Trianon and the Hungarians

The first time I heard about the fifteen million Hungarians who allegedly live in the Carpathian basin was in 1990 when József Antall announced that in spirit he was the prime minister of fifteen million Hungarians. A few days ago the new speaker of the house, Pál Schmitt, announced in his maiden speech that “it is necessary for the members of the Hungarian parliament to accept responsibility for the fate of fifteen million Hungarians.” As if that weren’t enough, Zsolt Németh, who most likely will again be in charge of Hungarian foreign policy as undersecretary to János Martonyi, stated in no uncertain terms that the time has arrived when “Hungary at last may become a country fifteen million strong.” So I thought it was high time to count. The result of my investigation is that not even according to the 1910 census were there five million Hungarians who ended up on the wrong side of the borders.

My calculations are based on the data gathered by the late C. A. Macartney who first published his findings in Hungary and Her Successors: The Treaty of Trianon and Its Consequences, 1919-1937 (London: Oxford University Press, 1937). A few additional pieces of information were found in his later book, October Fifteenth: A History of Modern Hungary, 1929-1945 (Edinburgh: University Press, 1957). One thing is sure: one cannot accuse Macartney of an anti-Hungarian bias. On the contrary.

As I mentioned earlier, in the 1910 census the question posed by the census takers was not the person’s mother tongue but the language he/she speaks most fluently and most often. On this basis, according to Macartney’s calculations, 1,063,030 people who claimed to speak Hungarian as their first language ended up in Czechoslovakia. That number included Hungarian speakers who lived in Ruthenia (today part of Ukraine), an area that was temporarily allotted to Czechoslovakia. 1,704,851 Hungarian speakers ended up in Romania while 441,787 found themselves in Yugoslavia. The number of Hungarians in Austria and Croatia was insignificant. So the number of Hungarians after World War I in the new successor states was approximately 3,210,000. That of course was a very sizeable number, especially if one considers that the population of post-Trianon Hungary was just over 7 million. However, it was not even close to 5 million.

During the turbulent years of large population movements, a lot of Hungarian speakers left Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Macartney estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 just from Czechoslovakia. They were mostly civil servants. Others who were bilingual decided to switch linguistic designation due to the changed circumstances. Thus in 1921, at the time of the first Czechoslovak census, there were only 738,517 who claimed Hungarian as their mother tongue. However, to this number we should add another 150,237 who were put under the rubric of “Jewish.” This new designation was devised in order to reduce the number of Hungarian speakers, because most of the Jews who lived in Slovakia spoke Hungarian. So, by 1921 the Hungarian community had lost 174,266 people. Some of these left the country, others switched to Slovak. Today, even after about 50,000 Hungarians were expelled after World War II, 520,728 Hungarians live in Slovakia. Perhaps the ethnic map based on the 2001 census will explain the reasons for Slovak sensitivities concerning the issue of dual citizenship.


In territories annexed by Romania, based on the 1910 Hungarian census, there were 1,704,851 Hungarians. By 1930 the Romanians claimed that their numbers had decreased substantially. They claimed that there were only 1,373,675 Hungarians in Romania. One cannot take this number very seriously because today, after many, many years, the number of Hungarians (2002) is 1,431,807. From this number it is also clear that the assimilation of the Hungarian minority to the majority nationality is not as great as the Hungarians claim.

To Serbia (Voivodina) Hungary lost 441,787 Hungarian speakers. By 1921 their numbers were only 382,070. Today, according to the official statistics there are only 290,000 Hungarians in Serbia.

As for Ukraine, according to the 1910 census 169,434 Hungarian speakers lived in this northeast corner of pre-Trianon Hungary called Kárpátalja or Ruténia (Ruthenia). By the 1921 census their numbers allegedly shrank to 103,690, but again it is probable that perhaps even the majority of the 79,715 Jews were Hungarian speakers. Today 156,000 Hungarians live in Ukraine.

So, how many Hungarians currently live in the Carpathian basin? In Hungary proper there are about 10 million people as opposed to the 7 million in 1921. In that year the number of Hungarians living outside of Hungary’s borders was about 3.2 million. Today their number is 2.2 million. Thus altogether we can speak of slightly more than 12 million Hungarians. Not 15 million.

As Tamás Bauer in a recent article pointed out, the creation of the successor states was not by itself an unjust act. After all, while before Trianon 52% of the population of Greater Hungary lived as minorities within a unitary state, after Trianon that number shrank to 29%. Today because of migration, emigration, and assimilation that number is down to about 10-12%.

Twenty years ago during the Antall and Horn governments Hungary concluded treaties with Croatia, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Romania. These countries promised to defend minority rights, including educational opportunities in their mother tongue, and in return Hungary agreed to the final and irrevocable recognition of the existing borders.

According to Bauer, the Hungarian right greatly dislikes these treaties, and he suggests that what they object to is the final recognition of the borders. Of course, the incoming government would deny such an accusation, but there are many signs that they are planning “to make irredentism the state religion” of the country. All this, for Bauer, recalls the 1920s and 1930s.

I must say that some of the language in the new Hungarian parliament takes my breath away. One Fidesz representative, while objecting to punishment for the denial of the Holocaust, announced that he would be very happy if jail term were the punishment for those who deny the existence of God. Another Fidesz MP, while discussing toughening the criminal code and supporting the Fidesz idea of introducing the “three strikes and you’re out” law in Hungary, was happy to discover the Hungarian antecedents of such a law in the criminal code of St. Stephen. There it is stated that the first time a slave stole, his nose would be cut off; the second time, his ears would be cut off. You can imagine what happened on the third offense. And the opposition sat there speechless.

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John T
Guest

Eva,
What your map of Slovakia quite clearly shows though is the clear flaw in the borders drawn up after WWI, which left areas with a Hungarian majority outside the mother countr’s borders. That was the clear injustice of Trianon as we know. The reality is modern day Slovakia should be about 15% smaller, based on the majority ethnicity of the population. But then the Danube was an easy dividing line for a good part of the border.
One particular point has struck me about Trianon and that is compartively speaking, the Austrians ceded a lot less territory, while being the driving force behind the Austro-Hungarian empire. Granted, more people had “scores to settle” with Hungary, but even so, they got off very lightly.

John T
Guest

“One Fidesz representative, while objecting to punishment for the denial of the Holocaust, announced that he would be very happy if jail term were the punishment for those who deny the existence of God.”
All rather pathetic really.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John T.: “But then the Danube was an easy dividing line for a good part of the border.”
Actually the Czechs insisted on the Danube for “defense” reasons. American-British representatives tried to convince the Czechs to give up the idea and talked to Masaryk. Masaryk was more or less ready to talk about it, but Benes intervened.

Steve
Guest

And the reasoning of the Hungarian delegation was, that Hungarians should not be forced to other countries because Hungarians are “culturally superior”. It was a pathetic reasoning.

Kata
Guest

I always understood that the aforemnetioned 15 million meant to include not only Hungarians living in the’ former territories,’ but to Hungarians living all over the world , the US included.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kata: “I always understood that the aforemnetioned 15 million meant to include not only Hungarians living in the’ former territories,’ but to Hungarians living all over the world , the US included.”
There is no way that there are another 2.5 million Hungarians living in Western Europe, North America and Australia. Just because someone has Hungarian roots it doesn’t mean that this person considers himself Hungarian.
The future foreign minister of Hungary mentioned the number of Hungarians living on the North American continent as 120,000. I guess, these people were actually born there.

Kata
Guest

Wikipedia is not reliable, as we all know very well. However, the figures below are footnoted as taken from different surtveys. I have come across other sources as well which reinforce figures along the same scales:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_diaspora

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kata, the problem with these figures is that the number of 1.5 million doesn’t indicate that many Hungarians. Only people with some Hungarian ancestry. So, someone whose maternal grandparents came from Hungary while on his father’s side he is Italian will indicate Hungarian and Italian ancestry while he himself considers himself American. You can’t take these figures at face value.

Steve
Guest

@Eva S. Balogh
On this page:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_American#Demographics
“as of 2006, with − according to 2000 census data − 1,398,724 of them indicating Hungarian as their first ancestry.[5] Estimates of the number of Hungarians in the United States go well above 4 million.”
So there are 1,3 million who consider their Hungarian ancestry as the dominant one.
In the end it doesn’t really matter if its 13 or 15 million in total. The real point is that about 1/3 of Hungarians live outside Hungary, who would now probably live inside Hungary if there were no Trianon dictate.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Steve: “The real point is that about 1/3 of Hungarians live outside Hungary, who would now probably live inside Hungary if there were no Trianon dictate.”
I think this needs further explanation.
As far as 1.5 million Hungarians in the United States. Wake up. These people were born here and they are Americans. Most of them don’t even know a word of Hungarian

Kata
Guest

I agree that much diplomacy is called forth in Hungary’s foreign politics with the neighbouring countries. However, especially because of the decreasing number of Hungarians a healthy Diaspora politics would not be a bad idea on the part of the Government. It is practiced by other countries as well, especially where there is significant decrease in the population. Diaspora of course is to be understood in the modern sense, in which the important feature is loyalty to a cause and not lineage, blood or genetic makeup.

Odin's Lost eye
Guest
96 years ago the Austro-Hungarian Empire started a war which eventually enveloped the world. This war caused some 37 (thirty seven) million dead and wounded (21 million dead and 17 million maimed and other injuries). It ruined the economies of central Europe, badly damaged others. The Austro–Hungarian Empire which was mainly created by Austrian bayonets or those carried by the indignant population under Austrian leadership. It was very polyglot intermixed society steeped in feudalism and serfdom. At the end of the war the victors decided that such a confederacy that evolved amongst those who began the war should NEVER again arise. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved. The Hungarian part was the larger and the most disparate part of the empire and was duly dismantled. The governments of the various new countries were encouraged to exchange peoples. This was mainly ignored. In their ‘orgy of nation building’ the various majorities in the new nations settled old scores with their perceived enemies (Hungarians). An example due to worries safety of their new borders The Romanians forced the Hungarians from their new western boarders to their less sensitive eastern provinces. Knowing the character of their South Western neighbours the new Czechoslovakia demanded a… Read more »
Kata
Guest
Odin’s Lost eye Trianon still an obsession? Well, had the Hungarians had the freedom for public discourses about their trauma of loss during the later decades of the tumultous 20 th century they may have been able to manage themeselves better by now. Had they had the opportunity to leave their country and study in the West e.g and learn languages they may have a much more sophisticated and enlighetened view about matters of life and history. They may also have a much more refined ability to self criticism as others , who had the chance to get to know different cultures have, as we know . Had they had leaders with more integrity (no wonder the opposition did not dare to say a word hearing the list of punishments for stealing,) even in the past decade or so, they might be able to live up to more contemporary ideals of success! Besides, though I do appreciate criticism and I do think there is much to criticize in each and every country’s current affairs as well as past actions, I do not beleive that emphasizing how people are stupid and morons is a good way to persuade them to learn.
John T
Guest

“I do not beleive that emphasizing how people are stupid and morons is a good way to persuade them to learn.”
Kata – Odin’s Lost eye’s message isn’t saying this at all.

Kata
Guest

@John
The quoted passage below sounded a bit arrogant:
“The problem for the Hungarians which in the main is due to their language and their education system is that they do not understand the ‘why and wherefore’ of either the peace treaties which gave them back their self government. They have this tremendous blindness about anything beyond their experience and they just will not listen to those who do know.”
And who are those “who do know”? There’re debates all the time even in legal issues.
Furthermore, I also hold the view that in our time and age, when nation states are coming to an end it should not be a main concern of politics. But is it really the revisionist rehtoric of a few which is really responsible for the current economic state of affairs in the region (both in Hungary and Transylvania?)

Guest

Odin … has said it quite clearly!
I have to applaud him. Hungarians and all other Europeans should look forward – not backward.
Only if all Europeans stand together do we have a chance against the old and new economic giants in the world. The smaller countries will fade into insignificance. I hope that the United States of Europe will move fast to reality …

Kata
Guest

Just wanted to add that I understand Odin’s Lost eye’s overall message as well.
The bottom line if I am not mistaken, is that Hungary should break with the past, after all it might not have been that glorious anyway, and focus with all its energy to build a better future.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Wolfi: “Odin … has said it quite clearly! I have to applaud him. Hungarians and all other Europeans should look forward – not backward.”
I couldn’t agree more. The Slovak Pravda’s remark about the Hungarians who are masters of tearing open old wounds is very accurate. Nothing good will come of all this, believe me.

John T
Guest

Kata,
The way I understood the point was that currently. Trianon continues to be viewed as a tragedy for Hungary(and it was) by Hungarian society today, but the “bigger picture” of how Trianon was arrived it is not appreciated as much as it should be. If you asked the average Brit about Trianon, they would most likely simply say that it was a consequence of war and Hungary was on the losing side and Britain also suffered terribly too. The may have sympathy with the minority issue, but probably not much.
Simplistic of course, but essentially true. No Hungarian school would teach it in the same way.

Steve
Guest
I find some of the comments here very one-sided. First of all, there was nothing happening in Hungary that was extraordinary, or “requiring great effort” (which could be thus invested elsewhere). The law to give citizenship more easily to Hungarians living outside Hungary is done in normal procedure, just like done by other countries. Its not something that “overly mobilizes” the resources of Hungarian state, its just a new, slightly modified citizenship law. All the reason why this makes you talk about something “extraordinary” is because Mr Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia is making an issue about it. He is in need of attention, because there is an election going on in Slovakia. So because Fico is making a show against Hungarians, you must side yourself with him? There are individuals with revisionist ideas in Hungary, but so there are extremists elsewhere. There is Slota in Slovakia, who would gladly drive a tank to Budapest. There is the Greater Romania party in Romania. The 15% of Hungarian far-right is comparable to those in any other countries. This issue is not Hungarian. It is Slovakian issue with its own nationalist politicians using “the Hungarian card” to mobilise their own voters.… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Steve: “All the reason why this makes you talk about something “extraordinary” is because Mr Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia is making an issue about it.”
And he happens to be the prime minister of Slovakia. So, it is not immaterial whether he is making an issue of it or not! He holds all the cards. It is that simple. Mr. Orbán can flex his muscles but the winner can be only Robert Fico.

Steve
Guest

@Eva S. Balogh
“Mr. Orbán can flex his muscles but the winner can be only Robert Fico.”
In regards to this issue, just this issue alone, don’t you think that Orbán is right and it is Fico who is the “muscle-flexing troublemaker”?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Steve: “@Eva S. Balogh “Mr. Orbán can flex his muscles but the winner can be only Robert Fico.” In regards to this issue, just this issue alone, don’t you think that Orbán is right and it is Fico who is the “muscle-flexing troublemaker”?”
No, I don’t think so. Orbán is doing the provocation. Fico is only responding.

Steve
Guest

@Eva S. Balogh
You know that Fico doesn’t need any specific reason to come up with something against Hungarians. Just remember when Gyurcsány was in power, Fico was as aggressive as now. So do you tell that the bellowed socialist leader Gyurcsány was also a nationalistic troublemaker? I’m sure you will not label Gyurcsány as such, but Fico behaved the same.
What was the reason for enacting the Slovakian language-law? Was it a response to Gyurcsány’s provocation?

Odin's Lost eye
Guest
The reasons I wrote as I did can be seen in my last paragraph from which I will repeat the important words and to get them in proportion the estimated population of the 27 countries of the E.U. in 2010 was 501,259,840. My words were: – To “start a war which to date has caused the deaths of between 90 to 109 million human beings”. In human terms the deaths caused by that war are the equivalent of about 1 in 5 of modern population of the E.U. In terms of the U.S.A the death rate would be 1/3 of the population. Enough said! I did not wish to imply that the average Hungarian was ‘dim’. They are no dimmer than the average European (including my self), but they are far more parochial. But those from ‘Old Europe’ are far more aware of the ‘rest of the world’. The problems of minorities are being exploited by would be ‘Fuhrers’ to gain power by playing the ‘race card’. This to me is a path to ‘damnation destruction and Hell’. We have to live with our neighbours and if we cannot do so, then we should move. I understand that the Hungarian… Read more »
GW
Guest

What is truly disappointing in Hungary is that there has not been a strong voice arguing on the basis of facts and reason and recognizing that the treaty, however injurous, was not going to be revised, let alone reversed, and that the task of the post-treaty Hungarian state was to make a country that functioned and prospered within the given borders. All of the discussion of Trianon has, ultimately, been no more than a rhetorical excuse for not doing that job.
A comparison with Germany, which lost all of its eastern territories and suffered massive displacements of its population as well at the end of the _second_ world war yet ultimately used the displacement to its advantage in the development of the postwar state and economy is not flattering to Hungary. Sure, there is a tiny group of displaced persons in Germany who continue to dream of compensation or even return, but the vast majority of the German population has come to terms with the settlement and most have done very well indeed.

Martin
Guest
I would like to remind to our Hungarian friends, that Hungary of St. Stephen is not a property of nowadays Hungarian Republic. Todays Hungary signed Trianon as well and has nothing to do with the Hungarian Kingdom. The old kingdom belongs to all people in Carpathian Basin – Hungarians, Germans, Slovaks, Romanians and Croats. There is no successor state of the Kingdom, Hungary has not the rioght to own it. Even if Germans, Slovaks or Croats do not claim or like St. Stephens Kingdom, it is their history and spiritual property, as is of Hungarians. So pelase, stop wave with the Trianon. Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia should focus on cooperation, building up their economies. It is a shame if such a vast country as Hungary is, is economically weaker then its neighbours, including Slovakia. My forefathers were Hungarian noblemen. They built the Kingdom in the same way as others did in the past. I am not Hungarian, but have the same right to cherish the Kingdom, and at the same time consired todays Hungary as foreigh country, but friendly. But please Hungarians, do not steal me the St. Stephens Kingdom, it is my as well, not the property of Mr. Orban… Read more »
Mihai
Guest

@Steve
“There is the Greater Romania party in Romania. The 15% of Hungarian far-right is comparable to those in any other countries.”
No, it is not. In 2008, the Greater Romania Party got 3,15% of the votes and didn’t enter Parliament (there is a 5% threshold).

Brum
Guest

I wonder whether (under the purely hypothetical scenario) the Slovak Hungarians would vote in referendum to joint Hungary. The Budapest elites do not quite display any meaningful capacity to govern the current Hungary. Over the last decade they managed to reverse history and make Hungary proper poorer than Slovakia and it is likely to get worse. Soon enough the above question could be as ridiculous as asking Hungarians from Burgenland whether they would rejoin. Moreover, the Slovak Hungarian elites have much more influence within Slovak politics than they would ever have in Hungarian one. I guess they are all quite happy being citizens of something less bankrupt than Hungary. Am I wrong to think that bread and butter issues trump identity politics?

Maynard
Guest
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