Tuesday, 15 March 2011

March 15 is Hungary's National Day. A Day to Celebrate.

Today is March 15th – one of the three major Hungarian National Days (the others being August 20th and October 23rd). So it seems appropriate to start this blog with a short video of the beautiful Hungarian National Anthem – Himnusz – which is, arguably, the most beautiful of all national anthems. If you are not familiar with it, please play it before reading any further. If you are familiar with it then, I am sure you will need no persuading to listen to it again.

March 15th is a day of great historic importance to all Hungarians, for it was the day in 1848 when the popular Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi read his famous poem, Nemzeti Dal, to assembled crowds in Vörösmarty Square, and then all around both Pest and Buda, setting in motion the events that would lead to the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1848. The poem ranks with the Himnusz (National Anthem) and Szózat (Summons – the 'second' national anthem) as one of the three defining statements of Hungarian identity. Its opening lines convey the spirit of the times:

Talpra magyar, hí a haza!
Itt az idő, most vagy soha!
Rabok legyünk vagy szabadok?
or in English
Rise up, Magyar, the country calls!
It's 'now or never' what fate befalls...
Shall we live as slaves or free men?

while the chorus at the end of each of the eight verses leaves no doubt about the poet's views:

God of Hungarians,
we swear unto Thee,
We swear unto Thee - that slaves we shall
no longer be!
or, more poetically
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Nem leszünk!

Sadly the 1848 revolution against their Austrian oppressors failed, although not without many deaths during 18 months of fighting, including that of Sándor Petőfi himself. Ironically, in view of what would happen just over one hundred years later, it was not the Austrians who finally defeated the Hungarians but their Russian allies.

Today, however, is a public holiday, and throughout Budapest and the whole of Hungary public buildings will be draped in the red, white and green of the national flag and many Hungarians will be wearing a tricoloured rosette in memory of the 1848 revolution. It is a time to remember the past and to have hope for the future.

As the final words of the Himnusz say

Bal sors akit régen tép,
Hozz rá víg esztendőt
Megbűnhődte már e nép
A múltat s jövendőt!
or, in English
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
They who have suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

And so say all of us who love Hungary.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Hungary in the 20th century - a personal view (part 1)

Hungary and Hungarians had a very mixed - and mostly bad - 20th century. And yet it had looked as though it was going to be so different.

According to tradition, towards the end of the 9th century seven wandering tribes whose origins are lost in the mysteries of time, but were probably somewhere in the steppes of what is now Mongolia, arrived in the Carpathian Basin and liked what they saw.  Led by Árpád, the chieftain of the largest of the tribes, they easily conquered the indigenous population and settled to establish what would come to be known as the Kingdom of Hungary.  One thousand years later, in 1896, the country celebrated the Millennium of its foundation with an outpouring of national pride, combined with an extravagant construction programme to mark this historic event.

The most notable of these projects was, arguably, the beautiful Parliament building on the Pest bank of the Danube which was inaugurated in the Millennium year, although it was not completed until 1904.  The top of its central dome is 96 metres high, to emphasise the importance of the years 896 and 1896 in the country's history, and even today it is the largest building in Hungary and the largest national parliament building in Europe.  It is interesting to note that the top of the dome of St Stephen's Basilica, which underwent extensive renovation at the time of the Millennium, is also exactly 96 metres high.  To this day no buildings higher than 96 metres are permitted in the centre of Budapest.

Monday, 14 February 2011

My Life-long Hungarian Love Affair

Probably the first time I heard about Hungary was in 1956 when we had a debate at my school about the revolution which was in progress at the time. I vividly remember a young man, probably a couple of years older than me, proposing a new Children's Crusade to travel across Europe to Budapest and put an end to the fighting. Even we boys and young men did not seriously think that the might of the Soviet Army would have been deterred by a motley group of children, and like most of those present I had never heard of the Children's Crusade in any case - still less that it had ended in total disaster for all involved.

My first visit to Hungary was six years later, while I was spending part of the summer learning German in Vienna. It was a short, long-weekend, trip and was the only time that I have ever had a loaded rifle pointed at me. The border with Austria was still a heavily guarded crossing point between East and West and our coach-load of (mostly) young people had never seen anything like it before. Naturally, several of us took out our cameras to record this new experience and it was only when I saw that the guard whose photograph I was about to take had raised his rifle to point directly at me that I realised that perhaps this was not a good subject for a photograph!

Since that time I have visited Hungary nine more times for periods from a week to almost a year - the latter being the result of an invitation from the Computer and Automation Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to spend a year carrying out my research into computer control of machine tools alongside their own experts in this field.

I shall have more to say about this in a future post, but it is fair to say that it was a memorable year for my wife and two small children, as well as for me. More than thirty years later my son and daughter still have vivid memories of that year.

I have spent more of my life in Hungary than in any country outside Britain (just more than the total time spent in over 50 visits to the United States!) and it will always have a strong place in my heart.

Me by the Citadella on Gellért hegy in 2010

My first novel, The Budapest Betrayal, illustrates this for, although it is mainly set in England, its key scenes take place in Hungary and its title, of course, gives a clue to the importance of Budapest in the story.

I already have a blog which covers a wide range of topics, but this blog is more focussed and will bring together both past and present, both personal and external, but with Hungary and Hungarian people, places and events being at its core. I hope that you will find it interesting.