Piece of history: Story behind 15th of March
Revolution was in the air across Europe in 1848, with insurrections arising from the isle of Sicily to the royal palace of Paris to the streets of Berlin and beyond. This widespread wave of rebellion also swept through Hungary in the early months of that year, erupting into an insurgency that ignited in Budapest with the dramatic recital of a poem that still stirs the souls of patriotic Magyars to this day.
Professional writer, young Sándor Petőfi was a talented poet and former actor with passionate opinions about life in Hungary under Austria’s oppressive Hapsburg Empire. Soon Petőfi earned great popularity for his epic fairy tale János Vitéz and several other lighthearted folklore-inspired poems, but amid the boisterous nightlife scene of Pest’s Pilvax coffeehouse he joined a community of fellow artists and intellectuals in vociferously deriding the political status quo. With the arrival of 1848 and its international turmoil, the radicals that gathered atPilvax were openly advocating global revolution, spurred on by the fractious state of Hungary’s own aristocrat-dominated government. In early March, when news of the uprising in Paris reached Budapest, Lajos Kossuth – a brilliant reformist politician with extraordinary oratory skills – made a speech to demand a parliamentary government for Hungary, launching him to the forefront of Europe’s revolutionary movements, and further encouraging Petőfi and his Pilvax compatriots to do more than just talk about insurrection.
In the following days, these dissidents wrote a list of12 Points demanding comprehensive democratic rights (such as freedom of the press and the liberation of political prisoners) for the Hungarian people, while Petőficomposed his poetic masterpiece, the “National Song”.
On the morning of March 15th, the revolutionaries gathered at Pilvax and adorned the lapels over their hearts with ribbons in Hungary’s national colors of red, white, and green, before marching into the streets of Budapest to visit various plazas and loudly recite their 12 Points, gathering a fast-growing crowd of sympathizers to join their movement. Before long, thousands of fired-up Budapest citizens were parading through the city, defying censorship by seizing the presses to print and distribute the12 Points, and stopping before the grand stairway of the then-new National Museum, where Petőfi stood in front of the spirited masses and zealously delivered his“National Song”:
“On your feet, Magyar, the homeland calls!
The time is here, now or never!
Shall we be slaves or free?
This is the question, choose your answer!
By the God of the Hungarians
We vow, that we will be slaves
Today, March 15th is a national holiday in Hungary and there are several buildings and traditions, which have become a symbol of the revolution and are part of the commemorative ceremonies. Hungarians proudly wear cockades on this day and some of the official celebrations are held at the Hungarian National Museum where young Hungarian revolutionaries, led by poet Sándor Petőfi, held a mass demonstration on the first day of the revolution in 1848.