Hungary is among the oldest states in Europe: it was founded in 895 and became a Christian kingdom in 1000 by the crowning of King St. Stephen I.

Medieval Hungary

The greatest challenge that King Stephen (1000-1038) and his successors had to face was to preserve the Christian faith of the previously nomadic Hungarian people while also functioning as a dominant kingdom within Europe. During the Arpad and Anjou dynasties, medieval Hungary was experiencing prosperity and abundance. Later, during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), Hungary became one of the most significant cultural hubs of Renaissance in Europe. Nonetheless, the country’s development was halted due to the invading Turkish power from the Balkans, the Ottoman Turkish Empire, as Hungary was assigned an important task: to stop the Turkish invasion and protect Europe.

150 years of Turkish occupation

After the death of King Matthias Corvinus, the royal power further weakened and in 1526, at Mohacs, the Turks dealt a final blow to the Hungarians. The country was divided into three parts: the territory of the Ottoman occupation, Transylvania and the Kingdom of Hungary, whose territory was significantly reduced in size. The Turks ruled Hungary for 150 years and tried to expand further into Europe. During the Turkish occupation, the weakened Kingdom of Hungary became part of the Habsburg Empire and Transylvania continued to function as an independent state.

The Habsburgs

In the 18th century, Hungary was struggling to recover from the Turkish devastation. Large areas of the country were depopulated and the Habsburgs inhabited these vacant areas with new residents of Romanian and Slovak nationalities, in this way creating large blocks of minorities within the country. In the 19th century, the spread of European ideals such as nationalism and liberalism also reached Hungary, as dissatisfaction with the Habsburg rule grew. The awakened Hungarian civil society revolted against the Habsburgs and on March 15, 1848, the Revolution and War of Independence broke out.

Years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

The Habsburgs defeated the revolution and Austria imposed strict and oppressive measures on the country. However, co-operation was later considered important, in this way Hungary was granted some level of autonomy, which led to the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867. A new Central European power, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was born. During this period, significant development took place in the Hungarian territories: until the early 1900s the Hungarian economy experienced notable growth, mainly its agriculture was outstanding but industrial production also increased. By then Budapest was considered among the leading cities in Europe, with a unique cityscape.

The World Wars

Following the prosperous years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the 20th century, Hungary was again hit by various historical disasters. As part of the Empire, Hungary had no choice but to enter World War I on the side of the Germans, which ended in defeat and led to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was sealed by the tragic 1920 Treaty of Trianon in which Hungary lost 72% of its territory. 3.5 million Hungarians were stuck behind the newly formed borders, mainly in the territories of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. The treaty had a paralyzing effect on Hungarian society and various attempts were made to regain the areas inhabited by a Hungarian majority. This also contributed to Hungary making a bad decision and joining World War II on the side of Nazi Germany in the hope of regaining its annexed areas. Up until 1944, Hungary did not suffer significant damage. However, in the last year of the war most of the fighting took place in Hungary, and the deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews by the Nazis led to an enormous historical loss and tragedy. When it became clear that Germany would lose the war, Hungary tried to switch to the other side but failed, and for the second time in the country’s history, it emerged from World War II on the side of the defeated. Like other Eastern European countries, Hungary fell under the control of the Soviet Union.

The communist era

In 1945 the communist era began in Hungary. By the 1950s the economy had completely collapsed and living standards had dropped dramatically. Social dissatisfaction increased, leading to the 1956 uprising and the withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. Moscow felt obliged to take action and overthrew the revolution with a significant military force. In 1968 economic liberalization began in Hungary, called “Goulash Communism”, during which the standard of living started to increase again and the strict restrictions on travelling to foreign countries began to ease. These events led to Hungary becoming the “happiest barracks” of the Eastern Bloc.

The system change

By the end of the 1980s changes had accelerated: in 1988 the Communist Party allowed travel to the West and in 1989 a multi-party system was formed. In May 1989, Hungary tore down the barbed-wire fence and opened its borders to Austria. This was the first tear on the Iron Curtain that, after collapsing, allowed East German citizens to move freely in the direction of Austria, making a significant contribution to the reunification of Germany not long after. At last the Hungarian Republic was proclaimed on October 23, 1989, and the first democratic general elections were held in 1990. Hungary joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999 and the European Union (EU) in 2004.