It was 82 years ago, back in 1941, that the country of my birth, Hungary, switched to driving on the right [link in Hungarian].
The decision has a sad history. It was prompted by the experience earlier that year when Hungary allowed the transit of Wehrmacht troops on their way to occupy Yugoslavia.
This was yet another step towards Hungary fully committing itself to the German effort, giving up any semblance of neutrality.
For Hungary’s prime minister at the time, Pal Teleki, this was the last drop [link in Hungarian] in the proverbial bucket. Early in the morning on April 3, 1941, he shot himself. His farewell letter to Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s leader at the time, simply stated, “I did not hold you back. I am guilty. Pal Teleki, April 3, 1941.”
Hungary went on to fight with the Germans against the USSR. When it became clear that the Germans cannot win, Horthy made a half-hearted attempt to extricate the country out of the war. Instead, he was removed from power by the rabid national socialist Arrow Cross, with support from occupying German troops, who in the remaining few months of the war assisted the Germans in the deportation and wholesale murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungary’s Jews. In the end, the country was liberated but at a tremendous cost: Much of Budapest lay in ruins, devastated by a brutal Soviet siege, with all the city’s magnificent bridges across the Danube destroyed by the retreating Germans. Eventually, Horthy’s worst nightmare became reality: The “Bolsheviks” took over and stayed in power for more than 40 years, which included the a bloody intervention by the Soviets in 1956 to crush an anti-communist revolution.
Meanwhile, Budapest’s “millennial” subway, the continent’s first all-electric urban underground railway, continued to drive on the left all the way up to 1973, when the line was rebuilt, new rolling stock were introduced, and these trains, too, were switched to right-hand drive.