Brief History of Hungary

Origins. The Magyars arrived in the Carpathian Basin in one of the last waves of the Great Migrations. The ethnic group from which the Magyars originated lived initially with Finno-Ugric, then with Ugric peoples at the foot of the Ural Mountains, where, around 500 BC the Magyars became a separate ethnic group. The Magyar - which means "man" - dates from this period.

Settlement. After the conquest of Hungary, which ended in 900, it seemed for a time that the Magyars would not be able to adapt themselves quickly enough to settle in Europe. However their leaders, the princes of the House of Árpád, soon recognized the danger these periods of plundering raids held for the Hungarians.

Statehood. Prince Géza began the great task of linking his country with the development of Europe, and his son, King Stephen (1000-1038) sealed the process by having his people convert to Christianity. King Stephen married a German princess, and he received the crown used at the coronation (which is featured among the national emblems on the coat of arms) from the Pope. (Rome later canonized Stephen and several other members of the House of Árpád too.) The Kingdom of Hungary adopted the social model and the system of values, which had been developed in Western Europe, and the nation, which at the time of the conquest had been semi-nomadic, moved from animal breeding to agriculture.

Middle Ages. In the 14th century Hungary was considered an important market in European trade. At the same time it was one of the most stable countries in Europe, because the rifts characteristic of a feudal society did not lead the country to long-standing disintegration of its territory. The Árpád kings (up till 1301), the Anjou dynasty (1308-1387), the Luxembourg dynasty (1387-1437), the Habsburg dynasty (1437-1458), the house of Hunyadi (1458-1490) and the Jagello dynasty (1490-1526) all strove to preserve the primus inter pares situation.

Fight for Independence. The Mongolian invasion (1241-1242) - the Mongols swept through Europe in the last wave of the Great Migrations - was the first serious disaster for Hungary. The healthy development spurred by the rebuilding of the country after the Mongol invasion was brought to an end by the advance of the Ottoman Turks into Europe. From the 15th century they threatened Hungarian territory, and for centuries Hungary fought battles with the Turks. In 1526 at the Battle of Mohács the independent Hungarian State was destroyed, and in 1541 the royal seat of Buda fell. The country was split into three parts: the territory under Habsburg rule, the part conquered by the Turks and the Princedom of Transylvania. The 150 years of Turkish occupation drastically curtailed the country's development and caused severe loss of both material goods and human life.
After the Turks were driven out (in 1686), Hungary came under Habsburg rule. As a result, for several hundred years neither the royal court nor the central administration operated on Hungarian soil. Foreign settlers were moved into the country to swell the dwindling population and this meant that the previous ethnic unity of the country was disrupted. The uprising of Ferenc Rákóczi against Habsburg rule (1703-1711) was the first attempt to win back the country's independence since the expulsion of the Turks. In contrast to the trend in Western Europe in the 18th century, here the privileges of the nobility and the second wave of serfdom hindered modernization.


The 19th Century. The revolution of March 15, 1848 was a milestone in the history of revolutions in Europe. Bowing to pressure from the masses, the Hungarian Diet accepted most of the revolutionaries' demands, including the liberation of the serfs, equality before the law, freedom of the press and an independent Hungarian government. In September 1848 the imperial Austrian government launched an armed attack on Hungary in order to crush the revolution and do away with its achievements which had earlier been approved by the emperor. The independent Hungarian army succeeded in holding off the attack, and only surrendered when the Austrians sought help from the imperial Russian troops.
The years of oppression were followed in 1867 by a Compromise, as a result of which the legislation and government of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy were separated, and only the ministries of foreign affairs, defense and finance were run jointly. Although vestiges of feudalism were still present, a capitalist economic structure developed and significant foreign capital was invested in Hungary.


The World Wars. In the wake of defeat in the First World War (1914-1918), the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy came to an end. In Hungary a short-lived communist council republic followed a bourgeois democratic revolution. After its collapse, the new government was forced to sign the Trianon Peace Treaty in 1920. Since the pens of the negotiators were guided by military-strategic considerations when they drew the borders of the successor states, two thirds of the Hungarian nation found itself outside the borders of the country. With this loss of territory (Hungary had a renounce 70 per cent of its former land) it was also deprived of access to its raw materials. These historical facts had a commanding influence on the policies of Regent Miklós Horthy. His authoritative, conservative government misjudged the balance of power: though not Fascist, the Hungarian government sided with Hitler in the hope of regaining some of the territory lost after the First World War.
Between 1938 and 1941 this policy was partly successful, but Hungary entered the Second World War on the side of the Axis powers. In 1944 German forces occupied the country and, after an unsuccessful attempt to pull out of the war, in October 1944 the extreme right wing Arrow-Cross Party came to power. Hungary had reached low ebb in its history.
In 1944 a new Hungarian government was formed in Debrecen, a town in the Eastern part of the country which had by this time been liberated. In February 1946 a republic was proclaimed and a year later in February 1947, representatives of the Hungarian government signed the Paris Peace Treaty, which effectively restored the 1938 Trianon borders.


Under the Communist Regime. The first free elections were held immediately after the war, in 1945. Six parties, which had the approval of the Allied Control Commission, took part. the Independent Smallholders´ Party gained 245 seats, the Communists 70. By 1947 there were only two parties left to oppose the Communists who were enjoying support from Moscow, and these were gradually broken down under the increasing political pressure from the USSR. Under the leadership of Mátyás Rákosi (1949-1956) a Soviet-type Constitution was passed by Parliament and a one-party system came into being, which ignored national traditions and slavishly copied the Soviet model.
On October 23, 1956 a popular uprising, which gradually turned into a revolution, broke out against the hated leadership and regime. It was crushed by Soviet troops, and in 1958 the leader of the 1956 revolutionary government, Imre Nagy, and several of his associates were executed. The dictatorship was restored with Soviet support and hundreds fell victim to reprisals. In the years of János Kádár´s leadership (1956-1988), after a period of retaliation for the revolution, the regime was consolidated, but even under these conditions of relative liberality and the so-called soft dictatorship, it became clear that socialism was not reformable and the country and its people were in need of change.


Democracy reborn. Demands for a multi-party system were gaining strength and the collapse of the one-party state became inevitable. On June 16, 1989 a huge crowd gathered to witness a fitting reburial for the martyrs of the 1956 revolution. On October 23, 1989 Hungary was renamed Republic of Hungary. In the spring of 1990 free elections were held, the Hungarian Democratic Forum winning by a large majority. József Antall, the party's chairman, formed a government, which was sworn in on May 23. Following Jozsef Antall´s death in December 1993, Péter Boross, also a member of the Democratic Forum and up till then Minister for Home Affairs, became the new Prime Minister. At the elections in 1994 the Hungarian Socialist Party won a majority, and they formed a coalition government with the Alliance of Free Democrats. After the 1998 elections the Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ - MPP) formed a coalition with the Independent Smallholder's Party (FKgP) and the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF).
In 1999 Hungary became the member of NATO.