October 22-28, 1918. The Revolution begins

Barkóczi Janka – Torma Galina

Hundred years ago, the night before the Aster Revolution broke out, politicians were running around in panic and people gathered at public events to give and listen to heartfelt speeches.

It provided the news crew with spectacular images for which the cinema audience was more than grateful - as we are today. We are able to explore the revolutionary mood now because these news reels were seized by the police back then. 

They got mixed up in the past few decades, so the Film Archive's researchers had to sort and digitize each reel, find the missing information in the press and put them in chronological order. We have been publishing the Est film news on our website and Youtube each week since summer, and this week we arrived at a historical moment which had a great effect on the future of Hungary.  



The Wekerle government's last ever cabinet meeting

By the end of October 1918 it was obvious that the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy lost the war and will probably fall apart. The monarch, King Charles IV announced on October 16 that his empire will be divided into federal states and asked all nations to start the necessary preparations. On October 24, Sándor Wekerle's cabinet resigned, even though the king asked them to keep still until a new cabinet was formed. The footage shows politicians leaving the last cabinet meeting at Buda Castle: Károly Unkelhäuser, Croatian-Slavonian-Dalmatian Minister without portfolio, Lajos Windischgrätz Minister of Supplies without portfolio and József Szterényi Minister of Commerce leaving the Sándor Palace. „Prince Potato” Windischgrätz chose to stay in the public eye, but found himself in serious trouble when early next year the Károlyi cabinet was investigating the anomalies of the public supplies system. József Szterényi also had his fair share of agony after the Revolution. In February, 1919 he was declared „an enemy of the Revolution” and got detained. He remained loyal to the crown until the very end, even dedicated his memoire to the noble Charles IV, in which he remembers the Revolution as a silly little rebellion. This is what he wrote about the next evening: „On the night of October 25at 00:30 the ministerial phone rang at my Andrássy út flat. We were using a private line with the other ministers with no operator necessary as it was working automatically. Sándor Szurmay, Defence Minister was on the other end. I usually did my paperwork at nighttime, which meant that I could not attend to him during the day. He told me to drop everything and rush to the Ministry of Defense. When I asked what could be so urgent at this late hour, he told me to stop asking questions and come as soon as possible as I will be safer at his place with Wekerle and the other ministers, which I found quite odd. I did not understand his behavior, nor did I see why I would be safer at his place. Anyhow, I honestly had no choice, he sent a car and I went up to the castle.” He later learned that the ministers had to be gathered in a safe spot, as they were usually the first ones to be arrested in the beginning of a Revolution.  

The Revolution begins!

The next report was recorded at the Pest side of Chain bridge, where university students and thousands of protesters clashed with the police who were trying to prevent them from reaching the Castle. The students, who were marching under Károlyi's flag, wanted to deliver their memorandum to the emperor. Little did they know, Charles IV was nowhere near the castle, as he moved to the Gödöllő Palace. At first, protesters were trying to convince László Sándor, Police Chief to let them cross the bridge, but when he denied their request they broke through the police cordon. The mounted police on Buda side could not stop them either, and a group managed to march up the castle where they sang the National Anthem and other patriotic songs and demanded independence and peace. Policemen had to break up the crowd by drawing their swords. By night, several protesters gathered on Andrássy út, the Parliament and Liberty Square.  

People's Assembly, October 27

On October 24, antiwar parties siding with Wilson formed the Hungarian National Council led by Mihály Károlyi, to become the opposition in a broken country. On October 27, Sunday afternoon a massive crowd supporting the National Council gathered at the Parliament. „People were arriving nonstop. Police was patrolling the streets around the Parliament and soldiers were hiding on empty plots, the Ministry of Agriculture' basement and Kúria. Organizers were standing on the Parliament's stairs and people were everywhere, barricading the iron gate and climbing the lion statues.” – wrote newspaper, Népszava. Tivadar Batthyány organizer reminded them of their goals; to pass secret voting rights for all, democratic reforms, find peace and terminate the German alliance. He demanded complete freedom of press, amnesty for political prisoners and equal rights for all.

Márton Lovászy, Vice President of the Independent Party also shared his thoughts: „The enemy is at the border, but the country's social and political powers are more dangerous than the enemy itself. The government lost its mind, they have no idea what to do, and they certainly do not wish to do what should be done. We need strong, humble and honest people to take over this country and lead us. That is why we founded the Hungarian National Council. The ancient idea which put this country in danger is still trying to prevent us from prevailing. The situation calls for actions, and if we are persistent and dedicated enough, Hungary will have a bright future.” The social democrat Sándor Garbai spoke about the ruling class and demanded that the price of war should be paid by those who pushed this country into joining the war. He also sent a message to the army, saying that „the only way there will be order if we have the ones carrying weapons on our side.”  

Mihály Károlyi's trip to Vienna

After the Wekerle cabinet's resignation, Charles IV sat down with the most respected politicians to come up with a suitable plan on handling the crisis. He met Mihály Károlyi on Friday, October 25 for the first time, and most believed he will be appointed that day, but the two only had a conversation. The following day Charles IV met the more conservative politicians who were against the idea of a Károlyi cabinet, then Károlyi received a call about the king's new plan, which was also approved by leaders of the Hungarian National Council. The king asked to see Károlyi in the afternoon at his Gödöllő Palace, and by then everyone was certain that Károlyi will be leaving Gödöllő as the new Prime Minister. The meeting started at 18:30, but they were soon interrupted by a phone call, after which the king told Károlyi that they need to go to Vienna to clarify something important. They left that night.

The royal train arrived to the Austrian capital next day on Sunday the 27th at 07:30. The royal couple bid farewell to Károlyi at the station and he was driven to the Bristol Hotel to meet Lammasch, the Austrian PM candidate. Meanwhile, the king had a meeting with Károlyi's biggest political opponent, Gyula Andrássy Foreign Minister, and shortly after appointed Lammasch to be the Austrian Prime Minister of the liquidation government. The event was followed by two major conferences: one between the new Austrian cabinet members, led by the newly appointed Prime Minister, and another one at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Andrássy, where they discussed home- and foreign affairs.

At this point, Mihály Károlyi was still waiting for the Austrian Prime Minister at the Bristol Hotel, who never showed. At 15:00 he contacted the king through the cabinet office to tell him that he is leaving Vienna, for which the king replied that Prince Joseph will then brief him at the train station. Károlyi met the prince at the royal waiting room 5 minutes before the train's departure and they continued their discussion in the saloon carriage. The king made a decision on who shall be the new Prime Minister, and appointed Prince Joseph to act in his name as „homo regius”, and continue negotiations with leading Hungarian politicians. People at home knew about the train's arrival, and by 21:00 thousands gathered at Nyugati railway station.

When the train arrived at 21:45, the crowd broke in the Körút entry and flooded the building. Count Mihály Károlyi exited the train in a grey overcoat and sports cap. Even though the king was yet to appoint him the crowd greeted him as their new leader. After Márton Lovászy's official welcome, people lifted him on their shoulders to carry him out the station, but the side doors' gates were closed, so Károlyi had to climb through and jump out on Váci út to take the tram. The crowd followed him, stopped a carriage on Teréz körút and transferred the politician to a carriage. When they reached Oktogon, Károlyi entered a car and drove to the Independent Party's building on Gizella square (Vörösmarty square today), where the tired and disappointed party leader made a brief but inspiring thank you speech to the celebrating crowd.