Hungarians - History and Cultural Relations

The tribal Magyars, Uralo-Altaic nomadic people by origin, entered the Carpathian Basin in 896, led by Arpad, their chieftain. After several military campaigns into western Europe and the Balkans, the Hungarian state was established in 1000 under King Stephen I, who accepted Christianity for the country. This conversion was confirmed by Pope Sylvester II, who symbolized with a gift of a crown Hungary's entry into the European feudal community. The Latin alphabet was introduced, but the original runic script ( rovásîrcás ) was used for centuries. In the early twelfth century King Coloman "the Scholar" abolished witch hunts and updated all previous laws governing the country's affairs. King Bela III in 1180 ordered record keeping for all official business. A century later, in 1222 King Andreas II issued "the Golden Bull" (Aranybulla), a code that specified both the nation's rights and the king's obligation to uphold the country's laws. A more representative parliamentary system was introduced in 1384. In the thirteenth century Hungary was invaded by Tartars, reducing the population to one-tenth of its former size. After Turks invaded the Balkans, János Hunyadi and Fr. Capistrano won a decisive victory in 1456 at Nándorfehérvár (now Belgrade, Yugoslavia). Christian church bells tolling daily at noon still commemorate this victory. During his reign between 1458 and 1490 Matthias Corvinus, the son of János Hunyadi, built up both the economy and a powerful nation-state, while he introduced the culture of the Renaissance. At that time, the population of Hungary equaled that of England and France (4 million people). After Matthias's death, however, there came a period of feudal anarchy and, for the serfs, destitution and oppression. A peasant revolt in 1514 was crushed by the Magyar nobility. After the peasant war still heavier burdens were imposed on the serfs. Ottoman Turks defeated the weakened country in 1526 at Mohács and occupied the Central plains of Hungary for 156 years. Hungary's western and northern regions were ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs. The eastern zone and Transylvania became a semi-independent principality. Thousands of Serbs, Romanians, and others fled from the Turkish-occupied Balkans to this principality. In 1557 the Diet of Torda, Transylvania, enacted a law proclaiming freedom of religion. Finally, in the late 1600s Habsburg forces drove the Turks out of Hungary. Then the Habsburgs took control, reunited the country, and settled thousands of Germans in depopulated areas. Led by Ferenc Rákóczi, Hungarians rose in 1703 against Habsburg colonization but were defeated, with Russian intervention, in 1711. Reform movements culminated in another attempt to obtain freedom in the revolt of 1848-1849, led by Lajos Kossuth, which was ultimately crushed by the Habsburgs with the aid of the Russian czar. War-weakened Austria compromised in 1867. The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was established with internally independent Hungary sharing common external services and military. Defeated with the other central powers during World War I, Hungary was forced to sign the Treaty of Trianon at Versailles in 1920. This treaty compelled Hungary to cede 68 percent of its land and 58 percent of its population: Transylvania and Bánát to Romania, Slovakia and Carpatho-Ruthenia to Czechoslovakia, Croatia and Bácska to Yugoslavia, Port Fiume to Italy, and the western part of the country to equally defeated Austria. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy, Hungary first became a republic in 1918. Then for 131 days in 1919 it had a Communist government, and in 1920 it became and remained for the entire interwar period a constitutional monarchy with Admiral Nicholas Horthy as regent. After regaining some lost territories between 1937 and 1941 with the help of Italy and Germany, Hungary joined the Axis powers in World War II. Soviet troops entered and occupied Hungary and the 1945 Armistice returned the country to its 1937 borders. A year later the country was declared a republic, and free elections were held in 1947. Even though the Smallholders' party won, it was forced out by Communists who were trained in and supported by Moscow. In 1956 there was a popular Revolution against repressive Communist rule, which had included punitive measures against private peasants and a forced policy of heavy industrialization. Soviet forces crushed the revolution and made János Kádár the new leader of what was then called the People's Republic of Hungary. Imre Nagy and other leaders of the revolution were executed; tens of thousands died or were deported, and 200,000 people fled the country to the West. In 1963 there was a sweeping amnesty for political prisoners. The New Economic Mechanism, launched in 1968, introduced, among other things, elements of a market economy, and it helped to improve living Standards. In the spirit of Soviet glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), Hungarians started strong movements for democratization in 1987. They removed János Kádár from power and rehabilitated the names of Imre Nagy and others. The ruling Communist party renamed itself, opposition parties were legalized, and freedom of press was extended. Free elections were held in 1990 and more radical political and economic changes are occurring.

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