In the time of the Roman Empire, the region west of the Danube river was known as Pannonia. After the Western Roman Empire collapsed under the stress of the migration of Germanic tribes and Carpian pressure, the Migration Period continued bringing many invaders to Europe. Among the first to arrive were the Huns, who built up a powerful empire under Attila. Attila the Hun in the past centuries was regarded as an ancestral ruler of the Hungarians, this belief however is considered to be erroneous today. It is believed that the origin of the name "Hungary" does not come from the Central Asian nomadic invaders called the Huns, but rather originated from a later, 7th century Bulgar alliance called On-Ogour, which in Old Turkic meant "(the) Ten Arrows". After Hunnish rule faded, the Germanic Ostrogoths then the Lombards came to Pannonia, and the Gepids had a presence in the eastern part of the Carpathian Basin for about 100 years. In the 560s the Avars founded the Avar Khaganate, a state which maintained supremacy in the region for more than two centuries and had the military power to launch attacks against all its neighbours. The Avar Khagnate was weakened by constant wars and outside pressure and the Franks under Charlemagne managed to defeat the Avars ending their 250-year rule. Neither the Franks nor others were able to create a lasting state in the region until the freshly unified Hungarians led by Árpád settled in the Carpathian Basin starting in 896.. In 896 they settled in Transylvania ("Exinde montes descenderunt per tres menses et deveniunt in confinium regni Hungariae, scilicet in Erdelw") from where they took possession of Pannonia. Much of early Hungarian history is recorded in the following Hungarian chronicles, retelling the early legends and history of the Huns, Magyars and the Kingdom of Hungary:
Hungary is one of the oldest countries in Europe. It was founded in 896, before France and Germany became separate entities, and before the unification of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Medieval Hungary controlled more territory than medieval France, and the population of medieval Hungary was the third largest of any country in Europe. Árpád was the Magyar leader whom sources name as the single leader who unified the Magyar tribes via the Covenant of Blood(Vérszerződés) forged one nation, thereafter known as the Hungarian nation and led the new nation to the territory of the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century. After an early Hungarian state was formed in this territory military power of the nation allowed the Hungarians to conduct a lot of successful fierce campaigns and raids as far as present-day Spain.A later defeat at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 signaled an end to raids on foreign territories, and links between the tribes weakened. The ruling prince (fejedelem) Géza of the House of Árpád, who was the ruler of only some of the united territory, but the nominal overlord of all seven Magyar tribes, intended to integrate Hungary into Christian (Western) Europe, rebuilding the state according to the Western political and social model. He established a dynasty by naming his son Vajk (later called Stephen) as his successor. This was contrary to the then dominant tradition of the succession of the eldest surviving member of the ruling family.
Hungary was established as a Christian catholic kingdom under saint Stephen I, who was crowned in December 1000 AD in the capital, Esztergom. He was the son of Géza and thus a descendant of Árpád. 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. Then he started sweeping reforms to convert Hungary into a western feudal state, complete with forced catholic Christianisation. What emerged was a strong kingdom that withstood attacks from German kings and Emperors, and nomadic tribes following the Hungarians from the East, integrating some of the latter into the population (along with Germans invited to Transylvania and present-day Slovakia, especially after 1242), and subjugating Croatia in 1102.
A Hungarian king, Andrew II, led the Fifth Crusade to the Holy Land in 1217. He set up the largest royal army in the history of crusades (20,000 knights and 12,000 castle-garrisons ). The Golden Bull (1222), was the first constitution in continental Europe. The Golden Bull limited the king's power, declared the lesser nobles legally equal to the magnates and gave them the right to resist the king's illegal acts. The lesser nobles also began to present Andrew with grievances, a practice that evolved into the institution of the parliament, or Diet.
In 1241-1242, this kingdom received a major blow in the form of the Mongol invasion of Europe: after the defeat of the Hungarian army in the Battle of Muhi, King Béla IV fled, and a large part (though not as great as suspected by historians earlier) of the population died (leading later to the invitation of settlers from neighbours in the West and South) in the ensuing destruction (Tatárjárás). Only strongly fortified cities and abbeys could withstand the assault. As a consequence, after the Mongols retreated, King Béla ordered the construction of stone castles, meant to be defence against a possible second Mongol invasion. Mongols returned to Hungary in 1286, but the new built stone-castle systems and new tactics (with large ratio of heavy calvary) stopped them. The invading Mongol force was defeated near Pest by the royal army of king Ladislaus IV. These castles proved to be very important later in the long struggle with the Ottoman Empire in the following centuries (from the late 14th century onwards), but their cost indebted the King to the major feudal landlords again, so the royal power reclaimed by Béla IV after his father King András II weakened it (leading to the issue of the so called 'Arany Bulla' or Golden Bull, in 1222), was lost again.
Árpád's direct descendants in the male line ruled the country until 1301. During the reigns of the Kings after the house of Árpád, the Kingdom of Hungary reached its greatest extent, yet royal power was weakened as the major landlords greatly increased their influence. Ater the interregnum (1301-1308), the first Angevin king Charles I (a descendant of Árpád dynasty on the female line) succesfully restored the royal power, he broke down the power of oligarchs (the "little kings"). Under his reign, his new fiscal and monetary policies were very successful, and the cities started to flourish again. Hungarian goldmines yielded five times as much gold as those of any other European state. The second Hungarian king in the 'Anjou' Angevin line , Louis I the Great (I. or Nagy Lajos, king 1342-1382) extended his rule over territories from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea, and temporarily occupied the Kingdom of Naples (after his brother was murdered there by his wife, who was also his cousin). From 1370, the death of Casimir III the Great, he was also king of Poland. The alliance between Casimir and Charles I of Hungary, the father of Louis, was the start of a still lasting Polish-Hungarian friendship. Louis I the Great estabilished university in Pécs in 1367 (by papal accordance). The Ottoman Turks confronted the country ever more often. Sigismund, a prince from the Luxembourg line succeeded to the throne by marrying Louis's daughter, Queen Mary. In 1433 he even became Holy Roman Emperor.
The last strong king was the renaissance king Matthias Corvinus (king 1458-1490). Hungary was the first non-Italian country, where the renaissance appeared in Europe. Andras Hess set up a printing press in Buda in 1472. Matthias was the son of the feudal landlord and warlord: count John Hunyadi, who led the Hungarian troops in the 1456 Siege of Nándorfehérvár. 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. His standing army called the 'Fekete Sereg' ==>Black Army of Hungary was unusually big army in its age, it accomplished a series of victories also capturing parts of Austria, Vienna (1485) and parts of Bohemia. Matthias Corvinus library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana , was Europe's greatest collection of (secular themes) historical chronicles and philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century, and second only in size to the Vatican Library (But Vatican library contained mostly Bibles for monks and parsons). His renaissance library is part of UNESCO World Heritage
Decline of medieval Hungary (1490-1526)
In 1514, the weakened King Vladislaus II. faced a major peasant rebellion led by György Dózsa, which was crushed barbarously by the nobles mainly by János Szapolyai. As central rule degenerated, the stage was set for a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1521, the strongest Hungarian fortress in the South Nándorfehérvár (modern Belgrade) fell to the Turks, and in 1526, the Hungarian army was destroyed in the Battle of Mohács. The early appearance of the new churches (the protestantism ) further worsened the relations in the anarchical country. Through the centuries the Kingdom of Hungary kept its old "constitution", which granted special "freedoms" or rights to the nobility and groups like the Saxons resident in Hungary or the Jassic people, and to free royal towns such as Buda, Kassa (Košice), Pozsony (Bratislava), Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca).
After some 150 years of war in the south of Hungary, Ottoman forces conquered parts of the country, continuing their expansion until 1556. The Ottomans achieved their first decisive victory over the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohács in 1526.
Subsequent decades were characterised by political chaos. A divided Hungarian nobility elected two kings simultaneously, Hungarian-German origin 'Szapolyai János' (1526-1540) and Austrian Ferdinand Habsburg (1527-1540). Armed conflicts between the rival monarchs further weakened the country internally. With the conquest of Buda in 1541 by the Turks, Hungary was riven into three parts. The north-west (present-day Slovakia, western Transdanubia, present-day Burgenland, western Croatia and parts of north-eastern present-day Hungary) remained under Habsburg rule and although initially independent, it became a province of Austrian Empire under the informal name Royal Hungary. The Habsburg Emperors would from then on be crowned also as Kings of Hungary.
The eastern part of the kingdom (Partium and Transylvania) became at first an independent principality, but gradually was brought under Turkish rule as a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. The remaining central area (most of present-day Hungary), including the capital of Buda, became a province of the Ottoman Empire. Much of the land was devastated by recurrent warfare. Most small settlements disappeared. Rural people living in the now Ottoman provinces could survive only in larger settlements known as Khaz towns, which were owned and protected directly by the Sultan. The Turks were indifferent to the sect of Christianity practiced by their Hungarian subjects. For this reason, a majority of Hungarians living under Ottoman rule became Protestant (largely Calvinist), as Habsburg counter-reformation efforts could not penetrate Ottoman lands.
In 1686, Christian forces led by the Habsburg army reconquered Buda, and in the next few years, all of the former Hungarian lands, except areas near Timişoara (Temesvár), were taken from the Turks. In the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz these territorial changes were officially recognized, and in 1718 the entire Kingdom of Hungary was removed from Ottoman rule.
Largely throughout this time, Pozsony (Pressburg, today: Bratislava) acted as the capital (1536-1784), coronation town (1563-1830) and seat of the Diet of Hungary (1536-1848) . Nagyszombat in turn, acted as the religious center, beginning in 1541.
Concurrently, between 1604 and 1711, there was a series of anti-Austrian, and anti-Habsburg uprisings which took place in the Habsburg state of Royal Hungary (more precisely, in present-day Slovakia), as well as anti-Catholic uprisings, which were to be found across the Hungarian lands. Religious protesters demanded equal rights among Christian groups. The uprisings were usually organized from Transylvania.
This wave of rebellious movements ended with an uprising led by 'II. Rákóczi Ferenc', who was chosen by the people to be the future king. When the Austrians crushed the movement in 1711, Rákóczi had already escaped to Poland, and would live his final days in the nearby Ottoman town Rodosto. To make further armed resistance impossible, the Austrians destroyed several castles, most of those on the former borders between Royal Hungary and now-reclaimed Turkish territories. Peasants were allowed to dismantle many most of the remaining castles and recycle the stone as building materials (the végvárs among them).
During the Napoleonic Wars and afterwards, the Hungarian Diet had not convened for decades. In the 1820s, the Emperor was forced to convene the Diet, and thus a Reform Period began. Nevertheless, its progress was slow, because the nobles insisted on retaining their privileges (no taxation, exclusive voting rights, etc.). Therefore the achievements were mostly of national character (e.g. introduction of Hungarian as the official language of the country, instead of the former Latin). The other nationalities of the country protested against these measures.
The first measurements of the population on the area of the Kingdom of Hungary (including Croatia) were performed in the late 18th century. Different estimates based on these measurements put the proportion of the Magyars in the Kingdom (with or without Croatia) at 29% to 42% towards the end of the 18th century. A first thorough research in 1836-40 put the percentage of Magyars at 36-37% (without Croatia 48%) and a census in 1850-51 at 45.4% in all the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary. The official percentages of the other nationalities according to the 1850-51 census (although it was criticised for bias towards the percentage of Hungarians and Germans already at that time) were:
The Habsburg Ruler and his advisors skillfully manipulated the Croatian, Serbian and Romanian peasantry, led by priests and officers firmly loyal to the Habsburgs, and induced them to rebel against the Hungarian government. The Hungarians were supported by the vast majority of the Slovak, German and Rusyn nationalities and by all the Jews of the kingdom, as well as by a large number of Polish, Austrian and Italian volunteers. Some members of the nationalities gained coveted positions within the Hungarian Army, like General János Damjanich, an ethnic Serb who became a Hungarian national hero through his command of the 3rd Hungarian Army Corps.
Despite the superior force of the imperial army and the armed attack of nationalities in Transylvania and Southern Hungary, after some setback at the end of 1848 and the beginning of 1849, Hungarian forces (Honvédség) defeated Austrian armies.
To counter the successes of the Hungarian revolutionary army, Franz Joseph asked for help from the "Gendarme of Europe," Czar Nicholas I, whose Russian armies invaded Hungary. 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, then became governor of Hungary for a few months and on October 6, ordered the execution of 13 leaders of the Hungarian army as well as Prime Minister Batthyány. Lajos Kossuth escaped into exile.
Following the war of 1848-49, the whole country was in "passive resistance". Archduke Albrecht von Habsburg was appointed governor of the Kingdom of Hungary, and this time was remembered for Germanization pursued with the help of Czech officers.
Due to external and internal problems, reforms seemed inevitable to secure the integrity of the Habsburg Empire. Major military defeats, like the Battle of Königgrätz (1866), forced the Emperor to concede internal reforms. To appease Hungarian separatism, the Emperor made a deal with the Hungarian nobility led by Ferenc Deák, called the Compromise of 1867, by which the dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary came into existence.
The Empire was reorganised 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 first premier of the Kingdom of Hungary after the Compromise was Count Gyula Andrássy. 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.
Hungarian politicians gained strong influence on the Empire's political life and successfully prevented the change of the status quo in favour of other ethnic groups, notably the Czechs and the Southern Slavs. By the turn of the century, the diverse political development of the two realms raised increasing doubts about the political framework of the Monarchy. Attempts to transform the dual monarchy to a trial state or a confederacy remained futile.
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 (see Magyarization). As a reaction, the already significant Romanian, Serbian and Slovak nationalism further escalated.
According to the census in 1910, 54% of the population of the Kingdom (excluding Croatia, mostly autonomous since 1868) used the Hungarian language. The percentages of the next 3 most numerous languages were as follows: Romanian 16%, Slovak 11%, German 10%.
In contrast to political problems, the era witnessed an impressive economic development. The formerly backward Kingdom of Hungary become 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.
In First World War Hungary was fighting on the side of Austria. As part of Austria-Hungary's army, Hungarian troops were mainly fighting on Eastern front, in Italian front, also, participated in pushing back Romanian forces from Transylvania. In 1918, by a notion of Wilson's pacifism, the army of Hungary was dismissed, leaving the country undefended.
By February 1919 the government had lost all popular support, having failed on the domestic and military fronts. On March 21, after the Entente military representative demanded more territorial concessions from Hungary, Károlyi resigned. The Communist Party of Hungary came to power, led by Béla Kun, and proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic.
The Communists – "The Reds" – came to power largely thanks to being the only group with an organized fighting force, and they promised that Hungary would regain the lands it had lost (possibly with the help of the Soviet Red Army). The Communists also promised equality and social justice. 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.
Still, the popular support of the Communists proved to be short lived. In the aftermath of 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 amongst 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. All these events, and in particular the final military defeat, led to a deep feeling of dislike among the general population against the Soviet Union (which had not kept its promise to offer military assistance) and the Jews (since many members of Kun's government were Jewish, making it easy to blame the Jews for the government's mistakes).
The new fighting force 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, a Transylvanian aristocrat, and Miklós Horthy, the former commander in chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Starting in Western Hungary and spreading throughout the country, a White Terror began by other half-regular and half-militarist detachments (as the police power crashed, there were no serious national regular forces and authorities), and many Communists and other leftists were executed without trial. Radical Whites launched pogroms against the Jews, displayed as the cause of all the difficulties of Hungary. The leaving 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, with the consent of Romanian forces, Horthy's army marched into Budapest. His government gradually restored security, stopped terror, and set up authorities, but thousands of sympathizers of the Károlyi and Kun regimes were imprisoned. Radical political movements were suppressed.
It was considered by some historians that one of the main reasons for the infamous cold relations between Hungary and Romania is Hungarian resentment at the Romanian intervention and destruction. In fact, in Hungary, the loss of territory following the Trianon treaty is to this day known as the Trianon trauma. The perceived humiliation of the treaty became a dominant theme in inter-war Hungarian politics, analogous with the German reaction to the Treaty of Versailles. All official flags in Hungary were lowered until 1938 when they were raised by one third after southern Slovakia was "recovered" following the Munich Conference. For Hungarian pupils in the 1930s each school-day began with a prayer calling for the reversal of the treaty.
In January 1920, Hungarian men and women cast the first secret ballots in the country's political history. The voting was not totally democratic, because 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, ratified the country's dismemberment, along with approximate ethnic lines (see picture above). The territorial provisions of the treaty, which ensured continued discord between Hungary and its neighbors, required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its pre-war lands. Nearly one-third of the 10 million ethnic Hungarians found themselves outside the diminished homeland. The country's ethnic composition was left almost homogeneous, Hungarians constituting about 90% of the population, Germans made up about 6%, 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% of its timber resources, 43% of its arable land, and 83% of its iron ore. Because most of the country's pre-war industry was concentrated near Budapest, Hungary retained about 51% of its industrial population, 56% of its industry, 82% of its heavy industry, and 70% of its banks.
Horthy appointed Count Pál Teleki as Prime Minister in July 1920. His right-wing government issued a numerus clausus law, limiting admission of "political insecure elements" (these were often Jews) to universities and, in order to quiet rural discontent, took initial steps toward fulfilling a promise of major land reform by dividing about 3,850 km² from the largest estates into smallholdings. Teleki's government resigned, however, after the former emperor, Charles IV, unsuccessfully attempted to retake Hungary's throne in March 1921. King Charles's return produced split parties between conservatives who favored a Habsburg restoration and nationalist right-wing radicals who supported election of a Hungarian king. Count István Bethlen, a non-affiliated right-wing member of the parliament, took advantage of this rift forming a new Party of Unity under his leadership. Horthy then appointed Bethlen prime minister. Charles IV died soon after he failed a second time to reclaim the throne in October 1921. (For more detail on Charles's attempts to retake the throne, see Charles IV of Hungary's conflict with Miklós Horthy.)
As prime minister, Bethlen dominated Hungarian politics between 1921 and 1931. He fashioned a political machine by amending the electoral law, providing jobs in the expanding bureaucracy to his supporters, and manipulating elections in rural areas. Bethlen restored order to the country by giving the radical counterrevolutionaries payoffs and government jobs in exchange for ceasing their campaign of terror against Jews and leftists. In 1921, he made a deal with the Social Democrats and trade unions (called Bethlen-Peyer Pact), agreeing, among other things, 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. The revision of the Treaty of Trianon rose to the top of Hungary's political agenda and the strategy employed by Bethlen consisted by strengthening the economy and building relations with stronger nations. Revision of the treaty 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 induced a drop in 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, 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.
Adolf Hitler 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% 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 was appointed Prime Minister.
Imrédy’s attempts to improve Hungary’s diplomatic relations with England initially made him very 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 by Imrédy’s administration. 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.
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sought to enforce peacefully the claims of Hungarians on territories Hungary lost in 1920 with the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, and the two Vienna Awards returned parts of Czechoslovakia and Transylvania to Hungary. On 20 November 1940, under pressure from Germany, Pál Teleki affiliated Hungary with the Tripartite Pact. In December 1940, he also signed an ephemeral "Treaty of Eternal Friendship" with Yugoslavia. A few months later, after a Yugoslavian coup threatened the success of the planned German invasion on the Soviets (Operation Barbarossa), Hitler asked Hungarians to support his invasion of Yugoslavia. He promised to return some former Hungarian territory lost after World War I in exchange for cooperation. Unable to prevent Hungary's participation in the war alongside Germany, Teleki committed suicide. The right-wing radical László Bárdossy succeeded him as Prime Minister. Eventually Hungary annexed small parts of present day Slovenia and Serbia.
After war broke out on the Eastern Front many Hungarian officials argued for participation in the war so as not to encourage Hitler into favouring Romania in the event of border revisions in Transylvania. Hungary entered the war and on July 1, 1941, at the direction of the Germans, the Hungarian Karpat Group advanced far into southern Russia. At the Battle of Uman the Gyorshadtest participated in the encirclement the 6th Soviet Army and the 12th Soviet Army. Twenty Soviet divisions were captured or destroyed.
Worried about Hungary's increasing reliance on Germany, Admiral Horthy forced Bárdossy to resign and replaced him with Miklós Kállay, a veteran conservative of Bethlen's government. Kállay continued Bárdossy's policy of supporting Germany against the Red Army while he also began negotiations with the Western Allies.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, the Hungarian Second Army suffered terrible losses. The heavy Soviet breakthrough at the Don River sliced directly through the Hungarian units. Shortly after the fall of Stalingrad in January 1943, the Hungarian Second Army nearly ceased to exist as a functioning military unit.
Secret negotiations with the British and Americans continued. As per the request of the Western Allies, there were no connection made with the Soviets. Aware of Kállay's deceit and fearing that Hungary might conclude a separate peace, Hitler ordered Nazi troops to launch Operation Margarethe and occupy Hungary in March 1944. Döme Sztójay, an avid supporter of the Nazis, become the new Prime Minister with the aid of a Nazi military governor, Edmund Veesenmayer.
The infamous SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann went to Hungary to oversee the large-scale deportations of Jews to German death camps in occupied Poland. Between May 15 and July 9, Hungarian authorities deported 437,402 Jews.
In August 1944, Horthy replaced Sztójay with the anti-Fascist General Géza Lakatos. Under the Lakatos regime, acting Interior Minister Béla Horváth ordered Hungarian gendarmes to prevent any Hungarian citizens from being deported.
In September 1944, Soviet forces crossed the Hungarian border. On 15 October 1944, Horthy announced that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. The Hungarian army ignored the armistice. The Germans launched Operation Panzerfaust and, by kidnapping his son (Miklós Horthy, Jr.), forced Horthy to abrogate the armistice, depose the Lakatos government, and name the leader of the Arrow Cross Party, Ferenc Szálasi, as Prime Minister. Szálasi became Prime Minister and Horthy abdicated, thus ending the Regency.
In cooperation with the Nazis, Szálasi restarted the deportations of Jews, particularly in Budapest. Thousands more Jews were killed by Arrow Cross members. The retreating German army demolished the rail, road, and communications systems.
On December 28, 1944, a provisional government was formed in Hungary under acting Prime Minister Béla Miklós. Miklós immediately ousted Prime Minister Ferenc Szálasi's government. The Germans and pro-German Hungarians loyal to Szálasi fought on. The Red Army completed the encirclement of Budapest on 29 December 1944 and the Battle of Budapest began and continued into February 1945. Most of what remained of the Hungarian First Army was destroyed about 200 miles north of Budapest between January 1 and February 16, 1945.
On January 20, 1945, representatives of the Hungarian provisional government signed an armistice in Moscow. Officially, Soviet operations in Hungary ended on April 4, 1945 when the last German troops were expelled. On May 7, 1945, General Alfred Jodl, the German Chief of Staff, signed the unconditional surrender of all German forces.
Hungary's World War II casualties: Tamás Stark of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has provided the following assessment of losses from 1941-45 in Hungary. Military losses were 300,000-310,000 including 110-120,000 killed in battle and 200,000 missing in action and POW in the Soviet Union. Hungarian military losses include 110,000 men who were conscripted from the annexed territories of Greater Hungary in Slovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia and the deaths of 20-25,000 Jews conscripted for Army labor units. Civilian losses of about 80,000 include 45,500 killed in the 1944-45 military campaign and in air attacks, and the genocide of Roma people of 28,000 persons. Jewish Holocaust victims totaled 200,000. See World War II casualties.
By signing the Peace Treaty of Paris, Hungary again lost all the territories that it gained between 1938 and 1941. Neither Western Allies nor the Soviet Union supported any change in Hungary's pre-1938 borders.
The Soviet Union itself annexed Sub-Carpathia, which is now part of Ukraine.
The Treaty of Peace with Hungary signed on 10 February 1947 declared that "The decisions of the Vienna Award of 2 November 1938 are declared null and void" and Hungarian boundaries were fixed along the former frontiers as they existed on 1 January 1938, except a minor loss of territory on the Czechoslovakian border. Half of the ethnic German minority (240,000 people) were deported to Germany in 1946-48, and there was a forced "exchange of population" between Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
In elections held in November 1945, the Independent Smallholders' Party won 57% of the vote. The Hungarian Communist Party, now under the leadership of Mátyás Rákosi and Ernő Gerő, received support from only 17% 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 1946-02-01, the Republic was declared, and the leader of the Smallholders, Zoltán Tildy, was named president and Ferenc Nagy prime minister. Mátyás Rákosi became deputy prime minister.
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. Later Mátyás Rákosi boasted that he had dealt with his partners in the government, one by one, "cutting them off like slices of salami."
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 18 August, 1949, the Parliament passed the new constitution of Hungary (1949/XX.) modelled after the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union. The name of the country changed to People's Republic of Hungary, "the country of the workers and peasants" where "every authority is held by the working people". 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.
Mátyás Rákosi now attempted to impose authoritarian rule on Hungary. An estimated 2,000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned. These policies were opposed by some members of the Hungarian Workers Party and around 200,000 were expelled by Rákosi from the organization.
Rákosi rapidly expanded the education system in Hungary. This was an attempt to replace the educated class of the past by what Rákosi called a new "working intelligentsia". In addition to effects such as better education for the poor, more opportunities for working class children and increased literacy in general, this measure also included the dissemination of communist ideology in schools and universities. Also, as part of an effort to separate the Church from the State, religious instruction was denounced as propaganda and was gradually eliminated from schools.
Ironically, Cardinal József Mindszenty, who had bravely 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 (which may have included torture), he confessed to the charges made against him and he was condemned to life imprisonment. The Protestant churches were also purged and their leaders were replaced by those willing to remain loyal to Rákosi's government.
The new Hungarian military hastily staged public, pre-arranged trials to purge "Nazi remnants and imperialist saboteurs". Several officers were sentenced to death and executed in 1951, including Lajos Toth, a 28 victory-scoring fighter ace of the World War II Royal Hungarian Air Force, who had voluntarily returned from US captivity to help revive Hungarian aviation. The victims were cleared posthumously following the fall of communism.
Preparations for a show trial started in Budapest in 1953 to prove that Raoul Wallenberg had not been dragged off in 1945 to the Soviet Union but was the victim of cosmopolitan Zionists. For the purposes of this show trial, three Jewish leaders – Miksa Domonkos, László Benedek and Lajos Stöckler – as well as two would-be "eyewitnesses" – Pál Szalai and Károly Szabó – were arrested and interrogated by torture. The idea that the "murderers of Wallenberg" were Budapest Zionists was primarily supported by Hungarian Communist leader Ernő Gerő, which is shown by a note sent by him to First Secretary Mátyás Rákosi. The show trial was then initiated in Moscow, following Stalin-s anti-Zionist campaign. After the death of Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria, the preparations for the trial were stopped and the arrested persons were released . Miksa Domonkos spent a week in hospital and died shortly afterwards at home, mainly due to the torture he had been subject to.
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, Mátyás Rákosi was replaced as prime minister by Imre Nagy. However, he 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.
As Hungary's new leader, 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.
Mátyás Rákosi led the attacks on Nagy. On 9 March 1955, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party condemned Nagy for "rightist deviation". Hungarian newspapers joined the attacks and Nagy was accused of being responsible for the country's economic problems and on 18 April he was dismissed from his post by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly. Rákosi once again became the leader of Hungary.
Rákosi's power was undermined by a speech made by Nikita Khrushchev in February 1956. He denounced the policies of Joseph Stalin and his followers in Eastern Europe. He also claimed that the trial of László Rajk had been a "miscarriage of justice". On 18 July 1956, Rákosi was forced from power as a result of orders from the Soviet Union. However, he did manage to secure the appointment of his close friend, Ernő Gerő, as his successor.
On 3 October 1956, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party announced that it had decided that László Rajk, György Pálffy, Tibor Szőnyi and András Szalai had wrongly been convicted of treason in 1949. At the same time it was announced that Imre Nagy had been reinstated as a member of the party.
On October 23 1956, a peaceful student demonstration in Budapest produced a list of 16 demands for reform and greater political freedom. 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 led to the Hungarian Revolution.
That night, commissioned officers and soldiers joined the students on the streets of Budapest. Stalin's statue was brought down and the protesters chanted "Russians go home", "Away with Gerő" and "Long Live Nagy". The Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party responded to these developments by requesting Soviet military intervention and deciding that Imre Nagy should become head of a new government. Soviet tanks entered Budapest at 2 a.m. on 24 October.
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 from office and replaced him with János Kádár.
Imre Nagy now went on Radio Kossuth and announced he had taken over the leadership of the Government as Chairman of the Council of Ministers." He also promised "the far-reaching democratization of Hungarian public life, the realisation of a Hungarian road to socialism in accord with our own national characteristics, and the realisation of our lofty national aim: the radical improvement of the workers' living conditions."
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.
The change of leadership in the party was reflected in the articles of the government newspaper, Szabad Nép (i.e. Free People). On 29 October the newspaper welcomed the new government and openly criticised Soviet attempts to influence the political situation in Hungary. This view was supported by Radio Miskolc that called for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country.
On October 30, Imre Nagy announced that he was freeing Cardinal József Mindszenty and other political prisoners. He also informed the people that his government intends to abolish the one-party state. This was followed by statements of Zoltán Tildy, Anna Kéthly and Ferenc Farkas concerning the restitution of the Smallholders Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Petőfi (former Peasants) Party.
Nagy's most controversial decision took place on 1 November when he announced that Hungary intended to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact as well as proclaiming Hungarian neutrality he asked the United Nations to become involved in the country's dispute with the Soviet Union.
On 3rd November, Nagy announced details of his coalition government. It included communists (János Kádár, Georg Lukács, Géza Losonczy), three members of the Smallholders Party (Zoltán Tildy, Béla Kovács and István Szabó), three Social Democrats (Anna Kéthly, Gyula Keleman, Joseph Fischer), and two Petőfi Peasants (István Bibó and Ferenc Farkas). Pál Maléter was appointed minister of defence.
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.
During the Hungarian Uprising 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. Nagy was imprisoned until being 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.
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 1988, Kádár was replaced as General Secretary of the Communist Party, and reform communist leader Imre Pozsgay was admitted to the Politburo. In 1989, the Parliament adopted a "democracy package," which included trade-union pluralism; freedom of association, assembly, and the press; a new electoral law; and in October 1989 a radical revision of the constitution, among others. Since then, Hungary has tried to reform its economy and increase its connections with western Europe, hoping to become a member of the European Union as soon as possible. A Central Committee plenum in February 1989 endorsed in principle the multiparty political system and the characterization of the October 1956 revolution as a "popular uprising," in the words of Pozsgay, whose reform movement had been gathering strength as Communist Party membership declined dramatically. Kádár's major political rivals then cooperated to move the country gradually to democracy. The Soviet Union reduced its involvement by signing an agreement in April 1989 to withdraw Soviet forces by June 1991.
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 October 1989, the communist party convened its last congress and re-established itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). In a historic session on October 16 - October 20, 1989, the Parliament adopted legislation providing for multiparty parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election. The legislation transformed Hungary from a People's Republic into the Republic of Hungary, guaranteed human and civil rights, and created an institutional structure that ensures separation of powers among the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government. On the day of the 1956 Revolution, October 23, the Hungarian Republic was officially declared (by the provisional President of the Republic Mátyás Szűrös), replacing the Hungarian People's Republic. The revised constitution also championed the "values of bourgeois democracy and democratic socialism" and gave equal status to public and private property.
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% of the vote and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) capturing 24%. 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% 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 Antall/Boross 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.
In May 1994, the socialists came back to win a plurality of votes and 54% of the seats after an election campaign focused largely on economic issues and the substantial decline in living standards since 1990. A heavy turnout of voters swept away the right-of-center coalition but soundly rejected extremists on both right and left. After its disappointing result in the election, Fidesz changed its political position from liberal to conservative. In 1995, it added "Hungarian Civic Party" (Magyar Polgári Párt) to its shortened name. The conservative turn caused a severe split in the membership. Péter Molnár left the party, as well as Gábor Fodor and Klára Ungár, who joined the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats. The MSZP, whose politics was as much determined by the socialism of PM Gyula Horn and a large part of the base, as by the economic focus of its technocrats (educated with a Western orientation in seventies-eighties) and ex-cadre entrepreneur supporters, and its liberal coalition partner SzDSz continued economic reforms and privatization, adopting a painful policy of fiscal austerity (the "Bokros plan") in 1995. The government pursued a foreign policy of integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions and reconciliation with neighboring countries. But neither an invitation to join NATO nor improving economic indicators guaranteed the governing parties' re-election; dissatisfaction with the pace and style of economic recovery, rising crime, the attempt to re-start the unpopular program of building a dam in the Danube, and cases of government corruption convinced voters to propel center-right parties into power following national elections in May 1998.
Fidesz captured a plurality of parliamentary seats and forged a coalition with the Smallholders and the Democratic Forum. The new government, headed by 35-year-old Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, promised to stimulate faster growth, curb inflation, and lower taxes. Although the Orbán administration also pledged continuity in foreign policy, and has continued to pursue Euro-Atlantic integration as its first priority, it has been a more vocal advocate of minority rights for ethnic Hungarians abroad than the previous government. In 2002 it was decided that Hungary, together with 9 other countries was to join the European Union on 1 January, 2004.
However, Fidesz lost the next election in April 2002, in which the MSZP and its liberal ally SzDSz 51% won over Fidesz and its ally MDF 48% in a very fierce fight showing a loss of trust in Fidesz due to supposed professed corruption problems, a style seen as arrogant by parts of the population, and lack of communication between the government and the other parties and some strategically bad connections to extreme right-wing parties during the election campaign, while also showing the doubt and memories of already mentioned problems with the socialist party's last government.
On April 12, 2003 Hungary voted for joining the European Union, where 83% of the votes said "Yes" to EU (45% of the population voted). Since the EU already accepted Hungary as a possible member, the 4 leading political parties (MSZP, Fidesz, SZDSZ and MDF) agreed to establish the required prerequisites and policies and to work together to prepare the country for the accession with the least possible harm to the economy and people while maximising the positive effects on the country. On May 1, 2004, Hungary became a member of the EU.
In the elections of April 2006, Hungary decided to keep its government in place for the first time in the history of the Third Hungarian Republic. The left-wing strengthened its positions, with the coalition of the Social Democrats (MSZP) and the Liberals (SZDSZ) reaching 54 percent of the votes, gaining 210 seats as opposed to the previous 198. Surprise elements were the rise in votes for the smaller parties SZDSZ and MDF, and the largest conservative party Fidesz (joining forces with one of the Christian Democrat parties for the elections) winning a considerably lower number, 164 of the altogether 386 seats, while most polls showed a head-to-head competition and an almost equal amount of seats won by the two large parties. Many analysts have pointed to Fidesz's largely negative political campaign, its conflicts with MDF (which refused to ally with Fidesz because, among others, of differences in basic principles and a number of alleged blackmail incidents ), as well as the content of public speeches of some of its candidates (such as deputy prime minister nominee István Mikola referring to young Hungarians participating in Budapest Parade as "hordes made up of single people" ) as probable causes of the party's loss of voters especially in the second round where, according to the Tárki institute, Fidesz lost as much as ten percent of its voters. The new Parliament assembled in late May 2006, and the new government was formed in June 2006.