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Mar 14, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

The March 15 National Day: Homeland comes first!

Independence and freedom stand among the most important values for every generation of Hungarians, in all ages, and the motto of this year’s March 15 celebration speaks to our love of country: “The homeland comes first”.

As a national holiday, March 15th commemorates the day in 1848 when Hungarians began a revolution and freedom fight that emerged among a number of uprisings in Europe in the 19th century. On March 15, citizens of Pest gathered in front of the National Museum and demanded independence from Habsburg rule. The Hungarian Revolutionary Army held its ground against the superior Austrian Empire’s forces, and the young Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I turned to the Russian czar for additional military might to defeat the Magyars.

In 1988, on the 140th anniversary of the revolt against Austria, tens of thousands marched in prohibited rallies in Budapest. This civic mobilization reinforced the legitimacy of demands by opposition groups and helped persuade the Communist Party to begin negotiations for reform. Those were the famous Round Table talks that would eventually lead to democratic elections.

It would be a mistake to forget about the significance of the 19th century Hungarian revolution and war of independence as well as the meaning it carries for today’s Europe. The sovereignty and independence of Europe’s nation states still faces threats. Europe’s response to the migration crisis represents just one of the fronts in that battle. “The history of the defeated is written by others,” PM Orbán warned last year in his speech, and his words are no less valid today than they were a year ago.

As the refrain in Hungarian revolutionary Sándor Petőfi’s poem, Nemzet dal (National Song) asks: "Shall we be slaves or men set free?" The poet’s message that gave inspiration for Hungarians to stand up against the oppressors of the Austrian Empire remains relevant still today.

This year’s celebration in Budapest will begin at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 15th, with the traditional hoisting of the flag. At 9:30 a.m., the hussars will start their march from Kossuth Square to the National Museum Garden.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will deliver the annual address at 10:30 a.m. in the garden of the Hungarian National Museum. Recalling that Poland and Hungary fought for freedom together several times, this year’s celebrations will feature Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who will also address the Hungarian nation. Throughout the weekend, a series of commemorative events will take place across the country in honor of the national holiday.

The March 15th National Day remains one of Hungary’s most important and beloved celebrations, a day when we remember our compatriots of every generation in the nation’s history for whom freedom and independence meant more than anything.