The southwestern Hungarian city of Pécs has fortifications on top of older fortifications.
As Sophianae, the capital of the Roman province of Lower Pannonia, it served as a bastion for over four centuries against the predations of wandering tribes probing imperial borders.
Roman walls, though, couldn’t withstand Attila whose 5th-century forces swept as far west as Gaul.
The Goths pushed Attila’s Huns out of their fortified encampment. Lombards and a succession of other peoples repeated the process until the Magyars, under the generalship of Árpád, claimed the land as their own in the late 9th century.
The Mongol invasions of the 13th century prompted more wall building. The Magyars managed to hold on through the Mongol invasion.
As kids my son and daughter enjoyed role-playing as they march around a 15th-century barbican constructed by the descendants of Árpád’s first settlers.
They were meant to deal with the threat of the Ottoman Empire as its armies then marshaled in the Balkans to the south of Pécs.
After the bloody defeat of the Hungarians and the death of their king, Louis II on the battlefield of Mohács 37 kilometres east of Pécs in 1526, the high walls of the city couldn’t keep out the forces of Suleiman the Great.
The Ottomans knew how to play one contending faction against another. They found space in the Reformation then Counter-Reformation struggles in Europe to destabilize their enemies.
Protestant Hungarians provided ready allies for them against the Catholic Hapsburgs of Austria.
The Ottoman Empire ruled most of Hungary, or Magyarország as they called it, for more than a century and a half until the second battle at Mohács in 1687.
The failure of the Ottoman’s siege of Vienna in 1683 marked the beginning of the end of their 300-year battle for Central Europe.
Four years later at the second battle of Mohács the Hapsburg replaced Ottoman rule for over Hungary.
For the next 237 years they were in control. In the 20th century, defeat in the First World War forced the Austrians out.
But later Germans and Russians would in turn garrison this land. Clearly walls didn’t keep enemies out. They never have.
Today at Mohács, wraith-like guardians loom over that very bloodied battlefield. These abstract figures and the tattered strips of cloth blowing off them gave me an eerie sense of horror that had repeatedly visited this scene.
They also served as a reminder that no matter how high the walls or how powerful an army may seem to be, they can’t keep opponents at bay forever.
This was as true for the Roman legions in Lower Pannonia as it is for NATO troops in Afghanistan today.
Author and journalist Anthony Fenton spoke in Whitehorse this week on how our government’s commitment in Afghanistan represents a radical transformation in our nation’s foreign policy.
He sees the rebirth of a vocal peace movement in Canada as one necessary step reorienting our national priorities.
Certainly today we should know that ultimately peace and security cannot be won with walls or guns.
They can’t be guaranteed by a missile shield either. If world leaders don’t understand this then their citizens must tell them over and over again until they understand or are replaced.
The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has undertaken a study into the possibility of creating a local food bank to help fill the short falls of the existing food relief programs.
If you would like to learn more about this effort and the volunteer opportunities it could provide please plan to attend a short volunteer meeting on April 16th at 6 p.m. at the Whitehorse Public Library.
Bags are now being dropped off for the Annual ‘In the spirit of caring’ ecumenical food drive from April 23 to 27th to help support the food relief programs at Maryhouse and the Salvation Army. Please be generous.