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Hungarian and Bulgarian Interwar Revisionism: Part 5
Hungary’s previous dependence on Austria did not help her position in Paris either. Hungary had precious few members in her diplomatic corps, and no representatives abroad during the war years who would have laid out the claims to the state’s territorial rights in London, Paris and Washington DC as the Czechs, Romanians and Serbs had. This focus on each ethnic group having rights to self-determination, no matter how or why they had become a majority in any given region, was an irresponsible act whose future consequences were either unimagined, or ignored.
In 1917, the Liberal Hungarian Count Mihály Károlyi’s Károlyist Party’s programme still saw post-war Hungary within a dualist system with Austria, and did not recognise the total desintegration of the Empire. Either this was through ignorance or a disbelief that a 1000 year old Kingdom could fall apart so quickly must be left unanswered. On 25 October 1918, three Hungarian political parties joined together to form a National Council, just as the other ethnic groups of the Empire had already done. Between 40-50% of the members of the National Council were Jews. The Radicals, Social Democrats, and Count Mihály Károlyi’s ‘Károlyist’ Party were the members.
Archduke Joseph of Habsburg handed power over to Károlyi officially, over the telephone, on 31 October 1918. The Károlyi government came to power in a flurry of hope, mostly for workers and soldiers. However, this honeymoon period was to be very short indeed. The new government’s main immediate task was to stabilize the country in preparation for the Paris peace conferences.
Thus Károlyi came to power through a ‘bloodless revolution’, however, the man who had been so controversial in Hungarian politics for the preceding forty years paid the ultimate price: István Tisza was gunned down by soldiers in his own home.
Béla Kun's short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic
Unfortunately for him, and the first Hungarian Republic, Károlyi has often been demonised for his role in the dismemberment of Hungary. His ideals and faith in the Allies let him down, not to mention the fate of the entire country. Though he may have been naïve and too trusting in the Entente in their designs on Hungary’s future and her territorial integrity, he did not wish the country to slide into partition.
The later Kun régime also did not want for historic Hungary’s borders to change. The bigger the new revolutionary Bolshevik state would have been, the better for rolling the revolution furture westward. In fact, Kun tried to retake some of the lands occupied by invading forces, and actually retook large swaths of the old Hungarian Upper Lands, or Felvidék (Slovakia). Whether Left or Right, no political grouping in Hungary wished to see the 1000 year old territorial unity of Hungary changed.
The Károlyi government was perhaps naïve and tragically idealistic, but it must be remembered that despite ordering Hungarian soldiers home, they still did not want the dismemberment of historic Hungary. This hope, however, was doomed to failure in light of the national self-determination ideals of Wilson and the agitation of such men as the Czech leaders Masaryk and Beneš amongst the Entente, calling for the destruction of the old Austro-Hungarian system and boundaries in order to bring about new, independent and theoretically ethnically homogeneous states. The Károlyi government immediately tried to quiet the threat of dangerous ethnic upheaval. Attempts by Jászi to calm the restive ethnic groups by dangling autonomy in front of them proved futile, as the momentum of history was barreling ahead to the destruction of empires and the creation of nation-states. Many Hungarians saw Jászi’s proposals as much too radical, while the leaders of the ethnic groups saw them as too conservative. Even as some politicians were willing to work with compromises, they were usually met by extreme protests from their own governments’ conservatives.
- Hungarian and Bulgarian Interwar Revisionism: Part 6
Part 6 of a series that compares and contrasts Hungarian and Bulgarian Revisionism of the interwar years which aimed to regain territories lost by each country at treaties in Paris following World War I.