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Mar 14, 2018

Hungary's national holiday on March 15 has been the symbol of freedom and independence for centuries

The anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-1849 carried special meaning under communism and to this day celebrates freedom and the value of national sovereignty.

The importance of 1848 is not that it happened, but that it is still happening,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in his address last year, “it is the link between Rákóczi’s War of Independence [in the early 18th Century] and October of 1956,”

The prime minister elaborated on the significance of the 19th century Hungarian revolution and war of independence as well as the meaning it carries for today’s Europe. As a national holiday, March 15th commemorates the day in 1848 when Hungarians began a revolution that would become a war of independence against the Habsburgs. The newly recruited Hungarian Revolutionary Army held off the superior Austrian Empire’s forces to such an extent that the young Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I only defeated the Magyars with the help of forces from the Russian czar.

More recently, under Soviet communism, the anniversary held a certain poignancy for freedom-loving Hungarians commemorating the bravery of ancestors who, against great odds, took up the fight for independence. In 1988, on the 140th anniversary of the revolt against Austria, tens of thousands marched in unauthorized demonstrations and rallies in Budapest. This civic mobilization strengthened the legitimacy of demands by opposition groups and helped persuade the party to begin negotiations for reform, the famous Round Table talks that would eventually lead to democratic elections.

The sovereignty and independence of Europe’s nation states still faces threats. Unaccountable economic forces together with “Brussels bureaucrats” and “liberal, world media” challenge nation states, said PM Orbán last year. He called upon European leaders to revolt against this new form of tyranny, saying that a “deep but peaceful” transformation of Europe is needed. Europe’s response to the migration crisis represents just one of the fronts in that battle.

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

Beginning with a flag-raising ceremony with military honors on Kossuth tér in front of the National Assembly, a series of commemorative events will take place across the country in honor of the national holiday. The afternoon’s celebration will kick off at 2 p.m. on Kossuth tér where the prime minister will deliver the annual address.