Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Martin Luther King Day: The Hungarian Connection - Or: Of Gandhi and Goulash

Next Monday is Martin Luther King Day in the United States. It’s a day on which Americans of goodwill reflect on the life and goals of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his quest for freedom and equality through the use of non-violent direct action.
As an American of Hungarian descent, I feel an extra bit of pride in knowing the Hungarian roots of this non-violent non-cooperation strategy for the furthering of civil rights.
These Hungarian origins of the non-violence movement have been largely forgotten to the point where today many people may doubt their veracity.

I will endeavor in the following paragraphs, therefore, to demonstrate how the Hungarian non-violence movement, lead by Hungarian nationalist Ferenc Deak against Austrian rule, inspired the early Irish independence movement, the Indian nationalist movement of Mohandas Gandhi and consequently the civil rights movement of Dr. King.

The best way to do this, I think, will be to work backwards, using the words of those involved to state the source of their inspiration.

A good starting place will be with Dr. King himself. That he was inspired by Gandhi’s practice of non-violence was readily acknowledged by Dr. King.

So the next step is to determine where Gandhi got HIS inspiration to use non-violent means to achieve his goals. Luckily for us, Gandhi was very clear in stating where the movement got its start. In an essay in the newspaper “Indian Opinion” entitled “Benefits of Passive Resistance”, published on September 7, 1907, Gandhi wrote about the movement for Irish independence and how Irish nationalists were using non-violent means to stand against British rule. In stating that the Indian people should use similar methods in their struggle, Gandhi wrote:

This movement had its roots in Austria-Hungary in the south of Europe. Austria and Hungary were two separate countries. But Hungary was under the rule of Austria and was always exploited by it. To discomfit Austria, a Hungarian named Deak taught the people that they should not pay taxes to Austria, should not serve any Austrian officers and even forget the very name of Austria. Though the Hungarians were very weak, this kind of spirit enabled them in the end to assert themselves against Austria. Now Hungary is not regarded as subject to Austria but claims parity with it.

So there you have it. Right from Gandhi’s pen. Ferenc Deak’s non-violence/non-cooperation movement against Austria influenced the Irish struggle, which then influenced Gandhi which, in turn, influenced Dr. King and the American civil rights movement.

Although this connection is largely forgotten today, those of us with Hungarian backgrounds can take pride in the role our ancestors played in shaping one of the most influential movements in world history.

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