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Europe at Present [Spring 2003]

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Growth of a State

The Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dacia, conquered under Tiberius and Trajan (1st cent. A.D.), embraced part of what was to become Hungary. The Huns and later the Ostroghots and the Avarssettled there for brief periods. In the late 9th cent. the Magyars, a Finno-Ugric people from beyond the Urals, conquered all or most of Hungary and Transylvania. The semilegendary leader, Apard, founded their first dynasty. The Magyars apparently merged with the earlier settlers, but they also continued to press westward until defeated by King (later Holy Roman Emperor) Otto I, at the Lechfeld (955).

Halted in its expansion, the Hungarian state began to solidify. Its first king, St. Stephen (reigned 1001–38), completed the Christianization of the Magyars and built the authority of his crown—which has remained the symbol of national existence—on the strength of the Roman Catholic Church. Under Bela III (reigned 1172–1196), Hungary came into close contact with Western European, particularly French, culture. Through the favor of succeeding kings, a few very powerful nobles—the magnates—won ever-widening privileges at the expense of the lesser nobles, the peasants, and the towns. In 1222 the lesser nobles forced the extravagant Andrew II to grant the Golden Bull (the “Magna Carta of Hungary”), which limited the king's power to alienate his authority to the magnates and established the beginnings of a parliament.

Hungary fell into anarchy, and when the royal line of Arpad died out (1301) with Andrew III, the magnates seized the opportunity to increase their authority.

In 1308, Charles Robert of Anjou was elected king of Hungary as Charles I, the first of the Angevin line. His autocratic rule checked the magnates somewhat and furthered the growth of the towns. Under his son, Louis I (Louis the Great), Hungary reached its greatest territorial extension, with power extending into Dalmatia, the Balkans, and Poland.

Foreign Domination

In the long wars that followed in XVI century, Hungary was split into three parts: the western section, where Ferdinand and his successor, Rudolf II, maintained a precarious rule, challenged by such Hungarian leaders as Stephen Bocskay and Gabriel Bethlen; the central plains, which were completely under Turkish domination; and Transylvania, ruled by noble families (see Báthory and Rákóczy).

The Protestant Reformation, supported by the nobles and well-established in Transylvania, nearly succeeded throughout Hungary. Cardinal Pázmány was a leader of the Counter Reformation in Hungary. In 1557 religious freedom was proclaimed by the diet of Transylvania, and the principle of toleration was generally maintained throughout the following centuries.

Hungarian opposition to Austrian domination included such extreme efforts as the assistance Thököly gave to the Turks during the siege of Vienna (1683). Budapest was liberated from the Turks in 1686. In 1687, Hungarian nobles recognized the Hapsburg claim to the Hungarian throne. By the Peace of Kalowitz (1699), Turkey ceded to Austria most of Hungary proper and Transylvania. Transylvania continued to fight the Hapsburgs, but in 1711, with the defeat of Francis II Rákóczy (see under Rákóczy, family), Austrian control was definitely established. In 1718 the Austrians took the Banat from Turkey.

Hungary and Austria

The Austrians brought in Germans and Slavs to settle the newly freed territory, destroying Hungary's ethnic homogeneity. Hapsburg rule was uneasy. The Hungarians were loyal to Maria Theresa in her wars, but many of the unpopular centralizing reforms of Joseph II, who had wanted to make German the sole language of administration and to abolish the Hungarian counties, had to be withdrawn.

In the second quarter of the 19th cent. a movement that combined Hungarian nationalism with constitutional liberalism gained strength. Among its leaders were Count Szechenyi, Louis Kossuth, Baron Eötvös, Sándor Petofi, and Francis Deak. Inspired by the French Revolution of 1848, the Hungarian diet passed the March Laws (1848), which established a liberal constitutional monarchy for Hungary under the Hapsburgs. But the reforms did not deal with the national minorities problem. Several minority groups revolted, and, after Francis Joseph replaced Ferdinand VII as emperor, the Austrians waged war against Hungary (Dec., 1848).

In Apr., 1849, Kossuth declared Hungary an independent republic. Russian troops came to the aid of the emperor, and the republic collapsed. The Hungarian surrender at Vilagos (Aug., 1849) was followed by ruthless reprisals. But after its defeat in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), Austria was obliged to compromise with Magyar national aspirations. The Ausgleich of 1867 (largely the work of Francis Deak) set up the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in which Austria and Hungary were nearly equal partners but the minorities problem persisted, the Serbs, Croats, and Romanians being particularly restive under Hungarian rule.

Hungary was one of the most aristocratic countries in Europe. As the military position of Austria-Hungary in World War I deteriorated, the situation in Hungary grew more unstable. Hungarian nationalists wanted independence and withdrawal from the war; the political left was inspired by the 1917 revolutions in Russia; and the minorities were receptive to the Allies' promises of self-determination.

In November the emperor abdicated, and the Dual Monarchy collapsed.


Premier Károlyi (appointed in Oct. 1918) proclaimed Hungary an independent republic. However, the minorities would not deal with him, and the Allies forced upon him very unfavorable armistice terms. The government resigned, and the Communists under Béla Kun seized power (Mar., 1919). The subsequent Red terror was followed by a Romanian invasion and the defeat (July, 1919) of Kun's forces. After the Romanians withdrew, Admiral Horthy de Nagybanya established a government and in 1920 was made regent, since there was no king. Reactionaries, known as White terrorists, conducted a brutal campaign of terror against the Communists and anyone associated with Károlyi or Kun.

The Treaty of Trianon, signed in 1920, reduced the size and population of Hungary by about two thirds, depriving Hungary of valuable natural resources and removing virtually all non-Magyar areas, although Budapest retained a large German-speaking population. The next twenty-five years saw continual attempts by the Magyar government to recover the lost territories. Early endeavors were frustrated by the Little Entente and France, and Hungary turned to a friendship with Fascist Italy and, ultimately, to an alliance (1941) with Nazi Germany.

Between 1938 and 1944, Hungary regained, with the aid of Germany and Italy, territories from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania. It declared war on the USSR (June, 1941) and on the United States (Dec., 1941). When the Hungarian government took steps to withdraw from the war and protect its Jewish population, German troops occupied the country (Mar., 1944). The Germans were driven out by Soviet forces (Oct., 1944–Apr., 1945). The Soviet campaign caused much devastation.

National elections were held in 1945 (in which the Communist party received less than one fifth of the vote), and a republican constitution was adopted in 1946. The peace treaty signed at Paris in 1947 restored the bulk of the Trianon boundaries and required Hungary to pay $300 million in reparations to the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. A new coalition regime instituted long-needed land reforms.

Communist Rule

Early in 1948 the Communist party, through its control of the ministry of the interior, arrested leading politicians, forced the resignation of Premier Ferenc Nagy, and gained full control of the state. Hungary was proclaimed a People's Republic in 1949, after parliamentary elections in which there was only a single slate of candidates. Radical purges in the national Communist party made it thoroughly subservient to that of the USSR. Industry was nationalized and land was collectivized. The trial of Cardinal Mindszenty aroused protest throughout the Western world.

By 1953 continuous purges of Communist leaders, constant economic difficulties, and peasant resentment of collectivization had led to profound crisis in Hungary. Premier Mátyás Rákosi, the Stalinist in control since 1948, was removed in July, 1953, and Imre Nagy became premier. He slowed down collectivization and emphasized production of consumer goods, but he was removed in 1955, and the emphasis on farm collectivization was restored. In 1955, Hungary joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization and was admitted to the United Nations.

On Oct. 23, 1956, a popular anti-Communist revolution, centered in Budapest, broke out in Hungary. A new coalition government under Imre Nagy declared Hungary neutral, withdrew it from the Warsaw Treaty, and appealed to the United Nations for aid. However, János Kádár, one of Nagy's ministers, formed a counter-government and asked the USSR for military support. In severe and brutal fighting Soviet forces suppressed the revolution. Nagy and some of his ministers were abducted and were later executed. Some 190,000 refugees fled the country. Kádár became premier and sought to win popular support for Communist rule and to improve Hungary's relations with Yugoslavia and other countries. He carried out a drastic purge (1962) of former Stalinists (including Mátyás Rákosi), accusing them of the harsh policies responsible for the 1956 revolt. Collectivization, which had been stopped after 1956, was again resumed in 1958–59.

Kádár's regime gained a degree of popularity as it brought increasing liberalization to Hungarian political, cultural, and economic life. Economic reforms introduced in 1968 brought a measure of decentralization to the economy and allowed for supply and demand factors; Hungary achieved substantial improvements in its standard of living. Hungary aided the USSR in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The departure (1971) of Cardinal Mindszenty from Budapest after 15 years of asylum in the U.S. legation and his removal (1974) from the position of primate of Hungary improved relations with the Catholic church. Due to Soviet criticism, many of the economic reforms were subverted during the mid-1970s only to be reinstituted at the end of the decade.

During the 1980s, Hungary began to increasingly turn to the West for trade and assistance in the modernization of its economic system. The economy continued to decline and the high foreign debt became unpayable. Premier Károly Grósz gave up the premiership in 1988, and in 1989 the Communist party congress voted to dissolve itself. That same year Hungary opened its borders with Austria, allowing thousands of East Germans to cross to the West.

A Democratic Hungary

By 1990, a multiparty political system with free elections had been established; legislation was passed granting new political and economic reforms such as a free press, freedom of assembly, and the right to own a private business. The new premier, József Antall, a member of the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum who was elected in 1990, vowed to continue the drive toward a free-market economy. The Soviet military presence in Hungary ended in the summer of 1991 with the departure of the final Soviet troops. Meanwhile, the government embarked on the privatization of Hungary's state enterprises. Antall died in 1993 and was succeeded as prime minister by Péter Boross. Parliamentary elections in 1994 returned the Socialists (former Communists) to power. They formed a coalition government with the liberal Free Democrats, and Socialist leader Gyula Horn became prime minister. Árpád Göncz was elected president of Hungary in 1990 and reelected in 1995. In 1998 Viktor Orbán of the conservative Hungarian Civic party became prime minister as head of a coalition government. Hungary became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999.


About 10 million people in Hungary, 1½ million in Rumania, and smaller minorities in Yugoslavia and Slovakia speak Hungarian. It is one of the Finno-Ugric languages, which include Finnish, Estonian, and a number of languages spoken in the Russia. Most of these languages, however, belong to the Finnic branch of this group, while Hungarian belongs to the Ugric. The only other existing Ugric languages, and thus the only other languages to which Hungarian is closely related, are the remote Ostyak and Vogul languages of Siberia, spoken in an area more than 2,000 miles from Hungary.

As may be gathered from these facts, the original Hungarian people came from Asia, having long lived a nomadic life on the eastern slopes of the Urals. Forced to migrate westward between the 5th and 9th centuries A.D., they eventually reached the Danube where they settled in 896. In the more than a thousand years that have elapsed since that time the Hungarians have become completely Europeanized, with only their language serving to reveal their Asian Origins.

The Hungarians call their language Magyar. It is considered extremely difficult for foreigners to learn, with its vocabulary largely from Asia and its grammar containing a number of complex features not to be found in other Western languages. The alphabet, however, is phonetic, with s pronounced sh (e.g., sör—beer), c pronounced ts (ceruza—pencil), sz pronounced 5 (szó—word), cs pronounced ch (csésze—cup), zs pronounced zh (zseb—pocket), and gy pronounced dy (nagy—big). The many vowel sounds in spoken Hungarian are indicated by acute accents, umlauts, and the unique double acute accent which appears over o and u (bo"r— skin, fu"—grass). The stress in Hungarian is always on the first syllable. The most important English word of Hungarian origin is coach, after the village of Kocs (remember cs = ch), where coaches were invented and first used. Others are goulash and paprika.


Hungary has one of the finest folk traditions in Europe, producing excellent examples of embroidery, pottery, ceiling and wall painting, and objects carved from wood or bone.

The folk art of Hungary springs from a lively tradition of creativity found in many forms in the countryside. The spontaneous desire to delight and entertain, passed on from one generation to the next, in music, dance, crafts and costume is at the heart of Hungary's culture. And while in some places in the world you will see folk art confined only to the museum, in Hungary it is a living tradition. In several important areas, Hungarian folk art is admired world-wide.

The embroidery art of Mezökövesd (north-eastern Hungary) has a past of one and a half centuries. The needle-women cover the whole surface of the material and the result of their work is the many-colored, shiny Matyó needlework, as well as the famous Matyó costumes. Another favourite embroidery centre is Kalocsa in the Great Plain region.

Pottery is another widespread folk-craft. Wedding were the most important occasion when people bought these attractive, decorated pottery dishes. The potters made the ornamental dishes especially wedding gifts, quite often painting the couple's name on-them.

Hungarian art and architecture is laced with Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau influences. Art Nouveau is a special local variation of the international Secession style reaching Hungary at the turn of the century.

When most people think of Hungarian music, they think of candle-lit cafés, chicken paprikas and cabbage rolls, pálinka (fruit brandy usually of plums) and a trio of musicians coming to their table playing syrupy violin music just for them.

Hungarian musical contributions are very rich. Hungary was the homeland of Franz Liszt, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, whose music was inspired by the rich national folk traditions. In the 19th century Hungary produced its first important native-born composer, Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian national anthem and the first Hungarian opera. Hungary is a highly musical country; its violinists and pianists are particularly celebrated virtuosi worldwide.

In fact, many of us heard a beautiful and stirring example of Hungarian Folk music from Transylvania in Márta Sebestyén's virtuosity in the "English Patient" themesong, "Szerelem, Szerelem" (Love, Love), or in her work with Peter Gabriel and Deep Forest in "Marta’s Song."  With the exception of the violin, the instruments can be quite primitive.  The music surprises many, even in Hungary, for both its rhythmic nature and its Asian and Celtic feel.

Literature has been shaped by the monumental events of the nation's history, which have given rise to odes, stirring poems of independence, courageous tales of realism, and strident polemic.

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2002 was awarded to the Hungarian writer Imre Kertész “for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history".

Imre Kertész is a novelist, essayist, and translator, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002. In his semiautobiographical novels Kertész has analyzed the experience of the individual during barbaric times, especially exemplified in the Holocaust. Kertész early prose exhibit existentialist traits but his works are difficult to classify within any stylistic trend.


Hungarians tend to have a skeptical view of faith (some suggest this is why they have a high success rate in science and mathematics), but of those declaring religious affiliation, most would say they are Roman Catholic, Calvinist or Lutheran. The country also has a small Greek Catholic and Orthodox population and a thriving Jewish community in Budapest.


Hungarians are extremely fond of foreigners.

Most of Hungarians can't afford to travel abroad.

Hungarian name order is the same as the Japanese.

All names of all nations in the world (except Hungary and Japan) follow this order: family and surname. For example: John Smith and not Smith John. In Hungary and Japan you write it inversely: Smith John.

Hungarians use different addressing of people (like in Japan).

Once again Japan - Hungary in the center of Europe and there are many theories why Hungarian culture has so many similar characteristics with the Japanese culture.

We can address people formally, informally, in a gentle form etc.

Hungarians aren't hungry....

It is considered very rude referring to a Hungarian with the word joke: Hungry. But it is no funny...

Hungarians generally understand Russian, however they deny that knowledge.

Russian language was compulsory in all type of schools throughout 40 years. No other choice was possible. This process is called the language colonization.

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