Hungary (Magyarország) is a unitary parliamentary republic in Central Europe. It covers an area of 35,920 square miles (93,030 square kilometers), situated in the Carpathian Basin and bordered by Slovakia to the north, Romania to the east, Serbia to the south, Croatia to the southwest, Slovenia to the west, Austria to the northwest, and Ukraine to the northeast. With about 10 million inhabitants, Hungary is a medium-sized member state of the European Union. The official language is Hungarian, which is the most widely spoken non-Indo-European language in Europe. Hungary’s capital and largest metropolis is Budapest, a significant economic hub, The country’s current borders were established in 1920 by the Treaty of Trianon after World War I, when the country lost 71% of its territory, 58% of its population, and 32% of ethnic Hungarians. Following the interwar period, Hungary joined the Axis Powers in World War II, suffering significant damage and casualties. Hungary became a satellite state of the Soviet Union, which contributed to the establishment of a four-decade-long communist dictatorship (1947–1989). The country gained widespread international attention regarding the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal opening of its previously-restricted border with Austria in 1989, which accelerated the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. On October 23, 1989, Hungary became again a democratic parliamentary republic.
Well known for its rich cultural history, Hungary has been contributed significantly to arts, music, literature, sports and science and technology. It is the eleventh most popular country as a tourist destination in Europe, attracting 14.3 million international tourists in 2015. Hungary is home to the largest thermal water cave system, the second largest thermal lake in the world, the largest lake in Central Europe, and the largest natural grasslands in Europe.
The “H” in the name of Hungary (and Latin Hungaria) is most likely due to early historical associations with the Huns, who had settled Hungary prior to the Avars. The rest of the word comes from the Latinized form of Medieval Greek Oungroi (Οὔγγροι). According to an explanation the Greek name was borrowed from Proto-Slavic Ǫgǔri (Ѫгъри), in turn borrowed from Oghur-Turkic Onogur (‘ten [tribes of the] Ogurs’). Onogur was the collective name for the tribes who later joined the Bulgar tribal confederacy that ruled the eastern parts of Hungary after the Avars. The Hungarians likely belonged to the Onogur tribal alliance and it is quite possible they became its ethnic majority. The Hungarian endonym is Magyarország, composed of magyar (‘Hungarian’) and ország (‘country’). The word magyar is taken from the name of one of the seven major semi-nomadic Hungarian tribes, magyeri.
The Roman Empire conquered the territory west of the Danube between 35 and 9 BC. From 9 BC to the end of the fourth century, Pannonia was part of the Roman Empire, located within part of later Hungary’s territory. Here, a 600-strong Roman legion created the settlement Aquincum in 41–54 CE. A civil city grew gradually in the neighborhood of the military settlement, and in 106 CE Aquincum became the focal point of the commercial life of this area and the capital city of the Pannonian Inferior region. This area now corresponds to the Óbuda district of Budapest, with the Roman ruins now forming part of the modern Aquincum museum. Later came the Huns, who built a powerful empire. After Hunnish rule, the Germanic Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Gepids, and the polyethnic Avars, had a presence in the Carpathian Basin.
In the ninth century, East Francia, the First Bulgarian Empire and Great Moravia ruled the territory of the Carpathian Basin. The land was inhabited mainly by Avars. The Magyars advancing through the Carpathian Basin encountered the Hungarian-speaking Székely people who inhabited the land at that time. Both contemporary sources and a growing amount of archaeological evidence suggests that groups of the Avars survived the disintegration of their empire.
The freshly unified Hungarians led by Árpád settled in the Carpathian Basin starting in 895. According to linguistic evidence, they originated from an ancient Uralic-speaking population that formerly inhabited the forested area between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains.
As a federation of united tribes, Hungary was established in 895, some 50 years after the division of the Carolingian Empire at the Treaty of Verdun in 843, before the unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Initially, the rising Principality of Hungary (“Western Tourkia” in medieval Greek sources) was a state consisting of a semi-nomadic people. It accomplished an enormous transformation into a Christian realm during the tenth century. This state was well-functioning and the nation’s military power allowed the Hungarians to conduct successful fierce campaigns and raids from Constantinople to as far as today’s Spain. The Hungarians defeated no fewer than three major East Frankish Imperial Armies between 907 and 910. A later defeat at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 signaled a provisory end to most campaigns on foreign territories, at least towards the West.
The year 972 marked the date when the ruling prince (fejedelem) Géza of the Árpád dynasty officially started to integrate Hungary into the Christian Western Europe. His first-born son, Saint Stephen I, became the first King of Hungary after defeating his pagan uncle Koppány, who also claimed the throne. Under Stephen, Hungary was recognized as a Catholic Apostolic Kingdom. Applying to Pope Sylvester II, Stephen received the insignia of royalty (including probably a part of the Holy Crown of Hungary, currently kept in the Hungarian Parliament) from the papacy.
By 1006, Stephen had consolidated his power, and started sweeping reforms to convert Hungary into a Western feudal state. The country switched to using the Latin language, and until as late as 1844, Latin remained the official language of Hungary. Hungary became a powerful kingdom. Ladislaus I extended Hungary’s frontier in Transylvania and invaded Croatia in 1091. The Croatian campaign culminated in the Battle of Gvozd Mountain in 1097 and a personal union of Croatia and Hungary in 1102, ruled by Könyves Kálmán.
The most powerful and wealthiest king of the Árpád dynasty was Béla III, who disposed of the equivalent of 23 tons of pure silver a year. This exceeded the income of the French king (estimated at 17 tons) and was double the receipts of the English Crown.
Andrew II issued the Diploma Andreanum which secured the special privileges of the Transylvanian Saxons and is considered the first Autonomy law in the world. He led the Fifth Crusade to the Holy Land in 1217, setting up the largest royal army in the history of Crusades. His Golden Bull of 1222 was the first constitution in Continental Europe. The lesser nobles also began to present Andrew with grievances, a practice that evolved into the institution of the parliament (parlamentum publicum).
In 1241–1242, the kingdom received a major blow with the Mongol (Tatar) Invasion. Up to half of Hungary’s then population of 2,000,000 were victims of the invasion. King Béla IV let Cumans and Jassic people into the country, who were fleeing the Mongols. Over the centuries, they were fully assimilated into the Hungarian population.
As a consequence, after the Mongols retreated, King Béla ordered the construction of hundreds of stone castles and fortifications, to defend against a possible second Mongol invasion. The Mongols returned to Hungary in 1285, but the newly built stone-castle systems and new tactics (using a higher proportion of heavily armed knights) stopped them. The invading Mongol force was defeated near Pest by the royal army of Ladislaus IV of Hungary. As with later invasions, it was repelled handily, the Mongols losing much of their invading force.
The Kingdom of Hungary reached one of its greatest extents during the Árpádian kings, yet royal power was weakened at the end of their rule in 1301. After a destructive period of interregnum (1301–1308), the first Angevin king, Charles I of Hungary — a bilineal descendant of the Árpád dynasty — successfully restored royal power, and defeated oligarch rivals, the so-called “little kings”. The second Angevin Hungarian king, Louis the Great (1342–1382), led many successful military campaigns from Lithuania to Southern Italy (Kingdom of Naples), and was also King of Poland from 1370. After King Louis died without a male heir, the country was stabilized only when Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387–1437) succeeded to the throne, who in 1433 also became Holy Roman Emperor. Sigismund was also (in several ways) a bilineal descendant of the Árpád dynasty.
The first Hungarian Bible translation was completed in 1439. For half a year in 1437, there was an antifeudal and anticlerical peasant revolt in Transylvania, the Budai Nagy Antal Revolt, which was strongly influenced by Hussite ideas.
From a small noble family in Transylvania, John Hunyadi grew to become one of the country’s most powerful lords, thanks to his outstanding capabilities as a mercenary commander. He was elected governor then regent. He was a successful crusader against the Ottoman Turks, one of his greatest victories being the Siege of Belgrade in 1456.
The last strong king of medieval Hungary was the Renaissance king Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490), son of John Hunyadi. His election was the first time that a member of the nobility mounted to the Hungarian royal throne without dynastic background. He was a successful military leader and an enlightened patron of the arts and learning. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was Europe’s greatest collection of historical chronicles, philosophic and scientific works in the fifteenth century, and second only in size to the Vatican Library. The library is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The serfs and common people considered him a just ruler because he protected them from excessive demands from and other abuses by the magnates. Under his rule, in 1479, the Hungarian army destroyed the Ottoman and Wallachian troops at the Battle of Breadfield. Abroad he defeated the Polish and German imperial armies of Frederick at Breslau (Wrocław). Matthias’ mercenary standing army, the Black Army of Hungary, was an unusually large army for its time, and it conquered parts of Austria, Vienna (1485) and parts of Bohemia.
King Matthias died without lawful sons, and the Hungarian magnates procured the accession of the Pole Vladislaus II (1490–1516), supposedly because of his weak influence on Hungarian aristocracy. Hungary’s international role declined, its political stability shaken, and social progress was deadlocked. In 1514, the weakened old King Vladislaus II faced a major peasant rebellion led by György Dózsa, which was ruthlessly crushed by the nobles, led by John Zápolya.
The resulting degradation of order paved the way for Ottoman pre-eminence. In 1521, the strongest Hungarian fortress in the South, Nándorfehérvár (today’s Belgrade, Serbia), fell to the Turks. The early appearance of Protestantism further worsened internal relations in the country.
After some 150 years of wars with the Hungarians and other states, the Ottomans gained a decisive victory over the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, where King Louis II died while fleeing. Amid political chaos, the divided Hungarian nobility elected two kings simultaneously, John Zápolya and Ferdinand I of the Habsburg dynasty. With the conquest of Buda by the Turks in 1541, Hungary was divided into three parts and remained so until the end of the seventeenth century. The north-western part, termed as Royal Hungary, was annexed by the Habsburgs who ruled as Kings of Hungary. The eastern part of the kingdom became independent as the Principality of Transylvania, under Ottoman (and later Habsburg) suzerainty. The remaining central area, including the capital Buda, was known as the Pashalik of Buda.
After the colonization of the Carpathian basin in the period up to the late sixteenth century, the messages of the Hungarian kings were delivered by messengers (pracecones) and couriers (cursores), but counts and lords also maintained separate messenger services. The common people had to ask travelers and merchants to deliver their packets. After the fifteenth century a service of communal messengers was established to act as an official link between local authorities, assisted by the newly invented carriage.
In 1526, Ferdinand I entrusted the Taxis family with the operation of a permanent postal service between Vienna and Pressburg/Pozsony (modern Bratislava). Leopold I issued a postal patent regulating postal delivery routes, post offices and posthorns. The operation of the postal system was later transferred to the Paar family as a feudal tenure. During Rákóczi’s War for Independence a separate postal system was operated in the territories under Rákóczi’s rule, operated by János Szepesi, and later by Márton Kossovits.
The vast majority of the seventeen and nineteen thousand Ottoman soldiers in service in the Ottoman fortresses in the territory of Hungary were Orthodox and Muslim Balkan Slavs rather than ethnic Turkish people. Orthodox Southern Slavs were also acting as akinjis and other light troops intended for pillaging in the territory of present-day Hungary. In 1686, the Holy League’s army, containing over 74,000 men from various nations, reconquered Buda from the Turks. After some more crushing defeats of the Ottomans in the next few years, the entire Kingdom of Hungary was removed from Ottoman rule by 1718. The last raid into Hungary by the Ottoman vassals Tatars from Crimea took place in 1717.
The constrained Habsburg Counter-Reformation efforts in the seventeenth century reconverted the majority of the kingdom to Catholicism. The ethnic composition of Hungary was fundamentally changed as a consequence of the prolonged warfare with the Turks. A large part of the country became devastated, population growth was stunted, and many smaller settlements perished. The Austrian-Habsburg government settled large groups of Serbs and other Slavs in the depopulated south, and settled Germans (called Danube Swabians) in various areas, but Hungarians were not allowed to settle or re-settle in the south of the Great Plain.
Between 1703 and 1711, there was a large-scale uprising led by Francis II Rákóczi, who after the dethronement of the Habsburgs in 1707 at the Diet of Ónod, took power provisionally as the Ruling Prince of Hungary for the wartime period, but refused the Hungarian Crown and the title “King”. The uprisings lasted for years. After eight years of war with the Habsburg Empire, the Hungarian Kuruc army lost the last main battle at Trencsén (1708).
On July 1, 1722, Charles III nationalized the postal system, and declared the delivery of messages and the establishment of post offices to be a state monopoly. He placed the imperial coat of arms on every postal building, regulated postal tariffs, and developed the existing postal routes, subordinating every post office to the main post office at the imperial court in Vienna. The language of administration was German, and most of the employees were Austrian. In 1784, Maria Theresa’s Postal Patent further modernized the system, separating normal and mail-coach delivery. The mail-coach service started one year later throughout the empire, establishing a permanent route between Vienna and Buda in 1752.
The first public mailboxes for letters were introduced in 1817.
During the Napoleonic Wars and afterwards, the Hungarian Diet had not convened for decades. In the 1820s, the Emperor was forced to convene the Diet, which marked the beginning of a Reform Period (1825–1848, reformkor). Count István Széchenyi, one of the most prominent statesmen of the country, recognized the urgent need of modernization and his message got through. The Hungarian Parliament was reconvened in 1825 to handle financial needs. A liberal party emerged and focused on providing for the peasantry. Lajos Kossuth — a famous journalist at that time — emerged as leader of the lower gentry in the Parliament. A remarkable upswing started as the nation concentrated its forces on modernization even though the Habsburg monarchs obstructed all important liberal laws relating to civil and political rights and economic reforms. Many reformers (Lajos Kossuth, Mihály Táncsics) were imprisoned by the authorities.
Telegraphy appeared, but was not widely used until its development and standardization of language by Samuel Morse. The first telegraph station on Hungarian territory was opened in December 1847 in Pozsony.
On March 15, 1848, mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda enabled Hungarian reformists to push through a list of 12 demands. Under governor and president Lajos Kossuth and the first Prime Minister, Lajos Batthyány, the House of Habsburg was dethroned. The Habsburg Ruler and his advisors skillfully manipulated the Croatian, Serbian and Romanian peasantry, led by priests and officers firmly loyal to the Habsburgs, and induced them to rebel against the Hungarian government, though the Hungarians were supported by the vast majority of the Slovak, German and Rusyn nationalities and by all the Jews of the kingdom, as well as by a large number of Polish, Austrian and Italian volunteers.
During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, attempts were made to create a separate postal system under the supervision of the Agricultural, Industrial and Commercial Ministry. One of the first tasks of its minister, Gábor Klauzál, was to legislate for privacy of correspondence, and the use of Hungarian language and symbols in stamps and seals. Mór Than designed what was intended to be the first Hungarian stamp, but due to later military developments it was never printed.
In July 1849, the Hungarian Parliament proclaimed and enacted the first laws of ethnic and minority rights in the world. Many members of the nationalities gained the coveted highest positions within the Hungarian Army, like General János Damjanich, an ethnic Serb who became a Hungarian national hero through his command of the 3rd Hungarian Army Corps or Józef Bem, who was Polish and also became a national hero in Hungary. Initially, the Hungarian forces (Honvédség) defeated Austrian armies. To counter the successes of the Hungarian revolutionary army, Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I asked for help from the “Gendarme of Europe”, Czar Nicholas I, whose Russian armies invaded Hungary. This made Artúr Görgey surrender in August 1849. The leader of the Austrian army, Julius Jacob von Haynau, became governor of Hungary for a few months, and ordered the execution of the 13 Martyrs of Arad, leaders of the Hungarian army, and Prime Minister Batthyány in October 1849. Lajos Kossuth escaped into exile. Following the war of 1848 – 1849, the whole country was in “passive resistance”.
After the failed revolution of 1848, the Hungarian post was reabsorbed into Austrian administration. Franz Joseph I issued a Postal Patent on December 26, 1850, which restored pre-1848 conditions. There were several developments in the next few years, including the unification of normal and mail-coach delivery, and the introduction of stamps and of money orders in 1850. From 1855 letters were delivered to home addresses, trains started to carry letters, and express delivery was introduced in 1859. Postage stamps were issued for the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary on June 1, 1867, in eight values along with one 1 Kreuzer (krajcár in Hungarian) newspaper stamp. Stamps of Austria were withdrawn from the Kingdom of Hungary on May 31, 1867. The dual monarchy stamps were in use there for just over one year.
Because of external and internal problems, reforms seemed inevitable and major military defeats of Austria forced the Habsburgs to negotiate the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, by which the dual Monarchy of Austria–Hungary was formed. This Empire had the second largest area in Europe (after the Russian Empire), and it was the third most populous (after Russia and the German Empire). The two realms were governed separately by two parliaments from two capital cities, with a common monarch and common external and military policies. Economically, the empire was a customs union. The old Hungarian Constitution was restored, and Franz Joseph I was crowned as King of Hungary. The era witnessed impressive economic development. The formerly backward Hungarian economy became relatively modern and industrialized by the turn of the twentieth century, although agriculture remained dominant until 1890. In 1873, the old capital Buda and Óbuda were officially united with Pest, thus creating the new metropolis of Budapest. Many of the state institutions and the modern administrative system of Hungary were established during this period.
As ratified in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarian post was reassigned to the Agricultural, Industrial and Commercial Ministry of the Kingdom of Hungary. Minister István Gorove had appointed Mihály Gervay as the managing director of Hungarian post. It was decreed by law that the posts of Austria and Hungary were to be treated separately, but under the same principles. The use of the Hungarian language and the national symbols was restored. The emblem of the post was created (a tasseled postal horn, under the Hungarian crown) and was used until the end of World War Two. The current emblem is a simplified version of this design. The K.u.K. (Imperial and Royal) Empire stamps (2 to 50 kreuzer) remained in use until July 31, 1871.
The first specifically Hungarian stamp was released on May 1, 1871. The stamp was produced by the State Press of Buda by lithography, followed by an engraved set and newspaper stamps. There was no indication of language, but the face of Franz Josef appeared above the national emblem, for values 2 to 25 kreuzer. The 25 kreuzer image helps to distinguish the issues. The very first impression was of poor quality and most of it had to be destroyed. Only a small quantity of this impression was released, in August 1873, and stamps of this impression are rare (2 kreuzer dark yellow).
In 1887, the Emperor approved the proposal of minister Gábor Baross to unify the post and telegraphy services, and to provide the required experts for the purpose. The Post and Telegraphy College opened in the following year. After 1875. telephone lines began to be built around the empire, later regulated by the 1888 article of telegraphs and electrical signaling apparatus, which also prohibited citizens from setting up or operating public phones. The interurban telephone line between Vienna and Budapest was completed by 1890, with all major cities being connected during the next three years.
The mechanization of the post began before the end of the nineteenth century. Mechanically-emptied mailboxes started to appear from 1893, and two years later delivery motor tricycles were introduced for permanent use. After 1896, bicycles were introduced to deliver letters and express mail. The first Hungarian car was designed for the Hungarian Post (in response to a tender in 1903), by mechanical engineer János Csonka. Its 2000 km test drive through the country started on May 31, 1905, and was successfully completed. Hungary was one of the first countries to use cars in mail delivery (from 1909), using Csonka’s model for the next two decades. For a number of years the cars also carried passengers.
The full independence of the Hungarian Post was declared in article XII of 1908.
After the Assassination in Sarajevo, the Hungarian prime minister István Tisza and his cabinet tried to avoid the outbreak and escalating of a war in Europe, but their diplomatic efforts were unsuccessful. Austria–Hungary drafted 9 million soldiers in World War I (over 4 million from the Kingdom of Hungary) on the side of Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. The troops raised in the Kingdom of Hungary spent little time defending the actual territory of Hungary, with the exceptions of the Brusilov Offensive in June 1916, and a few months later, when the Romanian army made an attack into Transylvania, both of which were repelled. In comparison, of the total army, Hungary’s loss ratio was more than any other nations of Austria-Hungary. The Central Powers conquered Serbia. Romania declared war. The Central Powers conquered Southern Romania and the Romanian capital Bucharest. In 1916 Emperor Franz Joseph died, and the new monarch Charles IV sympathized with the pacifists. With great difficulty, the Central powers stopped and repelled the attacks of the Russian Empire.
The Eastern front of the Allied (Entente) Powers completely collapsed. The Austro-Hungarian Empire then withdrew from all defeated countries. On the Italian front, the Austro-Hungarian army made no progress against Italy after January 1918. Despite great Eastern successes, Germany suffered complete defeat on the more important Western front. By 1918, the economic situation had deteriorated (strikes in factories were organized by leftist and pacifist movements) and uprisings in the army had become commonplace. In the capital cities, the Austrian and Hungarian leftist liberal movements (the maverick parties) and their leaders supported the separatism of ethnic minorities. Austria-Hungary signed a general armistice in Padua on November 3, 1918. In October 1918, Hungary’s union with Austria was dissolved.
Following the First World War, Hungary underwent a period of profound political upheaval, beginning with the Aster Revolution in 1918, which brought the social-democratic Mihály Károlyi to power as Prime Minister. Károlyi dissolved the union with Austria and disarmed the Hungarian Army, leaving the country without any national defense. The Little Entente, sensing an opportunity, invaded the country from three sides —Romania invaded Transylvania, Czechoslovakia annexed Upper Hungary (today’s Slovakia), and a joint Serb-French coalition annexed Vojvodina and other southern regions. In March 1919, communists led by Béla Kun ousted the Károlyi government and proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic (Tanácsköztársaság), followed by a thorough Red Terror campaign. Despite some successes on the Czechoslovak front, Kun’s forces were ultimately unable to resist the Romanian invasion; by August 1919, Romanian troops occupied Budapest and ousted Kun.
In November 1919, rightist forces led by former Austro-Hungarian admiral Miklós Horthy entered Budapest; exhausted by the war and its aftermath, the populace accepted Horthy’s leadership. In January 1920, parliamentary elections were held and Horthy was proclaimed Regent of the reestablished Kingdom of Hungary, inaugurating the so-called “Horthy era” (Horthy-kor). The new government worked quickly to normalize foreign relations while turning a blind eye to a White Terror that swept through the countryside; extrajudicial killings of suspected communists and Jews lasted well into 1920. On June 4 of that year, the Treaty of Trianon established new borders for Hungary. The country lost 71% of its territory and 66% of its antebellum population, as well as many sources of raw materials and its sole port, Fiume. Though the revision of the Treaty quickly rose to the top of the national political agenda, the Horthy government was not willing to resort to military intervention to do so.
The Horthy regime’s initial years were occupied by putsch attempts by Charles IV, the Austro-Hungarian pretender; continued suppression of communists; and a migration crisis triggered by the Trianon territorial changes. Though free elections continued, Horthy’s personality, and those of his personally selected prime ministers, dominated the political scene. The government’s actions continued to drift right with the passage of antisemitic laws and, due to the continued isolation of the Little Entente, economic and then political gravitation toward Italy and Germany. The Great Depression further exacerbated the situation and the popularity of fascist politicians such as Gyula Gömbös and Ferenc Szálasi, promising economic and social recovery, rose.
Horthy’s nationalist agenda reached its apogee in 1938 and 1940, when the Nazis rewarded Hungary’s staunchly pro-Germany foreign policy in the First and Second Vienna Awards, respectively, peacefully restoring ethnic-Hungarian-majority areas lost after Trianon. In 1939, Hungary regained further territory from Czechoslovakia through force. Hungary formally joined the Axis Powers on November 20, 1940, and in 1941, participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia, gaining some of its former territories in the south.
Hungary formally entered World War II as an Axis Power on June 26, 1941, declaring war on the Soviet Union after unidentified planes bombed Kassa, Munkács, and Rahó. Hungarian troops fought on the Eastern Front for two years. Despite some early successes, the Hungarian government began seeking a secret peace pact with the Allies after the Second Army suffered catastrophic losses at the River Don in January 1943. Learning of the planned defection, German troops occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944 to guarantee Horthy’s compliance. In October, as the Soviet front approached and the Hungarian government made further efforts to disengage from the war, German troops ousted Horthy and installed a puppet government under Szálasi’s fascist Arrow Cross Party. Szálasi pledged all the country’s capabilities in service of the German war machine. By October 1944, the Soviets had reached the river Tisza, and despite some losses, succeeded in encircling and besieging Budapest in December.
After German occupation, Hungary was forced to participate in the Holocaust. During the German occupation in May–June 1944, the Arrow Cross and Hungarian police deported nearly 440,000 Jews, mainly to Auschwitz. Nearly all of these were murdered. The Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg managed to save a considerable number of Hungarian Jews by giving them Swedish passports. Rudolf Kastner (original spelling Kasztner), one of the leaders of the Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, bribed senior SS officers such as Adolf Eichmann to allow some Jews to escape. Other diplomats also organized false papers and safe houses for Jews in Budapest and hundreds of Hungarians were executed by the Arrow Cross for sheltering Jews. The Horthy government’s complicity in the Holocaust remains a point of controversy and contention.
The war left Hungary devastated, destroying over 60% of the economy and causing significant loss of life. As many as 280,000 Hungarians were raped, murdered and executed or deported for slave labor by Czechoslovaks, Soviet Red Army troops, and Yugoslavs.
On February 13, 1945, Budapest surrendered; by April, German troops left the country under Soviet military occupation. 200,000 Hungarians were expelled from Czechoslovakia in exchange for 70,000 Slovaks living in Hungary. 202,000 ethnic Germans were expelled to Germany, and through the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties, Hungary was again reduced to its immediate post-Trianon borders.
Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, Hungary became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership selected Mátyás Rákosi to front the Stalinization of the country, and Rákosi ruled de facto ruled Hungary from 1949 to 1956. His government’s policies of militarization, industrialization, collectivization, and war compensation led to a severe decline in living standards. In imitation of Stalin’s KGB, the Rákosi government established a secret political police, the ÁVH, to enforce the new regime. The purges that followed saw approximately 350,000 officials and intellectuals imprisoned or executed from 1948 to 1956. Many freethinkers, democrats, and Horthy-era dignitaries were secretly arrested and extrajudicially interned in domestic and foreign Gulags. Some 600,000 Hungarians were deported to Soviet labor camps, where at least 200,000 died.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet Union pursued a program of destalinization that was inimical to Rákosi, leading to his deposition. The following political cooling saw the ascent of Imre Nagy to the premiership, and the growing interest of students and intellectuals in political life. Nagy promised market liberalization and political openness, while Rákosi opposed both vigorously. Rákosi eventually managed to discredit Nagy and replace him with the more hard-line Ernő Gerő. Hungary joined the Warsaw Pact in May 1955, as societal dissatisfaction with the regime swelled. Following the firing on peaceful demonstrations by Soviet soldiers and secret police, and rallies throughout the country on October 23, 1956, protesters took to the streets in Budapest, initiating the 1956 Revolution. In an effort to quell the chaos, Nagy returned as premier, promised free elections, and took Hungary out of the Warsaw Pact.
The violence nonetheless continued as revolutionary militias sprung up against the Soviet Army and the ÁVH; the roughly 3,000-strong resistance fought Soviet tanks using Molotov cocktails and machine-pistols. Though the preponderance of the Soviets was immense, they suffered heavy losses, and by October 30, 1956, most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrison the countryside. For a time, the Soviet leadership was unsure how to respond to developments in Hungary, but eventually decided to intervene to prevent a destabilization of the Soviet bloc. On November 4, reinforcements of more than 150,000 troops and 2,500 tanks entered the country from the Soviet Union. Nearly 20,000 Hungarians were killed resisting the intervention, while an additional 21,600 were imprisoned afterwards for political reasons. Some 13,000 were interned and 230 brought to trial and executed. Nagy was captured to be executed in 1958. Because borders had briefly been open, nearly a quarter of a million people had fled the country by the time the revolution was suppressed.
After a second, briefer period of Soviet military occupation, János Kádár, Nagy’s former Minister of State, was chosen by the Soviet leadership to head the new government and chair the new ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (MSzMP). Kádár quickly normalized the situation. In 1963, the government granted a general amnesty and released the majority of those imprisoned for their active participation in the uprising. Kádár proclaimed a new policy line, according to which the people were no longer compelled to profess loyalty to the party if they tacitly accepted the Socialist regime as a fact of life. In many speeches, he described this as, “Those who are not against us are with us.” Kádár introduced new planning priorities in the economy, such as allowing farmers significant plots of private land within the collective farm system (háztáji gazdálkodás). The living standard rose as consumer good and food production took precedence over military production, which was reduced to one tenth of pre-revolutionary levels.
In 1968, the New Economic Mechanism (NEM) introduced free-market elements into socialist command economy. From the 1960s through the late 1980s, Hungary was often referred to as “the happiest barrack” within the Eastern bloc. During the latter part of the Cold War Hungary’s GDP per capita was fourth only to East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union itself. As a result of this relatively high standard of living, a more liberalized economy, a less censored press, and less restricted travel rights, Hungary was generally considered one of the more liberal countries in which to live in Central Europe during communism. In the 1980s, however, living standards steeply declined again due to a worldwide recession to which communism was unable to respond. By the time Kádár died in 1989, the Soviet Union was in steep decline and a younger generation of reformists saw liberalization as the solution to economic and social issues.
Hungary’s transition from communism to democracy and capitalism (rendszerváltás, “regime change”) was peaceful and prompted by economic stagnation, domestic political pressure, and changing relations with other Warsaw Pact countries. Although the MSzMP began Round Table Talks with various opposition groups in March 1989, the reburial of Imre Nagy as a revolutionary martyr that June is widely considered the symbolic end of communism in Hungary. Over 100,000 people attended the Budapest ceremony without any significant government interference, and many speakers openly called for Soviet troops to leave the country. Free elections were held in May 1990, which saw the Hungarian Democratic Forum, a major conservative opposition group, elected to the head of a coalition government. József Antall became the first democratically elected Prime Minister since World War II.
With the removal of state subsidies and rapid privatization in 1991, Hungary was affected by a severe economic recession. The Antall government’s austerity measures proved unpopular, and the Communist Party’s legal and political heir, the Socialist Party, won the subsequent 1994 elections. This abrupt shift in the political landscape was repeated in 1998 and 2002; each electoral cycle, the governing party was ousted and the erstwhile opposition elected. Like most other post-communist European states, however, Hungary broadly pursued an integrationist agenda, joining NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. As a NATO member, Hungary was involved in the Yugoslav Wars.
In 2006, major protests erupted after it leaked that socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s had claimed in a private speech that his party “lied” to win the recent elections. The popularity of left-wing parties plummeted in the ensuing political upheaval, and in 2010, Viktor Orbán’s national-conservative Fidesz was elected to a parliamentary supermajority. The legislature consequently approved a new constitution, among other sweeping governmental and legal changes. Although these developments were met with and still engender controversy, Fidesz secured a second supermajority in 2014. In 2015, Fidesz lost its two-thirds majority in parliament after a by-election defeat.
Scott #2402 was released on January 16, 1976, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Banknote Company. The lithographed 1fo stamp is perforated 12. Scott notes that imperforate varieties exist.