A trip across Hungary from the western border next to Austria all the way to the eastern border took my parents and I over 10 hours in the car last Thursday, the 17th of September. It was a very long drive and we were exhausted by the time we got over the border into Romania last Thursday night. We stayed in a simple, clean hotel over the border in a town called, by the Romanians, Oradea. But when it was part of Hungary it was called Nagyvárad; and that is what my parents still call it today. They are both bitter that Hungary lost this most beautiful region of Eastern Europe. Friday morning we continued our drive another 7 hours to the hotel at Gylkosto (Red Lake) where we stayed for two nights. A very lovely inn and the staff all spoke in Hungarian which made my parents so very happy. The three of us thoroughly enjoyed our time there...as short as the stay was.
From what I've read on the Internet, Transylvania was associated with Hungary for over 1000 years. In the 10th century a Magyar (Hungarian) tribe, the Székelys, settled in what it called Erdély (‘beyond the forest’ – the literal meaning of Transylvania). The Magyar tribes first entered the region in the 5th century, but they didn't fully control it until 1003, when King Stephen I placed it under the Hungarian crown. The valleys in the east and southeast were settled by the Székely, a people akin to the Magyars. It is not known, however, whether they came into Transylvania with or before the Magyars.
In November 1918, after the endo fo World War I, the Austro-Hungarian empire suffered a complete military loss, even if at the time of the collapse, all forces were standing outside of borders of 1914. With the collapse of the army, Austria-Hungary also collapsed. In the Treaty of Trianon signed on June 4, 1920, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, more than half of its population, more territory than any other country at that time (excluding colonies). Eight million Hungarians were left in Hungary and more than 3 million Hungarians were stranded outside of the newly established borders. The southern part of Hungary was given to Yugoslavia. More than 104.000 square km (the whole of Eastern Hungary and Transylvania) were lost to Romania, more than what was left for Hungary itself 93.030 square kilometers. The northern part of Hungary was annexed by the newly created Czechoslovakia. Austria got Burgenland which was a part of Hungary also.
These newly created or greatly enlarged states formed the Little Entente (Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia) after the war encircling Hungary in order to make border reestablishment impossible. The Hungarian Army was reduced to a mere 30.000 troops, Hungary was forbidden to have air force, tanks and any more sophisticated weapons. The borders were set in such a way that all natural defense lines were crossed making the remaining territory totally vulnerable and difficult to defend.
On the American Hungarian Federation's website:
"Count Apponyi pleading to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference: "In the name of the great principle so happily phrased by President Wilson, namely that no group of people, no population, may be transferred from one State to another without being consulted,- as though they were a herd of cattle with no will of their own,- in the name of this great principle, an axiom of good sense and public morals, we request, we demand a plebiscite on those parts of Hungary that are now on the point of being severed from us. I declare we are willing to bow to the decision of a plebiscite whatever it should be. Of course, we demand it should be held in conditions ensuring the freedom of the vote."
The United States has never ratified this treaty. At the time President Wilson said: “The proposal to dismember Hungary is absurd” and later Sir Winston Churchill said: “Ancient poets and theologians could not imagine such suffering, which Trianon bought to the innocent.” Others warned that a weakened, dismembered Hungary would lead to a weak, fragmented Central Europe unable to resist Soviet expansionism. We are sad to report they were right."
In any case, Hungary lost (in my own opinion) the most beautiful parts including the Carpathian mountain range. It was quite an enjoyable ride. The views were spectacular with the flatness of the plains against the mountain ranges in the distance. A common site was people on horse-pulled wagons. Everywhere! Every village (falu in Hungarian) we went through, we saw at least one of these carts. I wish I would have had a chance to take more pictures of them but I was driving.
We drove through one village where we were delayed for a few minutes while sheep were being driven through the streets and walked right along side the car. i did get a few pictures of that.
When we got to the border of Romania, which was once a part of Hungary, we didn't find many Hungarian-speaking people. But once we got to the mountains and stayed at a most wonderful inn called Red Lake Inn located in Gheorgheni, everyone spoke Hungarian. It was a small inn, very intimate and comfortable. If I ever want to take the long trip back, I know where I would want to stay.
On the way up to the lake, I heard some bells when we pulled over to look at the view. I got out of the car to investigate and found some cows in a small clearing.
Here are some pictures from our trip. Enjoy!
Returning "home" to Hungary after a couple of years, I came to visit with my parents who live in a city called Szombathely on the western side of the country near the Austrian border. The last few weeks in the US, I have been reading about the refugee crisis. Of course, I was eager to get back to Hungary to see the situation for myself; witness it with my own eyes and ears if I could. I spent the first few days relaxing out in the country where a couple of my siblings own small vineyards (which means that I drank wine and was treated to a delicious meal of potato dumplings, called dödölle, which I enjoyed with homemade strawberry jam). One of the neighbors makes this dish for me especially since he knows I love it and it's vegetarian. This area, called Pöse, is one of the few places on earth where I truly feel at peace with the world...with myself...with my life...at least temporarily. I also had the great opportunity to eat my mom's cooking (it was vegetarian - which she still doesn't understand...especially since I don't eat dairy or meat. Her Hungarian, meat-eating self can't comprehend how a child of hers could end up eating the way she did for the first 20 years of her life - as a vegetarian. During WWII, her parents couldn't afford meat so they ate lots of vegetables, potatoes, whatever they could get their hands on to feed a family of 11!).
Thousands of refugees are pouring INTO Hungary now. And yet, it wasn't so long ago thousands of refugees were pouring OUT of the country. In 1956, after a failed revolution against the Soviet Union, some 200,000 Hungarians fled Hungary (my parents, 2 uncles and an aunt included) and fortunately, for them, Austria kept its borders open. But that is not the case today. At least not any more. The Hungarians have built a 12 foot barbed wire fence along the border of Serbia to keep the refugees from coming across. Now the poor souls are looking for other ways of getting to the countries who will accept them. Unfortunately, it will be a much longer route.
I was anxious to hear what the Hungarians were thinking about the refugee crisis - especially my parents since they were refugees in Austria after escaping from Hungary in 1956 aiming to better their lives as well as their unborn child (mom was pregnant with my older sister when they left).
Szombathely is a beautiful, old city with a population of about 80,000. In this city, people have never met any refugees. It is homogeneous (except for the tourists); everybody speaks the same language, eats the same food and looks the same—white. That's a generalization, but the majority of the ones I have met are this way. I'm not sure how much they would welcome people from the Middle East; especially since their prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has had one message for months: that the people arriving from the Middle East are not refugees, but illegal immigrants seeking European prosperity. The refugees...they do not even want to stay in Hungary but this is lost on people believing everything they hear and see on the news which is dominated by Orbán’s propaganda. A translation from an article from The Guardian, has Orbán saying "Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,” he said. “This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity...Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.” Well, being Christian means that you follow the teachings of Christ. Correct? What happened to "Love one another?" I'm just askin'!
The people in Szombathely may never have met a refugee (and may never in the future either), but they watch TV, read the news and listen to what the government says about the people arriving in their country. The news, which is always on in my parents' house is the local and regional TV station and CNN World. They don't read alternative news sources and the TV doesn't offer other alternative media either. And like many of their friends and relatives in the area, they are concerned about the situation. One cousin believes there will be war because of the refugee situation and the closing of the borders (she sympathizes greatly with them).
There are those who talk about how the "migrants" are dangerous. Not unlike some people out in the States who believe the propaganda spewed out from CNN, FOX, ABC, CBS.
Then there is one aunt who told me that she can't watch much of the news for her heart breaks for the children. It cannot bear it.
As I wrote this, my parents were watching as Hungarian police in riot gear fired teargas and water cannon over the border with Serbia today. This, after frustrated crowds gathered there in the thousands when Hungary closed it's border on Tuesday. They tried to burst through a gate that connects the two countries. Hungary’s actions were met with fury by the Serbian government, which said its northern neighbors had no right to fire into Serbian territory. If refugees attempt to cross the fence, new rule, they will be arrested. So, there you have it.
The whole world is witness to these events. Reporters and film crews are in Hungary. Hungarians, as a people, are no worse than anyone else – thousands of volunteers have been helping the refugees for weeks – but they don’t act for the government. While driving down the road, my mother and I watched as police pulled box trucks over to check to see that no refugees were being transported in the back by smugglers. They don't want another incident like the one that happened a couple of weeks ago when several refugees died in the back of a truck on the way to Austria. I believe there are police who are truly trying to protect them. But, despite their good work and that of civilians who are helping, thanks to the actions of the government, Hungary will have a bad name...perhaps. We shall see how it sorts out.
I am not sure what to think of this entire situation. Of course, as is my nature, I sympathize with the refugees wanting a better life. At the same time, when does a government stop accepting refugees? How much should they help? And what is the best way to help? The EU should be working these problems out so that no one country is responsible for all those fleeing to safety. I may not like Orbán, but I understand the difficulty of the situation of the country he runs.
The answer is simple, really. The conflicts in the Middle East must be resolved. Can that happen while the U.S. (and Russia, and Germany, and France) continue selling arms to the wrong people in the region? Saudi Arabia just secured a massive new infusion of missiles and so-called smart bombs from the U.S., in addition to the regular arsenal that our country supplies to the middle eastern country. “There are more arms in the Middle East region than bread,” Annette Groth of the German Parliament reflected. “I remember a discussion with an ambassador from this region about three years ago, and he looked at us other parliamentarians, as well, and he said, ‘It is time that the West collects the weapons you have brought us.’ Very, very true, and very simple.”
My parents and I leave for Romania in a few hours. What we will encounter on our way out or back is unknown. But, if I can, my camera will be ready as will my mind and heart.