One of the very first orders of business of the new government last summer was to designate June 4, the date of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, as a day of remembrance. Thus yesterday scores of government politicians made speeches to honor the occasion, most of which were the usual distortions of historical facts. I was also amused by Zsolt Semjén's "threat": they will find every Hungarian in the whole wide world! They will also fight for "every Hungarian." Csaba Hende, minister of defense who is also great at saying silly things, announced that in order to build a new country one "needs the whole nation." I wonder how he is planning to rely on Hungarians living in other countries to build Orbán's Hungary.
These political speeches are not really dangerous. However, the compulsory "day of remembrance" in all Hungarian schools is much more worrisome. All institutions already received a very detailed "guide" on how to enlighten their students about Trianon. Anyone who's interested can read the material on the government's website.
The teachers need to be enlightened because, according to a 2009 survey, knowledge about the topic among younger people (ages 18 to 30) is meager. Only one-third of this group knew the year the treaty was signed; another third couldn't even guess; and the remaining third came up with such wild answers as 1910. They were also in error when it came to the ethnic composition of the territories lost. Two-thirds of them were convinced that the causes of Trianon lay entirely outside of Hungary. Hungary was an innocent victim. So, learning something about Trianon is definitely in order. The trouble is that the enlightenment shouldn't be done the way Rózsa Hoffmann's "ministry" envisages.
The first problem is that the goal of the government's published material is not to enrich the meager historical knowledge of the students but "to make the student realize emotionally that Trianon was the greatest tragedy of Hungary's modern history." If the teachers stick with the material in the guide–and they will because they don't want to get into trouble–they will only strengthen the already very strong nationalistic passions by calling attention to the "injustice" of the treaty.
There is a short chapter outlining the historical antecedents of the event which, unfortunately, is full of not quite accurate facts. For example, teachers are supposed to tell their pupils that the government of Mihály Károlyi didn't utilize the soldiers returning from the war for the defense of the borders. This line of interpretation is exactly the same as was favored by the Horthy regime. As if the Hungarian army came back intact after the lost war and Károlyi simply let them go home. The fact was that most of the weaponry was lost or left behind. The soldiers returned either weaponless or maybe with small arms. The government tried to get volunteers, but the enthusiasm for defending the borders was so minimal that altogether about 5,000 men were willing to serve the fatherland.
An even greater piece of misinformation comes when the military attacks from Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Serbia are blamed on the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. As is well known, the foreign occupation of the country from the north, east, and south began well before that date. In fact, Mihály Károlyi's resignation was the result of further demands for evacuation of more territories by Hungary. The renewed military occupation was not the immediate reaction to the declaration of the Soviet Republic. It was in response to Béla Kun's extravagant territorial demands for a demarcation line between the Romanian and Hungarian forces that Jan Smuts, the representative of the Paris Peace Conference, came to Hungary to negotiate.
Then there are suspicious omissions. For example, the guide quotes Albert Apponyi's speech on January 16, 1920, during his appearance before the representatives of the Entente. Only one paragraph is missing, the one in which he talked about the "cultural inferiority" of Hungary's neighbors. This paragraph made a very negative impression on the representatives of the Great Powers and only hurt Hungary's case. In sum, the authors of the guide consider Trianon "altogether unjust and arrived at on the basis of a fundamentally wrong political strategy."
The day also includes a program which all the pupils must attend. Although the guide mentions that this day shouldn't be considered "a day of mourning," the suggested program sounds mournful enough, especially since the background music is the well known and very sad Hungarian folksong "l left my beautiful country/Famous little Hungary" (Elindultam szép hazámból/Híres kis Magyarországból). After the first stanza comes a narrator who tells about the victims of the war. The second stanza is followed by a description of "the trauma of Trianon" and by way of illustration someone will recite poems written about Trianon between the two world wars. The third stanza's narration will concentrate on love of country and the unity of the nation illustrated by Endre Ady's poem, "Föl-föl dobott kő."
Several further poetic recommendations are listed, among them Albert Wass, the representative of Hungarian irredentism between the two world wars, and Sándor Sajó, an iconic literary figure of the far right from the same period.
In the narrative passages one often hears about the "Trianon diktat," again a favorite description of Trianon during the Horthy regime. Another complaint from the past crops up when the narrator talks about the "economic and geopolitical unity of the Carpathian Basin" which was destroyed by Trianon. The annexed territories are described as "parts of the body of our nation" (nemzettest), a word often used in racist and antisemitic writings. According to Hírszerző the word was used in parliament last year eleven times, exclusively by Jobbik MPs.
All in all, the Day of National Unity serves only one purpose: to whip up nationalism and irredentist sentiments. As for the children, the ministry's recommendation will plant the seeds of hatred of the neighbors and the evil Great Powers responsible for Hungary's mutilation. Instead of teaching them about their common history and destiny and emphasizing their place within the frontiers of Europe.