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Hungarian and Bulgarian Interwar Revisionism: Part 3

Updated on May 4, 2012
Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Hungary
Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Hungary | Source


Even before the West paid any attention to the plight of Hungary’s minorities, Austria itself agitated amongst the minorities in order to keep the rebellious Hungarians constantly on the defensive.

The fact that Hungarians were feeling vulnerable and in danger of being swept away by her own minorities is largely ignored by those who support(ed) the Treaty of Trianon. Self-preservation caused some excesses in Hungarian policy towards her minorities, and much of it was caused by a sort of panic concerning their growing numbers.

This feeling of losing grip over the Kingdom inevitably caused a backlash by the Hungarians. The policy of forcefully making Magyars out of the minorities, thus apparently ensuring their future loyalty to the Crown, thoroughly backfired. It is natural that when someone is forced or pushed to do something, they will not want to do it, and will only cause resentment. Through the policy of Magyarization, the Hungarian nation sought the re-establishment of its ethnic homogeneity and of its political sovereignty over the Hungarian kingdom which it had lost due to centuries of foreign rule and colonization. This geographical unity began falling away with the rise of rival nationalisms.

Geographically, pre-World War I Hungary had very specific historical and geographically defined borders. Nothing remained of their Asiatic origin of the Hungarians but their language. The Kingdom of Hungary was not confined to the area inhabited by people who spoke the Hungarian language, but was extended by conquest to the natural boundaries of the Central European Plain – the Carpathians, the river Sava and the foothills of the Alps.

In fact, it was the explosion of bourgeois-liberalism in Hungary which unleashed nationalism. In the nineteenth century individual aristocrats were in the forefront of the struggle for a bourgeois-liberal transformation and the triumph of nationalism in Hungary. Up until Latin was officially replaced by Hungarian in government life, the opposition to Budapest by the minority groups was not so violent or extreme.

This civil war involved the Royal Croatian Army of Jelačić. The main reason for the Croats’ turning against Hungary was that Hungarians and Croatians coexisted quite peacefully until the Hungarian Diet (Parliament) in 1844 changed the language of deliberations from Latin to Hungarian, which representatives of the ethnic districts did not speak. Calls for more Croatian rights under St Stephen’s crown came to a head during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49. The movement known as Illyrianism was very popular in Zagreb, and was pan-Slavic.

Vienna used the discontent of Hungary’s minorities to weaken Hungary’s ability to rise up against Austria, as they would have their own internal rebellions to quell.

This tendency of Hungarian leaders to not even have the thought of a multi-lingual Hungary enter their heads can be explained in at least two ways. First, it is an attempt at forced Magyarization of the non-Hungarian population in order not to become inundated by the minorities; and second, as an inability to perceive that the minorities should want to stay as such, speaking their “inferior” and “peasant” languages, when knowledge of Hungarian would obviously better their chances in the majority (barely) ethnic Hungarian Kingdom. In the end, as with most things, it was probably a mixture of the two.

Josip Jelačić of Croatia
Josip Jelačić of Croatia | Source

The making of national minorities into loyal Hungarians was a conscious effort to avoid strong minority discontent and to bring them into the system, not as their own ethnically conscious selves, but as newly made Magyars. The process of Magyarization was sped up in order to give the proceedings a sort of ‘shock therapy’ value, as the numbers of the ethnic minorities kept growing, and Hungarian fears of losing control of the peripheral regions of the country became more and more real. Schools were a major way of promoting Magyarization, but soon most aspects of life were turned to achieve this end.

If Transylvania was an integral part of the Hungarian Crown since the foundation of the state in 1000 A.D., how could Hungarians be sent to “colonize” their own country? This term suggests Hungarian imperialism in an apparently historically “ethnic” Romanian Transylvania, and must be looked at critically, for it can be very misleading for the uninitiated in the history of the region. Again, Transylvania was seen by Hungarian culture as the most important region of the Kingdom. This ‘cradle of the nation’ idea is evident in many Central European countries, where a peripheral region is so romanticized by the centre as to take on mythic proportions.

The increased rate of panic and hence of Magyarization can be seen from the last Hungarian census before Trianon. “In 1910 the Romanians were 55 percent of the population; the Hungarians, 34 percent [in Transylvania-F.M.]” (Jelavich 246). Reversing the ethnic trend was pretty much impossible by this point, so Magyarization of the Romanians, Slovaks etc. seemed the only option. Giving autonomy to the minorities was not considered by Hungarian intellectuals, Liberal or not. This was seen as a voluntary first step to the falling apart of historic Hungarian territorial unity, and a total slap in the face to the cult of St Stephen’s Crown, which so dominated Hungarian nationalist thinking in all its stubbornness. Even today, some Romanian historians push the fact the Transylvania should belong to Romania simply on the fact that ethnic Romanians make up the majority there. However, should Kosovo belong to Albania simply by virtue of the fact that Albanians make up the ethnic majority due to higher birthrates than Serbs? Kosovo is as important to Serbian history as Transylvania is to Hungary’s, thus, the pure facts of ethnic majority should not automatically give the right to partition countries as Hungary was.

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