Hungary Looks West-Again

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Hungary Looks West-Again

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In November of 2003, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. The independent cities of Buda, Óbuda and Pest combined to form Budapest in 1873. Buda was the old royal city built on a bluff overlooking the Danube River, and the castle of the Hapsburg dynasty is situated there. Pest was built across the river on the plains to the east and is the location of the Hungarian Parliament Building. Óbuda (Old Buda) lay north of Buda and is the site of the ruins of the Roman city Aquincum.

Hungary’s place in history

To understand Hungary’s place in an expanding European Union (EU), we need to first consider its rich history. In the first century after Christ, the Roman Empire established an outpost on the west side of the Danube River that served as their provincial seat of government. From the old Roman town of Aquincum, military consuls governed the province of Pannonia. The river marked the frontier between Rome and barbarian tribes to the east. Signs of Rome’s presence are abundantly evident in the ruins of buildings, amphitheaters and baths.

One morning in Budapest, I rode Metro Line #1 from downtown to Heroes’ Square. This underground rail opened in 1896 and is continental Europe’s oldest subway. After disembarking, I made my way up the stairs to the plaza above, and a most remarkable sight lay before me! An imposing 118-foot column named the Millennium Monument rises in the center of the square.

Construction on the column began in 1896 to commemorate the 1,000-year anniversary of the conquest of the Danube River plains by Magyar tribes. Atop the column is a statue of the archangel Gabriel, who holds the crown of St. Stephen in one hand and a Christian cross in the other, symbolizing the unification of church and state through many centuries.

Surrounding the base of the column are equestrian statues of Magyar chieftains who appeared out of the Asian steppes to occupy the country beginning in A.D. 896. The armies of Otto the Great (later crowned Holy Roman emperor) finally stopped their marauding incursions into Europe in 955 at the Battle of Augsburg, and seven Magyar tribes returned east to settle the sparsely populated Carpathian Basin.

The identity of this people remains a mystery to historians, but their descendents inhabit Hungary to this day, calling themselves the Magyar. Their physical statures and facial features resemble those of the people of Western Europe, rather than Asia. However, the Hungarian language, called “Magyarul,” is not among the family of Indo-European languages, instead having Asiatic roots.

Behind the Millennium Monument are 14 bronze statues of kings and other national heroes of Hungary, with seven on each side in a semicircular colonnade. The first statue is of King Stephen, who ruled from A.D. 1000 until 1038, and who received posthumous sainthood in 1083.

The bas-relief below the statue depicts his coronation by representatives of Pope Sylvester II, who supplied a crown blessed for the occasion. This act gave Hungary symbolic recognition as a Christian nation, and affirmed the papacy as the source of authority for the highest political office. Other statues depict men who arose later in history to lead Hungary against military forces intruding from both east and west.

Often the nation has been caught in the middle of other people’s fights. In the recent past, the Soviet Union, COMECON (the Soviet-bloc trade organization) and the Warsaw Pact collapsed, and Hungary once again began looking west for allies.

Membership in the European Union

When the time came to vote, 80 percent of Hungarians eligible to vote cast ballots in favor of EU membership. They have not chosen an easy path, but many view it as their only possible path. However, joining the EU poses many challenges for the nation. Other countries that have come into the EU have experienced price increases for goods and services while wage levels have risen slowly.

Hungarians have already experienced price increases due to a combination of several factors. Among these are excessive national spending, a high unemployment rate, large foreign investments, removal of price controls and profits going increasingly to private enterprises rather than the government. The euro is not to be adopted as the official currency until 2007, a development that will likely exacerbate this problem.

Several factors should aid Hungary’s transition into the EU. For instance, Hungary rapidly transitioned to a market economy after the end of Soviet domination. The Budapest Stock Exchange began trading in 1990 and was the first such institution in post-Communist Eastern Europe. This should give Hungary an advantage as it merges with the existing EU market.

The EU should greatly benefit from Hungary’s bountiful natural resources, perhaps the greatest of which is the rich, black soil of the Danube Plains that has sustained the nation for over a thousand years. The country has sizable deposits of bauxite, most often processed into aluminum. Its mines also yield coal, iron ore, copper, gold and uranium.

Immigration concerns

Perhaps the hottest topic in Europe today is immigration. The current 15 EU member countries are deeply concerned about a possible flood of immigrants from the new EU member countries and elsewhere. Industrial leaders have legitimate fears regarding any sudden influx of workers from these low-wage countries. Legislation has been proposed in several nations that would prohibit residents of former Communist countries from freely moving to EU nations for several years when EU enlargement occurs this May.

In Hungary’s case, joining the EU may not mean that its citizens can immediately travel to another EU country and begin working there. The implementation of immigration policy throughout the EU remains an area of concern and development. The 2003 Comprehensive Monitoring Report on Hungary’s Preparations for Membership states, “For the first two years following accession, current Member States will apply national measures, or bilateral agreements, to regulate the access of workers from Hungary to their labour markets. These arrangements may continue up to a maximum of seven years.” After this adjustment period, movement between Hungary and other EU countries will be less restricted and controlled.

The March 1, 2004, Budapest Business Journal interviewed Jürgen Köppen, the EU’s last ambassador to Hungary (his position ends with accession), who made this statement about free movement of workers: “During the transition period, some of the old member states will maintain their restrictions. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether this will really prevent Hungarians from seeking work in Germany and Austria and elsewhere in the EU. Some people tell me that any Hungarian who wants to take up a job in Austria or Germany just does it despite the formal restrictions. So it may be just a theoretical discussion. I cannot see Hungarians flooding the EU’s labor market in large numbers.”

Europe’s buffer zone

From the first century after Christ, Hungary has served as a buffer between East and West, and numerous battles have been waged on its soil. The Danube River marked the border between provinces of the Roman Empire and barbarian peoples to the north and east. Much later, the Islamic Ottoman Empire expanded northwest and subjugated Budapest for nearly one and a half centuries. In 1686, Austrian imperial forces drove the Turks from Budapest and a few years later regained complete control of the country.

For hundreds of years Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire, and Hapsburg rulers during the Dual Monarchy years of 1867 to 1918 possessed the crown of St. Stephen, the official crown of the king of Hungary. The double-headed eagle is the traditional symbol of the Hapsburg royal family, the image representing Austria’s geographic location in the center of Europe, ruling over lands to the east and west. Some have suggested that the double eagle also represented the union of church and state under the Hapsburg rulers of the Holy Roman Empire.

Before World War I ended, Hungary had the same strong ties to the West. Following World War I, the victorious Allies dramatically reduced Hungary’s size. The Treaty of Trianon, signed in June of 1920, forced Hungary to relinquish claim to nearly 90,000 square miles of territory and over 13 million citizens. More than 3 million Hungarians came under Romanian, Croatian, Serbian or Slavic rule.

Following World War II, the entire region fell under the shadow of Communism. With the breakup of the former Soviet empire, relations between neighboring countries have been strained many times, but as long as the rights of Magyar minority populations are respected, Hungary can remain at peace with its neighbors.

Hungary is expected to continue its role as a buffer nation—only now from the western side of the equation. The border between West and East is making a considerable leap toward the east as the EU expands, and Hungary finds itself again placed in an uncomfortable, or even dangerous, position.

In February, a former Soviet intelligence officer was caught in Ukraine trying to smuggle 400 grams of uranium into Hungary. He said it was for dental use, but who knows the real reason?

To the east and south of Hungary lie countries that have been its enemies in the past. How will the story unfold with Hungary and Slovenia serving as the buffer between EU countries and the sometimes turbulent Balkan states?

The EU border may soon be pushed even further to the east, as negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania regarding EU membership are expected to conclude by 2007. Romania is a historic enemy of Hungary.

One extremely important question regarding future expansion is to be decided by the EU later this year: Should negotiations commence with Turkey regarding EU membership? If the EU border ultimately becomes that of Turkey, Europe’s new neighbors would be the volatile nations of Syria, Iraq and Iran. Recent terrorist bombings in Istanbul may persuade the EU to stop expansion short of Turkey, making that country serve as their buffer with the Middle East.

Looking to the future

Hungary is one of many smaller countries in central Europe trying to find its place in a rapidly changing world. Much ground remains to be covered before it emerges as a member country of a prosperous and growing EU. The push toward free-market capitalism has gone too far to easily reverse. In the short term, continued high unemployment and increased cost of living are to be expected. Hungarians hope peace and prosperity lie over the horizon as they are woven into the fabric of greater Europe.

On Nov. 12, 2003, Anthony Gooch, spokesman for the European Commission Delegation to the United States, lectured at Kent State University in Ohio. Regarding the decades-old EU dream, he stated, “What has been achieved so far is nothing short of miraculous, and there is every reason to hope that the long-term effect of the new members joining will be to inject a new dynamism for the European Union for years to come. The dream will have become reality and whilst, as always, that brings with it certain reality checks, it remains an enormous source of pride and satisfaction for all concerned. The European experiment that is only fifty years young is on the brink of its biggest transformation to date.”

Students of Bible prophecy look to a final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire on the European continent. Revelation 17:12-13 Revelation 17:12-13 12 And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength to the beast.
American King James Version×
states, “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.”

In May, the EU will consist of 25 member nations with the possibility of more joining in coming years. How will the prophecy of 10 kings be fulfilled? Perhaps some current nations will be combined. For example, the Iberian peninsula countries constituting Spain and Portugal could be considered as one and the three Benelux countries as one. Austria and Hungary were combined under the Hapsburg crown for centuries; perhaps they will be viewed as one nation.

It is significant that many of the newer member nations come from the area of Eastern Europe, the same region once occupied by the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire—perhaps as depicted in the prophecy of the great statue of Daniel 2. Several times in the past, one “leg” of Rome has been firmly placed in Western Europe with the other “leg” in Eastern Europe.

One way or the other—however God chooses to work it out or allows it to come together—10 “kings” will yet rise as a great final enemy of God’s people. Satan will orchestrate developments and turn the purpose of Europe to his own. The end-time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation will be fulfilled!

This year, Hungary’s future is firmly merging with that of greater Europe. Raymond Hill gives us a clear summary: “So, for the time being, Hungary remains in a kind of holding pattern. It knows where it wants to go. It is just not quite sure how it will get there” ( Hungary , 1997, p. 169). Citizens of Hungary may be astonished to discover what lies in the future. WNP