Hungary museum seeks to restore Cold War "Maginot"

Wed Jul 1, 2009 12:10pm EDT
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By Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - Krisztina Horvath cannot help but envy those in the West whose biggest headache during the Cold War was the abstract threat of a nuclear apocalypse. For Horvath, 64, the decades-long paranoia festering global politics after World War Two took a much more tangible form and literally broke through the door of her parents' house in Paka, a tranquil village in southeast Hungary in 1951.

Fearing an attack through Yugoslavia, a Socialist state outside Moscow's sphere of influence, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin devised the construction of a vast defense network along the southern border of neighboring Hungary, which was then a communist satellite.

The final structure, built by 1955, consisted of hundreds of bunkers, machine-gun nests, concrete bastions and various natural obstacles. Unfortunately for Horvath and her family, the front line ran right across their porch.

Today, almost two decades after the collapse of what U.S. President Ronald Reagan famously dubbed the "evil empire," the fears of the departed are just a fading memory but the remnants of this vast defense network still scar the landscape.

The Hungarian War History Museum now wants to map out and restore parts of the structure to turn it into a tourist spot.

"This gigantic network bears witness to a bygone and a bit shameful era, and I think neither historians nor ordinary citizens can let this fall into oblivion," said Lieutenant General Jozsef Hollo, Director of the Hungarian War History Museum.

"It was not meant to defend Hungary but to insulate the Soviets," said Hollo, who took part in unearthing sections of the defense network himself.

The "Hungarian Maginot," named after the line of defenses which German forces bypassed to invade France in World War Two, stretched 630 km (391 miles) and forced the relocation of thousands of people living in its path.   Continued...