On October 31, 1918, the personal union between Austria and Hungary was dissolved in the aftermath of the First World War by the Aster Revolution, which led to the foundation of the short-lived and never-recognized First Hungarian Republic.
Since the heirless death of Louis II of Hungary at the Battle of Mohács and the coronation of his brother-in-law, Ferdinand I of Habsburg, in 1526, Hungary had been ruled by the Habsburg dynasty. But unlike other Habsburg ruled areas, the Kingdom of Hungary kept its historic constitution and remained nominally and legally separate from the other lands of the Habsburg Monarchy.
But after the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and the restoration of Habsburg power, Hungary was placed under martial law, the country’s constitution and territorial integrity were abolished, and a military dictatorship was created. The March Constitution of Austria of 1849 provided absolute power for the Austrian Emperor in Habsburg ruled territories and German became the official language of public administration.
The Austro-Hungarian Compromise
In 1866, Austria was defeated in the Austro-Prussian War, its position as the leading state of Germany was ended, and the remaining German minor states was absorbed into the German Empire, created by Prussia. On the verge of collapse, the Austrian Empire was forced to reconcile with Hungary, so the Habsburgs and part of the Hungarian political elite arranged the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, establishing the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.
The Compromise put an end to the 18-year-long military dictatorship and absolutist Habsburg rule, restored the old historic constitution of Hungary and re-established the full sovereignty of the Kingdom. The lands of the House of Habsburg were reorganized as a real union between the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, headed by a single monarch who reigned as Emperor of Austria in the Austrian half of the empire, and as King of Hungary in Kingdom of Hungary.
With the outbreak of the First World War and the conflict turning decisively against the Central Powers, the people of Austria-Hungary began losing faith in their allied countries, and even before the armistice was signed in November, radical nationalism led to several declarations of independence in Southern and Central Europe, like the proclamation of the First Czechoslovak Republic.
The Aster Revolution
On October 31, in Budapest, protesters wearing asters in their hats and caps, led by Count Mihály Károlyi’s Hungarian National Council and supported by demobilized soldiers, seized public buildings. Prime Minister Sándor Wekerle resigned and by the end of the day, King Charles IV was forced to accept the coup and Károlyi became Hungary’s new Prime Minister.
Mihály Károlyi immediatly terminated the Compromise of 1867, formally dissolving the union between Austria and Hungary. Two weeks later, Charles IV issued a proclamation withdrawing from Hungarian politics and the provisional government proclaimed the Hungarian People’s Republic, with Károlyi as both prime minister and interim president, ending 400 years of rule by the House of Habsburg.
Following what came to be known as the Aster Revolution, the new government failed to stem popular discontent, especially when the Entente powers, who considered Hungary a partner in the defeated Austria-Hungary, began distributing slices of what many considered to be Hungary’s traditional territory to the majority ethnic groups in neighbouring countries.
The dissolution of the Hungarian People’s Republic
During the short rule of Mihály Károlyi’s pacifist cabinet, Hungary lost the control over approximately 75% of its former pre-World War I territories without armed resistance and was subject to foreign occupation. Károlyi also yielded to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s demand by ordering the disarmament of the Hungarian army.
In March 1919, believing that Soviet Russia would help Hungary restore its original borders, communists led by Béla Kun under the order of Lenin himself ousted the Károlyi government and proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which was followed by a brutal four-month-long Red Terror campaign during which the Communists purged the Social Democrats from the government.
Only the second socialist state in the world to be formed, preceded by only the October Revolution in Russia, Soviet Hungary soon collapsed due to internal discontent and a Romanian invasion. After a brief revival of the People’s Republic, the monarchy was restored, this time as an independent country, with former Austro-Hungarian admiral Miklós Horthy as regent, a position he would hold until 1944…
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