The Day of National Belonging

The Treaty of Trianon was signed on June 4, 1920. The Hungarian government between the two world wars never accepted the verdict of the territorial and human losses incurred as a result of the lost war. Mind you, the Hungarian people were of the same mind. Quite a few years ago I wrote: "Whether one accepts or rejects the view that revision of the Treaty of Trianon was the sine qua non of the nation's 'survival and independent existence' as István Bethlen, Hungary's prime minister, claimed, the fact remains that revisionism was the cornerstone of Hungary's interwar foreign policy. Successive governments preached the gospel of revisionism to anyone who would listen, repeating its message so often and with such fervor that many Westerners soon became convinced that 'the Hungarian people were not quite sane on that subject.'" This revisionist foreign policy failed miserably. At the end of World War II the same borders, with one small change at Hungary's expense, were reimposed on the country.

During the socialist period there were a few taboo subjects. One was any discussion of Trianon. Of course, historians wrote about the treaty and analyzed its causes and consequences, but these analyses circulated only within the historical community and were read by the few history buffs. It was the opinion of the party that any discussion of the subject that reached a wider audience would only rekindle antagonistic feelings toward the people and the governments of the successor states and might interfere with the alleged socialist friendship of the nations in the region.

This feeling was quite widespread, especially among the younger generation who didn't want any revival of Hungarian nationalism. It was certainly true of the generation of Viktor Orbán and his friends from the early days of Fidesz. On June 4, 1990, when the Speaker of the House, György Szabad, who was born in 1924 and had been a professor of history, called upon the members of parliament to rise for a minute of silence in remembrance of the Treaty of Trianon that had been signed seventy years earlier, the Fidesz delegation got up and left the chamber! And the same László Kövér who was heading the procession twenty years later suggested the establishment of a Day of National Belonging. Quite a change! It tells a lot about the leading members of the party and the road they travelled in the last twenty years.

The sudden Fidesz suggestion to have a day of remembrance of the Treaty of Trianon came as a surprise because such a proposal wasn't on the agenda. It was Jobbik that on May 10 sent a letter to the Fidesz delegation asking for its support in introducing this official day. Jobbik thought that it was a real shame that in the last twenty years no government ever suggested such an official day of remembrance.

The first reaction was Pál Schmitt's suggestion for a special day for the House to remember the treaty. Jobbik was thrilled and considered it a real success for the party that Schmitt responded somewhat positively to the suggestion. However, they wanted to have "a day of debate" on the subject in parliament. This would have required the signatures of one-fifth of all the members, and none of the opposition parties has a large enough delegation to initiate such a debate. Fidesz at that point was not ready to support Jobbik's suggestion. However, they were fully prepared to advance their own initiative. Practically on the same day Zsolt Semjén and László Kövér turned in a proposal to make June 4th a Day of National Belonging.

It is a rather peculiar document that begins: "We, the members of the Parliament of the Republic of Hungary who believe that God is the lord of history as well as those who are trying to understand the course of history from other sources, declare…." My first problem here is that I find the mention of God superfluous. I suspect it was the brainchild of the Christian Democrat Zsolt Semjén. My second thought is the following. If God is the lord of history, how could he possibly have willed such a calamity on the Hungarian nation? (And don't tell me I'm an ignoramus who never encountered the concept of theodicy.)

In the first sentence that goes on for twelve lines the two men claim that the treaty caused "political, economic, legal and psychological problems that to this day are not solved." But if they remain unsolved, does this mean that the Hungarian government should find a solution for them?

The endless sentence also notes that the legislators "recognize the right of other nations to have different opinions about questions important to Hungarians" and expresses the hope that by introducing this legislation they are "assisting the peaceful coexistence of people and nations living in the Carpathian basin." I somehow doubt that a Day of [Hungarian] National Belonging will assist "the mutual understanding and cooperation" of the nations of the area. In fact, there is real fear in some circles that the exact opposite will come to pass. Semjén and Kövér actually claim that by establishing a day of remembrance they are helping the "unification of Europe tragically divided as a result of the tragedies of the twentieth century." This last thought is totally incomprehensible to me.

The difficulties don't end here. In the first paragraph of the proposal one finds this sentence: "The Parliament of the Republic of Hungary honors all those peoples and their leaders who after the unjust and unfair dismemberment of the Hungarian nation by foreign powers through their sacrifices and achievements assisted the strengthening both in intellectual and in economic terms of the country and its inhabitants." This surely includes those who led Hungary into the deadly embrace of Hitler's Germany in the hope of revisionism and caused immense suffering to the country's inhabitants.

The second paragraph also has its problems. At the beginning of the first sentence Semjén and Kövér recognize that "the past solutions to the problems caused by Trianon, such as border changes with the help of foreign powers" as well the answers offered by the ideology of internationalism failed. Therefore "Parliament declares that the solution to the above mentioned problems can be solved only within the framework of international law." Their solution seems to include democracy, sovereignty, progress, equality, cooperation of countries of equal rank, freedom that includes the free choice of national identity. In brief, their so-called solution is no solution at all. "At the same time, Parliament condemns all attempts to assimilate minorities."

In the third paragraph it is stated that "all members of the Hungarian nation under the authority of other states are part of the unitary Hungarian nation and that the homogeneity of the Hungarian nation across borders is real. Therefore Parliament strengthens Hungary's resolve to maintain and cultivate the relations of all members and communities of the Hungarian nation." It adds that Parliament will support the Hungarian minorities' striving for autonomy. This last sentence will especially please Romania that made it crystal clear that autonomy is out of the question.

The fourth and last paragraph reiterates that it is the Hungarian Parliament's duty to remind the current members of the nation as well as future generations "to remember forever this national tragedy." The only reference to self-criticism comes at the end of the document when there is an allusion to "our faults that caused injury to members of other nations."

All this is too new to have caused widespread reaction in the neighboring countries. However, the Slovak Pravda has a few things to say. The paper points out that "Hungarians are masters of opening up old wounds" and that Viktor Orbán is pouring oil on the "nationalist fire that in our part of the world always works." The paper also thinks that "to build national identity" on the foundation of Trianon is unfortunate. 

I'm not terribly surprised that LMP supports the Semjén-Kövér proposal. After all, the party's leaders are very close to President László Sólyom, and we know about Sólyom's attitude toward the Hungarian nationalities in the neghboring countries. His frequent visits to Romania and Slovakia, especially on Hungarian national holidays, got him into trouble in both countries, and not just once.

We don't know yet what MSZP will do. After all, if they say no, they will be the only ones to turn against "the national will" and I don't know whether they will have the guts to do so.

One comment

  1. The so-called National day of Belonging, brought in to lament the treaty of Trianon, sends a simple message to the Slovak Republic as a state: We wish you were dead, although unfortunately we are in no position to kill you.
    The borders of Hungary were determined in 1920 (outside the living memory of nearly all Hungarians) and were reaffirmed with a tiny revision in Paris in 1947. Ethnic Hungarians over generations have made their lives in the successor states, and they will be the first victims of any hostility between Hungary and Slovakia.
    The actions of FIDESZ backed by Jobbik (and LPM it would seem) can only retard the development of the region.

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