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Major Cities of Hungary in the continent of Europe


Hungary Photo Gallery
Hungary Realty

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Location of Hungary within the continent of Europe
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Map of Hungary
Flag Description of Hungary:The current flag of Hungary was officially adopted on October 1, 1957, but it was first used in 1848.

The overall design is modeled after the French Tricolore. Red is said to symbolize strength, green is hope and white is faithfulness.

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Official name Magyarország (Hungary)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Assembly [386])
Head of state President: János Áder
Head of government Prime Minister: Viktor Orbán
Capital Budapest
Official language Hungarian
Official religion none
Monetary unit forint (Ft)
Population (2013 est.) 9,813,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 35,919
Total area (sq km) 93,030
Urban-rural population

Urban: (2009) 67.7%
Rural: (2009) 32.3%

Life expectancy at birth

Male: (2012) 71.3 years
Female: (2012) 79 years

Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate

Male: not available
Female: not available

GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 12,390

About Hungary

Ethnic groups in Hungary include Magyar (nearly 90%), Romany, German, Serb, Slovak, and others. The majority of Hungary's people are Roman Catholic; other religions represented are Calvinist, Lutheran, Jewish, Baptist, Adventist, Pentecostal, and Unitarian.

ngary, Hungarian Magyarország, landlocked country of central Europe. The capital is Budapest.

At the end of World War I, defeated Hungary lost 71 percent of its territory as a result of the Treaty of Trianon (1920). Since then, grappling with the loss of more than two-thirds of their territory and people, Hungarians have looked to a past that was greater than the present as their collective psyche suffered from the so-called “Trianon Syndrome.” The syndrome was widespread prior to 1945; it was suppressed during Soviet domination (1945–90); and it reemerged during independence in 1990, when it took on a different form. The modern country appears to be split into two irreconcilable factions: those who are still concerned about Trianon and those who would like to forget it. This split is evident in most aspects of Hungarian political, social, and cultural life.

Hungarians, who know their country as Magyarország, “Land of Magyars,” are unique among the nations of Europe in that they speak a language that is not related to any other major European language. Linguistically surrounded by alien nations, Hungarians felt isolated through much of their history. This may be the reason why after Christianization they became attached to Latin, which became the language of culture, scholarship, and state administration—and even the language of the Hungarian nobility until 1844.

Cast adrift in a Slavic-Germanic sea, Hungarians are proud to have been the only people to establish a long-lasting state in the Carpathian Basin. Only after six centuries of independent statehood (896–1526) did Hungary become part of two other political entities: the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. But even then Hungarians retained much of their separate political identity and near-independence, which in 1867 made them a partner in Austria-Hungary (1867–1918). This was much more than the other nations of the Carpathian Basin were able to achieve before 1918.

By accepting Catholicism in ad 1000, the Hungarians joined the Christianized nations of the West, but they still remained on the borderlands of that civilization. This made them eager to prove themselves and also defensive about lagging behind Western developments elsewhere. Their geographical position often forced them to fight various Eastern invaders, and, as a result, they viewed themselves as defenders of Western Christianity. In that role, they felt that the West owed them something, and when, in times of crisis, special treatment was not forthcoming (e.g., Trianon in 1920), they judged the West as ungrateful.

Today Hungary is wholly Budapest-centred. The capital dominates the country both by the size of its population—which dwarfs those of Hungary’s other cities—and by the concentration within its borders of most of the country’s scientific, scholarly, and artistic institutions. Budapest is situated on both banks of the Danube (Hungarian: Duna) River, a few miles downstream from the Danube Bend. It is a magnificent city, even compared with the great pantheon of European capitals, and it has been an anchor of Hungarian culture since its inception.

In spite of many national tragedies during the last four centuries, Hungarians remain confident and are proud of their achievements in the sciences, scholarship, and the arts. During the 20th century, many talented Hungarians emigrated, particularly to the United States. Among them were leading scientists who played a defining role in the emergence of American atomic discovery and the computer age. The abundance of these scientists, mathematicians, economists, anthropologists, musicians, and artists—among them a dozen Nobel laureates—prompted Laura Fermi, writer and wife of Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi, to speculate about “the mystery of the Hungary talent.”

Geography of Hungary

The Land

Landlocked and lying approximately between latitudes 45° and 49° N and longitudes 16° and 23° E, Hungary shares a border to the north with Slovakia, to the northeast with Ukraine, to the east with Romania, to the south with Serbia (specifically, the Vojvodina region) and Croatia, to the southwest with Slovenia, and to the west with Austria.


Dominating the relief are the great lowland expanses that make up the core of Hungary. The Little Alföld (Little Hungarian Plain, or Kisalföld) lies in the northwest, fringed to the west by the easternmost extension of the sub-Alps along the border with Austria and bounded to the north by the Danube. The Little Alföld is separated from the Great Alföld (Great Hungarian Plain, or Nagy Magyar Alföld) by a low mountain system extending across the country from southwest to northeast for a distance of 250 miles (400 km). This system, which forms the backbone of the country, is made up of Transdanubia (Dunántúl) and the Northern Mountains, separated by the Visegrád Gorge of the Danube. Transdanubia is dominated by the Bakony Mountains, with dolomite and limestone plateaus at elevations between 1,300 and 2,300 feet (400 and 700 metres) above sea level. Volcanic peaks comprise the Mátra Mountains in the north, reaching an elevation of 3,327 feet (1,014 metres) at Mount Kékes, Hungary’s highest peak. Regions of hills reaching elevations of 800 to 1,000 feet (250 to 300 metres) lie on either side of the mountain backbone, while to the south and west of Lake Balaton is an upland region of more-subdued loess-covered topography.

The Great Alföld covers most of central and southeastern Hungary. Like its northwestern counterpart, it is a basinlike structure filled with fluvial and windblown deposits. Four types of surface may be distinguished: floodplains, composed of river alluvium; alluvial fans, wedge-shaped features deposited at the breaks of slopes where rivers emerge from the mountain rim; alluvial fans overlain by sand dunes; and plains buried under loess, deposits of windblown material derived from the continental interior. These lowlands range in elevation from about 260 to 660 feet (80 to 200 metres) above sea level, with the lowest point at 256 feet (78 metres), on the southern edge of Szeged, along the Tisza River. In the northeast, bordering Slovakia, is Aggtelek National Park; characterized by karst terrain and featuring hundreds of caves, the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the late 20th century.

Drainage and soils

Hungary lies within the drainage basin of the Danube, which is the longest river in the country. The Danube and two of its tributaries, the Rába and Dráva rivers, are of Alpine origin, while the Tisza River and its tributaries, which drain much of eastern Hungary, rise in the Carpathian Mountains to the east. The Danube floods twice a year, first in early spring and again in early summer. During these phases, discharge is up to 10 times greater than river levels recorded during the low-water periods of autumn and winter. The Tisza forms a floodplain as it flows through Hungary; large meanders and oxbow lakes mark former channels. At Szolnok, peak discharges 50 times greater than average have been recorded. Devastating floods have occurred on the Danube, the Tisza, and their tributaries. About 2,500 miles (4,000 km) of levees have been built to protect against floods. The relatively dry climate of the central and eastern areas of the Great Alföld has necessitated the construction of large-scale irrigation systems, mostly along the Tisza River.

There are few lakes in Hungary, and most are small. Lake Balaton, however, is the largest freshwater lake in central Europe, covering 231 square miles (598 square km). Neusiedler Lake—called Lake Fertő in Hungary—lies on the Austrian border and was designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2001. Lake Velence lies southeast of Budapest.

Gray-brown podzolic (leached) and brown forest soils predominate in the forest zones, while rich black earth, or chernozem, soil has developed under the forest steppe. Sand dunes and dispersed alkali soils are also characteristic.


Because of its situation within the Carpathian Basin, Hungary has a moderately dry continental climate. The mean annual temperature is about 50 °F (10 °C). Average temperatures range from 25 to 32 °F (−4 to 0 °C) in January to 64 to 73 °F (18 to 23 °C) in July. Recorded temperature extremes are 109 °F (43 °C) in summer and −29 °F (−34 °C) in winter. In the lowlands, precipitation generally ranges from 20 to 24 inches (500 to 600 mm), rising to 24 to 31 inches (600 to 800 mm) at higher elevations. The central and eastern areas of the Great Alföld are the driest parts of the country, and the southwestern uplands are the wettest. As much as two-thirds of annual precipitation falls during the growing season.

Plant and animal life

Human activities over the ages have largely destroyed the natural vegetation of Hungary. Just about half of the land is regularly cultivated, and about one-sixth is used for nonagricultural purposes. The remainder comprises meadows and rough pasture as well as forest and woodland. No part of the country is of sufficient elevation to support natural coniferous forest. Beech is the climax community at the highest elevations; oak woodland alternating with scrubby grassland are the climax communities at lower elevations in the upland regions.

Deer and wild pigs are abundant in the forests at higher elevations, while rodents, hares, partridge, and pheasant inhabit the lowlands. The once-numerous varieties of marsh waterfowl survive only in nature reserves. There are diverse species of freshwater fish, including pike, bream, and pike perch. Significant water and air pollution occurs in some of the industrial regions of the country.

Demography of Hungary

The People

  • Ethnic groups and languages

From its inception in the 10th century, Hungary was a multiethnic country. Major territorial changes made it ethnically homogeneous after World War I, however, and more than nine-tenths of the population is now ethnically Hungarian and speaks Hungarian (Magyar) as the mother tongue. The Hungarian language is classified as a member of the Ugric branch of the Uralic languages; as such, it is most closely related to the Ob-Ugric languages, Khanty and Mansi, which are spoken east of the Ural Mountains. It is also related, though more distantly, to Finnish and Estonian, each of which is (like Hungarian) a national language; to the Sami languages of far northern Scandinavia; and, more distantly still, to the Samoyedic languages of Siberia. Ethnic Hungarians are a mix of the Finno-Ugric Magyars and various assimilated Turkic, Slavic, and Germanic peoples. A small percentage of the population is made up of ethnic minority groups. The largest of these is the Roma (Gypsies). Other ethnic minorities include Germans, Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Serbs, Poles, Slovenians, Rusyns, Greeks, and Armenians.

  • Religion

Hungary claims no official religion and guarantees religious freedom. More than half the people are Roman Catholic, most of them living in the western and northern parts of the country. About one-fifth of the population are Calvinist (concentrated in eastern Hungary). Lutherans constitute the next most significant minority faith, and relatively smaller groups belong to various other Christian denominations (Greek or Byzantine Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Unitarians). The Jewish community, which constituted 5 percent of the population before World War II, was decimated by the Holocaust and is now much smaller.

During the communist era, from 1949, Hungary was officially an atheistic state. The Roman Catholic Church struggled with the communist government after it enacted laws diminishing church property and schools. As a result of resistance to these changes, the church was granted broader rights via a 1964 agreement with the Vatican, and in 1972 the Hungarian constitution proclaimed the free exercise of worship and the separation of church and state. Since the fall of communism in 1990, more than 200 religious groups have been officially registered in the country. Nominal membership in a religious denomination, however, does not necessarily mean active participation or even active spiritual belief.

  • Settlement patterns

The Great Alföld is the largest region of the country. It is divided into two parts: Kiskunság, the area lying between the Danube and Tisza rivers, and Transtisza (Tiszántúl), the region east of the Tisza. Kiskunság consists primarily of a mosaic of small landscape elements—sand dunes, loess plains, and floodplains. Kecskemét is the market centre for the region, which is also noted for its isolated farmsteads, known as tanyák. Several interesting groups live there, including the people of Kalocsa and the Matyó, who occupy the northern part of the plain around Mezőkövesd and are noted for folk arts that include handmade embroidery and the making of multicoloured apparel.

In the generally homogeneous flat plain of the Transtisza region, only the Nyírség area in the northeast presents any form of topographical contrast. Closely connected with the Nyírség are the Hajdúság and the Hortobágy regions, and all three areas look to Debrecen, the largest city of the plain. The steppe life of earlier times survives in the Hortobágy, where the original Hungarian cattle, horse, and sheep breeds have been preserved as part of the national heritage. The national park there was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.

The Little Alföld, the second major natural region, is situated in the northwest and is traversed by the Danube and Rába rivers and their tributaries. It is more favourably endowed with natural resources than is the Great Alföld; both agriculture and industry are more advanced there. Győr, known for its Baroque architecture, is the region’s major city.

The third major region, Transdanubia, embraces all of the country west of the Danube exclusive of the Little Alföld. It is a rolling upland broken by the Bakony and Mecsek ridges. Lake Balaton is a leading resort area. To the south of the lake are the hills of Somogy, Tolna, and Baranya megyék (counties), where Pécs, a mining and industrial city, is the economic and cultural centre. Also found in Transdanubia are the Bakony Mountains, whose isolation, densely forested ridges, small closed basins, and medieval fortresses and monasteries have protected the local inhabitants over the course of many stormy centuries. Although modern industrial towns drawing on the bauxite, manganese, and brown coal resources of the area have sprung up, the cultural centre of Transdanubia is the historic city of Veszprém. In the southern part of the region, north and west of Lake Balaton, are health resorts and centres of wine production, notably Keszthely, Hévíz, Badacsony, and Balatonfüred.

The Northern Mountains, the fourth major geographic region of the country, contains two important industrial areas, the Nógrád and Borsod basins. Agriculture is also important, especially viticulture; notable are the Tokaj (Tokay) and Eger vineyards. Indeed, the region that produces Tokay wines was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. Tourism in the Northern Mountains is well-developed, and numerous spas and recreation centres are located there. Miskolc is the main economic centre for the region.


Nearly two-thirds of the population is urban, but, outside of the major cities, the bulk of towns in Hungary have populations of less than 40,000. Until the late 20th century, these were functionally vastly overgrown villages rather than towns. About one-third of the urban population lives within the Budapest metropolitan area.

Urban Hungary is dominated by Budapest, which is several times the size of any of the other major cities. It has the largest industrial workforce in the country. The major provincial centres are Debrecen, Miskolc, Szeged, Pécs, and Győr, each of which has an economic, cultural, and administrative hinterland that reaches deep into the surrounding countryside along with an expanding industrial capacity. Below the provincial centres in the hierarchy are the traditional market towns, such as Kecskemét, Székesfehérvár, Nyíregyháza, Szombathely, and Szolnok, often with new suburbs extending from their medieval or Baroque town centres.

Also worthy of note are the predominantly industrial towns located close to the mineral resources of the Northern Mountains, which, from small beginnings in the late 19th century, have developed into major industrial centres. They include Tatabánya, Salgótarján, and Ózd. In addition, a number of industrial towns were created in the late 20th century on greenfield sites as part of deliberate planning policy. These include the metallurgical centre of Dunaújváros on the Danube and the chemical centre of Kazincbarcika in northeastern Hungary.


The distribution of rural population varies widely from one part of the country to another. For historical reasons connected with resettlement following the Turkish occupation in the 16th century, the villages of the Great Alföld are small in number but large in size. By comparison, rural settlement in Transdanubia and in the Northern Mountains takes the form of many small nucleated and linear villages. The tanyák tend to be concentrated in the Great Alföld. The village of Hollókő, now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site, exemplifies the rural settlement typical of Hungary prior to the agricultural changes of the 20th century.

  • Demographic trends

Because of major changes in Hungary’s borders following World War I, the country’s population decreased significantly. Although there were further losses during World War II, Hungary’s population recovered slowly, peaking in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Since then, however, Hungary has experienced a negative natural increase rate (meaning the number of deaths has outpaced the number of births). These demographic trends were influenced by the urbanization and modernization process. As modernization spread from urban areas (where people generally have fewer children) into the countryside, so did the declining birth rate. Many Hungarians framed economic decisions as choices between kocsi or kicsi (“a car or a baby”), and it was often the car that was chosen over the baby.

Life expectancy for women increased consistently from the 1930s, and that for men also increased until the 1970s, when the trend reversed, but both are below those of Hungary’s central European neighbours.

Many ethnic Hungarians live in the neighbouring countries of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. As a consequence of a net overseas emigration of 1.3 million people before World War I and a continuous, though much smaller, emigration related to major political upheavals in 1918–19, the 1930s, 1944–45, and 1956, large Hungarian communities also live in North America and western Europe. After the collapse of communism and the splintering of Yugoslavia, roughly 100,000 refugees migrated to Hungary from Romania and the former Yugoslav federation. Half of them were ethnic Hungarians.

Economy of Hungary

  • Overview

Historically, prior to World War II, Hungary was mostly agrarian. Beginning in 1948, a forced industrialization policy based on the Soviet pattern changed the economic character of the country. A centrally planned economy was introduced, and millions of new jobs were created in industry (notably for women) and, later, in services. This was accomplished largely through a policy of forced accumulation; keeping wages low and the prices of consumer goods (as opposed to staples) high made it possible for more people to be employed, and, because consumer goods were beyond their means, most Hungarians put more of their earnings in savings, which became available for use by the government. In the process, the proportion of the population employed in agriculture declined from more than half to about one-eighth by the 1990s, while the industrial workforce grew to nearly one-third of the economically active population by the late 1980s. Since that time, it has been the service sector that has increased significantly.

Although Soviet-type economic modernization generated rapid growth, it was based on an early 20th-century structural pattern and on outdated technology. The heavy industries of iron, steel, and engineering were given the highest priority, while modern infrastructure, services, and communication were neglected. New technologies and high-tech industries were underdeveloped and further hampered by Western restrictions (the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls) on the export of modern technology to the Soviet bloc.

In response to stagnating rates of economic growth, the government introduced the New Economic Mechanism (NEM) in 1968. The NEM implemented market-style reforms to rationalize the behaviour of Hungary’s state-owned enterprises, and it also allowed for the emergence of privately owned businesses. By the end of the 1980s, one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP)—nearly three-fifths of services and more than three-fourths of construction—was being generated by private business. The Hungarian economy, however, failed to meet the challenge of the world economic crisis after 1973. The dramatic price increases for oil and modern technology created a large external trade deficit, which led to increasing foreign indebtedness. Growth slowed down and inflation rose, leading to a period of stagflation.

After 1989 Hungary’s nascent market and parliamentary systems inherited a crisis-ridden economy with an enormous external debt and noncompetitive export sectors. Hungary turned to the world market and restructured its foreign trade, but market competition, together with a sudden and radical opening of the country and the abolition of state subsidies, led to further economic decline. Agriculture was drastically affected and declined by half. A large portion of the iron, steel, and engineering sectors, especially in northeastern Hungary, collapsed. Industrial output and GDP decreased by 30 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Unemployment, previously nonexistent, rose to 14 percent in the early 1990s but declined after 1994.

By the mid-1990s the economy was again growing, but only moderately. Inflation peaked in 1991 and remained high, at more than 20 percent annually, before dropping to under 10 percent by the early 21st century. As a consequence of unavoidable austerity measures that included the elimination of many welfare institutions, most of the population lost its previous security. In the first several years after the fall of communism, the number of people living below the subsistence level doubled, but it stabilized by the early 21st century. Observers also noted the emergence of a sector of long-term poor, a majority of whom were Roma.

Despite these obstacles, adjustment to the world economy was evident by the turn of the 21st century. Hungary’s liberal foreign investment regime attracted more than half of the entire foreign direct investment in central and eastern Europe in the first half of the 1990s. Modernization of telecommunications also began, and new industries (e.g., automobile manufacturing) emerged. Significantly, nearly one million small-scale, mostly family-owned enterprises were established by the early 21st century. State ownership of businesses declined to roughly one-fifth. Another important contributor to economic growth has been a flourishing tourist industry.

  • Agriculture

Agriculture’s role in the Hungarian economy declined steadily in the generations following World War II, dropping from half of the GDP in the immediate postwar period to only 4 percent of the GDP by 2005. Nevertheless, agriculture remains important, and Hungary is virtually self-sufficient in food production. The Hungarian climate is favourable for agriculture, and half of the country’s land is arable; about one-fifth is covered by woods. About one-tenth of the country’s total area is under permanent cultivation. Agriculture accounted for nearly one-fourth of Hungarian exports before the economic transition of the 1990s, during which animal stocks decreased by one-third and agricultural output and exports declined by half.

After the initial period of collectivization (1948–61), Hungarian cooperatives incorporated private farming. Private plots constituted roughly one-eighth of a cooperative’s land and produced about one-third of the country’s agricultural output. One-fifth of Hungarian farmland belonged to state farms. Since 1990 the land has been reprivatized. Some among the elderly agricultural population have remained in reorganized collective farms; however, private farms are the norm.

Cereals, primarily wheat and corn (maize), are the country’s most important crops. Other major crops are sugar beets, potatoes, sunflower seeds, and fruits (notably apples, grapes, and plums). Viticulture, found in the Northern Mountains region, is also significant. Cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry are raised in Hungary, but, in response to the government’s efforts to combat overproduction of animal products, substantial reductions in livestock occurred in the 1990s.

  • Resources and power

The most important natural endowments of Hungary, particularly in its western and central areas, are its fertile soil and abundant water resources—notably Lake Balaton, a major asset for tourism. Fossil fuel resources are relatively modest. High-quality anthracite (hard coal) is extracted only at Komló, and lignite (brown coal) is mined in the Northern Mountains (notably at Ózd) and in Transdanubia (at Tatabánya). Coal once satisfied half of Hungary’s energy requirements; it now represents less than one-third of energy production.

Oil and natural gas were discovered in the late 1930s in Transdanubia and during the decades following World War II at several localities in the Great Alföld, especially near Szeged. Their share of energy production increased from one-third to one-half between 1970 and 2000; however, Hungary is able to meet only a fraction of its oil requirements with domestic resources.

The country’s only significant mineral resources are bauxite—of which Hungary has some of the richest deposits in Europe—manganese, in the Bakony Mountains, and the undeveloped copper and zinc resources at Recsk. Extraction of various metal-bearing ores increased significantly in postwar Hungary, but iron ore is no longer mined. Other minerals that are found include mercury, lead, uranium, perlite, molybdenum, diatomite, kaolin, bentonite, zeolite, and dolomite.

  • Manufacturing

As a result of the policy of forced industrialization under the communist government, industry experienced an exceptionally high growth rate until the late 1980s, by which time it constituted about two-fifths of GDP. Mining and metallurgy, as well as the chemical and engineering industries, grew in leaps and bounds as the preferred sectors of Hungary’s planned economy. Indeed, half of industrial output was produced by these three sectors. Lacking modern technology and infrastructure, however, Hungarian industry was not prepared to compete in the global economy after the collapse of state socialism. During the first half of the 1990s, industrial employment dropped to one-fourth of the economically active population. Total output declined by nearly one-third, with output in the mining, metallurgy, and engineering industries decreasing by half. During the 1990s, engineering output dropped from nearly one-third to roughly one-fifth of the total.

As industry and the Hungarian economy in general underwent restructuring and modernization during the early 1990s (including the implementation of privatization and the improvement of the quality of goods and services), some industries adapted more successfully to new conditions. Among the industries that regressed least and showed the first signs of growth were the food, tobacco, and wood and paper industries. Of Hungary’s traditionally strong sectors, the chemical industry showed the greatest resilience, demonstrating growth again by the mid-1990s after experiencing a large drop in production early in the decade.

Partly through foreign investment, the machine industry (another important component of the economy) also showed signs of improvement by the mid-1990s. A number of newer industries, including the production and repair of telecommunications equipment and the automobile industry, also showed significant growth.

Between 1950 and 1990, electric power consumption in Hungary increased 10-fold, and by the 1990s more than one-third of industrial output was produced by the energy sector. In the early 21st century, three-fifths of energy consumption was derived from thermal plants burning hydrocarbons (a majority of which were imported). There are several thousand miles of oil and natural gas pipelines. Nuclear power accounted for nearly two-fifths of Hungary’s energy production, with plans for further expansion. A small percentage of power generation consisted of hydroelectricity and geothermal alternatives.

  • Finance

Under the Soviet-style, single-tier banking system, the National Bank both issued money and monopolized the financing of the entire Hungarian economy. Beginning in 1987, Hungary moved toward a market-oriented, two-tier system in which the National Bank remained the bank of issue but in which commercial banks were established. Foreign investment was permitted, and “consortium” (partly foreign-owned) banks were formed. In 1990 a stock exchange was established.

In the 1990s, in the postcommunist period, the reform process continued with the founding of private banks, the sale of shares in state-owned banks (though most banks remained state-owned), and the enactment of a law that guaranteed the independence of the National Bank. The currency (forint) also became entirely convertible for business. By the turn of the 21st century, with a dramatic increase in foreign investment and in the number of commercial banks, the Hungarian banking system had been almost completely privatized. In 1986 the state-operated insurance system was split into two separate companies, and by the following decade more than a dozen insurance companies were in operation.

  • Trade

Hungary was a charter member of the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance; 1949–91). Under its aegis, trade was conducted between the countries of the Soviet bloc on the basis of specialized production, fixed prices, and barter. The Soviet Union was Hungary’s most important trading partner, but, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, as Hungary became increasingly involved in the global market, less than half of the country’s trade remained with Comecon. Unprepared for the competitiveness of global market forces, Hungary accrued a large trade deficit that was covered by foreign loans. In the process the country became heavily indebted and had to use much of its export earnings for repayment.

Nevertheless, by the mid-1990s three-fourths of Hungary’s trade was with market economies. Germany became Hungary’s most important trading partner, followed by Austria, France, Italy, and the United States. Meanwhile, the proportion of Hungary’s imports from the component countries of the former Soviet Union fell from a peak of more than one-fifth in the early 1990s to less than one-tenth at the turn of the 21st century, by which point Hungarian exports to those countries had become negligible. In 1996 Hungary joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and in 2004 it became a full member of the European Union (EU).

In the early 21st century, machinery and transport equipment were both Hungary’s leading import (comprising three-fifths of the total imports) and its leading export (comprising one-half of all exports). In particular, the country’s principal trade goods were telecommunications equipment, electrical machinery, power-generating machinery, road vehicles, and office machines and computers.

  • Services

Throughout the last decade of the 20th century, the service sector’s portion of Hungary’s GDP rose at an annual average rate of about 0.5 percent. By the early 2000s, services accounted for almost two-thirds of GDP and of the workforce. Tourism played a big role in this development as Hungary became an increasingly popular destination for travelers, especially those from Austria, Croatia, Germany, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine, most of whom arrived by car. There is also significant tourism via low-cost air carriers from western Europe, as well as from the United States, Canada, and Australia.

  • Labour and taxation

The Soviet-style Central Council of Hungarian Trade Unions was reorganized in 1988 as the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions. It remains the largest trade union in Hungary, with some 40 organizations under its umbrella at the start of the 21st century. It is joined by the Association of Hungarian Free Trade Unions, Democratic Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Forum for the Cooperation of Trade Unions, and Autonomous Trade Union Confederation.

  • Transportation and telecommunications

Railways have long been the centre of Hungary’s transportation system. By World War I the country had a modern network that was among the densest in Europe, and it continued to expand regularly until the late 1970s, with electrification beginning in the previous decade. When industrial production declined during the transition to a market economy, rail transport of goods dropped sharply, accompanied by significant cutbacks in government subsidies that contributed to the deterioration of the railway infrastructure. By the end of the 20th century, however, the EU had begun funding rail network improvements, as well as roadway projects.

In the postcommunist era, road haulage has made up an increasing percentage of the overall transport of goods. Buses were once the main form of travel for passenger transportation, but the number of privately owned automobiles grew rapidly after the early 1980s. This growth skyrocketed following the end of the communist regime. Between 1989 and 1996, an additional 1.5 million cars were added to Hungarian roads, the majority of them Western-made. During this same period, the portion of Eastern-made cars declined rapidly.

Road construction and upgrading increased significantly in the early 21st century, with the building of expressways (motorways) radiating out from Budapest toward Vienna, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Ukraine.

The Danube River, the country’s only important transportation waterway, was historically used for international shipping, via the free port of Csepel. However, as a result of the destruction of bridges in the former Yugoslavia during the intervention by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in the Kosovo conflict in 1999, much of the shipping came to a sudden halt. The Hungarian merchant fleet nearly vanished, reduced from about 200 vessels in 1994 to only 1 in 1999.

International air travel passes through airports at Budapest (opened in 1986 and expanded in 1999) and Siófox (opened in 1989). Regional passenger air traffic services Budapest, Nyíregyháza, Debrecen, Szeged, Pécs, Szombathely, and Győr. Malév Hungarian Airlines, the national carrier, was founded in 1946.

At the start of the 21st century, more than half the population of Hungary were cellular telephone users. Televisions and radios were plentiful, and use of personal computers and the Internet was growing.

Government and Society of Hungary

Government and society

  • Overview

The modern political system in Hungary contained elements of autocracy throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, but in the period between 1867 and 1948 it had a functioning parliament with a multiparty system and a relatively independent judiciary. After the communist takeover in 1948, a Soviet-style political system was introduced, with a leading role for the Communist Party, to which the legislative and executive branches of the government and the legal system were subordinated. In that year, all rival political parties were abolished, and the Hungarian Social Democratic Party was forced to merge with the Communist Party and thus form the Hungarian Workers’ Party. After the Revolution of 1956 it was reorganized as the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, which survived until the fall of communism in 1989.

  • Constitutional framework

In 1989 dramatic political reforms accompanied the economic transformation taking place. After giving up its institutionalized leading role, the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party abolished itself (with the exception of a small splinter group that continues under its old name) and reshaped itself into the Hungarian Socialist Party. In October 1989 a radical revision of the 1949 constitution, which included some 100 changes, introduced a multiparty parliamentary system of representative democracy, with free elections. The legislative and executive branches of the government were separated, and an independent judicial system was created. The revision established a Constitutional Court, elected by Parliament, which reviews the constitutionality of legislation and may annul laws. It also provides for an ombudsman for the protection of constitutional civil rights and ombudsmens’ groups for the protection of national and ethnic minority rights.

The 1989 constitution was amended repeatedly, and a controversial new constitution, pushed through by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s centre-right government, was promulgated in January 2012. Among other significant recent revisions of Hungarian law was a change in 2010 that allowed nonresidents to attain citizenship if they could prove their Hungarian ancestry and mastery of the Hungarian language.

Supreme legislative power is granted to the unicameral National Assembly, which elects the president of the republic, the Council of Ministers, the president of the Supreme Court, and the chief prosecutor. The main organ of state administration is the Council of Ministers, which is headed by the prime minister. The president, who may serve two five-year terms, is commander in chief of the armed forces but otherwise has limited authority. The right of the people to propose referendums is guaranteed.

  • Local government

Hungary is divided administratively into 19 megyék (counties) and into cities, towns, and villages. Budapest has a special status as the capital city (főváros), headed by a lord mayor (főpolgármester) and divided into 22 districts, each headed by its own mayor (polgármester). Local representative governments are responsible for protection of the environment, local public transport and utilities, public security, and various economic, social, and cultural activities. Public administration offices, whose heads are appointed by the minister of the interior, supervise the legality of the operations of local governments.

  • Justice

Justice is administered by the Supreme Court, which provides conceptual guidance for the judicial activity of the Court of the Capital City and the county courts and for the local courts. A chief prosecutor is responsible for protecting the rights of citizens and prosecuting acts violating constitutional order and endangering security. The constitutionality of the laws is overseen by the new Constitutional Court, which began operation in 1990. A constitutional amendment in 1997 called for the addition of regional appellate courts, which came into force in the early 21st century.

  • Political process

Parliamentary elections based on universal suffrage for citizens age 18 and over are held every four years. Under the mixed system of direct and proportional representation, candidates may be elected as part of national and regional party lists or in an individual constituency. In the latter case, candidates must gain an absolute majority in the first round of the elections or runoff elections must be held. Candidates on territorial lists cannot be elected if their party fails to receive at least 5 percent of the national aggregate of votes for the territorial lists.

About 200 political parties were established following the revision of the constitution in 1989, but only six of them became long-term participants in the country’s new political life after the first free elections (1990): the Hungarian Democratic Forum, Alliance of Free Democrats, Independent Smallholders’ Party, Christian Democratic People’s Party, Federation of Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége; Fidesz), and Hungarian Socialist Party—the latter being the party of reformed ex-communists. The same six parties were returned to Parliament in 1994, and for the following decade most of them remained represented in the legislature. The hard-core communists reemerged in 1992 as the Workers’ Party, while the right-wing Hungarian Justice and Life Party was created in 1993, when it split from the Hungarian Democratic Forum. Fidesz appended Hungarian Civic Party (later changed to Hungarian Civic Alliance) to its name, and between 1998 and 2002 it became the dominant party and formed the government. The Christian Democrats organized the Centre Party alliance in 2002 but failed to make it into the Parliament.

  • Security

The Hungarian armed forces consist of ground forces, air and air-defense forces, a small navy that patrols the Danube, the border guard, and police. Military service was compulsory for males over the age of 18 until 2004, when Hungary established a voluntary force. (The term of duty varies according to the branch of service but is typically less than one year.) The armed forces are not permitted to cross the state frontiers without the prior consent of Parliament. In the decade between 1989 and 1999, the armed forces declined from 155,000 members to just under 60,000, but, at the same time, they also underwent a process of modernization to prepare Hungary to join the Western military alliance NATO. Membership was finally achieved in March 1999, eight years after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, of which Hungary was a member.

  • Health and welfare

Following World War II, health care improved dramatically under state socialism, with significant increases in the number of physicians and hospital beds in Hungary. By the 1970s, free health care was guaranteed to every citizen. Higher-quality private health care, permitted but limited before the transition period, grew in importance from the early 1990s.

A broad range of social services was provided by the communist government, including child support, extensive maternity leave, and an old-age pension system for which men became eligible at age 60 and women at age 55. This costly welfare system was a heavy burden on the country’s finances. At the end of the communist era, Hungary ranked 20th among European countries in terms of per capita GDP, but it was 12th in social spending. Social insurance expenditure, which constituted 4 percent of GDP in 1950, had risen to one-fifth of the GDP by 1990. The Hungarian system had become one of the most expensive in the world, yet there was considerable resistance to efforts to scale it back.

When health insurance was reformed in 1992, it retained its all-encompassing nature and was also made mandatory. At the same time, however, this reform required both employers and employees to contribute to the system’s upkeep, as well as to pension plans. The government’s move in 2003 to privatize almost half of its health care institutions was rejected in the following year by popular referendum. The private financing of health care slowly increased with the introduction of co-payments for some prescription medications, office visits, and hospital stays.

  • Housing

Housing shortages were constant in Hungary for decades after World War II, despite the million housing units built by the state in urban centres from 1956 to 1985. In the immediate postwar period, Hungary maintained an average of three persons per room, a rate that eventually dropped to one per room by the mid-1990s. Moreover, by the late 1980s, electricity was available for nearly the entire population (it had been in fewer than half of Hungarian homes in 1949, when apartment houses were nationalized), and running water was available for more than three-fourths of homes. The construction of private homes, which had increased in the 1960s and ’70s, constituted more than four-fifths of all construction by the mid-1990s, as housing became part of the market economy.

In the 1990s, as the cost of home ownership and rents soared, the housing market became increasingly polarized. The lower class continued to live in shabby, prefabricated, and often deteriorated apartments, while the upper class occupied expensive apartments or villas that approximated Western standards both in their construction and in their internal outfitting. High-quality housing was bought not only by Hungary’s nouveaux riches but also by many Westerners, among them a significant number of permanent or seasonal repatriates.



Ever since the start of obligatory universal education initiated by the Law of 1868, Hungary followed the German system of education on all levels. This included four, then six, and finally eight years of elementary schooling and—for a select few, after the first four years of this basic education—eight years of rigorous gymnasium (gimnázium) studies that prepared the students for entrance to universities. These universities were also organized along the German model, with basic degrees after four or five years, followed for those in the humanities and sciences by the doctorate based on a modest dissertation. Those wishing to become a member of the professorate also had to go through the process of “habilitation” (habilitáció), which required the defense of a more significant dissertation based on primary research.

All this changed after the communist takeover of Hungary following World War II. In 1948 schools were nationalized, and the elitist German style of education was replaced by a Soviet-style mass education, consisting of eight years of general school (általános iskola) and four years of secondary education (középiskola). The latter consisted of college-preparatory high schools that approximated the upper four years of the gimnázium as well as of the more numerous and diverse vocational schools (technikumok) that prepared students for technical colleges or universities but in most instances simply led directly to mid-level jobs. This system of education survived until the 1990s, when the fall of communism resulted in a partial return to the traditional educational system. While much of the Soviet-inspired 8 + 4 system is still intact, it now competes with the 6 + 6 and the 4 + 8 systems, wherein the six- or eight-year gimnázium tries to replicate the intellectually more exclusive pre-Marxist Hungarian educational system.

During the 1990s the uniformity of the communist educational system was further shattered by the introduction of private secondary education. Nationalized religious schools were returned to churches and religious institutions, and various new private secular schools were created. Between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, the number of secondary schools increased from 561 to 887, even though the student-age population had declined from 1.3 million to just under 1 million.

Mass industrialization obliged women to take outside jobs, resulting in the creation of an extensive system of preschools and kindergartens. Attendance was not mandatory, but, given that in many homes both parents worked, most children attended. Up to the mid-1990s, education was free from the kindergarten through the university level and also obligatory from age 6 to 16. At that time a modest tuition was introduced at the state universities and a much steeper one at the increasing number of private schools and institutions of higher learning.


Preparation for higher education became virtually universal by the early 1980s, and by the end of that decade about one-fifth of those between ages 18 and 24 were enrolled in one of Hungary’s numerous institutions of higher learning, many of them founded or reorganized after World War II. This growth continued even after the communist regime had ended; in 1990 there were only 70,000 full-time and 100,000 part-time college and university students, but by the first decade of the 21st century the number of full- and part-time students had risen to almost 400,000.

There was a major reorganization of Hungarian higher education in 2000. Prior to then, traditional major institutions of higher learning were Loránd Eötvös University of Budapest, Lajos Kossuth University of Debrecen, Janus Pannonius University of Pécs, Attila József University of Szeged, the Technical University of Budapest, and the Budapest University of Economic Sciences. There were also dozens of specialized schools and colleges throughout the country. In 2000 most of these specialized colleges were combined with older universities or with each other to form new “integrated universities.” The result was the birth of the renewed Universities of Debrecen, Pécs, and Szeged; the reorganized Universities of Miskolc and Veszprém; and the newly created St. Stephen University of Gödöllő, University of West Hungary of Sopron, and University of Győr. The main exception to this integration process was in the city of Budapest, where Loránd Eötvös University, Semmelweis Medical University, Technical University, and the University of Economic Sciences and Public Administration (renamed Corvinus University in 2005) remained stand-alone universities.

In the period after the fall of communism, several private and religious universities were established, including the Central European University of Budapest, founded by the Hungarian American philanthropist George Soros as an English-language postgraduate institution where the students are introduced to Sir Karl Popper’s idea of an “open society.” The best-known religious institutions include Péter Pázmány Catholic University and Gáspár Karoli Reformed University. In addition, some of the specialized colleges of music, fine arts, theatre, and military arts were elevated to university status.

The postcommunist period also saw the restructuring of the university diplomas. Regular degrees remained, but the university doctorate and the Soviet-inspired “candidate” (kandidátus)—a research degree offered by the Academy of Sciences—were abolished and replaced by an American-style doctorate. At the same time, the “habilitation” was reintroduced as a prerequisite for university professorships. The science doctorate (tudományok doktora), offered by the Academy of Sciences since 1950 and known as the “great doctorate” (nagydoktorátus), remained in force. But, whereas previously it was awarded on the basis of a comprehensive dissertation, it is now given in recognition of major life accomplishments by a very select group of scholars and scientists.

Culture Life of Hungary

Cultural milieu

National Theatre [Credit: © Calvin Oosse]The cultural milieu of Hungary is a result of the diverse mix of genuine Hungarian peasant culture and the cosmopolitan culture of an influential German and Jewish urban population. Both the coffeehouse (as meeting place for intellectuals) and the music of the Roma (Gypsies) also have had an impact. Cultural life traditionally has been highly political since national culture became the sine qua non of belated nation building from the early 19th century. Theatre, opera, and literature in particular played crucial roles in developing national consciousness. Poets and writers, especially in crisis situations, became national heroes and prophets. Governments also attempted to influence cultural life through subsidy and regulation. During the state socialist era, culture was strictly controlled; party interference was influenced by ideological principles, and mass culture was promoted.

Through much of the 20th century, Hungarian cultural life was characterized by a dichotomy between rural and urban culture and subsequently between “populist” and “urbanist” culture—even though both of the latter were represented by urban-based intellectuals. These intellectuals were divided by their social origins (village versus city) and also by their disagreements about the type of culture that can best serve as the fountainhead of modern Hungarian culture. The populists were suspicious of the urbanists, many of whom were of non-Hungarian origins (mostly German and Jewish), and regarded the village as the depository of true Hungarian culture. The urbanists, on the other hand, viewed the populists as “country bumpkins” with little appreciation of real culture and looked to western European cultural centres as sources for their own version of modern Hungarian culture.

Daily life and social customs

St. Stephen’s Day: Folk dancers performing during a St. Stephen’s Day event in Eger, Hungary. [Credit: © lithian/]Genuine traditional Hungarian culture survived for a long period in an untouched countryside characterized by rootedness. Peasant dress, food, and entertainment, including folk songs and folk dances—the rituals of weddings and Easter and Christmas holidays—continued until the mid-20th century. The drastic (and in the countryside brutal) modernization of the second half of the 20th century nearly destroyed these customs. They were preserved, however, as folk art and tourist entertainment.

Everyday life changed dramatically, as did the family structure. Families became smaller, and ties with extended families diminished. The culture also became less traditional. Clothing styles began to follow the international pattern, and traditional peasant dress was replaced by blue jeans. Folk songs are still occasionally heard, but in daily life they have been replaced by rock and pop music. Urban culture, especially in the capital city, is highly cosmopolitan and encompasses the tradition of coffeehouse culture. Watching television is a popular pastime, and Hungarians average nearly four hours of TV viewing per day.

paprika [Credit: © PictureNet/Corbis RF]Hungary’s most traditional cultural element is its cuisine. Hungarian food is very rich, and red meat is frequently used as an ingredient. Goulash (gulyás), bean soup with smoked meat, and beef stew are national dishes. The most distinctive element of Hungarian cuisine is paprika, a spice made from the pods of chili peppers (Capsicum annuum). Paprika is not native to Hungary—having been imported either from Spain, India by way of the Turks, or the Americas—but it is a fixture on most dining tables in Hungary and an important export. Among Hungary’s spicy dishes are halászlé, a fish soup, and lecsó, made with hot paprika, tomato, and sausage. Homemade spirits, including various fruit brandies (pálinka), are popular. Before World War II, Hungary was a wine-drinking country, but beer has become increasingly prevalent. Although Hungarians were not quick to accept foreign cuisines, they appeared in Budapest in the 1990s, a sign both of the growing influence of the outside world and of the presence of increasing numbers of foreigners who have settled in Hungary.

harvest festival: Hungary and Germany [Credit: Contunico © ZDF Enterprises GmbH, Mainz]In addition to their observance of the two main religious holidays—Christmas, celebrated as a traditional family festivity, and Easter, characterized by village merrymaking—Hungarians celebrate several national holidays, including March 15 (Revolution of 1848) and August 20 (St. Stephen’s Day). After the communist takeover, these traditional national holidays were replaced by April 4 (Liberation Day), May 1 (May Day), and the transformed August 20 (Constitution Day). After 1990 these communist-inspired holidays were replaced once more by the original national holidays, augmented by October 23, which commemorates the Revolution of 1956. All of these holidays are occasions both for solemn remembrance and for popular festivities, including folk dancing, choral singing, and the display of traditional folk arts. The Hungarian national anthem is based on the 1823 poem “Hymnusz” (“Anthem”) by Ferenc Kölcsey; it was set to music by Ferenc Erkel and officially adopted in 1844.

The arts

Traditional folk arts either have disappeared or have become mostly commercialized, and political attempts in the 1930s, ’50s, and ’70s to preserve them basically failed. National high culture emerged at the turn of the 19th century, with literature taking a central role.

The first Hungarian-language newspaper, Magyar Hírmondó (“Hungarian Courier”), appeared in 1780, followed by Magyar Merkurius (“Hungarian Mercury”) in 1788, Bétsi Magyar Merkurius (“Viennese Hungarian Mercury”) in 1793, and Hazai Tudósítások (“National Informer”) in 1806. (The first non-Hungarian-language newspaper published in the country may have been the Mercurius Hungaricus [1705–10]. It was created to provide readers outside Hungary with news of the uprising of Ferenc Rákóczi II against the Habsburg rulers.)

Ferenc Kazinczy, an advocate of Enlightenment ideas, founded a movement of language reform and promoted literature through his high standard of literary criticism. In his view, literature was a nation-sustaining or even nation-creating force. This newly born literary language was cultivated by most of the contemporary authors, including Mihály Csokonai Vitéz in his rococo poetry and the brothers Károly Kisfaludy and Sándor Kisfaludy in their early Romantic poetry and plays. Modern Hungarian drama was born in the middle of the 19th century, with József Katona’s tragedy Bánk bán (1820) and Imre Madách’s Az ember tragédiája (1861; The Tragedy of Man). Among other important 19th- and early-20th-century literary and cultural figures were the poets Mihály Vörösmarty, Sándor Petőfi, János Arany, and Endre Ady; the novelists József Eötvös, Mór Jókai, Kálmán Mikszáth, and Gyula Krúdy; the historians Mihály Horváth, Sándor Szilágyi, and Henrik Marczali; and the sociologist Oszkár Jászi.

During the interwar years, the traditions of these literary pioneers were continued by such poets and novelists as Zsigmond Móricz, Mihály Babits, Dezső Kosztolányi, Lajos Kassák, Frigyes Karinthy, János Kodolányi, Gyula Juhász, Dezső Szabó, Attila József, and Miklós Radnóti and such historians and literary historians as Sándor Domanovszky, Gyula Szekfű, Bálint Hóman, János Horváth, and Antal Szerb. The 1930s were witness to the emergence of the populist-urbanist controversy and the publication of a series of major sociographies about the realities of Hungarian peasant life. They were written by authors such as Gyula Illyés, Géza Féja, Ferenc Erdei, Péter Veres, József Erdélyi, Imre Kovács, and a number of others, who hailed from the countryside and sympathized with the plight of Hungary’s rural underclass.

Following World War II, the nationalist and populist tendencies of Hungarian literature and culture were expurgated and replaced by politically inspired manifestations of Socialist Realism. And this applied equally to literature as to writings in the social sciences such as history. The best of the poets, writers, historians, and social philosophers were silenced, and the rest were forced to toe the party line. In the postwar decades the literary contributions of such urbanists as Tibor Déry, Sándor Petőfi, István Vas, and István Örkény and such populists or near-populists as Gyula Illyés, László Németh, and László Nagy—some of whom had begun their careers already during the interwar years—were particularly significant, as was the work of the social philosopher István Bibó. The most notable among the writers who emerged after 1956 were András Sütő, Sándor Kányádi, György Konrád, Péter Nádas, Péter Esterházy, and Imre Kertész (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002). The first two of these were Transylvanians who wrote great literature based on traditional literary models, while the latter four were Budapest urbanites who pursued the diverse paths of avant-garde literature.

Most of the important achievements in Hungarian visual arts and music emerged about the turn of the 20th century. The avant-garde painters Tivadar Csontváry-Kosztka and László Moholy-Nagy elevated Hungarian painting from traditional Romanticism and French-inspired Impressionism to greater international significance through pathbreaking stylistic innovations. Hungarian music achieved worldwide renown with the composer Béla Bartók, an exponent of modern Hungarian music that was rooted in archaic folk traditions. Bartók was a central figure of early 20th-century culture who influenced future generations of composers both at home and abroad. Bartók’s activities and compositions were paralleled by those of Zoltán Kodály and Ernst von Dohnányi. Kodály’s contributions went beyond the composition of music to the restructuring of Hungarian music education. His system of music education, the “Kodály method,” is now taught throughout the world. The activities of these serious composers were paralleled by the work of such beloved composers of light music and operettas as Jenő Huszka, Pongrác Kacsóh, Franz (Ferenc) Lehár, and Emeric (Imre) Kálmán.

Ormandy, Eugene [Credit: Erich Auerbach—Hulton Archive/Getty Images]In addition to composing, many Hungarian musicians have gained international renown as performers. These include the conductors Fritz Reiner, George Szell (György Széll), Eugene (Jenö) Ormandy, Antal Dorati, and Sir Georg Solti, as well as the pianists Franz (Ferenc) Liszt, Annie Fischer, Zoltán Kocsis, and András Schiff.

Since the 1960s, Hungarian motion pictures have attracted significant international interest. In particular, the parabolic films of Miklós Jancsó and István Szabó helped establish the reputation of Hungarian cinema. Nevertheless, most of the films shown in theatres in Hungary today are of American origin.

Cultural institutions

Following World War II, high culture that previously had been confined to the upper classes was promoted among the masses. A highly subsidized publishing industry fostered reading: the number of books published increased 10-fold between 1938 and 1988. Reading became a regular habit for about one-third of the population, and a huge network of more than 15,000 public libraries was established. The main national collections are the National Széchényi Library, the Ervin Szabó Library, the libraries of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian Parliament, and the Central Library of Loránd Eötvös University (all in Budapest), plus the libraries of the universities of Debrecen, Pécs, and Szeged.

Among the most notable of the thousands of museums and cultural centres are the Hungarian National Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Applied Arts (all in Budapest), plus the Christian Museum in Esztergom, the Déri Museum of Debrecen, the Janus Pannonius Museum of Pécs, the Ferenc Móra Museum of Szeged, and the collection of the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma. Government subsidizing of culture virtually ended with the introduction of a market system in the 1990s. The capital city is also regarded for its architectural legacy from various periods, which led to its being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Teaching and scholarship are both emphasized in Hungary’s institutions of higher learning, although, following the Soviet model, scholarly research was de-emphasized in the decades after World War II. During those years, much of the research and the resulting publications moved from the colleges and universities to the several dozen research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (established in 1825), as well as to the institutes of various ministries. The academy was at the apex of Hungarian scientific and scholarly life for over four decades following its reorganization in 1949. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, it fell under persistent attack from the new political leadership, which hoped to cleanse it of its allegedly Marxist scientists and scholars, and funding and staffing dropped precipitously. This decline in numbers and funding continued even under the Socialist-Liberal regimes before and after the turn of the century.

Hungary has an international reputation for scholarship, with one of the world’s highest per capita rates of Nobel laureates. Because of a lack of funding, however, most of these prizewinners have worked in Germany or the United States. Outstanding Hungarian-born scientists include Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Zoltán Bay, John G. Kemény, and Nobelists Eugene Wigner and Albert Szent-Györgyi. Other Nobel laureates are George de Hevesy, Georg von Békésy, John C. Harsanyi, John C. Polanyi, and George Olah.

Some of the top Hungarian social scientists include the social philosophers Karl Mannheim and Michael Polányi, the economist Karl Polanyi, and the philosopher and literary critic György Lukács. Hungarian-born mathematicians of international renown include John von Neumann, George Pólya, Gábor Szegő, Pál Turán, and Paul Erdős. Hungarian scholars also have excelled in the disciplines of linguistics, historiography, and literary history.

Sports and recreation

spa: Hungary [Credit: © 2007 Index Open]Hungary’s most popular vacation destinations include Lake Balaton and Lake Velence in Transdanubia, the Danube Bend, and the arty Szentendre Island above Budapest, as well as the Pilis, Mátra, and Bükk mountains in the north of Hungary. Lake Balaton attracts tourists from all over central and eastern Europe. A major attraction for the inhabitants of Budapest is Margit (Margaret) Island, an urban oasis of gardens and swimming pools on the Danube River.

Hungary has a tradition of success in international sporting competition. It has won a number of world championships and Olympic medals, even before the overpoliticization of sports in Soviet-bloc countries. Football (soccer) is especially popular, and Hungarian athletes also have enjoyed success in fencing, swimming, table tennis, track and field (athletics), rowing, and weightlifting. More recently, tennis and golf have gained in popularity, especially among the upper middle class.

Media and publishing

Under communist rule, the Hungarian press—about 30 daily newspapers and 1,500 periodicals—was strictly controlled, yet after the 1960s it became the least restricted within the Soviet bloc. In 1988 press censorship was relaxed and then within the next two years completely eliminated. In the first half of the 1990s, the number of newspapers increased, but their overall circulation declined. As an example, the print run of the country’s most popular daily, the Népszabadság (“People’s Freedom”), declined from 700,000 to about 200,000 at the turn of the 21st century. There was a similar decline in the leading liberal paper, Magyar Nemzet (“Hungarian Nation”). The leading weeklies include the Szabad Föld (“Free Earth”), Magyar Nők Lapja (“Hungarian Women’s Journal”), and Képes Úság (“Illustrated News”).

Similar developments took place in book publishing. The change of regime resulted in the birth of several hundred private publishers, but the ending of state subsidies undermined the health of most of the established ones. In the immediate postcommunist period, the number of published books increased by about one-sixth, but the number of copies per book declined by more than two-fifths. Similarly, about half of the public libraries located in smaller settlements were closed down by 1995, and this was accompanied by the reduction of the size of the regular reading public by about one-fourth. Some critics complained that the flood of new books had mass-market appeal but lacked literary or scholarly quality.

After World War II, radio ownership and listening became common. Television appeared only in the late 1950s, but it soon spread throughout the country. By the early 1980s, almost every household had a television. During the communist period there were only two radio stations and two state-run TV channels. In the decade following, however, the number of radio and TV stations—including cable and satellite TV—increased quickly and significantly. There was a precipitous decline in visits to movie houses and theatres. This was accompanied by the rapid spread of programming on recordable media (videotapes, DVDs, CDs), personal computers, and Internet connectivity. Thus, by the 21st century, electronic media occupied a central place in the leisure activities of Hungarians.

History of Hungary

Growth of a State

The Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dacia, conquered under Tiberius and Trajan (1st cent. A.D.), embraced part of what was to become Hungary. The Huns and later the Ostrogoths and the Avars settled there for brief periods. In the late 9th cent. the Magyars, a Finno-Ugric people from beyond the Urals, conquered all or most of Hungary and Transylvania. The semilegendary leader, Arpad, founded their first dynasty. The Magyars apparently merged with the earlier settlers, but they also continued to press westward until defeated by King (later Holy Roman Emperor) Otto I, at the Lechfeld (955).

Halted in its expansion, the Hungarian state began to solidify. Its first king, St. Stephen (reigned 1001–38), completed the Christianization of the Magyars and built the authority of his crown—which has remained the symbol of national existence—on the strength of the Roman Catholic Church. Under Bela III (reigned 1172–1196), Hungary came into close contact with Western European, particularly French, culture. Through the favor of succeeding kings, a few very powerful nobles—the magnates—won ever-widening privileges at the expense of the lesser nobles, the peasants, and the towns. In 1222 the lesser nobles forced the extravagant Andrew II to grant the Golden Bull (the "Magna Carta of Hungary"), which limited the king's power to alienate his authority to the magnates and established the beginnings of a parliament.

Under Andrew's son, Bela IV, the kingdom barely escaped annihilation: Mongol invaders, defeating Bela at Muhi (1241), occupied the country for a year, and Ottocar II of Bohemia also defeated Bela, who was further threatened by his own rebellious son Stephen V. Under Stephen's son, Ladislaus IV, Hungary fell into anarchy, and when the royal line of Arpad died out (1301) with Andrew III, the magnates seized the opportunity to increase their authority.

In 1308, Charles Robert of Anjou was elected king of Hungary as Charles I, the first of the Angevin line. His autocratic rule checked the magnates somewhat and furthered the growth of the towns. Under his son, Louis I (Louis the Great), Hungary reached its greatest territorial extension, with power extending into Dalmatia, the Balkans, and Poland.

  • Foreign Domination

After the death of Louis I, a series of foreign rulers succeeded: Sigismund (later Holy Roman Emperor), son-in-law of Louis; Albert II of Austria, son-in-law of Sigismund; and Ladislaus III of Poland (Uladislaus I of Hungary). During their reigns the Turks began to advance through the Balkans, defeating the Hungarians and their allies at Kosovo Field (1389), Nikopol (1396), and Varna (1444). John Hunyadi, acting after 1444 as regent for Albert II's son, Ladislaus V, gave Hungary a brief respite through his victory at Belgrade (1456).

The reign of Hunyadi's son, Matthias Corvinus, elected king in 1458, was a glorious period in Hungarian history. Matthias maintained a splendid court at Buda, kept the magnates subject to royal authority, and improved the central administration. But under his successors Uladislaus II and Louis II, the nobles regained their power. Transylvania became virtually independent under the Zapolya family. The peasants, rising in revolt, were crushed (1514) by John Zapolya. Louis II was defeated and killed by the Turks under Sulayman the Magnificent in the battle of Mohács in 1526. The date is commonly taken to mark the beginning of Ottoman domination over Hungary. Ferdinand of Austria (later Emperor Ferdinand I), as brother-in-law of Louis II, claimed the Hungarian throne and was elected king by a faction of nobles, while another faction chose Zapolya as John I.

In the long wars that followed, Hungary was split into three parts: the western section, where Ferdinand and his successor, Rudolf II, maintained a precarious rule, challenged by such Hungarian leaders as Stephen Bocskay and Gabriel Bethlen; the central plains, which were completely under Turkish domination; and Transylvania, ruled by noble families (see Báthory and Rákóczy).

The Protestant Reformation, supported by the nobles and well-established in Transylvania, nearly succeeded throughout Hungary. Cardinal Pázmány was a leader of the Counter Reformation in Hungary. In 1557 religious freedom was proclaimed by the diet of Transylvania, and the principle of toleration was generally maintained throughout the following centuries.

Hungarian opposition to Austrian domination included such extreme efforts as the assistance Thököly gave to the Turks during the siege of Vienna (1683). Emperor Leopold I, however, through his able generals Prince Eugene of Savoy and Duke Charles V of Lorraine, soon regained his lost ground. Budapest was liberated from the Turks in 1686. In 1687, Hungarian nobles recognized the Hapsburg claim to the Hungarian throne. By the Peace of Kalowitz (1699), Turkey ceded to Austria most of Hungary proper and Transylvania. Transylvania continued to fight the Hapsburgs, but in 1711, with the defeat of Francis II Rákóczy (see under Rákóczy, family), Austrian control was definitely established. In 1718 the Austrians took the Banat from Turkey.

  • Hungary and Austria

The Austrians brought in Germans and Slavs to settle the newly freed territory, destroying Hungary's ethnic homogeneity. Hapsburg rule was uneasy. The Hungarians were loyal to Maria Theresa in her wars, but many of the unpopular centralizing reforms of Joseph II, who had wanted to make German the sole language of administration and to abolish the Hungarian counties, had to be withdrawn.

In the second quarter of the 19th cent. a movement that combined Hungarian nationalism with constitutional liberalism gained strength. Among its leaders were Count Szechenyi, Louis Kossuth, Baron Eötvös, Sándor Petőfi, and Francis Deak. Inspired by the French Revolution of 1848, the Hungarian diet passed the March Laws (1848), which established a liberal constitutional monarchy for Hungary under the Hapsburgs. But the reforms did not deal with the national minorities problem. Several minority groups revolted, and, after Francis Joseph replaced Ferdinand VII as emperor, the Austrians waged war against Hungary (Dec., 1848).

In Apr., 1849, Kossuth declared Hungary an independent republic. Russian troops came to the aid of the emperor, and the republic collapsed. The Hungarian surrender at Vilagos (Aug., 1849) was followed by ruthless reprisals. But after its defeat in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), Austria was obliged to compromise with Magyar national aspirations. The Ausgleich of 1867 (largely the work of Francis Deak) set up the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in which Austria and Hungary were nearly equal partners. Emperor Francis Joseph was crowned (1867) king of Hungary, which at that time also included Transylvania, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Croatia and Slovenia, and the Banat. The minorities problem persisted, the Serbs, Croats, and Romanians being particularly restive under Hungarian rule.

During this period industrialization began in Hungary, while the condition of the peasantry deteriorated to the profit of landowners. By a law of 1874 only about 6% of the population could vote. Until World War I, when republican and socialist agitation began to threaten the established order, Hungary was one of the most aristocratic countries in Europe. As the military position of Austria-Hungary in World War I deteriorated, the situation in Hungary grew more unstable. Hungarian nationalists wanted independence and withdrawal from the war; the political left was inspired by the 1917 revolutions in Russia; and the minorities were receptive to the Allies' promises of self-determination.

In Oct., 1918, Emperor Charles I (King of Hungary as Charles IV) appointed Count Michael Károlyi premier. Károlyi advocated independence and peace and was prepared to negotiate with the minorities. His cabinet included socialists and radicals. In November the emperor abdicated, and the Dual Monarchy collapsed.

  • Independence

Károlyi proclaimed Hungary an independent republic. However, the minorities would not deal with him, and the Allies forced upon him very unfavorable armistice terms. The government resigned, and the Communists under Béla Kun seized power (Mar., 1919). The subsequent Red terror was followed by a Romanian invasion and the defeat (July, 1919) of Kun's forces. After the Romanians withdrew, Admiral Horthy de Nagybanya established a government and in 1920 was made regent, since there was no king. Reactionaries, known as White terrorists, conducted a brutal campaign of terror against the Communists and anyone associated with Károlyi or Kun.

The Treaty of Trianon (see Trianon, Treaty of), signed in 1920, reduced the size and population of Hungary by about two thirds, depriving Hungary of valuable natural resources and removing virtually all non-Magyar areas, although Budapest retained a large German-speaking population. The next twenty-five years saw continual attempts by the Magyar government to recover the lost territories. Early endeavors were frustrated by the Little Entente and France, and Hungary turned to a friendship with Fascist Italy and, ultimately, to an alliance (1941) with Nazi Germany. The authoritarian domestic policies of the premiers Stephen Bethlen and Julius Gombos and their successors safeguarded the power of the upper classes, ignored the demand for meaningful land reform, and encouraged anti-Semitism.

Between 1938 and 1944, Hungary regained, with the aid of Germany and Italy, territories from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania. It declared war on the USSR (June, 1941) and on the United States (Dec., 1941). When the Hungarian government took steps to withdraw from the war and protect its Jewish population, German troops occupied the country (Mar., 1944). The Germans were driven out by Soviet forces (Oct., 1944–Apr., 1945). The Soviet campaign caused much devastation.

National elections were held in 1945 (in which the Communist party received less than one fifth of the vote), and a republican constitution was adopted in 1946. The peace treaty signed at Paris in 1947 restored the bulk of the Trianon boundaries and required Hungary to pay $300 million in reparations to the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. A new coalition regime instituted long-needed land reforms.

  • Communist Rule

Early in 1948 the Communist party, through its control of the ministry of the interior, arrested leading politicians, forced the resignation of Premier Ferenc Nagy, and gained full control of the state. Hungary was proclaimed a People's Republic in 1949, after parliamentary elections in which there was only a single slate of candidates. Radical purges in the national Communist party made it thoroughly subservient to that of the USSR. Industry was nationalized and land was collectivized. The trial of Cardinal Mindszenty aroused protest throughout the Western world.

By 1953 continuous purges of Communist leaders, constant economic difficulties, and peasant resentment of collectivization had led to profound crisis in Hungary. Premier Mátyás Rákosi, the Stalinist in control since 1948, was removed in July, 1953, and Imre Nagy became premier. He slowed down collectivization and emphasized production of consumer goods, but he was removed in 1955, and the emphasis on farm collectivization was restored. In 1955, Hungary joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization and was admitted to the United Nations.

On Oct. 23, 1956, a popular anti-Communist revolution, centered in Budapest, broke out in Hungary. A new coalition government under Imre Nagy declared Hungary neutral, withdrew it from the Warsaw Treaty, and appealed to the United Nations for aid. However, János Kádár, one of Nagy's ministers, formed a counter-government and asked the USSR for military support. Some 500,000 Soviet troops were sent to Hungary, and in severe and brutal fighting they suppressed the revolution. Nagy and some of his ministers were abducted and were later executed, and thousands of other Hungarians, many of them teenagers, were imprisoned or executed. In addition, about 190,000 refugees fled the country. Kádár became premier and sought to win popular support for Communist rule and to improve Hungary's relations with Yugoslavia and other countries. He carried out a drastic purge (1962) of former Stalinists (including Mátyás Rákosi), accusing them of the harsh policies responsible for the 1956 revolt. Collectivization, which had been stopped after 1956, was again resumed in 1958–59.

Kádár's regime gained a degree of popularity as it brought increasing liberalization to Hungarian political, cultural, and economic life. Economic reforms introduced in 1968 brought a measure of decentralization to the economy and allowed for supply and demand factors; Hungary achieved substantial improvements in its standard of living. Hungary aided the USSR in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The departure (1971) of Cardinal Mindszenty from Budapest after 15 years of asylum in the U.S. legation and his removal (1974) from the position of primate of Hungary improved relations with the Catholic church. Due to Soviet criticism, many of the economic reforms were subverted during the mid-1970s only to be reinstituted at the end of the decade.

During the 1980s, Hungary began to increasingly turn to the West for trade and assistance in the modernization of its economic system. The economy continued to decline and the high foreign debt became unpayable. Premier Károly Grósz gave up the premiership in 1988, and in 1989 the Communist party congress voted to dissolve itself. That same year Hungary opened its borders with Austria, allowing thousands of East Germans to cross to the West.

  • A Democratic Hungary

By 1990, a multiparty political system with free elections had been established; legislation was passed granting new political and economic reforms such as a free press, freedom of assembly, and the right to own a private business. The new prime minister, József Antall, a member of the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum who was elected in 1990, vowed to continue the drive toward a free-market economy. The Soviet military presence in Hungary ended in the summer of 1991 with the departure of the final Soviet troops. Meanwhile, the government embarked on the privatization of Hungary's state enterprises.

Antall died in 1993 and was succeeded as prime minister by Péter Boross. Parliamentary elections in 1994 returned the Socialists (former Communists) to power. They formed a coalition government with the liberal Free Democrats, and Socialist leader Gyula Horn became prime minister. Árpád Göncz was elected president of Hungary in 1990 and reelected in 1995.

In 1998, Viktor Orbán of the conservative Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Union became prime minister as head of a coalition government. Hungary became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999. Ference Mádl succeeded Göncz as president in Aug., 2000. A 2001 law giving ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries (but not worldwide) social and economic rights in Hungary was criticized by Romania and Slovakia as an unacceptable extraterritorial exercise of power. The following year, negotiations with Romania extended the rights to all Romanian citizens, and in 2003 the benefits under the law were reduced. The 2002 elections brought the Socialists and the allies, the Free Democrats, back into power; former finance minister Péter Medgyessy became prime minister.

In August, 2004, Medgyssey fired several cabinet members, angering the Free Democrats and leading the Socialists to replace him. The following month Ferenc Gyurcsány, the sports minister, became prime minister. Hungary became a member of the European Union earlier in the year. A Dec., 2004, referendum on granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in other countries passed, but it was not legally binding because less than 25% of the Hungarian electorate voted for it. László Sólyom was elected president of Hungary in June, 2005. In Apr., 2006, Gyurcsány's Socialist-led coalition won a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections, marking the first time a government had won a second consecutive term in office since the establishment of free elections in 1990.

In September, however, the prime minister suffered a setback when a recording of a May, 2006, Socialist party meeting was leaked and he was heard criticizing the government's past performance and saying that the party had lied to win the 2006 election. The tape sparked opposition demonstrations and riots, which were encouraged by the opposition Fidesz, and led to calls for the government to resign. Gyurcsány apologized for not having campaigned honestly, and the coalition was trounced in local elections in early October, but he retained the support of his parliamentary coalition and the government remained in power.

In Apr., 2008, the Alliance of Free Democrats left the governing coalition, and the Socialists formed a minority government. The 2008 global financial crisis led to a sharp drop in the value of the Hungarian currency in October, forcing Hungary to seek a €20 billion rescue package. Economic woes forced the increasingly unpopular prime minister to resign, and Gordon Bajnai, the economy minister, succeeded Gyurcsány in Apr., 2009.

In parliamentary elections a year later, Orbán and Fidesz defeated the Socialists in a landslide, winning more than two thirds of the seats, but the voting also produced a surge for the far right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik), which appealed to anti-Semitic and anti-Romani sentiments and won nearly 17% of the vote in the first round. Fidesz subsequently passed a law enabling ethnic Hungarians in Central Europe to more easily acquire Hungarian citizenship; the legislation provoked Slovakia, which passed a bill that would generally strip Slovakian citizenship from Hungarians who did so. The government also reduced the powers of the constitutional court, ending its right to rule on budget matters; forced the nationalization of pension plans to cut the budget deficit; and enacted a media law that was denounced as stifling free expression and drew criticism from the European Union. Other measures adopted to avoid the austerities used elsewhere in the EU to combat recession-induced government deficits included higher taxes on economic sectors dominated by foreign firms.

In June, 2010, Pál Schmitt, the speaker of the National Assembly and a member of Fidesz, was elected to succeed Sólyom as Hungarian president. The failure of an alumina plant sludge pond in Oct., 2010, resulted in an ecological disaster in W Hungary that covered 6 villages and 16 sq mi (40 sq km) with toxic mud and also poisoned local rivers. A new constitution, enacted by Fidesz in Apr., 2011, and effective in 2012, was criticized in a number of quarters for attempting to bind future Hungarian governments to Fidesz's conservative political program. By late 2011, legal changes that reduced the independence of the central bank had led to conflict with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Schmitt resigned as president in Apr., 2012, after it was discovered that he had plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis. János Áder, a member of Fidesz and former National Assembly speaker, was elected to succeed Schmitt in May. In Jan., 2013, the constitutional court struck down a new election law that had been passed in late 2012; the court ruled that the law unjustifiably restricted voter rights. The opposition had criticized the law as intentionally designed to favor Fidesz. The appointment in Mar., 2013, of a new governor for the central bank gave Orban greater influence over the bank, and the bank subsequently adopted economic stimulus measures. In September the parliament approved a number of constitutional amendments that partially reversed provisions that had been criticized by the European Union.

Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP)

Political party, Hungary

Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP), Hungarian Magyar Szocialista Párt, left-wing Hungarian political party. Although the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP) was founded in 1989, its origins date to 1948, when the Hungarian Social Democratic Party merged into what was first called the Hungarian Workers’ Party and then, following the attempted revolution against the communist government in 1956, the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. In 1989 the party renounced Marxism. The MSzP contested the general election of 1990—the first free multiparty elections in Hungary in more than 40 years—but it fared poorly, winning 33 seats in the National Assembly (parliament). In 1994, however, the MSzP won a majority in the National Assembly and formed Hungary’s government.

The MSzP continued the previous government’s austerity measures, which were intended to deal with the economic problems that had developed under communist rule and to introduce elements of a market economy in Hungary. However, these policies were unpopular with the public and alienated more-radical members of the MSzP, deepening factional disputes within the party. As a result, the party lost the 1998 election to Fidesz and its allies. In 2002 the MSzP and its ally, the Alliance of Free Democrats, won a narrow majority in the legislature and formed a coalition government; the coalition was reelected in 2006. Later that year a political scandal erupted as a result of a “secret speech” by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány to MSzP in which he admitted to the party’s failure to address the country’s economic problems and to its mendacity in process. After the Hungarian economy was perched on the brink of disaster in 2008, Gyurcsány resigned in 2009, and the MSzP was swept out of power by Fidesz in the 2010 elections.


This is not the official site of this country. Most of the information in this site were taken from the U.S. Department of State, The Central Intelligence Agency, The United Nations, [1],[2], [3], [4], [5],[6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14],[15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24],[25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30],[31], [32], [33], [34], and the [35].

Other sources of information will be mentioned as they are posted.