Red, yellow, green – The colours of Budapest

Hungarian version of the article: Kilencven évvel ezelőtt kapott piros-sárga-zöld színeket Budapest

Written by: Gergely Flier

August 27, 2020 at 5:00 PM

Ninety years ago, on 20 August 1930, new flags decorated the streets of Budapest. The red-yellow-green tricolour replaced the red-yellow-blue colours in use since 1873. Ten years after Trianon, Act XVIII of 1930 detailed changes to Budapest's flag and coat of arms. One of the reasons behind the change was that the colours of the old Budapest flag and the Romanian flag were the same, but adding the traditional colour of green, Buda to the symbols of the capital was also an important factor.

The original flag of the capital was determined by the decision-makers when Budapest was united in 1873. According to their decision, the flag of Budapest was red-yellow-blue, the colours of the former flag of Pest, while the colours of Buda were not included. The latter fact had been the subject of debate since the beginning, and then in the twentieth century, the colours of the Romanian flag were the focus of criticism, especially after the Romanian occupation of Budapest in 1919 and  Trianon. 

It should be noted, moreover, that although our south-eastern neighbours are happy to derive the colours of their national flag from ancient times, from before the Hungarian conquest, the antiquity of the Romanian tricolour stands on a rather weak footing based on historical sources. What is certain, however, was that when the flag was first officially used in 1834, the colours red-yellow-blue were long ago the traditional colours of Transylvania, symbolizing the three ethnicities that made up Transylvania the Hungarian, Szekler, and Saxon nations.

Flag of Budapest introduced in 1873 (Image source: Pest-Buda, Symbols of Budapest. Budapest Archives: Budapest, 1998)

In any case, in the 1920s, the Hungarian press increasingly said that foreign visitors to Budapest, often high-ranking politicians, did not understand why the Romanian flag was visible everywhere in Budapest. Thus, at the end of the decade, the General Assembly of the capital decided to set up a committee to examine how it would be possible to change the coat of arms of Budapest and the colours of its flag according to the rules of heraldry. This committee invited renowned experts, including Albert Gárdonyi, a university professor and chief archivist. Gárdonyi commented on the issue in the 16 November 1929 issue of Ujság, and again drew attention to Buda:

“Before the unification of Buda and Pest, Buda had a red-white-green flag and Pest had a red-yellow-blue flag. At the time when the two cities were united, it would have made sense to unite the flags of the cities as well. The color red occurs in both, the special colours of Buda were white and green, and Pest yellow and blue. The red-yellow-blue flag, which now represents the colours of the capital, shows that neither of the special colours of Buda was included, only the colours of Pest, although at the time the capital was not Pest but Buda. Therefore, now that action began to change the colours of the flag, it was necessary to combine a flag with the special colours of both Pest and Buda in order to express the community of the two cities.”

At the time, the experts were still thinking of using red-white-blue colours but soon decided to use red-yellow-green that were more similar to the old flag. The press highlighted that it was beneficial for cost savings that only one colour had to be changed.

The red-yellow-green flag of Budapest, introduced in 1930, appears on very few colour photographs. The picture was taken at the Budapest International Fair. Behind the flag line is the domed building of the Industrial Hall, to the right, is a group of statues of the Sió fairy's old fountain (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 20778)

The timing of the debate also had to do with the wording of the new law on the administration of Budapest, and since the capital's flag was approved by the ruler in 1873, only the legislature had the right to change it. The new Capital Act was born mainly in the spirit of the Bethlen government’s centralisation efforts and significantly transformed the previous system of the city administration. The area of the capital was also increased at that time, and the number of administrative districts was increased from 10 to 14. Act XVIII of 1930 entered into force on 29 May 1930.

The districts of Budapest according to the division of the 1930 Capital Act. The law created four new districts, the 11th to 14th.

 The new flag was enthusiastically welcomed by the public. An article in the Est on 17 August 1930 states:

 “Let’s wave our handkerchiefs with joy at the red-yellow-green and accept the significance of these colours as our love and optimism explain their significance.
Red: joy, yellow: wealth, green: a symbol of good hope.
And the harmony and agreement of the three colours is the peaceful harmony of the citizens of the city. Two national colours have now been added to the flag of the capital and this can be given a deeper meaning than a simple heraldic coincidence, no, this is no coincidence, the stripes of the flags resonate in their understandable language that the country and its capital are closer to each other than before, one belongs to the other, the capital to the country, the country to the capital as heart to body and body to heart, one without the other is nothing and they cannot live without each other. The old flag differed from the new in only one colour, but in two colours from the flag of the nation. And this big difference prevailed in the life of Hungary and Budapest.”

 The description is almost a poetic expression of the “centralisation” mentioned above.

Flag of Budapest in front of the old Buda town hall. The main figure on the picture taken at the Procession of the Holy Right on 20 August 1943 is Prime Minister Miklós Kállay (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 20821)

Surprisingly, no new flag was introduced in Budapest after 1945. The city's flag simply fell out of use in 1949. The red flag was placed next to the Hungarian flag during the festivities. In the years after the fall of communism, the symbols of Budapest had to be decided again. The Budapest City Council chose the red-yellow-blue flag in 1990 following the original decision from 1873. And everything started again... The situation was resolved after the election of István Tarlós. On 22 June 2011, the General Assembly of Budapest adopted the new flag of Budapest by a large majority, which is still in use with a minor amendment voted on 3 August 2011.

Cover photo: The red-yellow-green flag of Budapest introduced in 1930 at the 1942 Budapest International Fair in Városliget (Photo: Fortepan / Image ID: 20778)


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