Czechoslovaks Celebrate Open Borders With AM-Czechoslovakia, Bjt
BRATISLAVA, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Czechoslovaks on Monday celebrated their first unrestricted travel in decades, with carloads crossing into the West minutes after the borders were opened.
″This is an indescribable feeling,″ said Jan Spurny, 25, as he and his brother, Dusan, drove their yellow Wartburg sedan onto Austrian territory. They were greeted by television lights and a small crowd of well-wishers with a sign reading ″Welcome to Austria.″
Minutes before, Austrian and Czechoslovak border guards shook hands on the dividing line in a manifestation of friendship.
The new open-border policy went into effect at midnight Sunday. More than 100 cars had lined up at the Bratislava-Berg crossing when the barrier was lifted four minutes past midnight.
However, relatively light traffic was reported at some of about 20 road and rail crossings linking Czechoslovakia with Austria or West Germany.
The Communist government announced Thursday that all obstacles to travel to the West would be removed. It was among the concessions granted after weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people.
The move came after the East German government, spurred by similar mass protests, announced last month it was opening its Western borders, including the Berlin Wall.
In this country, travel regulations introduced in 1987 had made visits to the West easier for Czechoslovaks than for most citizens of other Soviet-bloc countries, but there were still formidable bureaucratic obstacles.
Before the borders opened Monday, those seeking to go West needed a passport. They also needed authorization from the police, from their workplace or school and in some cases from local Communist Party officials to get an exit visa. They also had to have invitations from relatives or friends in the West.
Now they need only to show their passports and fill out a brief questionnaire giving their names, addresses, the country they will visit and the duration of their stay.
Only one Czechoslovak soldier was on duty at the Bratislava-Berg crossing of a two-lane road when the first Austria-bound cars arrived about 10 p.m.
Dusan Spurney, 22, said, ″I’m just going to drive across and then drive right back. I just want to see if it works.″
Jan Spurny looked at the border guard, clapping his arms across his chest to ward off the winter chill, and said, ″He’s still packing a sub-machine gun, but now he’s not likely to have to use it.″
Stanislav Balaz, his wife and their 14-year-old daughter were heading for Vienna, 42 miles away. Balaz said it was their first trip to the West since they went to Greece eight years ago.
″Maybe this is truly freedom,″ he said.