March 15, 2019

For the King, Against the Emperor

The chair of Lajos Kossuth, preserved in the Great Church of Debrecen
Today Hungarians commemorate the Revolution of 1848. Led by Lajos Kossuth, the revolutionaries were defeated by the Austrians the following year, resulting in the oppression of the Hungarian people and the suppression of its language. Many Hungarian revolutionaries—including Kossuth himself—fled to the United States to avoid execution by the Austrians, and some even fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War.

One historically interesting aspect of the Hungarian Revolution was that, because the crown of St. Stephen had passed to the Hapsburgs, the Emperor of Austria was also the King of Hungary. Thus, when the Hungarian revolutionaries fought against the emperor and for the king, they were both opposing and defending the same person.

László Teleky
One of Hungary's most famous pieces of music comes to us from this era, and it is somewhat related to the revolution. Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (see below) was composed just a few months before the beginning of the revolution, and it was dedicated to the nationalist László Teleky, who was the revolution's envoy to Paris.

It is said that when the revolution ended in 1849, the Viennese celebrated the Hungarians' defeat by clinking their beer glasses. Because this action was associated with a reign of terror, Hungarians vowed not to toast using beer for 150 years. Though that period ended in 1999, the custom had become so deeply ingrained in the Magyar ethos that, to this day, a traveler would be wise to avoid clinking beer glasses when visiting Hungary.

Though the revolution was defeated and Hungary failed to gain its independence from Austria, its people held onto their language and customs until, in 1867, Austria recognized their essential equality and their empire became known as the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, with Hungary's lost sovereignty restored.

Though few Americans outside the Hungarian community remember their 1848 revolution today, it was so famous in its day that the young state of Iowa honored it by naming Kossuth County after its leader.

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