Hungary - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Hungary: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Hungary (Hungarian Magyarország), landlocked republic in central Europe. Most of Hungary lies in a basin known as the Danube basin or the Hungarian Plain, which extends into neighboring countries. The Danube River flows across the basin. Budapest, Hungary’s capital and largest city, lies on both sides of the Danube. Budapest is a beautiful city and the cultural and commercial center of east central Europe. Hungary’s present borders are virtually the same as those established by the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon (1920).

The people of Hungary call themselves Magyars because they trace their history to the Magyar conquest of Hungary. The Magyars were originally nomadic tribes from Asia. In the late 9th century, led by Árpád, they conquered the plain between the Danube and Tisza rivers, the central part of the Hungarian Plain. By the early 11th century they had been unified politically and converted to Western Christianity. The first king of the Árpád dynasty, Stephen I, was crowned in 1000 or 1001. In 1083 he was declared a saint.

At the start of the 14th century foreign rulers took over. A series of European dynasties ruled Hungary in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries most of Hungary was in the Ottoman Empire. A strip in the west was in the empire ruled by the Habsburg family of Austria. By the end of the 17th century the Habsburgs had conquered almost all of Hungary. In 1848 the Hungarians rebelled against Habsburg rule, but the revolt was crushed. In 1867 a compromise was reached with the Habsburgs that created a dual monarchy, called Austria-Hungary. After World War I (1914-1918) the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved, and Hungary became fully independent. Following World War II (1939-1945) a Communist government took power and Hungary joined the Soviet-bloc countries that were subservient to the USSR. A non-Communist government took office following elections in 1990.


Hungary is somewhat oval in shape, with a maximum distance from east to west of about 500 km (about 310 mi) and a maximum distance from north to south of about 315 km (about 195 mi). It is bounded on the north by Slovakia; on the northeast by Ukraine; on the east by Romania; on the south by Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia; and on the west by Austria. The country has a total land area of 93,030 sq km (35,919 sq mi).

Natural Regions in Hungary

Hungary is predominantly flat. The Danube River forms part of Hungary’s northwestern border with Slovakia, and then flows south through Budapest, dividing Hungary into two general regions. To the east of the Danube is a low, rolling plain known as the Great Hungarian Plain, also called the Great Alföld. It extends east to Romania and south to Serbia. A smaller plain, the Little Alföld, lies in northwestern Hungary and runs into Slovakia. The Great Alföld covers about three-fourths of Hungary. Far from being completely flat, as its name suggests, the Great Plain becomes quite hilly in the west. It is Hungary’s chief agricultural area, supporting such crops as corn, wheat, sunflowers, sugar beets, paprika, and fodder crops, as well as grasslands for grazing sheep. The grazing areas of the Hungarian Plain are called the puszta, derived from a Slavic word meaning “wasteland.” The 19th-century life of cowboys and their herds on the puszta is commemorated in Hungarian folksongs, dances, and literature. The Little Plain is also fertile and intensively cultivated.

Mountains rim the plains on the west and on the north and east. Highlands along the northern border of Hungary extend eastward from the gorge of the Danube at Esztergom and include the Mátra Mountains, a part of the Carpathian system. Mount Kékes (1,014 m/ 3,327 ft), in the Mátra Mountains, is the highest peak in Hungary. The area west of the Danube, known as Transdanubia, presents a variety of land forms in addition to the Little Plain in the extreme northwest. In the south rise the isolated Mecsek Mountains. In the north are the Bakony Mountains, a forested range in the Transdanubian Highlands, which overlook Lake Balaton.

Rivers and Lakes in Hungary

The Danube is Hungary’s most important river. The entire country lies within its drainage basin. The Danube enters Hungary from Austria to the west and marks Hungary’s northwest border with Slovakia. At Vác, north of Budapest, the river makes a sharp turn to the south. It continues south through Budapest and into Serbia. Other major rivers, all tributaries of the Danube, include the Tisza, the longest river in Hungary, and the Raab (Rába) and Drava (Drau) rivers.

Lake Balaton, Hungary’s principal lake, is also the largest lake in central Europe. It has been the country’s main vacation resort and health spa and is noted for the sandy beaches on its southern shore. Vineyards along its northern shore yield some of Hungary’s finest wines. Lake Balaton is noted for its game, rare water birds, and fish. In the northwest, Hungary shares the Neusiedler Lake with Austria.

Climate in Hungary

Hungary has a relatively dry continental climate, with a wide range of temperatures throughout the year. Winters have several months of below-freezing temperatures. Summers are hot and are characterized by droughts alternating with violent storms. Much of the year’s rain falls in early summer, when heavy downpours frequently occur. Spring and fall are usually short, with the weather often unpredictable. The most rain tends to fall along Hungary’s western frontier.

The average daily temperature range in Budapest is -4° to 1°C (25° to 34°F) in January, and 16° to 28°C (61° to 82°F) in July; there is little regional variation in temperature. Budapest receives an average of about 610 mm (about 24 in) of precipitation each year.

Plant and Animal Life in Hungary

Some 21 percent of Hungary is forested, mostly with oak, lime, beech, and other deciduous trees in the Transdanubian lands and mountains. Hare, fox, deer, and boar are abundant. Duck, heron, crane, and stork are native to the country, and the Great Hungarian Plain, which is mostly steppe, is a resting spot for many migrating species.

Natural Resources of Hungary

Hungary’s principal natural resources are bauxite, the ore from which aluminum is made; lignite coal; and natural gas. The country also has deposits of hard coal and petroleum. Reserves of most minerals are small, however, and often of low quality. The minerals are found primarily in the mountains of northeastern Hungary.

The alluvial soils of the Great Hungarian Plain are highly fertile, although inferior to the black earth in the southeastern and southern plain extending into Romania, Serbia, and Croatia. Soils in the northern highland river basins are generally fertile, but in much of Hungary the soil is either of a loose type, called loess, or sandy.

Northern Hungary lacks sufficient water, especially between July and October, when precipitation levels are typically low. Canals irrigate the Great Hungarian Plain, which is subject to drought. Because of the country’s mainly flat terrain, only limited water resources can be harnessed for hydroelectric power.

Environmental Issues in Hungary

Rapid industrialization in Hungary following World War II contributed significantly to a number of major environmental problems, including air, water, and soil pollution. Emissions from automobiles and electric power plants have created most of the air pollution. A significant percentage of the country’s forests, waterways, and buildings suffer damage from acid rain, which is caused by sulfur dioxide in the air. Winds carry Hungary’s polluted air into neighboring countries, where it has caused similar problems.

River, lake, and groundwater pollution in Hungary are the result of industrial runoff, much of which is untreated when it enters the water. Insufficiently treated sewage also contributes to water pollution, as a large percentage of the country’s population does not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Hungary’s Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe, is severely polluted. Soils are also susceptible to pollution from chemical runoff from local industries. Because Hungary shares its major waterway, the Danube, with other European countries, pollution problems affecting neighboring countries often affect Hungary, as well, and vice versa.

In the worst environmental disaster since the Chernobyl’ nuclear accident in 1986, more than 100,000 cubic meters of water contaminated with cyanide burst through a dam at a mining works in northern Romania in January 2000. The water traveled 1,000 km (620 mi) through Yugoslavia and Hungary, where it entered the Danube and Tisza rivers, polluting drinking water in all three countries. The toxic cyanide wiped out the Tisza’s entire ecosystem in a matter of days—everything from microbes to otters.

Reforestation efforts have allowed the country to steadily gain forestland. About 6.8 percent (1997) of Hungary’s land was protected in parks and other reserves, preventing development but not the ill effects of acid rain and water pollution.

Hungary is party to international treaties concerning air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, hazardous wastes, and wetlands.


The population of Hungary (2009 estimate) is 9,905,596. The overall population density is 107 persons per sq km (278 per sq mi). Urban areas are home to 66 percent of the population. Although Hungary was largely agricultural before World War II, people flooded into the cities from rural areas after the war.

Principal Cities of Hungary

Budapest, the largest city, is the capital and also the cultural and economic center of Hungary. A cosmopolitan city with a population estimated at 1.71 million people in 2003, Budapest is sometimes called the Queen of the Danube. It is dramatically situated on both sides of the Danube, with the hills of Buda contrasting with the flatlands of Pest.

Other Hungarian cities include Debrecen, the trade center of a major agricultural region on the Great Plain; Miskolc, the location of iron-and-steel and other metallurgical industries; Szeged, a shipping center on the Tisza for the agricultural products of the Great Hungarian Plain, also noted for its chemical and synthetic-textile industries; and Pécs, home of small manufacturing industries. These cities are greatly overshadowed in importance by Budapest.

Ethnic Origins in Hungary

About 90 percent of the Hungarian people are Magyars, descendants of the Finno-Ugric and Turkic tribes who mingled with Avars and Slavic tribes in Hungary in the 9th century. The country’s largest ethnic minorities are Roma (Gypsies), Germans, Slovaks, Romanians, Croats, and Serbs. A law passed in 1993 permits ethnic minorities to set up self-governing councils.

Languages spoken in Hungary

Hungarian, also called Magyar, is the official language of Hungary. Hungarian is a member of the Ugric branch of the Finno-Ugric languages. It is completely unrelated to any of the major European languages of the Indo-European language family. Its only major relatives in Europe are Finnish and Estonian. The Hungarian Language has been influenced by a number of other languages, including Turkish, German, Latin, French, and several Slavic languages.

Because of the country’s large number of tourists and the minimal utility of Hungarian in other parts of the world, most Hungarians learn to speak foreign languages. For much of the 20th century, German was the foreign language most often spoken in Hungary. During parts of the Communist period (1948-1989), when Hungary was under the influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Hungarians were restricted to learning Russian as an additional language. Since then, many young people in Hungary have learned English.

Religion in Hungary

Hungary is predominantly a Roman Catholic country with a large Protestant minority. During the Communist period, the government dissolved most religious orders and seized the properties of the monasteries. Those religious bodies that remained were controlled by the State Office for Church Affairs. About two-thirds of the current population is Roman Catholic and about one-quarter is Protestant, the chief Protestant groups being the Hungarian (Calvinist) Reformed church and the Hungarian Lutheran church. The Orthodox and Unitarian churches are also active. Hungary’s Jewish community numbers between 100,000 and 120,000, primarily in Budapest.

Education in Hungary

Schooling is compulsory for all children in Hungary from the age of 7 through 16. The literacy rate in Hungary stands at 99 percent of the adult population. Primary education is free, and the government pays the bulk of the cost of secondary and higher education. The educational system consists of general, or primary, schools, which comprise the first eight grades; secondary grammar schools for academic work; technical schools; and institutions of higher learning. Emphasis is placed on vocational training and on education in technical subjects. In southern Hungary bilingual schools operate in Hungarian and the languages of national minorities.

The most important universities in Hungary are Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest (founded in 1635), Lajos Kossuth University in Debrecen (1912), Janus Pannonius University of Pécs (founded in 1367, refounded in 1922), and Attila József University in Szeged (founded in 1872, refounded in 1921). The Central European University (1991) in Budapest offers postgraduate instruction in English. There are also many technical universities and other institutions of higher education. A number of colleges specialize in vocational training (including teacher training), technical education, and agriculture.

Way of Life in Hungary

Despite large-scale urbanization in the area surrounding Budapest, Hungary is best characterized by its rural nature. Fewer than ten cities have a population of more than 100,000, and many of these cities have maintained a rural character. Cities are surrounded by village-type settlements with scattered multilevel apartment buildings. Most Hungarian city-dwellers live in apartments, while single-family housing is the norm in the countryside. Hungary has an unusually high number of commuters who travel from rural areas to jobs in the cities. Some Hungarians continue to farm in addition to their main occupation.

During the Communist period, Hungary had a higher standard of living than most countries in the Soviet bloc. In the early 1990s, after the fall of Communism, living standards fell for most of the population as a result of the country’s economic transition to capitalism. While life for many Hungarians revolved around finding the resources necessary to raise a family, a distinct upper class emerged that lived in large houses with swimming pools and tennis courts. Hungary made a fairly rapid transition from state-owned to privately owned businesses, and wages rose in the late 1990s, as did the standard of living.


The ancient Magyars had a rich folk culture, which incorporated Eastern themes into its folktales, art, and music. Following the Hungarian conversion to Christianity in the 10th century, pagan and Eastern cultural elements were replaced by Western cultural and social patterns, and Latin, the language used by the Roman Catholic Church, became the official and literary language. This meant, especially during the Middle Ages, that the overwhelming majority of chroniclers, scholars, and educators in Hungary were priests.

During the 15th century Italian artists and scholars flocked to the court of King Matthias Corvinus and introduced the humanistic Renaissance into Hungarian culture. In the 16th century, during the Reformation, the Hungarian language replaced Latin. From the 15th through 17th centuries a politically based cultural idea developed of Hungarians as the “protecting bastion of Western civilization” against the Ottoman imperialism. This idea survived into the 20th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries Hungary absorbed the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment and of Western European liberalism. New movements arose as a result. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, founded in 1825, was highly influential in assimilating these ideas into Hungarian culture. In the last quarter of the 19th century Hungarian Jews also greatly influenced Hungary’s cultural life.

The early 20th century saw the rise of the Nyugat (“West”) school of Hungarian intellectuals, who favored the integration of Hungarian cultural elements with modern Western culture. After World War II the Communist regime made efforts to pattern Hungarian culture after that of the USSR. The demise of Communism in 1990 reopened the floodgates to Western culture in Hungary. American films, books, music, and plays became extremely popular.

Literature in Hungary

Literature was a major influence in Hungarian history, and the spiritual prelude to uprisings in 1848 and 1956 was provided by poets and writers. The comedies of Ferenc Molnár were translated into several languages and achieved international popularity during the first half of the 20th century. The Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel (1945) was based on Molnár’s play Liliom (1909). In 2002 Imre Kertész became the first Hungarian to win the Nobel Prize in literature. His semi-autobiographical works concern themselves primarily with the World War II Holocaust, which he experienced when he was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 14. Another 20th-century Hungarian writer whose works have been translated into English is novelist Sándor Márai. See Hungarian Literature.

Art in Hungary

Only a few Hungarian artists have achieved international renown. Hungarian painting reached the peak of its development during the romantic period in the 19th century. Notable painters included Mihály Munkácsy, Viktor Madarász, Pál Szinyei Merse, and Mihály Zichy. The Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, which offers training in the visual arts, was established in Budapest in 1871.

László Moholy-Nagy was a leading 20th-century sculptor and photographer who taught at the Bauhaus, an avant-garde design school in Germany, and in 1937 came to the United States, where he founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago, later known as the Institute of Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer, also born in Hungary and a student and teacher at the Bauhaus, came to the United States in 1937 and helped develop the school of architecture at Harvard University. Other important 20th-century artists born in Hungary include the photographers Brassaï, Robert Capa, and André Kertész. During the Communist period, the cultural movement known as socialist realism predominated in Hungarian art. Hungarian art films began winning prizes at international festivals in the 1960s. The best-known Hungarian filmmaker is István Szabó, whose Mephisto won the Academy Award as best foreign-language film in 1981.

Music in Hungary

The introduction of Christianity into Hungary in the 10th century brought with it the use of sacred music from Western Europe. The music consisted of Gregorian chants and, after the Reformation, of Protestant chorales. Secular music was largely influenced by styles from the East. A new instrumental and vocal style was brought into Hungary during the 15th century by the Roma. Hungarian folk music also absorbed harmony styles from the Ottomans, who occupied the country in the 16th and 17th centuries.

During the 17th and 18th centuries princely courts in Hungary often had orchestras and opera companies of their own, in which foreign musicians were employed. The best-known example is the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, who worked for 30 years for the Esterházy family.

In the 19th century Hungary produced its first important native-born composer, Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian national anthem and the first Hungarian opera. Erkel’s opera Hunyádi László (1844) recounts the exploits of 15th-century Hungarian military hero János Hunyadi. Composer and pianist Franz Liszt, although born in Hungary, spent most of his life in other countries. Composer and conductor Ernst von Dohnányi, like Erkel, was greatly influenced by German composers. Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálmán, and others attained fame for their operettas, notably the former’s The Merry Widow (1905) and the latter’s Countess Maritza (1924).

German music continued to be the dominant influence on Hungarian music until the 20th century, when the music of Béla Bartók and Zóltan Kodály began to gain national acceptance. Beginning in 1905, Bartók and Kodály collected, transcribed, and published thousands of Hungarian folk tunes and used them or their characteristic features in their own music. In the late 1950s, however, younger Hungarian composers began to reject this folk-based style and to explore more contemporary approaches to composition. Foremost among the late 20th-century avant-garde composers are György Kurtág and György Ligeti. See Folk Music; Music, Western.

Science in Hungary

Hungary made unusually rapid progress in scientific research between the two world wars. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences has many research institutes and scientific commissions and publishes several scientific journals in Hungarian and in other languages. Scientists who left Hungary to settle in the United States include nuclear physicists Edward Teller and Leo Szilard, biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi, and mathematician John von Neumann. Mathematician Erno Rubik gained wealth and fame by inventing several ingenious topological puzzle-toys, including the Rubik’s Cube.

Libraries and Museums in Hungary

The largest public library in Hungary is the National Széchényi Library in Budapest, founded in 1802. Other important libraries, all in Budapest, are the National Archives (1756), the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1826), and Parliament Library (1870). The still existing Pannonhalma Benedictine Abbey Library (founded 996) was Hungary’s first library and has preserved its book catalog from the year 1090. Besides regional and municipal public libraries, Hungary has trade union libraries and scientific libraries.

Among the leading museums in Hungary are the Hungarian National Museum (1802), which contains collections tracing the history of Magyar society and culture since the 9th century; the Museum of Fine Arts (founded in 1896, opened in 1906); and the Hungarian Natural History Museum (1802). All three are located in Budapest. The Museum of Fine Arts contains the collection assembled by the Esterházy family. The Christian Museum of Esztergom is a treasury of church art and rare masterpieces of European codex literature. Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center (2004) commemorates Hungarian Jews and Roma who perished in concentration camps. The villa in Budapest where Béla Bartók lived in the 1930s opened as a museum in 2006.


Before World War II, the economy of Hungary was based primarily on agriculture. What little industry the country had was almost entirely destroyed during the war. After the Communists took power in 1948, the Hungarian government took control of the economy and set forth a series of long-range economic development plans in which the emphasis was on industrialization, particularly the development of heavy industry. However, these plans were not well matched with Hungary’s resources and capabilities, and the new industries were not able to meet the government’s high production goals. In the late 1950s and 1960s the government was forced to readjust its plans and place more emphasis on agriculture and the manufacturing of consumer goods. In 1968 the government introduced an economic reform program known as the New Economic Mechanism (NEM), which allowed for limited decentralization of the economy. The first years of the NEM were considered a success; the production of consumer goods rose, and Hungarians experienced a substantial improvement in their standard of living. However, opposition among Soviet and Hungarian Communist leaders prevented the full development of the program and the NEM ended in the 1980s.

As the economy continued to decline throughout the 1980s, Hungary began turning to Western nations for trade and economic assistance. At the same time, the government began to encourage the formation of private businesses and partnerships with foreign companies. When non-Communists came to power in 1990, the country accelerated the pace of free-market reforms. The government was particularly successful at attracting foreign investment, and by 1993 Hungary accounted for more than half of all direct foreign investment in Eastern Europe. Numerous state-owned companies were transferred to private ownership as part of a widespread privatization program, and by the early 2000s the private sector accounted for more than 80 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2004 Hungary became a full member of the European Union, an organization of European countries dedicated to integrating European economies. However, its economy remains heavily dependent on a strong international economy and on foreign investment.

The 2007 budget showed revenues of $52.7 billion and expenditures of $59.4 billion. The GDP in 2007 was $138.4 billion, and per capita income was about $13,766.40. Reducing the annual budget deficit remained a government priority, but tightening government spending proved difficult. Hungary has a large population of older people—20 percent of the people are over age 60—and pension payments are a significant expenditure. Inflation in Hungary remained high through the 1990s, often in excess of 25 percent per year, and seemed resistant to Finance Ministry efforts to reduce the rate quickly. However, it reached single digits by the year 2001 and dropped below 5 percent in 2003.

Hungary is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). In May 1996 it became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In May 2004 Hungary and nine other countries joined the European Union (EU) as full members.

Labor in Hungary

The collapse of Communism and resulting decline in industrial production displaced a significant percentage of Hungarian workers. Privatization and cuts in government spending also increased unemployment. But rapid growth in the service sector during the 1990s and early 2000s created many new jobs for skilled workers, especially in telecommunications and information technology. In 1993 the unemployment rate stood at 13 percent; in 2007 it was 7.4 percent. Some 32 percent of the labor force is employed in industry; another 5 percent in farming, forestry, or fishing; and 63 percent in service industries.

Agriculture of Hungary

Cultivated land covers 51 percent of Hungary’s total area. During the Communist period about 90 percent of all farmland was organized into collective and state farms. State farms were owned and managed by the government; in collective farms, families would work together on jointly owned land, and each would receive a salary and a share of the farm’s earnings.

In the early 1990s the post-Communist government began returning many of the state and collective farms to private ownership. People who had owned land before collectivization were invited to reclaim their land, if they were willing to farm it. Other collectivized land was sold. Foreign investors came in, especially food-canning and food-processing businesses. Severe droughts during this time, combined with a drop in government subsidies, caused a significant decline in agricultural output. Severe weather—drought alternating with flooding—continued to hamper farm production into the 2000s. In addition, the government reduced or removed subsidies on many agricultural exports as part of an EU agreement.

Hungary’s leading agricultural products in the early 2000s were corn, wheat, sugar beets, barley, potatoes, and sunflower seeds. In addition, grapes for wine are grown in vineyards throughout Hungary. For many years the best-known Hungarian wines came from the Tokaj region, but the industry has grown enormously since the fall of communism, and vineyards are planted in many areas. Livestock included cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, and poultry, and important livestock products included milk, meat, butter, eggs, and wool.

Forestry and Fishing in Hungary

Expansion of agricultural areas, a high rate of exploitation, and inadequate reforestation diminished Hungary’s forest resources through the period following World War II. In the 1960s the government restricted cutting and began an extensive reforestation program. The timber cut in 2007 was 5.64 million cu m (199 million cu ft).

Important freshwater fisheries are located on Lake Balaton and the Danube and Tisza rivers. The commercial fish catch consists chiefly of common carp, pike, perch, sheatfish, and shad.

Mining in Hungary

During the Communist period, all subsurface resources were the property of the state and were exploited exclusively by the Hungarian government, except for uranium ore, which was mined by an agency of the USSR. Since the Communist system collapsed in 1989, Hungary’s mining sector has decreased considerably. In the mid-1990s the country’s chief mineral products were hard coal, lignite, bauxite, petroleum, and natural gas.

Manufacturing in Hungary

Heavy industry has declined in importance in Hungary since the end of the Communist period, when most of Hungary’s industries were owned and managed by the state. Private ownership of companies and factories has increased. Many of the companies that manufactured products for export were multinationals. For example, automobile manufacturers with plants in Hungary include Audi, Ford, General Motors, and Suzuki. Other U.S. investors include Alcoa, Coca-Cola, IBM, and Pepsico. The European Union also invested heavily in Hungary’s manufacturing sector. In the early 2000s the leading manufactured goods, in terms of their contribution to GDP, were food products; motor vehicles; office, accounting, and computing machinery; and chemicals.

Energy in Hungary

In 2006 Hungary’s output of electricity was 34 billion kilowatt-hours. Because Hungary does not produce enough electrical power to meet its needs, the country has had to import some of its energy resources. Russia is the main supplier of petroleum and natural gas. In the 1980s the government began constructing nuclear reactors in an effort to conserve and reduce dependence on imported energy sources. In 2006 the combustion of coal and oil provided 58 percent of Hungary’s electricity; nuclear power facilities supplied 38 percent.

Tourism and Foreign Trade in Hungary

Hungary’s tourism industry has developed rapidly since the collapse of Communism, and is an important source of foreign currency. Budapest is a popular destination with visitors and enjoys a reputation as one of Europe’s most elegant cities. Lake Balaton is a popular vacation spot for boating, fishing, and swimming; Hungary’s cities contain numerous historical and cultural attractions; and Budapest holds an annual spring festival of music and drama.

Since the 1980s most of Hungary’s foreign trade has been conducted with Western nations, primarily with the EU. The leading purchasers of Hungary’s exports are Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. The country’s chief exports include machinery and transport equipment, consumer goods, food and agricultural products, chemicals, apparel, and textiles. The leading imports include machinery and transport equipment, crude petroleum, chemicals, metal ores, consumer goods, and agricultural products. The value of exports in 2007 amounted to $94 billion, and the value of imports was $94.4 billion. The trade deficit was an ongoing problem.

Currency and Banking of Hungary

The monetary unit of Hungary is the forint (184 forints equal U.S.$1; 2007 average), which is subdivided into 100 fillér. The country’s central bank is the National Bank of Hungary, located in Budapest. The National Bank issues currency and maintains checking and savings accounts. Other financial institutions include the Foreign Trade Bank, which serves enterprises trading abroad, and the State Development Institution, which finances large-scale investment projects. The Budapest Stock Exchange opened in 1990. Hungary’s banking system is still largely underdeveloped, and its level of foreign debt remains high.

Transportation in Hungary

The Danube River, which flows from north to south through the center of the country, is a major artery of the Hungarian transportation system. With its navigable tributaries, it provides low-cost transit especially for heavy goods, such as iron ore and coal, and offers ready access to the markets of central and southeastern Europe and to the Black Sea. The completion of a canal connecting the Main and Danube rivers in 1992 allowed for goods to be shipped from the Black Sea to the North Sea.

Hungary’s railroad system consisted of 7,950 km (4,940 mi) of track in 2002. The country had 159,568 km (99,151 mi) of roads, of which 44 percent are paved and suitable for heavy traffic. The main roads radiate from Budapest. Hungary’s national airline is Malév. Flights are handled by Ferihegy International Airport southeast of Budapest; internal air services resumed in 1993 after an interval of 20 years.

Communications in Hungary

Hungary has both private and government-owned radio and television stations. The state-run Magyar Rádió operates three radio stations, and Magyar Televízió maintains two television channels. The first independent television station began broadcasting in 1994. Most families own a television set.

Since private ownership of publications was legalized in 1989, the print media in Hungary has enjoyed considerable freedom. The Hungarian constitution guarantees freedom of the press. The newspapers are privately owned; some are partially owned by foreign companies. In 2004 there were 34 daily newspapers being published, with a total circulation of 2.2 million. The most important of these was Népszabadság (People’s Freedom), published in Budapest. Népszabadság was formerly the central publication of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party but is now independent.


Between 1948 and 1989 the Communists controlled all levels of government in Hungary, and the head of the Communist Party was the country’s most powerful leader. In the late 1980s public pressure forced the country’s leaders to accept the formation of opposition parties. In 1989 the Communist Party ended its monopoly on power, and renamed itself the Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP). Soon afterward, the Hungarian parliament revised the 1949 constitution to create a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which power is reserved for the people and exercised through their elected representatives. The 1989 constitutional revisions marked Hungary’s transformation from a Communist-dominated people’s republic to an independent democratic state.

Executive of Hungary

Hungary has both a president and a prime minister. The president acts as head of state. He or she is elected in a secret ballot by the National Assembly for a five-year term, and may be reelected for a second term. Any citizen who is qualified to vote and at least 35 years of age may be elected president. The National Assembly also selects the prime minister and the cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers. The prime minister is the head of government and typically the leader of the party with the most seats in parliament.

Legislature of Hungary

Hungary has a one-house parliament called the National Assembly (Országgyülés). The National Assembly consists of 386 deputies, elected for four-year terms. Of the total number of deputies, 176 are elected directly from local districts; 120 are elected on a proportional basis from county and metropolitan lists; and the remaining 90 are elected indirectly from national lists drawn up by the competing parties. Upon the recommendation of the president, the National Assembly appoints the members of the Council of Ministers, who head the various government departments.

Judiciary in Hungary

Hungary’s highest court is the Supreme Court, located in Budapest. It functions mainly as a final court of appeals. All judicial positions are by election. Judges are elected to the Supreme Court by the National Assembly. Judges are not permitted to join political parties or engage in political activities. A constitutional court, established in 1990, consists of 11 members elected by the National Assembly for a period of 10 years. County, district, and municipal courts handle criminal cases and are normally presided over by one professional judge and two lay assessors. The judges are elected by local councils for three-year terms.

Political Parties of Hungary

From 1949 to 1989 the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (HSWP) dominated the nation’s political life. In October 1989, with its membership rapidly declining, the HSWP reconstituted itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP). The constitutional revisions adopted in 1989 officially legalized the formation of other political parties.

Parties represented in the Hungarian parliament include the HSP; the moderately conservative Independent Smallholders’ and Civic Party; the Alliance of Free Democrats, an ally of the HSP; the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party; and the Hungarian Democratic Forum.

Local Government of Hungary

In 1990 the National Assembly ratified a law providing for the right of citizens to participate extensively in the governing of their local communities. Local affairs are now administered by multiparty self-governing bodies. Local elections are held every four years.

Hungary is divided for administrative purposes into 19 counties plus the capital city of Budapest, which has county status. Counties are subdivided into districts. In rural areas, villages have their own representative bodies. All levels of local government are regarded as equal and independent.

Social Services in Hungary

Health-care and pension funds are financed by employer and employee contributions. Health insurance is obligatory, and most medical treatment is free. Hungary has a guaranteed minimum wage. Men are usually eligible to receive retirement pensions at age 60, and women at age 55. Social insurance also provides for prenatal and maternity benefits, compensation for unemployment, old age and disability pensions, and aid to orphans and widows.

Defense of Hungary

In 2006 Hungary’s armed forces totaled 32,300; the army had 23,950 members and the air force had 7,500 members. A small fleet patrolled the Danube. Other forces included an armed border guard. Compulsory military service was abolished in Hungary in 2004.

International Organizations in Hungary

Hungary is a member of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). Hungary joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.


The region that now comprises Hungary was once part of the ancient Roman provinces of Dacia and Pannonia. Situated on the periphery of the Roman Empire, the region was among the first to fall to the Germanic tribes that began to seize the Roman dominions in the closing years of the 2nd century AD. The Germanic tribes were later driven from the region by the Huns. After the death of Attila the Hun, the Germans reoccupied the area, only to be expelled again, in the 5th century, by the Avars, an Asian people. With the decline of Avar power during the 8th century, the Moravians, a Slavic people, seized the northern and eastern portions of the region and, between 791 and 797, Charlemagne, king of the Franks, added the remainder of the region to his domains.

A century later, in 895 or 896, the Magyars, a Finno-Ugric tribe, seized control of Pannonia. Under the leadership of their legendary chieftain Árpád, the invaders conquered Moravia, raided the Italian Peninsula, and made incursions into Germany. The Magyars ranged over central Europe for more than half a century after the death of Árpád in 907, and in 955 they devastated Burgundy. Later in 955 they were defeated by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, on the Lech River. After this defeat, the Magyars maintained friendlier relations with the Holy Roman Empire, with the result that Christianity and Western culture began to penetrate Hungary. Duke Géza was converted to Christianity in 975. His son Stephen I, the founder of the Árpád dynasty, was granted formal recognition as king of Hungary by Pope Sylvester II in 1001 or 1002.

The Árpád Kings

With Stephen (who was canonized in 1083), a new era began for Hungary. Christianity became the official religion, paganism was suppressed, royal authority was centralized, and the country was divided into counties for administrative purposes. The non-Magyar sections of the population were treated as inferior and were forced to shoulder a disproportionate burden of labor and taxation for many centuries. When Stephen died in 1038 the country was left without a direct heir to the throne. Struggles for the throne and pagan revolts bred instability in the country. Ladislas I, who served as king during the latter half of the 11th century, strengthened the country by arranging an alliance with Pope Gregory VII. Ladislas subjugated Croatia, Bosnia, and part of Transylvania; his successor, Koloman, obtained part of Dalmatia.

Royal authority in Hungary declined during the 12th century, chiefly because of internal strife instigated by Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus. Seizing control of the Hungarian throne, he bestowed huge grants of the crown lands on members of the nobility, thereby providing foundations for the development of feudalism. Byzantine influence disappeared after the death of Manuel in 1180, but the barons retained their privileged status. King Andrew II attempted to reestablish a centralized regime. In 1222 he issued the Golden Bull, sometimes called the Hungarian Magna Carta, which extended various rights, including tax exemptions, to the nobility.

Hungary was overrun by the Mongols in 1241, during the reign of Andrew’s successor Béla IV. Most of the Mongols withdrew from the country in 1242, but weak leadership and further royal concessions to the barons accelerated the disintegration of the kingdom.

The Beginnings of Foreign Influence

With the death of Andrew III in 1301 the Árpád line of kings became extinct. In 1308 Charles Robert of Anjou secured election as Charles I, thereby establishing the Angevin dynasty in Hungary (see Anjou). During his reign, which ended in 1342, Charles restored order, imposed limitations on the barons, and generally consolidated the realm. He also made a number of territorial acquisitions, including Bosnia and part of Serbia. Through his marriage to Elizabeth, the sister of Kazimierz III, king of Poland, he ensured the succession of his son Louis to the Polish crown.

During the reign of Louis I, which lasted until his death in 1382, Hungary acquired new territory through wars of conquest and became one of the largest realms of Europe. Louis instituted numerous administrative reforms, further curbed the power of the feudal lords, and promoted the development of commerce, science, and industry. In the closing years of his reign, however, the Ottomans, advancing steadily northward into the Balkan Peninsula, established control over several of Hungary’s southern buffer provinces. Sigismund, who was crowned king in 1387, organized a crusade against the Ottomans, but was overwhelmingly defeated in 1396. Additional disasters followed, including defeats by the Venetians and costly struggles with the religious reformers known as the Hussites. Sigismund, who had been elevated to Holy Roman emperor in 1411, relentlessly persecuted the Hussites.

Hungary was again menaced by the Ottomans during the two-year reign of Sigismund’s Habsburg son-in-law and successor, Albert II. A bitter contest for the throne developed after Albert’s death in 1439, and Hungary was saved from Ottoman domination by the military leader János Hunyadi. Still the national hero of Hungary, Hunyadi is best known for breaking the Ottoman siege of Belgrade in 1456.

Hunyadi’s son Matthias Corvinus was elected king in 1458, despite strong opposition by supporters of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. The new monarch, probably the most able and enlightened ruler of his time, instituted various administrative reforms, created a standing army, and promoted the commercial and cultural development of the nation. A brilliant military leader, Matthias won control of Austria from the Habsburgs in the 1480s and moved his residence to Vienna. This and his other territorial acquisitions, which included Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia, made Hungary the strongest kingdom of central Europe. After the death of Matthias in 1490, the feudal barons regained their former status. This soon produced factional strife in Hungary, including a peasant rebellion.

The Partition of Hungary

General political chaos intensified during the first two decades of the 16th century, and rendered Hungary incapable of effective defense against its foreign foes. In August 1521 an Ottoman army under Sultan Süleyman I captured Belgrade and Šabac (both now in Serbia), the chief strongholds of the kingdom in the south. In 1526 Süleyman crushed the Hungarian army at Mohács, where King Louis II and more than 20,000 of his men perished. After his army captured the city of Buda on September 10, 1526, Süleyman withdrew from Hungary.

For more than 150 years after the defeat at Mohács, Hungary was the scene of almost continuous strife, chiefly among the Habsburg Holy Roman emperors, who seized control of the western portion of the former kingdom; the Ottomans, who established their control over the central region; and groups of the native nobility, especially that of Transylvania. In the course of the struggle for control of Hungary, Transylvania became the center of the Magyar movement against Ottoman and Austrian, or Habsburg, domination. The Magyars had abandoned the Catholic church during the Protestant Reformation, thereby further offending the Catholic Habsburgs. After the middle of the 16th century and the beginning of the Counter Reformation, the strife between the Protestant Magyars and the Catholic Habsburgs became increasingly violent. At the end of the Long War (1593-1606), Emperor Rudolf II was forced to grant the Magyars of Transylvania political and religious autonomy, additional territory, and other concessions.

The Transylvanians sided against the Habsburgs during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), led at first by Gabriel Bethlen, prince of Transylvania and king of Hungary. George I Rákóczy, who succeeded Bethlen as prince of Transylvania in 1631, resumed the fight against Habsburg domination of western Hungary. In alliance with the Swedes and the French, Rákóczy invaded Austrian territory in 1644. Emperor Ferdinand III was forced to meet many of Rákóczy’s demands, including the extension of full freedom of religion to all Hungarians under Habsburg rule.

In the decade following the accession of George II Rákóczy as prince of Transylvania, the Ottomans extended their sphere of influence into Transylvania, gradually reducing it, in effect, to provincial status. Meanwhile, missionary efforts in the Habsburg section of Hungary brought many of the people living there back into the Roman Catholic church. Under the influence of the church, these Hungarians abandoned the nationalist fight against Habsburg rule. Increasingly repressive measures were adopted against Protestants. These persecutions provoked a revolutionary uprising in the Hungarian dominions of the Habsburgs. Led by Count Imre Thököly, the rebels won a series of victories over the forces of Emperor Leopold I. Thököly obtained the military support of the Ottomans in 1682, but in the war that followed, the emperor’s armies succeeded in driving the Ottomans from most of Hungary. The collapse of Thököly’s insurgent forces followed swiftly. Leopold punished the rebel leaders and forced the Hungarian legislature to declare the crown of Hungary forever hereditary in the house of Habsburg. By the provisions of the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the Ottomans retained only the Hungarian Banat, a region they lost 19 years later. The Treaty of Karlowitz also granted Transylvania to the Habsburgs.

The Era of Habsburg Rule

In 1703 a Hungarian landowner named Ferenc II Rákóczy united peasants and nobles in an uprising against Austrian rule. Rákóczy, who received substantial help from the French, organized a provisional government and held the Austrians at bay until 1708, when he met disastrous defeat at Trenčín. Rebel resistance continued until April 1711, when Emperor Charles VI offered peace terms, providing for a general amnesty, religious freedom, and a variety of political concessions. Relations between the Habsburgs and their Hungarian subjects were generally tranquil for more than a century thereafter.

The National Revival

Throughout the tumultuous period following the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian population remained loyal to Austria. However, numerous Magyar nationalists were influenced by revolutionary ideas, and their propaganda led to a resurgence of Hungarian nationalism, beginning about 1815. Among other things, this development resulted in the creation of the Liberal Party, which launched a vigorous campaign for constitutional government and other reforms. The Liberal movement, headed by such Hungarian statesmen as Count István Széchenyi, József Eötvös, Ferenc Deák, Lajos Kossuth, and Lajos Batthyány, was accompanied by important activity in the field of literature. The Liberals secured the passage of a number of progressive bills, including a measure that curtailed certain feudal restrictions on the peasantry.

The Revolution of 1848 and the Ausgleich

The progressive political groups of Hungary won a decisive victory in the legislative election of 1847. At first the Austrian government ignored the voters’ mandate, but when threatened by revolution in Vienna the following year, it yielded to Hungarian nationalist demands and authorized the formation of a Hungarian ministry, with Batthyány as premier. By the terms of legislation enacted in March 1848, the ministry severed practically all ties with Austria. Extreme Magyar nationalism, expressed in part by a decree making Hungarian the official language of the state, rapidly alienated the non-Magyar portions of the population, and rebellions broke out among the Romanians and Croats. When the revolutionary movement in Vienna was defeated in November, the Austrian army tried to restore Habsburg rule in Hungary, but was unsuccessful. In April 1849 the Hungarian legislature proclaimed the dethronement of the Habsburg dynasty and the independence of Hungary.

The following month, however, Austria’s Emperor Francis Joseph I succeeded in arranging a military alliance with Nicholas I of Russia. The Austrian and Russian armies were uniformly successful against the outnumbered Hungarians, who surrendered in August 1849. On October 6, 1849, which remains a day of national mourning in Hungary, Batthyány and 13 other revolutionary leaders were executed. This and other severe reprisals inaugurated a period of centralized Austrian rule that lasted for more than a decade.

After Austria’s defeat in the Italian War of Liberation in 1859, the imperial regime suffered a succession of diplomatic and military losses. Francis Joseph was consequently obliged to adopt a conciliatory attitude toward his Hungarian subjects. Magyar nationalism, guided by Ferenc Deák, gradually reemerged as an important force in Hungary. In 1865 the imperial government sanctioned the draft of a new constitution for the Magyar nation. Before this document could be completed, Prussia defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War (1866), a debacle that vastly strengthened the position of the Hungarians.

By the provisions of the compromise (Ausgleich) constitution, which was finally adopted in March 1867, Austria and Hungary became dual monarchies under one ruler. The constitution granted Hungary full sovereignty in the conduct of internal affairs and equal status with Austria in the conduct of national defense, foreign affairs, and certain financial matters. On June 8, 1867, Francis Joseph was crowned king of Hungary. The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary endured until its defeat in World War I (1914-1918).

World War I and the Republic

Hungarian political leaders supported the Austrian effort in World War I largely because they feared that a Russian victory would lead to the defection of Hungary’s Slavic minorities and the dismemberment of the country. As the conflict continued, however, war losses and food shortages produced extreme dissatisfaction among the people. The death of Francis Joseph on November 21, 1916, and the succession of Emperor Charles I weakened the ties between Hungary and Austria. Internal unrest increased steadily, and on October 25, 1917, Count Mihály Károlyi established a national council, which intensified the struggle for general suffrage, dissolution of the parliament, and the conclusion of peace with the Allies. The empire was officially dissolved on November 11, 1918, and five days later the national council proclaimed the Hungarian Democratic Republic, with Károlyi as its first president.

Social and political unrest continued, however, and in March 1919 Károlyi’s government was overthrown by the Communists under Béla Kun. The new government confiscated all industrial and commercial enterprises as communal property. Banks were expropriated and a number of newspapers were banned. Meanwhile, the Czechs had invaded Hungary from the north and the Romanians had invaded from the south. Unable to cope with foreign intervention and confronted by growing unrest among the peasantry, Béla Kun resigned on August 1, 1919, and fled into Austria. Three days later Budapest was occupied by the Romanians, who retained control for several months.

The Regency

Under Allied supervision, an interim government representing the various political parties of Hungary was formed on November 25, 1919. Dominated by , a former Austro-Hungarian admiral who had organized a counterrevolutionary army and government during the brief Communist period, the government immediately instituted severe reprisals against leftists and liberals. At the insistence of the Allies, general elections for a national assembly were held in early 1920. The national assembly dissolved all Hungarian affiliations with Austria, proclaimed the country a monarchy, and named Horthy as regent, in place of a king. On June 4, 1920, the Hungarian government accepted the Treaty of Trianon, which was part of the World War I peace settlements. The treaty stripped about two-thirds of Hungary’s territory, including Transylvania, Croatia, and Slovakia.

During the premiership of Count Stephen Bethlen, which lasted from 1921 to 1931, economic distress and desire for revenge inspired by the humiliating terms of the Trianon treaty provided incentive for resurgent Hungarian nationalism. After Horthy appointed fascist-leaning Gyula von Gömbös as premier in September 1932, this nationalism was characterized by an aggressive foreign policy toward neighboring democracies, and close relations with the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany. Collaboration with Nazi Germany brought substantial rewards following the partition of Czechoslovakia in 1938, when German dictator Adolf Hitler agreed to allocate part of Slovakia and all of Ruthenia to Hungary. The country subsequently withdrew from the League of Nations, and in January 1939, it became a signatory, with Germany, Italy, and Japan, to the Anti-Comintern Pact against the USSR.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the Hungarian government proclaimed official neutrality, but its actions indicated sympathy with the objectives of the Axis Powers. Nationalist demands for the return of Transylvania were partially satisfied in 1940, when Italy and Germany awarded Hungary the northern portion of the Romanian province. In April 1941 the Hungarian regime, taking advantage of the German attack on Yugoslavia, ordered its troops into the part of Croatia that had been awarded to Yugoslavia by the Treaty of Trianon.

On June 27, 1941, Hungary declared war on the USSR and on December 13, on the United States. The Hungarian army suffered heavy losses on the Russian front, and in the early fall of 1943 the government began secret negotiations with the Allied powers. In March 1944 German troops occupied the country and with Horthy’s consent, installed a puppet regime. This regime immediately embarked on a campaign of terror against all dissidents; several hundred thousand Jews were shipped to German concentration camps, where most of them were put to death. In early October 1944 Soviet armies invaded Hungary. Horthy was deposed by the Germans a few days later.

On January 20, 1945, representatives of a Soviet-sponsored provisional government signed an armistice with the Allied nations, and on February 13 Budapest fell to Soviet troops. The provisional government instituted large-scale economic reforms, including distributing land among the country’s peasants. Elections to the National Assembly were held in November 1945, and were won by the Independent Smallholders’ Party, led by Zoltán Tildy. Hungary was declared a republic, and Tildy was elected president. A coalition cabinet was formed, with Ferenc Nagy, a prominent member of the Smallholders’ Party, as premier and Mátyás Rákosi, the general secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, as vice-premier.

The Communist State

For many months after the creation of the republic, Hungary was on the verge of bankruptcy. Lack of food, inflated prices, a damaged transportation system, and other economic problems severely impeded national recovery.

Consolidation of Power

In January 1947 some of the leaders of the Smallholders’ Party were charged with conspiring to overthrow the republic and were arrested by the Communists. Premier Nagy was forced to resign in May; he was succeeded by another member of the Smallholders’ Party, Lajos Dinnyés. Officers suspected of disloyalty to the Communists were purged from the army. In July the national legislature was dissolved and in August elections for a new parliament were held. Although the Communists won only 22 percent of the votes, they dominated the coalition government formed by Dinnyés. Under pressure, the Social Democratic Party in 1948 joined with the Communist Party to form the Hungarian Workers’ Party. A purge of the new party early in 1949 further consolidated the Communists’ power. In May 1949 parliamentary elections were held again, and this time the voters were presented with a single list of candidates consisting only of Communists and their supporters. In August the assembly adopted a constitution, establishing the Hungarian People’s Republic.

Economic Transformation

Meanwhile, the transformation of Hungary in accord with Communist policies had begun. The government signed treaties of friendship and cooperation with the USSR and other Communist countries. Most church schools were nationalized, and hundreds of priests and nuns who opposed the action were arrested. In 1948 József Cardinal Mindszenty, the head of the Catholic Church in Hungary, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Many of the country’s industries were taken over by the government. Peasants who could not be persuaded to collectivize had their land confiscated and turned over to the collective farms. Thousands of opponents of the Communist regime were sent to labor camps as punishment.

Following the death of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in 1953 the Hungarian government liberalized some of its policies. Mátyás Rákosi, who had become prime minister in 1952, retained his position as Communist Party chief, but was succeeded as premier by Imre Nagy. A new, less rigid economic program was launched, and the government granted amnesties to some political prisoners and abolished labor camps. Relations with other Communist countries remained close, however. Hungary joined the USSR and other Eastern European Communist countries in forming the Warsaw Pact for mutual defense and in enlarging the functions of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).

Indications that the period of liberalization was coming to an end appeared in April 1955, when Nagy was dismissed from the premiership and expelled from the party for alleged anti-Soviet beliefs and failure to follow the pattern of the USSR in his policies. He was succeeded by András Hegedüs, a protégé of Rákosi. In July 1956 Rákosi was dismissed as party leader, but he was replaced by another hardliner, Ernö Gerö. However, following a denunciation of Stalin by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1956, government policies were softened again.

The Revolt of 1956

Popular discontent mounted throughout 1956 (see Hungarian Revolt of 1956). Students demonstrated against compulsory courses in the Russian language and in Marxism-Leninism. Along with the Writers’ Union, they expressed their sympathy with the anti-Soviet movement that was taking place in Poland. Workers joined these groups in demanding the reinstatement of Nagy as premier. On October 23 Premier Hegedüs, unable to control the demonstrations, called for help from Soviet troops. The Workers’ Party stepped in and replaced Hegedüs with Nagy, and Gerö with János Kádár, who had previously been jailed for treason.

Nagy sided with the demonstrators, announcing that the one-party system would be discontinued and free elections held. He promised economic reforms, freed Cardinal Mindszenty, demanded the withdrawal of Soviet forces, and, denouncing the Warsaw Pact, proclaimed Hungary a neutral state. The USSR promised concessions, but demonstrations continued. In early November Soviet troops and tanks arrived. Nagy announced the withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact and asked the West and the United Nations for help. No help came, and the revolt was crushed. Hundreds of Hungarians were executed, thousands more were imprisoned, and about 200,000 fled the country.

The Kádár Regime

A new Communist dictatorship was set up, with János Kádár as premier and head of the renamed Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (HSWP). The Soviet government promptly promised $250 million in aid and full support. Punishment of insurgents continued through 1957 and 1958, and thousands were deported to the USSR. Nagy and many of his associates were executed. Cardinal Mindszenty took refuge in the U.S. legation (now the U.S. Embassy) in Budapest, where he remained until he was permitted to leave the country in 1971. Nagy’s promise of free elections was repudiated.

Kádár remained firmly in control for more than three decades, serving mainly as the head of the Communist Party, although he held the premier’s office intermittently. The strict controls imposed after the 1956 uprising were relaxed somewhat beginning in 1967. In general elections held in March 1967 opposing candidates were permitted to run in certain parliamentary and local contests, although they had to be approved by the regime. The Hungarian government remained committed to the USSR, and participated in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia (see Prague Spring).

In 1968 the New Economic Mechanism (NEM) was introduced. An important new departure, the NEM was designed to increase efficiency and productivity, make Hungary more competitive in world markets, and help ensure political stability. To achieve these goals, the NEM called for much less central control of the economy and greater freedom for individual business managers. After five years the NEM appeared to be a success, although the country’s industrial growth rate had slowed somewhat.

In the early 1970s Hungary increased its trade and cultural contacts with non-Communist countries. In 1972 Hungary signed a consular convention (agreement) with the United States, and in 1973 it began negotiations with West Germany aimed at establishing normal diplomatic relations. Relations with the Roman Catholic Church also improved.

Hungary’s contacts with the West continued to increase throughout the 1970s. The economy was allowed to operate partly according to free-market forces, and the standard of living improved. The Kádár regime remained careful not to antagonize the USSR, however, and fully supported the Soviet hard line against liberalization in Poland in 1981 and 1982. An economic downturn and rising inflation in Hungary in the mid-1980s led to the imposition of an austerity program, mass demonstrations for freedom of speech and government reforms, and in May 1988 to the replacement of Kádár.

Károly Grósz, who had become prime minister in 1987, succeeded Kádár in 1988 as general secretary of Hungary’s Communist Party. As prime minister, Grósz initiated a tough economic program that included levying new taxes, cutting subsidies, and encouraging the growth of the private sector. As further signs of liberalization, the government relaxed censorship laws, allowed the formation of independent political groups, and legalized the right to strike and to demonstrate.

In 1989 the Hungarian government provided a state burial for Imre Nagy, by then revered as a national hero for standing up to the Soviets. It also enacted a series of reforms. It eased restrictions on emigration, revised the constitution to provide for a democratic multiparty system, and changed the country’s name from the People’s Republic of Hungary to the Republic of Hungary. In the summer of 1989 thousands of East Germans took advantage of the newly opened Austro-Hungarian border to immigrate to West Germany. This action set off a chain reaction that quickly led to the collapse of Communist governments in Eastern Europe.

Post-Communist Hungary

In March and April 1990 Hungary held its first free legislative elections in 45 years. A coalition of center-right parties, led by the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), won a parliamentary majority. The new government took office in May, with József Antall, leader of the MDF, as prime minister. After a referendum providing for direct presidential elections failed because of a low voter turnout, the National Assembly chose a writer, Árpád Göncz, as head of state. In November 1990 Hungary became the first Eastern European nation to join the Council of Europe.

Antall died in late 1993 and was replaced by Péter Boross, another MDF leader. By early 1994 the governing coalition had lost considerable public support as a result of falling living standards. In May elections the Hungarian Socialist Party (formerly the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party) regained a majority in parliament. The Socialists named Gyula Horn, a member of the former Communist government, as their choice for prime minister. Although it had a majority, the party formed a coalition with the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats, which had taken second place in the elections. The coalition commanded the two-thirds majority required to pass certain legislation.

The government introduced economic austerity measures in 1994 aimed at reducing Hungary’s budget deficit and making the country’s exports more competitive. Further austerity measures were introduced the following year. In 1995 the National Assembly reelected Göncz for a second five-year term as president. Göncz was succeeded as president in 2000 by Ferenc Mádl, a former law professor.

Relations with Neighbors

In 1991 and 1992 Hungary signed declarations of cooperation with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Ukraine. Relations with neighboring Romania and Czechoslovakia were strained during the early 1990s over the treatment of ethnic Hungarian minorities in those countries, including some 1.7 million in Romania. Wars in the former Yugoslavia sent thousands of refugees fleeing to Hungary, and by mid-1992 the number of refugees had reached about 100,000 (see Wars of Yugoslav Succession). The Hungarian government appealed to Western European nations for assistance in dealing with the refugees.

In 1994 Horn took a step toward reconciliation with Romania and Slovakia when he offered to drop Hungarian claims on Slovakian and Romanian territory in return for a guarantee of safety for ethnic Hungarians living in those countries. Later that year Hungary and other member-nations of the Council of Europe approved a Convention on the Protection of National Minorities; the convention provided for linguistic rights and the right to freedom of religion, among others. Also in 1994 Horn issued an official apology for Hungary’s role in the deaths of 600,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. The following year, the Hungarian government adopted a law to compensate Jewish groups for their persecution during World War II.

Another dispute between Hungary and Slovakia was less easily resolved. It concerned the massive Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros hydroelectric project on the Danube and continued through the late 1990s and into the 2000s. The dispute stemmed from Hungary’s decision in 1989 to back out of a joint construction plan, which had been authorized by a 1977 treaty. Hungary’s decision stemmed from concerns over the negative environmental impacts of the project, completed in 1992. In 1993 the countries referred the dispute to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, for arbitration. In 1997 the court ruled that both countries had violated the 1977 agreement and ordered them to continue negotiations to resolve the conflict. An intergovernmental commission established in 2003 was charged with coordinating the ongoing negotiations.

Recent Events

In May 1998 parliamentary elections, the Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party defeated the Hungarian Socialist Party, and Gyula Horn lost his position as prime minister. Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán took over as prime minister in July and formed a center-right coalition government with the Independent Smallholders’ Party and the Hungarian Democratic Forum. Orbán pledged to reduce crime, increase economic growth, and maintain continuity in Hungary’s foreign relations, including building closer ties to Western Europe. In March 1999 Hungary joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the biggest expansion of the organization’s 50-year history. Hungary’s participation in NATO was almost immediate: Within a month of joining NATO its airspace was being used by alliance planes taking part in air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In 2001 Orbán’s government passed a law granting ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries education, health, and employment rights in Hungary. The measure drew protests from Romania and Slovakia on the grounds that it violated their sovereignty and discriminated against their nonethnic Hungarian populations. The controversy over ethnic rights remained a policy issue. The ethnic Hungarians lived in areas taken away from Hungary by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon following World War I.

Political, social, and economic strategies in the early 2000s were designed to facilitate Hungary’s prospective membership in the EU. Hungary was admitted to the EU as an associate member in 1994 and that year became the first Eastern European country to apply for full membership. Hungary formally joined the EU as a full member, along with nine other countries, on May 1, 2004.

In April 2002 parliamentary elections, the Hungarian Socialist Party and its ally, the Alliance of Free Democrats, narrowly defeated Orbán’s coalition. Péter Medgyessy, an official in the former Communist government and a finance minister under Horn, was sworn in as prime minister in May, leading a center-left coalition government with the Free Democrats. The Socialists selected Medgyessy as their candidate, even though he was not a party member. Medgyessy pledged to raise the minimum wage and to increase pay for public-sector workers. He also reaffirmed Hungary’s aim to join the EU in May 2004.

The government faced a serious test in 2002 amid revelations that Medgyessy had served as a counterintelligence officer in the late 1970s and early 1980s while working in the finance ministry. Medgyessy sought to defend his past, explaining that he had worked to prevent foreign intelligence organizations from obtaining Hungarian secrets. Opposition conservatives rejected Medgyessy’s explanation and called for his immediate resignation. Some government critics accused Medgyessy of informing on other finance ministry officials, a serious charge that Medgyessy strongly denied. The Socialists and Free Democrats quickly threw their support behind Medgyessy, and his government announced plans for legislation that would grant the public greater access to Communist-era secret files.

Medgyessy lost the confidence of the Free Democrats in 2004, after he reshuffled his cabinet and dismissed the economy minister, despite the Free Democrats’ opposition. In August, Medgyessy tendered his resignation, preempting a no-confidence vote in the parliament. The move capped weeks of disagreement within the government over how best to limit government spending and reduce Hungary’s large budget deficit, a course of action required by Hungary’s membership in the EU and its hopes of adopting the EU’s single currency, the euro, by 2010. The Socialists chose Ferenc Gyurcsány, the government’s sports minister, to replace Medgyessy. In August 2005 the country’s new president, László Sólyom, was sworn in.

The Socialists and Free Democrats captured an important victory in the April 2006 general elections, solidifying their hold on parliament by a margin of 210-176. Gyurcsány and his ruling coalition became the first Hungarian government to win reelection since the fall of Communism in 1989. However, as Hungary faced its worst economic crisis in 20 years, many Hungarians blamed Gyurcsány for the economy’s failure. After it was disclosed that Gyurcsány had deliberately concealed the depth of the crisis to win the 2006 elections, riots ensued. In March 2009 Gyurcsány announced that he would step down since he was widely seen as an impediment to resolving the country’s economic problems. Gyurcsány named Gordon Bajnai, the economy minister, as his successor, and Bajnai took office in April 2009.

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