Probably one of the most significant events about Hungary during my lifetime was the opening of its border with Austria in 1989, which helped lead to the reunification of East and West Germany and the collapse of the Soviet bloc – an amazingly bloodless transition.
Hungary is an old, land-locked nation, formerly of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Hungary joined Axis powers during World War II, and still harbors a sizable neo-nazi party today (not unlike a number of other countries, unfortunately). Hungary also contains a fairly large population of Romani (also known as Gypsies) who make up somewhere around 5% (or more) of the population.
I just read through the history of Hungary, and hoo-boy, that is a long and complicated story. But I promised not to write about history too much, so I’ll let you look that up yourself. One thing you should know, though, is that Hungary is famous for mathematicians and scientists! Thirteen Hungarians have received the Nobel prize, and Hungary is famous for a number of inventions including the electric motor, the transformer, the cathode ray tube, the electron microscope, the ballpoint pen, and the Rubik’s cube!
The Hungarian language is an isolate, a member of the Finno-Ugric language family, and unrelated to any of the Indo-European languages spoken by most Europeans. The English word “coach” comes from the Hungarian kocsi, meaning “wagon from Kocs” – the Hungarian village where it was invented (of course!). Goulash and paprika are also Hungarian words. Yum.
In ancient Hungarian mythology, the white stag is an important figure. According to various sources, the white stag represents the heavens, the gods, or the will of the gods. In the origin story of the Hungarian people, a white stag leads the brothers Hunor and Magor to Scythia, and these brothers are said to have founded the Hun and Magyar cultures. There is a children’s book called The White Stag by Kate Seredy that is supposed to be very good. Adding it to my reading list!
Hungary was in the news recently because a couple in Budapest were doing some renovating and found 6,300 files from the Nazi era stuffed in their walls – the documents recorded information about where Jews were living in Budapest at the time, and where they were going to be taken. Many of Budapest’s Jews perished during World War II, but most survived. However, many of the Jews outside of Budapest were sent to Auschwitz. Today, the largest percentage of Jews in Hungary live in Budapest.
Recently the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe met to elect their new chairman in Budapest. The choice of Hungary for the meeting was not a coincidence; European liberals are worried about Hungary’s strong and growing far-right movement. ALDE also reminded everyone that when 250,000 Hungarians fled their country during the 1956 revolt against the communist regime, Europeans took them in (many came to the United States, too). Yet Hungary has been more than unfriendly to the Syrian refugees attempting to enter their country in this decade.
The Hungarian government would do well to remember their own history. It takes about 45 minutes to read it all on Wikipedia. Maybe a white stag will show them the way.