Yesterday I mentioned in passing a survey designed to find out how much younger people (between the ages of 18 and 30) knew about the Treaty of Trianon and the historical facts surrounding it. The survey was conducted by the Research Group for Communicational Theory under the joint sponsorship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Eötvös Lóránd University. The details, which I will summarize here, can be found in the last issue of Élet és Irodalom (June 3, 2011). I will also refer to two earlier surveys (in 2000 and 2007) conducted by the Center for Strategic Research and Communicational Theory of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences which asked about the Treaty of Trianon in the adult population as a whole. If possible, the younger generation knows even less about the peace treaty than their parents and grandparents. As far as I know, the results of these earlier surveys appeared in book form in 2007.
In this connection I would also like to mention two articles written by former SZDSZ (liberal) members of parliament: Tamás Bauer and Mátyás Eörsi. Tamás Bauer in his article dissects the topic analytically and reaches conclusions that he knows fly in the face of general sentiment about the treaty. That's why he entitled his article "Dissenting opinion on illustrious holidays" (Különvélemény jeles napokon). Those who know Hungarian should read it because Bauer's opinions are unique in Hungarian thinking. For him, to talk about national unity across borders is nonsense because national unity even within the same country is a fiction and therefore talking about national unity of people living in different countries is really meaningless. Yes, a lot of Hungarian-speaking people remained outside of Hungary proper, but overall the size of national minorities in post-Trianon East-Central Europe was reduced. All in all, Trianon was a good thing for the majority of the region's people.
Mátyás Eörsi, although agreeing with all the facts Bauer marshals to support his opinion, finds something lacking. Exactly the kind of emotion that Bauer refuses to indulge in. He feels that this "scientific dissection of the phenomenon" is no answer to the "trauma" most Hungarians claim as their reaction to the events of 1918-1920. Bauer is right, he admits, but his emotionless, scientific attitude is not useful as an antidote to the Hungarian right's Trianon picture.
The reason that the dialogue between these two liberal people is important for our purposes ís that Hungarian society is greatly divided on the question of Trianon and what to do about it. It can be said that the population as a whole considers Trianon a tragedy and a terrible injustice. That's why Tamás Bauer is perhaps alone in the whole country in thinking the way he does about the treaty and its consequences.
Mária Vásárhelyi, a member of the research group that did the survey, mentions that one of the problems is that after the Horthy regime's radical irredentism there was total silence on the topic during the Rákosi and Kádár regimes. Yet a survey conducted in 1976 about the population's historical knowledge revealed that 70% of the Hungarian adults even then claimed that "they felt deep bitterness" still because of the injustices of the treaty. And that was in 1976 when expressing such an opinion could bring very negative reactions from the authorities. The majority of Hungarians at that time approved of and supported the reoccupation of parts of Slovakia and northern Romania. So, although there was official silence, the people's reaction to the lost territories was even then deeply felt. Vásárhelyi thinks that this "lack of discussion" of the issue has resulted in the present confusion.
After the change of regime the right followed the tradition of the Horthy regime and interpreted Trianon "as the great burial ground of our grand national life" while the left pretty well followed the tradition of the Kádár regime: they simply didn't talk about it. The problem didn't exist as far as they were concerned. History, including the traumas of the twentieth century, became "the prey of party politics." The right continued an ever growing aggressive nationalistic propaganda; the left had no alternative interpretation to counter the nationalistic danger.
As for the younger generation. If one compares their knowledge to that of the adult population as a whole in earlier surveys, the results are even more discouraging. And especially discouraging since the younger generation is formally at least better educated than the population as a whole. While 44% of the adult population knew more or less the size of the territorial losses, in the younger group only 14% can even approximate the proper figures. More than half of the people in their twenties are convinced that the lost territories were overwhelmingly populated by Hungarians.
The younger group shares the general Hungarian tendency to find scapegoats. While most historians consider Hungarian national policy before 1918 one of the most important causes of the very great territorial losses the country had to suffer, only 5% of those questioned mentioned the oppression of the nationalities as a possible cause. Instead about 30% of them think that the Great Powers wanted a weak Hungary and therefore supported the extravagant claims of the neighboring countries. Another 30% blame the French and their pro-Romanian sympathies for Hungary's misfortunes.
Also interesting are the answers to "what can be done about Trianon." Here there are much greater differences between right and left. More than half (53%) of the younger generation think that Hungary should never accept the consequences of the Treaty of Trianon. Within that group a third would even resort to war to get back the lost territories. However, 43% believe that Hungary must resign itself to the status quo. That pretty well tells us that, whether we like it or not, at the moment radical right ideology has captured the imagination of the majority of this group. About 16% of the young adults who would resort to military means to regain lost territories are sympathizers of the Christian Democratic Party and Jobbik. About 37% dream of a peaceful revision ("followers of the national-nationalistic ideology") that is increasingly becoming the trademark of Fidesz.
All this is rather depressing and shows a very advanced degree of radicalization among the Hungarian youth. People blame the socialist-liberal parties for not being able to find an alternative to the nationalistic, irredentist interpretation of Trianon based on wrong historical facts. But I am skeptical of being able to combat the problem with rational arguments. I doubt that the radicalized Hungarian youth would be too impressed by balanced historical counterarguments based on solid research.