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.