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Commemorating the greatest glory

Text: Márton Mészáros Navarrai | Photo: Gábor Kormány |  16:04 May 22, 2023

On Sunday, 21 May, the participants of an event held in Buda Castle – organized on the occasion of the Day of the Hungarian Defence Forces and coupled with wreath-laying and cannon shots – commemorated the 174th anniversary of the recapture of Buda Castle.

The commemorative event started at Esztergom round bastion in Buda Castle District with military honors, a flag-hoisting ceremony and saluting cannon shots fired by re-enactors. Organized by the MoD Military Heritage Department, the participants of the ceremonial event proceeded from the building of the MoD Military History Institute and Museum and the flagpole of Hungary’s country flag to Dísz Square, where the ceremony continued in front of the Honvéd-statue, a memorial erected in honor of the freedom fighters who recaptured Buda Castle in 1849.

As the most successful military maneuver in the Spring Campaign of the 1848–49 Revolution and War of Independence, the siege of Buda started on 4 May 1849, and ended on 21 May with the recapture of the castle by Hungarian forces under the command of Artúr Görgei, György Kmetty and Károly Knézich. Since 1992, we have officially celebrated their victory as the Day of the Hungarian Defence Forces. On this day, commemorators attending the central ceremony gather every year at the Honvéd-statue – dreamt up by sculptor György Zala and unveiled on 21 May 1893 – to pay their tribute to the memory of heroes fallen during the siege.

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“By recapturing Buda, the Hungarian Defence Forces did not only liberate the capital of Hungary but also ensured one of the key land and waterway transport hubs of the country. The siege was short: it lasted for a mere 17 days. The recapture of Buda Castle crowned the successes of the Spring Campaign of April 1849 – this was the »zenith« of the glory of the Hungarian Defence Forces” – said MoD Parliamentary State Secretary and Deputy Defence Minister Tamás Vargha in his speech delivered at the ceremony.

Expanding on the historical antecedents, the state secretary added that “the first answer that the Youth of March had given to the headline question of the 12 points of the Hungarian Revolutionaries of 1848: »What does the Hungarian nation want?« was this: »Let there be peace, liberty and concord.« Shortly thereafter, however, everybody had to face the facts that the time of peace was over and liberty had to be defended, too, which required the concord of everyone. Before 1848, Hungary did not have an independent army, so one of the most important tasks of the Batthyány-government coming to power in April 1848 was to establish its own armed forces.”

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Tamás Vargha recalled that the cabinet led by Lajos Batthyány, Hungary’s first constitutional Prime Minister decided on the establishment of a 10,000-strong all-volunteer guard force. This was the name of the first ten honvéd battalions, the units of the independent Hungarian regular army. He underlined that “In the interest of organizing the first honvéd battalions, the government announced recruitment on 16 May 1848, and since then this day can be regarded as the birthday of the modern Hungarian Defence Forces. And, the raising of this honvéd army is also an outstanding accomplishment because in 1848–49, Hungary was the only country that was able to organize its own self-defence from scratch, and to establish an army that forced one of Europe’s best armies to retreat”.

In his speech, the Deputy Defence Minister said that of all victories of the 1848–49 honvéd army – which was able to successfully keep up with the modern regular armies of the age, primarily with the advanced army of the Habsburg Empire –, the recapture of Buda Castle – already considered out of-date in the 19th century, but occupied by resolute defenders – “clearly stands out through its extent, result and significance”, as there were important military-political arguments in its favor.

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The ceremony continued with commemorative prayers said by Catholic Field Bishop Brigadier General Tibor Berta, Protestant Field Bishop Brigadier General János Jákob and Chief Field Rabbi Slomó Köves.

The commemorative ceremony marking the recapture of Buda Castle continued with laying wreaths and consecrating the hand-painted flag of the 1st Honvéd Re-enactment Battalion of Pest operating under the aegis of the Rákosmente Military Re-enactment Association. The event – which was attended, among others, by Lieutenant General Dr. Gábor Böröndi, Chief of General Staff, Hungarian Defence Forces – ended with wreath-laying, a ceremonial march and then with the sounds of the Szózat (second Hungarian anthem) and the Hungarian Last Post.