EuNIC-Europe: European Information Center for Culture

Culture in Hungary

Hungary is a landlocked nation in Central Europe that is bordered by Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Croatia. The culture of Hungary has been shaped by the nation’s turbulent history and is a particularly diverse one. The official language is Hungarian, considered one of the most difficult languages in the world to master and part of the Finno-Ugrian language family. While the majority of the population of Hungary is Hungarian (known as Magyars), the country is also home to several large ethnic minorities, including Germans, Croats, Slovaks and Roma, and each of these groups has retained their native languages and ethnic traditions.

Hungary is a largely Roman Catholic country with around 51% of the population identifying as Catholic and sizeable minorities of other Christian denominations. Historically, Hungary has also been home to a large Jewish population and although the Second World War decimated their numbers, many still live in the capital Budapest, which has Europe’s largest synagogue.

The great survivors

Hungary has been at the centre of several states and empires over the course of its 1000-year history, and the traumatic and dramatic events of the millennia has shaped and influenced Hungarian culture and values. A particular element that is unique in the Magyar psyche is a feeling of being apart or alone – relevant because Slavs and Germans surrounded the Magyars who speak a language unrelated to any other spoken nearby.

Tragedy and loss are important features of the Hungarian experience – the Magyars have been almost wiped out on several occasions while two Hungarian Revolutions, in 1848 and 1956, were brutally suppressed by the Russians and so modern Hungarian culture reflects those experiences and the isolation the nation still feels.

A rich folk tradition

Popular manifestations of culture in Hungary centre on the Roma experience – gypsy violin music and richly embroidered clothing are an essential part of Hungarian life. As one half of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries, Hungary played a central role in the cultural life of Europe and beyond, exemplified by what is known as the Second Reform Generation featuring composers such as Bartok and the poet Endre Ady.