Hungary

Background

Hungarian history at a glance

Ottoman rule of the Hungarian lands was substituted by Austrian domination in 1686. As a result, for several hundred years neither the royal court nor the central administration operated on Hungarian soil. Foreign settlers were moved into the country to swell the dwindling population and this meant that the previous ethnic unity of the country was disrupted. In contrast to the trend in Western Europe in the 18th century, the privileges of the nobility and the second wave of serfdom hindered modernization.

National awakening characterized the 19th century. On March 15, 1848, mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda enabled Hungarian reformists to push through a list of 12 demands. Faced with revolution both at home and in Vienna, Austria first had to accept Hungarian demands. The April Act (1848) abolished the tax exemption of the nobility and secured the emancipation of the serfs and introduced civil rights. Moreover, a joint government of Hungary and Transylvania was installed thus unifying the two entities. In the War of Independence, Hungarians fought to defend the rights newly won. In order to quiet internal dissent in the face of Preussian aggression, the compromise known as Ausgleich finally restored order with the establishment of the Austrian-Hungarian Dual Monarchy under which the Hungarian government was granted extensive internal autonomy. Besides the German-Magyar, Czech-Magyar conflicts about the future of the dual monarchy, ethnic problems escalated inside the Kingdom of Hungary. The intensifying Hungarian nationalism – intended to strengthen the integrity of the Kingdom – gradually alienated the non-Magyar population. As a reaction, the already significant Romanian, Serbian and Slovak nationalism further escalated.

After the defeat of Austria-Hungary in World War I, nationalist movements within the Austria-Hungarian empire started pressing for independence. The treaties of Sainte Germain and Trianon (1920) between the victors of the war and Austria and Hungary, respectively, resulted in the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the Hungarian lands were reduced by more than 70 percent: Transylvania was lost to Romania, Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia to Czechoslovakia, Croatia to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (thus depriving the new Hungary access to sea) and most of Burgenland to Austria.

The election of Admiral Horthy as regent in 1920 installed autocratic rule. In the hope of revising the territorial losses, Horthy allied with Nazi-Germany in the 1930s and Hungary formally entered the war in 1941, primarily fighting the Soviet Union. After the war, democracy was restored for a short period between 1946 and 1947. In the 1947 elections the communists became the largest single party, with 22.7 percent of the votes. The communists merged with the Social Democrats to form the Hungarian Workers’ Party in June 1948 and a People’s Republic was established in August 1949. In the anti-Soviet revolt in October-November 1956, Hungary proclaimed that the country withdrew from the Warsaw Pact. This led to a military invention by the Soviet Union and a new Soviet-supported Government, led by János Kádár, was installed.

Communist Hungary maintained more liberal policies in the economic and cultural spheres, and the country became the most liberal of the Soviet-bloc nations of Eastern Europe. In 1988, the reform communists dismissed Kádár. The era was characterized by the emergence of opposition groups that developed into parties, a vibrant civil society, and mass demonstrations. In March 1989, an estimated 100,000 people took part in a peaceful anti-Government demonstration in Budapest, in support of demands for democracy, free elections, the withdrawal of Soviet troops and an official commemoration of the 1956 uprising. On 23 October 1989 (the anniversary of the 1956 uprising) the Republic of Hungary was proclaimed. In 1991, the last Soviet troops left the country, thus ending 47 years of military presence.

Politics in the new era

Hungary is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The president is elected by the parliament for a five-year term and has largely ceremonical functions. The parliament also elects the prime minister, who serves as the head of government. The parliament, Országgyűlés , comprises 386 representatives elected for a four-year term on the basis of a mixed member electoral system.

Hungary’s first free multi-party elections since 1945 were held, in two rounds, on 25 March and 8 April 1990. The elections were held under a mixed system of proportional and direct representation and were contested by a total of 28 parties and groups.The run-up to the elections was marked by the battle between the socialists and the opposition, which had united against the common adversary. At the same time, however, there were clear divisions within the opposition between right-wing and left-wing forces, between Christian-democrats, nationalists, liberalists and socialists. After the elections, the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), under the leadership of József Antall, turned into the largest party group in the assembly and fomed a coalition government together with the centre-right Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) and the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP), which had came third and fifth in the elections, respectively.

After completing the four-year election cycle in office (as the only one in the new democratic East-Central Europe), the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Alliance for Free Democrats (SZDSZ) assumed office after the 1994 election under the leadership of Gyula Horn. In 1998, a new centre-right coalition composed of Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz), FKGP and the MDF, formed a new government under Viktor Orbán (Fidesz). The coalition was then again replaced in 2002 by the left-parties of MSZP and SZDSZ.

The redrawing of European borders that took place after World War I left about five million ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries. Their status remains a sensitive issue. Low turnout invalidated a December 2004 referendum on whether or not to offer them citizenship.

2004 saw the first resignation of a prime minister in the middle of the electoral cycle in Hungarian post-1990 history as Peter Medgyessy (MSZP) stepped down after a conflict between the coalition partners. He was succeeded by Ferenc Gyurcsány. Sustained electoral support in 2006 resulted in a second term for the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition, the first re-election of government since 1990. Violent clashes broke out in Budapest in September 2006 following a rally demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Gyurcsany after it was revealed his government had lied during the election campaign. Hungary joined the NATO alliance in 1999, and the EU in 2004.

Sources

Recent History (Hungary), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. Retrieved 23.10. 2007 from http://www.europaworld.com/entry/hu.is.4