Alternative to Trianon?

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 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.”

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Now, that the EU and its borderless state is upon us, perhaps not much point to phantasize about the may have been. But as I look at that map, no matter how disagreeable the crown prince was, in light of all the wonderful accolades about present day Austria, this could have worked. Yes, it would have eliminated the privileged status of Hungarians, but what did it get for us? How privileged are we now? How much was this privilege worth? Of course, there is the fact also that Austria is the most livable country on Earth, perhaps because it doesn’t have to drag along all those backward provinces. On the other hand, the whole of Europe and the world had to take an enormously costly detour at a cost of two world wars and a loss of a short century, to reach at a state by now that could have been attained in or around 1920, had nationalism and its fiends not kiboshed it for their silly reasons. They are discredited and gone too, alas, not forever, but the opportunity is also gone and the whole project had to be started from square one again. As it is today, most… Read more »

You can find a more detailed map in here
and another one in here
Yes, The HU-RO border is further to the east but Oradea (Nagyvárad) and Timisoara(Temesvár)are in Transylvania; it’s harder to determine were Arad would have been.
It was an interesting plan; I remember hearing about it during my studies.


I do not find this idea bad, but it was not very reallistic. Problem was, that such a programme would be absolutelly unacceptable for the Hungarian policy (what profit would they have?) and for Austrian-German politics, too. Such a programme would be very popular with Slavic politics in the Monarchy and maybe for a part of the ruling dynasty. But it was really not enough.
This federalisation could be forced only as a common deal in Hungarian and Austrian Diet. Do you think, that it would pass? I don´t think so.

Matt L
Certainly, there were other options besides Trianon. It was clear to everyone that something needed to change in the organization of the Dual Monarchy. But any change after World War One would have been something imposed on the Hungarians by someone from outside. Trianon was a product of the British, French, Italians, and Americans. Central Europa would have been imposed by the Germans. No matter how pretty the package, it would have been forced on the Hungarian political leadership because they would have lost some of their power. Unfortunately, the last opportunity for reform in peacetime was probably the 1905/06 Constitutional crisis. That was Franz Joseph’s last chance to impose democracy ‘from above’ on the Hungarian aristocracy and gentry. But in the end he preferred to deal with the Aristos and not the Socialists. As Miro suggests, when given the chance, neither the 48-er or Compromise parties opted for universal manhood (or god forbid, just plain universal adult) suffrage. They didn’t want the national minorities and their own peasants to have the vote. Period. Throughout the twentieth century Hungarian politicians used Nationalism to bludgeon Liberalism to death. Lets see if Hungarian politicians and citizens, who now have the vote, can… Read more »

NEW alternative?
Trianon in the Europa Parlament