Hungary has long been an integral part of Europe. It converted to Western
Christianity before AD 1000. Although Hungary was a monarchy for nearly
1,000 years, its constitutional system preceded by several centuries the
establishment of Western-style governments in other European countries.
Even in the earliest ages the territory of the present Kingdom of Hungary
was the abode of various races of men. The remains from prehistoric times
show that the country was inhabited when the present Hungarian lowlands
were covered by the ocean. Half a century before Christ the Thracians occupied
Hungary east of the Danube, while Hungary west of the Danube was the home
of Celtic and Illyrian tribes. At the opening of the Christian Era the
sway of the Romans extended as far as the Danube; Pannonia formed part
of the Roman Empire for 400 years, and Dacia for about 150 years. After
Rome fell, Hungary, like the other provinces, was affected by the migrations.
First came the Huns who built up under King Attila, called "the Scourge
of God", the powerful Hunnish Empire. After the empire of the Huns went
to pieces German tribes ruled in Hungary for about 100 years, and they
were followed by the Avars. During the supremacy of the Avars, a period
of over two hundred years, began the migration of the Slavonic tribes.
Moravians, Bulgars, Croato-Serbians, and Poles all sought to overthrow
the Avars, but their power was not broken until Charlemagne appeared. The
decline of the kingdom of the East Franks, after the death of Charlemagne,
was favourable to the development of a great Slavonic power, and Swatopluk,
ruler of Great Moravia, thought to establish a permanent Moravian kingdom,
but the appearance of the Magyars put an end to these schemes.
There are two opposing theories as to the origin of the Magyars, or
native Hungarians. Arminius Vámbéry and his supporters hold
to a Turkish origin of the Magyars, while Pál Hunfalvy and his followers
place them in the Finno-Ugrian division of languages of a Ural-Altaic stem
and look for the original home of the race in the region of the Ural mountains,
or the district between the rivers Obi, Irtysh, Kama, and Volga. The presence
of Turkish words in the language is explained by the theory that, after
leaving their former home, the Hungarians dwelt for some time near Turkish
tribes, who were undoubtedly on a higher level of civilization, and from
whom these words were borrowed. About the middle of the ninth century,
when the Byzantine writers first speak of the Hungarians, calling them
"Turci", the Hungarians were in Lebedia, in the territory on the right
bank of the Don. From this point they carried on their marauding excursions
into the district of the Lower Danube and on these expeditions they sometimes
advanced into Germany. Being exposed to attack by the Bisseni, the Hungarians
left Lebedia, some returning to the district on the further side of the
Volga, while others went towards the west and settled near the Danube,
between the Dniester, Sereth Pruth, and Bug Rivers. The Byzantine writers
called this region Atelkuzu (Hungarian, Etelköz). While in this neighbourhood
the Hungarians undertook an expedition under Arpád in 893 or 894
against Simeon, ruler of the Bulgars. The expedition was successful, but
Simeon formed an alliance with the Bisseni, and a fierce attack was made
on the Hungarians in which their land was devastated. The Hungarians, therefore,
withdrew from this region, went westward, and reached the country where
they now live. The date of their entry into Hungary is not certain, apparently
it was 895 or 896; neither is the point from which they came positively
ascertained. It is not improbable that they entered Hungary from three
directions and arrived at different periods. The chronicle of the "anonymous
notary of King Béla" (Anonymus Bel regis notarius) has preserved
the history of the first occupation of the country, but modern historical
investigation shows that little credence can be given the narrative.
The Magyars settled in the neighbourhood of the Danube, and especially
in the district on the farther side, as best suited to their occupation,
that of cattle-raising. In this region were founded their first towns,
the most important of the country, namely, Gran, Székes-Fehérvar,
and Buda. At about the same time, under their leader Arpád (died
907), they began once more their marauding expeditions and attacked the
countries west of them; these forays, which went as far as Germany, Italy,
and France, were continued under Zoltán (907-47), and Taksony (947-72),
and did not cease until the land was converted to Catholicism in the reign
of Géza. When the Hungarians took possession of the country where
they now live, they found a strong Slavonic Catholic Church already in
existence in the western part, in Pannonia, where the Christian Faith had
been spread partly by German and partly by Italian priests. Methodius,
the author of the Slavonic liturgy, endeavoured to introduce the use of
the new liturgy here also, but with his death (855) these efforts came
to an end. Consequently, the Magyars received their knowledge of Christianity
partly from the Catholic population already existing in the country, and
partly from the ecclesiastics whom they captured in their marauding expeditions.
These forays into the territories farther to the west, which lasted into
the tenth century, were a great obstacle to the spread of Christianity,
and at the same time the national pride of the Hungarians prevented the
acceptance of the religion of the conquered population. Their defeats near
Merseburg, in 933, and on the Lech, in 955, put an end to these western
expeditions and made the Hungarians more favourable to Christianity.
The actual conversion of the country and its ecclesiastical organization
was the work of St. Stephen, son of Duke Géza, who succeeded his
father in 997. His marriage with Gisela, sister of Duke Henry of Bavaria,
gave a powerful impulse to the spread of Catholicism.
Andrew II (1205-35) was involved in a struggle with the oligarchy. At
his accession he was obliged to swear to protect the liberties of the land
and the independence of the royal dignity. When he failed to observe these
obligations, the nobles forced him to issue the Golden Bull (1222), the
Magna Charta of Hungary. This instrument confirmed the rights of the nobles
and gave them the privilege to take up arms against the king when he failed
to observe the conditions here agreed upon, but it did not fulfil the hopes
it had raised; its provisions were not carried out, and the disorders continued.
Andrew III, grandson of Andrew II, became king. During his reign of
ten years (1290-1301) he was engaged in a constant struggle with foreign
claimants to the throne, and could give no care to the internal and ecclesiastical
conditions of the country. Rudolf of Hapsburg endeavoured to wrest Hungary
from Andrew for his son Albrecht, and the grandson of Stephen V, Charles
Martell of Naples, also claimed it. After the death of the latter, who
had the support of the Holy See, his son, Charles Robert, maintained the
father's claims, and from 1295 assumed the title of King of Hungary.
After the death of Andrew III a series of wars broke out over the succession.
A part of the people and clergy held to King Wenceslaus, another to Otto,
Duke of Bavaria, and still another to Charles Robert. The Holy See strongly
espoused the cause of Charles Robert and sent Cardinal Gentile to Hungary.
Notwithstanding these efforts in his favour, it was not until 1309 that
Charles Robert (1309-42) was able to secure the throne of Hungary for himself.
There now began for the country a long period of consolidation. The new
king regulated the internal administration, brought the state finances
into good order, imposing for this purpose in 1323 a land tax, reorganized
the army, and sought to increase his dynastic power by forming connexions
with foreign countries.
Upon the death of Louis II, Hungary was once more a prey to disputes
over the succession. Ferdinand of Austria claimed the crown on the ground
of a compact between the Emperor Maximilian and Wladislaw II, while the
national party elected John Zápolya as king. To these two opposing
elements should be added the Ottoman power, which after the conquest of
Buda (1541) ruled a large part of the land. The main result of the triple
political division of Hungary was the almost complete disappearance of
public order and of the systematic conduct of affairs; another was the
evident decline of Catholicism and the rapid advance of the Reformation.
The growth of the new religion was evident soon after the battle of Mohács.
It was encouraged by the existing political conditions of Hungary: the
dispute over the succession, with the accompanying civil war; the lack
of a properly educated Catholic clergy; the transfer of a large amount
of church land to the laity; and the claims made by both aspirants to the
throne upon the episcopal domains.
Following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy (1867-1918)
at the end of World War I, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and
nearly as much of its population. It experienced a brief but bloody communist
dictatorship and counterrevolution in 1919, followed by a 25-year regency
under Adm. Miklos Horthy. Although Hungary fought in most of World War
II as a German ally, it fell under German military occupation following
an unsuccessful attempt to switch sides on October 15,1944. In January
1945, a provisional government concluded an armistice with the Soviet Union
and established the Allied Control Commission, under which Soviet, American,
and British representatives held complete sovereignty over the country.
The Commission's chairman was a member of Stalin's inner circle and exercised
The provisional government, dominated by the Hungarian communist party
(MKP), was replaced in November 1945 after elections which gave majority
control of a coalition government to the Independent Smallholders' Party.
The government instituted a radical land reform and gradually nationalized
mines, electric plants, heavy industries, and some large banks. The communists
ultimately undermined the coalition regime by discrediting leaders of rival
parties and through terror, blackmail, and framed trials. In elections
tainted by fraud in 1947, the leftist bloc gained control of the government.
Postwar cooperation between the U.S.S.R. and the West collapsed, and the
Cold War began. With Soviet support, Moscow-trained Matyas Rakosi began
to establish a communist dictatorship.
By February 1949, all opposition parties had been forced to merge with
the MKP to form the Hungarian Workers' Party. In 1949, the communists held
a single-list election and adopted a Soviet-style constitution which created
the Hungarian People's Republic. Rakosi became Prime Minister in 1952.
Between 1948 and 1953, the Hungarian economy was reorganized according
to the Soviet model. In 1949, the country joined the Council for Mutual
Economic Assistance (CMEA, or Comecon), a Soviet-bloc economic organization.
All private industrial firms with more than 10 employees were nationalized.
Freedom of the press, religion, and assembly were strictly curtailed. The
head of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, was sentenced
to life imprisonment.
Forced industrialization and land collectivization soon led to serious
economic difficulties, which reached crisis proportions by mid-1953, the
year Stalin died. The new Soviet leaders blamed Rakosi for Hungary's economic
situation and began a more flexible policy called the "New Course." Imre
Nagy replaced Rakosi as prime minister in 1953 and repudiated much of Rakosi's
economic program of forced collectivization and heavy industry. He also
ended political purges and freed thousands of political prisoners. However,
the economic situation continued to deteriorate, and Rakosi succeeded in
disrupting the reforms and in forcing Nagy from power in 1955 for "right-wing
revisionism." Hungary joined the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization
the same year. Rakosi's attempt to restore Stalinist orthodoxy then foundered
as increasing opposition developed within the party and among students
and other organizations after Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin.
Fearing revolution, Moscow replaced Rakosi with his deputy, Erno Gero,
in order to contain growing ideological and political ferment.
Pressure for change reached a climax on October 23, 1956, when security
forces fired on Budapest students marching in support of Poland's confrontation
with the Soviet Union. The ensuing battle quickly grew into a massive popular
uprising. Gero called on Soviet troops to restore order on October 24.
Fighting did not abate until the Central Committee named Imre Nagy as prime
minister on October 25, and the next day Janos Kadar replaced Gero as party
first secretary. Nagy dissolved the state security police, abolished the
one-party system, promised free elections, and negotiated with the U.S.S.R.
to withdraw its troops.
Faced with reports of new Soviet troops pouring into Hungary despite
Soviet Ambassador Andropov's assurances to the contrary, on November 1
Nagy announced Hungary's neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact.
He appealed to the United Nations and the Western powers for protection
of its neutrality. Preoccupied with the Suez Crisis, the UN and the West
failed to respond, and the Soviet Union launched a massive military attack
on Hungary on November 3. Some 200,000 Hungarians fled to the West. Nagy
and his colleagues took refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy. Kadar, after delivering
an impassioned radio address on November 1 in support of "our glorious
revolution" and vowing to fight the Russians with his bare hands if they
attacked Hungary, defected from the Nagy cabinet; he fled to the Soviet
Union and on November 4 announced the formation of a new government. He
returned to Budapest and, with Soviet support, carried out severe reprisals;
thousands of people were executed or imprisoned. Despite a guarantee of
safe conduct, Nagy was arrested and deported to Romania. In June 1958,
the government announced that Nagy and other former officials had been
Reform Under Kadar
In the early 1960s, Kadar announced a new policy under the motto of
"He who is not against us is with us." He declared a general amnesty, gradually
curbed some of the excesses of the secret police, and introduced a relatively
liberal cultural and economic course aimed at overcoming the post-1956
hostility toward him and his regime. In 1966, the Central Committee approved
the "New Economic Mechanism," through which it sought to overcome the inefficiencies
of central planning, increase productivity, make Hungary more competitive
in world markets, and create prosperity to ensure political stability.
However, the reform was not as comprehensive as planned, and basic flaws
of central planning produced economic stagnation. Over the next two decades
of relative domestic quiet, Kadar's government responded to pressure for
political and economic reform and to counterpressures from reform opponents,
By the early 1980s, it had achieved some lasting economic reforms and limited
political liberalization and pursued a foreign policy which encouraged
more trade with the West. Nevertheless, the New Economic Mechanism led
to mounting foreign debt incurred to shore up unprofitable industries.
Transition to Democracy
Hungary's transition to a Western-style parliamentary democracy was
the first and the smoothest among the former Soviet bloc, inspired by a
nationalism that long had encouraged Hungarians to control their own destiny.
By 1987, activists within the party and bureaucracy and Budapest-based
intellectuals were increasing pressure for change. Some of these became
reform socialists, while others began movements which were to develop into
parties. Young liberals formed the Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz);
a core from the so-called Democratic Opposition formed the Association
of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), and the neopopulist national opposition established
the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). Civic activism intensified to a level
not seen since the 1956 revolution.
In 1988, Kadar was replaced as General Secretary of the MKP, and reform
communist leader Imre Pozsgay was admitted to the Politburo. That same
year, the Parliament adopted a "democracy package," which included trade
union pluralism; freedom of association, assembly, and the press; a new
electoral law; and a radical revision of the constitution, among others.
A Central Committee plenum in February 1989 endorsed in principle the multiparty
political system and the characterization of the October 1956 revolution
as a "popular uprising," in the words of Pozsgay, whose reform movement
had been gathering strength as communist party membership declined dramatically.
Kadar's major political rivals then cooperated to move the country gradually
to democracy. The Soviet Union reduced its involvement by signing an agreement
in April 1989 to withdraw Soviet forces by June 1991.
National unity culminated in June 1989 as the country reburied Imre
Nagy, his associates, and, symbolically, all other victims of the 1956
revolution. A national roundtable, comprising representatives of the new
parties and some recreated old parties--such as the Smallholders and Social
Democrats--the communist party, and different social groups, met in the
late summer of 1989 to discuss major changes to the Hungarian constitution
in preparation for free elections and the transition to a fully free and
democratic political system.
In October 1989, the communist party convened its last congress and
re-established itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). In a historic
session an October 16-20, 1989, the Parliament adopted legislation providing
for multiparty parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election.
The legislation transformed Hungary from a people's republic into the Republic
of Hungary; guaranteed human and civil rights; and created an institutional
structure that ensures separation of powers among the judicial, executive,
and legislative branches of government. But because the national roundtable
agreement was the result of a compromise between communist and noncommunist
parties and societal forces, the revised constitution still retained vestiges
of the old order. It championed the "values of bourgeois democracy and
democratic socialism" and gave equal status to public and private property.
Such provisions were erased in 1990 as the need for compromise solutions
was obviated by the poor performance of the MSZP in the first free elections.
Free Elections and a Democratic Hungary
The first free parliamentary election, held in May 1990, was a plebiscite
of sorts on the communist past. The revitalized and reformed communists
performed poorly despite having more than the usual advantages of an "incumbent"
party. Populist, center-right, and liberal parties fared best, with the
Democratic Forum (MDF) winning 43% of the vote and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ)
capturing 24%. Under Prime Minister Jozsef Antall, the MDF formed a center-right
coalition government with the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) and
the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) to command a 60% majority
in the parliament. Parliamentary opposition parties included SZDSZ, the
Socialists (MSZP), and the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz). Peter
Boross succeeded as Prime Minister after Antall died in December 1993.
The Antall/Boross coalition governments achieved a reasonably well-functioning
parliamentary democracy and laid the foundation for a free market economy.
In May 1994, the socialists came back to win a plurality of votes and
54% of the seats after an election campaign focused largely on economic
issues and the substantial decline in living standards since 1990. A heavy
turnout of voters swept away the right-of-center coalition but soundly
rejected extremists on both right and left. Despite its neocommunist pedigree,
the MSZP continued economic reforms and privatization, adopting a painful
but necessary policy of fiscal austerity (the "Bokros plan") in 1995. The
government pursued a foreign policy of integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions
and reconciliation with neighboring countries. But neither an invitation
to join NATO nor improving economic indicators guaranteed the MSZP's re-election;
dissatisfaction with the pace of economic recovery, rising crime, and cases
of government corruption convinced voters to propel center-right parties
into power following national elections in May 1998. The Federation of
Young Democrats (renamed Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party (MPP) in 1995) captured
a plurality of parliamentary seats and forged a coalition with the Smallholders
and the Democratic Forum. The new government, headed by 35-year-old Prime
Minister Viktor Orban promised to stimulate faster growth, curb inflation,
and lower taxes. Although the Orban administration also pledged continuity
in foreign policy, and continued to pursue Euro-Atlantic integration as
its first priority, it was a more vocal advocate of minority rights for
ethnic Hungarians abroad than the previous government. In April 2002, the
country voted to return the MSZP-Free Democrat coalition back into power.
The new government, led by Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, has a very slim
majority in Parliament following the closest elections of the post-communist
The Medgyessy government has placed special emphasis on solidifying
Hungary's Euro-Atlantic course which culminated in Hungarys accession
to the European Union on May 1, 2004. Hungary has supported the U.S.-led
war on terrorism. A sweeping victory in the 2002 local elections solidified
the governing coalition's political position.
* Portions of this text are from the print edition of the 1907 Catholic