This year marks the 100th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between the Netherlands and Hungary, and so, it is an excellent occasion to enlist examples in history that make up a multi-level bond between the two countries and the two peoples.
When I say our common history dates back to centuries, I mean it. Perhaps the earliest highlight – half a millennium ago – could be Maria von Habsburg (1505-1558, also known as Maria of Hungary), Infanta of Castile, Archduchess of Austria, who married in 1522, in Buda, to King Louis II. The king later died in the Battle of Mohács in 1526. When Archduchess Margaret von Habsburg, Royal Governor-General of the Netherlands, died in November 1530, Emperor Charles V appointed his own sister, Maria, as the new governor (regent). The widow queen became governor in 1531, a position she held for almost 25 years. She managed the part of the country entrusted to her with ambition. She consolidated the centralized administration of the 17 provinces, developed trade and the building of roads. Under her rule, Antwerp developed into the largest port city in Europe. She generously supported crafts and the arts. She expanded her palace in Brussels with a gallery wing for her collection of paintings, and invited renowned painters to her court, including Titian of Venice.
Hungarian slaves rescued
Let me also commemorate Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, and the Hungarian galley slaves he liberated. The Reformation, which began in the 16th century, and the Catholic counter-Reformation launched in response to it, claimed many lives throughout the centuries. Before the time of religious tolerance, vandalism of other denominations, churches, torture, imprisonment, and even mob law and executions were common. Similar events also happened in Bratislava, where the local court imprisoned and tortured hundreds of Protestant pastors and teachers for their denomination. Many of them refused to give up their religious beliefs, which is why approximately 40 preachers were taken to Italy for galley captivity. The news of the scandal also reached the Protestant-majority Netherlands, where the Parliament commissioned Admiral Michiel de Ruyter who at that time was fighting against the French in the Mediterranean to release the prisoners. On February 11, 1676, the Admiral arrived with his fleet at the bay of Naples, and the Viceroy of Naples immediately released the 26 surviving prisoners. They were transported by the Admiral to the Netherlands, and returned home later. The memory of this gesture and the list of liberated prisoners’ names are preserved in the monument erected in Debrecen in 1895. It was laid a wreath in 1991 by Pope John Paul II, who also apologized for the past grievances caused by the Catholic Church. Over the years, the monument has become one of the symbols of Dutch-Hungarian ecclesiastical relations, where every year church leaders and university students commemorate the galley slaves and their liberator from the Netherlands. Furthermore, a silver wreath hangs above De Ruyters crypt at the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Amsterdam as Hungarians gratitude.
One of the finest examples to our educational and cultural cooperation took place during the 17th and 18th centuries, when numerous Hungarian students were studying in the Netherlands. The Hungarian students` mass ‘pilgrimage’ was aimed primarily at DutchNL Protestant universities (Franeker, Groningen, Utrecht, Leyden), mostly from Transylvania, which also converted to the Protestant faith and was liberal from a church point of view. Hungarian scholars who studied in the Netherlands and returned from there later had a significant influence on the development of Hungarian higher education (primarily medical education), and so the academic relations that have lasted for hundreds of years still define our present.
Dutch support in 1956
After the 1956 uprising, ca. 4.000 Hungarian refugees arrived in the Netherlands, and Queen Julianna delivered a warm-hearted radio message to them on 15th November. During the weeks of the freedom fight, solidarity was expressed at demonstrations in Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. When the uprising was defeated, locals in Amsterdam tore off the street sign of Stalinlaan and renamed the street as Vrijheidslaan (‘Freedom Street’). The Royal Archives in The Hague has a revolutionary flag from 1956, which was handed over by the refugees to the Queen, and a plaque in Vrijheidslaan was unveiled on the 50th anniversary of the uprising in 2006.
In October 1986, the royal couple visited Budapest upon the invitation of the Hungarian side. Accompanied by the Hungarian delegation, Queen Beatrix and her husband, Prince Claus, visited the main sights of the capital including the National Gallery in the Buda Castle, walked along Váci Street, and also saw the Holy Crown at the National Museum. It took only ten years to complete the second visit, in May 1996. The royal couple visited the Hungarian State Opera, the Agricultural Research Institute and the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. However, the first visit after the regime change was way more than a diplomatic protocol event. The meeting focused on the integration of the Eastern Bloc countries and minority policy. The Queen was accompanied by a business delegation to discuss the Netherlands-Hungarian economic relations and investment opportunities.
I have saved for last an example from the early 20th century because its volume and messages probably make it the strongest historical bond between us. A grand-scale charitable campaign – known as the Children`s Trains – began in western Europe in 1920, aimed at orphaned, traumatized and undernourished Hungarian children, which went on for years. More than 60,000 children were hosted by families – most of them in the Netherlands and Belgium – for months or even years, and one-tenth of them even stayed for good. After 1920, the economic-political-cultural relations became more dynamic, and the memory of this grand-scale humanitarian program is still being cherished by thousands of Netherlands and Hungarian families, who are still in regular contact with one another. It will for long remind us of the importance of humanism, solidarity and European cooperation.