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History and culture


The Arpads

895 - 1301

The Principality of Hungary was founded in 895 A.C. when Arpad the leader unified the seven Hungarian Tribes and led them to the Carpatian Basin. In couple of years the whole Carpatian Basin was conquered by them and the next ruling prince, Geza, decided to integrate Hungary into Christian Western Europe. The task was accomplished by his son, Saint Istvan I. and on his coronation day on Christmas of the year 1000, Hungary became recognized as a Catholic Apostolic Kingdom.
A western feudal state, a strong kingdom emerged as a result of the sweeping reforms that withstood attacks from East and West for the next 1000 years. Hungary became the shield of Christianity and the defender and easternmost bastion of Western civilization. The dynasty of Arpad ruled the country for the next 300 years.
Some of its important members were:
Kalman, the booklover (King 1095 - 1116)
One of his laws was half a millennium ahead of its time: “As for the matter of witches no such things exist therefore no further trials or investigations are to be held.”
Bela III. (King 1172 - 1192)
He was the most powerful of all. He disposed an annual income of 23,000 kg of pure silver, which was double the receipt of the English Crown, and exceeded those of the French King (17,000 kg).
Andras II. (King 1205 - 1235)
He issued the Golden Bull in 1222, the first Constitution in continental Europe, the Hungarian equivalent of the Magna Carta. He led the Fifth Crusade to the Holy Land the largest royal army in the history of crusades /200,000 knights, 12,000 castle-garrisons/
In 1241 The Kingdom received a major blow with the Mongol invasion: they killed half of the population of the time (2 million).


Middle Ages and Early Modern History

1300 - 1718

The reign of the Angevin Kings (1300 - 1382) was very successful.
Hungarian goldmines produced 1350 kg (3000 lbs) gold annually, which was 1/3 of the world’s production then, and 5 times more than of any other European state.
After Italy, Hungary was the first European country where the renaissance appeared.
Dalmatia, Raguza were annexed and borders extended to the Adriatic Sea.
In the 15th century a new threat emerged from the East, the attack of the Ottoman Turks. The country was fighting them in a heroic manner without help from Europe even though it was protecting not only itself, but the Western Christian world. Governor Janos Hunyadi achieved his greatest victory in the siege of Belgrad (then Nandorfehervar), when he defended the city against Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II. In order to pray for him, the Pope ordered that the bells of every European church ring at noon every day. In memory of his victory this is still happening every day at every Protestant and Catholic Church around the world.
His son, Matyas Corvinus, became the great renaissance king of Hungary. He was an outstanding linguist, astrologer and patron of the arts. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana was only second to the Vatican library. He established a printing press, a university and most importantly strengthened the country to the point that it became the foremost regional power.  His famous Black Army defeated again the Ottoman troops and even parts of Austria.
After the death of Matyas the country’s defenses declined and the Turk forces conquered one third of the country. Much of the land was devastated by warfare, massacres and deportations. Most small Hungarian settlements disappeared and it was not until 1718 that the entire kingdom of Hungary was removed from Ottoman rule.


Late Modern Period

1700 - 1918

After the Turks it was the Austrian Habsburgs who aspired to take over ruling of Hungary and attempted to reduce the Kingdom to the status of a province. Heroic freedom fights were fought for the independence of the Hungarian Nation.


War of Independence

In 1711 the leader of the uprising was the legendary Transylvanian Prince, Ferencz Rakoczi. After the dethronement of the Habsburgs he took over as the “Ruling Prince of Hungary”, but the uprising was defeated. One of the famous hussars of the era was Mihaly Kovats; he created the modern US cavalry in the American Revolutionary War and he is commemorated today with a statue in Charleston, North Carolina.
In the 1820s the country called for reforms and modernization, even though the Habsburgs obstructed all liberal laws, all human and civil rights and reforms.


Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight

On March 15, 1848 mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda for the above reforms led to revolution in the country. Franz Joseph refused all reforms and started to arm against the country. In 1849 with leaders like Lajos Kossuth and Lajos Batthanyi, an independent government was established and the House of Habsburgs was dethroned again. The first Republic of Hungary was founded.
The Austrians could only crash the heroic and successful freedom fight with the help of the Russian Tsar. Relentless execution of the leaders and participants followed.
In 1867 the Habsburg Emperor made a compromise with Hungary and the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary came into existence for the next 50 years.
Geographically it was the second largest country in Europe at the time with great technological advancement and accelerated industrialization. GNP 1.45% compared to Britain’s and France’s 1%.


Early 20th Century

1914 - 1945

In World War I Austria-Hungary was fighting on the side of Germany. In 1918 the War was lost and the Union with Austria dissolved. The victorious Allied Forces decided to dissolve the Central European Superpower Austria-Hungary, a strong German supporter in order to prevent Germany from future influence.
Hungary fell as victim of political maneuvers, was disproportionately dismembered and sacrificed. French Entente troops started to rearm defeated Romania, Serbia and the Entente Powers began distributing slices of Hungary’s traditional territory to Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. More priority was given to ethnic claims than to the historical rights of the traditional Hungarian Kingdom. French and Serbian forces occupied the Southern part of Hungary.
Hungary was forced to sign the Treaty of Trianon, but it was singed under protest. As a result, the country was required to surrender two third of its lands, one third of the ten million Hungarians found themselves outside of their homeland penalized even for using their Hungarian language.
The beneficiaries were the neighboring newly formed countries. Romania was given Transylvania, Czechoslovakia received Slovakia, the South Slavic lands were given to the newly formed State of Slovens Croats and Serbs, and Burgenland to Austria.
Hungary lost connection to strategic military and economic infrastructure due to concentric layout of the road and railway network,
the structure of its economy collapsed .The country lost access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Minority rights of Hungarians in the newly formed countries were serially violated. Disrespectful treatment of our thousand-year history had and still has tragic consequences, and continues to be an unresolved and painful issue for all Hungarians.


World War II

The revision of the treaty of Trianon regarding lost territories and population was the top political agenda of the time prior to World War II. The country was bleeding and was looking for remedies. It was Germany who promised to return some of the lost land for cooperation. There was also fear that it may favor Romania for border revision if there is no cooperation.
Also, after the Great Depression trade agreements made with Germany made Hungary more dependent on German economy.
Hungary entered the war under German pressure, but continued secret negotiations with the British and the American Government. When these were discovered Hitler occupied Hungary in 1944.
The losses were tremendous and soon occupation by the Soviet Army followed. The siege of Budapest lasted for two months and destroyed the capitol city. The country was destroyed and robbed by both the German and Russian troops.


1945 to Present

The Postwar Period 1944 - 1956

The last free elections were held in 1945 when The Independent Smallholder Party won the votes but the soviet commander Voroshilov did not allow them to form a government and with great pressure introduced the communist regime. Industrial organizations were nationalized, religious and other civil organizations were banned and key positions in administration were occupied by Communists. The secret police was formed and key political figures were killed or forced to emigrate. Oppositional parties were rendered illegal, elections were held with fraud. Socialism became the stated goal in the newly named People’s Republic of Hungary. In reality the dictatorship of Moscow trained, hardliner communists followed, with personality cult, imprisonments, labor camps.


1956 Revolution

On October 23rd 1956 a peaceful student demonstration in Budapest requested reforms and greater freedom. As students attempted to broadcast their demands, police opened fire on them and the chain of events was quickly unfolding. Soldiers and officers joined the students on the streets of Budapest, Stalin’s statue was brought down, and the crowd chanted ‘Russians go home’. The Central Committee of the Party requested Soviet military intervention and on October 25th Soviet tanks opened fire on protesters on Parliament Square. The tragic events resulted in leadership changes in the government, and the new Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, a neutral state of Hungary and asked for help of the United Nation to resolve the situation. At that point Khrushchev the soviet leader sent the Red Army to Hungary and despite of heroic fights all over the country Hungarian forces were defeated.
20,000 people were killed; the prime minister and other leaders were executed along with many other participants.


Post Revolution 1956 - 1989

By the sixties the new communist leader, Janos Kadar, introduced a softer policy, and a relatively liberal economical and political course. He declared amnesty, curbed the power of secret police, and by the eighties he achieved some lasting political reforms and limited political liberalization. His foreign policy encouraged more trade with the West but his “New Economical Mechanism” led to mounting foreign debt.
Nevertheless Hungary’s transition to a Western style democracy was smooth.
By 1988 civic activism intensified and there was growing pressure for change. Parties were formed FIDESZ (Federation of young democrats) MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) etc. In 1989 the Parliament adopted a democracy package: freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, new electoral law, endorsed the multiparty system.
The country gradually moved toward democracy and the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its troops of 100,000 including 27,000 vehicles; it took 35,000 wagons to remove all their belongings from the country. They also left irreparable damage in buildings and the surrounding environment. On October 23, 1991 the Republic of Hungary was officially declared.


The Third Republic 1989 to Present

The first parliamentary election was held in 1990, and it resulted in the victory of a center right coalition government that faced the tremendous task of creating a market economy and a parliamentary democracy. The collapse of the former communist system though led to an economical and social crisis, with massive decline of living standards, and therefore gradual loss of political support. There was a growing wish to turn back to the relative security and stability of the socialist era.  At the same time many former communist leaders   presented themselves as socialists and liberals, and they were still in key positions. They formed a coalition and were able to regain votes in 1994 and again in 2002. During their terms the economic balance of Hungary started a downfall. Campaign promises were violated, corruption with the privatization process became widespread, inflation and taxes increased, restructuring of the country lacked proper planning and discussion.
In 2010 the deep disappointment in the country led to a sweeping victory with a two third majority of the center right FIDESZ Party, led by Viktor Orban.
They plan to continue with their program that they started during their first term in 1998. Namely curbing inflation, encouraging small business and local production with domestic resources, creating new jobs. They are vocal concerning Hungarian minority rights that have been serially violated in the neighboring countries.
The current leadership also intends to decrease Hungary’s dependence on foreign loans, and curb the power and actions of international bancs. This resulted lately in widespread unfair attacks and attempted restrictions by international monetary organizations and the liberal media.
Important events of the last twenty years included joining of Hungary to NATO in 1999 and to the European Union in 2004.
The Hungarian Heritage Foundation of the San Francisco Bay Area promotes, shares and educates the public about Hungarian culture, language and art.

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Szilvia Gilbert