In 2022, Belgium and Hungary will celebrate the 100th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. A joyous event that will certainly be a great opportunity to highlight the many bonds that unite our two countries in so many different ways.
One cannot help but wonder what happened before 1922. Our bilateral interactions and contacts between what are now Belgium and Hungary, have been going on for centuries. The very first of such interactions even go back to about 5,700 BC, with the Barchykephal tribe making their way from modern day Hungary’s Kárpát-medence (Carpathian Basin) to the area of what is now Belgium.
Moving on to the Medieval period, it is known that Flemish and Walloon peasants settled in the areas of certain Hungarian villages, introducing viticulture. One such example is the Hungarian village of Tállya, in the Tokaj wine region (see picture). Said village was likely inhabited by Walloon settlers, with the name of the village coming from the French word taille (‘cutting’, referring to aspects of viticulture). Additionally, Flemish painters in the (later) Medieval and early New Age reportedly had a significant status in Hungary. During this period, Flemish paintings and wall rugs were brought to Hungary in great amount, unfortunately these have been lost for a long time.
In the same Early Modern Age, Mary of Hungary (Queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia in the 16th century) also governed the Netherlands. She was born in Brussels and made it a capital city. In Hungary’s 17th century liberation of the Turks, several Belgian generals participated (for example: Mansfeld, Bucqouy) as well as Walloon gunners.
The eighteenth and nineteenth century saw Belgians do the draining of the Hungarian Bánát swamps. Furthermore, the daughter of Archduke Joseph (Palatine of Hungary), Marie-Henriette of Austria-Hungary, became the wife of Belgian King Leopold II. Hungary’s 1848 failed revolution initiated Hungarian refugees, whom were warmly welcomed by Belgium among other countries.
In the annals of the village church of Badacsonytördemic (at Lake Balaton), we learn more about the visit of Queen Marie-Henriette (Maria-Hendrika), wife of the King of the Belgians Leopold II. She arrived there in 1871 in an ox-drawn carriage and had a pleasant time during her visit. For example, we read that she participated in a picnic there, played guitar and sang Hungarian songs. The foundation of the village of Badacsonytördemic still maintains good relations with the Belgian Embassy. They jointly inaugurated a memorial plaque there on August 30, 2012.
Not only are there footprints of the Belgian monarchy in Hungary, the reverse is also true. The Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula (in Brussels) has many references to the Hungarian branch of the Jagellonian royal family. In the southern transept of the cathedral, for example, we find the stained-glass window by Jean Haeck (after a drawing by B. Van Orley) dating from 1538. It shows Louis II of Hungary together with his wife Mary of Hungary, sister of Charles V, kneeling before a Trinity with St Louis and the Virgin Mary with Child.
Literature and industry
Famous Hungarian politicians-writers József Eötvös and Miklós Jósika both spent time in Belgium during the middle of the 19th century. The latter even moved to Brussels and wrote for local Belgian newspapers. Additionally, Belgian monetary capital was vastly present in Hungary during this period. Properties, (coal) mines and railway construction all serve as examples. In the 20th century, Hungary served as a foreign market for Belgian, to name but a few, weapons and (electrical) machines export.
Focusing on trade
Belgium, after having declared independence in 1830 and after having been granted independence at the conference of London (1830) on the condition of 'eternal lasting neutrality' could not (politically) align itself. Consequently, it focused its foreign policy on the commercial, trade and economic by for example searching for colonies and (consumer) markets. Nonetheless the King, namely Leopold I, still had a significant influence on political aspects of the foreign policy. Early results of Belgium’s foreign policy are Trade Agreements with the Netherlands (1846) and the United States (1845).
The Belgian uprising of 1830-31 was a success, but the Hungarian 1848 ultimately ended in failure. In 1851, Kossuth was enthusiastically welcomed by many Belgians. His mother died in Brussels in 1852. The Belgians welcomed the Hungarian refugees of '48. József Eötvös spent his holidays in Ostend in 1852-53, and Miklós Jósika spent his emigration here, writing for local newspapers.
Indirect contacts before making ties formal
The above gives the impression that, despite official bilateral (diplomatic) relations had not yet been initiated, numerous bilateral contacts already existed. The overarching geopolitical situation of the 19th century however, attached Hungary to Austria and prevented Belgium from attaching to any great power. Belgium did, nevertheless, have formal relations with Austria through representation in Vienna since 1833, which likely enhanced certain bilateral relations between Belgium and Hungary long before the official start of Belgian-Hungarian diplomatic ties.
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