THE GREATEST TRAGEDY IN HUNGARY’S HISTORY
Hungary couldn’t expect fair treatment from the major Allied Powers. Their representatives were too concerned about gaining power, not considering what was in the best interest of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. The French prime minister Clemenceau and the French delegation’s main goal was to practically destroy the Central Powers, so none of them would be able to wage war again. Andre Tardieu, the French delegate in charge of the peace committee regarding Austria- Hungary, had very similar views. He saw France’s relative safety in disabling Germany, creating powerful Slavic states -Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia- in Central Europe, and increasing Romania’s territory. This would ensure that a strong, centralized power, like Austria-Hungary would never emerge in Central Europe again. Tardieu opposed plebiscites in Hungary, because if they were to prevail, the Slavic states he had hoped for couldn’t be created. (Glatz, 228)
England’s prime minister, Lloyd George, was also unconcerned about Central Europe. While the English public wanted to demolish the Central Powers, like the French, his only goal was gaining Germany’s colonies, and therefore strengthening England’s influence in the seas. However, many other English politicians, who were somewhat interested in Central Europe’s fate, saw a power ful, independent Hungary as a threat to the balance of power in Europe.(Nemeskürty, 105) To prevent this, they chose to leave Hungary in ruins after the treaty negotiations.
President Wilson of the United States, was the only main delegate who tried to create a treaty acceptable to all the countries concerned. His Fourteen Points, which he wanted the peace treaties to be based on, would have ensured self-determination by plebiscites, peace without reparations or annexations, and free trade. The fourteenth point, in Wilson’s view the most important in keeping world peace, called for the creation of a League of Nations. In this organization, all nations, even the Central Powers, would be treated as equals. Unfortunately, Wilson was unable to get his view across to the other Allied Powers, who had felt bitter resentment towards the Central Powers even before Word War I. He was willing to let the other negotiators disregard the first thirteen points, just as long as the League of Nations was created. As it turned out, only the Allied Powers were allowed to join the League, and the isolationist US congress decided not to do so. The rest of the American delegates were concerned only about gaining influence in South America and Eastern Asia and had no interest in Europe whatsoever. Therefore, they did not support Wilson and his ideas.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Russia sponsored a Panslavic campaign in Central and Eastern Europe, with the cultural and political unity of all Slavs as a goal. This movement was extremely popular among the Serbs, Bosnians, Slovenes and especially the Croats, who were striving for an age old ideal: the unity of all Southern Slavs on the Balkan Peninsula. As with Czechoslovakia, the formation of Yugoslavia was pushed by political exiles, in this case, mostly by Croats (The founders of the Yugoslav committee formed in Paris in 1015, Ivan Mestrovic, Franjo Supilo and Ante Trubic were all Croats.) and supported by Western European politicians and writers. However, although he considered the idea of Yugoslavia, Nicola Pasic, the premier of Serbia, really wanted to create a Great Serbia embracing all the people of Yugoslavia, including the Croats (Sisa, 201). Although Supilo resisted, Trumbic reluctantly agreed, advocating unity at all costs, and so the Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes and Serbs of Vojvodina (South Hungary) came to be practically ruled by the Serbs of Serbia, despite the initial ideals of equal representation of all South Slavs in government.
Yugoslavia might never have been created had its creation not been in the interest of the advocates of Czechoslovakia’s formation. Initially, although a few Czechs were for the creation of Czechoslovakia, but hardly any Slovaks supported it. Of the less than 1000 Slovakian nationalists, only a small percentage desired the union with the Czechs, or would have preferred the Czechs to the Hungarians, given equal political conditions (Sisa 205). By promising Slovakia widespread autonomy, the Czech leaders of the movement persuaded Slovakians living in America into signing the Pittsburgh pact, in which both parties agreed on the formation of Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, Thomas G. Masaryk and Eduard Benes, the architects of the Czechoslovak movement, were able to obtain the support of prominent French, English and American politicians, “transforming themselves from consultants of the allies to the architects of the allied policy for Central Europe” (Liptak, 4). The allied politicians, ignorant of the ethnographic situation in Central and Eastern Europe, were willing to accept, with little or no resistance, the “solutions” proposed by these “experts”. It was on the basis of this false data and biased solution that the Treaty of Trianon was drafted.
The Rumanians claimed that Transylvania rightfully belonged to their country, because, according to the theory of the Daco-Roman continuity, the ancestors of the Rumanians – Roman colonists- had been living in Transylvania from 106 BC to 275 AD However, the theory is not supported by history. Not only is there no archeological proof -remnants of roads or cities- pointing to the existence of a Daco-Roman civilization in Transylvania, but the Rumanians can’t bring evidence to their existence for almost a thousand years: from 275 AD to 1200, when their appearance in Transylvania is first mentioned. They ignored the fact that they had adopted the Latin alphabet only at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, and have been called Wallachians by themselves and other nations prior to 1861.(Sisa, 214) Even without historical basis, the theory of Daco-Roman continuity proved extremely useful for political and propaganda purposes.
The Allied Powers didn’t have much reason to reward Romania for its actions during World War I. It officially declared war on the Central Powers only in August 1916, during the great Russian offensive in which Russia broke through the Carpathian mountains. Romania therefore figured it would gain something without taking a great risk, by fighting alongside Russia. After three months of fighting it withdrew from war, because its capital, Bucharest had been occupied, and signed a separate peace treaty with the Central Powers, despite its promise not to do so. The other Allied Powers felt Romania could have held out longer, tying down some of the German and Austro-Hungarian troops. Despite these facts, the Allied Powers were quite willing to give Romania most of the land it coveted, as this would also ruin Hungary.
The Allied Powers most likely wouldn’t have rewarded Romania with so much of Hungary’s land if the Rumanian delegates had provided them with true information about the ethnographic situation in Transylvania. When asked how many Hungarians would be subjected to foreign rule if Transylvania was given to Rumania, they declared it would be around one million, although at least twice as many Hungarians were living in the area at that time. Bratianu managed to convince the Allies that the 1910 Hungarian census, which showed Transylvania’s population as 44.7% Rumanian and 40.6 % Hungarian, was entirely false. After numerous “complicated calculations”, he presented the Allied Powers the “actual data”, which stated that 60.9 % of Transylvania ’s population was Rumanian, while only 24.5 % was Hungarian. In the same manner, he showed towns with almost pure Hungarian population as barely having any Hungarians. When the negotiations were over, Lloyd George even admitted that “at the time of the peace-negotiations we have been supplied from certain quarters with false data and it was upon the basis of this false data we decided of frontiers and races.” (Sisa 232).
At the peace conferences, the viewpoint of Hungary and her representatives were at best ignored. The Allied Powers didn’t want her input, because such input would have threatened the validity of the decisions they had already made. The Hungarian delegates were not allowed to attend the peace conferences, and were only invited to Neuilly (a suburb of Paris) on December 1st, 1919. Promptly upon their arrival on January 7, 1920, they were interned in the Chateau de Madrid, and guarded by police. On January 14, 30-40 representatives of the Allied Powers summoned the Hungarian delegates, and gave them until 3 p.m. the next day to review the treaty. (Mikes, 269) Although they agreed to listen to the Hungarian delegates’ expose on the treaty, they made it clear that the contents of the treaty are final. When the Hungarian delegates were again granted audience on the 16th, they brought up numerous arguments against the treaty provisions. Count Apponyi, the main Hungarian delegate pointed out in his expose that greater Hungary is a perfect geographical and economical unit with a 1000 year-old history. The treaty wouldn’t solve the minority problem in Central Europe, because Hungary’s successor states, would have just as much, if not more minority than greater Hungary had. Hungary’s dismemberment would cause continuous conflict in Central and Eastern Europe.
The most absurd provision of the treaty was the war guilt clause, which identified Hungary as a major belligerent cause of World War I, and a historical German ally. As the Hungarian delegates pointed out, it was a Serb who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Hungary’s prime minister Tisza alone voted against retaliation against Serbia in the Austro-Hungarian Council of Ministers, he was the only politician in Europe who had spoken out against the war. As for being a German ally, history proves the exact opposite. During her 500 years of independence, Hungary blocked the spread of German influence, and created stability by filling the power vacuum of the region. When she was under Austrian occupation between 1688 and 1867, she rose twice against her oppressors, eventually gaining partial independence from them. (Liptak, 4)
On February 12, 1920, the Hungarian delegates gave the written answer to the plan of the peace treaty, declaring that Hungary would not accept these terms, demanded plebiscites, the result of which Hungary was willing to respect. The written answer included numerous memoranda, maps, and figures about Hungary’s ethnographic situation. These were not even read by the Allied Powers. (Sisa, 227)
Hungary only received a written response on May 6. It denied Hungarian demands and forced Hungary to accept the terms of the treaty, threatening to further occupy the country if her government didn’t cooperate. The government finally appointed Ágoston Bernard, the minister of welfare and Alfred Drasche-Lazar to sign the treaty at 10:00 a.m. on June 4, 1920.
In the end, all the terms of the Treaty of Trianon prevailed, cutting Hungary to pieces. Whereas before, the country had an area of 325 000 km2, this was reduced to 93 000 km2, or 28.48% of the original land. Romania alone received Transylvania, Partium and part of the Bánát region, an area larger than rump Hungary herself. (Map III) Yugoslavia was allotted Croatia, Slavonia, Bácska and part of Bánát (19.52% of the original land), and Czechoslovakia was allotted a similar chunk: The Northern Highlands (today Slovakia), and Carpathian Ruthenia (Sub-Carpathia). Poland and Italy received other, very small territories. However, even Austria was rewarded with 4000 km2 of territory, as a ploy to poison any future relationship between her and Hungary. (Map I) In comparison, Germany, the leader of the Central Powers, lost only 13% of her land, and Bulgaria, only 8%. (Map IV) 63% of Hungary’s population, including one half of her Hungarian speaking population, was lost. Out of these 3.5 million Hungarians, 1.5 million were living along the new frontiers. In the territories Hungary had lost, there were cities of almost entirely Hungarian population, which contained numerous irreplaceable historical monuments, cultural artifacts, churches, and educational and cultural institutions. Transylvania especially had been a vital center of Hungarian culture and patriotism.
As a result of the War guilt clause, Hungary’s army was limited to 35 000 volunteers. Its navy and air force were disbanded. This made her extremely vulnerable to her successor states, who had formed a political and military alliance based on their common hatred of Hungarians. This alliance, known as the “Little Entente”, could call into arms 562 000 soldiers in times of peace, and 4 365 000 during war. Economically, Hungary was hit just as hard. She lost 88% of her timber, 63% of arable lands, 65% of navigable water, Fiume – her only outlet to sea, 85% of her iron deposits, practically all of her gold and silver mines, and became the only country in Europe who couldn’t produce her own salt. The already ruined country was forced to pay reparations as well: one part by May 1, 1921, and the rest in 66 semiannual installments.
The Trianon treaty turned the nationalities of Central Europe, who had always lived in coexistence, into mortal enemies. They refused to unite and therefore couldn’t form a neutral barrier between Germany and Russia, both trying to fill the power vacuum in Central Europe that had been created by the annihilation of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Instead, they came to be dominated by both powers subsequently during the twentieth century. The treaty served to create geographical and economical problems in Central Europe. Historical Hungary had been the most perfect geographical and economical unit with the most unified river system in Europe. (Liptak, 3) Out of this unit, the treaty created Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and greater Romania. They were “not only geographical monstrosities, but economic absurdities as well, and therefore their self-destruction was only a matter of time.” (Liptak, 3) During the last decade, both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia have ceased to exist.
The only way a peace treaty after World War I could have solved the ethnic minority problem in Central Europe was on the basis of the Wilsonian principle of self-determination. In creating the Trianon treaty, not only were plebiscites refused, ethnographic borders were overlooked as well. The Allied Powers assumed that their provisions would satisfy every nationality concerned. However, many Rumanians in Transylvania didn’t want to become part of the culturally and economically inferior Romania. Numerous Slovakians and Ruthenians didn’t consider themselves as part of the Czechoslovak state, and Croats viewed themselves as their own nationality. Even if it is assumed that all these nationalities wanted to be part of the successor states, a significant number of Hungarians were subjected to foreign rule. (Map III) For the 7 258 000 “liberated” people, 6 113 000 Hungarians became ethnic minorities, Only 47% of those “liberated” were actually the same nationality as the successor states. 53% were foreigners, and 33.5% were Hungarian. They became ethnic minorities in the extremely nationalistic successor states.
Throughout her history, Hungary had lived with her ethnic minorities, and granted them political and religious autonomy. However, her successor states “considered the territories given to them after World War I as conquered provinces, a glorious aggrandizement of their national territories in which non-nationals such as Hungarians constituted a foreign element.” (Glatz, 253) The minorities where viewed as threats, as they presented Hungary with a basis for seeking border revisions – the successor states’ greatest fear.
The successor states were forced to sign conventions guaranteeing cultural autonomy to the ethnic minorities in their country, but none of these were enforced. In fact, soon after the treaty was signed, the successor states were already trying to “solve” their minority problems, through denationalization, and several means of ethnocide: deportations, expulsions, transfers, dispersions, and other forms of uprooting. Hungarian schools, churches, museums, libraries, historical monuments, and cultural institutions were also targeted. In Transylvania alone, Hungarians lost 1 665 of their schools, including the world famous János Bolyai University. They were forced to choose between their nationalities and their properties, and so, 350 000 Hungarians decided to leave all their possessions behind and move to rump Hungary.
The peace treaties after World War I were meant to ensure world peace, and self-determination for the different ethnic groups of Europe. Instead, they became nothing more than a means for the Allied Powers to gain more political power while destroying the Central Powers, whom they viewed as enemies. Countries like Romania were able to manipulate those Allied Powers into serving their interests, because this involved destroying the Central Powers. The Treaty of Trianon, the most unjust of the treaties after World War I, left Hungary in ruins, and put more minorities under foreign rule, without plebiscites, than it tried to “liberate”. It paved the way for the persecution of ethnic minorities in Central Europe, and the armed conflicts in the Balkans, happening today.
The Treaty of Trianon in comparison to the other post-World War I peace treaties: Germany and Bulgaria.