National Symbols

The nation is sometimes referred to as a symbolic community of people. In other words, the nation is held together by the strength of its collectively accepted system of symbols: the stories, images and signs preserved by collective memory and passed down from generation to generation. The acquisition of this symbol-system is the prerequisite for belonging to the given national community.

What are the elements that belong to this system of symbols? The national flag (colors), the coat of arms, the national anthem, as well as the heroes of history, unique geographical elements, gastronomy, the characteristics of flora and fauna, and cultural customs. It is difficult to define just how far the category of national symbols extends. The domain of symbols also varies from nation to nation. The French and the Australians, for example, have animal mascots (the Gaelic rooster and the kangaroo respectively) while Hungarians don’t have a representative of the animal kingdom other cultures accept as a symbol of the Hungarian nation. These symbols often have a long pre-history, even though they develop during the course of becoming a nation, and later become fixed in communal consciousness. Symbols help in the creation of a nation, the process of identification with the community. They are taught and represented in schools, textbooks, churches, other institutions promoting national culture such as museums and the Academy of Sciences, theaters, state and municipal cultural institutions and the armed forces, if there is some form of independent state structure.

Symbols expressing the sovereignty of the state are also considered national symbols, which are included in the constitution. In the case of Hungary, and Central Europe in general, we must keep in mind that in the frequent and long-standing periods of an absence of state independence, these symbols were not established under similar circumstances. In 1896, when Alfréd Hajós received the first Hungarian gold medal in swimming at the first modern day Olympics in Athens, the royal Greek military band played the Austrian national anthem in honor of the Hungarian athlete: At the time international law did not consider Hungary, which comprised a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an independent entity.

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