After Hungary's defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1526, the country was divided into three sections, with most of it being ruled by the Ottomans. In the late seventeenth century the Habsburgs reconquered Hungary and began a period of reconstruction and resettlement. Maria Theresa (r. 1740–1780) and her son Joseph II (r. 1780–1790 in Hungary; Holy Roman Emperor from 1765) pursued massive reforms in order to create a centralized state and further economic and secular changes in Habsburg Europe, often alienating others, such as the Hungarians. After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the Hungarian Diet, which had not convened for decades, met in 1820, thereby beginning the reform period, a time when the national library and the academy of sciences were established. But because of protest from the nobles, there were few substantive changes; rather, Hungarian policies began to alienate non-Magyar speakers in the country. (It is difficult to find accurate statistics concerning ethnic affiliation for that time, but the proportion of Magyars to the total population of Hungary in the late eighteenth century was between 29 and 42 percent.)
Following the revolutionary spirit that began in Paris in February 1848, on 3 March Lajos Kossuth called for a Hungarian constitution, and on 15 March a revolution began in Pest and Buda that eventually declared Hungary autonomous within the Austrian Empire. Hungary became a constitutional monarchy. Once the revolution in Austria had been scotched, the Habsburgs then turned on the Hungarian revolutionaries. The new Austrian emperor, Francis Joseph (r. 1848–1916), with the support of many of the non-Magyar nationalities in Hungary, began a civil war. With initial revolutionary success, Hungary was declared totally independent of Austria in April 1849. The Austrians then enlisted the assistance of the Russian armies, and together they defeated the Hungarians in August 1849. Francis Joseph abolished Hungary by decree, and thirteen Hungarian generals were executed. Hungary then fell under the centralizing regime of Alexander von Bach (1849–1859), who ruled the empire from Vienna with an iron fist.
Compromise Hungary, 1867–1918.
The Habsburg regime in Vienna faced a number of problems in the 1860s. In Hungary forms of passive resistance had continued against the Austrians, and more and more nationalities within the empire began voicing particular demands. In 1866 Austria also suffered a military defeat at the hands of the Prussians at Königgrätz (Sadowa). All of this led to a deal between the Austrians and the Hungarians in order to calm the domestic situation in the empire.
The result was the Compromise of 1867 (often referred to as the Ausgleich) between the Hungarian parliamentary leaders, notably Ferenc Deák, and Francis Joseph. The creation of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary resulted in one monarch but two separate governments. The Compromise restored Hungary's 1848 constitution and allowed Francis Joseph to be crowned king of Hungary. Even though Hungary passed a Nationality Law in 1868, which recognized the rights of individuals to use their own language in church and schools, unrest spread among many non-Magyar groups. The Hungarian government was not receptive to the wishes of these nationalities, and Hungary began a period of Magyarization (assimilation) in the late nineteenth century, thereby trying to reduce the number of nationalities and increase the percentage of Hungarians. Still, by 1900 the Magyars made up less than 50 percent of the population.
Trianon Hungary, 1918–1945.
As part of Austria-Hungary, Hungary fought on the side of Germany during World War I, and the German defeat in the autumn of 1918 also meant the defeat of Hungary. In November 1918 Hungary was proclaimed a republic under the leadership of Count Mihály Károlyi, yet outlying regions of the country began declaring allegiance with new or enlarging neighboring states. When the Entente (Allied) representatives demanded more territorial concessions, Károlyi resigned, and a Communist–Socialist-led government, under Béla Kun, took the helm in March 1919.
Soviet Hungary's attempt to regain lost territory eventually failed, Kun fled to Vienna, and the regime fell after 133 days in power. On 16 November Admiral Miklós Horthy, as the symbolic leader of the counterrevolutionary government formed in the southern city of Szeged, marched into Budapest, and on 1 March 1920 Horthy was elected regent. Hungary was a kingdom without a king. Like all vanquished powers after the war, Hungary received a peace treaty from the Entente. The Treaty of Trianon, which the Hungarians signed on 4 June 1920, ratified the dismemberment of the historical kingdom. Hungary lost three-quarters of its territory and two-thirds of its population to Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Austria.
Prime Minister István Bethlen (1921–1931) consolidated power and established a conservative, centralized regime that brought Hungary into the League of Nations in 1922 and into an agreement with Fascist Italy in 1927. After Bethlen's resignation in 1931, Gyula Gömbös steered Hungary more toward Germany, with the ultimate desire of regaining lost land. Territorial revisionism was the driving force behind many Hungarian policies during the interwar period. Once World War II was underway, Hungary aligned itself closer to Germany. Hungarian troops joined Germany in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, but as the war continued, with the chance of victory diminishing, the Hungarians began negotiations with the Allied powers for a separate peace. In response, Hitler ordered troops to occupy Hungary in March 1944, and with the German presence in Hungary, the deportation of Hungarian Jews to the death camps began. In October 1944 Horthy, who was still regent of Hungary, announced that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. This was ignored, Horthy resigned, and Ferenc Szálasi was named prime minister of a government led by the fascist Arrow Cross Party. Chaos reigned as the Arrow Cross began random massacres of Jews and other “suspicious” people in Budapest. Eventually the last German troops left the country on 4 April 1945.
When the war was over Hungary was once again reduced to the size it had been after World War I. The country expelled half of the remaining German minority in the country. The first general election, on 3 November 1945, gave an absolute majority to the Smallholders' Party, which, because of Soviet demands, formed a coalition government with the smaller Communist Party. In the next few years the Communists were able to gain more control, and by 1949 they took complete control. Under the leadership of Mátyás Rákosi the Communists arrested all possible opponents, installed a new Soviet-style constitution, and nationalized all major industry.
Rákosi established a Communist dictatorship in the country. When his mentor Joseph Stalin died in 1953, a struggle began between Rákosi and Imre Nagy. On 23 October 1956 student demonstrations in Budapest demanded an end to Soviet occupation and the creation of “true socialism.” What began peacefully turned violent, and on 24 October commissioned officers and soldiers joined the students in their demonstrations by toppling Stalin's statue. The series of events led to the return of Nagy as head of the Hungarian government. Nagy made promises for the democratization of Hungary and the improvement of living conditions, and on 1 November Nagy announced that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. This led the Soviet Union to send in forces to smash the revolt on 4 November. Nagy was removed from power and replaced by János Kádár. (Nagy was executed in 1958.)
Initially Kádár took a hard line against those who had opposed the Soviet-aligned regime in Hungary, and then in the early 1960s he tried to end the hostility that had developed against him and his government. In 1968 the regime began the reforms known as the New Economic Mechanism, which allowed more market mechanisms and small businesses than in most Soviet bloc countries. By the 1980s Hungary had experienced lasting economic reforms and some political liberalization, but these changes led to a sharp increase in Hungary's foreign debt as the country kept borrowing money.
Political change slowly came to Hungary in the late 1980s. In May 1989 the Communist government of Hungary began to dismantle the border fences of the Iron Curtain between the Soviet bloc and the West. In June the country reburied Imre Nagy in a gesture toward reconciliation with the wrongs of the past. In May 1990 the first free elections led to the victory of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, which formed a center-right coalition government. In May 1994 the political pendulum swung in the other direction, and the former Communists, renamed the Hungarian Socialist Party, won a plurality of votes and formed a coalition. This government pursued integration with Europe and received an invitation to join NATO, which Hungary did in 1999.
The center-right returned to power in May 1998, when the Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party won a plurality and formed a coalition government. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government became more interested in fanning the issue of Hungarians beyond the borders, which led to conflicts with some of Hungary's neighbors. During this regime the European Union decided that Hungary, along with nine other countries, could join the Union in 2004. In April 2002 Fidesz lost and the pendulum swung back to the Socialists. On 12 April 2003 Hungarians voted to join the European Union, and Hungary became a member on 1 May 2004. The various political parties of Hungary that have competed during elections since 1990 have dwindled to two large parties, the Socialists and Fidesz, which have exchanged control of the government every four years. In April 2006, however, the election results allowed the Socialists, the incumbents, in a coalition with the Liberals, to continue to govern Hungary for another four years.
Janos, Andrew C. The Politics of Backwardness in Hungary, 1825–1945. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. A standard work on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Hungary.
Find This Resource
Kontler, László. A History of Hungary: Millennium in Central Europe. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
Find This Resource
Lendvai, Paul. The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat. Translated by Ann Major. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Find This Resource
Macartney, C. A. October Fifteenth: A History of Modern Hungary, 1929–1945. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Edinburgh: University Press, 1961. An older text, but a classic. Other works from Macartney are also worth consulting.
Find This Resource
Molnár, Miklós. A Concise History of Hungary. Translated by Anna Magyar. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. A general narrative of Hungary.
Find This Resource
Sugar, Peter F., Péter Hanák, and Tibor Frank, eds. A History of Hungary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. An edited volume with many useful articles.
Find This Resource