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.