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Hungarian and Bulgarian Interwar Revisionism: Part 11

Updated on May 16, 2012
János Hunyadi
János Hunyadi | Source

The Hungarian government under Bethlen worked hard to promote Hungarian culture abroad as well, in hopes of gaining sympathy for her revisionist cause, but to little practical effect. With feelings of increased frustration and isolation, it is not very surprising that Hungarian public opinion and politics also started leaning more towards the radical right extremists represented by such figures as Gömbös, Imrédy and most infamously Ferenc Szálasi. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm for German Nazism amongst many Hungarians lead Hungary into yet another destructive war: a high price to pay for some revisionist gains that lasted only a few short years.

The Radicalisation of Revisionist Aims; Hungary’s Increasing Image as an ‘Irrational’ State

The extreme focus which the Hungarian government, media and population as a whole placed on revisionism made many in the West see Hungary as a nation of irrational zealots unwilling to deal with reality. Even Hitler was known to become annoyed with the constant push by Hungarian diplomats in Berlin for Nazi help in regaining St Stephen’s Kingdom. The reputation that Hungarians had and still have – of being of fiery temperament and anything but level headed when their passions are inflamed – seemed to explain the unbending obsession with Trianon. The image the West had of Hungary during the interwar years was largely anything but sympathetic.

The stereotypes the West had of Hungarians as a whole may seem a relatively unimportant aspect of Hungarian interwar politics, but it is not. In fact, Hungarians themselves can be blamed for how they were/are seen in the West.

The relative worth of the different lost territories in the Hungarian national psyche is evident in the predominance of Transylvania’s loss to Romania as the biggest ‘tragedy’ within the ‘tragedy of Trianon.’ This ethnically mixed region is virtually impossible to delineate amongst the various ethnic groups. Unlike southern Slovakia, which had an overwhelmingly Hungarian majority, Transylvania, despite having homogenous ethnic pockets, was very mixed. Transylvania is even seen by many Hungarians as remote and strange, but is mostly seen with romanticized rose tinted glasses as the center of Hungarian cultural heritage.

The bitterness caused by the losses – especially of Transylvania – was largely due to the conviction amongst Hungarians that these lands were always a part of historic Hungary, despite the numerous ethnic minorities it encompassed.

The Hungarian upper classes in Transylvania and elsewhere of course were fully for the revision of Trianon. Despite setbacks and re-distributions of land, most of the gentry that decided not to move to ‘skeletal’ Hungary and stayed on in the successor states still did quite well for themselves. Of course the grand soireés of before were either abandoned or significantly toned down in scale, but the way of living didn’t changed too much. Most Hungarian gentry continued to live in secluded dream words of rural ‘idyll’, thus preserving some sense of continuity with the pre-Trianon years.

The increasing image of Hungary as ‘irrational’ and ‘un-European’ came about during the hardening of the Horthy régimes attitude toward Trianon, and the natural reaction of a society that felt greatly wronged turned it to more extreme views. The negative Western images of Hungary and the Hungarians have their origins far back in history, from the times of the barbarian and pagan Magyar tribes which devastated many parts of Europe. The point where Western attitudes towards Hungary began to change towards the negative was just before the First World War.

It is important to note the attitude of the Entente decision makers at Trianon towards Hungarians as a people. The vehement anti-Hungarian feelings of many British historians and writers during the interwar period is evident in many ‘academic’ works. Writers like Rebecca West seem to have missed the point that during the Hungarian Kingdom, ethnicity was not tied to the notion of being Magyar. Loyalty to the Hungarian Crown meant being a Magyar, no matter what ethnicity one was. In fact, many of Hungarian history’s most famous patriots were not purely ethnic Magyar. Despite that fact that Kossuth’s name is of Slovak origin, the family had considered themselves Hungarian for centuries.

This reasoning by Ms. West is important to look at more closely because the Magyar “race” has been oftentimes blamed for its attitude towards its minorities. However, many in the Magyar "race"”are not racially Magyar. Again, it is the idea of loyalty to the crown of St Stephen and the lands that it encompassed which was important. However, it may also be argued that these non-ethnically Magyar Magyars were victims of forced or consensual Magyarization and hence not able to represent their true ethnicity, as they would be viewed by their own people as traitors by taking up the Magyars’ cause in order to gain reputations; noble status; lands; financial compensation etc. It is a difficult argument and almost impossible to refute either side their view, so it must be left as is: unprovable for either side.

The poet Sándor Petőfi, hero of the 1848 revolution and Józef Bem’s aide-de-camp at the Battle of Segesvár against the Tzar’s army where he fell at age 26 fighting for Hungarian liberty, was not ethnically Magyar at all. His father’s name was Petrovics, a Serb, and his mother was an ethnic Slovak, who only just spoke some Hungarian. Yet Petőfi is considered Hungary’s greatest patriotic and romantic poet. Similarly, one of Hungary’s most famous historical figures, János Hunyadi was not ethnically Hungarian either.

In Romanian he is known as Ioan of Hunedoara. Regardless of his origins, Hunyadi is still recognized even by Romanians as having been important in Hungarian history. The increased irrationality of Hungarian policy concerning revisionism inevitably lead to a shift towards Nazi Germany during the 1930s. The greatness of Hungarian culture was pushed by the Horthy régime to a far extent, and served as justification for its irredentist policies.

As Hungary had no real allies who could help her realize the goal of revising Trianon, the emergence of Hitler’s newly revived Germany proved to be fatally attractive for Hungarian leaders. Even liberal, intellectual Hungarians who supported democracy were not opposed to destroying the Trianon diktat.

Lajos Kossuth song from 1848/49


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