History - a short overview

Present-day Hungary was probably first inhabited by Celtic tribes, but later on the Celts were driven out by the Romans some 2000 years ago. Than, the area west of the river Danube became the Roman province Pannonia. This shouldn't change until the year 451, when Attila and the Huns invaded the region and founded a short-lived Hun Empire. Later on, Goths, Lombards and Avars successively conquered the region. During the 9th century, several Magyar tribes (pronounced Muja-r), coming from the area between the Ural mountains and the Volga, settled in the Danube Basin. Shortly after they'd arrived, they became infamous throughout Europe. The Magyars terrorized not only the neighbouring regions but even Spain, Germany, Italy etc. Their raids were brutal und unpredictable, leaving wide areas devastated. This came to an end in 955, when the Magyars were defeated in the decisive Battle of Augsburg. Consequently, the Magyars were christianized. In the year 1000 (finally a date in history which is easy to remember!) István aka Stefan I founded the First Hungarian Empire.

In the year 1241, Hungary was overrun by another nomadic tribe - the Mongols devastated the entire empire. Historians estimate that one third of the Hungarians didn't survive the raid. In medieval times, Hungary started to grow stronger again. And it was much bigger than it is today - →Transylvania, present-day →Croatia as well as →Slovakia belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary. In 1222, the first European Golden Bull was ratified. The Golden Bull limited the king's power in favour of the noblemen. The bull was enacted in the small town Székesfehérvár. In 1367, the first Hungarian university was founded in →Pécs.

The Hungarians managed to stop the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans near →Belgrade in 1456. Unfortunately, peasant uprisings, led by Dózsa (who, by the way, was later executed on a red-hot iron throne) weakened the kingdom, and so the Ottomans were successful in their next attempt to conquer the Balkans and Hungary. The final battle was fought in 1526 in Mohács (not far from Pécs). In the year 1541, the Ottomans conquered the fortress of Buda. The Hungarian kingdom was divided into three parts. →Slovakia and Transdanubia became a part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy; the central part was reigned by the Ottoman empire and Transylvania (present-day central Romania) became a vassal of the Ottomans.

Esztergom - for a long time the capital of Hungary
Esztergom - for a long time the capital of Hungary

Not much changed during the next decades. In 1686, a united army of Austrians, Hungarians and Poles was able to drive out the Ottomans. Later on, Hungarians initiated an uprising against the Habsburg monarchy from 1703 to 1711, but Austria put it down. Hungary remained a part of Austria, but during the reign of Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II it started to flourish again. The year 1848 was about to play an important role in Hungarian history. At that time, Lajos Kossuth and the poet Sándor Petöfi started a revolution in order to gain independence. Same as the uprising 150 years ago, the revolution was not successful. But together with the fact that Austria lost the war against Prussia in 1866, the foundation for setting up a monarchy with equal rights, known as Austria-Hungary, was laid. This went well for the next 50 years, but the alliance with Austria turned out to be fatal after the defeat in World War I. As a result of the Trianon Treaty in 1920, Hungary lost 2/3 of its territory and more than half of its population. Ever since, large parts of present-day →Serbia, →Slovakia and even →Galicia (today, Galicia belongs to →Poland and the →Ukraine) are beyond Hungarian control.

In 1920, a short-lived communist government was swept away in a bloody coup led by the rightest Admiral Miklós Horthy. Horthy remained in power for the next decades. In 1941, he collaborated with Nazi-Germany. And so Hungary provided military support for Germany. In 1944, Horthy made a U-turn and tried to quit the alliance, but the Nazis immediately removed him from power. Instead of him, the infamous, fascist Arrow Cross movement gained power and soon started to expel all Hungarian Jews. Needless to say that almost all Jews were sent to German concentration camps and fell victim to the shoah. The Red Army had its difficulties in invading Hungary - the entire country was not liberated before April 1945.

Hungary was liberated by the Soviet Union, and so it was within the Soviet sphere of influence, ie it was ruled by a communist government. On October 23 in 1956, students initiated an uprising against the 'occupation'. The leaders didn't hesitate to open fire on the unarmed demonstrators. But the uprising was too big to be put down immediately. Imre Nagy, leader of the opposition, gained power and granted a general amnesty for all political prisoners on October 28. Street fights erupted, and many members of the Secret Service AVO were hunted down and massacred. The Red Army first retreated and observed the protests from a distance, but when Imre Nagy declared that Hungary would leave the Warsaw Treaty (the communist counterpart of the NATO), Moscow decided to intervene. The Red Army marched on →Budapest to put an end to the uprising. Some 3,000 people were killed; hundred thousands fled to Austria.

Hungary became a communist-ruled country again, but in the year 1968, the typical central economic control system was replaced by a limited market system. The socialist János Kádár remained in power until 1987. He was replaced by Károly Grósz, who gradually reformed the country. In 1989, the communists gave up their monopoly on governmental power of their own free will and so they gave way to the first free election. During a so-called "European Picnic" in Sopron in 1989, the border to Austria was opened for a few hours. This was even announced before via flyers handed out to East German tourists. And so thousands of East Germans used their chance and fled to West Germany via Austria (I was there at that time as well...when me and my parents went back to East Germany, some border guards greeted us friendly - they were probably lucky to have at least some of their citizens back).

After that, the government changed quite often. Switching to a free market economy was quite painful. But compared to other East European countries, Hungary is quite successful and shows great potential. In 1999, Hungary became a member of the NATO. In 2004, Hungary eventually gained full EU membership.




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