Today’s Hungary and Trianon

A few weeks ago one of the Hungarian television stations, ATV, began a new program. Every Monday night there are discussions with politicians about topics that in one way or another are related to the elections and the election campaign. This week the topic was the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the Hungarian minorities living in the neighboring countries. This is a very complex question. Although the Hungarian constitution mentions the government’s obligations toward Hungarians living outside the borders, just what these obligations are and how they are best met remain undefined.

At this week’s discussion all parliamentary parties were represented. There was general agreement on most of the issues among the politicians of MSZP, SZDSZ, and MDF. The right wing represented by István Simicskó, currently sitting with the KDNP delegation, often stood apart.

There was absolute consensus that during the so-called socialist period the Treaty of Trianon and its consequences belonged to the list of forbidden topics. All national issues were considered to be secondary to internationalism and within that the “brotherhood of socialist countries” of the Soviet bloc. But this “brotherhood” was of a peculiar sort. At one point, for instance, travel being neighbors was restricted and in Romania a Hungarian visitor couldn’t stay with relatives or friends while traveling in the country.

A large, two-volume history of Hungary published in 1964 mentioned Trianon only in passing and even then merely as an excuse to turn the masses’ attention away from the difficult situation of the “working classes.” The “ruling classes” tried to portray Trianon as the cause of all social problems, but “although Trianon brought a significant change in the economic structure of the country it could have been remedied by correct economic policies.” End of story. It was only in the late 1970s that one could read a sentence or two about the general trauma that Trianon caused. It was only in the 1980s that historians admitted that it was not only the ruling classes who were affected by the loss of territories but the whole population.

Thus the topic wasn’t discussed, analyzed, digested. Then came the change of regime and suddenly one could talk about Trianon, but the ignorance of the topic was and still is staggering. For example, most people don’t know anything about the ethnic makeup of Greater Hungary. Here are some figures taken from my precious 1910 census. Hungary proper (not including Croatia-Slavonia) had a population of 18,264,533. Of these only 9,944,627 claimed that they spoke Hungarian most fluently. Thus, 54.5% of the population.

As a result of the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary proper was reduced to less than one-third (32.6%) of her pre-war area and a little over two-fifths (41.6%) of her population. In the areas that ended up on the Czechoslovak side, there were 893,586 Magyar speakers according to the 1910 census. The Czechoslovak census of 1921, presumably in an attempt to minimize the Hungarian head count, counted Jews, practically all Hungarian speaking, separately. In 1921 Czechoslovakia claimed only 634,827 Hungarians and 70,522 Jews. In Ruthenia, currently belonging to Ukraine but between the two wars part of Czechoslovakia, there were 319,361 Ruthenians speaking a couple of dialects of Ukrainian and 169,434 Hungarians in 1910.

The territories ceded to Romania had 2,800,073 Romanians, 1,704,851 Hungarians, and 559,824 Germans. Even in Transylvania proper the Romanians outnumbered the Hungarians: almost 1,500,000 Romanians and slightly over 900,000 Hungarians.

Voivodina, given to Yugoslavia, was extremely mixed: there were 454,906 Serbs, 441,787 Hungarians, 311,162 Germans, and 71,788 Romanians. Here is the famous ethnic map of Hungary created to back up Hungary’s claims at the Paris Peace Conference.

As one can see from this map the borders could have been drawn much more “justly,” meaning more closely along ethnic lines, especially in the north and to some extent on the east. As far as the south was concerned the ethnic mix was such that one could simply have split the area in half. Some Serbs and Germans would have remained in Hungary while some Hungarians and Germans would have become citizens of Yugoslavia.

Most Hungarians, and not just the younger generation, have no idea about the ethnic composition of Greater Hungary. Between the two world wars the irrendentist propaganda was based on the mistaken notion that the only solution to Trianon was the complete restoration of Greater Hungary. The Hungarian people, surely terribly hurt and disappointed, should have been told that only certain territories might be regained and even then only under the most auspicious international circumstances. Because revisionism was the cornerstone of Hungarian foreign policy it was almosts inevitable that Hungary would end up on the side of Germany, the country dissatisfied with the status quo.

I might add here that there were moments when not all looked that bleak. Great Britain, for example, eventually became aware of the pitfalls of the draconian peace treaty of Trianon and urged the Hungarians in 1938 to be patient. The Soviet Union also promised favorable consideration after the war if Hungary didn’t join Germany’s war against the Soviet Union.

But how long could the country’s neutrality have been maintained if the Hungarians had listened to the Allies? Sooner or later, I think, it was inevitable that Germany would have invaded the country. In that case the only way to salvage the situation would have been to set up a government-in-exile that would have been able to remain free of any charge of collaboration. In that case it is possible that Hungary would have regained some of her lost territories inhabited mostly by Hungarians.

Of course, these are just fanciful speculations. The fact is that the situation was extremely difficult because of Hungary’s geopolitical position. The other day when I was reading Jobbik’s campaign program in which the authors stated that Hungary’s geopolitical situation is excellent, I wondered what on earth they are talking about. Hungary is surrounded by seven countries. I don’t know whether this is a record or not, but it must be up there somewhere. In any event, I don’t think that there were too many choices in those days, but the road Hungary took from 1933 on was perhaps one of the worst.

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39 comments

  1. How the USA entered in WW1. A film about the British liar war-propaganda. It produced by leader academic historians and experts of the era. It contains 5 short part.
    The first starting part is here:

  2. What do you think, Why did the opinion of leader american academic historians change about ww1 and president Wilson?

  3. Even serious Hungarians tend to stick to the 1910 census as Christian fundamentalists to the Bible. The 1910 census was made in a specific context, and its results were also a consequence of specific political action for a couple of decades.
    More importantly: by sticking to the idea that there was a real trauma because of the way borders were drafted, by still requesting that some fantasised injustice made to Hungarians must be recognised, not only are you delaying any healing process but you are also still giving credentials to politicians pushing for blood politics, for ethnic cleansing (like jobbik).
    If for example most of Slovaks would think like most of Hungarians do still today, they would have just assimilated ethnic Hungarians on what is now Slovak territory. The ethnic map would look different, and there would be no argument anymore.
    By the way, Hungarians did just exactly that after WWI – they “cleaned” what is now Hungary from many and still numerous “minorities” like Germans, Slovaks…etc.
    For instance, if there were 600000-800000 Hungarian speaking people in Czechoslovakia after Trianon, there were 250000-450000 Slovak speaking people in Hungary after Trianon.
    Today, you still have 500000-600000 Hungarian speaking people in Slovakia, and a maximum 10000 Slovak speaking people in Hungary. And true – there’s no minority issue left in Hungary.
    You want Hungary’s neighbours to practice the same kind of policies that would lead to the same kind of result?
    Then go on weeping about Trianon’s pretended injustice and waving with maps of 1910.
    The other possibility is to start thinking in broader terms, and even try to understand whether there actually isn’t a little bit of truth about the allegation that Hungarian speaking nobility has been consistently using nationalism as a way to keep its political and economical dominance…

  4. Hungary does have rather a lot of neighbours, which set me to wondering if there are many other European countries with similar good fortune. It seems that there are quite a few:
    Germany 9
    Poland 7
    Serbia 8
    France 7 (+Andorra)
    Austria 7 (+Liechtenstein)
    Ukraine 7
    The first three on the list certainly saw a number of territorial changes in the twentieth century. I would imagine there are rather a lot of irredentist Serbs, but I can’t imagine too many Germans walking around with Grossdeutschland T-shirts and patches – they would probably get arrested.
    As for the Poles, they lost vast swathes of territory after World War 2, in the east of the country. Most of these territories had a similar population profile to Transylvania in 1919 – an overall majority of non-Poles (as defined by language and religious affiliation), but in the majority in most large towns.
    As Poland was also given sizeable chunks of German territory, which they would probably never have dreamt of occupying before World War 1, they perhaps should be expected not to feel too aggrieved.
    Many Poles today will call Vilnius Wilno and Lviv Lwów, but I can’t recall ever seeing maps of the old Poland outside of history books – certainly not on anyone’s clothing or living room wall. Then again, there are not all that many ‘stranded’ ethnic Poles living in the neighbouring countries – although there are enough in Czech Republic and Ukraine to have their own newspapers and so forth.

  5. For Slovak MJ: There aren’t political party in Hungary which spoke about ethnic cleaning, it just your fantasy. Slovaks dissaperared from Hungary due to the agreement between Stalin and your president E.Benes. They forced nazi-style ethnic swapping (Slovaks were tranfered to Czecho-Slovakia and Hungarians were transfered from Czechoslovakia to Hungary.
    There is a good short film about nazi-style idea of Benes:

    A good film for everybody.

  6. MJ: “Even serious Hungarians tend to stick to the 1910 census as Christian fundamentalists to the Bible.”
    You have to stick to it because that was the official census. All censuses are made in “specific context.” As did the Czechoslovak or the Romanian ones between the two world wars. People declare themselves belonging to this or that ethnic group according to what they consider to be advantageous. In 1910 it was advantageous to declare themselves to be Hungarians while later to be Slovaks or Romanians. It is that simple.

  7. Eva, I recall once reading interesting figures about the “German” (or perhaps it was “German speaking”, I’m not sure) population of Budapest in the 1910 census. Do you have those figures?

  8. A FILM about W.Wilson and WW1.
    It contains 5 short part.
    The first starting part is here:



    Eva, did you see this film?

  9. Pat: “Eva, I recall once reading interesting figures about the “German” (or perhaps it was “German speaking”, I’m not sure) population of Budapest in the 1910 census. Do you have those figures?”
    At your service. The population of Budapest in 1910 was 880,371 out of which there were 756,070 Hungarian, 78,882 German, 20,359 Slovak speakers. The rest Ruthenians, Croats, Serbs, and “others.”

  10. Pat: “I love that map which you posted. Does anyone have a version of this superimposed with today’s borders?”
    If you look closer you can see today’s borders marked black.

  11. ssw: “What about W. Wilson and British propaganda in ww1? Did you see the film?”
    No, I didn’t. I don’t get my informations from YouTube. One of my Ph.D. minor fields was US. foreign policy. That’s enough for me.

  12. Thanks Eva, maybe then it was an earlier census I was recalling, which had a much higher % of “Germans”. Or else I read something incorrect…

  13. Pat: “Thanks Eva, maybe then it was an earlier census I was recalling, which had a much higher % of “Germans”. Or else I read something incorrect…”
    No, you were right. Until the 1830s both Buda and Pest were predominantly German towns. I will write something about this today.

  14. I saw the Hungarian journalist Ferenc Szaniszló on youtube accusing Austria of having profited from Trianon.
    Of course he forgot to add that most inhabitants of the Burgenland were and are German speakers. And the most important thing, they wanted rather belong to democratic Austria than to the Horthyregime.
    By the way, he also accused “the Austrians and the Germans” of being “americanised”, then complained “they took Jörg Haider away from us and we remained alone”.


  15. “And the most important thing, they wanted rather belong to democratic Austria than to the Horthyregime.” Hahaha. It is not true. They want to join to a more developed country.
    Horthy had a good reputation in the pre-ww2 west.

  16. @Pat: There are lot of really good quality open source (creative commons) maps on wikipedia. These come in a number of formats such as SVG (a form of XML), PNG etc… in various resolutions. If you use the SVG format you can then easily superimpose the various maps onto one another using freely available tools such as Inkscape. Google launched soem tools before Christmas allowing native support for SVG by rendering them in flash even in IE, using their Chrome plugin for IE (search for Scalable Vector Graphics for Web Browsers using Flash). Anyway examples of the kinds of maps on wikipedia that are excellent is one such as this of the 1910 census:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Austria_Hungary_ethnic.svg
    On the de-Germanisation of Budapest there is this: “Assimilating Jews and Germans were welcomed in order to expand Magyar plurality. On the eve of World War I, Hugh Stetson-Watson made famous what he called the “racial problems” in the Hungarian borderlands. The notoriety of forced Magyarization in the schools and bureaucracy obscured the success of Magyarization in the capital. Budapest went from about 80 percent German-speaking in 1848 to about 80 percent Magyar-speaking in 1880.”
    I’m afraid the spam filter prevents me from posting the source, but search on “Nationalism and the Problem of Inclusion in Hungary
    Author: Alice Freifeld , Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida, FL, and a former Title VIII-supported EES Short-term Scholar”

  17. Peter Koroly: “saw the Hungarian journalist Ferenc Szaniszló on youtube accusing Austria of having profited from Trianon.”
    I don’t know whether Szaniszló is a journalist or not, but rarely one can hear so much stupidity in one place as he managed to put together. Absolutely mind-boggling. He is surely not quite normal, but why he is allowed to tell all that nonsense on television?

  18. Horty: “They want to join to a more developed country. Horthy had a good reputation in the pre-ww2 west.”
    Well, there are a couple things wrong here. The Austrians put in a request to the Peace Conference about Western Hungary before Horthy became governor. Second, Austria in those days were not so much more developed than Hungary.

  19. Eva, I am Romanian and I agree with you that the border between Romania and Hungary could have been drawn more justly. There are some Hungarian populated areas along the border that normally should have been given to Hungary.
    They were not because the Romanian leaders of that time insisted to get as much of what we call the Western plain as possible. The economic argument trumped the ethnic one.
    However, just by looking at your map one can see that it had a political purpose. Yes, Transylvania is more mountainous than Hungary but even non-mountainous areas in the center of the region are shown as being uninhabited or sparsely populated while almost the whole Hungarian plain looks populated.
    Not to speak about the choice of colors to depict the various ethnic groups. Actually it’s ok, they could have used white to depict the Romanians 🙂

  20. Hi Mihai, as usual a very good comment.
    As for the Romanian-Hungarian border. I read the discussions of the committee that drew the Romanian-Hungarian borders. One copy of these transcripts is available in the Yale archives (Colonel House willed his papers to Yale.) From these transcripts it is clear that the line was drawn the way it was because Bratianu wanted to have the railway line going from Nagykároly to Arad in Romanian hands. That was really Romania’s minimum demand, especially if you compare it to the 1916 Treaty of Bucharest.
    As for the colors depicting the different nationalities, you’re of course perfectly right. The map makers picked the very vivid red for the Hungarians because this color gave the impression that the Hungarians were more numerous than in reality. The problem is that because of a very pale lavender color the map makers picked for the Romanians is hardly distinguishable from white depicting uninhabited areas. It was a clever trick. Imagine what would have happened if they picked dark blue!
    How accurately the uninhabited areas are drawn, I really don’t know. Surely, the whole of Mecsek is not totally devoid of people. I have never been in the Hortobány area but it is possible that no one in his right mind wants to live there.

  21. I’ve never really understood why Transylvania didn’t revert to being an independent mini-state, such as Luxembourg. Of course, this wouldn’t have resolved all of the tensions between Hungary and Romania in one swoop, but surely one of the best antidotes to revisionism would have been reconstituting an “independent” Transylvania, with strong links to both Hungary and Romania.
    Question is; would Romania and Hungary have fought for control of Transylvania by proxy? I would argue that pragmatic politicians would have begun to define an independent course for the small country, thereby preventing ethnic tension becoming unbearable.
    The economic factors that Eva refers to are a large element to difficulties faced by the responsible parties, in the absence of trade/co-operation agreements.
    Maybe someone can confirm the position of the French? Were they really so biased towards Romania as is portrayed?

  22. @Horthy@ you are concerned with the reputation of your namesake. I am dealing with facts. Burgenland people wanted to belong to Austria, because they did not like the “white terror”.
    Please do not tell me, that this was only the answer to the “red terror”
    @Eva@ As a non Hungarian who understands the language and observes your country without passion I am flabbergasted by some journalists who are allowed to present their monologues and rant against Jews, Gypsies, Leftwing people and of course against all the neighbours of Hungary.
    Probably you should explain what the theory of the holy Sz.I. crown means?
    After 1990 a Hungarian gentleman explained to me, that communism was an import to Hungary and that no “true born Hungarian” could really be a communist, that it was a Jewish invention and that Hungarians are balanced.
    If many Hungarians watch Szaniszló and share his views, then they must be mentally unbalanced.

  23. Eva, I guess you got my point, but just for the sake of the argument: the 1910 census is the official operation driven by an elite which has been practicing the politics of ethnical assimilation (magyarization) for decades. (read for example Beksics Gusztav)
    You write this yourself in your today’s blog to which I will react as well.
    But the point is not what was the “real” ethnical map. There is no such thing as truth in politics. The point is that this “official” census had a political purpose. It was supposed to serve a goal. Because it represents just a picture of a dynamic evolution wanted by politicians, you can’t use it to establish a universally recognised right (just thing of the isrealo-palestinian conflict, of Kosovo etc).
    Now the way it is still being used is political, and very much XIX’th century politics like.
    Cheers.

  24. MJ: “Eva, I guess you got my point, but just for the sake of the argument: the 1910 census is the official operation driven by an elite which has been practicing the politics of ethnical assimilation (magyarization) for decades. (read for example Beksics Gusztav”
    Well, first of all, the ethnic assimilation wasn’t too successful. Second, Beksics, although for a few years was an ordinary backbencher of the Liberal Party, was mostly a journalist who spread the gospel of an ideal all-Hungarin “empire.” But let’s not mix up the Hungarian Statistical Office with Beksics.
    What does it mean that the census is the official operation of an elite? In that case, all censuses are instruments of the elite and therefore none of them can be used. I pointed out the trick of mother tongue versus language most fluently spoken and most often used. But there was the 1921 Czechoslovak census where the elite used the trick of listing Jews separately in order to minimize the number of Hungarians. Does this mean then that we cannot use at all the 1921 census? Or that one elite’s census is more reliable than the other elite’s? I can’t accept that.

  25. Eva: “Well, first of all, the ethnic assimilation wasn’t too successful. Second, Beksics, although for a few years was an ordinary backbencher of the Liberal Party, was mostly a journalist who spread the gospel of an ideal all-Hungarin “empire.” But let’s not mix up the Hungarian Statistical Office with Beksics.”
    Well if I read Beksics’s “Magyarosodas es Magyrositas” he seems pretty confident that the magyarisation efforts over 50 years have been pretty successful. And his confidence seems actually documented.
    What is bad about pointing to the fact that: ok, adjust the numbers of the census somewhat downwards just to coreect the petty tricks used to manipulate marginally the numbers by zealed administrators. Once you have done that, you have a as realistic as it gets a picture of the ethnic map at a moment T. Now don’t forget that the picture at moment T is a result of an evolution, and just a moment in a timeframe of political action.
    What are the claims you are making based on that picture?
    What is the meaning you are giving to that picture? In 1910? In 1918? In 1945? Today?
    As far as the CZ census is concerned, I answered at you other post but happy to repeat: same thing applies to the CZ census from 1921: the point is who would use it to make what kind of claims from which specific political action would derive?
    I don’t know if it is clearer now.

  26. “”I’ve never really understood why Transylvania didn’t revert to being an independent mini-state, such as Luxembourg”
    For that some kind of political consensus.
    Instead there were Magyars who tried to cling to their former privileges as much as possible , Romanians who want to get even for the former underclass position. And between them the German communities looking suspiciously at both.
    Hardly any wish of mutual understanding and cooperation needed for an independent way.
    “”Maybe someone can confirm the position of the French? Were they really so biased towards Romania as is portrayed?””
    Not really. The main target was to cripple Germany and her allies trough any means.

  27. lvl100: “For that some kind of political consensus. Instead there were Magyars who tried to cling to their former privileges as much as possible , Romanians who want to get even for the former underclass position. And between them the German communities looking suspiciously at both. Hardly any wish of mutual understanding and cooperation needed for an independent way.”
    lvl100 here is speaking of a semi-independent status for Transylvania. Of course, he is right. There were attempts from the Romanian side to come to some understanding with the Hungarians but the politicians then, in 1919, ran madly to the British and the Americans who were not too fond of the Romanians and told them about the “evil” plans of Romania. There were, however, even Hungarians who thought that it was worth sitting down and talking about the Romanian plans. The idea was a kind of dual Romanian-Hungarian monarchy under the Romanian king which would have had three components: the Regat, Transylvania and whatever remained of Hungary. István Bethlen, later prime minister of Hungary, was one of the supporters but most of the Hungarians wouldn’t hear of it although the idea had meritat least in my opinion.

  28. The Mournig Peace
    „We have certainly gone a little too far. ”
    (General Goundrecourt)
    “Trianon”, the peace treaty which officially ended the First World War for Hungary, signed in Versailles in the Trianon Castle on the 4th of June, 1920, is one of the most catastrophic events in the history of the Hungarian Nation. With this „treaty”, the Allies or more commonly the ‘Entente’ implemented the decision by which Historic Hungary was dismembered. This is how, under the pretext of founding new nations, the largest minority group in Europe, the Hungarian minority, was created.
    http://domonyi.blogspot.com/
    http://blacktrianon.blogspot.com/2010/01/mournig-peace.html

  29. How can I research data from the 1910 Hungarian census? And specifically
    areas that were outside Hungary post-Trianon.

  30. Eva says: ‘I don’t get my informations from YouTube’. Wars are fought, evaluated and remembered on ‘informations'(?) from such sources. There is a never ending propaganda campaign eminating from the popular media concerning WWI and WWII. Simplistic and self-serving containing mostly half-truths. So where would Eva get
    her ‘informations’? From presidential
    pronuncements? They are just as simlistic and self-serving made for public consumption. Wars are fought on lies, the
    bigger the war, the bigger the lie. This
    has been demonstrated in the Iraqi war, once and for all. Wilson and Roosevelt were consumate politicians like any other. The difference is they were highly successful in their lies.
    Joe Simon, Ottawa, Canada

  31. Joe – The history we’ve had until relatively recently has by and large been shaped and written by the victors. But with the change in the way we access historical information, and the TV / Internet revolution, the recording of events is becoming more objective and truthful. It’ll never be totally true though – the spin industry is likely to see to that. And there will always been revisionists in the future too.

  32. It was after Mohács that the ethnic composition of historic Hungary changed so
    drastically. Délvidék for example was predominantly Hungarian down to Belgrade before 1526. There was a great deal of infiltration by the Romaninans in Erdély,
    while Hungary was bleeding white fighting
    the Turks during those centuries. For the
    sake of argument, will California, Arizona and Texas revert back to Mexico when the
    Latino population overtakes the Americans? Joe Simon, Ottawa, Canada,

  33. whoever, don’t mind my asking, but have u any idea about the history of translyvania? there was absolutely no reason to found another small state in transylvania. that would have caused only problems.
    actually this kind of proposal was made by stalin after the end of the second world war, and he notified the romanian government that he wants to transform transylvaia in a soviet region to punish both romania and hungary for being germanys allies. the communist party in romania told him that if translyvania was to be separated from romania, the war would probably start again in the region…
    anyway, what i don’t really get is the fact that almost 100 years from trianon, hungarians still fell it was unjust. but let’s take a look at that map. how many nations do u see there? 10, 11? the peace treaty favored the principle of nationalities, meaning to rebuild europe on the basis of nation states. croatia, slovakia, slovenia did not exist before, they were under the rule of hungary. were they hungarians? were they happy? well, if the answer would have been yes, these states would not exist now, would they? was transylvania purely hungarian? it actually wasn’t and as romanians were deprived of many rights for a long period of time, it was normal to earn for the unification with their mother country.
    just take into consideration that i’m not discussing here how right the borders were drawn. small corrections were possible. but we are not talking about corrections aren’t we? on t-shirts one does not sees slightly differences of the hungarian border, but a “kingdom” including entire neighboring states or parts of the neighboring states, and as much as i can understand hungarian history and mythology, i find it a little offensive.
    after the first world war, only 3 states were unsatisfied with it. germany, italy and hungary. that caused a second war. now i think that many germans regret that their country doesn’t have that shape anymore. but one doesn’t see them complaining. they got over it. i’m only asking when will hungarians get over trianon and we will all move on with our lives…

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