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,
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.