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Book Launch - The Picnic: A Dream of Freedom and the Collapse of the Iron Curtain

Thursday 11 April 2024
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague
Spanish steps, entrance hall
Book cover the Picnic

About The Picnic

In August 1989, a group of Hungarian activists organized a picnic on the border of Hungary and Austria. But this was not an ordinary picnic—it was located on the dangerous militarized frontier known as the Iron Curtain. Tacit permission from the highest state authorities could be revoked at any moment. On wisps of rumor, thousands of East German “vacationers” packed Hungarian campgrounds, awaiting an opportunity, fearing prison, surveilled by lurking Stasi agents. The Pan-European Picnic set the stage for the greatest border breach in Cold War history: hundreds crossed from the Communist East to the longed-for freedom of the West.

Drawing on dozens of original interviews—including Hungarian activists and border guards, East German refugees, Stasi secret police, and the last Communist prime minister of Hungary—Matthew Longo tells a gripping and revelatory tale of the unraveling of the Iron Curtain and the birth of a new world order. Just a few months after the Picnic, the Berlin Wall fell, and the freedom for which the activists and refugees had abandoned their homes, risked imprisonment, sacrificed jobs, family, and friends, was suddenly available to everyone. But were they really free? And why, three decades since the Iron Curtain was torn down, have so many sought once again to build walls?

Matt will present his book followed by some readers' reflections by Hilde and an open discussion with the audience. The book launch will be followed by a reception, and copies of the book will be available for sale. 


Presenter: Matthew Longo

Moderator/Discussant: Hilde van Meegdenburg

This event is co-organized by LUCIR and the Identity, Ethnicity, and Political Community Research Cluster.

How to attend

All are welcome to join. 

If you are not affiliated to Leiden University you are more than welcome to join too, but we do have to ask you to register. For LU students + staff, you do not have to register for the event itself, but we do ask for registration for the reception afterwards. Please make sure to bring your LU-card for entrance to the Wijnhaven building.

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