Hungary - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Hungary - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

by Eddy Kester, Brian McLean

Paperback(Second edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857338683
Publisher: Kuperard
Publication date: 01/04/2018
Series: Culture Smart! Series
Edition description: Second edition
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 1,186,192
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Brian Mclean and Kester Eddy are British writers who have both lived in Budapest for many years. Each brings specialist knowledge to the book, the former in Hungarian history and culture and the latter in political and economic affairs.

Read an Excerpt



"Hazám, hazám ..."

"Homeland, my homeland, my all! My whole life I owe to thee," sings the troubled medieval patriot Bánk bán in the eponymous 1860 opera by the Hungarian composer Ferenc Erkel. You won't meet a Hungarian who disagrees. People from larger countries may sometimes take theirs for granted, but not people from smaller, more vulnerable countries like Hungary. Patriotism there runs as deep as deep can be.


Hungary is a landlocked country in the center of Europe. Budapest, the capital, lies about 890 miles (1,425 km) from London, 980 miles (1,575 km) from Moscow, 500 miles (800 km) from Rome, and 655 miles (1,050 km) from Istanbul, as the crow flies. Hungary's area of 35,919 square miles (93,032 sq. km) makes it similar in size to Portugal, or to the state of Indiana. It has an irregular egg shape.

Hungary occupies the center of the large, relatively flat Carpathian Basin. It is surrounded by the Alps, the Carpathians, and the Dinaric Alps, but none of these ranges extend into Hungary, where the highest point — the peak of Kékes-teto, 60 miles (95 km) east of Budapest — is only 3,326 feet (1,014 m) above sea level. Going clockwise, the countries across Hungary's 1,377 miles (2,217 km) of frontier are Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia.

The Danube, Europe's second-longest river after the Volga, arrives from Slovakia and follows the border east, before turning due south to bisect the country and enter Serbia. The part of Hungary to the west of it is called Transdanubia (Dunántúl). To the east lie the Northern Uplands (Északi hegység) and the Great Plain (Alföld).

Transdanubia has three major lakes, all shallow and fringed with reeds. The largest by far is Balaton (232 square miles, or 600 sq. km). The second is Ferto (Neusiedlersee), straddling the border with Austria. Between Balaton and Budapest lies Lake Velence.

The main ranges of hills in Hungary form an almost straight line from southwest to northeast, from the Balaton Uplands to Buda Hills and continuing on the opposite side of the Danube as the Northern Uplands. The western border with Austria runs through Alpine foothills.

Badacsony, overlooking Lake Balaton, is one of several obvious extinct volcanoes in Hungary, but there are no active ones today. No earthquake recorded in the territory of present-day Hungary has had a magnitude greater than 6 on the Richter scale. The last earthquake fatality was in 1956 at Dunaharaszti, south of Budapest, when a makeshift house collapsed.

The population of Hungary peaked at around 10.7 million in 1981 (similar to that of Ohio or Illinois), but has since fallen to 9.8 million (January, 2016). The population density of 274 per square mile (106 per sq. km), is less than half that of Germany or the UK, but over three times that of the USA.


Hungary is said to have a temperate climate, but you could be fooled sometimes. The variability of the weather is explained by the position of the country, at the junction of the Maritime, Continental, and Mediterranean climatic zones. There seems to be a trend toward greater variation within the country, and from year to year, in both temperature and rainfall.

Most parts of Hungary have a mean annual temperature of between 50° and 52°F (10°–11°C), though in the last decade the areas exceeding 11°C have increased, particularly in the south of Hungary. The mean temperature is hottest in July (69°F, 20.5°C) and coldest in January (30°F, -1°C), but these averages may include hot days at 90°–104°F (33°–40°C) and cold nights at - 15°–20°F (-26°–29°C), respectively. Local mean monthly temperatures in 2015 ranged between 23°F (-5.0°C) in January in the northern hills to 75°F (24°C) in the southeast during July and August. The trend over the last forty years has been slightly upward, in line with global warming. The six months between September 2015 and March 2016 saw record high temperatures set on numerous days across the country.

Rainfall is variable too. The annual mean ranges from 28–32 inches (700–800 mm) in the west to 18–22 inches (470–550 mm) in the Great Plain. Yet 1999's nationwide mean of 31 inches (775 mm) was followed in 2000 by only 16 inches (400 mm). The pattern of rainfall is far from ideal. Much of it comes in summer thunder storms, so it quickly runs off or evaporates. This leaves parts of the Great Plain arid, with some shifting sand dunes to the west of Kecskemét.

Snow rarely falls before November or after April. A continuous period of snow cover and daytime frost is likely in December, January, and/or February.

Many Hungarians suffer from headaches or other symptoms as warm or cold weather fronts pass over.

The prevailing wind in Hungary is from the northwest. There are about 2,000 hours of sunshine a year


Before the Hungarians

The first written references to the area known as Hungary today date from the fifth century BCE. These, and archaeological evidence, suggest that Celtic tribes arrived about 400 BCE and controlled the area of modern Transdanubia — Hungary to the west of the Danube. Celtic culture in Hungary is thought to have been at its height toward the end of the third and into the second century BCE.

Rivalry with Illyrian, Dacian, and other tribes weakened the Celts. By about 12 BCE the Romans had established their rule over the area of modern western Hungary, which became part of the Roman province of Pannonia. There are some spectacular Roman remains, for example in Budapest (Aquincum) and near Székesfehérvár (Gorsium).

In 361 CE the Romans, their empire in decline, invited the troublesome, warlike Huns to settle in Pannonia, but the rule of their famous leader Attila was brief. There followed successive conquests of the area over more than five centuries by Ostrogoths, Gepids, Lombards, Avars, and Slavs, before the Hungarians arrived.

The Magyars

With no written historical records for guidance, it is hard to say exactly where the Magyars, or Hungarians, came from. Linguistically, Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Ugric group of languages (seepage 156), the other surviving members of which occur in Northern Scandinavia and in pockets around the Baltic and across the territory of present-day Russia.

The split between the Finnic and Ugric tribes is usually dated to around 500 BCE, by which time the latter were pursuing an agricultural as well as a pastoral lifestyle, breeding horses and using iron. Their cultures were strongly influenced during the first millennium CE by tribes of Iranian origin and by neighboring Greek, Persian, and Armenian cultures.

By the fifth century CE, the Hungarians can be distinguished from other Ugric tribes and were in close contact with Bulgar Turks, on the steppes flanking the Volga River. They were part of successive loose federations of tribes, notably the Khazars.

By the ninth century, the Hungarians were centered further west around the Dnieper River and taking part in the political struggles among the Slavs and the Eastern Franks for control of the middle Danube Basin. They do not seem to have met any effective resistance when they invaded the Carpathian Basin at the end of the ninth century, united under Árpád, chief of the Magyar tribe. (Traditionally, seven tribes of warlike, pagan, seminomadic Magyars, headed by Árpád, are said to have crossed the Verecke Pass into the Carpathian Basin in 895 or 896, having lost their lands on the steppes of modern Ukraine to a Turkic tribe called the Pechenegs.)

The Avar empire of the previous century had been crushed by the Frankish forces of Charlemagne. Slav tribes predominated for a while, but the instability in the region prevented their states from consolidating. So about 400,000 Hungarians may have arrived in the Carpathian Basin, to find a local population of about 200,000, which seems to have been rapidly absorbed.

The Hungarians, still pagan and illiterate at this time, rivaled the earlier Vikings in the way they raided and pillaged much of Europe over the next sixty years. The "arrows of the Hungarians" feature as a terrorist scenario in many early chronicles. So Europe breathed a collective sigh of relief when military defeats persuaded the Hungarian ruling prince, Géza, in about 970 to prepare his country for the feudal Christian monarchy that his son and successor, King Stephen, founded.

Medieval Kingdom

The kingdom of Hungary came into being at Christmas in the year 1000, when Stephen I was crowned at Esztergom with a crown sent by Pope Sylvester II. Some people have interpreted the gift to mean that Stephen owed his crown to God, not Mammon — the Holy Roman Empire centered in modern Germany, which was the main power in Europe at the time. In fact, Sylvester and Emperor Otto III were collaborating to consolidate Christianity and extend Christendom eastward in a political and religious sense. Stephen (István) was canonized in 1083.

By the time Stephen came to the throne, the Hungarians (Magyars) had been living in the Carpathian Basin for over a century and raiding in Europe for some time before that. Although medieval Hungary was almost completely devastated by Mongol incursions in 1241–2, it covered vast areas of central and southeastern Europe at various times. Buda became a center of the Renaissance under King Matthias I (1458–90), who amassed a famous library, second in size only to the Vatican's, and expanded the royal palace. Extensive remains of a summer palace can be seen at Visegrád, north of Budapest, strategically placed, overlooking the Danube Bend.


The reversal was rapid. Hungary was disastrously defeated by the Ottoman Turks in the battle of Mohács in 1526, and the fleeing Louis II, king of Hungary and Bohemia, was drowned in a stream. Buda, the royal capital, fell in 1541. Thereafter, "Royal Hungary" (the north and west) was ruled by Habsburg king-emperors from Vienna, while Central Hungary became a Turkish sandjak (province) under the pasha of Buda, and Transylvania a semi-independent principality — a haven of high cultural standards and religious toleration. Intermittent warfare between the Ottoman and Habsburg dominions continued.

Ottoman power in Hungary ended even more suddenly than it had begun. One moment Grand Vizir Kara Mustafa was boldly laying siege to Vienna in 1683, and the next he was suffering a succession of defeats. Buda was captured by Christian forces in 1686 and the Turks were ousted completely and irreversibly from Hungary by the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz.

The legacy of the Ottoman period was mixed. The Turks had taxed the Hungarians hard, but they had left the towns to run their own affairs. Also, they had shown toleration toward Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism, whereas the Habsburgs reimposed Catholicism by force.

The country was in a sorry, depopulated state in the late seventeenth century, but this was due as much to the warfare as to Ottoman misrule. There were few left to rejoice when Buda was captured. The combined Christian forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, marked the occasion by sacking the city and conducting a pogrom against the Jews.

Modern Times

Nonetheless, Habsburg rule allowed Hungary to begin moving toward modern Europe. There was a long but abortive war of national independence (1703–11) under Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II of Transylvania, and relative prosperity did not come until the 1720s. Varying degrees of Hungarian autonomy followed.

Hungary, until the end of the First World War, included modern Slovakia, Sub-Carpathian Ukraine, Transylvania (now in Romania), Vojvodina (now in Serbia), most of Croatia, and the future Austrian province of Burgenland. Agriculture benefited in the eighteenth century from Imperial rule tempered by a Diet (legislative assembly) of nobles, usually meeting in Pozsony (Pressburg, modern Bratislava). But a truly modern economy and society based on commerce, industry, education, and toleration came later than it did in Germany, Italy, or France.

Only in 1805 did officialdom begin to use Hungarian alongside Latin, which survived as the language spoken in the Diet until 1832. But Hungarian development was unusual, as it was led by the lower nobility and gentry, resentful of aristocratic power, rather than by a bourgeoisie. Acceleration of development in the 1830s and '40s culminated in a bloodless revolution in Buda and Pest in March 1848, led by Lajos Kossuth. Inspired by similar events in Paris and Vienna, the reformists declared Hungary's autonomy within the Habsburg Empire. The subsequent war of independence was crushed by the Habsburgs the following year, with assistance from Tsarist Russia.

Many reforms were reversed, and harsh direct rule from Vienna continued for almost twenty years. Eventually, in 1867 the Ausgleich, or Compromise, brokered between the Hungarian nobility and the imperial court, created the Dual Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in which Austria and Hungary had separate governments. This curious arrangement precipitated a forty-year spurt of belated bourgeois development — political, economic, and social development that set its mark on Budapest (created by a merger of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda in 1876) and made it the fastest-growing capital in Europe after Berlin.

Independence and Occupation

Hungary at last gained full independence after the First World War, but it lost 71 percent of its territory and 63 percent of its population under the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, imposed at the Versailles peace conference. Sizeable Hungarian minorities are still found across the borders in Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia, as well as smaller communities in Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria.

After a 133-day Communist interlude in 1919, independent Hungary became a nominal kingdom again. It was headed from 1920 to 1944 by a regent, Miklós Horthy, previously a rear admiral in the Austro-Hungarian navy, although Charles IV of Habsburg made two, somewhat naïve and bungled,attempts to regain his throne in 1921.

But Horthy remained. He and successive conservative, irredentist governments he appointed aligned the country with Italy and Germany, in return for what turned out to be very temporary territorial gains in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Rampant anti-Semitism came after German military occupation in March 1944, followed by a German- engineered coup d'état in October. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to death camps, along with large numbers of Gypsies.

The Soviet army that defeated the German and Hungarian forces in 1944–5 was ill-disciplined, and the reprisals were severe. Huge reparations had to be paid. About half a million Hungarians were deported to labor camps in the Soviet Union, from which many never returned. Initially, Hungary had its own democratic government alongside a Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission, but the Communists undermined it, gaining power and imposing a classic Communist regime.

Stalinist rule under the local dictator Mátyás Rákosi brought oppression, upheaval, and impossible economic strains. Faced with the imminent collapse of its satellite state, Khrushchev's Russia in 1953 supported the installation of a reformist government under Imre Nagy, but then the Kremlin vacillated, allowing Rákosi to return. This led during 1956 to mounting protest and finally rebellion.

The '56 Revolution

The sight of Soviet tanks firing into crowds in a Communist satellite country shook the world in October 1956. If the Suez Crisis and the invasion of Egypt hadn't distracted the world's attention from Hungary there might conceivably have been UN intervention, as the Hungarian revolutionaries were hoping.

By 1956 came a thaw, and ideas for reform were being openly discussed. However, the uprising, when it came, was sudden and unforeseen. On October 22, a student rally at Budapest Technical University listed sixteen demands, including free elections, withdrawal of Soviet troops, and higher pay.

On October 23, a student march, ostensibly in support of Polish protestors, was joined spontaneously by workers and employees. By evening, 200,000 people were standing before Parliament, as a crowd elsewhere in the city toppled the giant statue of Stalin, and another crowd outside the Radio was calling angrily for the Sixteen Points to be broadcast. The Hungarian Communist Party leadership appointed Imre Nagy to head a new government. The Radio was stormed, and the first Soviet troops to enter the capital the next morning met armed resistance. Most units of the Hungarian army stood aside, while many officers and men went over to the freedom fighters.

By October 26, there was a general strike. Revolutionary councils in communities and factories were in control, demanding Soviet withdrawal and a neutral, democratic, independent Hungary. The revolution spread to other cities, where Soviet units were confronted by rebels, and Hungarian army units stood aside.


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Table of Contents

Map of Hungary,
Key Facts,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Further Reading,

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