Hungary - A Country Overview

Information on Hungary; its geography, history, government and climate, with information on security, tourism and foreigners living in Hungary...

Geography

One of Europe's smaller nations, Hungary is a landlocked country in the Carpathian Basin. It borders Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Ukraine. Mostly a flat country of rolling hills and plains, the majority of Hungary's land area lies below 200m. There are low mountains in the north on the border with Slovakia. Kékes, at 1,014m above sea level, is the highest peak in the country. Much of Hungary's land is fertile and suitable for arable farming.

The country is naturally divided into three large regions by the rivers Danube and Tisza: the Great Hungarian Plain (Alföld) to the east of the Danube; a hilly region west of the Danube known as Transdanubia and the North Hungarian Mountains. The Great Hungarian Plain covers almost half of the country. It is a mixture of steppe and cultivated land formed by the Danube's flood plain. It is well suited to livestock rearing.

History

The ethnic ancestors of modern Hungarians were the Magyar tribes, who arrived in the Carpathian Basin in 896AD conquering the local population. Hungary has been a Christian country since 1000AD when Stephen I was recognised by the Pope as the first Christian King of the country. He expanded Hungary's control of the Carpathian Basin, while large parts of the country were destroyed in 1241 and 1242 when the Mongols invaded. Much of the population was slaughtered and only strongly fortified settlements survived. Subsequently, many stone fortifications and castles were built and a second Mongol invasion was repelled, with the invaders losing many of their forces. The country's first university was created in the fourteenth century, in Pecs, under the rule of Louis the Great.

For many years Hungary acted as an obstacle preventing the expansion of the Ottoman-Turkish Empire into Europe. By the early sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was the second most populous state in the world. In 1526 Hungarian forces were defeated by Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Mohács; the Turks gained control of the country until 1699 when they were expelled by Leopold I of the Austrian Hapsburgs.

Hungary did, however, become part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. The Empire collapsed during the First World War and the Hungarian Republic was created in 1918 following a revolution. In 1919 Bela Kun, a Communist, took power and entered a war with Romania and Czechoslovakia. Romanian forces managed to occupy Budapest and power was given to Admiral Miklos Horthy. Hungary went on to lose large areas of land to Czechoslovakia, Russia, Romania and Yugoslavia in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. Much of this territory was not regained until 1938.

Despite being neutral at the start of the Second World War, Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union in 1941, then on the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1944 Hungarian Nazis deposed Horthy and installed their own regime. During this period many Hungarian gypsies and Jews were taken to death camps. By the time Soviet troops pushed German forces out of Hungary, much of the capital city had been destroyed by years of fighting.

After the war, Communist control of the country strengthened; it aligned itself more and more with the Soviet Union despite relatively little support for Communism in the country. In 1949 a new constitution defined Hungary as a peasants' and workers' state. The nation's agriculture was collectivised and industries nationalised. Years of state control and police terror followed. Stalin's death and his denunciation by Khrushchev led to a crisis in Hungary and an uprising in 1956. Protesters around the country demanded that Soviet troops withdraw. A new Prime Minister, Imry Nagy, announced that Hungary would become a neutral country, but Soviet troops crushed the rebellion killing thousands of people. Nagy, who took refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy, was abducted by Soviet agents; two years later it was announced that he had been executed for treason.

The 1960s were a decade of slow liberalisation in Hungary. Farmers and industrial workers were given new rights and many political prisoners and church leaders were released from detention. In 1989 the Communist State was broken up following the breach of the Iron Curtain when the border with Austria was opened. The country transitioned to a system of multi-party democracy with a centre-right coalition taking power in 1990; the following year Soviet troops finally left the country and the Warsaw Pact, the defence treaty between eight communist Eastern European states, was dissolved.

By 1998 talks began on allowing Hungary to join the European Union, which it finally did on 1 May 2004. It became a member of NATO in 1999. Hungary took over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union for the first time in 2011.

Politics and Government

Hungary is a parliamentary democracy. A new constitution, known as Fundamental Law, drawn up in 2011 came into effect in January 2012. New legislation was introduced concerning, amongst other things, the electoral and judicial systems, the status of churches, and the Central Bank.

Hungary is governed by its President, who is the head of state, and its Prime Minister, who is the head of the Government. The President is elected to a five-year term of office by the Hungarian National Assembly. The new constitution means that there is one round of voting to elect the President; previously there were two. The Prime Minister is also elected by the National Assembly with a recommendation by the President. Other ministers are subsequently proposed by the Prime Minister and appointed by the President, who can also remove them from their positions.

The National Assembly, or Orszaggyule, comprises 386 seats. The members of the assembly are elected by a popular vote using a system of both direct and proportional representation. They serve for four years.

Economy

Under Communist rule Hungary had a centrally controlled economy. Following the country's first multiparty elections in 1990, a free market economy was initiated. The vast majority of the GDP is generated by the private sector. Hungary's main industries are in the fields of construction, metallurgy, textiles, processed foods, vehicles, chemical and logistics. The economy is open and small, which makes it vulnerable to external fluctuations.

The global financial crises resulted, in 2008, in Hungary being unable to service its short-term debt commitments. The country received a package of financial assistance measures from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank. In 2009 the Hungarian economy contracted dramatically; this was the result of the global economic climate, declining exports, low domestic consumption and government austerity measures. In 2010 a number of changes and a boost in exports resulted in economic growth in 2011. In 2012 the top rate of VAT was increased as part of austerity measures to reduce the country's budget deficit; the rate is now the highest in the European Union. Unemployment in Hungary remains high.

Climate

Hungary has a temperate climate which experiences little influence from the Atlantic Ocean. Weather systems regularly persist for longer than they would in areas which experience more of the Atlantic's effects.

The climate is relatively homogenous across the country. Spring and summer are the wettest times of the year in Hungary; May experiences the most rainfall. There are frequent heavy rain and thunder storms. Summers are generally hot, while winters are cold with periods of fog and snow. It is not unusual for the Danube to freeze over during spells of severe winter weather.

Security

Hungary is generally a safe country. In the last few years some protests have turned violent with riot police using water cannons to control crowds. It is generally advisable to avoid public demonstrations.

Foreigners Living in the Country

The number of foreigners living in Hungary has increased markedly since the country joined the European Union in 2004. There are many German, Austrian, British, French, Italian and Dutch people living in Hungary on a long-term basis. There is also a significant Chinese population, although the majority of foreigners are ethnic Hungarians from neighbouring states. While many expatriates live in Budapest, both Eger and Debreçen are also popular.

Tourism

Hungary has diverse attractions that attract many visitors each year. Budapest is a beautiful, lively, cosmopolitan city home to 2,000-year-old Roman ruins and 400-year-old Turkish remains. The Parliament buildings and St Stephen's Basilica on the Pest side of the river and the Fishermen's Bastion on the Buda side are particularly popular with tourists.

In contrast, Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe, is set in beautiful countryside and attracts many holidaymakers and water sports enthusiasts. Much of Hungary's land is designated as protected natural areas and there are ten national parks, which showcase the best of Hungary's varied countryside. The country is dotted with castles and ruins, reflecting its rich historical past. Many of them host special events and concerts for tourists. Popular castles include the Buda Castle and citadel in Budapest, Eger castle and Visegrád citadel.

Further Information