Republic Day 2017 and 2018
Republic Day in Hungary falls on 23 October and is a national holiday commemorating the anniversary of the 1956 revolution against Soviet domination.
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The Hungarian Revolution, also called “the Hungarian Uprising of 1956,” was a spontaneous movement of the Hungarian people that at first succeeded but was later crushed by a Soviet invasion. It was banned from being publicly discussed in Hungary for three decades, but this ban was lifted in the 1980s. When Hungary again became a free country in 1989, the new republic was officially declared on October 23rd as well.
The historical background of Republic Day occurred as follows. After Russian forces drove out the Nazis during World War II, an “Iron Curtain” divided the European continent into Communist and Capitalist sections. Hungary, located on the “wrong side” of that curtain, came to be dominated by Soviet-supported local Communists from 1945 until 1956.
On October 23rd, 1956, however, a student demonstration began in Budapest that soon saw many thousands of protesters join and march on the Hungarian parliament building. They also blasted out radio broadcasts from Radio Free Europe and attempted to take over a radio station to get their message out. State police then made arrests and fired on protesters who demanded their release. A student who was killed by state police bullets was then swaddled in the Hungarian flag and symbolically lifted up over the crowd. Before very long, word of the revolution spread across the land, and militias formed and overthrew the Hungarian Communist government. Briefly, a free government was established, and there was a lull in the conflict.
Though initially suggesting they might be willing to withdraw their remaining armed forces and leave Hungary to steer its own course, the Soviet Union suddenly launched an all-out invasion on November 4th. Over 30,000 Russian soldiers and 1,100 tanks took back Budapest and fanned out to subdue the countryside. By November 10th, the uprising had been completely crushed.
Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. Despite the initial success and the heroic toppling of Stalin’s statue in Heroes’ Square, everything ended very badly. Over 3,000 revolutionaries were killed and 13,000 wounded, while only 722 Soviet soldiers died and 1,251 were wounded. In 1991 and again in 1992, Russia, specifically Boris Yeltsin, officially apologised to Hungary for the brutal subjugation of 1956.
Hungarians observe Republic Day with patriotic speeches, flag raising ceremonies, and various cultural and historical exhibits throughout the country. Thus, there is plenty for the tourist to do in Hungary on Republic Day. Travelers should note, however, that as this is a public holiday, businesses will largely be closed and public transport will operate on a reduced schedule. There will be free entry to most of the nation’s museums, though, which are concentrated in the capital city of Budapest.
Things to do in Hungary on Republic Day include:
- Tour Parliament Building and Kossuth Square, where a flag-raising ceremony officially commences the celebrations. There will also typically be folk music and dancing in the square, while inside Parliament Building, notable sights include the Grand Staircase, Cupola Hall, and the Holy Crown.
- Visit the House of Terror Museum. Here, you can view both permanent and temporary exhibits on the Nazi and Communist occupations. Leaflets and audio guides are available to help explain the meaning of the artifacts.
- See the Hungarian National Museum. This is the largest museum in Hungary, and it needs to be since it houses exhibits on all periods of Hungarian history and even on the history of the Magyar (Hungarian) people in lands they wandered before arriving in the Danube Valley in A.D. 800.
Anyone interested in the history of Hungary and their decades-old struggle for freedom will find much of interest in Budapest and Hungary on Republic Day. It is one of the prime times to visit Hungary and learn about its past.