Sunday was Hungary’s National Holiday commemorating Hungary’s (failed) rebellion against the Habsburgs on March 15, 1848. It started the as many revolutions here have started, with a poet and a journalist.
The Pilvax Coffeehouse
It’s no secret why during the communist years, the Soviets didn’t take too fondly to writers and philosophers gathering in coffee houses. It’s always been a hot bed for insurrection. And it was in the Pilvax Coffeehouse in Pest where these types gathered and wrote a list of fifteen demands for political reform. Of these were freedom of the press, free assembly, freedom or religion, and of course, the reinstatement of a unified Hungary.
Lajos Kossuth & Sándor Petőfi
Lajos Kossuth was a patriot and a journalist. He courageously presented the list of demands to the parliament on March 3rd.
Twelve Days later, the young poet Sándor Petőfi, walked up to the top of the stairs of the National Museum and called out to the gathering crowd:
On your feet, Hungarians!
Come to the homeland!
Now is the time—now or never.
It’s quite a long poem, but I would beg almost all Hungarians know it, or at least most of it. And when they hear it alone or set to music there is a roar or patriotic recitation.
By April, the somewhat weakly Emperor Ferdinand granted all of the demands. But Kossuth wanted more, a more independent Hungary with its own budget, own homeland guard, own treasury. The Habsburgs refused, so with the help of the Polish, Hungary went to war.
Franz Joseph I
Franz replaced Ferdinand as Emperor and made a deal that reverberated for generations: he brought in the Russians. The Hungarian guard was overtaken and nearly a year after the young Sándor Petőfi recited his influential call to arms, he was dead on a battlefield in Segesvár.
Thirteen generals were executed, and as they died, the Austrian captors clinked their beer glasses. To this day, many in Hungary find it offensive to clink beer glasses as form of cheers.
So on Sunday we had our kokards (ribbons) and went around town to see what the crowd was up to. Usually Györgyi’s mother, Zsuzsui (Susie) calls with the holiday potential-for-rioting-report, but since she didn’t we decided it was okay to venture out and see the city in the morning. Though we live a few blocks from Parliament, we really couldn’t even get close to it. Everything was gated and fenced off and patrolled by hundreds of police. They were definitely prepared, as in the past things have gotten really out of control, especially when the politicians begin the speeches.
But this year was fairly mundane. Eighty or so people were arrested. No tear gas was used. And for the most part the holiday was filled with people watching performances, wearing patriotic ribbons, and enjoying their Sunday. It was nice, actually, that the holiday was celebrated in the way that best honored the forefather and mothers’ sacrifices and triumphs.