August 22, 1914

A change of pace. What else can we say about Viktor Orbán after his three recent public appearances and his decision to share his vision and wisdom with the world? Instead, let’s talk about history.

I must have mentioned how great the interest is in Europe on the 100th anniversary of World War I. German and Austrian papers in particular have been spending considerable time and energy telling their readers about events a hundred years ago. Often on a daily basis.

Hungarians who are so terribly interested in history seem to spend less time on the Great War, as it was called at the time. However, there is a company called Arcanum Adatbázis Kft. that specializes in the digitization of documents, maps, paintings, etc. They just offered free access to the issues of five Hungarian newspapers published one hundred years ago. I took advantage of the offer and read the August 22, 1914 issue of Népszava, the newspaper of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. Today I’ll share some of that hundred-year-old news.

Before I embark on my project let me note that the Hungarian social democrats, just like other social democratic parties all over Europe, forgot about their internationalism after the outbreak of the war and became enthusiastic supporters of the war effort. Thus no one should be surprised about Népszava‘s patriotism and its fierce attack on tsarist Russia. After all, Russia’s oppressive regime was one of the justifications for socialist support of the war effort.

I should also mention that by coincidence I happened to pick a day that is described by historians as the war’s “deadliest.” It was on August 22, 1914 near Ardennes and Charleroi that the French army lost 27,000 men. It was a much larger loss than the one the British suffered in the Battle of Somme, which is usually cited as the war’s worst. The Battle of the Ardennes lasted three days, between August 21 and 23. Keep in mind that the articles in Népszava, a morning paper, were most likely written the night before.

Népszava was a slim paper in those days, ten pages in all, but six of these were devoted to the war. Headlines: “The German army destroyed the French. The troops of the Monarchy advance in Russia. Revolution broke out in the empire of the hangman Tsar.”

The paper enthusiastically announces that the German advance this time is even swifter than it was during 1870-1871 and optimistically predicts that “the war will soon be over.” The first decisive battle has taken place. Although it was not on French territory, as was predicted, it was very close, only 12 kilometers from the border. “Brussels already belongs to the Germans”; this occupation was a magnificent military achievement. Liège is also in German hands.  “The German army will soon move all the way to the North Sea.”

The situation on the ground was not so rosy. Here are a few lines from a German soldier’s diary entry: “Nothing more terrible could be imagined…. We advanced much too fast–a civilian fired at us–he was immediately shot–we were ordered to attack the enemy flank in the forest beeches–we lost our direction–the men were done for–the enemy opened fire–shells came down on us like hail.”

Népszava, like the other papers, spends considerable time accusing the enemy of all sorts of beastly things. According to the paper, German soldiers write letters home in which they tell stories about the cruelty of the French toward prisoners of war. For example, “they cut both hands, poked the eyes out, and tore out the tongue” of a German prisoner.

After the Battle of Ardennes

After the Battle of Ardennes

On the Russian front the newspaper is unable to come up with such spectacular victories. The report simply says that “the Russians have been unable to cross the border of Bukovina,” which was  part of Austria-Hungary until 1918. As for the paper’s claim of a revolution in the Crimea, that might have been only wishful thinking on the part of the Hungarians because history books do not seem to know about it.

It is interesting to read about Russian-Ukrainian relations from the perspective of 1914. The paper points out that there are 30 million Ukrainians living in Russia who look upon this war as “a war of independence.” These oppressed Ukrainians are looking forward to the day when they can join their four million Ruthenian brethren who live in Austria-Hungary.

A Hungarian paper would naturally spend considerable time on the war next door, in Serbia. They relate stories coming from returning wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. According to a Hungarian lieutenant, the Hungarians “decimated” the Serbian forces. Those who were not killed escaped in the direction of Podgorica (in Montenegro) and Ada (Serbia). However, some soldiers climbed trees and kept shooting at the Hungarian troops. He claimed that the Serbs are cowardly and brutish soldiers who leave their own wounded men behind. The Serbs, according to the paper, don’t have too many fatalities, but they do have a lot of wounded soldiers. Two of them were brought to Budapest. They told the Hungarians that they did not want to join the army but their officers forced them with revolvers. These two also claimed that the army is tired, but the officers are trying to convince them to go on because the Russians will be coming momentarily.

A fair number of Serb prisoners of war arrived in Hungary already by late August.  The paper talks about 300 prisoners in Esztergom. Apparently another 3,000 were on their way, being transported by ship.

All in all, the usual war psychosis. The enemy is vile, cowardly, cruel while our side is brave and wonderful. Our victories are magnified, the enemy’s minimized. Hopes center around a Ukrainian uprising so they can join the Ukrainians living in the Monarchy. There is also speculation of a revolution in Russia. Much time is spent on the weariness, disillusionment, and hardships in the enemy country. This is especially the case when it comes to stories about Serbia.

Finally, something the journalists of Népszava did not know when they put the newspaper together. It was on August 22, 1914 that Austria-Hungary declared war on Belgium. A bit late, don’t you think?


  1. At the same time on the Western Front there was the “Rape of Belgium” by the German forces – another thing that was essential for the Allies’ treatment of Germany after the war.

    Our local newspaper in Germany just now reported on this and showed pictures of German students happily entering the train to the front – I’ll never understand how these people could be so happy to go to war.

  2. Coming:

    Austria-Hungary loses the entire Galicia (the West Ukrainians) and Bukovina between August 26 and September 26, 1914.

  3. The main French dailies of the same day were singing roughly the same song. Victory in Alsace! (with a ‘wise retreat’), Serbian advances! And already stories about the German occupation of Belgium, as well as complaints for ‘violation of international law’ (the bombing of Pont-à-Mousson). And neither Hungary, nor Hungarians, seem to exist. The enemy is ‘German’ or ‘Austrian’, seldom ‘Austro-hungarian’ to avoid repetition.

    There were differences, though. Le Figaro seems the most chauvinistic (with calls to litteraly ‘destroy Germany’) and was also developing the theme of ‘nationalities vs Empires’. There are two short pieces about Foreign volunteers enrolling in Paris: Russians, Czechs, Serbs, Romanians, Jews (sic) – and one about internal troop switches in the Austrian army at the borders with Italy, supposedly motivated by ethnic considerations. Of course, it all comes from official press releases …

    By contrast, the official socialist newspaper L’Humanité, which had just lost its director Jean Jaurès, seems almost coy, though patriotic enough not to seem resigned. Interestingly, there is on the front page a short note on Clémenceau challenging, if not the accuracy, at least the coherence of the government’s communiqués.

  4. As you can see the Serbs were “fleeing” in the Hungarian newspaper article, but they actually won the battle and recaptured Sabac [Shabatz] on August 24.

    Fog of war and journalism.

  5. I just finished reading “Jack of Diamonds” by Bryce Courtenay. It contained some very interesting descriptions of Great-war episodes.
    Also there is a book from Margaret MacMillan titled “The War that ended peace”.
    Booth books are available from Amazon.

  6. RTL:

    “Furthermore, today’s impairment charge demonstrates the significant damage caused by the new advertising tax in Hungary. As we already said in July: the precipitous introduction of the confiscatory advertising tax is an alarming signal for all international investors in Hungary. Our audience and financial success has always included two key elements: a local, decentralised management structure and being politically independent. RTL is and will remain deeply rooted in Hungary.”

    Hungarian government, communiqué by “National Economy Ministry” or NGM:

    “We are flabbergasted …”
    “We recommend that RTL …”
    “Why don’t they behave as “good corporate citizen” in Hungary?”
    “It is unacceptable …”
    “They do not have moral right to …”

  7. A minor point but I wonder what casualty figures you are using when you say “It was a much larger loss than the one the British suffered in the Battle of Somme…” British casualties on the first day of the Somme alone were 60,000, of which 19,240 were killed. Is that a much smaller loss than 22,000 killed in three days?

    Whichever way one looks at it, it was a bloody business but I am not sure what your point is here.

  8. As always, the Brits have a skewed view of WW1 (for instance the recent commemorations all referred to Britain’s entry into the war as the “start of WW1” – a war which was over a week old by then). To us the Battle of the Somme was THE battle of the war because we ended up carrying far more than our originally intended burden (many French troops having been diverted to Verdun), and therefore lost far more men. I don’t think many Brits even realise it was two years into the war!

    But, whatever the perspective, it still was an amazingly bloody battle. I have to rely on Wikipedia for figures, as all my history books are an inconvenient 1,000 miles away, but they have it involving over 1 million casualties (dead and injured), with, as Jeremy says above, the British alone suffering around 60,000 casualties on the very first day. Incidentally, Wikipedia also has the battle spanning 1 July to 18 November – over 4 months.

    It’s easy to get a little complacent about such figures, especially as we are all so used to the huge numbers of people killed in WW2, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, etc. But spare a thought for the sheer logistics of actually managing to kill and injure so many people. Those were the days of horse and train – no easy way to even move that number of soldiers. The conditions by then, two years into the war, were also pretty appalling. In a horribly dark way, just organising things so that a million men could be placed in such a position that they could be killed and injured was an incredible feat.

    And that’s how it seems to us, 100 years later, and numbed by all the mass killing of the later 20th century and the incredible destructive power of modern weapons – imagine how such huge-scale slaughter must have seemed at the time. (Britain’s population was only around 46 million at the time.)

  9. It seems that lies were spread by the media / Népszava even in that very early stage of war. On 19 August 1914, Austria-Hungary suffered a major humiliating defeat in Serbia. An amazing account of those developments:

    It is indeed incredible that these days the Hungarian media does not seem to bother about the early stage of that unfolding catastrophe. The collective mind / political propaganda is still too much fixated on the collapse and humiliation of 1919-1920.
    What had lead to it is of secondary importance and would only trouble the mind of faithfuls.

    It was two days ago that my ailing father gave me the medal received by my grandfather for his bravery at Isonzo (Italian front) in 1917. He fought so heroically that he was awarded the golden medal and it was even announced to the troops. At the end, however, he received only the silver medal – someone at the top simply misappropriated the gold…

  10. For a very different perspective on WWI I would recommend reading
    This is a Serbian report on atrocities committed by the Austro-Hungarian Army in Serbia in 1914. Needless to say one nation’s atrocity can be another nation’s act of heroism. It often depends on one’s perspective, war is profoundly inhuman.

    A good case in point is myself and the Vietnam War, which I served in and came to oppose. I thought I was pretty pure and did not justify the bad actions of the US Army until not that long ago I read a book titled Kill Anything that moves by Nick Truse (2013). I found myself arguing with what the book called atrocities in some cases and others not. An example was running over Vietnamese civilians on bikes by heavy transport columns which I saw happen. We saw them as intentionally slowing us down as a precursor to ambush, Truse with the safety of time and space sees them as innocent peasants being mowed down by drugged out racist soldiers. Our perspectives could not be more different.

  11. Max: It seems that lies were spread by the media / Népszava even in that very early stage of war.

    Very few journalists were tolerated near the front lines until 1916, and most of the times none at all. Newspapers were rewriting military communiqués.

    And anyway, even the authorized reporters believed they had to fulfill a patriotic mission – which is hardly surprising considering their whole readership was directly concerned, through family members who had been drafted or had volunteered.

  12. Time to Bring Out the Nose-Plugs

    i see that the Wall Street Journal is well-trolled by the Fidik faithful, extolling Fidik’s virtues and excoriating anyone who ventures to say a disparaging word.

    Yes, RTL content is mostly rock-bottom prole-feed.

    Yes, RTL is a rapacious money-grubber (like almost all corporations, mutimational or national).

    Yes, RTL only became critical of Fidik after it slapped on its whopping tax; before that RTL had been an uncomplaining lapdog insofar as its (non)coverage of Fidik malfeasance was concerned.

    But Fidik, too, is a rapacious money-grubber, providing rock-bottom content to the Hungarian populace, trying to make up for its corruption and incompetence by overtaxing foreign corporations in order to suck them dry and then seize and nationalize their assets, so as to redistribute them to Fidik cronies.

    So hold your noses, because it is RTL that is in the right in this dispute. Let’s hope they will succeed where so far both the Hungarian democratic opposition and the EU have failed.

  13. London Calling!

    I too hope that RTL sticks to their last – and even ups the ante!

    Go go RTL !

    Calling all Hungarians! Send all your scandal to RTL.



  14. For example: Orban’s liaisons- who was Janos Lazar with at the hotel – how much Orban’s DNA phone investigation cost – where is the creamed-off money going – etc etc

  15. Very OT, but hopefully of interest to some:

    I finally got to see Debrecen’s wonderful new Stadion!

    And it’s pretty impressive – although also rather puzzling.

    For a start, it’s not very big. It only holds just over 20,000 people. This may sound a lot, but for a “national” stadium in a country’s second city?. I’ve no idea of the capacity of the stadium it replaced (it was built on the site of the old National Stadium, not the old LOKI football ground), but the old stadium was huge (both in terms of capacity and the size of the internal pitch/running track) – this one is tiny by comparison.

    And yet the impression you get is that it’s huge. This is mainly down to the fact that the whole area has been remodelled and relandscaped, with strangely pointless elevated walkways surrounding the stadium (there’s even a small lake – where the boating lake used to be – with a car park underneath it!). The stadium is also fairly well concealed by trees (it’s just inside the Nagyerdõ – Great Forest), so it’s difficult to get a view of the whole building, and it’s ‘wrapped’ in fabric – that is, in places the fabric used for the sail-like roof panels, extends down and covers the walls, supported by extensive steelwork. This is impressive, in fact quite lovely, when you first see it, but it effectively conceals quite an ordinary (and fairly small) building inside.

    It’s also very clearly a football stadium. It’s referred to as a “national” stadium, and the impression is given that it is a direct replacement for the old stadium, and that its intended use is for all sorts of sports and entertainments (only coincidently including LOKI’s home games!), but anyone who is familiar with football stadia will notice straight away that that this stadium is completely and absolutely only for football. In fact, from a football fan’s point of view, it’s a superb football stadium. It has all the classic hallmarks – only space for a pitch (no running track, in fact no extra space at all), seats right up close to the action, stands sloping steeply up (which not only gives a better, closer, view of the action, but improves the acoustics, so the crowd noise is as intimidating as possible for the away team and supporters, and a low, and extensive, roof – which again helps to concentrate the crowd noise and reflect it back to the pitch.

    But, as a football stadium, and despite all the PR blurb to the contrary, it’s not much use for anything else, In fact it’s only of use to any sport that uses a football sized/shaped pitch, or to any other use where the attraction can fit in a relatively small space. It would be OK, although far from ideal, for pop/rock concerts (although, given it’s limited capacity, not for very well-known acts), and it worked quite well (apparently) for the Flower Carnival evening celebrations (you can just about get a dozen floats on the pitch – at a squeeze) – although it is noticeable that the fireworks were set off from the nearby Egyetem, not from the stadium itself. But for anything else (athletics, for example), it would be useless. This is clearly LOKI’s new home, not a replacement for the old multi-purpose, National Stadium.

    It’s also been built in a very typically modern Hungarian style (visual impact being the overriding factor). That’s not to say it’s not very functional – once again, it has been very well designed to cope with the needs of a football crowd (strictly controlled entrance, easy exit, segregation of fans, plenty of open spaces for food stands, etc) – but it’s overall design has been affected by the need for visual impact (it is much higher on one side than the other, giving a dramatic sweeping curve effect) more than (for instance) the need for future expansion and adaptation. For example, it would be effectively impossible to add any extra seats – the cost would make it as expensive as rebuilding the stadium. I can’t think of another modern football stadium anywhere that doesn’t have the possible future need for expansion built into the design (most stadia are almost entirely function over style – superbly designed, but ugly!).

    So, clearly, Orbán the football fan (and frustrated player) has built a football stadium. But the big question is why one of this size? 20,000 is an odd capacity. It’s way too big for the local football club, whose average gate is probably around 5,000 (I’m being generous, from the games I’ve seen in the old stadium, I would estimate a considerably lower average crowd than that). They might fill it for the odd ‘derby’ game, especially if the result of the match really mattered (say against Fradi to win the league), or for the occasional lower-level European games (against opposition anyone had actually heard of!), but mostly the stadium is going to be three-quarters empty.

    And, in the same way as a full stadium can be like a 12th man for the home side, a mostly empty arena can be a complete dampener on games. The crowd noise is lost in the vast, empty, space, huge arrears of seating are empty (which looks especially bad on TV), and the atmosphere is largely non-existent. The away supporters end can also look ridiculous, with the smaller clubs only bringing a few hundred supporters, but 3,000 seats being set aside for them*. I wonder how much of a coincidence it is that LOKI’s first full season in the new Stadion is also turning out to be their worst start in a very long time? After dominating the league for many ears, they are currently 8th – out of 16 – after 4 games, with just a third of the points of the leaders, Videoton.

    (*Unlike in many football stadia, the seating allocated for away fans is fixed in the new stadium, because of the need to surround it by fences and netting – an unfortunate side-effect of the football-related violence that is still prevalent in Hungary. In the UK, for instance, where once football violence was endemic, all such fencing and netting has long since been removed. In contrast, the new stadium even has netting behind the goal at the home end!).

    But it’s also too small for any serious international football. Compared to the English Premier League stadia, for example, it’s almost too small (having roughly the same capacity as the smallest stadium currently in the League, And, even within the PL, most stadia are considered too small for international fixtures – the preferred stadia are those belonging to clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle, etc, where the capacity is upwards of 50,000 (Man U’s ground holds 75,000!). My own club, West Ham, for instance, has a stadium that ‘only’ holds 35,000 people, and can’t easily be extended, so they are having to move to the redeveloped ex-Olympic Stadium in two year’s time, with a capacity of 55,000 – and the chance to once again host European and international matches.

    So, we’re left with a stadium clearly only really intended for football, but both too big for the local club, and too small for European or World Cup football (which I had assumed was Orbán’s aim). What then, exactly, IS it intended for?

    I’m still puzzled by this, but, having observed the reaction of local people to the new Stadion recently, it could just be that Orbán is simply building dreams and buying support. The average Debreceni (who mostly aren’t football fans) absolutely loves the new Stadion, and the newly landscaped area around it (including an impressively tall fountain and a reconstructed amphitheatre). They are intensely proud of their new status symbol – as they are of the new tram line and it’s superb trams, and the general improvements to the city’s buildings, open spaces, etc. Debrecen is a beautiful city, getting better by the year. And no one seems to care how much it all costs, or how much of that is increasing the huge debt burden already carried by the city…

  16. I haven’t been to Debrecen lately, but we just met some relatives of my wife in Sopron. The Déak Etterem on Déak Tér is nice and the food was also very good – but the old city is so rotten! So many buildings with signs of a glorious past that are empty and falling apart – it seems that almost nothing has been done since we were there last time, three years ago.

    I was really shocked! Of course there are new buildings and some which have been renovated nicely, but the large majority looks horrible, plaster falling off, windows that haven’t seen any paint since the fall of communism …

    Why is that – especially compared to other cities eg Debrecen?

  17. “German soldiers write letters home in which they tell stories about the cruelty of the French toward prisoners of war. For example, “they cut both hands, poked the eyes out, and tore out the tongue” of a German prisoner.”

    Never knew the French were such a sadistic lot.

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