If the earth were a single state, Constantinople would be its capital.
In the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Transylvania to Ethiopia, from Algiers to the Caspian Sea.
By the end of the 19th century, France had chipped away at much of North Africa, the Ottoman Empire’s ‘ally’ Britain had assumed protective control of Egypt, Balkin republics were declaring their independence in Europe, while Arab groups to the East were fighting for the same. In addition, the Empire was crippled by a mountain of debt to European creditors brought on by the Crimean War and the numerous wars that followed.
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers (Austro-Hungary) against the Allied Powers (Britain, France, and Russia). The Empire met with initial successes, but weakened during the War’s progress, partially by internal conflicts such as the Great Arab Revolt and independence movements encouraged by the Allies.
A young military commander by the name of Ataturk, who rose to fame at the Battle of Gallipoli, was enraged at the Allied partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and the occupation of Constantinople. Between 1919 and 1923 he led the resistance in the Turkish War of Independence, fought mainly against Greece, France, and Armenia.
In 1923, after 8 months of negotiations, representatives of the warring states signed the Treaty of Lausanne. The treaty negated Ottoman claims in Iraq, Syria, and Cyprus, and acknowledged the Republic of Turkey as the successor to the Ottoman Empire. The Republic was officially proclaimed on October 29, 1923, and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became its first president.
For three decades Hungarians were forbidden to mention the events that occurred on October 23, 1956.
After World War II, Hungary found itself increasingly under the thumb of the Soviet occupiers that had liberated the country from the Nazis. The Communist Party slowly replaced the democratically elected Hungarian government, and the Hungarian State Security Police “purged” thousands of political dissidents through relocation, imprisonment, and execution.
In 1955 Hungarians hoped their country might go the way of Austria, becoming a demilitarized, independent country. However, the Warsaw Pact of that year bound Hungary to the USSR and formed part of “the Iron Curtain”.
In Poland, public outcry at Soviet quashing of an uprising had led the Soviets to make concessions to Poland in October 1956. Hungarian students expressing solidarity with the Poles by holding a demonstration in Budapest at statue of Polish-Hungarian General Józef Bern. Students cut the Soviet coat of arms from the Hungarian flag and sang the old national song, Nemzeti dal, “We vow we will no longer remain slaves.”
According to reports, the crowd swelled from 20,000 people to as many as 200,000. By evening, the crowd had toppled the 10 meter tall statue of the recently-deceased Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and placed Hungarian flags in his boot. As the demonstrations multiplied and crowds grew unruly, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. But it was the much reviled Security Police that fired the first shots into the crowd.
News of the clashes in Budapest spread throughout the country. Protests and demonstrations broke across Hungary, followed by mob violence against the Security Police and full-scale revolution.
On the 28th of October, Soviets called for a ceasefire and Soviet forces withdrew from Budapest. A new national Hungarian government was proclaimed, led by Imre Nagy, with the intention of becoming a neutral multi-party democracy.
The joy was brief. On November 3, the infant government was invited to negotiate the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Arriving at the meeting point, the delegation was arrested. Soviet tanks attacked Budapest in “Operation Whirlwind”. By November 10, when the last rebels conceded defeat, 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops were dead.
It would be a long road to freedom for the Hungarians. On October 23, 1989, just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Republic of Hungary was proclaimed, and October 23 was declared a national holiday in memory of the short-lived government and the revolution that refused to be forgotten.
Today the descendants of the world’s oldest Republic celebrate Republic Day.
Over 2500 years ago present-day Italy was ruled by a king with a superbadass name, Tarquinius Superbus, who inherited the throne, not through direct lineage, but the even-older-fashion way–by offing his wife’s dad King Tullius.
Servius Tullius had angered the Roman elite by implementing revolutionary policies that protected the poor and laid the foundations for constitutional government. Tarquinius and the king’s daughter Tullia, outraged at how her father was flushing their country down the toilet, led the conspiracy to assassinate him, ending his 44-year reign. According to legend, Tullia showed her remorse for the murder by repeatedly running over her father’s dead body with a chariot.
Tarquinius ushered in a new age of Roman reform, by repealing his father-in-law’s Constitutional decrees and maintaining the peace through violence, murder and terrorism. These halcyon days came to an abrupt halt in 510 BC. Just as Tullius’ daughter became the king’s downfall, Tarquinius’ son Sextus would become his, taking down not only his father, but the entire concept of monarchy in his wake.
The unruly and loathsome Sextus decided it would be a thrill to rape one of the most respected and pious members of Roman patrician society. He told Lucretia, wife of the nobleman Collatinus, that if she refused to submit to him, he would have her killed and place her body in bed with a dead slave, all before her husband returned home. A fate worse than death, she would be disgraced for all time.
Lucretia gave in to the threat. But after the evil deed, she reported circumstances of the rape to her family. She then committed suicide to save them from scandal. The furor that arose against the king led to a revolt against the monarchy and the deposing of the whole king’s clan.
On these precarious beginnings grew the most famous republic in world history. A republic that only ended half a millennium later when Julius Caesar was elected dictator for life.
But that has nothing to do with Republic Day. No, the Italians celebrate Republic Day to commemorate this day back in 1946, when they elected to boot the House of Savoy, Europe’s longest ruling royal house, from power.
‘fascio-nating’ bit of linguistic trivia:
In 1922, after a series of riots and civil unrest, Italy’s King had appointed the strong figure of Mussolini, leader of the Fascist Party, to be the nation’s new Prime Minister. (Today’s word fascist comes from the Italian fascio, referring to a bundle of rods. In the 19th century the fascio was used by political groups as a symbol of Italian unity: the individual sticks of the fascio were fragile, while the bundle itself was unbreakable.)
The King assumed Mussolini would reign in the rebelling democratic and parliamentary institutions. Mussolini did indeed consolidate power, by declaring himself supreme dictator and doing away with any semblance of representative or Constitutional government.
In 1939 Mussolini and the Fascists brought Italy into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany in the hopes of rebuilding an empire–a mission accomplished by conquering King Zog of Albania. Mussolini met his fate near the end of the war. Executed by a Soviet firing squad, Mussolini’s body was hung upsidedown at an Esso gas station, where it became a punching bag for angry Italian citizens.
But his death didn’t ease resentment against the monarchy that had once promoted the dictator.
There were no names or specifics on the famous 1946 referendum. The ballot asked voters to determine whether the Head of the Italian State would be held by the Royal Family–the House of Savoy–or a democratically elected representative.
During this process King Vittorio Emanuele III handed over the throne to his son Umberto II. Umberto is called “the King of May”, referring to his fleeting reign. On June 2 and 3 a narrow margin of Italians voted for the final abolition of the Italian monarchy.
As a result of the referendum the king and his progeny were forced to leave Italy forever. It wasn’t until 2002 that this provision was overturned, and the son of King Umberto, Victor Emmanuel, exiled for 56 years, finally re-entered the land he once almost ruled.