Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)


Capital : Budapest

Size: 35 900 sq m Popn: 10 313 000


In around 800 BC, Hungary was inhabited by the East Alpine group of Early Italic speakers. It was within the main area of Celtic settlement in the centuries before Christ and was also settled by Slavs. It came under Roman control and the provinces of Pannonia Superior and Pannonia Inferior were established by Augustus. In the west, a people called the Iazyges remained independent, separating Pannonia Inferior from the province of Dacia (Romania).

After the fall of Rome, the area was overrun by Germanic invaders and became part of the Ostrogothic kingdom in the C5th AD. In 795-6, Pannonia and the Avar kingdom to the south were taken over by the Franks under Charlemagne. Towards the end of the C9th, the Magyars, a group of Finno-Ugric nomadic horsemen, moved into the Hungarian plain and used it as a base to plunder the surrounding areas. A Magyar kingdom was established by Arpad and they were later joined with the Huns, Alans, Onogurs and Avars to form the modern Hungarian nation. The Magyars were finally defeated by the German Otto I at Lechfeld near Augsburg in 955 and assimilated into western Christianity. The first King of Hungary was St. Stephen (997-1038) who established a kingdom in 1001 and converted the inhabitants to Christianity. Another threat from the east came from the Mongols. Under Genghis Khan and his successors they conquered much of eastern Europe, including Hungary, in 1237-42 but the Empire was disrupted in 1259. When the Arpadian line died out, Hungary came under Angevin rule from 1308-86 and under Louis the Great (1342-82), gained importance within Europe to become a major territorial power in the C14th.

After the disappearance of the Serbian kingdom, it was the main European power facing the Ottoman Turks at the end of the C15th. Mehmed I failed to take Belgrade in 1456, leaving the line of the middle Danube and lower Sava as the border between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. With Transylvania to the east, the northern part of the country was part of the shortlived empire of Matthias Corvinus (1458-90) with the south being subjugated by the Turks in the 1450s and 60s. Turkish influence was extended after the Battle of Mohacs in 1526 and the south and centre of the country became a vassal state of the Ottomans. The east was ruled by semi-independent princes and the rulers paid tribute to the Turks. By the early C17th, the Turks had been driven out by the Habsburg rulers and Hungary came under Austrian rule.

The Hungarians were restive under Habsburg control but wanted autonomy within the Empire rather than total independence. After 1815, a national renaissance began, led by Louis Kossuth. The 1848-9 revolution proclaimed a Hungarian republic and abolished serfdom but Austria suppressed it with Russian assistance. Austria was weakened by the war with Prussia, and the Hungarians gained equal status with the German-speaking population in the Ausgleich (Compromise) of 1867 which established the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its refusal to allow Serbian independence was a major cause of the First World War when the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by Bosnian terrorists at Sarajevo in 1914. Hungary fought on the German side and became an independent state when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dispersed after the war but it lost Transylvania to Romania and Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia to Czechoslovakia.

For 133 days in 1919, Hungary was a communist republic under Bela Kun but this was ended by intervention from Austria and Czechoslovakia. From 1920-44, it had a repressive conservative government under Admiral Horthy as regent for an unnamed king, and the Gombos dictatorship of 1931-5. Hungary came under increasing German influence after 1933 and joined Hitler in the invasion of the USSR in 1941. It was overrun by the Red Army in 1944-5 and Horthy fled. A provisional government was formed and land was distributed to the peasants. In 1946, an elected assembly declared it a republic and although there were only 70 communists amongst 409 deputies, it fell under Soviet domination. A Stalinist regime was imposed under Communist Party leader Matyas R« kosi in 1946 and a Soviet-style constitution was adopted in 1949. Industry was nationalized, collectives were set up and a period of fear of the secret police began.

With the support of Soviet leader Malenkov, Imre Nagy, the communist former agriculture minister who had been part of the post-war provisional government, replaced R«kosi in 1953 and began a programme of economic liberalization. He was removed in 1955 after the fall of Malenkov but pressure for democracy mounted after Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956. R«kosi stepped down as Communist Party leader and Nagy was recalled after demonstrations by students and workers in Budapest. The CP was renamed the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party and J«nos K«d« r became its general secretary. Nagy legalized political parties, freed anticommunist primate Cardinal Mindszenty and announced plans to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and become a neutral power. He was opposed by K«d«r who set up an alternative government in eastern Hungary before returning to Budapest with Soviet tanks to overthrow Nagy in November. During 1956, around 200 000 Hungarians fled to the West and there was a period of strict repression. K«d«r began to introduce liberalizing reforms in 1960 but Hungary remained a loyal member of the Warsaw pact and Comecon, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, which linked it to the USSR.

Relations with the USSR improved after the Brezhnev era and Hungary's 'market socialism' experiment influenced Gorbachev's policy of perestroika. Further reforms were introduced in 1987-8, including price deregulation, the establishment of enterprise councils, the creation of a stock market and the introduction of VAT. Change was rapid from 1988 and K«d«r, who was an obstacle to reform, was replaced as HSWP leader by K«roly Grosz, and was given the new post of party president. Two radical reformers, Rezso Nyers and Imre Pozsgay, entered the Politburo and in September, the Hungarian Democratic Forum, an umbrella movement for opposition groups, was formed. There was a period of far-reaching political reform and the official version of the events of 1956 was radically revised with Nagy being posthumously rehabilitated. The border with Austria was opened in May 1989 and thousands of East Germans escaped through Hungary to the West. In July, Grosz was forced to cede power to a more radically reformist triumvirate of the party president, Nyers, the prime minister since 1988, Nemeth and Pozsgay whom he joined in a four-man ruling presidium.

The national assembly approved a series of constitutional changes in October 1989 and the country changed its name from 'People's Republic' to 'Republic'. The HSWP became the Hungarian Socialist Party and adopted Pozsgay as its presidential candidate, but Grosz and other conservatives refused to play an active rÛle in the new party which was now essentially a social-democratic party committed to multi-party democracy. The standing of the HSP was badly damaged when it was revealed that the secret police had bugged opposition parties and given it the information. In 1990, talks began with the USSR about the withdrawal of Soviet troops stationed in Hungary and in June, the government announced that it would no longer take part in Warsaw Pact military exercises and that it had decided to withdraw entirely. The Pact and Comecon had been disbanded by July 1991 and Hungary was able to move more directly towards the West. The last Soviet troops had left in June and in December, Hungary signed a ten-year association agreement with the EC and was awarded trade concessions and a guarantee of economic assistance. A stock exchange was opened in Budapest and in January 1991, the Hungarian currency, the forint, was devalued in an effort to boost exports. The national assembly approved a bill to compensate owners of land and property confiscated under the communist regime. The GNP fell by 7%, industrial production fell by a fifth and unemployment rose above 7% in 1991 but Hungary has had the smoothest transition to market economy of all the former communist European states.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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