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Hungarian and Bulgarian Interwar Revisionism: Part 8

Updated on May 9, 2012
St. Stephen, first Christian king of Hungary
St. Stephen, first Christian king of Hungary | Source

Trianon and "National Death"

The refusal of Hungarian leaders to allow any semblance of real autonomy to her minority groups came back to haunt them, and it is possible to say that it even now still haunts many Hungarians, nationalists and layman alike.

Before the First World War Hungary was a heterogeneous nation-state. The trouble was that its elite refused to think through the consequences of heterogeneity. If a nation harbors sizable minorities within its pale and has no long-range plan for minority autonomy, it feeds a hysteria that can only end badly. And end badly it did, with the Treaty of Trianon in Paris, signed on 4 June 1920. This treaty became the main focus and obsession of the Hungarian government. For a quarter century the main goal of the regime was the revision of the treaty, which it blamed for all social and economic problems.

Nemzethalál is the Hungarian term for ‘national death’. This national death was in effect caused by the disintegration of historic Hungary and the obsessive sense of national loss felt by virtually every Hungarian. Trianon was treated with national mourning in Hungary, as the corpse of the old St Stephen’s Kingdom were buried.

The Hungarian government accepted the peace terms under duress, and at the precise moment the treaty was signed, Hungarian church bells tolled and all traffic came to a halt. Symbolizing national mourning, it registered the beginning of the emotion-filled “Trianon shock” on Hungary’s collective psyche.

The Czech leader Tomaš Masaryk said the following during the First World War,"The divine-right, antisocial monarchic Middle Ages powers stand eye to eye against democratic, law based states, which recognize the rights of the smallest nations to political independence... nothing can be so regressive and disgusting,than a small nation’s such as the Mongoloid Magyars’ megalomania..."

Again, Masaryk’s portrayal of the Magyars as an inferior race of people is full of vitriolic opprobrium.

The Hungarian Kingdom’s minorities had been agitating more and more for autonomy from Budapest since at least the 1840s, and their growing numbers and the policy of Magyarization were only leading them to break further and further from the centre. Of course, if the Hungarian military had been stronger Hungary would have conceivably been able to hold on to the majority Hungarian inhabited areas of Yugoslavia, Transylvania and Slovakia. However, Trianon merely speeded up the process of the disintegration of historical Hungary’s borders due to rapidly changing demographics and the rise of ethnic nationalism. Hungary would most likely have had to allow wide ranging autonomy to these areas had the Central Powers won the War anyway, or had there been no war at all. It was only a matter of time, and Trianon dealt this as shock therapy.

The lack of Hungarian foreign representation should not be underestimated in its negative effect on the outcome of Trianon.


The geographical consequences of the Treaty of Trianon are evident in the way that the boundaries were oftentimes drawn to give the successor states a means of more easy transport capabilities, regardless of the new borders cutting through some purely Hungarian ethnic areas (ie. southern Slovakia, northern Vojvodina, and eastern Hungary). All attempts were made by Beneš to totally encircle Hungary with her enemies, and to territorially isolate it from the West. Fears that Hungary and Austria, and thus Germany would ally with each other to form a new bloc that would attempt to revise the postwar borders were taken into account, which led to some absurd plans to avoid this.

The effects of Trianon overwhelmingly led Hungarians to actively favour revisionism as an ideology. The feeling of injustice caused by the treaty ran very deep in Hungarian society indeed. In fact, psychologically speaking, the Hungarian mentality is known to be in general quite pessimistic. Historically, high rates of self-destructive behaviour abound in Hungarian culture and are oftentimes romanticised. Hungary’s most famous modern poet, known for his depressive works, Attila József, committed suicide in 1932. He was famous for writing about the social conditions of average workers in interwar Hungary and the poverty they endured due to the poor economy, which was mostly blamed on Trianon. The most famous Romantic poet, Sándor Petőfi, wrote patriotic poems as well as poems about suicide and spurned loves, and died at age 26 during the 1848-49 Revolution. It is largely taken as fact (though unproved, but still interesting considering the Hungarian pysche) that Petőfi died standing alone with his sword held high and waiting for the Tsar’s calvary to cut him down: a final act of heroic suicide, as seen from the Hungarian perspective. These are the heroes of Hungarian literature, and defeatism is largely romanticized in Hungary. This sort of mentality in general is not quite conducive to cool, calm, rational thinking. Though this is not a work on Hungarian national psychology, it is still an interesting topic to keep in mind when trying to understand Hungarian reactions to Trianon.

Just another example is that how all Hungarian schoolchildren know the date of 1526 by heart. Why? It is the year of Hungary’s biggest ever single military defeat and thus subjugation of much of the country to the Turks.


Poet Attila József
Poet Attila József | Source
Poet Sándor Petőfi
Poet Sándor Petőfi | Source

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