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.


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