Hungarians across the Carpathian Basin are gearing up for celebrating March 15, one the defining moments of the nation’s history.
On March 15, 1848 Hungarian revolutionaries – mostly students and young intellectuals – took the stairs of the National Museum reciting Sándor Petőfi’s now famous “National Song” and announcing their 12 demands to the oppressive Vienna court.
On March 17, Count Lajos Batthyány – with the Emperor’s consent – created the first “responsible Hungarian government”. By the autumn of that year, Hungary was in a full-blown civil war on three fronts: Croatia, the Bánát (Banat region of what is now Romania) and Transylvania.
But popular support and national fervor of the undermanned and poorly armed revolutionary troops were no match for the combined forces of the Austrian and Russian Empire and the revolution was crushed in the autumn of 1848 – as so many other revolutions that broke at the same time in the ethnically divided Austrian Empire.
The final confrontations took place in Transylvania, where Hungary’s national poet – the above-mentioned Sándor Petőfi – also died in battle at the age of 26. Besides being a symbol of the revolution, he is also symbolic of the Central European ethnic mix. He was born Petrovics, a butcher by trade and of Slovak extraction. His son took the more Hungarian-sounding name of Petőfi at the age of 19.
In Hungary, March 15 is a national holiday and one of the main pillars of modern national identity, while in the neighboring countries with a sizeable Hungarian minority it remains a source of conflict, with Hungarian flags proudly displayed by the minority and sneered upon in various forms by the majorities there.