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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 Belœ 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 absolute control.

Communist Takeover 

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. 

1956 Revolution

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 executed. 

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 era. 

The Medgyessy government has placed special emphasis on solidifying Hungary's Euro-Atlantic course which culminated in Hungary’s 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 Encyclopedia.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 

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