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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe


Modern Hungary
AD 1918 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1918-2024), Hungarian First Republic (1918-1920), Kingdom of Hungary (1920-1944), Carpatho-Ukraine (1939), Hungarian State (1944-1945), Hungarian Second Republic (1945-1949), Hungarian People's Republic (1949-1989), & Hungarian Third Republic (1989-On)

Modern Hungary was formed from a mix of various historical groups and cultures, including Celts and Germanics, Avars and Magyars. It is neighboured to the north by Slovakia, to the north-east by the westernmost section of Ukraine, to the south-east by Romania, to the south by Serbia and Croatia, and to the west by Slovenia, and by an Austria with which it had a long and intertwined relationship until the end of the First World War.

In large part, the country's territory was formerly Roman-occupied Dacia and Pannonia for the first four hundred years of the first millennium AD. Prior to that it had provided a home to various barbarian tribes from across Europe, notably the Celts whose Indo-European ancestors seem to have used the Danube as a travel corridor during their westward migrations of the Yamnaya horizon. In the late third and early fourth century AD various other tribes infiltrated the region, including the Germanic Rugii.

FeatureThen the Huns swept through Eastern Europe and dominated this area until AD 427, followed by the Ostrogoths. Until relatively recently it was generally thought that it was the Hun name which was applied to the region in the form of 'Hungary' (but see feature link for a more detailed investigation).

The Avars swept in from the steppe to control the region between AD 558-803 before being defeated by Charlemagne's Frankish empire. A defensive principality was formed in Lower Pannonia called Balaton, but eventually much of the rest of the former Avar territories were taken by another wave of horsemen, the Magyars. Their arrival signalled the creation of a state which would become the 'Kingdom of Hungary'.

Neighbouring Slovakia was never a kingdom in its own right. For almost the entirety of the second millennium AD it was part of Hungary. Then it was attached (in 1918) to what had been the regions of Bohemia and Moravia to form the republic of Czechoslovakia. In-depth study of Hungarian history is often difficult as the most detailed literature is only available in the Hungarian language and remains practically unknown outside the country's borders.

Hungary itself became joined in union with the Habsburg-controlled Holy Roman empire in 1564 (and as a supposed-equal partner from 1867). It was only on 1 November 1918 that it was able to extract itself as an independent kingdom from the collapse of the former Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the First World War. That kingdom lasted for all of sixteen days until a republic was declared on 16 November 1918.

Since then the country has endured communist rule (of its own making), fascist rule (both of its own making and imported), the Second World War, restored communist rule (of the Soviet type) and, since 1989, fully-restored independence and a strong role in the European Union between 2004-2010 until the re-election of the right-wing Viktor Orbán as prime minister.

Amongst its population, modern Hungary also has the descendants of a band of Alani who fled the Mongol invasion of the north Caucasus. Despite referring to themselves as Alani, they are called Jasz by the locals, probably in memory of the earlier Sarmatian Jazygians who had a similar language and lifestyle. They settled in the central part of the Pannonian plain in a region which is now known as Jászság, with Jászberény its most important city. Since then they have blended into the general population, their language disappearing - although a dictionary has been preserved.


(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Susan Healy, from Journal of World History 4(3), 513-540: The Outlines of Hungarian Prehistory, Denis Sinor, from Celts and the Classical World, David Rankin (1996), from The Civilisation of the East, Fritz Hommel (Translated by J H Loewe, Elibron Classic Series, 2005), from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, and from External Links: The Outlines of Hungarian Prehistory, and The Alans (Marres Education), and BBC Country Profiles, and Pandemic power-grab (The Guardian), and Refugees stuck in Serbia (The Guardian), and Tens of thousands migrate through Balkans (The Guardian), and the Hungarian Revolution (Britannica.com), and Hungary is no longer a full democracy (The Guardian), and The Accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to NATO (Warsaw Institute), and Hungary's president resigns (The Guardian), and Hungary gets new president (Le Monde).)


The empire of Austro-Hungary is fast failing. Its loyal subjects are tired of the First World War and its many non-German and non-Hungarian peoples are becoming increasingly nationalist in thought and deed.

Realising the inevitability of the break-up of the empire, on 16 October 1918 the emperor issues a manifesto to his people which, in effect, transfers the state into a federation of nationalities. He is too late.

Vienna in 1918
With the various peoples who made up its ethnically-diverse population pulling apart from it in 1918, Vienna was left with a rump state which greatly reduced its power and significance in post-Austro-Hungarian empire Europe

On 6 October, Yugoslavia has already formed a provisional government. The day after, the Habsburg Poles unite with the former Russian and German-ruled Poles of the 'Polish Kingdom' to declare a free and independent Poland, while on 28 October a Czecho-Slovak republic is declared in Prague.

On 30 October, the emperor's most loyal German subjects claim in a constituent assembly the right to govern themselves, effectively dismissing their former ruler from office. On 1 November, Hungary re-establishes itself as an independent 'Kingdom of Hungary' (which, constitutionally, it already is).

The troops of the empire begin to disarm themselves and head home and a ceasefire is agreed on 3 November 1918. The Austrian empire has ceased to exist and Germany now stands alone. The Hungarian 'First Republic' is formed on 16 November 1918.


János Hock

Chairman of the national council (13-16 Nov).

1918 - 1919

Count Mihály Károlyi

Provisional president (16 Nov-Mar 1919).


The 'Aster Revolution' of 1918 has produced an unstable 'First Republic' government in Hungary which is beset by problems, not least of which is the promised loss of large swathes of territory. The communists are very quickly able to gain ascendancy thanks to national outrage at the promised border changes, under the leadership of Béla Kun.

The Aster Revolution of 1919
The populist 'Aster Revolution' of October 1918 was a key component of Hungary's scrappy withdrawal from Austria-Hungary


Béla Kun

Communist leader of the Hungarian Soviet republic.


An attempted anti-communist coup is ruthless dealt with under the 'Red Terror'. A strong nationalist counter-regime centres on the city of Szeged under the domination of Rear-Admiral Miklós Horthy. The 'White Terror' which it initiates there against the peasantry (strong supporters of the communists) is equally as brutal.

Kun wages war against Czechoslovakia and Rumania, both of whom are backed by France which wants to implement the border changes. The Hungarian Red Army is defeated continuously by the Rumanians so that they soon occupy Budapest and hand power to Admiral Horthy.


Gyula Peidl

Acting head of state (1-6 Aug only).


A government of social democrats now rules the country which loses its Slovak territory to Czechoslovakia. Transylvania and several counties along the north bank of the Danube, which include Krassó-Szörény and much of the Banat, are reassigned to Rumania in 1920. A third of Hungarian-speakers now live outside the country's borders (with a few also in western Ukraine).

Rumanian troops enter Budapest 1919
Hungary's 1919 war against its neighbours so that it could retain its pre-war borders proved entirely unsuccessful, with Rumanian troops entering Budapest later in the same year


Archduke & Royal Duke Joseph

Austrian governor (regent) of 'Hungarian State' (to Oct).


István Friedrich

Acting head of state (Oct-Nov 1919).

1919 - 1920

Károly Huszár

Acting head of state (Nov-Mar).


On 1 March 1920 Rear-Admiral Miklós Horthy becomes Hungary's ruler. He takes the same title of governor (which is always referred to as 'regent') as had Archduke & Royal Duke Joseph during his brief period of governorship between 6 August 1919 and October 1919.

1920 - 1944

Miklós Horthy

Governor (regent) of Hungary (Mar-Nov).

1920 - 1930s

On 21 March 1920, Horthy re-establishes the late medieval 'Kingdom of Hungary'. Briefly between 20-26 October 1921, the former king of Hungary and Austrian emperor, Charles IV, is king in dissidence (existing in a state of protest against official policy) of this restored 'Kingdom of Hungary'.

Horthy's Hungary becomes ever more bitter about the massive and seemingly unjust loss of Hungarian territory. It drifts ever closer to the emerging power of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, drawn at least in part by Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös, effective dictator of Hungary between 1932-1936.

Miklós Horthy
Rear-Admiral Miklós Horthy was Hungary's governor (referred to as the regent) during the inter-war years and across much of the Second World War, where he saw an alliance with Nazi Germany as the country's only immediately viable option in the war's early years


Adolf Hitler uses the excuse of 'protecting' the German Sudetenland minority from Czechoslovakians to force the state to cede these lands to Germany. This takes place on 1 October 1938 as part of the Munich Agreement. Southern areas of Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Rus are also ceded to Hungary.

1939 - 1944

Nazi Germany invades Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, replacing its republic with the 'German Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia'. Slovakia is separated as the Slovak republic. On the day of the invasion, Sub-Carpathian Rus declares independence as Carpatho-Ukraine. Within three days it is occupied by its old master, Hungary, and remains so until Germany itself occupies Hungary in 1944, following Hungarian attempts to secure an armistice.


Ferenc Szálasi

German-appointed 'leader of the nation'.

1944 - 1945

Hungary fights on the side of Nazi Germany in the remaining months of 1944, losing a large part of its Second World War army in Soviet Russia. The Germans also ensure that hundreds of thousands of members of the Jewish Diaspora and gypsies are deported from Hungary to death camps.

In November 1944 the Soviets advance far enough to seize Hungary. They replace the kingdom with a renewed 'Hungarian State' on 21 December 1944, although remnants of the kingdom cling to power in some areas until March 1945.

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler at the height of his rule over Nazi Germany envisioned a 'Greater Germany' covering a vast swathe of Central Europe with 'living room' for Germans and a subservient Slavic population in the east to handle manual work

1945 - 1949

Germany's defeat in 1945 allows the Soviet Russians to secure control of large areas of Eastern Europe. The Hungarian 'Second Republic' is a Soviet-controlled one. In 1947-1949 communists in Hungary consolidate power under the Soviet occupation, with a new constitution, the nationalisation of industry, collectivised agriculture, and mass terror all being ingredients.

1946 - 1948

Zoltán Tildy

President of the Soviet-controlled 'Hungarian Republic'.


The Hungarian communist party changes its name to the 'Hungarian Workers Party' by merging with the 'Social Democratic Party'. Mátyás Rákosi, general secretary of the Hungarian communist party, remains general secretary of the new workers party.

1948 - 1949

Árpád Szákasits

Soviet-selected president. Hungarian Workers Party (MDP).


The rapid reorganisation of the new Soviet empire in Eastern Europe means more changes. On 20 August 1949, the Hungarian republic becomes the 'Hungarian People's Republic'. Along with that change, the title for the country's head of state is changed from president to chairman of the presidential council.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin, who was born in Georgia, led the Soviet Union away from its initial idealistic concept of equal citizenship for all and instead instituted a brutal regime of fear

1949 - 1950

Árpád Szákasits

Chairman of the presidential council. MDP.

1950 - 1952

Sándor Rónai

Chairman of the presidential council. MDP.

1952 - 1967

István Dobi

Chairman of the presidential council. MDP / MSzMP.


The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the 'Federal Republic of Germany' (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining. The states involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.


The Hungarian Revolution is sparked somewhat obliquely by Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary and premier of the Soviet communist party. Taking his open criticism of Josef Stalin's rule as a green light to embrace freedom of speech, rising discontent in Hungary breaks out into open fighting.

Warsaw Pact meeting
Russia, plus its seven Warsaw Pact allies, signed the treaty of establishment in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on 14 May 1955, with the location of signing giving the pact its name

The first stage of the battle is won, and Imre Nagy becomes premiere, agreeing to a multiparty system of governance and declaring Hungarian neutrality. Western powers are unwilling to risk a wider war, though, and fail to support or even recognise his government.

On 4 November, Soviet forces invade Hungary and crush the revolt with stark brutality. Nagy is executed for treason in 1958. Repressive governance does not return, however, allowing for a gradual adoption of progressive ideas and practices.

1967 - 1987

Pál Losonczi

Chairman of the presidential council. MSzMP.


The death of Soviet General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko allows a 'new guard' to take over supreme power. The era of reforms which is launched throughout in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev has a major impact on Hungary, inspiring greater demands for openness and democratisation.

Russians in the 1950s
Despite the increasing frostiness of the Cold War and the slow recovery from the worst of Stalin's repressions, the post-war period behind the Iron Curtain saw a steady improvement in living conditions, and relative safety and security at home

1987 - 1988

Károly Németh

Chairman of the presidential council. MSzMP.

1988 - 1989

Brunö F Straub

Chairman of the presidential council. MSzMP.

1989 - 1990

Mátyás Szürös

Interim president. Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP).

1989 - 1990

Soviet influence over Eastern Europe collapses. Communism in Hungary is ended following the opening of the border with Austria to allow thousands of East Germans to escape to the west. It has already been fading anyway, under Straub's chairmanship, but it is Mátyás Szürös who declares Hungary to be free from communism.

Democratic elections are held and Soviet forces withdraw from Hungary. The Hungarian 'Third Republic' effectively begins in October 1989.

1990 - 2000

Árpád Göncz

President (interim May-Aug 1990). Free Democrats Alliance.


Parliamentary elections are held on 8 May and 29 May. The Hungarian Socialist Party (the rebadged communist party) returns to power under the leadership of Gyula Horn. He becomes prime minister after forming a coalition with the Free Democrats which gives him a powerful two-thirds majority. The idea is to dampen public concerns about former communists being in charge and to get a reform package through his own party's left wing.

Hungarian President Árpád Göncz
Hungarian writer, translator, agronomist, and liberal politician Árpád Göncz served as president of Hungary between 2 May 1990 and 4 August 2000


A referendum endorses the country joining Nato (which happens in 1999). The European Union decides to open membership talks with Hungary, which begin in 1998.

2000 - 2005

Ferenc Mádl

President. No Party.

2001 - 2002

In June the parliament backs a controversial status law which entitles Hungarians who are living in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia to a special identity document which allows them temporarily to work, study, and claim healthcare in Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's first term of office ends the following year in election defeat. He loses another election in 2006 and later vows never to lose another. He returns to power in 2010.

2003 - 2004

Another referendum, this time in April 2003, overwhelmingly approves Hungary's membership of an enlarged European Union. However, turnout is only forty-six per cent. In May 2004 the country is one of ten new states to join the EU.

Czechia, Hungary, and Poland join Nato in 1999
On 6 May 1992, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia (the Visegrád Triangle) signed a declaration in which they announced joint efforts to become members of Nato, and on 12 March 1999, the three countries officially entered the organisation to complete the first stage of Nato's enlargement following the end of the Cold War

2005 - 2010

László Sólyom

President. No Party.


Great and lasting damage is done to the country's left wing parties when it becomes apparent that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány has admitted that his left-wing party has lied in order to win the most recent elections. Street protests erupt against the government, and the path is left open for a strong right-wing resurgence, which it uses by winning the 2010 elections.

2010 - 2012

Pál Schmitt

President (to Apr 2012). Fedesz-MPSz.


László Kövér

Acting president (Apr-May). Fedesz-MPSz.

2012 - 2022

János Áder

President (from May 2012). Fedesz-MPSz.


In mid-October Hungary fences off its border with Croatia in an attempt to halt the flow of refugees heading into Europe from the military conflict zones in Syria and Afghanistan. The effort pushes the flow westwards so that it cuts directly through tiny Slovenia. In November it too is forced to fence off the migration path on the Croatian border.

Hungary's 2015 border fence
In 2015 Hungary's government announced that its new anti-immigration border fence was ninety-nine per cent complete, having directly accused neighbouring Croatia of purposefully directing refugees towards the Hungarian border

The Balkans migration trail subsequently sees a large drop in numbers, with smugglers and other routes becoming preferred instead. Germany voluntarily takes a large number of migrants, although the decision backfires somewhat in subsequent years.


Via his party's grip on the Hungarian parliament, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán grants himself indefinite power to rule by decree in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. There is no sunset clause to the act, so the country's state of emergency remains in force until the government says so (an effective route towards potential dictatorship).

Changes to the criminal code mean that the publication of facts which interfere with the 'successful protection' of the public could be punished by five years in prison - a clear threat to journalists and free journalism. Orbán now also wants to control the running of local municipalities through a process of supervising the decisions of directly-elected leaders.

Viktor Orban of Hungary
Second-time prime minister of Hungary, from 2010 Viktor Orbán led an authoritarian right-wing government which rolled back the clock on post-Soviet era reforms in the country, concentrating power in his own hands

2022 - 2024

Katalin Novák

First female president. Fedesz-MPSz. Resigned.


On 15 September the European parliament states that Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy. The statement is a powerful - albeit symbolic - vote against Viktor Orbán's government. He is battling to persuade the European Commission to release 4.64 billion euros in Covid recovery funds, which have been frozen for more than a year due to his own rowing back from democratic norms.


In an unusual defeat for Viktor Orbán's government, his Fedesz-MPSz president, Katalin Novák, announces her resignation from office on 10 February 2024. Controversy has erupted in regard to her decision to pardon a man who had been convicted of helping to cover up a sex abuse case at a children's home. She apologises and steps down.

President Katalin Novák of Hungary
Hungarian President Katalin Novák resigned after coming under mounting pressure for pardoning a man who had been convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children's home

2024 - On

Tamás Sulyok

Fmr chairman of constitutional court. Fedesz-MPSz.


Hungary's parliament on Monday 26 February elects a political novice as president. The ruling Fidesz party has nominated the sixty-seven year-old head of the constitutional court, Tamás Sulyok. He takes up his office on 5 March 2024.

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