One of the striking things about conversing with Hungarians about their history is the first thing they start with: “Hungary used to be bigger.” After years of oppression, Hungary was divided up after World War I, and considerably reduced (see below). It is hard to imagine what this history does to the psyche, but it is clear to us that the Hungarians are not too happy about their reduced size.
The effects of Communism are evident everywhere as well. Today we passed a sort of “Communist Park”—with a statue of boots only. Apparently, during the revolution, the statue of Stalin was torn down, and only the boots remain. (Notice rainbow in picture?!)
King István is everywhere present. He is venerated as the patron saint of Hungary, kings, children who are dying, masons, stonecutters, and bricklayers. A quick click to Wikipedia tells us:
Saint Stephen I (Hungarian: I. (Szent) István) (Latin: Sanctus Stephanus) (Esztergom, 967/969/975 – 15 August 1038, Esztergom-Szentkirály or Székesfehérvár, Hungary), born Vajk, was Grand Prince of the Hungarians (997–1000) and the first King of Hungary (1000–1038). He greatly expanded Hungarian control over the Carpathian Basin during his lifetime, broadly established Christianity in the region, and is generally considered to be the founder of the Kingdom of Hungary. Pope Gregory VII canonized Stephen I, together with his son, Saint Emeric of Hungary and Bishop Gerard of Csanád, on 20 August 1083. Stephen became one of the most popular saints in Hungary, and 20 August, which was also his feast day until 1687, is celebrated as a state holiday commemorating the foundation of the nation.
1000: The pope crowns King István (Stephen), marking the domestication of the Magyars (Hungarians).
1541: Invading Ottoman Turks take Buda and Pest…and cook with paprika.
1686: The Austrian Habsburgs drive out the Turks, making Hungary part of their extensive empire (despite occasional rebellions from nationalistic Hungarians).
1848-49: War for freedom from Austria.
1867: A Golden Age begins, as Hungary gains semi-autonomy from Austria, rebuilds Budapest, rules territories, and inspires great artists.
1920: Losers in World War I, Hungary is stripped of two-thirds of its territory and half its population in the Treaty of Trianon…and they’re still angry about it.
1945: After World War I, the Soviet Union ‘liberates” the country and establishes a communist state.
1956: Hungarians bravely revolt, bringing a massive invasion of Soviet tanks and soldiers who brutally surpass the rebellion, killing 25,000.
1989: Hungary is the first of the Soviet satellites to open its borders with the West, sparking similar reforms throughout Eastern Europe.
2004: Hungary joins the European Union.
(Quoted from the book “Rick Steves’ Best of Eastern Europe 2006”)