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Some history

situation and many victorious battles, the Russian tsar was asked to send troops and the situation quickly turned around. After a bloody revenge – the execution of thirteen generals and the peace-seeking, compromising Prime Minister Lajos Batthyány – un-parliamentary dictatorship only gave way to a quasi-democracy when (one year after the defeat of Koniggrätz by the Germans) the Austrian Empire was converted to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (The so-called Compromise – Kiegyezés in Hungarian; Ausgleich in German – was signed in 1867.) This meant that there was now almost equal partnership and faster development. It was a veritable Golden Age for Hungary which lasted until 1914. Modern school systems were established, and there were equal rights for all religious denominations, including Judaism. A massive immigration of Jews from the Ukraine lasted for decades. Hungary benefited because the super-fast development of the financial system and of industry was partly because of the endless energy of the new capitalists and industrialists. Fresh immigrants chose to become Hungarians – they dreamed of total assimilation. During that time, Budapest, which was established by connecting three smaller towns in 1873, became a metropolis. Hundreds of cafés, an opera house (with Gustav Mahler as director for some years), museums, elegant public buildings, bath houses, and grand bridges attracted more and more visitors. The peak year of the era was 1896, when a grand exhibition was held to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian tribes coming to the Carpathian Basin. Unfortunately, the Hungarian ruling elite blocked the further federalisation of the Monarchy, refusing to share power with the Croatians and the Czechs, which had tragic consequences in the years to come. Hungary not only lost many citizens in World War One, but it also lost the war, two thirds of its territory, and much of its mineral resources. It gained tens of thousands of highly educated refugees who had to live in railway carriages for many months since the country was unable to give them any housing. After the war, Hungary became a bleak and uninspiring country. First there was a short-lived Communist dictatorship (the “red terror”), followed by the “white terror”. Rear-admiral Miklós Horthy became regent in a “kingdom without a king”. The peace treaty of Versailles (referred to as the Treaty of Trianon in Hungarian, as it was signed in the small Trianon palace) was signed in 1920, and inter-war politics was dictated by the hope of getting back the lost Hungarian territories. Hungarian Jews were blamed for Hungary’s defeat in the war, for Trianon, and for everything. In 1920 the first European antiSemitic law was passed, the infamous “numerus clauses” law,

PARK_Budapest_belivek_v065.indd 70-71

Some history

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which prescribed that the student body universities could only be six percent Jewish, since that was the proportion in the population. Though the law was lifted in 1927, the poison was there in Hungarian society. Needless to say, Hungary joined the axis, Italy and Germany, in the hope of re-gaining some territory. It was not entirely in vain. In 1938 some territories were returned, later even more. But Hungary was on the wrong side again, and the Soviet Union did not respect these territorial changes after the war. Germany insisted that Hungary accept tough anti-Jewish legislation, three laws, one after the other. The last even criminalised sexual intercourse between Jewish Hungarians and non-Jewish Hungarians (except for decorated Jewish-Hungarian soldiers, who were considered real Hungarians). The war was a disaster for Hungary, in every respect. It lost hundreds of thousands of troops, its territory was devastated, and its towns bombarded. In the spring of 1944 Germany invaded the country, and forced the deportation of Jews beginning in the provinces. Then the process was stopped. Even though in October Hungarian fascists took power and about 70,000 Jewish Hungarians died of ill health and random killings, one can say that Budapest Jewry (though it was decimated) more or less survived. More than 500,000 Hungarian Jews from the provinces were deported and murdered, which was nearly all of them. The rest is more or less well-known. The Red Army did not give up Hungary, on the contrary. After tolerating democracy until 1947, in 1948 it orchestrated a coup d’état, and the Hungarian Communist Party took power. Nationalisation followed in 1949. Scarcity, cruelty, fabricated trials, closed borders, stagnation, and nationalist rhetoric were typical of the Dark 1950s, under the dictatorship of Mátyás Rákosi, a bald, small, chubby, singularly unattractive-looking person. On October 23, 1956 a student demonstration began and it ended as a revolution. It only lasted thirteen days, but it was a sort of redemption for many Hungarians. Two hundred thousand mostly educated young people left the country. Then terror came: hundreds were hung, (including Prime Minister Imre Nagy, the Communist with a human face), and thousands were imprisoned. Nothing was the same after that. From the mid-1960s a snobby, more or less human-faced Communist society came into being. It was unbearable and stupid, but significantly different than the other East-European régimes: “Goulash Communism”, “the Happiest Block in the Gulag”, call it what you like. But culture mattered. Censorship was lax, the tiny opposition movement was tolerated, and the government constantly wanted to provide citizens with

2011.04.20. 15:49:07

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András Török's Budapest: A Critical Guide  

The Celebrated Insider's Guide, upgraded many times, probably the deepest and funnieast and truest portrait of any major European city. With...

András Török's Budapest: A Critical Guide  

The Celebrated Insider's Guide, upgraded many times, probably the deepest and funnieast and truest portrait of any major European city. With...

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