The Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dacia, conquered under Tiberius and Trajan (1st cent. AD), embraced part of what was to become Hungary. The Huns and later the Ostrogoths and the Avars settled there for brief periods. In the late 9th cent. the Magyars, a Finno-Ugric people from beyond the Urals, conquered all or most of Hungary and Transylvania. The semilegendary leader, Arpad, founded their first dynasty. The Magyars apparently merged with the earlier settlers, but they also continued to press westward until defeated by King (later Holy Roman Emperor) Otto I, at the Lechfeld (955).
Halted in its expansion, the Hungarian state began to solidify. Its first king, St. Stephen (reigned 1001–38), completed the Christianization of the Magyars and built the authority of his crown—which has remained the symbol of national existence—on the strength of the Roman Catholic Church. Under Bela III (reigned 1172–1196), Hungary came into close contact with Western European, particularly French, culture. Through the favor of succeeding kings, a few very powerful nobles—the magnates—won ever-widening privileges at the expense of the lesser nobles, the peasants, and the towns. In 1222 the lesser nobles forced the extravagant Andrew II to grant the Golden Bull (the
Magna Carta of Hungary), which limited the king's power to alienate his authority to the magnates and established the beginnings of a parliament.
Under Andrew's son, Bela IV, the kingdom barely escaped annihilation: Mongol invaders, defeating Bela at Muhi (1241), occupied the country for a year, and Ottocar II of Bohemia also defeated Bela, who was further threatened by his own rebellious son Stephen V. Under Stephen's son, Ladislaus IV, Hungary fell into anarchy, and when the royal line of Arpad died out (1301) with Andrew III, the magnates seized the opportunity to increase their authority.
In 1308, Charles Robert of Anjou was elected king of Hungary as Charles I, the first of the Angevin line. His autocratic rule checked the magnates somewhat and furthered the growth of the towns. Under his son, Louis I (Louis the Great), Hungary reached its greatest territorial extension, with power extending into Dalmatia, the Balkans, and Poland.
After the death of Louis I, a series of foreign rulers succeeded: Sigismund (later Holy Roman Emperor), son-in-law of Louis; Albert II of Austria, son-in-law of Sigismund; and Ladislaus III of Poland (Uladislaus I of Hungary). During their reigns the Turks began to advance through the Balkans, defeating the Hungarians and their allies at Kosovo Field (1389), Nikopol (1396), and Varna (1444). John Hunyadi, acting after 1444 as regent for Albert II's son, Ladislaus V, gave Hungary a brief respite through his victory at Belgrade (1456).
The reign of Hunyadi's son, Matthias Corvinus, elected king in 1458, was a glorious period in Hungarian history. Matthias maintained a splendid court at Buda, kept the magnates subject to royal authority, and improved the central administration. But under his successors Uladislaus II and Louis II, the nobles regained their power. Transylvania became virtually independent under the Zapolya family. The peasants, rising in revolt, were crushed (1514) by John Zapolya. Louis II was defeated and killed by the Turks under Sulayman the Magnificent in the battle of Mohács in 1526. The date is commonly taken to mark the beginning of Ottoman domination over Hungary. Ferdinand of Austria (later Emperor Ferdinand I), as brother-in-law of Louis II, claimed the Hungarian throne and was elected king by a faction of nobles, while another faction chose Zapolya as John I.
In the long wars that followed, Hungary was split into three parts: the western section, where Ferdinand and his successor, Rudolf II, maintained a precarious rule, challenged by such Hungarian leaders as Stephen Bocskay and Gabriel Bethlen; the central plains, which were completely under Turkish domination; and Transylvania, ruled by noble families (see Báthory and Rákóczy).
The Protestant Reformation, supported by the nobles and well-established in Transylvania, nearly succeeded throughout Hungary. Cardinal Pázmány was a leader of the Counter Reformation in Hungary. In 1557 religious freedom was proclaimed by the diet of Transylvania, and the principle of toleration was generally maintained throughout the following centuries.
Hungarian opposition to Austrian domination included such extreme efforts as the assistance Thököly gave to the Turks during the siege of Vienna (1683). Emperor Leopold I, however, through his able generals Prince Eugene of Savoy and Duke Charles V of Lorraine, soon regained his lost ground. Budapest was liberated from the Turks in 1686. In 1687, Hungarian nobles recognized the Hapsburg claim to the Hungarian throne. By the Peace of Kalowitz (1699), Turkey ceded to Austria most of Hungary proper and Transylvania. Transylvania continued to fight the Hapsburgs, but in 1711, with the defeat of Francis II Rákóczy (see under Rákóczy, family), Austrian control was definitely established. In 1718 the Austrians took the Banat from Turkey.
The Austrians brought in Germans and Slavs to settle the newly freed territory, destroying Hungary's ethnic homogeneity. Hapsburg rule was uneasy. The Hungarians were loyal to Maria Theresa in her wars, but many of the unpopular centralizing reforms of Joseph II, who had wanted to make German the sole language of administration and to abolish the Hungarian counties, had to be withdrawn.
In the second quarter of the 19th cent. a movement that combined Hungarian nationalism with constitutional liberalism gained strength. Among its leaders were Count Szechenyi, Louis Kossuth, Baron Eötvös, Sándor Petőfi, and Francis Deak. Inspired by the French Revolution of 1848, the Hungarian diet passed the March Laws (1848), which established a liberal constitutional monarchy for Hungary under the Hapsburgs. But the reforms did not deal with the national minorities problem. Several minority groups revolted, and, after Francis Joseph replaced Ferdinand VII as emperor, the Austrians waged war against Hungary (Dec., 1848).
In Apr., 1849, Kossuth declared Hungary an independent republic. Russian troops came to the aid of the emperor, and the republic collapsed. The Hungarian surrender at Vilagos (Aug., 1849) was followed by ruthless reprisals. But after its defeat in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), Austria was obliged to compromise with Magyar national aspirations. The Ausgleich of 1867 (largely the work of Francis Deak) set up the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in which Austria and Hungary were nearly equal partners. Emperor Francis Joseph was crowned (1867) king of Hungary, which at that time also included Transylvania, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Croatia and Slovenia, and the Banat. The minorities problem persisted, the Serbs, Croats, and Romanians being particularly restive under Hungarian rule.
During this period industrialization began in Hungary, while the condition of the peasantry deteriorated to the profit of landowners. By a law of 1874 only about 6% of the population could vote. Until World War I, when republican and socialist agitation began to threaten the established order, Hungary was one of the most aristocratic countries in Europe. As the military position of Austria-Hungary in World War I deteriorated, the situation in Hungary grew more unstable. Hungarian nationalists wanted independence and withdrawal from the war; the political left was inspired by the 1917 revolutions in Russia; and the minorities were receptive to the Allies' promises of self-determination.
In Oct., 1918, Emperor Charles I (King of Hungary as Charles IV) appointed Count Michael Károlyi premier. Károlyi advocated independence and peace and was prepared to negotiate with the minorities. His cabinet included socialists and radicals. In November the emperor abdicated, and the Dual Monarchy collapsed.
Károlyi proclaimed Hungary an independent republic. However, the minorities would not deal with him, and the Allies forced upon him very unfavorable armistice terms. The government resigned, and the Communists under Béla Kun seized power (Mar., 1919). The subsequent Red terror was followed by a Romanian invasion and the defeat (July, 1919) of Kun's forces. After the Romanians withdrew, Admiral Horthy de Nagybanya established a government and in 1920 was made regent, since there was no king. Reactionaries, known as White terrorists, conducted a brutal campaign of terror against the Communists and anyone associated with Károlyi or Kun.
The Treaty of Trianon (see Trianon, Treaty of), signed in 1920, reduced the size and population of Hungary by about two thirds, depriving Hungary of valuable natural resources and removing virtually all non-Magyar areas, although Budapest retained a large German-speaking population. The next twenty-five years saw continual attempts by the Magyar government to recover the lost territories. Early endeavors were frustrated by the Little Entente and France, and Hungary turned to a friendship with Fascist Italy and, ultimately, to an alliance (1941) with Nazi Germany. The authoritarian domestic policies of the premiers Stephen Bethlen and Julius Gombos and their successors safeguarded the power of the upper classes, ignored the demand for meaningful land reform, and encouraged anti-Semitism.
Between 1938 and 1944, Hungary regained, with the aid of Germany and Italy, territories from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania. It declared war on the USSR (June, 1941) and on the United States (Dec., 1941). When the Hungarian government took steps to withdraw from the war and protect its Jewish population, German troops occupied the country (Mar., 1944). The Germans were driven out by Soviet forces (Oct., 1944–Apr., 1945). The Soviet campaign caused much devastation.
National elections were held in 1945 (in which the Communist party received less than one fifth of the vote), and a republican constitution was adopted in 1946. The peace treaty signed at Paris in 1947 restored the bulk of the Trianon boundaries and required Hungary to pay $300 million in reparations to the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. A new coalition regime instituted long-needed land reforms.
Early in 1948 the Communist party, through its control of the ministry of the interior, arrested leading politicians, forced the resignation of Premier Ferenc Nagy, and gained full control of the state. Hungary was proclaimed a People's Republic in 1949, after parliamentary elections in which there was only a single slate of candidates. Radical purges in the national Communist party made it thoroughly subservient to that of the USSR. Industry was nationalized and land was collectivized. The trial of Cardinal Mindszenty aroused protest throughout the Western world.
By 1953 continuous purges of Communist leaders, constant economic difficulties, and peasant resentment of collectivization had led to profound crisis in Hungary. Premier Mátyás Rákosi, the Stalinist in control since 1948, was removed in July, 1953, and Imre Nagy became premier. He slowed down collectivization and emphasized production of consumer goods, but he was removed in 1955, and the emphasis on farm collectivization was restored. In 1955, Hungary joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization and was admitted to the United Nations.
On Oct. 23, 1956, a popular anti-Communist revolution, centered in Budapest, broke out in Hungary. A new coalition government under Imre Nagy declared Hungary neutral, withdrew it from the Warsaw Treaty, and appealed to the United Nations for aid. However, János Kádár, one of Nagy's ministers, formed a counter-government and asked the USSR for military support. Some 500,000 Soviet troops were sent to Hungary, and in severe and brutal fighting they suppressed the revolution. Nagy and some of his ministers were abducted and were later executed, and thousands of other Hungarians, many of them teenagers, were imprisoned or executed. In addition, about 190,000 refugees fled the country. Kádár became premier and sought to win popular support for Communist rule and to improve Hungary's relations with Yugoslavia and other countries. He carried out a drastic purge (1962) of former Stalinists (including Mátyás Rákosi), accusing them of the harsh policies responsible for the 1956 revolt. Collectivization, which had been stopped after 1956, was again resumed in 1958–59.
Kádár's regime gained a degree of popularity as it brought increasing liberalization to Hungarian political, cultural, and economic life. Economic reforms introduced in 1968 brought a measure of decentralization to the economy and allowed for supply and demand factors; Hungary achieved substantial improvements in its standard of living. Hungary aided the USSR in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The departure (1971) of Cardinal Mindszenty from Budapest after 15 years of asylum in the U.S. legation and his removal (1974) from the position of primate of Hungary improved relations with the Catholic church. Due to Soviet criticism, many of the economic reforms were subverted during the mid-1970s only to be reinstituted at the end of the decade.
During the 1980s, Hungary began to increasingly turn to the West for trade and assistance in the modernization of its economic system. The economy continued to decline and the high foreign debt became unpayable. Premier Károly Grósz gave up the premiership in 1988, and in 1989 the Communist party congress voted to dissolve itself. That same year Hungary opened its borders with Austria, allowing thousands of East Germans to cross to the West.
By 1990, a multiparty political system with free elections had been established; legislation was passed granting new political and economic reforms such as a free press, freedom of assembly, and the right to own a private business. The new prime minister, József Antall, a member of the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum who was elected in 1990, vowed to continue the drive toward a free-market economy. The same year Árpád Göncz was elected president of Hungary.
The government embarked on the privatization of Hungary's state enterprises, and the Soviet military presence in Hungary ended in the summer of 1991. Antall died in 1993 and was succeeded as prime minister by Péter Boross. Parliamentary elections in 1994 returned the Socialists (former Communists) to power. They formed a coalition government with the liberal Free Democrats, and Socialist leader Gyula Horn became prime minister. President Göncz was reelected in 1995.
In 1998, Viktor Orbán of the conservative Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Union became prime minister as head of a coalition government. Hungary became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999. Ference Mádl succeeded Göncz as president in Aug., 2000. A 2001 law giving ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries (but not worldwide) social and economic rights in Hungary was criticized by Romania and Slovakia as an unacceptable extraterritorial exercise of power. The following year, negotiations with Romania extended the rights to all Romanian citizens, and in 2003 the benefits under the law were reduced. The 2002 elections brought the Socialists and the allies, the Free Democrats, back into power; former finance minister Péter Medgyessy became prime minister.
In August, 2004, Medgyssey fired several cabinet members, angering the Free Democrats and leading the Socialists to replace him. The following month Ferenc Gyurcsány, the sports minister, became prime minister. Hungary became a member of the European Union earlier in the year. A Dec., 2004, referendum on granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in other countries passed, but it was not legally binding because less than 25% of the Hungarian electorate voted for it. László Sólyom was elected president of Hungary in June, 2005. In Apr., 2006, Gyurcsány's Socialist-led coalition won a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections, marking the first time a government had won a second consecutive term in office since the establishment of free elections in 1990.
In September, however, the prime minister suffered a setback when a recording of a May, 2006, Socialist party meeting was leaked and he was heard criticizing the government's past performance and saying that the party had lied to win the 2006 election. The tape sparked opposition demonstrations and riots, which were encouraged by the opposition Fidesz, and led to calls for the government to resign. Gyurcsány apologized for not having campaigned honestly, and the coalition was trounced in local elections in early October, but he retained the support of his parliamentary coalition and the government remained in power.
In Apr., 2008, the Alliance of Free Democrats left the governing coalition, and the Socialists formed a minority government. The 2008 global financial crisis led to a sharp drop in the value of the Hungarian currency in October, forcing Hungary to seek a
In parliamentary elections a year later, Orbán and Fidesz defeated the Socialists in a landslide, winning more than two thirds of the seats, but the voting also produced a surge for the far right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik), which appealed to anti-Semitic and anti-Romani sentiments and won nearly 17% of the vote in the first round. Fidesz subsequently passed a law enabling ethnic Hungarians in Central Europe to more easily acquire Hungarian citizenship; the legislation provoked Slovakia, which passed a bill that would generally strip Slovakian citizenship from Hungarians who did so. The government also reduced the powers of the constitutional court, ending its right to rule on budget matters; forced the nationalization of pension plans to cut the budget deficit; and enacted a media law that was denounced as stifling free expression and drew criticism from the European Union. Other measures adopted to avoid the austerities used elsewhere in the EU to combat recession-induced government deficits included higher taxes on economic sectors dominated by foreign firms.
In June, 2010, Pál Schmitt, the speaker of the National Assembly and a member of Fidesz, was elected to succeed Sólyom as Hungarian president. The failure of an alumina plant sludge pond in Oct., 2010, resulted in an ecological disaster in W Hungary that covered 6 villages and 16 sq mi (40 sq km) with toxic mud and also poisoned local rivers. A new constitution, enacted by Fidesz in Apr., 2011, and effective in 2012, was criticized in a number of quarters for attempting to bind future Hungarian governments to Fidesz's conservative political program. It also allowed ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries to receive citizenship; many of them subsequently voted for Fidesz. By late 2011, legal changes that reduced the independence of the central bank had led to conflict with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Schmitt resigned as president in Apr., 2012, after it was discovered that he had plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis. János Áder, a member of Fidesz and former National Assembly speaker, was elected to succeed Schmitt in May. In Jan., 2013, the constitutional court struck down a new election law that had been passed in late 2012; the court ruled that the law unjustifiably restricted voter rights. The opposition had criticized the law as intentionally designed to favor Fidesz. The appointment in Mar., 2013, of a new governor for the central bank gave Orbán greater influence over the bank, and the bank subsequently adopted economic stimulus measures. In September the parliament approved a number of constitutional amendments that partially reversed provisions that had been criticized by the European Union.
The Apr., 2014, parliamentary elections gave Orbán and Fidesz a new term in power; the party won 45% of the vote and two thirds of the seats (Fidesz lost its two thirds majority in 2015 after a by-election loss). Jobbik won 21% of the vote which, though less than the share of the Socialist-led coalition (25%), placed it second among all the parties. In the second half of 2015 a flood of mainly Middle Eastern and African refugees and migrants seeking to reach N and W Europe crossed into Hungary from the Balkans, leading Hungary, which denounced the refugees as a threat to its security, to close its southern borders and use riot control measures to deter them. The foreign migrant issue continued to be politically divisive in subsequent months. An Oct., 2016, referendum opposing mandatory national migrant resettlement quotas by the EU passed decisively, but it failed to get the 50% turnout required for it to be valid.
In 2015 and 2016 wealthy supporters of Orbán acquired control of a number of formerly independent private media companies; Orbán publicly encouraged Fidesz supporters to invest in media outlets. President Áder was reelected in Mar., 2017. Legislation that was designed to force the closure of the independent Central European Univ., enacted in 2017, was widely denounced; the university, founded by George
For the Apr., 2018, parliamentary elections, Orbán and Fidesz campaigned on strident anti-immigrant platform, and the party two-thirds of the seats in parliament (and 49% of the vote); Jobbik, which had moderated its positions, placed second with 19% of the vote. European observers said the campaign was marred by progovernment media bias and the use of public funds to support Fidesz. In Nov., 2018, Hungary controversially gave former North Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who had fled a prison sentence for corruption, political asylum and later (2019) refused to extradite him.
Fidesz control over the media was solidified in late 2018 with the consolidation of progovernment outlets under one foundation that was exempted from competition rules, a move that was reflective of Fidesz's influence over many aspects of the private economy. European criticism of Fidesz's policies resulted in 2019 in the party's suspension from the multicountry European People's party. In Mar., 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Orbán secured the right to rule by decree indefinitely. Although the powers were revoked in June, Orbán secured the right to declare a state of emergency in a medical crisis in the future; left in place were many of the measures he decreed, which largely had little to do with the pandemic (many served to undermine the opposition).
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