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"There is no more illustrious history than the history of the Magyar Nation... The whole civilized world is indebted to Magyarland for its historic deeds." Theodore Roosevelt, to the Hungarian Parliament, 
April 2, 1910

Hungary has long been a citadel of Western thought in Central Europe. Relatives of the Hungarians, the Huns, Avars, and Szekleys settled the Carpathian basin as early as the 4th century. Magyar tribes established the Hungarian State in the Carpathian Basin in 896. Long after the fiered Attila, "The Scourge of God," ravaged Europe, the Magyar Chieftan Vajk converted to Christianity, established Hungary as a Christian power, and received his crown from the Pope, thus becoming István Király (King Stephen), Hungary's first Christian King in the year 1000. He was later canonized as St. Stephen of Hungary. Hungary has also been known for its tolerance which had its foundations as far back as St. Stephen as shown in the remarkable quote below.

"Make the strangers welcome in this land, 
let them keep their languages and customs, 
for weak and fragile is the realm which is based 
on a single language or on a single set of customs
"(Unius linguae uniusque moris regnum imbecille et fragile est)"

St. Stephen in a letter to his son St. Emeric (Imre), 1036 A.D..

In keeping with the tolerance and enlightened spirit of St. Stephen, the official language of Hungary remained Latin until 1844. Hungary also throughout the centuries gave asylum to many nationalities: in the north, Ruthenians; in the east and Transylvania, Wallachians (Rumanians) and Saxons; in the south, Serbs. Eventually, Hungary would contain 14 distinct national minorities, each developing rich cultures and literary languages, ascending to nobility, and all contributing to the beauty and diversity of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Popes throughout the centuries have called Hungary the " Savior of Europe," and the "Savior of Christianity," and ordered church bells around the world to ring at noon to remind us of the Hungarian victory over the Turks at Nándorfehérvár (now Belgrade) in 1456 by János Hunyadi at the beginning of what was to become a 150 year conflict. But do we remember? Ask your priest or Church official if they remember. Chances are they know nothing about where their own custom comes from. Schools in the west have long ignored Hungarian contributions to society. Did you know that Hungarians declared religious freedom in Torda, Transylvania, in 1557? Two centuries earlier, Hungary declared that there was no such thing as a witch. Too bad the feeling didn't reach the poor "witches" of Salem.

The Golden Bull (Arany Bulla), similar to the Magna Carta, established a constitutional monarchy in the early 13th century in which the King recognized the high nobles as a class power to be consulted on decisions. Soon after, Kings, such as the famed Matyas Hunyadi (1458 - 1490 and son of the famed János) were elected by the hign nobles. Kings were elected until the Habsburg takeover after the 150 year Turkish war and occupation of central Hungary that destroyed much of Hungary's wealth and population. Transylvania, the cradle of Hungarian culture, was the only part of Hungary that remained largely untouched and unconquered. Western Europe did little to help while Hungary struggled with the invading Ottomans; it was a sign of things to come...

The struggle with the Ottomans also forever changed demographics (and future borders) in Hungary as Austria's Habsburg Queen, Maria Theresa, sent Germans (Saxons) to Transylvania to bolster defenses while Rumanians further established themselves after seeking refuge in Transylvania from the Ottoman onslaught during the long conflict. Hungarians tried to break the Austrian yoke in the 18th (the Rákóczy fight) and again in the 19th century (Kossuth), only to be stopped short of their goal of total independence as Austria was supported by a Russian imperial government who also feared democracy. Kossuth, the leader of the 1848 democratic revolution, came to the US for help, and though extremely popular and supported, left empty handed. The compromise with Austria led to a dual monarchy with the Austrian Emperor acting as King of Hungary.

Though relatively autonomous internally, foreign policy was dictated by Vienna who, despite the Hungarian minister's vote against war and vociferous objections, decided to declare war on Serbia in retaliation for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  In 1920, upon signing under duress the Treaty of Trianon, the reluctant participant in WWI was torn apart by the victors, losing territory even to Austria who was on the same side and forced Hungary into the war. Hungary could do little with French troops waiting for action in northern Hungary in violation of the peace as well as Rumanian and other troops also ready to capitalize on Hungarian political upheaval.

Rumania, created just 60 years earlier out of Wallachia and parts of Moldavia, laid claim to lands up to the river Tisza, and, with strong French support, got much of what she asked for. Though there was much talk of "national self-determination," nowhere but Sopron (which voted to remain in Hungary) was there a plebiscite held. Though US boundary recommendations were slightly more favorable to the Hungarians, the US washed its hands of the affair, and disgusted with the Franch and other European delegates at the treaty negotiations, refused to sign the Versailles Treaty. Now millions of Hungarians were on the wrong side of the border as 2/3 of Hungarian lands, 1/3 of her Hungarian-speaking population, 90% of her natural resources, and much infrastructure were in other's hands. The Versailles treaties were a disaster for the future of Europe, as a desperate Germany, suffering under war reparations to France,  yielded to Nazism.  The Hungarian tragedy at the signing of the Treaty of Trianon led Hungary into the sphere of the only nations willing to address her just aim of regaining her lost territory - Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Though she gained parts of her territory back with this alliance, Hungary was again on the losing side and lost them after the war, despite unsuccessfully trying to join the allies as did the successful Rumanians. In fact, the Soviets (now Ukraine) took a piece that was previously given to Czechoslovakia.

In 1956, thousands died and thousands more executed and jailed after the failed anti-communist revolution. Again, the West did nothing but encourage the Hungarians to fight on as the Voice of America cruelly claimed that help was on the way. 200,000 people fled Hungary after thousands of Russian tanks rolled in. The US let in but a fraction, but the impact of these emigres is enormous (see "Hungarian Nobel Prize Winners & Famous Hungarians").

So, a history wrought with tragedy. It's no wonder Hungary today is a leader in the world in suicide and has one of the lowest  life-expectancy rates. But there's always hope. In 1996, Hungary celebrated its 1100th anniversary. A new awareness of what it means to be Hungarian and a willingness to assert her interests seems to be building. Half of all Western investment in Central/Eastern Europe is in Hungary - and half of that is US investment. Inflation has come  under control and Hungary joined NATO. Hungary again leads Central and Eastern Europe toward democratization, but faces severe economic trials while her people on the other side of the border face persecution and according to the Helsinki Watch, "cultural genocide."

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