Hungary traces its history back to the Magyars, an alliance of semi-nomadic tribes from southern Russia and the Black Sea coast that arrived in the region in the ninth century. After centuries as a powerful medieval kingdom, Hungary was part of the Ottoman and then Habsburg empires from the 16th century onwards, emerging as an independent country again after World War I.
The Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is one of the handful of languages spoken within the European Union that are not of Indo-European origin.
A landlocked country, Hungary is home to Lake Balaton, the largest in central Europe, and to a large number of spa towns and hot springs.
It has especially rich traditions in folk and classical music and was the birthplace of numerous outstanding performers and composers, including Franz Liszt, Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.
At a glance
- Politics: Prime Minister Viktor Orban's conservative Fidesz party's sweeping victory in the 2010 election has enabled it to push through radical legislative changes. The date of the next election has been set for 6 April 2014
- Economy: Since 2010, the Hungarian government has pursued "unorthodox" economic policies that include aggressive taxes on foreign-owned companies
- International: Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. The EU has expressed concerns over what it sees as Hungary's failure to respect European democratic standards since 2010
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
Hungary became co-equal partner with Austria in a dual monarchy in the mid-19th century after an unsuccessful revolt against the Habsburgs in 1848. After a period of turmoil following World War I, an independent kingdom of Hungary was established under the authoritarian regency of Admiral Miklos Horthy.
The redrawing of European borders that took place after World War I left about five million ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries. Their status remains a sensitive issue and has complicated Hungary's relations with its neighbours.
Following World War II, in which Admiral Horthy had allied himself with Germany, Hungary fell under communist rule. An uprising in 1956 was crushed by Red Army forces, but Hungary did later become the first Eastern European country to gain some economic freedom.
Hungary played an important part in accelerating the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe when it opened its border with Austria in 1989, allowing thousands of East Germans to escape to the West. Just a few months later the Berlin Wall was history.
Hungary's post-communist economic transition was achieved relatively smoothly. Within four years of the collapse of communism nearly half of the country's economic enterprises had been transferred to the private sector, and by 1998 Hungary was attracting nearly half of all foreign direct investment in Central Europe.
Ten years later, the picture looked rather less rosy. A high level of both private and state borrowing left the country particularly vulnerable to the credit crunch of 2008, and in October of that year the government was forced to appeal to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank for massive loans in a bid to stave off economic collapse.
Dissatisfaction with the centre-left coalition government's handling of the economy from 2002 to 2010 coincided with the rise of the right-wing nationalist party Jobbik, known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy rhetoric, and a move to the authoritarian right by the Fidesz party, which won the 2010 election.
Fidesz has moved to cement its power over public institutions such as the judiciary by throwing out Hungary's more liberal post-communist constitution and replacing it with a constitution that critics say strengthens the power of the state.
The situation of Hungary's Roma minority - which constitutes about 7% of the population - has come under the spotlight in recent years. The Roma community is blighted by poverty and illiteracy, with many Roma living on the margins of Hungarian society, often victims of neglect and discrimination.