Monday, 11 June 2012

The rehabilitation of the far right in Hungary 2: Trianon and the 1930s parallels

'No,no, Never!' Anti-Trianon picture card

The rehabilitation and, increasingly, the canonisation of the Hungarian Franco, Admiral Horthy, is part of the desire to return Hungary to the condition of the thirties.

What was the condition of the thirties? I want to go into this just a little since it helps explain the parallels. Please bear with me.

Following defeat in the Great War, Hungary underwent enormous political turmoil, the country's borders undecided, the old Austro-Hungarian empire in tatters, and conflict continuing on every side. The first  political response was the so-called Michaelmas Daisy revolution that established the liberal-left Hungarian Democratic Republic at the end of October 1918, which was succeeded, a few months later, by a Bolshevik revolution that declared a Hungarian Soviet Republic in March 1919. In the August of that year the Romanian army invaded from the south and the Bolshevik leader, Béla Kun, fled the country, eventually to be executed in a purge in Moscow some time in the 30s. 

The traumatic treaties of Versailles and Trianon followed. The country's geographical area was reduced by close to three-quarters which removed some 60% of the pre-1919 population, including a third of the country' s ethnic Hungarians who now found themselves in hostile territory.  The greatest loss was Transylvania (my mother's birthplace) which was handed over to Romania. 

That - apart from a period of five years by the second Vienna Treaty when, under pressure from Hitler, a part of Transylvania was ceded back to Hungary - is how things stand to this day. The light green part of the map below is present day Hungary, the darker free the Hungary of the pre 1919 period. The red segments represent the percentage of the ethnic Hungarian population in the area in 1910. The situation was, of course, chaotic.

Once the Romanian army withdrew to its new borders, the Hungarian military, led by Admiral Horthy, took over. The Soviet Republic had executed some 600 people during its whirlwind rule of 'red terror'. A 'white terror' followed. Under Horthy it is estimated some 5,000 were executed and some 100,000 people left the country. Jews were directly associated with the Bolshevik revolution and faced particular dangers including exclusion from work and university places, where a quota was applied. 

The thirties consolidated this state of affairs. By the end of the twenties the economy had been stabilised but there was no minimum wage and the working class was desperately poor as were the rural workers who still lived in peasant conditions. The Crash of 1929 resulted in a further shift to the right and a desire for a one-party state. The country moved closer to Hitler for economic advantage and by 1939 the Arrow Cross party, the forerunners of today's Jobbik received the second highest vote in elections.


Key to this was, and remains, the issue of identity. The very existence of Hungary, with its isolated language and flexible borders, has always been under both real and psychological threat. The question was addressed by Admiral Horthy by the encouragement of whatever could be deemed to be 'Hungarian values'. These included a fancy-dress mentality, a kind of designer national-costume-and-uniform patriotism. 

According to this view Hungary's troubles were invariably of foreign manufacture - and indeed, in a country whose fate had been governed by Turkey and Austria for almost four hundred years, in some ways they were - the most conspicuous 'foreigners' 'on site' being the Jews, whose activities had to be ever more firmly controlled. 

There was a great patriotic cause too in opposition to the Treaty of Trianon with its carving up of Hungary and, most acutely, the loss of Transylvania. The traumatic effect of Trianon cannot be underestimated. After World War II, under Soviet rule, the tensions between Hungary and Slovakia and Hungary and Romania seemed to be reduced, but this was only appearance. The tensions remained, and remain, as strong as ever.

So here are the parallels: 

Externally: Present day Hungary under the political thumb of the EU, trapped in its economic sphere, with an earlier Hungary dominated by foreign powers, including those who imposed Trianon, trapped within a financial system not of its own making (with the bankers traditionally identified as 'Jews') 

Internally: the nation's identity supposedly threatened by cosmopolitan liberals and left wingers in hock to ideologies and suspect programmes elsewhere (also identified as Jews).

 It is 1919 and the only way out is to put Horthy back on his white horse. Meanwhile the old wounds of Transylvania and Slovakia continue to burn and sting, offering themselves as patriotic causes in which the nation may be united. After the instability of the twenties with the Crash at the end,we are seeking the relative quiet of the thirties when decent people knew what was what, knew who to blame, when the church was respected, and when governments knew where to look for help (Herr Hitler with his economy and his restoration of at least part of Transylvania). Time to get out the old national costume. And they do, they do! Just look at the jackets of the elected Jobbik members of parliament. Fascist chic:

The case of two Transylvanian writers Albert Wass and, particularly, József Nyíro, both recently introduced on to the school syllabus cannot be understood without this background. The next post will deal with them within the context of the attempted cultural changes demanded by Jobbik and supported by the Fidesz government.

No comments: