The door swung open at the Landerer’s Printing House in Budapest and a chilly March wind blew into the room. A tall 25-year-old poet entered, holding out a draft in his right hand. Printed upon it was a poem that had been written on March 13th, two days previously. The young writer knew he was asking the printer to commit a crime, but he didn’t care. The fervor that had inspired his piece of poetry, now inspired him to ask the printer to forgo the censorship enforced by the government, and put his call to action on paper. The printer agreed, printed his first copies and read, “To your feet Hungarians, your nation is calling you, now is the time, now or never….”
The year of 1848 started with the drums of revolution in Europe. Failed reforms, coupled with famine across the continent, put pressure on the ruling class. Peasant revolts spread across the Austrian Empire and other Western European countries. In February, the revolution in France even saw King Louis Phillipe abdicate the throne.
Inspired by the success of other movements across Europe, Hungarians were bubbling with nationalist fervor. Many dared to dream of a freedom apart from Austrian rule. While the Austrians didn’t interfere too much directly in Hungary—even allowing the Hungarian Diet to continue in the country—many Hungarians thought Austrian interference and their allied Hungarian nobility were too much. Among the most fervent and passionate poets and writers of the day was the young poet, Sándor Petőfi, who having successfully printed his poem, read it to the crowd nearby.
The crowd began to nod their heads in agreement. People began to cheer, and when he had finished he stared out at a group ready to circulate the dangerous document. The people felt the passion that he had when he wrote it, and on this 15th day of March, they were on the move. Throughout the day, he would recite his poem, also known as “Tálpra Magyar” (On your feet Hungarians) in other places in Budapest, and where he wasn’t able to go, others read it in his place.
The Hungarian people made demands for reform. Revolutionary leaders quickly drafted 12 points of change that they demanded, and sped to the printing press to bring the larger population to their side. Emperor Ferdinand relented and reforms took place. However, in November, Ferdinand stepped aside in favor of the young 16-year-old Franz Joseph. The new Emperor rolled back all of the reforms and declared the Hungarian government illegal. War had come, revolution was born.
While the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was eventually ended by Russian involvement on the Hapsburg side, March 15th serves as a reminder of a country seeking freedom from oppression.
As Christians in Hungary, our desire is not only for personal freedom, but the spiritual freedom that comes from a life in Christ. Spiritual revolution doesn’t come from an army or war, but from the cessation of the war that we wage against our Creator. I’m reminded of another poet Judson W. Van DeVenter who, in 1896, wrote, “All to Jesus, I surrender, all to him I freely give.”
The Bible often flips the script, (the last shall be first), and here we find again an unexpected truth. Revolution, freedom in our hearts, in our souls, starts with surrender. It is our hope that Hungarians, so passionate in their desire for freedom, would find that freedom and surrender to Christ.