Ghost Towns in Hungary
Hungary today is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations in the world on account of its beautiful scenery, history and graceful architecture.
The country has the largest thermal water cave systems in the world, the world’s largest thermal lake and the largest lake in central Europe. Additionally Hortobágy are the largest natural grassland plains in Europe.
Nearly nine million people visit the country each year but few of them realise the effect of the millions of people who have come peacefully or in times of war to the country.
Hungary’s problem is that its geographical locations puts it in the line of attack from western Europe, the Middle East and the North and from each of these directions conquerors have come through the ages taking advantage of the weak political systems brought about by centuries of uncertainty.
From auspicious beginnings in the dark and middle ages the late 15th century saw Hungary weakened as the King, Matthias died without an heir and a Polish king was chosen because he was weak enough to be controlled by the powers behind the throne. The decline in power and influence that came about as a result paved the way for the Ottoman invasion with the decisive event being Hungary’s loss at the Battle of Mohács in 1526. After this, confusion led to the appointing of two kings for the country leading to a split of the nation followed by a partial invasion by the Ottomans which added a further split.
It took another 150 years for the Ottomans to be defeated and the city of Buda returned to the Hungarian nation.
One effect of Ottoman occupation was the change in the ethnic composition of the country. Native hungarians declined as a result of persecution from the ottomans whilst unoccupied parts of the country became Serb or Slavic in make up. When the Ottomans left the area was repopulated by Serbs and Slavs leaving other areas to be taken over by Romanians. Ethnic Hungarians were forbidden to settle in the area south of the Great Plain.
During this time many settlements were abandoned as a result of forced emigration whilst others had their population completely changed as one ethnic group was exiled and another took its place. Today, many of these towns and villages are still deserted, relics of ethnic cleansing of centuries past. Some were so dilapidated that it was economically unviable to return, others because the ghosts of the past made reoccupation too emotional for the inhabitants.
Hungary’s troubles weren’t over and defeat as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the First World War saw its split from Austria and a self determinant future.
Hungary was humiliated in defeat and a treaty signed which established new borders. Hungary lost 71% of its territory and 66% of its population. About one-third of the ethnically Hungarian population became minorities in neighbouring countries and the new borders separated Hungary's industrial base from its sources of raw materials. It also lost its only sea port at Fiume.
It fared little better in the Second World War and in choosing to back the losers again suffered hugely in defeat. Upwards of half a million Hungarians were killed, millions more were deported from their homes and at the end of the war a population transfer agreement saw a quarter of a million Hungarian refugees arrive from Czechoslovakia in exchange for an equivalent number of Czechs sent the other way.
Hungary then became part of the Soviet empire and suffered repression and economic decline until the Velvet Revolution gave it the chance to rise from the ashes of its past.
Today, the Hungary that tourists see is a beautiful modern country with a free capitalist economy, outside of the stunning cities, the plains sweep majestically up to the heights of the Caucasus mountains whilst the peaceful Danube splits the country in two. Much of the countryside has been designated as national parks with trails marked for the adventurous who want to wander through the countryside that saw so much conflict over the ages.