Reflection on Március 15

Standing outside the Hungarian Parliament building on March 15, surrounded by patriotic Hungarians and their flags, was a surreal experience.
March 15 is a national holiday in remembrance of the 1848 Revolution, in which Hungary began its long process of disentanglement from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (Hungary finally became independent of Austria in 1918)

In 2012, approximately 100 000 people gathered outside Parliament to hear their Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, speak. Two thousand Polish people travelled by train to Budapest to show their support for the Hungarian Government (the Polish also fought in the revolution and subsequent war). This generation of Poles support the Hungarian government’s stance in regards to the European Union.
Now, it’s all a bit complicated for me to, a) fully understand the political situation here, and b) concisely and accurately summarise it for you, so basically, this is what I have gathered:
The current Hungarian government holds a two-thirds majority in parliament. The rhetoric from the Prime Minister is essentially that Hungary must remain its own country and not be a ‘colony’ of the EU. Hungary has fought hard for independence for years and will not give in to the EU. The EU seems to think that Hungary is playing hardball, so it is threatening to cut off a huge amount of money. (Side-note – Spain and Greece have not been sanctioned in the same way)
Hungary is already in a difficult situation – people find it almost impossible to buy their own house, there are more university-educated graduates than there are jobs for them, the economy isn’t particularly strong, the unemployment rate is high and wages are low. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the EU cut the funding.

Whilst there was immense support for the Hungarian Prime Minister (more on that later), there was also a large demonstration on the other side of the river against his government. The other side of the coin is that his government is perceived as putting a lid on freedom of speech. You can read more on the current situation here.

“Hungary has been under increased pressure from the European Union because of some of Mr. Orban’s policies, with critics saying he has eroded the country’s hard-won democracy during his nearly two years in power and the European Commission threatening legal action over some laws he and his allies have approved. He has also come under fire for his management of the economy.” (The New York Times)

The demonstration by the freedom of speech group Milla got more media attention than the nationalistic pride shown peacefully around other parts of the city. Many media outlets even failed to recognise that it was on a national day – the gathering for the PM was said to be a ‘demonstration’ when in fact it was the people of a nation gathering to commemorate fighting for their independence. The day was used by groups such as Milla to demonstrate their stance.

Outside Parliament, the sky was filled Hungarian flags, and signs for each town that people had travelled from. These people walked in a parade behind a marching band through the streets of Budapest and into the gathering outside Parliament. They were joined by the supportive Polish community.
Above: “We live and die here”.

People listened respectfully to the speakers and responded positively to their Prime Minister. He made them laugh, he inspired them to cheer and nod and clap, and he fed off their pride. I had very little clue as to what he was speaking about, but the atmosphere was unmistakably positive.

The crowd was mostly older people and families. There were not a lot of young people there, interestingly. I have surmised that they are either fairly apolitical or do not support the PM.
Hungary does not hide its elderly away. Older people in Hungary dress in a dapper fashion – hats, scarves, furs, gloves – probably the same ‘good clothes’ they have had for decades – why throw quality items away?) and they get out amongst it. They walk their dogs, they shop, they catch public transport, they attend national commemorative days at Parliament. They listen intently to their Prime Minister. They wear their Hungarian colours and rosettes and pins with pride.

During the program, there was dancing and music. These people know how to sing a rousing national song. The poet Sándor Petõfi wrote what is now a very famous poem, “nemzeti dal” (national song) and was a key figure in the revolution of 1848. Somewhere along the line, the poem was turned into a song. The people around me sang this, and the national anthem, beautifully, passionately, and without caution. Big, bold voices of old men around me rang out. It was amazing.

The words to nemzeti dal have been roughly translated (thanks, Wikipedia)

On your feet, Magyar, the homeland calls!

The time is here, now or never!

Shall we be slaves or free?

This is the question, choose your answer!
By the God of the Hungarians

We vow,

We vow, that we will be slaves

No longer!
We were slaves up til now,

Damned are our ancestors,

Who lived and died free,

Cannot rest in a slave land.

By the God of the Hungarians

We vow,

We vow, that we will be slaves

No longer!
Useless villain of a man,

Who now, if need be, doesn’t dare to die,

Who values his pathetic life greater

Than the honor of his homeland.

By the God of the Hungarians

We vow,

We vow, that we will be slaves

No longer!
The sword shines brighter than the chain,

Decorates better the arm,

And we still wore chains!

Return now, our old sword!

By the God of the Hungarians

We vow,

We vow, that we will be slaves

No longer!
The Magyar name will be great again,

Worthy of its old, great honor;

Which the centuries smeared on it,

We will wash away the shame!

By the God of the Hungarians

We vow,

We vow, that we will be slaves

No longer!
Where our grave mounds lie,

Our grandchildren will kneel,

And with blessing prayer,

Recite our sainted names.

By the God of the Hungarians

We vow,

We vow, that we will be slaves

No longer!

Reading as much as I can about this without my brain exploding is somewhat difficult. It’s hard to have an opinion when you’re not Hungarian; being an Australian (since white people arrived) is completely different. We don’t know how lucky we are to have lived in a democracy our whole lives. We have never had to fight for it. We have not lost our land or our freedom in wars. We have not been occupied by Nazis or Soviets or adopted by another country to be part of their empire, only to be at war with that same country later on. We have not had entire cities flattened in bombings. Our language has never been threatened, our culture has been allowed to flourish and develop.

I can’t say whether I agree with either side, because I don’t know what it’s really like to live here as they do. I’m just a tourist. A lucky Australian woman who has no idea, but I’m trying to understand.

The only thing I really am starting to understand is that when you have endured so much as a nation, days like March 15 are so important. For the older Hungarians who have seen the wars, communism, the lack of democracy, the corruption, the lack of peace; I can completely understand why they would be out in force, looking dapper in their coats and hats, singing heartily.


About SKR

30-something Australian who happened to live in Budapest for 8 months in 2012. Returned for a holiday in 2014 & 2015. Became a mum in 2016.
This entry was posted in Budapest, History, Places, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Reflection on Március 15

  1. dannishez says:

    I remember during one of my classes in uni, we were asked ‘what does it mean to be Australian”. And answers were varied (beer, BBQs, beaches etc.) but there was not one thing that defined us. And there’s not one thing that unites us.
    I love reading about your time in Budapest because the people there sound so passionate. I get the impression that if war were to break out tomorrow, everyone, no matter their age, would fight to the death for their home. I don’t feel that same passion here in Australia. Sure, there are some who would take a stand, but the rest, I don’t know. We all take everything for granted – we’ve never had to fight for it. Just makes me a bit sad really.

    Anyway, great post as always 🙂


    • sziasteph says:

      Thanks Danni! I totally agree. Australia is a lucky country and a fantastic place to live, but where is the passion, the patriotism (minus the boganism, the larrikinism)?
      I love my home but this experience has opened my eyes. 🙂


  2. Pingback: Bathing in Budapest | Szia, Steph!

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