Hungary, as you would expect, has a long and complex history and the borders of modern Hungary bear no resemblance to the many changes and conquests it has had to endure.
Remnants of mankind can be traced back to 350,000 years ago. In the last two thousand years the Romans have had a presence as have the Huns, Ostrogoths, Avars and the Franks.
Although having been around for some time the Magyars became a recognisable tribe in the late 9th Century under Prince Árpád and they were able to expand their sphere of influence over the next few hundred years. In 1,000 A.D. Stephen I became the first King of Hungary, he was a descendant of Árpád, and his throne was recognised as a Catholic Apostolic Kingdom by Pope Sylvester II.
The Árpád dynasty lasted until 1301, but between 1241 and 1242 the country was defeated by the Mongols and the population was decimated. After the Mongols left King Béla ordered the building of hundreds of castles across the country (they proved critical against the Ottomans later on) but by 1301 a new dynasty, the Angevin king, Charles I of Hungary came to the throne. There followed a succession of kings and relative peace and quiet but the Ottomans had started to press up against the Hungarian’s kingdom; nobleman Janos Hunyadi managed to defeat the Ottoman army at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 but they were getting closer.
By the early 16th Century the Ottomans were able to expand their empire as Hungary decayed and peasant revolts rocked the nation. In 1526 the Ottomans had their first major victory against the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohács and with the conquest of Buda in 1541 the kingdom was fractured into three parts. After 1526 the larger part of what remained became Royal Hungary and was part of the Austrian Empire under the House of Habsburg where it would remain until 1867.
Meanwhile, the Ottomans were finally defeated at the second Battle of Mohács in 1687 but it wasn’t to be until 1699 when the Treaty of Karlowitz was signed marking the end of Ottoman control of central Europe. The former country was restored under the Hapsburgs by 1718.
In 1848 things were changing across Europe and Hungary was no exception. The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 turned into a war of independence against the Austrian Empire – it failed. But in 1867 a compromise was reached and the old kingdom became part of a dual monarchy as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The new arrangement was not to everyone’s liking but it did result in a relative period of peace and economic development. In 1873 Buda, the old capital, Óbuda and Pest were merged into a new city called Budapest; today’s capital city.
On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated and subsequent events led to the First World War. Austria-Hungary sided with Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey (known as the Central Powers) and lost. The old empire was picked over by neighbouring states and the Allies. In October 1918 the dual monarchy was dissolved, violence ensued and the Hungarian People’s Republic was born on 16th November 1918.
Count Mihály Károlyi was proclaimed the first President of the Republic after Charles IV surrendered his powers as King of Hungary but by February 1919 Károlyi was out and the Communist Party of Hungary came to power and declared the Hungarian Soviet Republic. With a rag tag army of mainly volunteers the Communists tried to expand their territory but without the support of the Soviets in Russia and suffering a domestic backlash they were forced to flee. In turn a force of anti-communists known as the “Whites” swept through Hungary. They restored order but only after a period of terror equally as bad as that inflicted by the communists.
Nevertheless, on 1st March 1920 Hungary was returned to a Constitutional Monarchy with Miklós Horthy being selected as Regent to represent the monarchy. Horthy remained until 1944 when the communists returned. The inter-war years were not a great success for Hungary and a succession of prime ministers tried to push the country into a one-party government with increasingly fascist tendencies.
In 1940 Hungary joined the Axis powers and was involved in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the war against the Soviet Union. By the end of the war Hungary had been invaded by the Soviets, prized out of the hands of the Allies and a Soviet backed government was formed under Béla Miklós and the Hungarian Communist Party.
It took a few more years for the communists to secure their stranglehold on Hungary, but eventually they remained in power until 1989. Unlike many countries seized by the communists after the Second World War, the spirit of Hungary flared up for a brief moment in 1956. The Hungarian Revolution, led by students, lasted a few brief days in the October but was beaten down by Soviet tanks and troops on the streets of Budapest; around 3,000 civilians were killed and more than 13,000 wounded in the clashes.
János Kádár was installed as the new head of government, imprisoning many thousands, but by the early 1960s had curbed the secret police and introduced some liberal cultural and economic measures. In 1966 the “New Economic Mechanism” was approved and some important economic reforms as well as trade with the West were achieved.
By late 1988 the communist experiment was running out of steam all over the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union. Hungary emerged from the turmoil better than most with new political parties being formed including the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) the largest opposition force, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) and the Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz).
Kádár was replaced by Karoly Grosz, a more reform minded leader and in May 1989 the border with Austria was opened. The latter event triggered the fall of the so called ‘Iron Curtain’.
In October 1989 the Communist Party dissolved and reformed as the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and in May 1990 the first free parliamentary elections since 1945 were held. The all-embracing Hungarian Democratic Forum won 164 of the 386 seats in the National Assembly with the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats taking 92 seats and the Federation of Young Democrats winning 21 seats. The Hungarian Socialist Party won 33 seats. The Third Republic was born.
The Hungarian Democratic Forum turned out to be a one election wonder, with too broad a representation it soon split and after falling numbers every subsequent election it was dissolved in 2011. In 1994 the former communists in the form of the Hungarian Socialist Party took advantage of the poor economic performance and mediocrity of the government and won the general election by a landslide; they took 209 of the 386 seats.
Four years on and in 1998 it was the turn of Fidesz; they won 148 seats and formed a coalition government with the Independent Smallholders Party and Hungarian Democratic Forum. It should be noted that in this election the Socialists won the most votes and the largest percentage but the electoral system worked against them and they ended up with 134 seats and no potential allies.
The 2002 election brought in more change; with a second round of voting in 131 of the 176 single member seats. Fidesz became the largest party with 188 of the 386 seats but the Socialists with 178 seats were able to form a coalition government with the Alliance of Free Democrats who won 19 seats. The Socialists repeated the pattern again in 2006 partly because of a divided opposition.
After two terms in office the Socialists were deeply unpopular as they went into the 2010 general election. The Socialists were not helped by revelations of a post 2006 election briefing by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány in which he admitted lying to the people during the campaign. But the government had also been dogged by their own policies which led to inflation, a drop in the standard of living, battles with various public sector bodies and a battle with their coalition partners over health insurance which led to a split in the coalition in 2008.
With this backdrop it is little surprise that Fidesz won enough seats in the first round of the April 2010 election to form a majority on their own and with their partner Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) candidates they won enough seats to achieve a two-thirds majority in the second round. For the record Fidesz-KDNP won 263 of the 386 seats to the Országgyűlés or National Assembly. Viktor Orbán became the new Prime Minister and in fresh elections to be held in April 2014 look set to win once more.
The President is elected by the National Assembly for a five year term.
Parliament consists of a unicameral Országgyűlés or National Assembly which, until 2014, consisted of 386 seats. A new Constitution of Hungary introduced on 1st January 2012 mean that the number of members of the National Assembly dropped from 386 to 199. Members are elected by popular vote under a system of proportional and direct representation. They serve four year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Hungary at joint 57th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 48 (where 100 is least corrupt).