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 History of Hungary


The arrival of the Magyars at the Carpathian BasinIn the time of the Roman Empire, the region west of the Danube river was known as Pannonia. After the Western Roman Empire collapsed under the stress of the migration of Germanic tribes and Carpian pressure, the Migration Period continued bringing many invaders to Europe. Among the first to arrive were the Huns, who built up a powerful empire under Attila. It is presently believed that the origin of the name "Hungary" does not come from the Central Asian nomadic invaders called the Huns, but rather originated from a later, 7th century Bulgar alliance called On-Ogour, which in Old Turkish meant "(the) Ten Arrows"[1][2].


After Hunnish rule faded, the Lombards and the Gepids ruled in Pannonia for about 100 years, during which the Slavic tribes began migrating into the region. In the 560s, the Slavs were supplanted by the Avars, who maintained their supremacy of the land for more than two centuries. The Franks under Charlemagne from the west and the Bulgars from the southeast managed to overthrow the Avars in the early 9th century. However, the Franks soon retreated, and the Slavonic kingdom of Great Moravia and the Balaton Principality assumed control of much of Pannonia until the end of the century. The Magyars migrated to Hungary in the late 9th century.


Magyar tradition holds that the Country of the Magyars (Magyarország) was founded by Árpád, who led the Magyars into the Pannonian plain in 896 AD. The "Ten Arrows" mentioned above referred to ten tribes, the alliance of which was the foundation of the army of the invading Magyars.



Stephen I of Hungary

The Kingdom of Hungary was established in 1000 by King Saint Stephen. Originally named Vajk, Stephen was a direct descendant of Árpád, and was baptised as a child. He married Giselle of Bavaria, the daughter of Henry II, Duke of Bavaria in 996, and after the death of his father Prince Géza in 997, he assumed the mantle of ruler and became the first Christian king of Hungary.



The crown of Saint StephenSt. Stephen I received his crown from Pope Silvester II in 1000. As a Christian king, he established the Hungarian Church with ten dioceses and the royal administration of the country that was divided into counties (comitatus or vármegye). Hungary became a patrimonial kingdom where the majority of the land was the private property of the ruler. In 1083, he was canonized along with his son, Imre of Hungary.


Initially, Hungarian history and politics developed in close association with that of Poland and Bohemia, driven by the interventions of various Popes and Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Between 1241–1242, under King Béla IV, Hungary was devastated, suffering great loss of life at the hands of the Mongol (Tatar) armies of Batu Khan who defeated the Hungarians at the Battle of Muhi. Despite the victory, the Mongols did not occupy Hungary, but withdrew shortly after upon the news of the death of Ögedei Khan, leaving behind a country in ruins. The famous "Bent Cross" atop the crown has become a symbol of Hungary. Originally the cross was upright but was bent when it was stolen in the eleventh century.



Gradually Hungary, under the rule of the dynasty of the Árpáds and even before it (since the 9th century), joined the greater West European civilizations. Ruled by the Angevins since 1308, the Kingdom of Hungary slowly lost control over territories later called Wallachia (1330) and Moldavia (1359).


János Hunyadi, the Regent of Hungary, fought defensive wars against the invading Ottoman Empire. The custom of sounding the noon bell is closely related to an important battle against the Ottomans that took place on June 29, 1456, at Nándorfehérvár.


János's son, King Matthias Corvinus, ruled the Kingdom of Hungary from 1458 to 1490. He strengthened Hungary and its government. Under his rule, Hungary became an important artistic and cultural centre of Europe during the Renaissance. Matthias, whose wife was Italian, imported artisans from Italy and France. Likewise, Hungarian culture influenced others--for example, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. King Matthias Corvinus was also successful in many battles against the Ottoman Empire.


The forthcoming two centuries were dominated by constant warfare against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans gained a decisive victory over the Hungarian army at the battle of Mohács in 1526. The next decades were characterised by political chaos; the divided Hungarian nobility elected two kings simultaneously, Ferdinand Habsburg (1526-1540) and János Szapolyai (1526-1540), whose armed conflicts weakened the country further. After the conquest of Buda by the Ottomans in 1541, the Kingdom of Hungary came to be divided into three parts: one third of Hungary fell under Ottoman rule; one third (in the West) remained under Habsburg rule Kings of Hungary); and the third part, in the east (originally supporting János Szapolyai), remained independent (the Principality of Transylvania) and subsequently become a semi-independent, vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. It was only more than 150 years later, at the end of the 17th century, that Austria and its Christian allies regained the territories of the Kingdom from the Ottoman Empire.

Austro-Hungarian empire


Ferenc II Rákóczi (painted by Ádám Mányoki)After the final retreat of the Ottomans, struggle began between the Hungarian nation and the Habsburg kings for the protection of noblemen' rights (thus guarding the autonomy of Hungary). The fight against Austrian absolutism resulted in an unsuccessful revolt for popular freedom between 1703 and 1711, led by a Transylvanian nobleman, Ferenc II Rákóczi. The revolution and war of 1848–1849 eliminated serfdom and secured civil rights. The Austrians were finally able to prevail, but only with Russian help.



Thanks to the victories against Austria by the French-Italian coalition (the Battle of Solferino, 1859) and Prussia (Battle of Königgrätz, 1866), Hungary would eventually, in 1867, manage to become an autonomous part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (see Ausgleich). Having achieved this, the Hungarian government made an effort to nationally unify the kingdom by Magyarisation of the various other nationalities. This lasted until the end of World War I, when the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed.


On November 16, 1918, an independent Hungarian Republic was proclaimed. This was Hungary's first republic.

Interwar era

Following World War I, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and a joint army from Serbia and France occupied various Hungarian territories. Romania occupied Transylvania and Eastern Hungary. Czechoslovakia occupied Upper Hungary. The joint Serb and French army occupied Southern Hungary. The post-War Entente backed the subsequent annexations of these territories.


In March of 1919, the communists took power in Hungary. In April, Béla Kun proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic. But Kun's government, like its immediate predecessor, proved to be short-lived. This was despite some initial military successes against the Czechoslovakian Army.


On 13 June 1919, the Versailles Peace Conference ordered Hungary to evacuate the northern territories and Romania to leave Tiszántúl. Hungary fulfilled its part of the order by 30 June 1919. But the Romanian army refused to leave Tiszántúl.


The ensuing war between Hungary and Romania led to the defeat of the Hungarian Red Army. By August 1919, more than half of present-day Hungary, including Budapest, was occupied by Romania. The Romanian occupation lasted until November 1919 when the Romanian army departed.


Rightist Hungarian military forces, led by the former Austro-Hungarian Admiral Miklós Horthy, entered Budapest in the wake of the Romanian army's departure and filled the vacuum of state power. In January 1920, elections were held for a unicameral assembly. Admiral Horthy was elected Regent, thereby formally restoring the monarchy to Hungary. However, there would be no more "Kings of Hungary" despite attempts by the former Habsburg ruler to return to his former seat of power. Horthy ruled as Regent until 16 October 1944. Hungary remained a parliamentary democracy. But, after 1932, autocratic tendencies gradually returned as a result of Nazi influence and the Great Depression.



Map of the counties in the Lands of the Crown of St. Stephen (the Kingdom of Hungary proper and Croatia-Slavonia) around 1880On June 4, 1920, the Treaty of Trianon was signed, establishing Hungary's new borders. Compared with the pre-war Kingdom, post-Trianon Hungary had 71% less territory and 66% less population. About one-third of the Magyar population became minorities in neighbouring countries. Hungary also lost its only sea port at Fiume (today Rijeka). Therefore, Hungarian politics and culture of the interwar period was dominated by irredentism ( the restoration of historical "Greater Hungary").


World War II

Main article: Hungary during the Second World War

The country became allied with Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The Hungarians allied themselves with the Germans in the hope that the territorial loss by the Treaty of Trianon could be reversed. Initially the alliance with Germany paid off. Some lost territories were returned to Hungary in the two Vienna Awards. In 1941, Hungary belatedly assisted the Germans with the invasion of Yugoslavia. Hungary then occupied the Backa. On 22 June 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). The Hungarians soon followed the Germans and enterred World War II as a member of the Axis. In late 1941, the Hungarian troops on the Eastern Front experienced success at the Battle of Uman. By 1943, after the Hungarian Second Army suffered extremely heavy losses at the Battle of Stalingrad, the Hungarian government sought to negotiate a surrender with the Allies. On 19 March 1944, as a result of this duplicity, German troops quietly occupied Hungary in what was known as Operation Margarethe. But, by now it was clear that the Hungarians were Germany's "unwilling satellite". On 15 October 1944, the pro-West Horthy again ran afoul of the Germans. This time the Germans launched Operation Panzerfaust and Horthy was replaced by a puppet government under the pro-German Prime Minister Ferenc Szálasi. Szálasi and his pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party remained loyal to the Germans until the end of the war. In late 1944, Hungarian troops on the Eastern Front again experienced success at the Battle of Debrecen. But this was followed immediately by the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Battle of Budapest. On 28 December 1944, a "provisional government" was formed in Hungary under acting Prime Minister Béla Miklós. While the Miklós government immediately ousted Prime Minister Ferenc Szálasi's government, the Germans and pro-German Hungarians loyal to Szálasi fought on in Hungary. On 20 January 1945, representatives of the Hungarian "provisional government" went to Moscow and agreed to complete Hungarian capitulation. Again, the Germans and pro-German Hungarians loyal to Szálasi fought on in Hungary. On 13 February 1945, the Hungarian capital city surrendered unconditionally. On 8 May 1945, World War II in Europe officially ended.



Hungary was the first modern nation to pass distinctly anti-Semitic laws. The "numerus clausus" laws of the early 1920s restricted Jewish access to higher education. In the late 1930s, more specifically anti-Semitic laws followed. Though massacres of Jews by Hungarian forces took place during the early part of the Second World War, Hungary initially resisted large scale deportation of its Jewish population. Ultimately, however, during the German occupation in May-June 1944, the Arrow Cross Party and Hungarian police deported nearly 440,000 Jews, mostly to Auschwitz.[3] Over 400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, as well as tens of thousands of Roma people. Hundreds of Hungarian people were also executed by the Arrow Cross Party for sheltering Jews, among them Sister Sára Salkaházi. Foreign heads of states and diplomats who helped save many lives included Cardinal Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, Raoul Wallenberg, and Carl Lutz. Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca posed as a Spanish diplomat in order to issue forged visas and establish safe houses, including one for Jewish children. When Soviet forces liberated Budapest in February 1945, more than 100,000 Jews remained.[3]

Soviet era


The fall of the Iron Curtain (1989): the foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, ceremoniously cut through the border defences separating their countries.Following the fall of Nazi Germany, Hungary became a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union. This followed a brief interval of democracy from 1946 to 1947 when the Hungarians proclaimed their second republic. After 1948, Communist leader Mátyás Rákosi established Stalinist rule in the country. The rule of the Rákosi government was nearly unbearable for Hungary's war-torn citizens. This led to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Hungary's temporary withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets massively retaliated militarily. Nearly a quarter of a million people left the country during the brief time that the borders were open in 1956. From the 1960s through the late 1980s, Hungary was often satirically referred to as "the happiest barrack" within the Eastern bloc. This was under the autocratic rule of its controversial communist leader, János Kádár.


Third Hungarian Republic

In the late 1980s, Hungary led the movement to dissolve the Warsaw Pact and shifted toward multiparty democracy and a market-oriented economy. On October 23, 1989, Mátyás Szurös declared the Third Hungarian Republic and became interim President. Hungary's first free elections were held in 1990. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Hungary developed closer ties with Western Europe as well as with other Central European countries. It became a member of the Visegrad Group in 1991, joined NATO in 1999, and became a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004.




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