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The Picnic

An Escape to Freedom and the Collapse of the Iron Curtain

Matthew Longo

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Bodley Head
30 January 2024
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An extraordinarily dramatic reconstruction of the greatest border breach in Cold War history

In August 1989, a group of Hungarian activists did the unthinkable- they entered the forbidden militarised zone of the Iron Curtain - and held a picnic.

Word had spread of what was going to happen. On wisps of rumour, thousands of East German 'holiday-makers' had made their way to the border between Hungary and Austria and packed the nearby camping sites, awaiting an opportunity, fearing prison, surveilled by lurking Stasi agents. The highest state authorities were choosing to turn a blind eye - but that could change at any moment. The stage was set for the greatest border breach in Cold War history- that day hundreds would cross from the Communist East to the longed-for freedom of the West. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union - the so-called end of history - all would flow from those dramatic hours.

Drawing on dozens of original interviews with those involved - activists and border guards, escapees and secret police, as well as the last Communist prime minister of Hungary - Matthew Longo reconstructs not only this remarkable event but also its complex and bittersweet aftermath. Freedom had been won but parents had been abandoned and families divided. Love affairs faltered and new lives had to be built from scratch.

The Picnic is the story of a moment when the tide of history turned. It shows how freedom can be both dream and disillusionment, and how all we take for granted can vanish in an instant.

Imprint:   Bodley Head
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 153mm,  Spine: 23mm
Weight:   388g
ISBN:   9781847927804
ISBN 10:   1847927807
Pages:   320
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Matthew Longo is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Leiden University and the award-winning author of The Politics of Borders. He lives in The Netherlands.

Reviews for The Picnic: An Escape to Freedom and the Collapse of the Iron Curtain

A pivotal – and exhilarating – moment in late 20th-century history . . . Matthew Longo’s thoughtful and vividly realised book skilfully dramatises the extraordinary chain of events at a summer party in Hungary that led to the end of Soviet power . . . it recreates, through intimate personal histories and eye-witness recollection, the ways in which one idealistic, grass roots protest . . . became a catalyst for the dramatic peaceful revolutions that reunited the continent . . . gripping -- Tim Adams * Observer * This little gem of a book tells the story of . . . a key Cold War moment . . . Longo’s vivid narrative captures the tension of the moment . . . an intensely moving story that explores the nature of freedom -- Victor Sebestyen * Sunday Times * Longo covers the Picnic at ground level, evoking the dramatic events in vivid colour . . . Anecdotes and impressions . . . are woven through the historical narrative, providing an insight into how deeply this history still matters today . . . the chain of events in 1989 and its historical context are outlined with clarity and verve. The narrative is spiked with Longo’s commentary and anecdotes from his trips, making The Picnic a deeply personal account of a fascinating milestone of Cold War history -- Katja Hoyer * Telegraph * Revisits in captivating detail the actions of ordinary people during that heady summer of 1989 . . . Longo recounts the drama in a vivid, fast-paced narrative [which] never lacks verve * The New York Times * An elegantly crafted account of an extraordinary but largely forgotten gathering … He tells a gripping tale … relating to both timeless questions of struggle and agency, and topics in the headlines today * Boston Globe *

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