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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Talkin' bout a revolution

It was a big holiday in Hungary yesterday, the anniversary of 1848 revolution, which for Hungarians meant an uprising against the Habsburg rule and a fight for freedom.

Although the revolution itself was quelled after a few years, only two decades later the Austrians made a lot of concessions to Hungarians and the Habsburg monarchy was transformed into Austro-Hungarian Empire, a dual monarchy (the Hungarians basically got a free rein in their half of the empire). No wonder, then, that March 15 is such a significant date in Hungarian history, and a holiday they are so proud of.

Except that I was taught a little bit different version of those same historic events. And in my version the Hungarians were unwilling to grant to other peoples on their territory (Croats, Serbs, Romanians and others) those same rights that they demanded from the Austrians--more autonomy, self-rule, the use of their own language. So these other peoples rose up against the Hungarians while they were fighting the Austrians (a bit of a back stab but all is fair in love and war, they say).

These mini revolutions were unsuccessful because once the empire was divided between Vienna and Budapest, the Hungarians were even less willing to grant more rights to other nations that they ruled. On the contrary, their policy was that of assimilation--one nation, one language (Hungarian, of course). But in the longer run it backfired. No nationalism is more legitimate or better or more deserving than any other, and the Hungarians learned that hard lesson after the WWI--but that's a whole different story.

The reason why I was thinking about these things in the first place was because a few days ago when we went to pick up Boris we found him sporting a red-green-white lapel (colors of Hungarian flag) and a carton imitation of a Hungarian soldier's hat--they had been celebrating the revolution in the kindergarten. I guess the kids are never to young to be indoctrinated by national myths, are they?


Corina said...

Oh, I guess you are right about the indoctrination. I also know history a bit differently. But the thing is that we also have no guarantee that what we were taught as kids was right (what with communism and all). And it's always the victor that writes history...

Jelica said...

I don't think 'my' version is necessarily correct but it is always interesting to me how there is no room for alternative interpretations when it comes to national mythology. I am still very amused by how one and the same event is packaged in a totally different way in, say, Serbian and Bulgarian history--my kids will have fun trying to figure out which is the "right" version :)

reyjr said...

Hi! I just wanted to say hello and leave a comment. Back in 2003 I met a bunch of dancers from Hungary (Hungarian Dance Academy i think) and made really good friends. :D

haha. random.


Merisi said...

One could probably find that the roots of nationalism were planted when individual peoples were not given the respective autonomy and respect.

I think I have to reread Joseph Roth's "The Emperor's Tomb" - I remember being fascinated by the the characters Branco and Reisinger, especially Branco's yearly pilgrimage through the countries of the Habsburg Empire, from way up in areas that are Russias today back home to his native Slovenia. Both figures would not be considered "Austrians" by modern day definitions of nationality, yet they were back then. I tried to dig into's readers' comments, but they all write of a book I don't remember reading. ;-)

Jelica said...

Merisi--I would be interested in reading that book myself, so if you manage to nail it down let me know.

Perhaps you are right that the nationalism starts when people don't get the respective autonomy they (think they) deserve, although in my opinion autonomy is never enough, eventually they want more. Which is why multi-ethnic states like Austro-Hungarian empire are always inherently unstable and not viable in the long run (this is a sad conclusion that I drew from literature research for my MA thesis which was, incidentally, about multi-ethnicity :)

Merisi said...

Would you be able to read the book in German? I could mail it to you (I also have it in Italian *giggle*).

I have a friend who is very engaged in these questions of autonomy, Statehood, etc. - she cautions that when new nations are carved out of existing ones, only part of the problem is solved because there are always areas of mixed populations left behind, continuing to be a source of unrest. Somestimes granting various peoples within a common border certain rights and priviledges (like the right to their language, for example) seems like a viable solution.
Let's hope that more justice takes hold everywhere and people resolve their difference by peaceful negotions.

Jelica said...

I think your friend has a point and certainly what happened in my former homeland (that is, what used to be called Yugoslavia) proves that theory.

My German is, sadly, non-existent and my Italian is just about enough to follow the simplest of soap operas but not good enough for reading :))) I'll have to stick with the English version.

The product description says "an elegy to the vanished world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and to the passing of time and the loss of youth and friends" which sounds inviting. But reviews mention different characters than the ones you remember? Even if it's not the same book you have in mind, it might be worth reading (although the reviews describe it as "bleak"...)