A few weeks ago one of the Hungarian television stations, ATV, began a new program. Every Monday night there are discussions with politicians about topics that in one way or another are related to the elections and the election campaign. This week the topic was the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the Hungarian minorities living in the neighboring countries. This is a very complex question. Although the Hungarian constitution mentions the government’s obligations toward Hungarians living outside the borders, just what these obligations are and how they are best met remain undefined.
At this week’s discussion all parliamentary parties were represented. There was general agreement on most of the issues among the politicians of MSZP, SZDSZ, and MDF. The right wing represented by István Simicskó, currently sitting with the KDNP delegation, often stood apart.
There was absolute consensus that during the so-called socialist period the Treaty of Trianon and its consequences belonged to the list of forbidden topics. All national issues were considered to be secondary to internationalism and within that the “brotherhood of socialist countries” of the Soviet bloc. But this “brotherhood” was of a peculiar sort. At one point, for instance, travel being neighbors was restricted and in Romania a Hungarian visitor couldn’t stay with relatives or friends while traveling in the country.
A large, two-volume history of Hungary published in 1964 mentioned Trianon only in passing and even then merely as an excuse to turn the masses’ attention away from the difficult situation of the “working classes.” The “ruling classes” tried to portray Trianon as the cause of all social problems, but “although Trianon brought a significant change in the economic structure of the country it could have been remedied by correct economic policies.” End of story. It was only in the late 1970s that one could read a sentence or two about the general trauma that Trianon caused. It was only in the 1980s that historians admitted that it was not only the ruling classes who were affected by the loss of territories but the whole population.
Thus the topic wasn’t discussed, analyzed, digested. Then came the change of regime and suddenly one could talk about Trianon, but the ignorance of the topic was and still is staggering. For example, most people don’t know anything about the ethnic makeup of Greater Hungary. Here are some figures taken from my precious 1910 census. Hungary proper (not including Croatia-Slavonia) had a population of 18,264,533. Of these only 9,944,627 claimed that they spoke Hungarian most fluently. Thus, 54.5% of the population.
As a result of the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary proper was reduced to less than one-third (32.6%) of her pre-war area and a little over two-fifths (41.6%) of her population. In the areas that ended up on the Czechoslovak side, there were 893,586 Magyar speakers according to the 1910 census. The Czechoslovak census of 1921, presumably in an attempt to minimize the Hungarian head count, counted Jews, practically all Hungarian speaking, separately. In 1921 Czechoslovakia claimed only 634,827 Hungarians and 70,522 Jews. In Ruthenia, currently belonging to Ukraine but between the two wars part of Czechoslovakia, there were 319,361 Ruthenians speaking a couple of dialects of Ukrainian and 169,434 Hungarians in 1910.
The territories ceded to Romania had 2,800,073 Romanians, 1,704,851 Hungarians, and 559,824 Germans. Even in Transylvania proper the Romanians outnumbered the Hungarians: almost 1,500,000 Romanians and slightly over 900,000 Hungarians.
Voivodina, given to Yugoslavia, was extremely mixed: there were 454,906 Serbs, 441,787 Hungarians, 311,162 Germans, and 71,788 Romanians. Here is the famous ethnic map of Hungary created to back up Hungary’s claims at the Paris Peace Conference.
As one can see from this map the borders could have been drawn much more “justly,” meaning more closely along ethnic lines, especially in the north and to some extent on the east. As far as the south was concerned the ethnic mix was such that one could simply have split the area in half. Some Serbs and Germans would have remained in Hungary while some Hungarians and Germans would have become citizens of Yugoslavia.
Most Hungarians, and not just the younger generation, have no idea about the ethnic composition of Greater Hungary. Between the two world wars the irrendentist propaganda was based on the mistaken notion that the only solution to Trianon was the complete restoration of Greater Hungary. The Hungarian people, surely terribly hurt and disappointed, should have been told that only certain territories might be regained and even then only under the most auspicious international circumstances. Because revisionism was the cornerstone of Hungarian foreign policy it was almosts inevitable that Hungary would end up on the side of Germany, the country dissatisfied with the status quo.
I might add here that there were moments when not all looked that bleak. Great Britain, for example, eventually became aware of the pitfalls of the draconian peace treaty of Trianon and urged the Hungarians in 1938 to be patient. The Soviet Union also promised favorable consideration after the war if Hungary didn’t join Germany’s war against the Soviet Union.
But how long could the country’s neutrality have been maintained if the Hungarians had listened to the Allies? Sooner or later, I think, it was inevitable that Germany would have invaded the country. In that case the only way to salvage the situation would have been to set up a government-in-exile that would have been able to remain free of any charge of collaboration. In that case it is possible that Hungary would have regained some of her lost territories inhabited mostly by Hungarians.
Of course, these are just fanciful speculations. The fact is that the situation was extremely difficult because of Hungary’s geopolitical position. The other day when I was reading Jobbik’s campaign program in which the authors stated that Hungary’s geopolitical situation is excellent, I wondered what on earth they are talking about. Hungary is surrounded by seven countries. I don’t know whether this is a record or not, but it must be up there somewhere. In any event, I don’t think that there were too many choices in those days, but the road Hungary took from 1933 on was perhaps one of the worst.