29th August

1831 Michael Faraday discovers electromagnetic induction

1885 Gottlieb Daimler invents motorcycle

Anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising (against the Nazis) – see 17th July

Raksha Bandhan/Rakhi (2015 – full moon. Hindu sisters tie a rakhi thread on their brothers’ wrists to symbolise love and devotion) – make friendship bracelets!


28th August

1963 Martin Luther King gives his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech

Onam (2015): Harvest festival, Kerala, India. The mythical king Mahabali visits from the underworld.

Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu (the creator/destroyer), is also celebrated.

The Pookalam (flower carpet) is made over several days, starting yellow and adding a new couple of colours every day.

A little pandal is hung over it, and two earthern square pyramids representing Mahabali and Vamana either side, also decorated with flowers.

They have an onam sadya, or feast, of up to 15 curries served on plaintain leaves.

There is lots of dancing, like the Kummattikali, a colorful-mask dance, sometimes around a procession of elephants.

The Kathakali dance re-enacts legends.

Pulikali, or Kaduvakali, has dancers painted like tigers.

There’s a Vallamkali, or snake boat race.

People buy new clothes and put rice flour batter on their doors as a welcome sign.

Ghost Festival (China, 2015)

The Hungry Ghost Month began at the start of the lunar calendar month – in 2015 it began on 14 August. On that day all the ghosts were let out of the underworld to wander the land of the living. People venerate their ancestors by putting their photos out with food and incense. There are lots of taboos to avoid the ghosts bothering you.

At the festival they have another bout of feeding the ghosts, as they must be very hungry after wandering for two weeks.

27th August

Moldova Independence Day (from USSR, 1991): Moldovians consider themselves Romanians really. It was first founded as a Hungarian principality in 1352 by the Transylvanian ruler Dragoş and gained independence from Hungary in 1359.

Stephen the Great defended Moldova against the Ottoman Empire, but it became a tributary to the Turks in 1538. In 1812 the Ottoman Empire gave Moldova to Russia.

Stephen III

The western part became part of Romania in 1859; the rest was Besserabia. Besserabia tried to become independent after WWI, but Russia said no; and instead it became the Moldovian Autonomous Soviet State Republic under Soviet ‘influence’.

To try and distract Moldovans from their idea of really belonging to Romania, Russia made them write ‘Moldovian’ in Cyrillic to distinguish it from Romanian, which is written in the Latin alphabet.

Moldova has the world’s biggest wine cellar – it’s basically a city with roads.


25th August

1989 Voyager 2 makes its closest approach to Neptune

Uruguay Independence Day (from Brazil, 1825) – see 18th July

Liberation of Paris (WWII from Germany, 1944)

La Tomatina (Bunol, Spain)

Janmashtami (2016: birth of Krishna. Pots of buttermilk are hung high up and people form human pyramids to smash them (dahi handi) and people reenact Krishna’s youth (Rasa lila).

24th August

79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupts and covers Pompeii with ash

1932 Amelia Earhart first woman to fly across America

Liberia Flag Day

Ukrainian Independence Day

(Photo Credit: armstrongeconomics.com)

Neoliithic Ukrainians lived in houses made of mammoth bones (45,000 B.C.)!

Between 700 and 200 B.C. it was part of Scythia (Greece’s name for nomadic people in the Pontic Steppe, Central Asia and Eastern Europe). Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and Byzantium built colonies on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea.

Then came the Goths, then the Huns in the 370s and then in the 7th century the Ukraine was part of Old Great Bulgaria. By the end of the century the Khazars (nomadic Turks) were in charge.

Vladimir being baptised; fresco in Vladimir Cathedral.

Western Ukraine, Belarus and a bit of Russia then became Kievan Rus’ under the Varangians (Vikings). In the 10th-11th centuries this was the most powerful state in Europe. Vladimir the Great converted Kievan Rus’ to Byzantine Christianity.

Unfortunately Mongols totally destroyed Kievan Rus’ in 1240.

In 1253 Danylo Romanovych/Daniel I of Galicia managed to reunite all the land again and became King of all Rus’.

Thennnn Lithuania took it and later Polish people colonised the not-very-popular-anyway northern and central Ukraine, and a Genghis Khan descendant, Haci I Giray, took southern Ukraine – the Crimea and steppes – and made it into the Crimean Khanate. This was one of the strongest powers in Eastern Europe, even invading and devastating Moscow in 1571 – imagine anyone trying that today!

In 1569 Poland and Lithuania formed a Union and Lithuania gave a load of its Ukraine to Poland. They called their land Polish Ruthenia and converted the gentry to Catholicism; the peasants didn’t like them and turned to the Cossacks for (armed) help. The Cossacks formed a state called the the Zaporozhian Host, which was against Polish rule but as they also kept out the Tatars and Turks, Poland let them stay.

In 1500-1700 the Tatars (northwestern Turks) kept raiding the south of the Khanate for slaves, taking 2 million in this period from Russia and the Ukraine.

In 1657-86 Russia, Poland, Turks and Cossacks fought for control of the Ukraine in ‘The Ruin’. This ended with Russia and Poland splitting the Ukraine between them, east and west.

In 1700-21 there was the Great Northern War, where Russia allied with Denmark-Norway and Saxony-Poland-Lithuania against the Swedish Empire. The Cossacks took the (losing) side of the Swedes.

In the 1770s-90s Russia, Prussia and Austria decided to split Poland between them in the Partitions of Poland, to make things ‘fairer’ (Poland’s army was too weak so it didn’t really get to say what it thought was fair), and the Polish-Lithuanian bits of the Ukraine went to Russia and Austria.

The Russian Empire took the Crimean Khanate in 1783, near the end of the Russo-Turkish War (1768-74).

It seems that in WWI Ukrainians picked their own sides, with a lot fighting for Russia and some fighting for Austria-Hungary. Before the war was over, in 1917 the Russian Revolution got rid of the emperor and created the Soviet Union led by Bolsheviks (Marxists).

Ukraine emerged from the ensuing Russian civil war (1917-20, the Bolshevik Red Army against the White Army) as loads of little states, and by the time it officially became an independent country within the Soviet Union in 1922, it had lost half its land to Belarus, Moldavia, Poland and Russia.

As the Ukraine had suffered a lot during the civil war, plus a 1921 famine, Russia supported a renaissance in Ukrainian culture and arts, and funded universal healthcare, education and women’s rights. Shame about Stalin.

In the 1930s Stalin brought in agricultural collectivisation, in which all the peasants had to donate their farms and animals to the Soviet cause and meet quotas. All the food they produced was taken by police to feed the rest of the country, and if they didn’t meet the quota, they did not receive any food themselves. 10.5 million Ukrainians starved to death in the Great Famine, which Ukraine terms a genocide. Under the Great Terror, Ukrainian artists and intellectuals were killed or put in concentration camps.

At the start of WWII, Hitler invaded Poland and Russia and Germany divided Poland between them. This meant Poland’s Ukrainian territories were reunited with the Ukraine. Romania also gave its Ukrainian bits back.

After Stalin, some Ukrainians hoped the Nazis would liberate them. But it soon turned out the Nazis were mean too. The Ukrainian Insurgents Army formed in 1942, which was basically just anti-everyone, killing any Polish people left in the Ukraine and then fighting Russia for independence until the 1950s.

Most of WWII was fought on the Eastern Front, so the Ukraine was left fairly devastated, but once Stalin died in 1953 Soviet Russia emphasised its friendship with the Ukraine, giving them back Crimea and investing 20% of the USSR’s budget, making its industry and technology very powerful.

In 1986 the area contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster affected 2.2 million Ukrainians.

On 24 August 1991 the Ukraine declared itself independent, and totally got rid of its nuclear weapons. It then had a recession, losing 60% of its GDP and huge inflation, but eventually stablised with a new currency, the hryvnya (named after the currency used by medieval Kievan Rus’)

In 2013 the president decided not to join the EU and to side with Russia instead. This led to protests in western Ukraine, which got more violent after the government tried to bring in an anti-protesting law. Then they had new elections, and brought in a pro-EU president. This upset  eastern Ukraine – the Crimea where a lot of people speak Russian already. The Russian military got involved, and NATO. The Crimea had a referendum and declared itself independent. Meanwhile ‘local militia’ (groups of armed men not affiliated with anyone) are running around the rest of Ukraine killing people and taking over government buildings.

The Ukraine is the largest country in Europe and is right in the centre. It has a low birth rate and the population is shrinking by 150,000 every year.

Uruguay Nostalgia Night (radio and and events for nostalgic music)

20th August

1858 Darwin publishes theory of evolution

Estonia Restoration of Independence Day (from Russia, 1991) – see 23rd June

Morocco Revolution du Roi et du Peuple – see 18th November

Akshay Urja diwas (renewable energy day in India – here’s a song called the Energy Blues)

World Mosquito Day (commemorating the day Dr Ronald Ross discovered they transmit malaria in 1897)

Hungarian National Day (Feast of St Stephen):

Originally inhabited by Celts, Hungary was invaded by the Roman Empire, then the Huns. In the 9th century the area was mainly inhabited by Avars and Slavs.

A man called Árpád, the founder of Hungary, led a group of Hungarians (Uralic-speakers from the Ural mountains) to settle in the Carpathian basin in 895.

King St Stephen

Árpád’s great-grandson Stephen I ascended to the throne in 1000 AD, converting the country to a Christian kingdom. He made Latin Hungary’s official language, which it remained until 1844!

They did well for a while, creating a personal union with Croatia, invading Translyvania, leading the Fifth Crusade into the Holy Land (poor Israel/Palestine) with largest royal army in Europe, and King Béla III was more wealthy than the English or French monarchies.

In 1241-2 the Mongols invaded and half of Hungary’s 2 million population were killed. The Mongol’s second invasion in 1285 was repelled as Hungary had built loads of stone forts and walls inbetween.

In 1301-1490 Hungary had some strong kings, like Louis the Great who was also King of Poland, and Sigismund who also became Holy Roman Emperor. King Matthias built the world’s second greatest library (after the Vatican’s), the Bibliotheca Corviniana. They defeated Wallachians, Ottomans, Polish and Germans, and conquered parts of Austria and Bohemia.

Hungary warred against the Turks for about 150 years, and in 1541 it was divided into three parts, Royal Hungary (north-west), the Principality of Transylvania (east) and the Pashalik of Buda (central). Then the Pope, the Holy Roman Empire,  Polish-Lithuania, the Venetian Republic and Russia joined up into the Holy League and defeated the Turks in 1684 and Hungary was united again, under Austro-Hungarian Habsburg rule.

In 1703 there was an uprising against the Habsburg kings; then there were the Napoleonic Wars and the Emperor was forced to reconvene the Diet of Hungary (lol), otherwise known as parliament. This brought in modernising reforms despite the Habsburgs best efforts to ignore them.

In 1848 Hungarian revolutionaries demanded a Hungarian government in Buda-Pest, and generally more independence and equality, and the Hungarian parliament rewarded them by giving ethnic minorities equal rights. The Austrian army came in to defeat the Hungarian army; at first they couldn’t, but then they asked Russian Tsar Nicholas I, the ‘Gendarme of Europe’, to help. Then Hungary surrendered, and Austria  executed the rebel-generals, now known as the 13 Martyrs of Arad. But then in 1867 Austria decided to let Hungary have its own parliament (but it still had to share Austria’s monarch).

After the Austrian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo (in Bosnia-Herzegovina), Austria-Hungary came into WWI on the (losing) side of Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. Afterwards, Hungary gained independence from Austria.

The new Prime Minister, Mihály Károlyi, got rid of Hungary’s army. Hungary was split up: Romania took Transylvania and east Hungary; Czechoslovakia took the north, and Serbia and France took the southern bits. In 1920, when the Treaty of Trianon was drawn up, Hungary lost 71% of its territory and two thirds of its population. Hungarians found themselves ethnic minorities in other countries; industry was separated from national resources, and it lost its only sea-port.

Following the Munich Agreement, in which Europe was trying to appease Hitler, Germany and Italy helped Hungary get bits of its old land back. In 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union; Hungary joined in after Russia bombed Hungary’s cities. In 1944 Hungary tried to surrender to the Allies but was taken over by Nazis instead. 440,000 Jews were deported.

The Russian army encircled Budapest in December and two months later Hungary surrendered. Hungarians were put back in Hungary from Czechoslovakia; Slovaks were deported to Czechoslovakia; and Germans were sent back to Germany. All tidied up.

Hungary then became a Communist satellite state, militarised, industrialised and forced to pay war reparations. Hundreds of thousands of dissenters were executed or put in concentration camps.

In 1956 Hungary tried to have a revolution. Imre Nagy took over as prime minister and promised a liberal and transparent society; then the Soviet army came in and killed anyone who got in the way. Nagy was executed two years later.

Then János Kádár was put in power, and tried to normalise everything and make it a bit more liberal, which helped. In 1989 Hungary became a democracy and took down the barbed wire separating it from Austria. This was the first tear in the Iron Curtain. They became part of the EU in 2004.

Hungary is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe (the Hortobágy National Park). Hungary invented the Rubiks Cube and the biro, named after László Bíró.

Ways to celebrate Hungary’s national day are: go swimming! Listen to Franz Liszt. Eat goulash.