Objection, your honour!
This piece was written on the occasion of a debate with Ignác Romsics, author of The Treaty Peace Treaty(Trianonská mierová zmluva – Kalligram 2001), held in Bratislava on February 15th of 2007, about the possibilities of convergence of contradictory views on the same historical events.
The Trianon trauma is a deeply rooted feeling of injustice, passed on from generation to generation, as it has become a sort of constitutive element of the collective psyche of modern Hungarians. Although Hungary was created, in the true sense of the word, exactly as Czechoslovakia: as a result of the will of the victorious powers on the rubble and craters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from the Hungarian point of view, the Trianon Peace Treaty represents an unjust dictate and not a guarantee of the new state‘s borders.
And this is precisely the point traditionally emphasized for example by Slovak publicists and historians: in the Hungarians‘ national conscience (and language) there is no difference between „Hungary“ (Maďarsko) and „Greater Hungary“ (Uhorsko). Hungarian historians feel that „Hungarians are fully entitled to consider the Trianon Peace Treaty, or rather the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, which replaced it, as unjust.“ (Ignác Romsics in The Trianon Peace Treaty)
Indeed, Austria-Hungary has been carved up in the name of the right to national self-determination. But in practice, it was essentialy the result of the assertion of specific strategic power interests. Therefore, Hungarian historiography is attempting to demonstrate that the Trianon Peace Treaty not only was contradictory of the right of self-determination of nations (the borders have been drawn wrong, both in their layout – unjust demarcation lines, and method – without plebiscites), but that it also failed to fulfill the strategic goals of victorious powers (the weakening of the German power in order to avoid a new conflict).
The opposite party argues looking at the same events from an entirely different point of view. According to them, the Hungarian reasoning is flawed. The censuses used as reference aren’t trustworthy, and above all they already reflect the results of the magyarization policy practiced for at least a century. In other words, if the borders drawn in 1920 were unjust, which demarcation would have been considered just in 1848? In 1867? Why not going back as far as to the year 1000? Which borders would be fair today? Which borders would be fair in 20, 40, 100 years from now?
As a matter of fact, justice has little to do with drawing of borders. Territories used to be only won in war, and secured through power, which made them stable – sustainable in the long term (that’s why the idea that the plebiscite would be a reliable method for determining borders is to a large extent an illusion). It means that in 1920 Hungarian politicians must have known that nothing unusual, let alone outrageous, was happening. Austria-Hungary lost the war. It was destroyed. Period. A new chapter of history began.
Today, we are at last attempting to think about ways of getting our nations closer as far as the interpretation of common history is concerned. It might be worth to dust off and read carefully some of Milan Hodža’s works.
As long as the two sides won’t stop reducing the end of World War I to the issue of realisation of the aspirations of the till then oppressed, on the one hand, or the fabrication of a sort of national tragedy as a result of the redrawing of borders, on the other, we all will continue missing the deeper meaning of those historical events. In fact, the end of World War I, even if typified by the redrawing of the map of Europe, meant as much as a revolution for Central Europe. The statement: „monarchy fell“ has greater implications than „new States were born“.
Rather than emphasizing the mutilation of Hungary, the events of 1918-1920 also meant the fall of the monarchy including the disappearance or weakening the nobility, which in the name of „magyarship“ claimed Greater Hungary for itself. They lost their properties as well as their priviledged status, as a consequence of gradual democratization and agrarian reform.
The fall of the monarchy can for example mean a substantial acceleration of industrial modernization, and the deep social changes it implies.
The fall of the monarchy might have given Central Europe the opportunity to start recovering wasted time, at least in comparison with Western Europe.
And today, especially for us, new members of the European Union (after what we call 40 years of forced separation from Europe), it might be instructive to ask history how our nations took their chances in a similar situation, almost a century ago.
The original appeared in http://jaron.blog.sme.sk/c/82121/Namietka-Vasa-ctihodnost.html
Milan is a diligent reader of this blog who often contributes to discussions especially on Slovak-Hungarian relations.