR exodus" to a new nodal point "photo shooting". A similar phenomenon could be identified for event 2 in the jubilee years of 1999 and 2009: Whereas in the summer of 1989 moments around the nodal point "GDR exodus" dominated, media discourse clearly shifted to a new nodal point fed by moments such as "peace", "freedom" or "reconciliation".

The analysis also revealed that the media ascribed the "role of openers of the Iron Curtain" to the two protagonists, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn. This moment became even more intense in the media discourse framing Horn's death in 2013. However, the analysed reports hardly offered any original quotations by the foreign ministers, let alone an indication of a common idea or strategy. If there was a consensual construction of meaning at all, this could only be derived from the fact that contemporary witnesses spoke of a concerted action.

In addition to numerous reports on people and their individual fates in the summer of 1989 and contributions by contemporary witnesses [17] , "symbolism of events" formed a new nodal point in the reporting of the 1999 and 2009 investigation periods. This was expressed, for example, in linguistic symbolism around event 1, using verbal images such as "curtain cutter" or "tear in the curtain". With a temporal distance to the event of 1989 and against the background of a changed world view [18] , moments such as "peace", "freedom" and "unification" cumulated to become new nodal points in media discourses. A risky undertaking against the background of real politics in 1989 [19] later became a prank in the media [20] . A picture made world history and an event became an ingenious media coup ex post.
1. Alois Mock (10 June 1934 – 1 June 2017) was Vice Chancellor of Austria (1987-1989) and Austrian Foreign Minister (1987–1995).
2. Gyula Horn (5 July 1932 – 19 June 2013) was the third Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary (1994-1998).
Concluding résumé

Research results show that the events on the Austro-Hungarian border in the summer of 1989 may not be identified a priori as a real manifestation of the idea of freedom and the overcoming of ideological divides. This could only be clearly verified for the investigation period of 1999 and 2009, when - on the basis of respective moments and nodal points – this attribution was established in the media discourse. For the period of 1989, however, this hypothesis applies only to a very limited extent. As explained above, the antagonistic world view of the Cold War Era then still shaped the reporting. Therefore, questions of the political, and possibly military, consequences of the border violation were just as important as the streams of refugees from the GDR to the Federal Republic of Germany.

In summary, it has to be stated that only a small component of an overall very complex and exciting topic could be examined in the course of this research work. The role of the media towards the end of the Cold War Era, their active contribution to political discourse as well as to historical reappraisal are, in the author's view, a rich field for scientific research.
Bibliographical references

Dieringer, Jürgen 2009: Ungarn in der Nachbeitrittskrise, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 29-30/2009, Frankfurt/M., 6-11

Gehler, Michael 2009: Die Umsturzbewegungen 1989 in Mittel- und Osteuropa, in: Deutsche Teilung – Deutsche Einheit, Online-Dossier der Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, Frankfurt/Main, in: http://www.bpb.de/geschichte/deutsche-einheit/deutsche-teilung-deutsche-einheit/43728/die-umsturzbewegungen-1989 (24.10.2013), Seitennummerierung laut Online-Ausdruck

Glasze, Georg 2007: Vorschläge zur Operationalisierung der Diskurstheorie von Laclau und Mouffe in einer Triangulation von lexikometrischen und interpretativen Methoden, in: Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum Qualitative Social Research, 8(2), Art. 14, in: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/rt/printerFriendly/239/529 (04.02.2014), Seitennummerierung laut Online-Ausdruck

Giddens, Anthony 1988: Die Konstitution der Gesellschaft, Campus, Frankfurt/M., New York

Habermas, Jürgen 1981: Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Band 1, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt

Höll, Otmar 1997: Die außenpolitischen Beziehungen Österreichs zu seinen Nachbarstaaten, in: Gerlich, Peter (Hrsg.) 1997: Österreichs Nachbarstaaten: Innen- und außenpolitische Perspektiven, Schriftenreihe des Zentrums für angewandte Politikforschung, Band12, Wien, 279-310

Hofmann, Wilhelm / Dose, Nicolai / Wolf, Dieter 2007: Politikwissenschaft, UTB basics, UVK Verlagsgesellschaft mbH., Konstanz

Hopf, Ted 1998: The Promise of Constructivism in International Relations Theory, in: International Security, Vol. 23, No. 1, 171-200

Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus 2004 (Hrsg.): Bridging the Gap: Toward a Realist Constructivist Dialogue, in: International Studies Review (2004) 6, 337-352

Jachtenfuchs, Markus 1995: Ideen und Internationale Beziehungen, in: Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen, 2/1995, 417-442

Jahn, Egbert 2012: Strukturen von Konflikt und Kooperation im Osten Europas, in: Sozialwissenschaftliche Schriftenreihe, Internationales Institut für liberale Politik, Wien

Laclau, Ernesto / Mouffe, Chantal 1985: Hegemony & socialist strategy: towards a radical democratic politics, Verso, London

Lauth, Hans-Joachim / Winkler, Jürgen R. 2010: Methoden der vergleichenden Politikwissenschaft, in: Lauth, Hans Joachim (Hrsg.) 2010: Vergleichende Regierungslehre: Eine Einführung, 3. aktualisierte und erweiterte Auflage, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, 39-72

Lengyel, Zsolt K. 2009: Ungarn und seine Nachbarn, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 29-30/2009, Frankfurt/M., 40-46

March, James G. / Olsen, Johan P. 1998: The Institutional Dynamics of International Political Orders, in: International Organization 52, Nr. 4, 943-969

Mattern, Janice B. 2004: Power in Realist-Constructive Research, in: Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus 2004: Bridging the Gap: Toward a Realist Constructivist Dialogue, in: International Studies Review (2004) 6, 343-346

Meyer, Thomas 2004: Die Theatralität der Politik in der Mediendemokratie, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 2003, in: http://www.bpb.de/apuz/27196/die-theatralitaet-der-politik-in-der-mediendemokratie?p=all (10.01.2014), Seitennummerierung laut Online-Ausdruck

Meyer, Thomas 2002: Mediokratie – Auf dem Weg in eine andere Demokratie?, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 15-16/2002, in: http://www.bpb.de/apuz/26977/mediokratie-auf-dem-weg-in-eine-andere-demokratie?p=all (10.01.2014), Seitennummerierung laut Online-Ausdruck

Morisse-Schilbach, Melanie 2006: Historischer Institutionalismus, in: Bieling, Hans-Jürgen / Lerch, Marika (Hrsg.) 2006: Theorien der europäischen Integration, 2. Auflage, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, 271-292

Müller, Harald 1995: Spielen hilft nicht immer. Die Grenzen des Rational Choice Ansatzes und der Platz der Theorie kommunikativen Handelns in der Analyse internationaler Beziehungen, in: Zeitschrift für internationale Beziehungen, Nr. 2, 371-391

Müller, Wolfgang 2008: Kalter Krieg, Neutralität und politische Kultur in Österreich, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 1-2/2009, Frankfurt/M., 11-19

Müller, Wolfgang / Oates-Indruchová, Libora 2013: Space, Borders, Borderlands: Global and East European Approaches in Historiography, in: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft (ÖZP), 42. Jahrgang, Heft 1, 43-46

Reich, Jens 1994: Die Macht der Bilder, in: Die Zeit, Ausgabe vom 30.09.1994, in: http://www.zeit.de/1994/40/die-macht-der-bilder (10.01.2014), Seitennummerierung laut Online-Ausdruck

Reiter, Erich 2008: Überlegungen zur Neutralität, Sozialwissenschaftliche Schriftenreihe (Hrsg.), Heft 25, Internationales Institut für liberale Politik, Wien, 12-17

Risse, Thomas 2005: Global Governance and Communicative Action, in: Held, David / Koenig-Archibugi, Mathias (Hrsg.) 2005: Global Governance and Public Accountability, Melden, Blackwell, 164-189

Risse, Thomas 2003: Konstruktivismus, Rationalismus und Theorien Internationaler Beziehungen. Warum empirisch nichts so heiß gegessen wird, wie es theoretisch gekocht wurde, in: Hellmann, Gunther / Wolf, Klaus Dieter / Zürn, Michael (Hrsg.) 2003: Die neuen Internationalen Beziehungen. Forschungsstand und Perspektiven in Deutschland, Weltpolitik im 21. Jahrhundert, Bd. 10, Nomos, Baden-Baden, 99-132

Risse, Thomas 2000: „Let´s argue!" Communicative Action in International Relations, in: International Organization 54, Nr.1, 1-39

Sandner, Günther 2001: Hegemonie und Erinnerung: Zur Konzeption von Geschichts- und Vergangenheitspolitik, in: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft (ÖZP), 30. Jahrgang, Heft 1, 5-17

Schmalz-Bruns, Rainer 1995: Die Theorie kommunikativen Handelns – eine Flaschenpost? Anmerkungen zur jüngsten Theoriedebatte in den Internationalen Beziehungen, in: Zeitschrift für internationale Beziehungen, Nr. 2, 347-370

Scholl, Armin 2011: Konstruktivismus und Methoden der empirischen Sozialforschung, in: M&K, 59. Jahrgang, 2/2011, 161-179

Schwellnus, Guido 2006: Sozialkonstruktivismus, in: Bieling, Hans-Jürgen / Lerch, Marika (Hrsg.) 2006: Theorien der europäischen Integration, 2. Auflage, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, 321-346

Wagner, Wolfgang 2006: Der akteurzentrierte Institutionalismus, in: Bieling, Hans-Jürgen / Lerch, Marika (Hrsg.) 2006: Theorien der europäischen Integration, 2. Auflage, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, 249-270
1. Pan-European Picnic monument by Miklós Melocco
2. Peace Memorial "The upheaval", Monument to the Pan-European Picnic of 1989 at town Sopron, Hungary
Notes:

[1] Gehler 2009, 5; Dieringer 2009, 6

[2] Höll 1997, 298

[3] ibid; Müller 2008, 11

[4] Reiter 2008, 14

[5] Müller 2008, 19

[6] Gehler 2009, 5

[7] Lengyel 2009, 46

[8] Reich 1994

[9] 2001, 10, author's translation

[10] in more detail Lauth; Winkler 2010, 57

[11] ibid. , 45

[12] Laclau & Mouffe 1985

[13] Glasze 2007

[14] ibid, 4

[15] ibid, 6

[16] Walter Priesnitz, then Secretary of State in the Bonn Ministry for Inner German Relations, allegedly said that people should stay wherever they were so that reunification did not have to take place in the Federal Republic of Germany.

[17] Including customs officials, cabinet members, media representatives, etc.

[18] In 2004 the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, and in 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union.

[19] The former Hungarian ambassador in Bonn, Istvan Horvath, for instance was cited in 2009: "Who could have foreseen that the 120,000 Soviet soldiers standing in Hungary would keep still?", author's translation

[20] Karl Diem, then head of protocol in the Austrian Foreign Ministry, for instance was cited in 2009: " Alois Mock was game for anything, for all nonsense anyway", author's translation
Biography Brief Outline

Ulrike Reisner is a university graduated freelance political analyst and lecturer based in Vienna, Austria. Her academic background combines cultural and communications sciences on the one hand and political sciences including governance on the other. She also passed an academic course in applied economics.

For more than 10 years she has been a lecturer in political sciences and regional development both for Bachelor and for Master Programmes at the University of Applied Sciences in Innsbruck, Austria (Management Centre Innsbruck, a partner of the Institute of Business Studies at RANEPA, Moscow)

In the course of her academic activities, Ulrike Reisner takes part in the Danube Excellence project DX, an integrative part of the European Territorial Cooperation Programme. The DX aims to prepare for transnational university cooperation, including the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna, Austria, the Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary, and the University of Sopron, Hungary.

Her academic interest focuses on international politics and international political communications, with special emphasis on EU and Eastern European relations. For the past four years Ulrike Reisner has done independent research on EU elite's political rhetoric and media narratives concerning the Russian Federation.