The mean­ing of a Hun­gar­ian Na­tional Day - 15 March

The Diplomatic Insight - - Hungary - *Katalin Burns

For Hun­gar­i­ans, 15th March is the day to re­mem­ber the out­break of the 1848 Hun­gar­ian Rev­o­lu­tion which later on grew into a war for in­de­pen­dence from the Aus­trian Em­pire. Sev­eral his­tor­i­cal and so­cial causes led to the 15th March up­rise. In the 19th cen­tury, Hun­gar­ian no­bles (who sup­ported the Aus­trian Em­peror) still re­tained their priv­i­leges of pay­ing no taxes and not al­low­ing the masses to par­tic­i­pate in votes and elec­tions. Count István Széchenyi stood out of the group of pas­sive aris­to­crats and rec­og­nized the need to make some changes in Hun­gar­ian fi­nance, econ­omy and cul­ture. He of­fered his in­come of a whole year to build up the Hun­gar­i­anacademy of Sci­ence (which to this day stands in the city cen­tre), and he sup­ported the in­tro­duc­tion of horse rac­ing, silk­worm breed­ing and the casino to Hun­gar­ian so­ci­ety. It was his idea to join the two sides of the cap­i­tal city (Buda and Pest) by con­struct­ing a bridge over the River Danube. His own bad ex­pe­ri­ence led him to do so: due to bad weather con­di­tions to cross the river on a ferry, he missed his own fa­ther's fu­neral on the Buda side. The day of the rev­o­lu­tion, 15th March, was strate­gi­cally pre­pared and or­gan­ised by law stu­dents and jour­nal­ists. Se­cret meet­ings were held all over the cap­i­tal in pop­u­lar cof­fee houses, where en­thu­si­as­tic young univer­sity stu­dents planned their ac­tion. A list of Twelve De­mands was com­posed which was to be sub­mit­ted to the lo­cal Im­pe­rial gov­er­nor's of­fice. The list in­cluded var­i­ous fun­da­men­tal ideas of democ­racy, such as free press or an in­de­pen­dent Hun­gar­ian min­istry in the cap­i­tal. The demon­stra­tors also formed a new gov­ern­ment of Hun­gary, forc­ing the Hab­s­burg Em­peror's lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives to ac­cept it. The newly es­tab­lished gov­ern­ment's in­ten­tion was to make the Hab­s­burg Em­pire spend all taxes they re­ceived from Hun­gary in sup­port of Hun­gary, and they meant to as­sure that the Par­lia­ment would have au­thor­ity over the Hun­gar­ian reg­i­ments of the Hab­s­burg Army.a blood­less demon­stra­tion took place with crowds of peo­ple con­stantly join­ing in, as the pro­tes­tors marched to Buda, where they de­manded that the po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers (such as the fa­mous poet and lin­guist, Mi­hály Tánc­sics) be re­leased, and to Pest, where an even larger mul­ti­tude gath­ered in front of the Hun­gar­ian Na­tional Mu­seum, and a new poem writ­ten by Sán­dor Petőfi, a leg­endary young poet was re­cited. Sán­dor Petőfi, who then was only 23 years old, had grown to be a cel­e­brated lit­er­ary fig­ure. His po­ems were very pop­u­lar in pa­tri­otic cir­cles, and on the coun­try­side his po­ems were sung as folk­mu­sic com­po­si­tions. The young poet was ob­sessed with the idea of free­dom for his coun­try, and it­was his deep de­sire to fight for it on the bat­tle­field, but his health con­di­tion did not al­low that. As the rev­o­lu­tion turned into a war of in­de­pen­dence and ex­tended to all parts of the Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian Monar­chy, he served as a mes­sen­ger for the Hun­gar­ian Army. His death be­came a leg­end. Ap­par­ently he was­mur­dered on one of his routes as he was at­tempt­ing to de­liver a let­ter, but since no proof has been shown for his death and it was not pos­si­ble to present his corpse to his close friends or rel­a­tives, schol­ars are still de­bat­ing whether or not he re­ally died on that route in the for­est. Some as­sume that he was taken a cap­tive and was trans­ported to Siberia, where he lived a long and peace­ful life. Groups of schol­ars still travel to Siberia with the in­ten­tion to ex­plore his grave. Ac­cord­ing to a stronger the­ory, how­ever, a poet with such ded­i­ca­tion to his coun­try would have es­caped and never would have come to terms wih the fact to have to live so far from his beloved moth­er­land. The Hun­gar­ian War of In­de­pen­dence (to­gether with the rev­o­lu­tion it grew out of) was a part of an on-go­ing process in the whole Euro­pean con­ti­nent, where var­i­ous other na­tions ini­ti­ated a rev­o­lu­tion. A storm was pass­ing over Europe, as Sán­dor Petőfi noted in one of his po­ems. Even in the cap­i­tal of the Aus­trian Monar­chy, Vi­enna, a rev­o­lu­tion broke out, which alone caused enough trou­ble to the Em­peror. The Aus­trian monar­chy skill­fully ma­nip­u­lated the Croa­t­ians, Ser­bians and Ro­ma­ni­ans, mak­ing prom­ises to the Hun­gar­i­ans (Mag­yars) one day and mak­ing con­flict­ing prom­ises to the Serbs and other groups the next. This led to many con­flicts be­tween Hun­gar­i­ans and the na­tion­al­i­ties sur­round­ing them. How­ever, in 1848 and 1849, the Hun­gar­i­ans were sup­ported by most Slo­vaks, Ger­mans, Rusyns and Hun­gar­ian Slovenes, the Hun­gar­ian Jews, and many Pol­ish, Aus­trian and Ital­ian vol­un­teers. On 28 July 1849, the Hun­gar­ian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Par­lia­ment pro­claimed and en­acted the laws on eth­nic and mi­nor­ity rights. The day of March 15 is still a cel­e­bra­tion of na­tional pride. In the darker times of Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship it was a day which brought peo­ple to­gether in a se­cret agree­ment and a strong feel­ing of na­tional iden­tity. Presently, in schools stu­dents cel­e­brate by recit­ing po­ems of Sán­dor Petőfi, read­ing out the Twelve De­mands and re­call­ing the events of this leg­endary day, us­ing the per­sonal diary of some of the ac­tive par­tic­i­pants of the rev­o­lu­tion. Sol­dier songs from the time of the war are sung and the cel­e­bra­tion is framed by the na­tional an­them of Hun­gary and an­other, equally sig­nif­i­cant com­po­si­tion, Szózat (“Acall to Hun­gar­i­ans”). * Thewriter isahun­gar­i­an­fic­tion­writer/mu­si­cal per­former.

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