March 15th - Revolution and Liberty

By Szilágyi L. Gábor

Every year, just like those previous, Hungary celebrates the anniversary of its 1848 revolution.

The date is March 15th 1848. Hungary is part of the ever-expanding Habsburg empire. Civil unrest is becoming an issue and people are becoming increasingly fed up with the actions of the crown and the secret police, ran by the prime minister Metternich. It did not take long for the educated to realise what was going on: when writers and poets began to express their grievances, the average citizen figured it out as well. On the 15th of March a young man arrived by ship and ran straight for the coffee house Pilvax, to inform the writers and poets of Budapest about the revolt that started two days before in Wien.

The news was fantastic for the leaders of the poet revolutionaries, as they were planning to take action in the near future; however, this was the perfect time – when the imperials were concentrating on the barricades inside their homes. The people of Pest and Buda could rise up without facing much of a backlash. The leaders: Petőfi Sándor, Jókai Mór, Irinyi József and Vasvári Pál had been waiting for this day for about six years, and it had finally arrived. So it began: first it was a crowd of a few angry young men and women marching through the streets of Pest, but their destination, the Rákos market, was the place, where it really started to feel like a revolution. Petőfi Sándor, the leader of this uprising at that crucial moment realised, that this is now or never, he stood on top of a table and started his best known poem, National Song.

“On your feet now, Hungary calls you! Now is the moment, nothing stalls you. Shall we be slaves or men set free? That is the question, answer me! By all the gods of Hungary, We hereby swear, That we the yoke of slavery No more shall wear…”

The people were furious, and upon news of the uprising, the poets took control of the growing crowd. At 11’o clock Petőfi and his comrades led the people from the monthly Rákos market, towards the Landerer and Heckenast printing house, where Jókai demanded the printing of the twelve points that he and Irinyi had written that morning. These points were the following:

What the Hungarian nation wants. Let there be peace, liberty, and concord.

1. We demand the freedom of the press, the abolition of censorship.

2. Independent Hungarian government in Buda-Pest. (All ministries and the government must be elected by the parliament)

3. Annual national assembly in Pest. (by democratic parliamentary elections, the abolition of the old feudal parliament which based on the feudal estates)

4. Civil and religious equality before the law. (Universal equality before the law: The abolition of separate laws for the common people and nobility, the abolition of the legal privileges of nobility. Absolute religious liberty, the abolition of the (Catholic) State Religion)

5. A national army.

6. Universal and equal taxation (abolition of the tax exemption of the aristocracy)

7. The abolition of the Aviticum, (Aviticium was an old feudal origin obsolete and anomalous land-tenure, it declared that only the nobility could own agricultural lands)

8. Juries and courts based on an equal legal representation.

9. A national bank.

10. The army must take an oath on the Constitution, send our soldiers home and take foreign soldiers away.

11. Setting free the political prisoners.

12. Union (with Transylvania) Equality, liberty, brotherhood!

The mass printing began that morning and leaflets were scattered all over the city. In the afternoon, thousands gathered at the steps of the national museum to hear what the revolutionaries had to say. The now titled Youth of March read aloud the twelve points and the National Song; as a symbol they decided to march to Buda and release Táncsics Mihály, a writer and politician, from political imprisonment.

The sun turned dark as clouds of rain began to fall on the crowd, ten thousand men and women marched from the Museum to the Castle, however only a few carried any arms. When the masses slowly began to cross the Danube on a makeshift bridge the raining suddenly stopped, and as the crowd holstered their umbrellas and the gentleman put them on their shoulders, a miracle occurred.

Since the crossing began, the Imperial guards watched from the huge mass on the castle, and what they saw were not umbrellas, but guns. From afar, they looked like muskets, so when the angry, unarmed mass arrived to the castle, the Imperial garrison commander surrendered and his men laid their arms on the ground. Táncsics was free again. In the upcoming months Hungary fought bravely against the treacherous Jellasic and the imperial general Alfred Candidus Ferdinand zu Windisch-Grätz’s armies, however in the 13th of August 1849 at Világos, the Hungarian main army had to surrender to the overwhelming Russian forces, who came to aid the failing Habsburg army.

Today, this day is the Hungarian Independence day, the day, when all the schools recite the moments of these warrior poets and their words. Sadly today it is mostly used for political purposes rather than to glorify liberty and unity amongst the Carpathian Mountains.


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