A change of pace from economics and politics. The long-term economic consequences of the Orbán government’s blunder are not yet predictable. We don’t know how long it will take to regain the trust of foreign investors who in the last few days were fleeing the Hungarian market. It is not clear what the government’s next steps are going to be. The only thing we know up to date is that reluctantly, out of necessity, the new Hungarian government must continue the economic policy of its precedessor. So, we’d better wait a few days before returning to this topic.
The other timely subject might have been the congress of the Hungarian Socialist Party that convened this weekend. But this gathering was not open to the public and only rumors are circulating about the deep divisions in the party. These rumors include a serious difference of opinion between Ferenc Gyurcsány’s followers and the rest of the party brass concerning the party’s performance in parliament. Apparently Gyurcsány called it tragic. If the parliamentary delegation’s lack of cohesion continues the party will not split, as so many people predict, but will simply erode. If this rumor has any basis I agree with Gyurcsány and his followers. Otherwise, those of you who are interested in the official version of the proceedings of the congress should visit MSZP’s website where one can find the text of the final document the congress produced.
So, let’s move to safer ground: history. As if history, especially in this part of the world, can ever be a safe topic. What inspired me to write about an “alternative to Trianon” was an article that appeared in galamus.hu by Ferenc Lendvai, a philosopher with a vast knowledge of history. His musings on history are always fascinating and on target. This time he poses an interesting question: was there an alternative to Trianon? On the surface this might seem to be an exercise in futility because posing “what if” questions in history usually doesn’t lead to anything except idle speculation. However, Lendvai avoids this pitfall by relying on two pieces of tangible historical evidence. First, the plans of a group of people who gathered around Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary until his assassination in Sarajevo, and, second, the Mitteleuropa plan of Friedrich Naumann that appeared in print in 1915.
Naumann’s plan for Central Europe was originally benign. It was based on a voluntary alliance under German leadership because after all Germany was the superpower of the region. However, the plan morphed into a sinister attempt by the German leadership and public opinion to create German hegemony on the Continent.
During the war it became evident if it hadn’t been obvious before that the Dual Monarchy was the weaker partner militarily and this military weakness stemmed from its economic fragility. Austria-Hungary had to modernize but the dual system worked out in 1867 between the Hungarian political leadership and Franz Joseph was an obstacle to change. In order to introduce modernization Hungary”s privileged status had to end. The necessity for such a change was discussed quite openly in the German and German Austrian press and during these discussions an old pet project of Franz Ferdinand was mentioned with ever increasing frequency. That was a plan for the federalization of the monarchy along ethnic lines. Although Franz Ferdinand’s plans were hatched in secrecy, soon enough the Hungarians pretty well knew what the heir-apparent was planning to do with them and their Compromise of 1867. And they hated him with a gusto. Admittedly, Franz Ferdinand was not a likeable man and most people he came into contact with him disliked him and not necessarily because of his federalization plan. What was this plan? Luckily we have a fair idea of what was waiting for Hungary. Aurel Popovici, a Transylvanian Romanian lawyer and a close associate of Franz Ferdinand, published a map in Leipzig in 1906 with the title Die Vereinigten Staaten von Gross-Österreich. The map shows a federalized Austria in which the Hungarians are just one of the many nationalities that would comprise this new Austria.
If you can envisage the present borders “Ungarn” would be slightly larger in the north and the south. Transylvania’s border (Siebenbürgen in German) with Hungary would have been slightly to the east; most likely Nagykároly, Nagyvárad, Arad and perhaps Temesvár would have been included in the Hungarian part of Greater Austria.
Lendvai finishes his article by stating that in case the Central Powers won the war, the Dual Monarchy would have been scrapped and a small Hungary, slightly bigger than it is now, would have remained within Austria. And he adds: “This was the alternative. One can choose.”