The Treaty of Trianon: A Hungarian Tragedy - June 4, 1920
Eighty-eight years ago the thousand-year-old Kingdom of Hungary, a self-contained, geographically and economically coherent and durable formation in the Carpathian Basin and boasting the longest lasting historical borders in Europe, was dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. Although invoking the principle of self-determination, the victorious peacemakers ignored that much-vaunted principle when it came to extending it also to Hungary and the Hungarian nation. Not even Count Apponyi, leader of Hungary’s peace delegation, could move them to apply self-determination also to Hungarians. As he pled to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference:
This eloquent, desperate yet fully justified plea fell on deaf ears as the peacemakers permitted only the city of Sopron in western Hungary to decide its future by a plebiscite -- it opted by a large margin to remain in Hungary. With this one exception, the peace- makers imposed exceptionally punitive terms on Hungary without any negotiation and mercilessly tore that country apart. They drew artificial borders in gross violation of the ethnic principle and transferred over three million indigenous ethnic Hungarians and over 70% of the country's territory to foreign rule.
The European order imposed after World War I and then re-imposed following the Second World War collapsed almost within months at the end of the Cold War. One ethnic group after another throughout the region seized the opportunity to realize their own objectives to exercise external self-determination, even as some of them denied internal self-determination to their Hungarian co-nationals. For example, after Slovakia broke away from Prague’s perceived dominance in the peaceful divorce of 1992, it wasted little time to gerrymander the country’s historic administrative division in 1996 so as to eliminate most of the districts which had a Hungarian majority population.*
After some of the bloodiest conflicts and ethnic cleansing throughout the Balkans since World War II, Slovenians, Croatians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Kosovars and Albanians escaped Belgrade's stranglehold. All of these peoples – many of them beneficiaries of Trianon – succeeded in exercising the right of external self-determination, proclaim their independence, and radically change the map of Central and Eastern Europe. Ironically, Trianon had been dismantled in the name of self-determination, except as that ill-conceived and grossly punitive treaty affected the Hungarians.
Only the Hungarian historical communities living in the newly divided post Cold War, post-Trianon successor states are denied a range of rights, including cultural or territorial autonomy, and are forced to live in a stifling status quo that threatens their cultural existence, if not their very survival. They are denied even internal self-determination, such that would enable them to exercise a degree of local self-rule and preserve their unique culture and identity within existing borders. Importantly, the Hungarians of Serbia, Slovakia, Romania, and Ukraine have all demanded autonomy by peaceful and democratic means. Consequently, not only would autonomy ensure democracy to beleaguered Hungarian national communities and fulfill a promise made to them eighty-eight years ago, it would also strengthen the democratic process by serving as an exemplary model of how majorities and minorities can work together to redress past wrongs. It would also defuse tensions caused by violations of human and minority rights.
It is time at long-last to bury Trianon also for Hungarians by extending to them genuine democracy through autonomy in place of their current status as second-class citizens in their homeland. As Graham Fuller, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, observed nearly a decade ago:
The Hungarian national communities living in countries neighboring “Trianon Hungary” should not be expected to wait any longer for their turn to enjoy the fruits of genuine democracy and their own autonomy. These very countries have largely dismantled Trianon because it was in their own self interest and not that of their co-nationals, the indigenous founding nation, the Hungarians. Now the task must be completed and the Hungarians’ legitimate and democratically asserted but heretofore ignored demands for autonomy must be granted. - Frank Koszous, Jr., Chair, International Affairs Committee
*See the Federation’s statement and materials relating to the Benes Decrees which shamefully imposed collective guilt on the Hungarian population of Czechoslovakia at the end of the Second World War and which continue to adversely affect Hungarians of Slovakia.
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[download the 88th Anniversary statement]
"In the name of the great principle so happily phrased by President Wilson, namely that no group of people, no population, may be transferred from one State to another without being consulted,- as though they were a herd of cattle with no will of their own,- in the name of this great principle, an axiom of good sense and public morals, we request, we demand a plebiscite on those parts of Hungary that are now on the point of being severed from us. I declare we are willing to bow to the decision of a plebiscite whatever it should be. Of course, we demand it should be held in conditions ensuring the freedom of the vote." Count Apponyi pleading to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference
At the time President Wilson said: “The proposal to dismember Hungary is absurd” and later Sir Winston Churchill said: “Ancient poets and theologians could not imagine such suffering, which Trianon bought to the innocent.” We are sad to report that they were right.
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Shortcuts to Trianon Resources Below:
One thousand years of nation building successfully delineated groups based on culture, religion, geography, and other attributes to create the countries with which we are so familiar. While some Western European nations would continue power struggles and princely battles and civil wars, Hungary, founded in 896, was a peaceful multi-ethnic state for a 1000 years and her borders were unchanged. Until 1920...
The Treaty of Trianon in 1920... in the aftermath of WWI, was extremely harsh on Hungary and unjustifiably one-sided. The resulting "treaty" lost Hungary an unprecedented 2/3 of her territory, and 1/2 of her total population or 1/3 of her Hungarian-speaking population. Add to this the loss of up to 90% of vast natural resources, industry, railways, and other infrastructure. This was done to a nation whose borders were established over a thousand years earlier (896 A.D.) and one who, as the "Saviors of Christianity," lost millions of lives defending the rest of Europe from numerous invasions from the likes of the Mongolian Tatars and the Ottoman Turks.
Hungary, along with Germany and Austria, experienced rapid economic expansion during the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th. This challenge alarmed France and Russia. Each needed a way to stave off German-Hungarian economic competition. With the advent of WWI, France had her chance and began fostering anti-Hungarian sentiment among non-Magyar speaking Hungarian nationals. It is important to note that for over a thousand years, Hungary never experienced ethnic civil war. France, eager to weaken Hungary, offered to reward those nations and groups that assisted them in the war with large pieces of territory. The "Little Entente" of Rumania (who switched sides in the last minute), Czechoslovakia, and Serbia took that opportunity and got very lucky.
The United States has never ratified this treaty. At the time President Wilson said: “The proposal to dismember Hungary is absurd” and later Sir Winston Churchill said: “Ancient poets and theologians could not imagine such suffering, which Trianon bought to the innocent.” We are sad to report that he was right.
The French, despite American protests and calls for plebiscites, sent their troops to Northern Hungary in violation of the cease fire, and then pushed through the Treaty of Versailles (Trianon). Although Rumania, herself created only in 1862, switched to the French side almost at the very end of the war, she gained all of Transylvania and majority of the Banat, but claimed the river Tisza. The Czechs were awarded all of Northern Hungary (now Slovakia), despite equal numbers of Hungarians and Slovaks in the region, to create Czechoslovakia. The Serbs received Southern Hungary (Vojvodina), Slavonia, and Croatia (confederated with Hungary for 700 years) to create the unlikely "Yugoslavia," which, like Czechoslovakia, effectively, no longer exists. Perhaps most amazingly, the Austrians who were responsible for getting Hungary into the war in the first place, got Western Hungary (Burgenland).
The dictators in these successor states began to foster nationalism and teach a less-than-accurate history to help bring legitimacy to their regimes. These claims are based on some seriously unfortunate state propaganda-cum-history about an ancient Roman province called Dacia. In Rumania, this revised history, accelerated by Ceaucescu, has become the accepted state historical doctrine even today, making the process of reconciliation much more difficult. In the newly formed Czechslovakia, Eduard Benes and his infamous "Benes Decrees" forcibly expelled tens of thousands of Hungarians and confiscated personal and church properties. See the additional steps the Slovak Government has taken against the Hungarian minority. AHF's efforts to guarantee anew the rights of the Hungarian "minorities" continue.
Though the United States recommended a slightly more liberal approach in regards to Hungary, it did not prevail. The "self-determination of the nationalities" posited by President Woodrow Wilson resulted in only one plebiscite in Sopron, in Western Hungary. The vote was overwhelmingly pro-Hungarian and Sopron remained within the new borders. Oddly enough, although Austria was also a loser in the war, she also received a part of Hungary, and Sopron became a border city.
The maps here not only show graphically the extent to which the Treaty of Trianon dismembered Hungary, it shows how much Hungarian-majority areas were arbitrarily "reassigned." Hungarians today are the one of the largest minorities in Europe and face oppression and violence. Numbering in the millions, Hungarian minorities are second only to the Russians who became "minorities" with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Hungarians live under harsh persecution in the new states created by the treaty. The Helsinki Watch Committee called Romanian efforts to "purify" Transylvania as "Cultural Genocide." Read the Treaty in full text
External Links on Trianon
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