It was on June 4, 1920, 88 years ago, that in the Trianon Palace, just outside of Paris, Hungary signed the peace treaty with the Allied and Associated Powers. As a result, Hungary proper (that is, without Croatia-Slavonia) was reduced to less than one-third (32.6%) of its former territories, and it lost almost 60% of its population. However, out of the slightly more than 18 million inhabitants only about 10 million people claimed Hungarian as their mother tongue. Post-war Hungary's population was reduced to about 7 million, most of them Hungarian-speaking. The rest, over three million, found themselves outside the borders.
Trianon was a national trauma for Hungarians. And it was exploited by a succession of Hungarian governments whose main foreign policy aim was the recovery of some or all of the lost territories and their Hungarian-language brethren who found themselves in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
I'm not planning to go into the details of Hungarian foreign policy between the two world wars. Those who are interested in a short description of the ill-fated foreign policy conducted by inter-war Hungarian governments might want to read my study that appeared in The Hungarians: A Divided Nation, ed. Stephen Borsody, and available on the internet (http://tinyurl.com/3tdckn).
The blame for Trianon can be divided between the Hungarians and the Allied and Associated Powers who favored their allies and greedy pseudo-allies. The rather naive Wilsonian doctrine of self-determination of nations was difficult to implement. In most cases the nationalities lived interspersed or in clusters. For example, the larger cities were mostly Hungarian speaking while the villages around them were not. Or it could easily happen that there were two villages next to each other: one was Hungarian-speaking and the other Romanian. The most ethnically confused area was the Bácska-Bánát region, today called Voivodina within Serbia. This area after the withdrawal of the Turkish forces became a mishmash of Serbs, Germans, Hungarians, and Romanians. It was impossible to divide this region in a just manner on Wilsonian principles. Or there were the Hungarians or Szeklers (Székelys) who lived smack in the middle of Transylvania surrounded on all sides by solid Romanian majorities.
The flawed doctrine of self-determination of nations was not the only consideration in redrawing borders. Hungary's neighbors had strategic demands. For example, the Czechs argued that only the Danube could give the new country adequate military protection against Hungary. The Great Powers deemed the Czech demand compelling, and as a result a large, purely Hungarian territory was ceded to Czechoslovakia. The Romanians claimed that a certain railroad line must belong to them. Again, the result was that a large Hungarian-populated area next to the border ended up on the Romanian side. When it came to the Voivodina the ethnic mix was so intricate that a just solution would have been to keep the northern half in Hungary and give the southern half to Yugoslavia. That didn't happen. The whole area was given to Serbia. Basically, all mixed territories were given to the neighbors, and as a consequence Hungary's territory and population became so small that even the American, British, Italian, and French experts who delineated the new borders in separate committees were surprised at the final outcome. But they took refuge in the belief that they were only offering suggestions, that the heads of the delegations would take a second look. They didn't.
These were the sins of the Allied and Associated Powers, but Hungary wasn't blameless either. In a country where barely half of the population was Hungarian one couldn't act as if it were a homogeneous nation state. But that is exactly how Hungarian politicians behaved. There was only one official language: Hungarian. There were almost no Romanian, Slovak or Serb members of parliament. There was only one Romanian-language gymmasium and not a single Slovak-language one. As one nationalist Hungarian politician happily announced: "The Hungarian-language gymnasiums are wonderful. Like sausage stuffers. Little Slovaks enter and Hungarians come out at the other end."
Slovak assimilation was significant not just because of the gymnasiums but also because Upper Hungary was a poor region in search of a better future. Many Slovaks migrated to the capital and soon enough became Hungarian speaking; their children considered themselves to be Hungarian. In fact, Eduard Benes, later foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, when he was pushing for a Danubian border between the two countries and the western powers raised their concerns about the very large Hungarian population on the left bank of the river, brought up the fairness of the "swap." After all, he argued, there are over 100,000, perhaps even 200,000, Slovaks who live in Budapest.
On the other hand, Romanians were not easily assimilated, perhaps because of religious differences. Elementary schools were in the hands of the churches, and they were free to choose the language of instruction. They normally opted for the language spoken in the village because there were not enough Hungarian-speaking teachers; moreover, it was an impossible task to conduct classes in a language not one child in the school understood.
Between the two world wars the whole country was constantly reminded of Trianon. Black flags were displayed on the anniversary, every child had to recite a little verse that Greater Hungary was heaven, and the truncated mantra "Nem, nem, soha!" (No, no, never!) meant that the country would never accept the verdict of Trianon. By contrast, after the Second World War, and especially after the Communist takeover, to talk about Trianon was practically forbidden. As if it never happened. If the Horthy regime's attitude was wrong and led to a second national disaster, the silence that followed was equally wrong and led to ignorance and confusion.
With the change of regime Trianon again became a topic of conversation and unfortunately the object of politics. Tomorrow I will say a few words about the fate of Trianon in the hands of the Hungarian right and lately of Fidesz.