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Hungary - 1100 years in the heart of Europe

After lengthy wandering, the ancient Hungarians of seven tribes found a land "flowing with milk and honey" in the Charpatian Basin in 896. The land was populated by Avars, Slavs, and the rest of the glorious Huns, whose leader Attila, the "Scourge of God" is lying somewhere in the Alföld. The conquered people who had fairly well-developed agriculture became servants of the Magyar clans. The nomadic way of fighting led our ancestors sweeping through Europe easily. The western commanders and rulers often prayed this way:[4]

"Oh, save and deliver us, Thine unworthy servants,
we beseech Thee, from the arrows of the Hungarians!"

Eventually, other nations learned the Magyar tactics, and countered them with superior feudal war techniques. In 955, the army of Bulcsu met with total defeat. In due time, the Hungarian people learned their lesson, and by the leadership of Prince Géza they began to replace their nomadic life with feudalism.

When Géza died, inner strifes raged among Christians and Pagans. At the end, István, son of Géza won against Koppány, the lead of the Pagans. István (Saint Stephen, canonized in 1083) became the first king of Hungary upon receiving the Holy Crown sent by Pope Sylvester II in the year 1000. The crown symbolized both the independent Christian kingdom of Hungary and the conditions of Europe: "join us, or perish".

The state of Hungary was confirmed by Szent László and Könyves Kálmán (Saint Ladislaus and Charles the Learned) a century after István. Their strict laws put an end to the Pagans and to the ravage all over the country. The most famous written constitution, however was the Golden Bull in 1222, given by II. András (Andrew II), declaring the rights of the noblemen.

In two decades, the Charpatian Basin was invaded by hundreds of thousands of mounted troops from Gengish Khan's Empire. Within a year, they utterly sacked the land, slaughtered half the population making the blood-bath from which the country hardly recovered. Then the invaders suddenly left, and king IV. Béla started to reorganize the life in Hungary. He is mentioned repeatedly as the second establisher of the state.

In 1301, the dinasty of Árpád died out. After seven years of interregnum, an Anjou prince of Naples called Károly Róbert (Charles Robert) got the throne. He was followed by his son, Nagy Lajos (Louis the Great, 1342-82) during whose reigning, the kingdom was greater than ever before. The Baltic Sea in the North, the Adriatic and the Black Sea in the South washed its coasts. The next king of Hungary, Luxemburgi Zsigmond (Sigismund of Luxembourg, 1382-1437) was also the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

The advance of the Osman Turks towards Hungary began during the reign of Nagy Lajos and engaged Hungary's full strength for three centuries. Up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, the army restricted the danger of the Ottoman Empire. Although the kings had no power again, a brilliant general, Hunyadi János fended off the peril for decades. To remind of his heroic defence of Nándorfehérvár (today Belgrade), the bells are rung every day at noon. (In fact, that was decreed by the Pope, however, at the time of the defence of Nándorfehérvár.)

Hunyadi's son, Mátyás (Matthias, 1458-90), after some unsuccesful tricks of the great landowners fearing Hunyadi's power - who killed Hunyadi's older son, László -, was elected to be the king by the people standing on the ice of the Danube. He organized his famous Fekete Sereg (Black Army) of mercenaries, and, although he fought against the Turk, conquered Sylesia and took Vienna and a part of Austria. Mátyás had many artists and scientists in his renaissance court, that time Buda was a cultural centre in Europe. His humanism was understood and preserved in many anecdotes about the king whom his people called Mátyás the Just.

After Mátyás' death, the following kings had no power again, furthermore, a peasant revolt of Dózsa György in 1514 also weakened the Hungarian forces. This led the army to perish in the decisive battle at Mohács in 1526. The throne had two claimants: Habsburg Ferdinand and Zápolya János; the inner conflicts left the country lying open to the Turks. They conquered the middle of Hungary, while the Habsburgs got the western section and Transylvania was an "independent" princedom. These three parts, of course, kept waging war on against each other, but the main enemy was still the Ottoman Empire which, what a shame!, could take the fortress of Buda without using their weapons.

In spite of their weakness, the Hungarians, both the Transylvanian and the Royal Hungarians had lots of unbelieveable triumphs. Dobó István in Eger, with his 2000 soldiers could beat off the Osman army of 200000 soldiers, and so the town remained Hungarian. In Szigetvár, Zrinyi Miklós heroically stopped the Turkish army, and killed the emperor. Due to treason, Szigetvár capitulated at the end, and no Hungarian was kept alive. The same happened in the fortress of Drégely, where Szondi György was the leader. He and his fifty soldiers gave their lives for the fatherland in the fights against 140000 Turks, killing thousands of them. Szondi was buried with great pomp by the Turks, who paid the tribute of admiration to his heroism.

In the meantime, Transylvania also fought for its freedom against the Turks as well as against the Habsburgs. One of the great princes, Báthory István was chosen by the Poles as their king in 1576, inaugurating a bright era in Polish history. His triumphs over the forces of Czar Ivan the Terrible saved Poland and Central Europe from the Russian invasion.

Eventually, the Ottoman Empire began to weaken. The Habsburg army freed Buda, the ancient capital after bloody fights in 1686. In ten years, Hungary was freed from the Osmans but invaded by the Habsburgs. Transylvania also lost its autonomy in 1691.

From that time, our nation fought for its freedom. The first big revolt was led by Bocskay István, the Prince of Transylvania in 1606. His hajdú s reached Vienna. Almost a century later, the newly ordered kuruc army of Thököly Imre broke out a new revolt; that was the first universal fight for freedom against foreign oppressors. The movement took a countrywide importance when the wealthiest and most distinguished aristocrat, II. Rákó czi Ferenc assumed its leadership. The kuruc troops freed almost the whole kingdom in six years; and then, unfortunately, the french king Louis XIV forgot to keep his promise, thus, three years later Hungary lost and capitulated. Rákó czi and his adherents fled to Poland; he died as an emigrant in Turkey.

The next revolt in the sequence broke out in the middle of the nineteenth century. Prior to that, Széchenyi István did much for the rise of Hungary: he founded the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, built a bridge over the Danube - the Chain Bridge ( Lánchíd) was the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest - , and other acts by him brought prosperity to the life of Hungary. In cotrast with Széchenyi, Kossuth Lajos, the leading character of the revolution didn't believe in the peaceful solution, he wanted fights. On 15 March, 1848, the revolution of Pest-Buda broke out against the Habsburg pressure. Young poets and writers, such as Peto fi Sándor - one of the greatest poets who ever lived on Earth -, played an important role in history on that day. Peto fi's poem, the "Arise Hungarian!" was declaimed on the streets. The parliament in Pozsony ( Bratislava) dethroned the Habsburg family and initiated Hungarian as the official language. The first independent Ministry with Count Batthyány Lajos, the Prime Minister began to prepare for the fights.

On 29 September, 1848, the Hungarian army won the first battle against Baron Jellacic. Glorious battles were fought by, to mention a few, Klapka György in Komárom, or Jozef Bem, the Polish general in Transylvania, but, as it so often happened, the revolt for freedom was crushed as well as the others. Szé chenyi committed suicide, Kossuth emigrated to England, and Peto fi, the poet disappeared in the latest fights. The years of bloody revenge succeeded.

Due to Deák Ferenc, in 1867, Austria and Hungary came to compromise. That event ended the revenge and began a new rise of our country. New industries, new institutes were founded or replaced to Hungary, transportation was modernized: new railways were built, it is impossible to list all. In 1896, the Millenium of the Conquest was celebrated with great pomp, and for that event Franz Joseph, the king of Hungary and Austria (1848-1916) also arrived to Pest-Buda. As a part of the development, the first underground of the Continent was opened in the capital. (In fact, it was the second in Europe, the first was in England.)

And then, the twentieth century arrived, together with its wars and the communism.

In 1919, World War I was finished with an agreement in France which divided Hungary into parts, and the newly formed states of the surrounding countries got most of the land. Hungary was left with only 92963 square kilometres out of the original quarter a million square kilometres of the Holy Crown. Millions of Hungarian people became a national minority in other countries. Of course, the French carefully gave all the new railways, all the new factories to the surrounding countries.

When fascism entered, the Prime Minister Count Teleki Pál, upon realizing that there was no exit, the Parliament was in deadlock, took his own life. The Red Army of Soviet Union freed Hungary in 1945, the fights ended on 4 April. The freely elected government of the Smallholders Party began to rebuild the country which had been destroyed and reduced in size and population.

In four years, the communists took over the power by the "help" of the Soviet Union, and then, a new era began. 1956 was the year of the next trial to reach freedom, this time the revolution led by Nagy Imre was against communism and the Soviet Union. As it could be expected, the revolution was suppressed by the Red Army. The natural flow of history let Hungary to be free only in 1989. Then, it can be asked:[1]

"Was Rákóczi's battle for liberty in vain? Were the Hungarian freedom fights in 1848 or in October 1956 useless? For Hungarians, Rákó czi - as later Kossuth, too - is not associated with national defeat and collapse. The Rákóczi freedom fight awakened powerful forces among the people. Within a few years it brought about an amazing national renaissance, a reconciliation of the classes, rich forms of art, music and poetry which evoked the Hungarian outlook and spirit."

Vörösmarty Mihály expressed the feelings of the country by his Szózat. Let's read it at the end.[2]

The Appeal

Translated by W. Jaffray

Be true to the land of thy birth,
Son of the Magyar race;
It nourish'd, nursed, and soon its earth
Will be thy resting place.

What though the world is very wide,
No land with thine can vie;
Come weal or woe on fortune's tide,
Here must thou live and die.

Behold the dear, the hallow'd soil,
On which our fathers bled;
Lo here ten centuries of toil
Have bound the mighty dead.

The foeman's ranks our heroes broke
Of Árpád's marshal band;
And Hunyadi's arms from slavery's yoke
Once freed our fatherland.

Here did thy flag, O freedom swell,
And red o'er battle wave,
In long and deadly fight here fell
The bravest of the brave.

In spite of fortune's angry frown
Through war and strife's fell reign,
Though bent, yet never broken down,
Our people still remain.

The mighty world, the common land
Of many nations, saith:
"Ten centuries of war demand
The fight for life or death!"

It cannot be that patriots true
In freedom's cause so slain -
And hearts by sorrows broken too,
Were sacrificed in vain.

Such mind, and strength, and purpose high,
They surely cannot be
Foredoom'd to wither, droop and die
By stern Fate's dark decree.

A time will come - a better time
Must come, to hope we dare;
Millions of fervent hearts incline
To raise the nation's prayer.

But should there come a moment dread,
An awful stroke of doom,
A people's blood for freedom shed
shall lave our country's tomb.

The land in which a nation dies
All peoples will revere;
And millions then of weeping eyes
Will drop the mourning tear.

True to the land with stedfast faith
Ever then, Magyar be!
In life it nourish'd thee - in death
Its turf will cover thee.

What though the world is very wide,
No land with thine can vie;
Come weal or woe on fortune's tide,
Here must thou live and die.

Váradi Zoltán
Last modified: 20. September, 1996.