One of Hungary’s three national holidays takes place on March 15th. It commemorates the country’s failed revolution of 1848-1849 against the Austrian-Habsburg rule.
Hungarians often return to this date. Much more in spirit than perhaps the failed revolution in 1956 against the Soviets. So many national heroes come out of the 1848/49 revolution. Among them Lajos Kossuth: President-Regent of Hungary and freedom fighter whose fiery speeches were read aloud throughout Europe. Who had to flee Hungary, was taken in by the Ottomans, and then ferried to safety by the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Mississippi.
And of course the bard of the revolution and poet most closely associated with the Hungarian national identity: Sándor Petőfi, whose poems are still memorized today by Hungarian school children. Petőfi’s pre-existentialist stoicism, entirely typical of Hungarians, put forth by his perfect 12-syllable anapaestic line:
Elhull a virág , eliramlik az élet. The flower will wilt—fleeting life fades tomorrow.
So why am I writing about this today? Because was on this day in 1849 when 13 of the Hungarian generals were executed in Arad, Romania. Four were shot and the rest were hanged. And the Prime Minister, Lajos Betthyany, was executed in Pest in what today is Szabadság Square. The entire Kingdom of Hungary went into silent, passive resistance for an entire decade.
It is said that while the generals were being executed, the Austrian generals were drinking steins of beer, loudly clinking their glasses together in celebration of their victory over Hungary. From that day, Hungarians vowed to not clink their beer glasses for 150 years. Though the time frame passed in 1999, it’s still considered bad manners to clink beer glasses in Hungary.