If you look at the Olympic medal table right now, Hungary’s the best performing European country by a mile. It’s got five golds, as many as Britain and France combined. Hungarians turn out to be quite good at sport. Who knew? Especially swimming and fencing. That’s Emese Szász, above, winning the women’s épée.
“But”, I hear you ask, “is its anthem any good? That’s what I come to this blog for?”
Well, it’s certainly not as good as France’s la Marseillaise, but despite being a hymn – its very name is Himnusz – it does have a melody that’s more moving, more dignified, than the likes of God Save the Queen.
Ferenc Kölcsey, a poet, wrote the words in 1812 when Hungary was part of the Habsburg empire. It was a blatant call to Hungarian nationalism – its first line is, “God, bless the nation of Hungary” – but to hide that from censors he pretended it was historical by giving it the sub-title, “From the stormy centuries of the Hungarian people”.
The censors must have been pretty inept as it clearly wasn’t – at one point it calls on God to “bring upon Hungarians a time of relief” – but maybe they just didn’t think it would catch on.
Interestingly, its later verses talk a lot about the “wild Turks” and “plundering Mongols” who invaded Hungarian lands. I wonder if it plays into current attitudes there towards the migrant crisis? Yes, perhaps that’s going a bit far. Back to the fencing!