Country profile: Hungary
Hungary traces its history back to the Magyars, an
alliance of semi-nomadic tribes from southern Russia and the Black Sea coast
that arrived in the region in the ninth century. After centuries as a powerful
medieval kingdom, Hungary was part of the Ottoman and then Habsburg empires from
the 16th century onwards, emerging as an independent country again after World
The Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is one of the
handful of languages spoken within the European Union that are not of
A landlocked country, Hungary is home to Lake Balaton, the largest in central
Europe, and to a large number of spa towns and hot springs.
It has especially rich traditions in folk and classical music and was the
birthplace of numerous outstanding performers and composers, including Franz
Liszt, Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.
Hungary's most prized wine comes from the Tokaj
Hungary became co-equal partner with Austria in a dual monarchy in the
mid-19th century after an unsuccessful revolt against the Habsburgs in 1848.
After a period of turmoil following World War I, an independent kingdom of
Hungary was established under the authoritarian regency of Admiral Miklos Horthy.
The redrawing of European borders that took place after World War I left
about five million ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries. Their
status remains a sensitive issue and has complicated Hungary's relations with
Following World War II, in which Admiral Horthy had allied himself with
Germany, Hungary fell under communist rule. An uprising in 1956 was crushed by
Red Army forces, but Hungary did later become the first Eastern European country
to gain some economic freedom.
Hungary played an important part in accelerating the collapse of communism
across Eastern Europe when it opened its border with Austria in 1989, allowing
thousands of East Germans to escape to the West. Just a few months later the
Berlin Wall was history.
Hungary's post-communist economic transition was achieved relatively
smoothly. Within four years of the collapse of communism nearly half of the
country's economic enterprises had been transferred to the private sector, and
by 1998 Hungary was attracting nearly half of all foreign direct investment in
Ten years later, the picture looked rather less rosy. A high level of both
private and state borrowing left the country particularly vulnerable to the
credit crunch of 2008, and in October of that year the government was forced to
appeal to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank for
massive loans in a bid to stave off economic collapse.
Dissatisfaction with the centre-left coalition government's handling of the
economy from 2002 to 2010 coincided with the rise of the right-wing nationalist
party Jobbik, known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy rhetoric, and a move to
the authoritarian right by the Fidesz party, which won the 2010 election.
Hungary's parliament is in the
capital Budapest on the banks of the Danube River
Bathers enjoy thermal pools in one of
Europe's biggest spa complexes, in Budapest
- Full name: Hungary
- Population: 10 million (UN, 2011)
- Capital: Budapest
- Area: 93,030 sq km (35,919 sq miles)
- Major language: Hungarian
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 78 years (women)
- Monetary unit: Forint
- Main exports: Machinery and transport equipment,
- GNI per capita: US $12,850 (World Bank, 2010)
- Internet domain: .hu
- International dialling code: +36
President: Pal Schmitt (resigned April 2012)
President Schmitt had a successful sporting
Pal Schmitt became president of Hungary in August 2010, a few months
after the centre-right party Fidesz - of which he was the vice-president -
won a resounding victory in parliamentary elections.
After enjoying a successful fencing career - he won gold medals at the
1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics - he was a member of the International Olympic
Committee and served as Hungary's under-secretary of sports.
Mr Schmitt was Hungary's ambassador to Spain and Switzerland between 1993
and 2002, and became the deputy president of Fidesz in 2003.
After being chosen as president of the country by the Hungarian
parliament, he declared that he wanted to be "a man of the people" and that
he intended to work closely with the government.
Unlike his predecessor, Laszlo Solyom, who did not hesitate to criticise
the government of the day and was known to refuse to sign bills into law, Mr
Schmitt raised no objections to any government policies.
President Schmitt resigned in April 2012 after an Hungarian magazine
revealed that his 1992 doctoral thesis was largely plagiarism.
Prime minister: Viktor Orban
Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Mr Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party won a two-thirds majority in
parliament in April 2010, had previously served as prime minister from 1998
Fidesz's landslide election victory allowed it to become the first party
to govern alone since the fall of Communism.
On coming to power, Mr Orban promised firm but moderate government, and
drew a clear line between Fidesz and the far-right, euro-sceptic Jobbik
party, which entered parliament for the first time.
Fidesz pledged to cut taxes, curb tax evasion, create jobs and
reduce state bureaucracy. Mr Orban made an immediate start by
pruning the number of ministries to eight - leaving him with the
smallest cabinet in the post-communist era.
His biggest challenge was posed by Hungary's severe public debt problem,
and he chose to tackle this with an unorthodox economic policy. In December
2010, the government introduced a law forcibly transferring most of the
assets of private pension funds to the state to cut the high budget deficit.
In March 2011, it announced a series of fiscal reforms with the same aim,
including cutting the eligibility period for unemployment benefiots,
tightening disability pension rules and abolishing earlier retirement.
Mr Orban also ruled out renewing the IMF-led loan that rescued Hungary
from financial collapse in 2008, to avoid giving the organisation too much
say over Hungarian economic policy, potentially making it harder to meet the
country's debt obligations.
Hungary reopened talks with the IMF in November 2011 with the aim of
securing a credit lifeline in case of a deepening crisis in the eurozone, on
which the country depends. However, the IMF cut short these talks after only
a few weeks, citing concerns over the independence of Hungary's central
Hungary agreed to make some changes to the central bank law in April
2012, and the European Commission said that this would allow negotiations
over a 15 to 20bn-euro ($20-26bn) bailout package with the IMF to resume.
On the political front, media laws introduced in January 2011 were widely
criticised at home and abroad for undermining media freedoms. The government
responded by making some changes which the EU declared to have assuaged its
Mr Orban's government then went on to make other legislative changes -
including the introduction of a new constitution and controversial new
election law - that critics alleged undermined democracy by tilting the
system in favour of Fidesz.
Some of Hungary's newspapers are foreign-owned
Hungary's private broadcasters compete with public radio
and TV. The public broadcaster has faced financial struggles, dwindling
audiences and allegations of political influence.
Some European governments and media organisations criticised a controversial
new media law introduced on 1 January 2011 as tightening government control over
The row over the law clouded the start of Hungary's six-month EU presidency,
but the government subsequently introduced changes to the law, which the
European Commission said met its concerns about the registration of media, rules
on the provision of balanced information, and restrictions on foreign media.
National and local newspapers are privately-owned, some of them by foreign
groups and investors.
There were 6.2 million internet users by June 2010 (Internetworldstats).
A chronology of key events:
9th century - Magyars under Prince Arpad settle Danube plain
Bartok was a major classical composer and collector of folk music
1000 - Stephen I, a descendant of
Arpad, recognized by Pope as first Christian king of Hungary, expands Hungarian
control over Carpathian basin.
1241-1242 - Mongol invasion devastates large parts of
1342-1382 - Reign of Louis the Great, who annexes Dalmatia
and founds Hungary's first university at Pecs.
1456 - Forces led by Hungarian nobleman Janos Hunyadi defeat
Ottoman army at Siege of Belgrade.
1526 - Ottoman Turks defeat forces of Hungarian
king at Battle of Mohacs, establishing control over most of the
1699 - Austrian Habsburgs under Leopold I expel Turks.
1848-49 - Uprising against Habsburg rule under Lajos Kossuth
suppressed by military force.
Hungarians trade paprika - a key ingredient of
the local diet - in this picture taken in around 1915
1867 - Hungary becomes equal partner in Austro-Hungarian
1918 - Austro-Hungarian Empire is broken up at the end of
World War I. Hungarian republic is proclaimed following a revolution.
1919 - Communists take over power under Bela Kun. Kun wages
war on Czechoslovakia and Romania. Romanian forces occupy Budapest and hand
power to Admiral Miklos Horthy.
1920 - Hungary loses large part of territory to
Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia and Yugoslavia. The National Assembly restores
Kingdom of Hungary; Horthy becomes regent until 1944.
1938 - Hungary regains some of the territory lost to
Czechoslovakia with the help of Nazi Germany.
World War II
1939 - Hungary joins Anti-Comintern Pact of
Germany, Japan and Italy. At the outbreak of World War II Hungary
1941 - Germany invades the Soviet Union. Hungary allies
itself with Germany, and loses a large part of its army on the Eastern Front.
1944 - Hungarian Nazis seize power after Horthy asks
advancing Soviet troops for an armistice. Hungarian Jews and gypsies are
deported to death camps.
1945 - Soviet forces drive the Germans out of Hungary by
early April. New coalition government introduces land reform bill,
redistributing land from large estate owners to peasants.
1947-48 - Communists consolidate power under Soviet
1949 - A new constitution makes Hungary a Communist state.
Industry is nationalised, agriculture collectivised and a wave of terror
A statue of the Soviet leader Stalin is
toppled during the 1956 national uprising
1956 - Uprising against Soviet domination suppressed by the
Soviet Army. Janos Kadar becomes head of government.
1960s - Kadar gradually introduces limited liberalising
reforms. Political prisoners and church leaders are freed, farmers and
industrial workers given increased rights.
1968 - New Economic Mechanism brings elements of the market
to Hungarian socialism.
1988 - Kadar is replaced by Karoly Grosz.
Opposition groups form the Hungarian Democratic Forum.
1989 - May - Border with Austria is opened, and thousands of
East Germans escape to the West. Communist state in Hungary is dismantled and a
transition to a multi-party democracy starts.
1990 - Stock exchange opens in Budapest. A centre-right
coalition wins elections.
1990 June - Hungary withdraws from any participation in
Warsaw Pact military exercises.
1991 - Soviet forces withdraw from Hungary. The Warsaw Pact
A new era
1994 - Former Communists and liberals form
coalition following elections. Gyula Horn, the leader of the reform
Communists, pledges to continue free-market policies.
1997 - Referendum endorses joining Nato. The European Union
decides to open membership talks with Hungary, which begin in 1998.
1998 - Centre-right coalition under Fidesz leader Viktor
1999 - Hungary joins Nato.
2001 June - Parliament backs controversial Status Law
entitling Hungarians living in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia and
Slovenia to a special identity document allowing them to work, study and claim
health care in Hungary temporarily.
2002 May - Peter Medgyessy forms new centre-left coalition
government in which the Socialist Party partners the liberal Free Democrats.
2002 June-July - PM Medgyessy admits to having worked as a
counterintelligence officer for the secret service in the late 1970s and early
1980s. However, he denies ever having collaborated with the KGB and says he
worked to steer Hungary toward IMF membership without Moscow's knowledge.
2002 December - EU summit in Copenhagen formally invites
Hungary to join in 2004.
2003 April - Referendum overwhelmingly approves Hungary's
membership of an enlarged EU. However, turnout is only 46%.
2003 June - Parliament amends controversial Status Law on
work, health and travel benefits for ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries
which criticised it as interfering with their sovereignty and discriminating
against other ethnic groups.
Hungary in the EU
2004 May - Hungary is one of 10 new states to join
2004 September - Former sports minister Ferenc Gyurcsany
becomes prime minister following resignation of Peter Medgyessy in row with
coalition partner over reshuffle.
2004 December - Low turnout invalidates referendum on
whether or not to offer citizenship to some five million ethnic Hungarians
living outside Hungary.
2005 June - Parliament chooses opposition-backed Laszlo
Solyom as president after Socialists' candidate is blocked by their Free
Democrat coalition partners.
2006 April - General election returns Socialist-led
coalition under Ferenc Gyurcsany to power.
2006 September-October - Violence erupts as thousands rally
in Budapest demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Gyurcsany, after he
admitted his government had lied during the election campaign.
2007 February - A commission of enquiry into the previous
autumn's disturbances, in which 800 people were hurt, finds fault with the
police, the government and the country's whole political elite.
2008 March - Government defeated in
opposition-sponsored referendum calling for abolition of new fees
for health care and higher education. The move is seen as a setback
for government plans for economic reforms.
2008 April - Mr Gyurcsany reshuffles his cabinet after the
Alliance of Free Democrats quits the two-party coalition.
2008 October - Hungary is badly hit by the global financial
crisis and the value of the forint plummets.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the EU and the World Bank grant the
country a rescue package worth $25bn (£15.6bn).
2009 March - Hungary and Russia sign deal to build part of
the South Stream pipeline across Hungarian territory. Budapest also agrees to
jointly build underground gas storage facility in Hungary, a move which will
turn the country into a major hub for Russian gas supplies.
2009 April - Economy Minister Gordon Bajnai takes over as
PM; he announces a programme of public spending cuts, tax rises and public wage
2009 June - Far-right Jobbik party wins three seats in
European Parliament elections, gaining almost 15% of the vote.
2010 April - Conservative opposition party Fidesz
wins landslide victory in parliamentary election, gaining two-thirds
majority. Jobbik enters Hungarian parliament for first time, winning
2010 May - Parliament passes law allowing ethnic Hungarians
living abroad to apply for Hungarian citizenship. Slovakia protests at move,
accusing Hungary of revisionism, and threatens to strip any Slovak who applies
for dual nationality of their Slovak citizenship.
2010 July - International lenders suspend review of
Hungary's 2008 funding arrangement, saying the Fidesz government has failed to
spell out its plans for bringing down the budget deficit clearly enough.
2010 October - A state of emergency is declared after a
torrent of toxic red sludge escapes from a reservoir of chemical waste, killing
seven people and injuring 150. Rivers in western Hungary are left seriously
polluted by what is thought to be the country's worst-ever chemical accident.
2011 February - Government agrees to amend media law.
European Commission says that the changes meet its concerns over media freedom.
2011 April - Parliament approves a new
constitution that opponents say threatens democracy by removing
checks and balances. The EU expresses concern over the law and asks
for it to be withdrawn.
2011 December - Parliament approves controversial new
election law that halves the number of MPs and redraws constituency boundaries.
Critics object it tilts the system in favour of the governing Fidesz party.
Parliament passes controversial law on central bank reform that gives the
government greater control over monetary policy. EU and IMF officials cut short
aid talks. The European Central Bank also expresses concern that the new law
creates the potential for political control of the Hungarian central bank.
2012 January - Top rate of VAT is increased from 25% to 27%
- the highest rate in the EU - as part of a series of austerity measures aimed
at curbing the budget deficit.
Tens of thousands of people take part in protests in Budapest as
controversial new constitution comes into force.
Credit ratings agency Fitch downgrades Hungary's credit rating to junk
status. Two other main ratings agencies already reduced Hungary's rating to junk
levels within the previous six weeks.
2012 February - Hungarian state-owned airline Malev goes
2012 April - Hungary makes small changes to the Central Bank
law, and the European Commission agrees to resume talks with the IMF on a