Indeed, when we place the nationality question at the center of the discussion about the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy we are led astray. In many ways the situation that presented itself after World War I could have offered an opportunity for these nations, but no country with the possible exception of Czechoslovakia took advantage of it. Hungary in particular viewed it, in the words of the old saw, as a stumbling block not a stepping stone.
The Czechs were in an enviable position, in large part because they had a long bourgeois tradition. After the Battle of White Mountain (1620) where the Emperor-King's army won over the troops of the Bohemian nobility, Ferdinand II retaliated. A few executions later approximately 40,000 German and Czech Protestants and noblemen fled the country. As a result the Bohemian nobility lost its power. By the nineteenth century it was the middle classes that were deeply involved in the modernization and industrialization of the Czech lands. Perhaps not surprisingly this region was the most developed in the Dual Monarchy. More developed than the Austrian Crown Lands.
The Hungarian nobility seemed to be stronger and more resilient than the Czech. In Hungary there were also rebellions and uprisings led by the Hungarian nobility in defense of their privileges, but time and again these clashes between Crown and Estates ended in compromise. As a result Hungary's noble class not only survived but when at the beginning of the nineteenth century time came for modernization, the leaders of the Age of Reform with very few exceptions belonged to either the aristocracy or the lower nobility. In fact, in Hungary before Trianon there was only one non-aristocratic prime minister, Sándor Wekerle, and even after World War I, with the exception of the chaotic period between the fall of 1919 and July 1920, aristocrats ran the country until 1931.
Both the Czechs and the Hungarians remember the victims of Habsburg centralization attempts with equal nationalistic fervor, but in the final analysis the Czechs could be grateful to Ferdinand II for saving them from their own nobility. This way, the Czech political leaders of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were middle-class, professional people. In 1918 Czechoslovakia could start without the semi-feudal heritage that Hungary was stranded with until 1945.
The Slovaks once upon a time also had a noble class, but because the court was the center of politics in Hungary the Slovak nobles eventually became Magyarized. Just as the high aristocracy of Hungary through politics and marriage became part and parcel of the Viennese aristocracy. A good example in this respect is István Széchenyi, the "greatest Hungarian," who learned Hungarian as an adult and kept his diary in German. But although the Slovaks were not burdened with a local noble class, they didn't have as "nurturing" a history as the Czechs. The Czechs had far greater cultural and economic opportunities in the Austrian half of the Monarchy than the Slovaks did in Hungary.
Thus, although it wasn't perfect, in Eastern Europe it was Czechoslovakia that had a full-fledged democratic political system. The Hungarians who found themselves in Czechoslovakia were unhappy of course for nationalistic reasons and were most enthusiastic when the Hungarian troops arrived to occupy the territories Hungary received as a result of the First Vienna Award. However, their enthusiasm was short-lived when they suddenly found themselves in the less than democratic circumstances of Miklós Horthy's Hungary: the all-powerful local potentates who arrived to run the newly acquired territories or the less than democratically minded gendarmerie. The Jewish population was faced with vicious anti-Semitism and the "Jewish laws."
And let's move on to the present-day opportunities that, I'm afraid, will be missed again. Those Hungarians for whom the fate of their co-nationalists living in Slovakia and Romania is not immaterial should find solace in the European Union. Borders are nonexistent, regional cooperation across borders is developing. Hungarians work in Romania, Slovaks in Hungary. Roads that were overgrown with grass are opening up, more bridges across the Danube and lesser rivers are contemplated. One would think that for Hungarian nationalists this would be an ideal situation. All nationality groups are united in the European Union. In fact, the stronger the union the better it is from the point of view of Hungarian national interests. Yet the Hungarian right for nationalistic reasons is against a closer union and insists on a political entity where the individual nation states have the upper hand over the central power of Brussels. It is a rather peculiar view. After all, Hungarians greatly object to the fact that the Romanian and Slovak constitutions consider these countries nation states. But if that is a problem then why do they keep insisting on viewing the European Union as a conglomeration of nation states? The "solution" to Trianon lies in a United Europe, but the Hungarian right refuses to support such a development. Instead it wants to create a "nation state of fifteen million Hungarians" across borders. I will never understand their logic.