The Hungarian carpet scandal in Brussels: Bad luck or something else?

I borrowed today's title "The Hungarian carpet scandal in Brussels" from the German paper Das Bild. The scandal began with an article in EUobserver by Valentina Pop who reported that in the Justus Lipsius Building that houses the Council of Europe, the Hungarian government laid a giant 202 m2 carpet to mark the beginning of its six-month rotating presidency. The carpet was designed by Lívia Pápai, a textile designer. It is constructed from twenty-three 75 x 120 cm segments depicting important milestones in Hungarian history and Hungarian achievements. There are historical figures, famous structures, and, the cause of the scandal, a map of Greater Hungary in the middle of which is the date 1848.

As the author of the article predicted, the carpet sparked fresh controversies about the nationalistic outlook of the government in Budapest. In vain did Márton Hajdú, spokesman for the Hungarian EU presidency, try to explain that "the carpet is basically a timeline of cultural, historical, and scientific symbols of Hungary." The critics were not satisfied. For example, Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek said that the map is an illustration of Viktor Orbán's "intention to overcome the Treaty of Trianon." But she also had other objections. "It is a very backward view of Mr. Orbán, not at all in the direction of a common European future. It is also a complete misinterpretation of EU's current challenges."

Romanian Socialist MEP Ioan Mircea Pascu also complained about "the importance given to 'Greater Hungary'  which is not the most inspired symbol for the Hungarian EU presidency." After all, the European Union "stands for abolishing internal borders, not for regrets over their previous existence. Such gestures are likely to fuel nationalistic reactions within the EU, at a time when the union is most in need of solidarity." These two were joined by the Slovaks when Lubos Schwarzbacher, spokesman of the Slovak Foreign ministry, announced that "the historic map of Hungary simply doesn't belong to the building where first and foremost European politicians decide on the future of the European Union."The Czech media followed suit. Právo discussed the carpet and its significance at length. According to the article, "the neighbors of Hungary look upon that carpet as an attempt to revive the idea of the pre-1920 Greater Hungary."

I have pondered this whole question and carefully read the Hungarian spokesman's account of the presence of this map on the carpet. Hajdú explained that "the map shows Hungary in 1848, in the year when revolutions broke out all over Europe." But that explanation is not satisfactory. Why should the revolutions of nations in Europe be depicted by a map of Greater Hungary that just had acquired, even if temporarily, the shape it retained until 1918 or officially until 1920? Because it was in 1848 that Hungary managed to achieve a union between Hungary proper and Transylvania, a region separately governed by Vienna for centuries. It was a temporary union because after the Hungarians lost the war of independence against the Habsburgs Transylvania again became a separate province of the Empire. That was the situation until 1867, the year of the Compromise when Hungary and Transylvania were united again.

I suspect that weaving the 1848 date into the middle of this segment was a ruse to justify displaying the map of Greater Hungary. That is my suspicion because the official explanation is rather feeble. The map of Hungary as a symbol of the revolutions in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy? It makes no sense. The map, by the way, is situated in the middle of this giant carpet and is rather large: 15 m2.

The carpet itself wasn't cheap. The Hungarian government paid 160,000 euros. Lots of money, plenty of headaches. Hungarian diplomacy is failing badly. One must remember how Viktor Orbán boasted about his great experience in international affairs as opposed to the bungling socialists' "provincialism." He promised to lead Hungary to the High Street of Europe. Up to now he has brought only embarrassment to his fellow Hungarians, I'm afraid. Unfortunately his allegedly professional diplomats are no better than he is. I really don't know where all this will lead.



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kormos
Guest

Fr. President Josef Tiso and his doings, Benes Decrees, Slovak language law, Slovak law against dual citizenship (not only Hungarian but any), Daniel Cohn-Bendit and his past are all fine and dandy!
A carpet commemorating some highlights in Hungarian History, specifically 1848, the year of Civic revolution, is an eyesore and base for complaints. Come on! Get Real! I guess a even a slight potential for Hungarian renewal is hurting many interests.

Paul
Guest

I can see a lot of people saying ‘so what?’ about this. It’s only a carpet, and historically it’s accurate.
But let’s try a little thought comparison – what if Austria celebrates its EU presidency by installing a carpet, the centre of which is a large map of the Austrian empire at its height? Purely as an ‘accurate’ reflection of its historical timeline, of course.
How would Hungarians feel about that?
Or if Turkey joins the EU and celebrates that with a carpet including a large representation of the Ottaman empire at its peak – just for historical accuracy.
What would the Hungarian reaction be to that?
Or, perhaps – the most spine chilling – Germany decides to mark its presidency with a map of Greater Germany as it was in 1940. Again, purely in the interests of historical accuracy.
Silly examples, I know, because none of those countries would even think of doing such an insane thing.
But, for Hungary, under OV, it’s seen as a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kormos: “A carpet commemorating some highlights in Hungarian History, specifically 1848”
According to you the best way to commemorate 1848 is with a map? Any kind of map? I could think of at least five or six more appropriate ways to do so. Picture of Lajos Kossuth, hussars in action, Petőfi reciting his famous poem, the pictures of the members of the Hungarian government and could go on and on. But a map? Use your head, try to get away from your fervent nationalism and use your critical faculties.

Kirsten
Guest

I wanted to write: but Czechs did not send a carpet with the Benes Decree affecting Hungarians as their contribution to European art, but I remember well that the Czech sculpture was not uncontroversial either.
The carpet may be focused too much on Hungary and only very little on “Europe”. But I also think that this perhaps would not be a “scandal” if only the other actions of the Fidesz government had not already stirred emotions (tax on foreign owned firms, but also the media law). A quick look at the goals of the Revolution in 1848 however made me think whether Lívia Pápai is not an undercover agent of the opposition as Demand No 1 of Mit kivan a magyar nemzet? reads: Kivanjuk a sajto szabadsagat.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “But I also think that this perhaps would not be a “scandal” if only the other actions of the Fidesz government had not already stirred emotions (tax on foreign owned firms, but also the media law).”
Most likely added fuel to fire but I have the feeling that it would cost a stir even without the earlier irritants. The neighbors would get upset in any case.

An
Guest

Well, I guess we are lucky that no Austrian sprayed “Hapsburg Empire” all over it…wouldn’t that be technically accurate in 1848 from an Austrian point of view?
I totally agree with Paul’s above comments. Hungarians would be the first to complain if Austrians had displayed a historical map of the Hapsburg Empire.

Jo Peattie
Guest

If Hungarians had a favourite carol it would be “Hark the herald angels sing”. All this harking back to the past can only lead to ill. I am a British Citizen and am ashamed of the British Empire and all that it stood for. The idea of using a map that included the British Empire would be alien to all but the most rabid of Bristish Nationalists. How is this view seen as mainstream in Hungary? And Trianon, do you remember the famous cartoon of President Johnson of the USA? After an operation to remove his gallbladder the cartoonist (David Levine)depicted his scar in the shape of Vietnam http://hti.osu.edu/node/108. It seems to me that almost every Hungarian has the pre Trianon map of Hungary scarred on their torso.

Kirsten
Guest

I certainly do not want to start a Trianon debate here but I have the impression that overcoming the Trianon trauma will require that the countries that have benefited from that treaty also have to be more cautious in their comments and not to overreact to every hint that the Trianon treaty is considered unfair by many Hungarians. But the contribution to European art during the EU presidency is definitely not the best place to start a discussion about that.

Paul
Guest

“the countries that have benefited from that treaty”
A tiny Fraudian slip there, Kirsten. I think few of those countries would accept that they ‘benefited’ from the treaty, most would claim the redrawing of the boundaries as natural justice, long awaited. And a long overdue recompence for their people’s treatment as minorities when part of Hungary.
Rather ironically, the only country that truly benefited (i.e. had no real justification for gaining territory) from the redrawing of the boundaries was Austria – one of Hungary’s fellow losers in WWI. In fact I believe this is the only instance (in Europe at least, in modern times) of a country that lost a war, gaining territory.
As with much else to do with Trianon, the ‘reality’ is far less simple than at first it looks.
And I might add that I write this only 2 meters away from a ‘Magyar Szent Korona Országa’ map – which I bought and hung on the wall. So I’m not entirely divorced from the feelings of injustice felt so deeply by many Hungarians.

Member

Hungary lost WWI. We were on the bad side. Our reasons to get chummy with the devil were wrong. We lost and we had to pay the price as did Germany (the November Criminals), Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria. Get over it. Just to clarify, I do feel sorry for those who ended up outside Hungary, but it is not the fault of current Hungary or current Romania, Slovakia, etc. so we just have to stop rubbing it in every and each time, because it is offensive.

Kirsten
Guest

Now I have to mince words but I try. (Being half Czech and half German I have some idea of how easily remarks about who did what in the past can be misinterpreted – if one can agree at all on who did what.) What I think is necessary for Hungary is to stop this preoccupation with the past. And my impression for instance is that Czechs are not often aware of that the border of Czechoslovakia in particular in the Slovak part of the country was to some extent the outcome of the circumstances. As regards Ruthenia, I never hear of complaints that this area would have been a natural part of Czechoslovakia and that the inclusion into the USSR was an historical injustice. I do not at all think that the current Hungarian borders should be changed but what I do think is that the reconciliation could be easier if the countries that were either created or expanded after 1918 would not insist on that being the only conceivable outcome.

Leo
Guest

Kirsten: “I have the impression that overcoming the Trianon trauma will require that the countries that have benefited from that treaty also have to be more cautious in their comments and not to overreact to every hint that the Trianon treaty is considered unfair by many Hungarians.”
I second that and would go a step further. In school I learned that because of the unjust peace of Versailles the West was also up to some degree responsible for the ´renewal of the war´ in 1939. Recognition by Hungary´s neighbours of the obvious fact that Trianon was an unjust peace might be a positive step. It should not be that difficult, now that Hungary pledged itself to the existing frontiers.
Anyway, the carpet is boring, unimaginative. An example of bad taste, bad history and bad diplomacy. And it will certainly not be the last. Orbán does not like ´the West´, but somehow seems surprised that the feeling can be reciprocal. But then, did ´the West´ like a figure like Aznar?

Kirsten
Guest

I see that it is not English at all what I wrote, I apologise to all native and non-native speakers. But perhaps the message is clear: I wanted to be cautious about what I say…

friend
Guest

Leo:
“Recognition by Hungary´s neighbours of the obvious fact that Trianon was an unjust peace might be a positive step. It should not be that difficult, now that Hungary pledged itself to the existing frontiers.”
It is not “obvious fact” that Trianon was an unjust peace at all. Be sure that all Hungarian´s neighbours believe Trianon was a fair peace!
Orban´s statements that Hungarian´s nothern borders are those with Poland do not corroborate that “Hungary pledged itself to the existing frontiers”. So be not surprised when some neighbours are suspicious of such a pledge.
Generally, neverending complaints about the past are not the appropriate base for dialog with the neighbours. They could bring into the debate some unpleasant for Hungary issues from the past, too.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “Czechs are not often aware of that the border of Czechoslovakia in particular in the Slovak part of the country was to some extent the outcome of the circumstances.”
As indeed it was. It was the result of a very clever foreign policy that managed to convince the Great Powers that on the west the historical borders should remain while on the east the ethnic principle should be applied. I have the feeling that the Slovaks would have had preferred even then a separate Slovakia. Mind you, the Slovaks could be grateful to the same Czech foreign policy for today’s larger Slovakia. I don’t think that the Slovaks could have managed to achieve such favorable borders as Benes did.

Member

friend: “It is not “obvious fact” that Trianon was an unjust peace at all. Be sure that all Hungarian´s neighbours believe Trianon was a fair peace!”
Well said. What it comes down to is that through the last decades Hungary believed that things after the War should of been status quo, Hungary should not have to pay anything. I often tempted to ask, what should of been the justice, where the “new borders” should of gone? Some of the ethnic Hungarians did suffer, no argument there, but things have changed now, and we (Hungarians) must believe in the goodwill of the respective countries. We must trust other countries that they will look out for all minorities. Hungary can start by showing great respect for its own minority groups. This mistrust the Government shows is the problem. The Hungarian Government whipping up national sentiment does not help any Hungarians inside or beyond the borders.

Joseph Simon
Guest

Erdély was not governed from Vienna for centuries, only after the Rákóczi war of independence. Both Kossuth and Petőfi wanted fervently for Erdély to return to the bosom of the nation. As an independent principality, Erdély enjoyed great religious freedom for centuries. The statute of Bocskai was erected in Geneva as one of the great historical reformators. The French, the English, etc., who are really ignorant of Eastern Europe, will learn a little history. Also, I donot think that Hungarians back home are complaining too much. It is altogether fit and proper that Hungary should mark its EU presidency by such a gesture.

Kirsten
Guest

Éva: I even thought that some (but relatively few) areas were assigned to Czechoslovakia mainly on economic considerations (but I would have to check that).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “Éva: I even thought that some (but relatively few) areas were assigned to Czechoslovakia mainly on economic considerations (but I would have to check that).”
The region in question is the area north of the Danube. This was a solidly Hungarian-speaking territory that the Czechs claimed on military grounds. This map will give you an idea: http://tiny.cc/yxkai It was drawn on the basis of the 1910 Hungarian census that might have been somewhat favorable to Hungary because the question asked by the census takers was “which language do you speak most fluently and regularly.”

Kirsten
Guest

Éva, thank you very much, I already thought that you will certainly know.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten, I wrote my dissertation on this period.

GDF
Guest

Joseph Simon:”Erdély enjoyed great religious freedom for centuries.”
Unfortunately this is not what was the most important fact for the Romanians in Transylvania. They wanted to unite with their motherland, the same way the Hungarians wanted that. Just ask their representatives or read some history books. At the end the Romanians being on the side of the winning parties in the two world wars AND the ratio of Romanians to Hungarians were the deciding factors.

Joseph Simon
Guest

Shameful they way this Spectrum views this gesture by the Hungarian government. The map of Historic Hungary is not just ‘any map’, it represents the very identity of all Hungarians. It represents a heroic past that the whole country is proud of. It says a great deal about this Blog to see these pitiful comments.

Leo
Guest

I would think that it is generally accepted in Western history-writing that some very embarrassing mistakes were made in the Paris peace treaties. One of them was the refusal to apply the principle of national self-determination (as far as possible) while redrawing the Hungarian borders.
On a more personnel level I feel that for Hungary the worst effect of Trianon has been the extent to which it has poisoned internal political life. In the interwar years and to a lesser degree now again. That is something the Hungarians should blame themselves for.

John G
Guest
In her book”Paris,1919″ Margaret MacMillan posits that Hungary was disfavoured during the discussions leading up to the Treaty of Trianon because the French in particular, but the other “winners” were also distrustful and outright contemptuous of Bela Kun (then Hungarian head of government), both of his government and him personally. It is a sad freak of history that just as the Treaty of Trianon was being negotiated, for 133 days Kun’s Hungarian Soviet Republic was in existence. Then, just as today, the the Western “powers” were unhappy with the political events in Hungary and also just as today they were afraid that the rest of Europe may be infected by unhealthy ideas taking root in Hungary. If Karolyi, an aristocrat, therefore one of “them”, still had been Prime Minister during the negotiations, more than probably the results would have been different. Even then, in all likelihood Transylvania would be Romanian as the French had/have a very strong relationship with Romania. It is most unfortunate that Hungarians have such an obsession with the past. If we were to call it an addiciton then it would become evident that it is negatively affecting its future. Having said all that, it must be… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John G.: “n her book”Paris,1919” Margaret MacMillan posits that Hungary was disfavoured during the discussions leading up to the Treaty of Trianon because the French in particular, but the other “winners” were also distrustful and outright contemptuous of Bela Kun”
I know that Margaret MacMillan had a reputation but I’m afraid she is wrong. The borders were drawn well before March 21, 1919. It had nothing to do with it.

Member

John G: Just for clarity, it was not just about Bela Kun. According to the same book, the western powers were unhappy with Hungary even before Kun took power. Lloyd George for that matter said “there are very few countries so much in need of revolution”. Hungarians “distrusted Jews [although getting their children mary the rich ones]; they believed in keeping non-Magyars, the Croats. Slovaks or Rumanians who probably made up more than half of the population of prewar Hungary, firmly under control.” They were also suspicious of Karolyi. Louis Franchet d’Esperey said:” I know your history. In your country you have oppressed those who are not Magyar.”
An other interesting thing about Transsylvania “even according to Hungarian statistics, Rumanians made up more than half the population;: Hungarians constituted only 23 percent, with Germans and others accounting for the rest. At the end of the war, an assembly of Transylvanian Rumanians had voted overwhelmingly for union with Rumania.”
Rumania you see offered democracy in their decision as they almost 2/3 of the population were made up by Rumanians in Transylvania. Just like Orban thinks that if you have 2/3 you are democratic.

Roland
Guest

well, i am not historian but with respect to Trianon I have a feeling there is no special reason to blame western powers. There are always rational reasons behind – whatever happens. The main question is whether current government is ready to reopen it once there will be an opportunity…honestly I am not sure about it…

Kirsten
Guest

@Éva: I saw now in your biography on Galamus that it is about Hungary’s foreign policy during that critical period. I know that there are many current topics to write about but perhaps it might be of interest also for the other readers of the blog to learn what led Hungary to ratify the treaty in 1920. I must admit I had also another question about this treaty: as many Hungarian magnates owned land in Transylvania and in Slovakia, was it part of the treaty that this property was confiscated and handed over to the newly created or expanded countries?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “that it is about Hungary’s foreign policy during that critical period.”
Good research. I will try to write something about the period in the blog. To answer the question why the Hungarians signed the treaty? Because they had no choice. I will not give away my conclusions here but I do have rather definite ideas what went wrong with Hungarian foreign policy from the very beginning.

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