From New World Encyclopedia

Magyar Köztársaság
Republic of Hungary
Flag of Hungary Coat of arms of Hungary
Historically Regnum Mariae Patronae Hungariae (Latin)
"Kingdom of Mary the Patroness of Hungary"
AnthemHimnusz("Isten, áldd meg a magyart")
"Hymn" or "Anthem" ("God, bless the Hungarians")

Location of Hungary
(and largest city)
47°26′N 19°15′E
Official languages Hungarian
Ethnic groups (microcensus 2016) 98.3% Hungarians
3.2% Romani
1.8% Germans
1% not declared1[1]
Demonym Hungarian
Government Parliamentary republic
 -  President János Áder
 -  Prime Minister Viktor Orbán
 -  Speaker of the National Assembly László Kövér
 -  Foundation of Hungary 895 
 -  Recognized as Christian kingdom 1000 
 -  Current 3rd republic 23 October 1989 
EU accession 1 May 2004
 -  Total 93,030 km² (109th)
35,919 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.74%
 -  2019 estimate 9,772,756[2] (93rd)
 -  Density 105.1/km² (103rd)
274.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2020 estimate
 -  Total Green Arrow Up (Darker).png $350.000 billion[3] (53rd)
 -  Per capita Green Arrow Up (Darker).png $35,941[3] (40th)
GDP (nominal) 2020 estimate
 -  Total Green Arrow Up (Darker).png $180.498 billion[3] (54th)
 -  Per capita Green Arrow Up (Darker).png $18,535 [3] (47th)
Gini (2019) 28.0[4] (16th)
Currency Forint (HUF)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Internet TLD .hu2
Calling code [[+36]]
1 In Hungary people can declare multiple ethnic identities, hence the sum exceeds 100%.
2 Also .eu as part of the European Union.

Hungary, officially in English the Republic of Hungary, is a landlocked country in the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe.

After a Celtic and a Roman period, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late ninth century by the Magyar chieftain Árpád, whose great grandson István ascended to the throne with a crown sent from Rome in 1000.

The Kingdom of Hungary existed with minor interruptions for more than 900 years, and at various points was regarded as one of the cultural centers of Europe.

Hungary gained widespread international attention during its Communist era (1945-1989) regarding the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal move of opening its border with Austria in 1989, thus accelerating the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.


Political map of Hungary
Topographic map of Hungary
Kékes (Northern Hungary), the highest mountain in the Country.

Hungary has 1403 miles (2258 kilometers of boundaries, shared with Austria to the west, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia to the south and southwest, Romania to the southeast, the Ukraine to the northeast, and Slovakia to the north. With a land area of 35,919 square miles (93,030 square kilometers), Hungary is slightly smaller than the state of Indiana in the United States.

Slightly more than one half of Hungary's landscape consists of flat to rolling plains of the Carpathian Basin: the most important plain regions include the Little Hungarian Plain in the west, and the Great Hungarian Plain in the southeast. Transdanubia is a primarily hilly region with a terrain varied by low mountains. These include the very eastern stretch of the Alps, Alpokalja, in the west of the country, the Transdanubian Medium Mountains, in the central region of Transdanubia, and the Mecsek Mountains and Villány Mountains in the south.

The highest mountains are located in the Carpathians: these lie in the northern parts, in a wide band along the Slovakian border (highest point: the Kékes at 3326 feet (1,014 meters)

Hungary has a continental climate, with cold, cloudy, humid winters and warm to hot summers. Temperature extremes are about 110°F (42°C) in the summer and −20°F (−29°C) in the winter. Average temperature in the summer is 81°F to 95°F (27°C to 35°C) and in the winter it is 32°F to 5°F (0°C to −15°C). The average yearly rainfall is approximately 24 inches (600 millimeters). A small, southern region of the country near Pécs enjoys a reputation for a Mediterranean climate, but in reality it is only slightly warmer than the rest of the country and still receives snow during the winter.

Hungary is divided in two by its main waterway, the Danube (Duna); other large rivers include the Tisza and Dráva. The second largest lake in the Carpathian Basin is the artificial Lake Tisza (Tisza-tó).

Despite its relatively small size, Hungary is home to nine World Heritage Sites, including the only historic wine region in the world declared such (Tokaj-Hegyalja), and five UNESCO Biosphere reserves. The country is home to the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest remaining grasslands in Central Europe (Hortobágy).

Oak is the predominant deciduous tree, and various conifers grow in the mountains. Deer, wild boar, hare, and mouflon abound. A variety of birds breed and migrate from the Great Plain. Natural resources include bauxite, coal, natural gas, fertile soils, and arable land. Environmental issues include the upgrading of Hungary's standards in waste management, energy efficiency, and air, soil, and water pollution to meet European Union requirements.


Roman Pannonia and surrounding areas
Attila the Hun.

Stone Age

Early Paleolithic Vértesszőlős, which contains pebble tools of Homo heidelbergensis, is the oldest archaeological site in Hungary. Mesolithic sites exist in the Jászság area (Latin Jazygia) in northern Hungary (Jászberény). Neolithic settlement began with the Körös culture, carbon-dated to around 6200 B.C.E. Remnants of the Middle Neolithic Western Linear Pottery culture exist in Transdanubia and the Szatmar, and Eastern Linear pottery in the East.

Iron Age

Dacians, who were considered to be the ancestors of the Romanians), were believed to have lived east of the Tisza, while Illyrians (Pannonians) lived west of the Danube. Celts came from the west around 450 B.C.E., and spread over the whole of present-day Hungary in the Late Iron Age, while the Pannonian (in the southwest) and Thracian presence seems to have continued. In the first half of the first century B.C.E., the Dacian king Burebista extended his rule over the Pannonian Plain, as far as present-day eastern Austria, and battled the Boii in present-day southwestern Slovakia around 60 B.C.E.

Roman rule

The Roman Empire conquered territory west of the Danube between 35 and 9 B.C.E., and the area became a province of the Roman Empire under the name of Pannonia. The Easternmost parts of present-day Hungary were later (106 C.E.) organized as the Roman province of Dacia (lasting until 271). Romans paid tribute (86-100 C.E.) to the Dacian King Decebalus. The territory between the Danube and the Tisza was inhabited by the Free Dacians, Sarmatians, and Iazyges between the first and fourth centuries C.E., or even earlier (earliest remains have been dated to 80 B.C.E.). The Roman Emperor Trajan officially allowed the Iazyges to settle there as confederates. The remaining territory was in Thracian (Dacian) hands. In addition, the Vandals settled on the upper Tisza in the second half of the second century C.E. The four centuries of Roman rule created an advanced and flourishing civilization. Many of the important cities of today's Hungary were founded during this period, such as Aquincum (Óbuda, now part of Budapest), Sopianae (Pécs), Arrabona (Győr), Salva (Esztergom), Savaria (Szombathely) and Scarbantia (Sopron). Christianity spread in Pannonia in the fourth century, when it became the empire's official religion.

The age of migrations

In 375 C.E., the nomadic Huns began invading Europe from the eastern steppes, instigating the Great Age of Migrations. In 380, the Huns penetrated into the Pannonian Basin, and remained an important factor in the region well into the 400s. Around the same time (379-395), the Roman Empire allowed the groups of "barbarian" Goths, Alans, Huns, Marcomanni and Quadi to settle Pannonia, which still was a Roman territory. These groups moved on to western and southern Europe around 400.

The Huns, taking advantage of the departure of the Goths, Quadi, and others, created a significant empire in 423 based in Hungary, reaching a peak in 453 under the well-known conqueror, Attila the Hun (406-453). The empire collapsed in 455, when the Huns were defeated by the neighboring Germanic tribes (such as the Quadi, Gepidi and Sciri).

Germanic Ostrogoths inhabited Pannonia, with Rome's consent, between 456 and 471. In 476 the West Roman Empire was officially discontinued, although actual Roman influence in Pannonia had begun to decline as early as the arrival of the Huns nearly a century before.

The first Slavs came to the region, almost certainly from the north, soon after the departure of the Ostrogoths (471 C.E.). Along with the Lombards, they were to be the principal inhabitants of the territory until the arrival of the Avars. Around 530, the Germanic Lombards settled in Pannonia. They had to fight against the Gepidi and the Slavs. In 568, pushed out by the Avars, they moved into northern Italy.

The nomadic Avars arrived from Asia in the 560s, destroyed the Gepidi in the east, drove away the Lombards in the west, and subjugated the Slavs, partly assimilating them. The Avars, just as the Huns had decades before, established a big empire. This empire was destroyed around 800 by Frankish and Slavic attacks, and above all by internal feuds. The few remaining Avars were then quickly assimilated by the Slavs.

Around 800, northeastern Hungary became part of the Principality of Nitra, which itself became part of Great Moravia in 833, while southeastern Hungary was conquered by Bulgaria, but was lost in 881 to Great Moravia. Western Hungary (Pannonia) was initially tributary to the Franks, but in 839 the Slavic Balaton Principality was founded in southwestern Hungary, and in 883/884 the whole of western Hungary was conquered by Great Moravia.

Origin of the Magyars

Prince Árpád is crossing the Carpathians. A detail of Árpád Feszty and assistants' vast (1800m²) canvas, painted to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary.

The commonly accepted view of the origin of the Magyars (known as Hungarians in English) is that they were nomadic people, with indeterminate and disputed origin from the Eurasian plains until the end of the ninth century C.E. They were organized as a confederation of seven Magyar and three allied Khazar tribes; the name "Hungary" or "Hungarian" is most probably derived from the Turkish term Onogur meaning "Ten Arrows," signifying united military strength in nomadic symbolism. In 896, they settled in Transylvania from where they took possession of Pannonia. Much of early Hungarian history is recorded in:

  • Anonymi Gesta Hungarorum (Anonymous "Deeds of the Hungarians") by Magister P. (c. 1200)
  • Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum or Gesta Hungarorum (II) ("Deeds of the Huns and Hungarians" or just "Deeds of the Hungarians") by Simon of Kéza (late thirteenth century)
  • Chronicon Pictum ("Illuminated Chronicle") (late fourteenth century)
  • Chronicle of the Hungarians by Johannes de Thurocz (1480s)


King Stephen's statue in his hometown, Esztergom.
Béla III

Árpád (c.850–907) was the son of Álmos and was elected leader of seven proto-Magyar tribes. Although he is not considered the founder of the Kingdom of Hungary – that was his descendant Stephen I –, he is generally thought of as the forefather of Hungarians. After several looting raids into Europe, from the 860s, the proto-Magyars in Etelköz under Árpád, pushed by the Pechenegs from the east, passed the Carpathian Mountains. In 896, about 200,000–250,000 proto-Magyars entered the Pannonian fields.

A later defeat at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955, at the hands of Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great, signaled an end to the raids, friendlier relations with the Holy Roman Empire, and exposure to Christianity and Western culture. The ruling prince (fejedelem) Géza of the House of Árpád, who was the nominal overlord of all seven Magyar tribes, converted to Christianity in 975. He intended to integrate Hungary into Christian (Western) Europe, rebuilding the state according to the Western model. He established a dynasty by naming his son Vajk (later called Stephen) as his successor.

The Árpád dynasty

Stephen I of Hungary (975-1038), the founder of the Árpád dynasty, who defeated a rival claimant, his uncle, in battle, established Hungary as a centralized Christian kingdom. By his marriage to Giselle of Bavaria (c. 995), he became the brother-in-law of the future Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor. Stephen was crowned in December 1000 in the capital, Esztergom, and received recognition as King of Hungary in 1001, when Pope Sylvester II granted him the title "Apostolic Majesty," a title retained by Hungarian kings for more than 900 years.

By 1006, Stephen had solidified his power, eliminating all rivals who either wanted to follow the old pagan traditions or wanted an alliance with the orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire. Stephen divided Hungary into 40 to 50 counties (megyék), each under a royal official called an ispán, who administered its not free population, and collected taxes. Each ispán maintained at his fortified headquarters an armed force of freemen. Stephen set up 10 dioceses, ordering every ten villages to erect a church and maintain a priest. The non-Magyars in his realm were treated as subject races and were forced to work harder and pay more tax. Shortly after Stephen's death, in 1038, healing miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb. Stephen was canonized by Pope Gregory VII as Saint Stephen of Hungary in 1083, along with his son, Saint Imre and Bishop Gerhard (Hungarian: Szent Gellért). The king's right hand, known as "The Holy Right," is kept as a relic.

Stephen's immediate successors had to contend with barbarian and German invasions, as well as a pagan reaction at home. Ladislas I (1040-1095), entered into an alliance with Pope Gregory VII. Béla III (1148-1196) was the King of Hungary from 1172-1196. He was the son of King Géza II and Euphrosyne, the daughter of Grand Duke Mstislav I of Kiev. In 1164, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus concluded a treaty with Béla's brother, Stephen III, by which Béla was given the Croatian and Dalmatian territories and sent to Constantinople to be educated at the Imperial court. Manuel, who had no legitimate sons, intended that Béla should marry his daughter, Maria Comnena, and eventually succeed him as emperor. But Manuel I Comnenus remarried and produced a son, so Béla's engagement to Maria was cancelled.

Béla succeeded his brother King Stephen III, was crowned under the influence of Emperor Manuel in 1172, and adopted Catholicism. A wealthy monarch, he owned half the land of the kingdom outright, monopolized coinage, customs, and mining, and half of his income was paid in cash. Béla was a warrior by nature and training, and the death of Emperor Manuel in 1180 left him free to expand Hungarian power in the Balkans. Hungarian troops invaded Byzantine territory at some time before 1183. Béla's attempt to recover Dalmatia led the Kingdom of Hungary into two wars against the Republic of Venice.

But the reign of Andrew II (c. 1175-1235), who was king of Hungary from 1205 until 1235 as a member of Árpád dynasty, was detrimental to the Hungarian realm. He declared that the generosity of a king should be limitless. He gave away everything - money, villages, domains, whole counties - emptying the treasury, thereby rendering the crown, for the first time in Hungarian history, dependent upon the great nobility eager for personal gain. He was directly responsible for the beginnings of the feudal anarchy which led to the extinction of the Árpáds dynasty at the end of the thirteenth century.

The Golden Bull

While the king had a council of nobles, his authority remained absolute, and a strong king could always control a recalcitrant noble by confiscating his estate. The extravagances of Andrew II sparked a revolt, which led to the Golden Bull of 1222. This was an edict, issued by King Andrew II of Hungary, which established the rights of Hungary's noblemen, including the right to disobey the king when he acted contrary to law, in the same way that King John of England was made to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. The nobles and the church were freed from all taxes and could not be forced to go to war outside of Hungary, and were not obligated financing it. The edict was created in seven copies, one for each of the following institutions: to the Pope, to the Knights Templar, to the Knights Hospitaller, to the Hungarian king itself, to the chapters of Esztergom and Kalocsa and to the palatine.

Mongol invasion

Charles I of Hungary.
Portrait of Louis the Great.
Albert II of Habsburg.
John Hunyadi, as imagined by a seventeenth century artist.
Matthias Corvinus as depicted in Chronica Hungarorum.

Mongols invaded in 1241. After the defeat of the Hungarian army in the Battle of Muhi on April 11, 1241, King Béla IV (1206-1270) fled, and Hungary lay in ruins. Around a quarter of the population was lost, mostly in lowland areas, especially in the Alföld, where there were hardly any survivors. Only strongly fortified cities and abbeys could withstand the assault. After the Mongols retreated, King Béla reorganized the army, ordered the construction of stone castles, meant to be a defense against a possible second Mongol invasion. These castles proved to be very important later in the long struggle with the Ottoman Empire from the late fourteenth century onwards. But their cost indebted the king to the major feudal landlords again.

Bela brought in settlers to repopulate the country. One group of immigrants, known as Cumans who had fled into Hungary before the Mongols, became so turbulent that Béla had his son, Stephen V (1239-1272), marry a Cuman princess to ensure their loyalty. A new nobility comprising soldiers and settlers who gained land for military service appeared. An assembly in which nobles represented their counties was created. Stephen V died, the country passed to the regency of his wife, his wild son was assassinated. The crown passed to Andrew III (b. 1265).

Angevins and expansion

The Árpád line of kings ended in 1301 with the death of Andrew III. Charles Robert of Anjou was enthroned as Charles I (of Hungary) (1288-1342), on June 15, 1309. His installation was not regarded as valid until he was crowned at Székesfehérvár on August 27, 1310, with the sacred crown, which was at last recovered from the rebellious barons. Charles restored order by absolute rule. The assembly of nobles, or Diet, was still summoned occasionally, but the real business of the state was transacted in the royal council. To impose limitations on the barons, the lesser gentry were protected against the tyranny of the magnates, encouraged to appear at court and taxed for military service by the royal treasury so as to draw them closer to the crown. The court was famous throughout Europe as a school of chivalry. He established the honor system, whereby faithful servants of the king were given an office and control over a number of royal castles. Charles curbed inflation, introducing new coins with a constantly high purity of gold. His marriage to Elizabeth, the sister of Casimir III, King of Poland, ensured the succession of his son Louis to the Polish crown.

Louis I the Great (1326-1382) was King of Hungary, Croatia, and Dalmatia from 1342, and of Poland from 1370, after the death of Casimir III the Great. Louis was one of the Kingdom of Hungary's most active and accomplished monarchs of the Late Middle Ages, extending her territory to the Adriatic and securing Dalmatia, with part of Bosnia and Bulgaria, within the Hungarian crown. He spent much of his reign in wars with the Republic of Venice and in competition for the throne of Naples, the former with some success and the latter with little lasting results. Louis further curbed the power of the feudal lords, and promoted the development of commerce, science, and industry. By the end of Louis' reign, the population reached three million; there were 49 royal free boroughs, more than 500 smaller towns, and 26,000 villages. The economy was rural, but the crafts prospered, trade expanded, and the arts flourished.

Ottomans advance

Sigismund, aged approximately 50, depicted by unknown artist in the 1420s.

Towards the end of the reign of Louis I, however, the Ottoman Empire, had become established in several of Hungary’s southern buffer provinces. Territorial losses in the south marked the reign of Sigismund (1368-1437), a prince from the Luxembourg line who succeeded to the throne in 1387. By marrying Louis's daughter, Queen Mary, in 1433, he became Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor. He faced defeat in a crusade against the Ottoman Turks at Nicopolis in 1396, the open dissent of feudal landlords, the Hussite rebellion in the Czech kingdom (which was under his rule) and partly in the territory that is now Slovakia, and a major peasant rebellion in Transylvania. Turks again threatened during the two-year reign of Sigismund’s Habsburg son-in-law and successor, Albert II (1397-1439), after whose death a bitter contest for the throne developed. Hungary was saved from the Turks chiefly through the capable military leadership of János Hunyadi (1387-1456]]. Acclaimed as a national hero, Hunyadi broke the Turkish siege of Belgrade in 1456.

The last strong king was the Renaissance king Matthias Corvinus (1443-1490), the son of the feudal landlord and warlord John Hunyadi. Building on his fathers' vision, the aim of taking on the Ottoman Empire with a strong enough background, Matthias set out to build a great empire, expanding southward and northwest, while he also implemented internal reforms, and promoted the commercial and cultural development of the nation. As a brilliant military leader, he created a standing army, called the 'Fekete Sereg' (black army), which accomplished a series of victories also capturing the city of Vienna in 1485. Other territorial acquisitions, which included Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia, made Hungary for a time the strongest kingdom of central Europe.

Peasant rebellion

But after Matthias's death in 1490, the weak king Ladislaus II (1456-1516) of the Polish/Lithuanian Jagiellon line nominally ruled the areas he conquered except Austria, but real power was in the hand of the nobles. In 1514, two years before Ladislaus' death, there was a peasant rebellion in the Pannonian lowlands and parts of Transylvania. The Dózsa Insurrection, so named after its Transylvanian leader, also called the Hungarian Peasant's War, was crushed barbarously by the nobles. As central rule degenerated, the stage was set for a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman occupation

Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–1566) captured Belgrade in 1521, and did not hesitate to launch an attack against the weakened kingdom of Hungary, whose smaller (approximately 26,000 compared to 100,000 strong), badly led army was defeated on August 29, 1526, at the Battle of Mohács. Süleyman's semi-vassal, named János Szapolyai (1487-1540), and his enemy Ferdinand I (1503-1564) both claimed the throne of Hungary. Suleyman went further and tried to crush Austrian forces, and laid siege to Vienna in 1529, but failed to take that city after the onset of winter forced his retreat. The title of king of Hungary was disputed between János Szapolyai and Ferdinand until 1540. After the seizure of Buda by the Turks in 1541, the west and north recognized a Habsburg as king ("Royal Hungary"), while the central and southern counties were occupied by the Sultan and the east was ruled by the son of Szapolyai under the name Eastern Hungarian Kingdom which after 1541 became the Principality of Transylvania.

During the Ottoman rule, peace was fragile. Transylvania became the centre of the Magyar movement against Turkish and Habsburg (Austrian) domination. The Magyars had abandoned the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation, a movement that began in 1517 initially to reform—then split from—the Catholic Church. The Habsburgs pursued plans to liberate the land from the Muslim invaders, and to promote the Counter-reformation. Strife between the Protestant Magyars and the Catholic Habsburgs became increasingly violent. At the end of the Long War (1593-1606), Emperor Rudolf II granted the Magyars of Transylvania autonomy, and additional territory. Using Ottoman Hungary as their base, the Ottomans attempted to use this religious division of their Christian opponents in 1620, and again in 1683 when they laid siege to Vienna for the second time.

Hungary began to undergo changes. Vast lands remained unpopulated and covered with woods. Flood plains became marshes. The life of the Turkish occupiers was unsafe. Peasants fled to the woods and marshes from their cruel masters, forming guerrilla bands, the Hajdú troops. Eventually, maintaining a long chain of border forts in Hungary was a drain on the Ottoman Empire. Some parts of the economy flourished. In the huge unpopulated areas, townships bred cattle that were herded to South Germany and northern Italy—up to 500,000 animals per year. Wine was traded to the Czech lands, Austria and Poland. Pozsony (Pressburg, today: Bratislava) became the new capital (1536-1784), coronation town (1563-1830), and seat of the Diet (1536-1848) of Hungary. Trnava in turn, became the religious center in 1541.

Anti-Habsburg uprisings

Jan III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna.
Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.
Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, who was Charles III of Hungary.
Empress Maria Theresa.
Joseph II.

Between 1604 and 1711, there was a series of anti-Habsburg (i.e. anti-Austrian) and anti-Catholic uprisings, which – with the exception of the last one – took place on the territory of present-day Slovakia. The uprisings were usually organized from Transylvania. The Transylvanians sided against the Habsburgs during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), led at first by Gabriel Bethlen (1580-1629), Prince of Transylvania and King of Hungary. After George II Rákóczy (1621-1660) became Prince of Transylvania, in 1648, the Turks extended their influence into Transylvania. Meanwhile, Habsburg missionary efforts won many people back into the Roman Catholic Church, causing them to abandon the nationalist fight against Habsburg overlordship. Protestants were increasingly repressed, sparking a further revolt led by Count Imre Thököly, backed by the Turks in 1682.

Ottoman forces defeated

The defeat of Ottoman forces led by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha at the Second Siege of Vienna in 1683, at the hands of the combined armies of Poland and the Holy Roman Empire under Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696), ultimately swung the balance of power in the region. Under the terms of the Treaty of Karlowitz, which ended the Great Turkish War in 1699, the Ottomans ceded nearly all the territory they had taken from the Kingdom of Hungary.

Habsburg rule

At the Diet of "Royal Hungary" in Pressburg (today Bratislava), in 1687, Leopold I promised to observe all Hungarian laws and privileges, although the Hungarian Diet was made to declare the crown of Hungary forever hereditary in the House of Habsburg, and the nobles' right of resistance was abrogated. In 1690, Leopold began redistributing lands freed from the Turks. Protestant nobles and all other Hungarians thought disloyal by the Habsburgs lost their estates, which were given to foreigners. Vienna controlled the foreign affairs, defense, tariffs, and other functions.

The repression of Protestants and the land seizures embittered the Hungarians, and in 1703 a peasant uprising sparked an eight-year rebellion aimed at casting off the Habsburg yoke. In Transylvania, disgruntled Protestants, peasants and soldiers of different ethnicities (Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak) united under Francis II Rákóczi (1676-1735), a Roman Catholic magnate who could hardly speak Hungarian. The joint Hungarian-Transylvanian Diet voted to annul the Habsburgs' right to the throne. Fortunes turned against the rebels, however, when the Habsburgs made peace in the West and turned their full force against them. The rebellion ended in 1711, when moderate rebel leaders concluded the Treaty of Szatmár, where they gained little except the emperor's agreement to reconvene the Diet and to grant an amnesty for the rebels.

Leopold's successor, Charles III of Hungary (1711-1740), began building a workable relationship with Hungary after the Treaty of Szatmár. Charles asked the Budapest Diet's approval for the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, which rewrote succession law to arrange for his daughter, Maria Theresa (1717-1780), to succeed him. Part of that agreement was that the Habsburg monarch would rule Hungary as a king subject to the restraints of Hungary's constitution and laws. The Diet approved the Pragmatic Sanction in 1723, and Hungary thus agreed to become a hereditary monarchy under the Habsburgs for as long as their dynasty existed. In practice, however, Charles and his successors governed almost autocratically, controlling Hungary's foreign affairs, defense, and finance but lacking the power to tax the nobles without their approval.

Charles organized the country under a centralized administration and in 1715 established a standing army under his command, which was entirely funded and manned by the non-noble population. This policy reduced the nobles' military obligation without abrogating their exemption from taxation. Charles also banned conversion to Protestantism, required civil servants to profess Catholicism, and forbade Protestant students to study abroad.

Maria Theresa faced an immediate challenge from Prussia's Frederick II (1712-1786) when she became head of the House of Habsburg in 1740. In 1741, she appeared before the Diet of Budapest holding her newborn son and entreated Hungary's nobles to support her. They stood behind her and helped secure her rule. Maria Theresa later took measures to reinforce links with Hungary's magnates.

Francis II Rákóczi.

Under Charles and Maria Theresa, Hungary declined further. Centuries of Ottoman occupation, rebellion, and war had reduced Hungary's population drastically, and large parts of the country's southern half were almost deserted. A labor shortage developed as landowners restored their estates. In response, the Habsburgs began to colonize Hungary with large numbers of peasants from all over Europe, especially Slovaks, Serbs, Croatians, and Germans. Many Jews also immigrated from Vienna and the empire's Polish lands near the end of the century. Hungary's population more than tripled to eight million between 1720 and 1787. However, only 39 percent of its people were Magyars, who lived mainly in the center of the country.

At that time, Hungary had a primitive agricultural economy that employed 90 percent of the population. The nobles failed to use fertilizers, roads were poor and rivers blocked, and crude storage methods caused huge losses of grain. Barter had replaced money transactions, and little trade existed between towns and the serfs. After 1760 a labor surplus developed. The serf population grew, pressure on the land increased, and the serfs' standard of living declined. Landowners began making greater demands on new tenants and began violating existing agreements. In response, Maria Theresa issued her Urbarium of 1767 to protect the serfs by restoring their freedom of movement and limiting the corvee, which was a tax in the form of required unpaid labor. Between 1767 and 1848, many serfs left their holdings. Most became landless farm workers because a lack of industrial development meant few opportunities for work in the towns.

Enlightened despotism

Joseph II (1741-90), who was strongly influenced by the Enlightenment, sought to centralize control of the empire and to rule it by decree as an enlightened despot when he inherited the throne from his mother, Maria Theresa, in 1780. He refused to take the Hungarian coronation oath to avoid being constrained by Hungary's constitution. In 1781, Joseph granted Protestants and Orthodox Christians full civil rights and Jews freedom of worship. He decreed that German replace Latin as the empire's official language and granted the peasants the freedom to leave their holdings, to marry, and to place their children in trades. The "Kingdom of Hungary," "Kingdom of Croatia," and the "Grand Principality of Transylvania" became a single imperial territory under one administration, called "Lands of the Crown of St Stephen." When the Hungarian nobles refused to waive their exemption from taxation, Joseph banned imports of Hungarian manufactured goods into Austria and began a survey to prepare for imposition of a general land tax.

Leopold II.

Joseph's reforms outraged Hungary's nobles and clergy, and the country's peasants grew dissatisfied with taxes, conscription, and requisitions of supplies. Hungarians perceived Joseph's language reform as German cultural hegemony. Hungarian lesser nobles sparked a renaissance of the Magyar language and culture, and a cult of national dance and costume flourished. The lesser nobles questioned the loyalty of the magnates, of whom less than half were ethnic Magyars, and even those had become French- and German-speaking courtiers. The Magyar national reawakening subsequently triggered national revivals among the Slovak, Romanian, Serbian, and Croatian minorities within Hungary and Transylvania, who felt threatened by both German and Magyar cultural hegemony. These national revivals later blossomed into the nationalist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that contributed to the empire's ultimate collapse.

Late in his reign, Joseph led a costly, ill-fated campaign against the Turks that weakened his empire. On January 28, 1790, three weeks before his death, the emperor issued a decree canceling all of his reforms except the Patent of Toleration, peasant reforms, and abolition of the religious orders.

Joseph's successor, Leopold II (1790-92), re-introduced the bureaucratic technicality which viewed Hungary as a separate country under a Habsburg king, similar to Croatia and Transylvania. In 1791, the Diet passed Law X, which stressed Hungary's status as an independent kingdom ruled only by a king legally crowned according to Hungarian laws. Law X later became the basis for demands by Hungarian reformers for statehood in the period from 1825 to 1849. New laws again required approval of both the Habsburg king and the Diet, and Latin was restored as the official language. The peasant reforms remained in effect, however, and Protestants remained equal before the law. Leopold died in March 1792 just as the French Revolution, which started in 1789, was about to degenerate into the Reign of Terror and send shock waves through the royal houses of Europe.

Magyar awakening

Francis I.
Count István Széchenyi.
Lajos Kossuth.
Count Lajos Batthyány.

Enlightened absolutism ended in Hungary under Leopold's successor, Francis I (1768-1835), who developed an almost abnormal aversion to change after his reign began in 1792. In 1795, the Hungarian police arrested an abbot and several of the country's leading thinkers for plotting a Jacobin kind of revolution to install a radical democratic, egalitarian political system in Hungary. Thereafter, Francis resolved to extinguish any spark of reform that might ignite revolution.

Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815 brought recession. Grain prices collapsed as demand dropped, and debt forced many lesser nobles to work to earn a livelihood, and their sons entered education institutions to train for civil service or professional careers. Francis rarely called the Diet into session (usually only to request men and supplies for war) without hearing complaints. Economic hardship brought the lesser nobles' discontent to a head by 1825, when Francis finally convoked the Diet after a 14-year hiatus. Grievances were voiced, and open calls for reform were made, including demands for less royal interference in the nobles' affairs and for wider use of the Hungarian language.

Count István Széchenyi (1791-1861), a magnate from one of Hungary's most powerful families, shocked the Diet when he delivered the first speech in Hungarian ever uttered in the upper chamber and backed a proposal for the creation of a Hungarian academy of arts and sciences by pledging a year's income to support it. Szechenyi called for an economic revolution and argued that only the magnates were capable of implementing reforms. Szechenyi favored a strong link with the Habsburg Empire and called for abolition of entail and serfdom, taxation of landowners, financing of development with foreign capital, establishment of a national bank, and introduction of wage labor. He inspired the construction of the suspension bridge linking Buda and Pest. Szechenyi's reform initiatives ultimately failed because they were targeted at the magnates, who were not inclined to support change, and because the pace of his program was too slow to attract disgruntled lesser nobles.

The most popular of Hungary's great reform leaders, Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894), addressed passionate calls for change to the lesser nobles. Kossuth was the son of a landless, lesser nobleman of Protestant background. He practiced law with his father before moving to Pest. There he published commentaries on the Diet's activities, which made him popular with young, reform-minded people. Kossuth was imprisoned in 1836 for treason. After his release in 1840, he gained quick notoriety as the editor of a liberal party newspaper. Kossuth argued that only political and economic separation from Austria would improve Hungary's plight. He called for broader parliamentary democracy, industrialization, general taxation, economic expansion through exports, and abolition of privileges and serfdom. But Kossuth was also a Magyar chauvinist whose rhetoric provoked the strong resentment of Hungary's minority ethnic groups. Kossuth gained support among liberal lesser nobles, who constituted an opposition minority in the Diet. They sought reforms with increasing success after Francis's death in 1835 and the succession of Ferdinand V (1835-48). In 1843 a law was enacted making Hungarian the country's official language over the strong objections of the Croats, Slovaks, Serbs, and Romanians.

Progressive political groups won a majority in the diet election of 1847.

The 1848 revolution

Artist Mihály Zichy's rendition of Sándor Petőfi reciting the Nemzeti dal to a crowd on March 15, 1848.
Map of the counties in the Kingdom of Hungary around 1880
██ Magyars in Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1911

A revolutionary wave which erupted in Sicily on January 12, 1848, and then, further triggered by the French Revolution of 1848, which started on February 23, soon spread to the rest of Europe. On March 15, 1848, mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda enabled Hungarian reformists to push through a list of 12 demands. Faced with revolution both at home and in Vienna, Austria first had to accept Hungarian demands. Later, under governor Lajos Kossuth and the first prime minister, Lajos Batthyány, the first Republic of Hungary was created.

After the Austrian revolution was suppressed, and Franz Joseph (1830-1916) replaced his mentally retarded uncle Ferdinand I as emperor, the Austrian army tried to restore Habsburg rule in Hungary too, but was unsuccessful against the Magyars, who also had to fight against Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Romanians and Transylvanian Germans living in Hungary, who were unwilling to accept Hungarian dominance. The Hungarian forces (Honvédség) defeated Austrian armies, and in April 1849, the Hungarian Diet proclaimed the independence of Hungary.

But the following month, Austria’s emperor Franz Joseph arranged an alliance with Czar Nicholas I of Russia. The huge army of the Russian Empire and the remnants of the Austrian forces proved too powerful for the Hungarian army, and General Artúr Görgey surrendered in August 1849. Julius Freiherr von Haynau, the leader of the Austrian army, became governor of Hungary for a few months. On October 6, he ordered the execution of 13 leaders of the Hungarian army as well as Prime Minister Batthyány. Lajos Kossuth escaped into exile. Archduke Albrecht von Habsburg was appointed governor, while the whole country remained in a state of "passive resistance."

The emperor revoked Hungary's constitution and assumed absolute control. Franz Joseph divided the country into four territories: Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia-Slavonia, and Vojvodina, managed by German and Bohemian administrators. German became the language of administration and higher education. The non-Magyar minorities of Hungary received little for their support of Austria during the turmoil.

The first crack in Franz Joseph's neo-absolutist rule developed in 1859, when the forces of Sardinia and France defeated Austria at Solferno, which convinced Franz Joseph that opposition to his government was too strong to be managed by decree from Vienna. Gradually, Austria and Hungary moved toward a compromise. In 1866, the Prussians defeated the Austrians in the Battle of Königgrätz, further underscoring the weakness of the Habsburg Empire. Negotiations between the emperor and the Hungarian nobility led by Ferenc Deák (1803-1876), resulted in the Compromise of 1867, by which the dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary came into existence.


Ferenc Deák in 1869.
Gyula Andrássy (by Gyula Benczúr, 1884).

The empire was reorganized into two entities: the mostly western half of the realm, Cisleithania, and the Kingdom of Hungary, Transleithania. The two realms were governed separately with a common ruler and common external, military, and economic policies. The Hungarian Constitution was restored, and Franz Joseph was crowned as King of Hungary. The autonomy of the kingdom was partly achieved. There was also a Hungarian-Croatian Compromise of 1868, as Croatia, an already highly autonomous part of the kingdom, broadened its constitutional freedom.

Franz Joseph appointed Gyula Andrássy (1823-1890)—a member of Deák's party—as prime minister in 1867. His government strongly favored the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and followed a laissez-faire economic policy. Guilds were abolished, workers were permitted to bargain for wages, and the government attempted to improve education and construct roads and railroads. Between 1850 and 1875, Hungary's farms prospered: grain prices were high, and exports tripled. But Hungary's economy accumulated capital too slowly, and the government relied heavily on foreign credits. Soon the cost of the bureaucracy outpaced the country's tax revenues, and the national debt soared. After an economic downturn in the mid-1870s, Deák's party succumbed to charges of financial mismanagement and scandal.

The Nationalities Law enacted in 1868 defined Hungary as a single nation comprising different nationalities whose members enjoyed equal rights in all areas except language. Although non-Hungarian languages could be used in local government, churches, and schools, Hungarian became the official language of the central government and universities. Unrest followed, although the government took no further action concerning nationalities.

As a result of economic problems, the Liberal Party of Kálmán Tisza (1830-1902), created in 1875, gained power in 1875. Tisza assembled a bureaucracy that maintained control through corruption and manipulation of a woefully unrepresentative electoral system. In addition, Tisza's government had to withstand both dissatisfied nationalities and Hungarians who thought Tisza too submissive to the Austrians. The Liberals argued that the Dual Monarchy improved Hungary's economic position and enhanced its influence in European politics.

Tisza's government raised taxes, balanced the budget within several years of coming to power, and completed large road, railroad, and waterway projects. Commerce and industry expanded quickly. After 1880 the government abandoned its laissez-faire economic policies and encouraged industry with loans, subsidies, government contracts, tax exemptions, and other measures. The number of Hungarians who earned their living in industry doubled to 24.2 percent of the population between 1890 and 1910, while the number dependent on agriculture dropped from 82 to 62 percent.

Besides the German-Magyar, Czech-Magyar conflicts about the future of the dual monarchy, ethnic problems escalated inside the Kingdom of Hungary. The intensifying Hungarian nationalism – intended to strengthen the integrity of the kingdom – gradually alienated the non-Magyar population. As a reaction, the already significant Romanian, Serbian and Slovak nationalism further escalated.

Anti-Semitism appeared in Hungary early in the century as a result of fear of economic competition. In 1840, a partial emancipation of the Jews allowed them to live anywhere except certain depressed mining cities. The Jewish Emancipation Act of 1868 gave Jews equality before the law and effectively eliminated all bars to their participation in the economy; nevertheless, informal barriers kept Jews from careers in politics and public life.

According to the census in 1910, 54 percent of the population of the kingdom (excluding Croatia) used the Hungarian language, Romanian 16 percent, Slovak 11 percent, and German 10 percent. The era witnessed an impressive economic development. The formerly backward Kingdom of Hungary became a relatively modern, industrialized country by the turn of the century, although agriculture remained the dominant part of the economy. Many of the state institutions and the administrative system of modern Hungary were established during this period.

World War I

Count István Tisza.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914), who was the presumed heir of Franz Joseph as Emperor, and his wife, in Sarajevo, in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip (a member of the Serbian nationalist group the Black Hand), was the proximate cause of World War I, a global military conflict which took place primarily in Europe from 1914 to 1918. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28. Germany declared war on Russia and France in early August. Over 40 million casualties resulted, including approximately 20 million military and civilian deaths. The Entente Powers, led by France, Russia, the British Empire, and later Italy (from 1915) and the United States (from 1917), defeated the Central Powers, led by the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman Empires.

Patriotic demonstrators took to Budapest's streets after the declaration of war, all expecting a quick, easy victory. However, Hungary was ill-prepared for war. The country's armaments were obsolete, and its industries were not prepared for a war economy. By 1915 and 1916, inflation ran rampant, wages were frozen, food shortages developed, and the government banned the export of grain even to Austria. Franz Joseph died in 1916, and Charles IV (1916-1918) became Hungary's new king. Before being crowned, however, Charles insisted that voting rights be extended to a larger proportion of the Hungarian population. Prime Minister István Tisza (1861-1918) resigned in response. By 1917, the Hungarian government was slowly losing domestic control in the face of mounting popular dissatisfaction caused by the war. Of the 3.6 million soldiers Hungary sent to war, 2.1 million were wounded or killed. By late 1918, Hungary's farms and factories were producing only half of what they did in 1913, and the war-weary people had abandoned hope of victory.

1918 revolution

Communist József Pogány speaks to revolutionary soldiers during the 1919 revolution.

On October 31, 1918, smoldering unrest developed into revolution in Budapest, and roving soldiers assassinated István Tisza. Pressured by the popular uprising and the refusal of Hungarian troops to quell the disturbances, King Charles appointed the "Red Count" Mihály Károlyi (1875-1955), a pro-Entente liberal and leader of the Party of Independence, to the post of prime minister. Chrysanthemum-waving crowds poured into the streets shouting their approval. After suing for a separate peace, the new government dissolved parliament, declared Hungary to be an independent republic with Károlyi as provisional president, and proclaimed universal suffrage and the freedom of the press and assembly. The government launched preparations for land reform and promised elections, but neither goal was achieved. On November 13, 1918, Charles IV surrendered his powers as king of Hungary. However, he did not abdicate, a technicality that made a return to the throne possible.

The Károlyi government's measures failed to stem popular discontent, especially when the Entente powers began distributing slices of Hungary's traditional territory to Romania, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later known as Yugoslavia), and Czechoslovakia. The new government and its supporters had pinned their hopes for maintaining Hungary's territorial integrity on the abandonment of Austria and Germany, the securing of a separate peace, and exploiting Károlyi's close connections in France. The Entente, however, chose to consider Hungary a partner in the defeated Dual Monarchy and dashed the Hungarians' hopes with the delivery of successive diplomatic notes, each demanding the surrender of more land. On March 19, 1919, the French head of the Entente mission in Budapest handed Károlyi a note delineating final postwar boundaries, which were unacceptable to the Hungarians. Károlyi resigned and turned power over to a coalition of Social Democrats and communists, who promised that Soviet Russia would help Hungary to restore its original borders. Although the Social Democrats held a majority in the coalition, the communists led by Béla Kun (1886-1938) seized control and announced the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

Reds and Whites

Leaders of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Tibor Szamuely, Béla Kun, Jenő Landler. Monument in Budapest.

The Communists – "The Reds" – came to power largely thanks to being the only group with an organized fighting force, and with a promise that Hungary would regain the lands it had lost (possibly with the help of the Soviet Red Army). Initially, Kun's regime achieved some impressive military successes: the Hungarian Red Army, under the lead of the genius strategist, Colonel Aurél Stromfeld, ousted Czechoslovak troops from disputed lands, proclaimed an ephemeral Slovak Soviet Republic, and planned to march against the Romanian army in Transylvania. In terms of domestic policy, the Communist government nationalized industrial and commercial enterprises, socialized housing, transport, banking, medicine, cultural institutions, and all landholdings of more than 400,000 square metres.

Popular support of the Communists proved to be short-lived. After a coup attempt, the government took a series of reprisals (called the Red Terror) by half-regular and half-militarist detachments (like the "Lenin boys"). A total of 590 people were executed without trial, which alienated much of the population. Land reform took land from the nobles but did not effectively distribute it among peasants. The Soviet Red Army was never able to aid the new Hungarian republic. Although it did not lose any battles, the Hungarian Red Army gave up land under pressure from the Entente. In the face of domestic backlash and an advancing Romanian force, Béla Kun and most of his comrades fled to Austria, while Budapest was occupied on August 6. These events led to a deep feeling of dislike against the Soviet Union, which had not kept its promise of military assistance, and the Jews, since many members of Kun's government were Jewish.

The new fighting forces in Hungary were the Conservative counter-revolutionaries – the "Whites." These, who had been organizing in Vienna and established a counter-government in Szeged, assumed power, led by István Bethlen(1874-1946), a Transylvanian aristocrat, and Miklós Horthy (1868-1957), the former commander in chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Spreading from western Hungary, Radical Whites executed many Communists and other leftists without trial, and launched pogroms against the Jews. The departing Romanian army pillaged the country – the estimated property damage of their activity was so much that the international peace conference in 1919 did not require Hungary to pay war redemption to Romania. On November 16, Horthy's army marched into Budapest, and his government gradually restored security, stopped terror, set up local authorities, and imprisoned thousands of sympathizers of the Károlyi and Kun regimes.

The Regency

Difference between the borders of the Kingdom of Hungary before and after the Treaty of Trianon.
The Treaty of Trianon negotiations on June 4, 1920. Hungarian diplomat Albert Apponyi is pictured standing at middle.
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya, Regent of Hungary
Statue of Pál Teleki.

In January 1920, Hungarian men and women cast the first secret ballots in the country's political history—although the entire left-wing either boycotted or was excluded from the voting. A large right-wing majority was elected to a unicameral assembly. In March, the parliament annulled the Compromise of 1867, and it restored the Hungarian monarchy but postponed electing a king until civil disorder had subsided. Instead, Miklos Horthy was elected Regent and was empowered, among other things, to appoint Hungary's prime minister, veto legislation, convene or dissolve the parliament, and command the armed forces.

Hungary's signing of the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920, with the victorious Allied nations, ratified the country's dismemberment. The territorial provisions of the required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its pre-war lands. Nearly one-third of the ten million ethnic Hungarians found themselves outside the diminished homeland. The country's ethnic composition was left almost homogeneous, Hungarians constituting about 90 percent of the population, Germans made up about 6 percent, and Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Jews and Gypsies accounted for the remainder.

New international borders separated Hungary's industrial base from its sources of raw materials and its former markets for agricultural and industrial products. Hungary lost 84 percent of its timber resources, 43 percent of its arable land, and 83 percent of its iron ore. Because most of the country's pre-war industry was concentrated near Budapest, Hungary retained about 51 percent of its industrial population, 56 percent of its industry, 82 percent of its heavy industry, and 70 percent of its banks.

Horthy appointed Count Pál Teleki (1879-1941) as prime minister in July 1920. His right-wing government limited the admission of "political insecure elements" (often Jews) to universities and, in order to quieten rural discontent, took steps toward fulfilling a promise of major land reform by dividing about 1486 square miles (3850 km²) from the largest estates into small holdings.

Teleki's government resigned, however, after the former emperor, Charles IV, attempted to retake Hungary's throne in March 1921. King Charles's return split parties between conservatives, who favored a Habsburg restoration, and nationalist right-wing radicals, who supported election of a Hungarian king. Count István Bethlen (1874 – 1945), elected as a non-affiliated liberal member of the parliament, represented Hungary's interests at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, then returned home to form a new Party of Unity. Horthy then appointed Bethlen prime minister. Charles IV died soon after he failed a second attempt to reclaim the throne in October 1921.

As prime minister, Bethlen dominated Hungarian politics between 1921 and 1931. He amended the electoral law, provided jobs in the expanding bureaucracy to his supporters, and manipulated elections in rural areas. Bethlen restored order to the country by giving the radical counter-revolutionaries pay-offs and government jobs in exchange for their ceasing campaigns of terror against Jews and leftists. In 1921, he made a deal with the Social Democrats and trade unions (called Bethlen-Peyer Pact), agreeing to legalize their activities and free political prisoners in return for their pledge to refrain from spreading anti-Hungarian propaganda, calling political strikes, and organizing the peasantry. Bethlen brought Hungary into the League of Nations in 1922, and out of international isolation by signing a treaty of friendship with Italy in 1927. Revision of the Treaty of Trianon had such a broad backing in Hungary that Bethlen used it, at least in part, to deflect criticism of his economic, social, and political policies.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression reduced the standard of living and the political mood of the country shifted further toward the right. In 1932, Horthy appointed a new prime-minister, Gyula Gömbös (1886-1936), that changed the course of Hungarian policy towards closer cooperation with Germany and started an effort to magyarize the few remaining ethnic minorities in Hungary. Gömbös signed a trade agreement with Germany that drew Hungary's economy out of depression but made Hungary dependent on the German economy for both raw materials and markets.

German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) used promises of returning lost territories, and threats of military intervention and economic pressure to compel Hungarians into supporting Nazi policies, including those related to Jews. In 1935, Hungary's leading fascist party, Ferenc Szálasi's Arrow Cross, was founded. Gömbös' successor, Kálmán Darányi attempted to appease both the Nazis and Hungarian antisemites by passing the First Jewish Law, which set quotas limiting Jews to 20 percent of positions in several professions.

The law satisfied neither the Nazis nor Hungary's own radicals, and when Darányi resigned in May of 1938, Béla Imrédy (1891-1946) was appointed prime minister. Imrédy’s attempts to improve Hungary’s diplomatic relations with England initially made him unpopular with Germany and Italy. Undoubtedly aware of Germany's Anschluss with Austria in March, he realized that he could not afford to alienate Germany and Italy on a long term basis; in the autumn of 1938 his foreign policy became very much pro-German and pro-Italian.

Intent on amassing a base of power in Hungarian right wing politics, Imrédy began to suppress political rivals, so the increasingly influential Arrow Cross Party was harassed, and eventually banned. As Imrédy drifted further to the right, he proposed that the government be reorganized along totalitarian lines and drafted a harsher Second Jewish Law. The new government of Pál Teleki approved the Second Jewish Law, which greatly restricted Jewish employment and defined Jews by race instead of religion. This definition altered the status of those who had formerly converted from Judaism to Christianity.

World War II

World War II was a worldwide military conflict, which split the majority of the world's nations into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis Powers. Spanning much of the globe, World War II resulted in the death of over 70 million people, making it the deadliest conflict in human history.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Hungarian government officially proclaimed neutrality, but in 1941, Hungary participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia, gaining some territory but effectively joining the Axis powers in the process. Prime minister Pál Teleki committed suicide in protest. On June 22, 1941, while Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, Hungary entered World War II on June 26. In late 1941, the Hungarian troops on the Eastern Front experienced success at the Battle of Uman. By 1943, after the Hungarian Second Army sustained heavy losses at the river Don, the Hungarian government sought to negotiate a surrender with the Allies. On March 19, 1944, as a result of this, German troops quietly occupied Hungary in what was known as Operation Margarethe.

On October 15, 1944, Horthy made a weak effort to drive the country out of the war. This time the Germans launched Operation Panzerfaust and Horthy was replaced by a puppet government under the pro-German Prime Minister Ferenc Szálasi (1897-1946). Szálasi and his pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party remained loyal to the Germans until the end of the war. In late 1944, Hungarian troops on the Eastern Front again experienced success at the Battle of Debrecen. But this was followed immediately by the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Battle of Budapest.

During the German occupation in May-June 1944, the Arrow Cross Party and Hungarian police deported nearly 440,000 Jews, mostly to Auschwitz. Over 400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, as well as tens of thousands of Romani people. Hundreds of Hungarian people were also executed by the Arrow Cross Party for sheltering Jews.

The Soviet Army occupied Hungary from September 1944 until April 1945. It took almost two months to conquer Budapest and almost the whole city was destroyed. On January 20, 1945, representatives of a Soviet-sponsored provisional government signed an armistice with the Allied nations, and on February 13, the Hungarian capital city surrendered unconditionally to Soviet troops. On May 8, 1945, World War II in Europe officially ended. The war left Hungary devastated destroying over 60 percent of the economy and causing huge loss of life. Former Prime Minister István Bethlen was captured by the Soviets and taken away, believed to have been executed on October 5, 1945..

Communist rule

Following the fall of Nazi Germany, Soviet troops occupied Hungary and through their influence Hungary gradually became a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union. In elections held in November 1945, the Independent Smallholders' Party won 57 percent of the vote. The Hungarian Communist Party, under the leadership of Mátyás Rákosi (1892-1971) and Ernő Gerő (1898-1980), received support from only 17 percent of the population. The Soviet commander in Hungary, Marshal Voroshilov, refused to allow the Smallholders Party to form a government. Instead Voroshilov established a coalition government with the communists holding some of the key posts. On February 1, 1946, the republic was declared, and the leader of the Smallholders, Zoltán Tildy (1889-1961), was named president and Ferenc Nagy prime minister. Mátyás Rákosi became deputy prime minister.

By signing the Peace Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1947, Hungary again lost all the territories that it gained between 1938 and 1941. László Rajk became minister of the interior and in this post established the security police (ÁVH). In February 1947 the police began arresting leaders of the Smallholders Party and the National Peasant Party. Several prominent figures in both parties escaped abroad.

The Hungarian Workers Party (formed by a merger of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party) became the largest single party in the elections in 1947 and served in the coalition People's Independence Front government. The communists gradually gained control of the government and by 1948 the Social Democratic Party ceased to exist as an independent organization. Its leader, Béla Kovács was arrested and sent to Siberia. Other opposition leaders such as Anna Kéthly, Ferenc Nagy and István Szabó were imprisoned or sent into exile.

On August 18, 1949, the parliament passed the new constitution of Hungary (1949/XX.) modeled after the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union. The name of the country changed to People's Republic of Hungary. Socialism was declared as the main goal of the nation. A new coat-of-arms were adopted with Communist symbols like the red star, hammer and scythe.

Stalinist era

Mátyás Rákosi, the new leader of Hungary, demanded complete obedience from fellow members of the Hungarian Workers Party. His main rival was foreign secretary László Rajk, who was arrested put on trial in September 1949, where he made a forced confession, was found guilty, and was executed. Rákosi imposed authoritarian rule. János Kádár and other dissidents were purged from the party. An estimated 2000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned.

Cardinal József Mindszenty (1892-1975), who had opposed the German Nazis and the Hungarian Fascists during the Second World War, was arrested in December, 1948, and accused of treason. After five weeks under arrest, he confessed to the charges made against him and he was condemned to life imprisonment. The Protestant churches were purged and their leaders were replaced by those willing to remain loyal to Rákosi's government.

Rákosi had difficulty managing the economy and the people of Hungary saw living standards fall. His government became increasingly unpopular, and when Joseph Stalin died in 1953, Rákosi was replaced as prime minister by Imre Nagy (1896-1958). Rákosi retained his position as general secretary of the Hungarian Workers Party, and over the next three years the two men became involved in a bitter struggle for power.

Imre Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. This included a promise to increase the production and distribution of consumer goods. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. But Nagy was dismissed from the premiership, in April 1955, and expelled from the party because of alleged anti-Soviet nationalism. He was succeeded by András Hegedüs (1922-1999), a protégé of Rákosi. Ernö Gerö (1898-1980), another pro-Russian, became party secretary.

1956 uprising

On October 23, 1956, students demonstrated in Budapest against compulsory courses in the Russian language and in Marxism-Leninism. Workers joined in with a demand for the reinstatement of Nagy as premier. As the students attempted to broadcast these demands, police made some arrests and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. When the students attempted to free those arrested, the police opened fire on the crowd, setting off a chain of events which lead to the Hungarian Revolution.

Prime Minister Hegedüs called for help from troops of the Soviet occupying force. On October 25, Soviet tanks opened fire on protesters in Parliament Square. One journalist at the scene saw 12 dead bodies and estimated that 170 had been wounded. Shocked by these events the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party forced Ernő Gerő to resign and replaced him with János Kádár (1912-1989).

Imre Nagy went on radio and announced he had taken over the leadership of the Government. On October 28, Nagy and a group of his supporters, including János Kádár, Géza Losonczy, Antal Apró, Károly Kiss, Ferenc Münnich and Zoltán Szabó, managed to take control of the Hungarian Workers Party. At the same time, revolutionary workers' councils and local national committees were formed all over Hungary. Nagy announced that the one-party system would be discontinued and free elections held. He promised economic reforms, freed Cardinal Mindszenty, demanded the withdrawal of Soviet forces, and, denouncing the Warsaw Pact, and, mistakenly confident of Western support, proclaimed Hungary a neutral state.

Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, became increasingly concerned about these developments and on November 4, 1956, he sent the Red Army into Hungary. Soviet tanks immediately captured Hungary's airfields, highway junctions, and bridges. Fighting took place all over the country but the Hungarian forces were quickly defeated. An estimated 20,000 people were killed, nearly all during the Soviet intervention. Imre Nagy was arrested and replaced by the Soviet loyalist János Kádár, who was also head of the renamed Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. Nagy was imprisoned and executed in 1958. Other government ministers or supporters who were either executed or died in captivity included Pál Maléter, Géza Losonczy, Attila Szigethy and Miklós Gimes.

The Kadar regime

Once in power, Kádár led an attack against revolutionaries. About 21,600 democrats, liberals, and reformist communists were imprisoned, 13,000 interned, and 400 killed. Nagy and many of his associates were executed. Cardinal Mindszenty took refuge in the U.S. legation in Budapest, where he remained until he was permitted to leave the country in 1971. Kádár remained in control for more than 30 years. In the early 1960s, Kádár 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 rebuild the economy, increase productivity, make Hungary more competitive in world markets, and create prosperity to ensure political stability. The government remained committed to Moscow, joining in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

János Kádár held power until 1988, when he resigned as general secretary due to an economic downturn, demonstrations for freedom of speech, and civil reforms, and his own ill-health. In January 1988, all restrictions were lifted on foreign travel. In March, demonstrations for democracy and civil rights brought 15,000 onto the streets. At a party conference in May 1988, he was replaced as general secretary by Prime Minister Károly Grósz who strove to continue Kádár's policies in a modified and adjusted form adapted to the new circumstances. In early 1989, as Grósz and his associates in turn were being sidelined by a faction of "radical reformers" who set out to dismantle the socialist system, Kádár, now visibly senile, was removed from political office, and died not long afterwards.

Transition to democracy

Hungary's transition to a Western-style democracy was one of the smoothest among the former Soviet bloc. By late 1988, 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 Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), and the national opposition established the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). Civic activism intensified to a level not seen since the 1956 revolution.

In May 1989, Hungary, began taking down its barbed wire fence along the Austrian border – the first tear in the Iron Curtain.

In 1989, the Parliament adopted a "democracy package," which included trade union pluralism; freedom of association, of assembly, and of the press; a new electoral law; and in October 1989 a dramatic revision of the constitution, to provide for a democratic multi-party system. The country’s name was changed from the People’s Republic of Hungary to the Republic of Hungary.

The fervor for 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 round table, 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 September 1989, Foreign Minister Gyula Horn announced that East German refugees in Hungary would not be repatriated, but would instead be allowed to go to the West. The resulting exodus shook East Germany and hastened the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Free elections held

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 percent of the vote and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) capturing 24 percent. Under Prime Minister József 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 percent majority in the parliament. Parliamentary opposition parties included SZDSZ, the Socialists (MSZP), and the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz). Péter Boross succeeded as prime minister after Antall died in December 1993. The coalition governments achieved a reasonably well-functioning parliamentary democracy and laid the foundation for a free-market economy, and the massive worsening of living standards because of the free-market reforms led to a massive loss of support.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Hungary developed closer ties with Western Europe as well as with other Central European countries. It became a member of the Visegrad Group in 1991, joined NATO in 1999, and became a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004.

Government and politics

The Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest.

Hungary is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. According to the 1949 constitution, which was revised in 1972 and again in 1989, and is based on the post-WWII Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, the prime minister has a leading role in the executive branch as he selects Cabinet ministers and has the exclusive right to dismiss them.

The president, elected by the parliament every five years, has a largely ceremonial role, choosing the dates of the parliamentary elections. The prime minister is elected by parliament and can only be removed if his successor is elected simultaneously (constructive vote of no confidence). The prime minister selects cabinet ministers and has the exclusive right to dismiss them. Each cabinet nominee appears before one or more parliamentary committees in open hearings and must be formally approved by the President.

The unicameral, 386-member National Assembly (Országgyűlés) is the highest organ of state authority and initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the prime minister. Its members are elected for a four-year term. A total of 176 members are elected in single-seat constituencies, 152 by proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies, and 58 so-called compensation seats are distributed based on the number of votes that did not produce a seat in either the single-seat or the multi-seat constituencies. A party must win five percent of the vote to gain representation in the multi-seat constituencies and the compensation seats, not the single-seat constituencies. Suffrage is universal to those aged 18 years and over.

An 11-member Constitutional Court has power to challenge legislation on grounds of unconstitutionality. The president of the Supreme Court and the Hungarian civil and penal legal system he leads is independent of the executive branch of government, as are the Attorney General or Chief Prosecutor of Hungary. Several ombudsman offices exist to protect civil, minority, educational and ecological rights in non-judicial matters. The legal system is based German-Austrian legal system. Hungary accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction with reservations.

Administrative divisions

Counties of Hungary

Administratively, Hungary is divided into 19 counties. In addition, the capital city (főváros), Budapest, is independent of any county government. The counties and the capital are the 20 NUTS third-level units of Hungary. The counties are further subdivided into 167 subregions (kistérségek), and Budapest is a subregion. Since 1996, the counties and City of Budapest have been grouped into seven regions for statistical and development purposes. These seven regions constitute NUTS' second-level units of Hungary. There are also 23 towns with county rights (singular megyei jogú város), sometimes known as "urban counties" in English. The local authorities of these towns have extended powers, but these towns belong to the territory of the respective county instead of being independent territorial units.


Honvédség is the name of the Hungarian army. It literally means corps of homeland defenders and was originally used to refer to the revolutionary army established by Lajos Kossuth and the National Defense Committee of the Revolutionary Hungarian Diet in September 1848 during the Hungarian Revolution.

During the Socialist and the Warsaw Pact era (1955–1989), the entire 200,000 strong Southern Group of Forces was garrisoned in Hungary, complete with artillery, tank regiments, air force and missile troops (with nuclear weapons). It was by all means a very capable force that made little contact with the local population. Between 1949 and 1955 there was also a huge effort to build a big Hungarian army. All procedures, disciplines, and equipment were exact copies of the Soviet Red Army in methods and material, but the huge costs collapsed the economy by 1956.

Since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization in 1990, Hungary has worked to modernize its armed forces. The Honvédség's largest service is the army, followed by the air force and a small naval contingent that patrols the Danube River, now essentially defunct. The size of the armed forces in 2006 was 45,000, down from over 130,000 in 1989. Mandatory armed service for males was abolished in late 2004, after 136 years of continuous conscription. The government pledged to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP to 2006 to bring Hungary's military budget in line with those of NATO countries.

Hungary provided airbases and support for NATO's air campaign against Serbia and has provided military units to serve in Kosovo as part of the NATO-led KFOR operation. Hungary has sent a 300 strong logistics unit to Iraq in order to help the US occupation with armed transport convoys, though public opinion opposed the country's participation in the war.

Hungary is an OECD, NATO, EU, and Schengen member.


Hungary has made the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy. Its principal economic activities include services, industry (machinery and equipment manufacturing), and agriculture.

The Hungarian economy prior to World War II was primarily oriented toward agriculture and small-scale manufacturing. Hungary's strategic position in Europe and its relative high lack of natural resources also have dictated a traditional reliance on foreign trade.

In the early 1950s, the communist government forced rapid industrialization after the standard Stalinist pattern in an effort to encourage a more self-sufficient economy. Most economic activity was conducted by state-owned enterprises or cooperatives and state farms. In 1968, Stalinist self-sufficiency was replaced by the "New Economic Mechanism," which reopened Hungary to foreign trade, gave limited freedom to the workings of the market, and allowed a limited number of small businesses to operate in the services sector.

Hungary continues to demonstrate economic growth as one of the newer member countries of the European Union (since 2004). Foreign ownership of and investment in Hungarian firms are widespread.

Inflation and unemployment have been increasing. Foreign investors' trust in the Hungarian economy has declined, as they deemed that the stringency measures planned in the second half of 2006 were not satisfactory, their focus being mainly on increasing the income side rather than curbing government spending.

Export commodities include machinery and equipment, other manufactures, food products, raw materials, fuels and electricity. Export partners include Germany, Italy, France, Austria, UK, Romania, and Poland.

Import commodities include machinery and equipment, other manufactures, fuels and electricity, food products, and raw materials. Import partners included Germany, Russia, China, Austria, France, Italy, Netherlands, and Poland.


Migration of the Magyars

Hungarians make up the vast majority (over 90 percent) of the population, with much smaller numbers of Roma and German people.

Hungarians, or Magyars, are an ethnic group who have been the main inhabitants of the Kingdom of Hungary that existed through most of the second millennium. The origin of the Hungarians is disputed. The most widely accepted Finno-Ugric theory from the late nineteenth century, which says that during the fourth millennium B.C.E., some of the earliest settlements of the Finno-Ugric-speaking peoples were situated east of the Ural Mountains. Due to climatic changes in the early first millennium B.C.E., the northern Ugrian subgroup (the Ob-Ugrians) moved to the lower Ob River, while southern Ugrians remained in the south and became nomadic herdsmen. Since these southern Ugrians became the ancestors of the proto-Magyars, this division marks the beginning of the Magyars as a distinct ethnic group.

Roma people (called cigányok or romák in Hungarian) tend to live in poverty, lack education, and face racial prejudice. The traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Roma is often an obstacle to integration into society and it is a source of conflicts, especially in the villages. Fewer than one percent of Roma hold higher educational certificates. Their low status on the job market and higher unemployment rates cause poverty, widespread social problems and crime.


Basilica in Esztergom
Matthias Church in Budapest.

Among religions in Hungary, Roman Catholic Christianity is the predominant one, with just over 50 percent of the population counted as adherents, the majority of which are Catholic.

The majority of Hungarian people became Christian in the tenth century. Hungary's first king, Saint Stephen, took up Western Christianity, although his mother, Sarolt, was baptized in the eastern rite. Hungary remained predominantly Catholic until the sixteenth century, when the Reformation took place and, as a result, first Lutheranism, then soon afterwards Calvinism became the religion of almost the entire population. In the second half of the sixteenth century, however, Jesuits led a successful campaign of counter-reformation among the Hungarians. Jesuits founded educational institutions, including the oldest university that still exists in Hungary (Péter Pázmány), but they organized so-called missions too in order to promote popular piety. By the seventeenth century, once again, Hungary became predominantly Catholic. The eastern parts of the country, however, especially around Debrecen ("the Calvinist Vatican") and Transylvania (except the majority of the Székelys), remained predominantly Protestant.

Hungary has been the home of a sizable Armenian community. They still worship according to the Armenian liturgical rite, but they have reunited with the Church of Rome (Armenian Catholics) under the primacy of the Pope. According to the same pattern, a significant number of Byzantine Rite Christians became re-united with the rest of the Catholic world (Greek Catholics).

Hungary has been the home of a significant number of Jews, especially since the nineteenth century when many Jews persecuted in Russia found refuge in the Kingdom of Hungary. The largest synagogue in Europe is in Budapest. However, even Hungarian Jews did not escape the Holocaust during World War II, and hundreds of thousands of them were either deported to concentration camps or simply executed.


Hungarian is the official language and is spoken by 93.6 percent of the population. It belongs to the Ugor branch of the Finno-Ugric language family, which is unrelated to any neighboring language and distantly related to Finnish and Estonian. Hungarian is one of the few official languages of the European Union that is not of Indo-European origin. German was the most important and frequently used second language before World War II, and during the communist regime, Russian was mandatory in schools and universities. English has become the most-valued second language, among young entrepreneurs and academics.


Primary school is usually preceded by kindergarten where children spend three or four years. Children start primary school when they reach school-maturity, usually in the year in which they have their sixth birthday. Primary education can last for four, six or eight years. The eight-year education is the most widespread; the other two options were introduced in the early 1990s.

Secondary education usually lasts for four years. There are three kinds of secondary schools: Gimnázium (non-vocational, which prepares students for higher education, and teaches at least two foreign languages), Szakközépiskola (vocational school which also prepares for higher education), and Szakiskola (a vocational school). After finishing secondary school, students take a school-leaving exam (Matura or final exam, érettségi in Hungarian).

Higher education is divided between colleges and universities. College education generally lasts for four years, while university education lasts for four to six years depending on the course undertaken. University PhD courses usually take three years to complete. Students must pass an intermediate-level language exam in the foreign language of their choice. English and German are the most popular. The number of Spanish-learners has been growing in the last few years. Recently a high number of students chose Esperanto and Romani languages. The latter is said to have a relatively small vocabulary and easy grammar.


Under the communist regime, party leaders, secretaries, and members lived better and had access to more goods than did the rest of the population. Privatization of industry, commerce, and some services took place after 1990, and brought a gap that widened between the rich and the poor. Upward social mobility depends on education. The new rich own remodeled villas in Budapest, drive expensive foreign cars, can afford foreign travel, wear designer clothes.


The Great Synagogue.
Pannonhalma Archabbey.
Front view of the palace of Gödöllő.
Ferenc Kölcsey, author of the lyrics of the Hungarian national anthem.


Before the middle of the nineteenth century, Hungary was a rural society. Rural workers lived in large villages, with a church built in a central location. Peasant houses always had a tiszta szoba (clean room) for special visits, births, christenings, weddings, and funerals, and "sacred corners" decorated with pictures of saints. Industrialization in the mid-nineteenth century brought a number of industrial-commercial-merchant cities. Between 1867 and the beginning of World War I, Budapest grew into a city with a population of over a million.

Hungary is home to the largest synagogue in Europe (Great Synagogue), the largest medicinal bath in Europe (Széchenyi Medicinal Bath), the third largest church in Europe (Esztergom Basilica), the second largest territorial abbey in the world (Pannonhalma Archabbey), the second largest Baroque castle in the world (Gödöllő), and the largest Early Christian Necropolis outside Italy (Pécs).


Hungary has had a notable cinema industry for some time. Major actresses include Vilma Bánky and the famous Gabor sisters from Budapest Eva Gabor, Magda Gabor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Famous films include Mephisto which was released in a co-production between Hungary and West Germany in 1981. Major film directors include internationally renowned István Szabó.


The nomadic lifestyle of the Magyars, and the importance of livestock, is reflected in Hungarian cuisine in the prominence of meat, and in the many dishes cooked over the fire, from goulash in a bogrács (or cauldron) to pogácsa pastries. In the fifteenth century, King Matthias Corvinus and his Neopolitan wife Beatrice helped introduce garlic and onions. Elements of Turkish cuisine were adopted by Hungarians during the Ottoman era, mainly in the form of vegetable dishes, but the influence is not as pronounced as in the Balkans. Cakes and sweets in Hungary show a strong German/Austrian influence. Two remarkable elements of Hungarian cuisine that are hardly noticed by locals, but usually conjure up much enthusiasm amongst foreigners, are different forms of főzelék as well as cold fruit soups.

Hungarian cuisine is also a prominent feature of Hungarian culture, with traditional dishes such as goulash (gulyás or gulyásleves) a main feature of the Hungarian diet. Dishes are often flavored with paprika. Stews are often made with pork or beef, for example as used in pörkölt. There are numerous desserts that are usually flavored with fruit and pastry based (rétes). Food is a big part of the Hungarian culture and it is viewed often as rude to not accept it when offered.

Breakfast may consist of fresh bread, fruit, vegetables, or cereal. Lunch is the major meal of the day, usually with several courses: soup is followed by a main dish including meat, which precedes a dessert. Fruit may follow. Dinner is a far less significant meal than lunch. It may be similar to breakfast, with bread and vegetables, or perhaps a bowl of soup, and usually consists of only one course.

Hungarian wines include the well known Tokaji and Egri Bikavér. Though not as famous as the country's wines, Hungarian beer has a long history. Hungary's most notable liquors are undoubtedly Unicum, an herbal bitters, and Palinka, a fruit brandy. Also of note is Traubi or Traubisoda, a Hungarian soft drink produced in Balatonvilágos.


Hungarian literature has gained some renown outside the borders of Hungary (mostly through translations into German, French and English). Some modern Hungarian authors became increasingly popular in Germany and Italy especially Sándor Márai, Péter Esterházy, Péter Nádas and Imre Kertész. The latter is a contemporary Jewish writer who survived the Holocaust and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002. The older classics of Hungarian literature and Hungarian poetry remained unknown outside Hungary. János Arany, a famous nineteenth century Hungarian poet is still much loved in Hungary (especially his collection of Ballads), among several other "true classics" like Sándor Petőfi, the poet of the Revolution of 1848, Endre Ady, Mihály Babits, Dezső Kosztolányi, Attila József and János Pilinszky. Other well-known Hungarian authors are Zsigmond Móricz, Gyula Illyés, Albert Wass, and Magda Szabó.


Ferenc Liszt (Franz Liszt), the prominent Hungarian composer, piano virtuoso and contemporary of Ferenc Erkel.
Béla Bartók in 1927

The music of Hungary consists mainly of traditional Hungarian folk music and music by prominent composers such as Franz Liszt, Béla Bartók and Kodály. Hungarian traditional music tends to have a strong dactylic rhythm, as the language is invariably stressed on the first syllable of each word. Hungary also has a number of internationally renowned composers of contemporary classical music, György Ligeti, György Kurtág, Péter Eötvös and Zoltán Jeney among them.

Franz Liszt (1811–1886) was a Hungarian virtuoso pianist and composer of the Romantic period. He was a renowned performer throughout Europe during the nineteenth century, noted especially for his showmanship and great skill with the piano. Today, he is considered to be one of the greatest pianists in history. Liszt is frequently credited with re-defining piano playing itself, and his influence is still visible today, both through his compositions and his legacy as a teacher. He is credited with the invention of the symphonic poem, as well as the modern solo piano recital, in which his virtuosity won him approval by composers and performers alike.

Béla Viktor János Bartók (1881–1945) was a Hungarian composer, pianist and collector of Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk music. He is considered one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century and was also one of the founders of the field of ethnomusicology, the study and ethnography of folk music.

Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967) was a Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, educator, linguist, and philosopher.

Science and technology

Ernő Rubik's most famous puzzle, the Rubik's Cube

Hungary is famous for its excellent mathematics education which has trained numerous outstanding scientists. Famous Hungarian mathematicians include Paul Erdős (1913-1996), famed for publishing in over 40 languages and whose Erdős numbers are still tracked; János (John) Bolyai, designer of non-Euclidean (or "absolute") geometry in 1831; and John von Neumann, a pioneer of digital computing. Many Hungarian Jewish scientists, including Erdős, von Neumann, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner, fled rising anti-Semitism in Europe and made their most famous contributions in the United States.

Hungarians are very proud of their inventions. These include the noiseless match (János Irinyi), Rubik's cube (Ernő Rubik), and the krypton electric bulb (Imre Bródy). A number of other important inventions, including holography (Dennis Gabor), the ballpoint pen (László Bíró), the theory of the hydrogen bomb (Edward Teller), and the BASIC programming language (John Kemeny, with Thomas E. Kurtz), were invented by Hungarians who fled the country prior to World War II.


Hungarian footballer Ferenc Puskás (1927–2006) is famous for scoring 84 goals in 85 internationals for Hungary, and 511 goals in 533 matches in the Hungarian and Spanish leagues. Puskás played the 1954 World Cup final against West Germany. In 1958, after the Hungarian Revolution, he emigrated to Spain where he played in the legendary Real Madrid team that also included Alfredo Di Stéfano, and Francisco Gento.

Hungarians are also known for their prowess at water sports, mainly swimming, water polo and canoeing; this can be said to be surprising at first, due to Hungary being landlocked. On the other hand, the presence of two major rivers (the Duna and the Tisza) and a major lake (Balaton) give excellent opportunities to practice these sports. Some of the world's best sabre fencing athletes have hailed from Hungary.


  1. Mikrocenzus 2016 – 12. Nemzetiségi adatok (2016 microcensus – 12. Ethnic data) Hungarian Central Statistical Office, Budapest, 2018. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  2. Population by type of settlement – annually Hungarian Central Statistical Office. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Hungary World Economic Outlook Database, October 2019, International Monetary Fund.
  4. Gini coefficient of equivalised disposable income – EU-SILC survey Eurostat. Retrieved September 30, 2020.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Berend, T. Iván, and György Ránki. The Hungarian economy in the twentieth century. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985. ISBN 9780312401184
  • Borsody, Stephen. The Hungarians a divided nation. (Yale Russian and East European publications, no. 7.) New Haven: Yale Center for International and Area Studies, 1988. ISBN 9780936586076.
  • Burant, Stephen R., and Eugene K. Keefe. Hungary a country study. (Area handbook series.) Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990. ISBN 9780160292026.
  • Molnár, Miklós. A concise history of Hungary. (Cambridge concise histories.) Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 9780521667364.
  • Sugar, Peter F., Péter Hanák, and Tibor Frank. A History of Hungary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. ISBN 9780253355782

External links

All links retrieved September 30, 2020.


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