The Lesser Knowns
What is the second highest mountain in the world? Stumped? You’re not the only one. Who remembers the runner-ups? Unless you’re a trivia buff, knowledge of runner-ups is an acquired taste.
We remember firsts for one main reason, because they came first. It is that simple. All that comes after, no matter how notable, falls into the realm of the lesser known.
This logic goes for the tallest mountains (or hills as they call them) in Hungary.
Many Hungarians can easily name Mt. Kékes as the highest point in the land. How many though do you suppose know Galyatető – at 965 meters – comes in right behind Kékes as second tallest.
Galyatető is part of the Mátraszentimre, one of the highest ranges in Hungary. These heavily forested uplands are as close as Hungarians will get to finding mountains in the nation.
Known as the Mátra Hills they are a region of small villages, thick forests and grassy meadows covered in wild flowers during the late spring and summer. In a sense, this is a land that time forgot. It falls into a natural, historical and cultural netherworld of the lesser known.
Yet lesser known, does not mean it is no less surprising. Even this peaceful and forgotten landscape did not escape the fate of 20th century European history.
Many of the small villages tucked into these hills were once home to various ethnic groups, including Slovaks.
All that changed following the end of the Second World War. Hungary, which had taken southern Slovakia back in 1941, was once again forced to cede control of the region. This led to one of the most unsettling arrangements that followed the war, forced population exchanges.
In Hungary, this is mainly remembered as the time when the infamous Benes Decrees were put into effect by Czechoslovakia. This led to the forcible transfer of ethnic Hungarians out of southern Slovakia.
Somewhere between 41,000 and 120,000 (the numbers are quite confused) were sent to Hungary where they tried to somehow create a new life. Some say this was justice. After all had not the Hungarians sided with the Nazi’s. Yet the Slovaks had done the same as well.
What is even lesser known, is the fact that over 70,000 Slovaks in Hungary – who had called places such as Mátraszentimre home for centuries – moved back to Slovakia also as part of these population exchanges.
The big difference between these two situations: the Hungarians were forced to move, while the Slovaks chose this option. Nonetheless, it caused major upheaval for both sides. In villages such as those around Mátraszentimre, Slovaks who had lived here for centuries left in a matter of months. Much of their culture went with them as well.
Some Slovaks did remain though. Today in Mátraszentimre there are still villagers that speak Slovak. In order to sustain their culture and boost tourism, special events are held that focus on the deeply rooted Slovak culture of Mátraszentimre.
Thus, visitors here get to take in the stunning scenery and at the same time learn about a unique heritage. One less well known than it should be.
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