Hungary’s voluntary exiles–written by S.K.

One of the special features of Hungarian history is that the country withdrew from international intercourse from time to time. This did not always happen by choice, but as time advanced, happened with increased frequency and stridency.

The relatively benign period of the late nineteenth century was, behind the façade of tranquility, a long and relentless preparation for a series of such self-removals. The background for the coming disaster was the country’s multi-national character. Only about 50% of its inhabitants were Hungarian-speaking. The reaction was a frantic effort to change the ethnic composition of Hungary.

This quarter century of hysteria on the part of the Hungarian political elite was partly justified, because there was a campaign largely conducted by Czech, Slovak, Croat and other minorities of Austria-Hungary in the interest of transforming the Dual Monarchy into a federation of different nationality groups. That would have meant putting an end to the unitary nature of the Hungarian half of the Monarchy. And that was something that was unacceptable to the Hungarian political elite.

Given the complicated ethnic structure of the Dual Monarchy, entering a war that might end in defeat posed very serious risks. With the exception of the Serb minority that was outright antagonistic at the outbreak of the war, all other non-Hungarians served faithfully throughout the war. No Slovaks joined the Russians on the other side as the Czech legionnaires did. When the war was lost, some voices tried to blame the nationalities or the Jewish businessmen who had “profiteered” from the war. But the war was not lost so much on the battlefield or at home but rather in the diplomatic sphere. Even as the war continued, all sorts of negotiations took place between the Entente powers and the self-appointed representatives of the nationalities living abroad. And there were the smaller allies, Romania and Serbia, two countries with territorial ambitions against Hungary. The Czechs laid claim to the Slovak inhabited areas in the north. All in all, the disintegration of the country was inevitable.

In the fall of 1918 Count Mihály Károlyi declared and attempted to run a republic that was at first quite popular. After all, the long awaited “independence” from Austria was achieved. What was not clear to the Hungarian public was that for this “independence” they had to pay a very heavy price: the loss of two-thirds of the country’s territories and population. The neighbors immediately began a military occupation of the territories they hoped to receive, and Károlyi who had hoped to achieve better terms because of his democratic conviction and reputation began to lose credibility and popularity. At home he was being pressured from both the right and the left and in the spring of 1919 he resigned, handing over the reins of the government to the socialists. Behind his back the socialists made a deal with the newly formed communist party and on March 21, 1919, a soviet republic was declared.

Paris was shocked to hear about the declaration of a second soviet republic in the heart of Europe. What Károlyi couldn’t achieve, to talk face to face about terms with the representatives of the Great Powers, the communist Béla Kun managed to accomplish. The victorious four sent a representative to Budapest to “negotiate” about the demarcation lines. Of course, these lines were not negotiable. They were the recommended future borders between Romania and Hungary that Kun could either accept or not. He didn’t, the Entente representatives went back to Paris, and the Romanian troops kept moving westward. Once they reached Budapest that signaled the end of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Because of political wrangling in Budapest there was no recognized government until late November 1919, and therefore it wasn’t until February 1920 that Hungary was allowed to send a delegation to Paris to “discuss” the final settlement between victors and vanquished. Enter Count Albert Apponyi, the head of the delegation.

This elderly scion of a famous family, a descendant of generations of professional diplomats, fluent in four or five languages, member of parliament seemingly forever, possessing the looks and demeanor of the quintessential aristocrat, was chosen to plead Hungary’s case.

He started out with fairness and justice, but gradually sunk to race and “cultural superiority” as justification for the easing of terms. This was a red flag to the conference: it was clear that no matter what happens, the Hungarians intend to continue their discriminatory policies where they left off. Although Lloyd George offered some words of solace to Apponyi (“You were very eloquent,” he whispered to him the next day), the majority of Hungary’s territory, population, and wealth went to the neighbors.

Hungarian reaction to the harsh treatment was the worst imaginable. Instead of pragmatically accepting the situation in the hopes of later modification, the politicians and diplomats followed a belligerent and in the final analysis self-defeating course. The politics of the next twenty-five years were based on the principle of “Never, Never, Ever!” i.e. Hungary shall never resign itself to accepting the Paris Peace Treaty and its consequences. This Hungarian belligerence eventually led to the formation of the Little Entente (an alliance of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia) and resulted in Hungary’s total isolation.

But enough of the preliminaries. Why am I recounting all this for you? Well, it is obvious that an increasing part of today’s political class has decided to pick up again the discourse of the failed dual monarchy. “Fortified” by the ideologies of the late pre-war period (the rhetoric of the increasingly strident regimes of Gyula Gömbös, Béla Imrédy, Döme Sztójay and finally Ferenc Szálasi), they are ready to do battle to the embarrassment of Hungary again.

There are some who say that there are ultra right groups and parties in all European countries, so why not in Hungary? What’s the big deal? But not so fast! The French, British, German, etc. ultra right are well secluded and reviled, and the local majorities are prepared to isolate them at all times. Not so in Hungary. Support and sympathy for them has been steadily increasing ever since the early 1990s with the appearance of the first couple of openly racist essays.

At first the consternation was louder than the support, but not for long. As soon as some Fidesz members of parliament argued in the House that the socialist government was not really Hungarian because it was “alien hearted” (i.e. Jewish), the party in effect ratified racist rhetoric. They made it clear that it is acceptable to speak in such racist terms even in parliament and that they intended to pursue this line of attack to elicit support from the population at large. They succeeded. The population was so well primed in a few short years that to Fidesz’s greatest surprise, Jobbik, the ultra-right formation marching almost exclusively on the basis of the racist platform, was even more successful in sweeping up support than they were. Today Fidesz finds to their astonishment that they are forced to compete against Jobbik for the hearts and minds of the ever more radicalized population. They unleashed the strident tone in politics and now are increasingly being outperformed at it by their juniors.

These developments did not go unnoticed in the West. Politicians as well as the press from Hamburg to Zurich and from Lisbon to Toronto and New York spoke up. This, however, made no dent in the discourse in Hungary. In fact, it only increased the vulgarity: “they shall not tell us what to think and what to say, they are ‘always’ conspiring against us anyway, they only want our demise.” This is how and what they argue and there is ample willingness on the part of the electorate to buy into this line of “reasoning.”

Since the victory of Fidesz at the next election in 2010 is almost a foregone conclusion, and since the separation between them and Jobbik is even less than a faint rhetorical device, we can reasonably expect that this strident politics will become government policy in as little as ten or twelve months.

All this is eerily reminiscent of the pre-Second World War period’s radicalism, and we can be certain that it will lead to the same results now as it did then: at first derision, then contempt, finally isolation. Particularly because Europe has became a much more enlightened place. The contrast between then and now is obvious to everybody (even to the Catholic Church if the latest Papal Encyclical is any indication), but not to the Hungarian pretenders to government. In fact, they seem to be marching backwards to the darker and darker days of extremist politics of chauvinism and racism.

What is the motive that explains their conduct in the face of such widespread European disapproval? Simply that this stridency will almost certainly bring them electoral victory next year. For them no price is too high to pay to achieve victory, and they would rather voluntarily exile themselves and the country from the community of civilized Europe than to forego winning the election next year. And if that is the price they have to pay, they will gladly pay it since, as they say, there is nothing but enmity to expect from Europe anyway but much to gain by being in power.

Yes, there is a school of thought that says that history repeats itself and that what was tragedy is a farce the second time around. Alas, looking at the looming prospects of Hungarian politics, I see no reason to be amused.

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Member

Good guest post. I am not so sure about the equation of nationalism with racism, though. It seem more a “you’re either with us or against us” stance which tends to scapegoat everyone who disagrees and exhonerate everyone who agrees.
Nationalism seems to have an anti-Midas touch, everything it touches turns to sh*t. It always destroys the country it professes to love. Like all other sentimental views of the world (eg socialism, communism) it is difficult to get its supporters to look at it objectively though. It is easier to emote than to think.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
A very neat and perceptive analysis of the situation in Hungary. What will be the end-game? This will be at best self isolation and a gradual slide back into the hands of Russia (or anyone else who wants to stir up trouble for Europe). Time and time again Hungary has had chances (sometimes given to them on a silver plate) and each time this blindness to the outside world has seized them and they have ‘shot themselves in the foot’. Out here in the boondocks the average Hungarian regard anyone who is not fluent in Hungarian as a total cretin. The knowledge that strangers –Non Hungarian speakers- have is not worth even considering. Why? After all even their children can speak Hungarian so why cannot these foreign idiots! The fact that I speak two languages (my own and one other –now very rusty-) with some degree of fluency and have a sort of working knowledge of two more and a smattering of two others (including Hungarian) is neither here or there. My main hobby is making things, clocks, miniature steam locomotives etc. Although I will admit I have to spend too much time repairing things that Hungarians have broken. This… Read more »
lemuel
Guest

“No Slovaks joined the Russians on the other side as the Czech legionnaires did.”
That’s …erm, an interesting claim. However, they were not called Czech legions but Czechoslovak legions, and for a reason.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czechoslovak_Legions
“The Czechs laid claim to the Slovak inhabited areas in the north.”
Again a very interesting choice of words, making it sound as if Slovaks were just some passive, potentially loyal group, that was just taken from Hungary. However the Slovak political leadership made it quite clear that do no wish to be a part of Hungary anymore and chose to join the Czechs in the Czechoslovak political project.

Öcsi
Guest

After reading this article, my mind turned to a quote by Albert Einstein.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Lemuel: “Again a very interesting choice of words, making it sound as if Slovaks were just some passive, potentially loyal group, that was just taken from Hungary.”
That was pretty much the case. They didn’t really know what Benes, Masaryk and Stefanik were doing or thinking abroad. Actually even the Czechs at home were in the dark and were thinking in terms of a separate Czech Kingdom with a Russian ruler (Kramar). The Czechoslovak Legion started in 1914 as a “Czech brigade” formed by ethnic Czechs living in Russia. The name was changed to Czechoslovak once the Czechoslovak National Council took over. I would be actually very curious to know how many Slovaks joined. If you ask me I think the Slovaks even then would have preferred to be independent and didn’t think in terms of a Czechoslovakia.

lemuel
Guest
“If you ask me I think the Slovaks even then would have preferred to be independent and didn’t think in terms of a Czechoslovakia.” Not sure I can agree; if you look at the Martin declaration (although signed two days after the declaration of Czechoslovakia, the word hasn’t arrived to Martin yet!) is about severing the ties with Hungary, in no unclear terms I might add, with the clear intent of joining the Czechs. I agree that the wartime meant many were in the dark at home at the time and didn’t know exactly what Masaryk & co were doing, however that didn’t make their activities less legitimate. Yes it was called a Czech brigade, many Czechs and Slovaks also joined a “Serb brigade”, and they were later consolidated thanks to Stefanik into a Czechoslovak legion. It would indeed be interesting to know the exact numbers, but Slovaks did join the Czechoslovak legions, it seems almost absurd that I have to write this. To mention just one notable name: Ferdinand Čatloš. And apologies, I didn’t mean to hi-jack this thread with historical excursus only tangentially relevant to the topic, but I felt there was a slight misperception of the Slovak… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Lemuel quoting me: “If you ask me I think the Slovaks even then would have preferred to be independent and didn’t think in terms of a Czechoslovakia.”
Not sure I can agree;
I’m straining my brain but what was the name of the Slovak politician who went to Paris to talk about at least autonomy within Czechoslovakia and I think it was Benes who managed to achieve their expulsion from the French capital. I’m sure you know whom I have in mind.

lemuel
Guest

I think you mean Andrej Hlinka, but you need to put his actions in the proper context – he was one of the signatories of the Martin decl., and in favour of the Czechoslovak state – however he became soon disillusioned with what he perceived as Czech anti-Catholicism and demanded that the future organisation of the state be in accordance with the Pittsburgh treaty, guaranteeing Slovak autonomy (something which wasn’t entirely possible given the argument presented in Paris that the Czechs and Slovaks are one common nation[with two languages]). The trip to Paris in 1919 was an unfortunate example of lack of political prowess on his part and he remained very much a complicated figure throughout the 20s and 30s, to put it mildly. But it was Hlinka who is often quoted as saying “Our 1000-year marriage with Hungarians has not worked out, we have to separate.” Strong stuff coming from a catholic priest. 🙂
There were a number of ideas and proposals circulating at the time, true, autonomy in Hungary, independence, joining the Polish, but the idea of joining the Czechs was prevalent.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Lemuel: “I think you mean Andrej Hlinka” Yes, thank you. I enjoy historical discussions and I’m glad for the opportunity to talk about all this. I’m not saying that the Slovaks wanted to remain with the Hungarians. Especially after a lost war when they had the opportunity to be on the winning side. I would have done the same thing if I had been a Slovak politician. Only a fool would have done otherwise. As for the Slovaks joining the Czechs I think it was a relatively new idea and it was dictated mostly by a fait accomplis. It was pretty much a done deal. Until then, tell me if I’m wrong, there was not much intercourse betwen Czechs and Slovaks either politically or culturally. Even picking a Slovak dialect to serve as a literary language was dictated by the desire to be different from Czech. In brief, I think that without the war it was very unlikely that there would have been any serious cooperation between Czechs and Slovaks. After all, the Czechs wanted to have trial monarchy instead of a dual one. The third leg being the Czech lands. They didn’t seem to think much about the fate… Read more »
lemuel
Guest
“Until then, tell me if I’m wrong, there was not much intercourse betwen Czechs and Slovaks either politically or culturally.” Oh no, you are, I am afraid, very wrong. Throughout the 19th century, with growing national emancipation, there has been a rich discussion between Czechs and Slovaks – for example Slovak born Jan Kollar and Pavol Jozef Safarik can be claimed by both nations as important thinkers and intellectuals. Furthermore, there has also been a tradition (especially in the latter half of the 19th century with intensifying policies of magyarization in education) of Slovak students studying in Prague. Also, The Czechoslovak Unity, an organization designed for the advancement of cultural, social and economic relations between Czechs and Slovaks was founded in 1896. Important Czech and Slovak intellectuals, writers and politicians met regularly in the spa town of Luhacovice, and many Czech ‘Slovakophiles’ helped the struggling Slovaks out of cultural isolation, printing books, making collections for students etc. High school is long gone for me, but believe me, there were whole chapters on Czech and Slovak relations before 1914. 🙂 (Also the idea of a trial monarchy in some Czech proposals, I think, actually operated with the idea of adding Slovak… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Lemuel quoting me “Until then, tell me if I’m wrong, there was not much intercourse betwen Czechs and Slovaks either politically or culturally.”
Oh no, you are, I am afraid, very wrong.
I have the suspicion that reality is somehwere between these two positions. I most likely underemphasized the connections between Czechs and Slovaks while the Czechoslovak textbooks overemphasized them for obvious reasons.

lemuel
Guest

I was referring to Slovak textbooks, written after the break-up, when the so-called ‘obvious’ reasons to overemphasize this connection would have long passed. But if you wish to maintain your “suspicion that reality is somewhere between these two positions” there is little I can say, though it does strike me as somewhat disingenuous.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Lemuel: “But if you wish to maintain your “suspicion that reality is somewhere between these two positions”….”
Well, I was hoping for a compromise solution.

Gheorghe Stoica
Guest

The same trend toward ‘right’ is shown by the hungarian minority in Romania, as if following ‘in pahse’ what is going on in Hungary.
The hungarian minority party (UDMR/RMDSZ) has
come under the influence of the radical ‘Tokes-group’ (a group which is known as being remote-controlled by FIDESZ).

Mark
Guest
“And if that is the price they have to pay, they will gladly pay it since, as they say, there is nothing but enmity to expect from Europe anyway but much to gain by being in power. Yes, there is a school of thought that says that history repeats itself and that what was tragedy is a farce the second time around. Alas, looking at the looming prospects of Hungarian politics, I see no reason to be amused.” While I naturally agree with the last sentence, I’m not so sure that a FIDESZ-Jobbik tandem wouldn’t be able to come to some kind of accommodation with the EU outside it. This I think is even more worrying than the prospect of isolation. Perhaps my pessimism is fuelled by my temporary location in Italy where an ugly coalition of various kinds of right-wing populists (containing some post-fascists, who are less post-fascists than they would have you believe), where the private media and the state is fused in the person of the Prime Minister to the extent that the average person (in so far as I can tell) is less aware of the scandals that surround him than citizens of other European countries,… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “While I naturally agree with the last sentence, I’m not so sure that a FIDESZ-Jobbik tandem wouldn’t be able to come to some kind of accommodation with the EU outside it.”
I’m not sure I understand the last two words: “outside it.” But with the rest I agree. Fidesz-Jobbik tandem could easily be accepted by EU. Very worrisome.

Sophist
Guest

Mark,
“I’m not so sure that a FIDESZ-Jobbik tandem wouldn’t be able to come to some kind of accommodation with the EU outside it.”
As a response to the Haider coalition in Austria, the Treaty of Nice included a mechanism that would enable the EU to deal with “a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law”
http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/law/lwsch/journals/bciclr/25_1/04_TXT.htm
Would you say that these principles have been breached in Italy, and the EU is turning a blind eye; or that the mechanism is not able to provide any other sanctions than “a few peeps”?

Mark
Guest
Sophist: “Would you say that these principles have been breached in Italy, and the EU is turning a blind eye; or that the mechanism is not able to provide any other sanctions than “a few peeps”?” I do for the record believe that there have to be serious questions about the Italian government’s committment to the rule of law given the Prime Minister’s use of his parliamentary majority to exempt himself from prosecution for corruption. The routine fingerprinting of Italian Roma is also – I think – a serious breach of human rights. The question is where one draws the line. We have to remember that the measures taken against Austria were ineffective because (a) the government in Vienna carried on regardless, and (b) there was no political will to continue with them. The only other precedent of possible relevance of that where the actions of a European government created a serious humanitarian crisis – and that was the case of NATO action over Kosovo. And that was against a government that was not a member of the EU. I remain to be convinced that the EU has an effective mechanism for ensuring that members – one they are in… Read more »
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