Secular Hungary

Secular Hungary


You can find Hungary on any map of Europe. Have a look at the 93000 km2 between Austria, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, the Ukraine and Slovakia. Around 10 million people live there, and practically all of them are native speakers of Hungarian, a language of Finno-ugrian origin related to Finnish and Estonian and a couple of smaller languages in the Russian Federation (Hanti and Mansi), near the Ural mountains (however, these languages separated several thousands of years ago, so they are not mutually understandable).

The general lifestyle is similar to the rest of Europe, of course with some local customs, and there are some rather poor regions.

If you are interested in reading about present day Hungarian politics in Hungary, check out Éva S. Balogh’s blog:

As to the history: The area of today’s Hungary has been inhabited for ages, the most well known prehistoric site being Vértesszőlős. Hungarians arrived in Europe in the 9th century. They soon changed their nomadic and war-farer’s lifestyle into something more settled, and the founder of the Hungarian state, King (Saint) Stephen I. had the country Christianised (not quite without bloodshed). He ruled that for every 10 villages one church be built (some of them still exist–they were quite small in size, do not expect anything like a cathedral or the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul). Legend has it that he received his crown from the pope, and for many, the ‘Saint Crown’ (which is a beautiful piece of byzantine influenced art put together from two parts in the 12th century) still symbolises the state. Hungary’s position as leading force in the region came to an end with the battle of Mohács (1526), which was won by the Ottoman Empire. For some time, the Western part of the country belonged to the Hapsburg, the middle to the Ottoman Empire and the East, Transylvania had a more or less independent ruler (and a relatively wide scope of religious tolerance). After the Turks retreated (17th century), the country became part of the Hapsburg empire. Emperor Joseph II issued a patent of toleration which (provoking the fury of the pope) gave freedom of religion to non-catholic Christians as well as to Jews (integrating them better into society and abolishing their parallel institutions such as courts; they received full emancipation in 1867). Serfdom was abolished in the revolution of 1848. In theory, primary education was compulsory and it was the duty of the state to provide it since 1777, but in practice, this was only enforced at the end of the 19th century. In 1895, thanks to prime minister Sándor Wekerle’s new civil code, it became legally possible to be of no religion, and the birth and marriage register was to be maintained by the state. Since then, marriage acts have to be performed by a state official before any religious ceremony takes place. In 1918, the Austrian-Hungarian empire dissolved, and political rights were extended to the general public (including women). After some months of progressive bourgeois rule and another few of communist rule, a number of conservative governments ruled with varying (not very advanced) degrees of democracy and freedom of speech until WWII (being a kingdom without a king, the head of the state was regent admiral Miklós Horthy). Hungary fought alongside with the Germans, and in 1944, fascists took over in a coup d’etat, which initiated the deportation of around 600 thousand Jews (who were not totally equal citizens between 1920 and 1945). After a short interlude, communist rule was established in 1947-49. Most church schools were turned into state schools (some secondary schools remained in church hands), the religious orders were dissolved, and in 1950, the bishops agreed to accept the government and to refrain from high treason. Critics (including those with a church background) of the regime were imprisoned or sent to labour camps. With the death of Stalin (1953) these camps were dissolved, and after the revolution of 1956 (which followed heavy discussions within the party and the intelligentsia about the future) was shot down, the new leader, János Kádár, left churches in peace as long as they didn’t have any political and youth activities (priests e.g. received their salary from the state). The faithful who also wanted a career usually went to church a bit farther away instead of the one next door. Underground opposition was not linked to religion, but rather to the intelligentsia. Small businesses were allowed to operate from the beginning of the 1980s. Political pluralism was reinstated after the death of Kádár (1988), and after round table discussions during 1989 and the establishment of a new constitution, the first free elections were held in 1990.


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