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The Treaty of Trianon: A Hungarian Tragedy - June 4, 1920

How Hungary Shrank: Ostensibly in the name of national self-determination, the Treaty dismembered the thousand-year-old Kingdom of Hungary, a self-contained, geographically and economically coherent and durable formation in the Carpathian Basin and boasting the longest lasting historical borders in Europe. It was imposed on Hungary without any negotiation by vengeful leaders who were ignorant or ignored the region’s history, and mercilessly tore that country apart. By drawing artificial borders in gross violation of the ethnic principle, it also transferred over three million indigenous ethnic Hungarians and over 70% of the country's territory to foreign rule.6/4/2009 - The 89th Anniversary of Trianon. A CONTINUING TRAGEDY... The punitive treaty of Trianon, which tore Hungary asunder in violation of the vaunted principle of self-determination, is often thought of as a tragic historical event that has little or no relevance today.  For some, Trianon is an emotionally laden event, while for others it is at best, an uncomfortable reminder of a past injustice that needs to be “gotten over.”  Since the consequences of Trianon are still with us, however, it cannot be ignored.

Admittedly, the history leading up to Trianon is a complex one that in reality extends back well before 1920. Some, especially decision makers, would forget this history for the sake of expedience.  This is aptly reflected in the context of the bilateral treaties Hungary was negotiating with Slovakia and Rumania, treaties highly favored by the United States:

In a separate meeting with [Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo] Kovacs [in 1995], the U.S. delegation focused on Budapest’s need to resolve its border and minority issues. When [Richard] Holbrooke tried to make the point that the U.S. respected Hungary’s history, [Daniel] Fried broke in to say:  ‘No we don’t.  We hate it.  When you say Trianon we understand the political and emotional content of what you are trying to say but we want to run screaming out of the room.’  (Emphasis added.)  Ronald D. Asmus, Opening NATO’s Door:  How the Alliance Remade Itself  for a New Era, Columbia University Press (2002) at 148-149.

Trianon was indeed a tragic historical event and a grave injustice for the Hungarians.  It made a mockery of President Wilson’s vision for the post-war Europe and the lofty words he spoke to the world on February 1, 1918:

“There shall be no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages. People are not to be handed about from one sovereignty to another by an international conference... ’Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase... Every territorial settlement involved in this war must be made in the interest and for the benefit of the population concerned, and not as part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims amongst rival States.”

But Trianon is not a relic of the past to be ignored.  As several recent publications astutely suggest, Trianon, as part of a blunder of a massive scale, had far-reaching consequences that are still with us today and continue to affect both the lives of the Hungarian historical communities found in states neighboring Hungary and the region.  It cannot, therefore, be relegated to the dustbin of history as some would prefer or ignored by “running and screaming out of the door.”

In his book A Shattered Peace:  Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today, (2008), at 191, David A. Andelman paints a vivid picture of the unconscionable treatment meted out to Hungary by the peace makers:

“Hungary.. was in the process of being carved up – some might call it butchered.  The goal of those doing the carving at the Peace Conference was to create new nations whose leadership and peoples had been at least nominally loyal to the victorious Allies during the war.  Hungary was becoming the ultimate victim of every sort of prejudice, desire, and ultimate diplomatic and political error of the powers gathered in Paris. It had no real advocate there – no world-class virtuoso or wildly popular political figure who’d passed the war in America or Britain lobbying for his people.  Its tiny population had sent few emigrants to the West to form a substantial voting bloc in any of the Allied nations.  Few understood its people, its culture, even its language… Hungary, which might have played a key role as an anchor in Clemenceau’s cordon sanitaire, instead became a victim on every side.”

Andelman quotes from Harold Nicolson’s diary as to the cavalier manner the ill-conceived boundaries were drawn with little regard for the interests of the peace makers themselves, not to mention the millions of lives that would be adversely affected:

“During the afternoon there is the final revision of the frontiers of Austria.  Go round to the Rue Nitot at luncheon and coach A.J.B. [Lord Balfour]. Down with him to the Quai d’Orsay.  There (in that heavy tapestried room, under the simper of Marie de Medicis, with the windows open upon the garden and the sound of water sprinkling from a fountain and from a lawn-hose)—the fate of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is finally settled.  Hungary is partitioned by these five distinguished gentlemen—indolently, irresponsibly partitioned—while the water sprinkles on the lilac outside—while the experts watch anxiously—while A.J.B., in the intervals of dialectics on secondary points, relapses into somnolence — while [Secretary of State] Lansing draws hobgoblins upon his writing pad—while Pichon crouching in his large chair blinks owlishly as decision after decision is actually recorded—while [Italian Foreign Minister Baron Sidney] Sonnino. . . is ruggedly polite—while [Japan’s Baron Nobuki] Makino, inscrutable and inarticulate, observes, observes, observes . . . . After some insults flung like tennis balls between Tardieu and Lansing, Hungary loses her South.  Then Czecho-North and East . . . Then tea and macaroons.  Bob Vansittart’s play in the evening.  Id, at 163-4.”

And as for the terrible consequences of the flawed “peace making” at Versailles, including Trianon – consequences that should be the focus of our concern rather than an emotional outcry – Patrick Buchanan in his book, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War:  How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, (2008), concludes on page 111 that the “men of Versailles had brought home the peace of vengeance the people wanted.  Their children would pay the price for their having failed to bring home a peace of justice.  That price would be 50 million dead in the war that would come out of the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.” 

Andelman goes even farther:

“If there was a single moment in the twentieth century when it all might have been different, this was the moment:  Paris, 1919.  The end of the Great War, which in perfect hindsight we call World War I, changed everything.  Certainly the peace imposed at Versailles by the Western powers—Britain, France, Italy, and the United States—on the vanquished, not to mention the weak, the powerless, the orphaned, and the friendless, determined much of what went wrong for the balance of the century and beyond. . . . .The lapses of that brief period in Paris in 1919 were driven by a chain of diplomatic DNA that has become imbedded, with often the most pernicious results, in our own world order.  Andelman, at 2-3.”

The winds of change swept through the region and rearranged the old Cordon Stalinaire after 1989.  Ironically, that change left untouched the very people who have suffered the most under a punitive treaty – the thousand plus year old indigenous Hungarian communities living under the rule of states that are mostly different from those stipulated at Trianon 89 years ago.  The Hungarian historical communities continue to live as minorities in the newly divided successor states. 

The issue is not their status but that they are still living with the stifling status quo that threatens their culture, as they are denied a host of rights, such that would enable them to exercise a degree of local self-rule and preserve their unique culture and identity within existing borders.  All the while, the number of Hungarians living as minorities throughout the region dwindles due to the inhospitable environment in their own home. 

For example, the Hungarian minority is still subjected both to discriminatory policies and to an intolerance that is neither addressed nor condemned by Slovak officials who incomprehensibly deny Hungarians the right to effectively participate in public affairs, particularly in matters affecting them.   In other words, Hungarians are denied the right to autonomy.  Restrictions on the right of that minority to be educated in the mother tongue are indefensible. Slovak National Party chairman Jan Slota’s xenophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Hungarian outbursts, e.g., “Hungarians are the cancer of the Slovak nation, without delay we need to remove them from the body of the nation,” are tolerated by the government.  This hate mongering, especially by a government coalition party, has had a pernicious influence on Slovak society, as evidenced by incidents, such as the “Death to Hungarians” graffiti that appeared in Nyitracsehi (Cechynce) in 2008.   Inexplicably, the rehabilitation of Janos Esterhazy is denied.  Esterhazy was the leader of the Hungarian Party in Tiso’s Fascist Slovakia and was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the deportation of Jews in 1942.  He died in a Slovak prison.

The situation in Rumania is hardly better.  The Resolution of the (Rumanian) Assembly at Gyulafehervar/Alba Iulia, December 1, 1918 has been and is ignored until this day.  That resolution promised the Hungarian minority autonomy: “Complete national freedom for the peoples jointly inhabiting.   All peoples have the right to their own education and government in their own language, with their own administration, and by individuals chosen from among themselves.”   Despite this promise, Rumania today virtually treats the legitimate request for autonomy of the Szekelyland as an act of treason.

Rumania violates its Constitution guaranteeing minority rights, including the right to be educated in one’s mother tongue at all levels.  Two decades after the collapse of Communism, Rumania has failed to restore the independent Hungarian state university in Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvar that had been merged into the Rumanian university under the Communists.

An egregious violation of human rights occurred when two Hungarian professors – Peter Hantz and Lehel Kovacs – were expelled from Babes-Bolyai University for placing parallel Hungarian inscriptions below Rumanian language signs at the so-called multicultural institution. It should be noted that although university officials had decided to allow the placement of bilingual signs by January 10, 2006, they stonewalled until Professor Hantz sought to implement the university’s decision.

These and other similar continuing consequences justify, indeed mandate, that Trianon be remembered—democracy, rule of law and minority rights must at long last be respected in a region that has suffered enough due to the ignorance and ill-will that governed a vengeful and short-sighted Paris, 1919.

[download the statement] [<< back to the Trianon Page]

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Those interested in viewing Gabor Koltay's controversial film that was banned by the Rumanian AND the Hungarian governments, can now view the film on the Web.2/5/2005 - Banned Trianon Documentary makes it's way to the Internet for download and viewing! Those interested in viewing Gabor Koltay's controversial film that was banned by the Rumanian AND the Hungarian governments, can now view the film on the Web. Directed by the renowned Gábor Koltay and with internationally respected historians such as Nemeskürti and Raffai, the film has and will continue to spark critical debate. AHF encourages open debate on Trianon and encourages all to review the film - unfortunately this site offers the film in Hungarian only. [Go to film]

[download the 89th Anniversary statement]

Count Apponyi pleading to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference:

"In the name of the great principle so happily phrased by President Wilson, namely that no group of people, no population, may be transferred from one State to another without being consulted,- as though they were a herd of cattle with no will of their own,- in the name of this great principle, an axiom of good sense and public morals, we request, we demand a plebiscite on those parts of Hungary that are now on the point of being severed from us.  I declare we are willing to bow to the decision of a plebiscite whatever it should be.  Of course, we demand it should be held in conditions ensuring the freedom of the vote."

At the time President Wilson said: “The proposal to dismember Hungary is absurd” and later Sir Winston Churchill said: “Ancient poets and theologians could not imagine such suffering, which Trianon bought to the innocent.” We are sad to report that they were right.

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About the Treaty
by Bryan Dawson-Szilagyi

How Hungary Shrank, stranding millions across artificial bordersOne thousand years of nation building successfully delineated groups based on culture, religion, geography, and other attributes to create the countries with which we are so familiar. While some Western European nations would continue power struggles and princely battles and civil wars, Hungary, founded in 896, was a peaceful multi-ethnic state for a 1000 years and her borders were unchanged. Until 1920...

The Treaty of Trianon in 1920... in the aftermath of WWI, was extremely harsh on Hungary and unjustifiably one-sided. The resulting "treaty" lost Hungary an unprecedented 2/3 of her territory, and 1/2 of her total population or 1/3 of her Hungarian-speaking population. Add to this the loss of up to 90% of vast natural resources, industry, railways, and other infrastructure. This was done to a nation whose borders were established over a thousand years earlier (896 A.D.) and one who, as the "Saviors of Christianity," lost millions of lives defending the rest of Europe from numerous invasions from the likes of the Mongolian Tatars and the Ottoman Turks.

Hungary, a reluctant player in WWI, paid a price no other modern nation had ever before been subjected to. The French, long hungry to stall rapid economic advancement in German and Hungarian lands and despite American protests and calls for plebiscites, sent their troops to Northern Hungary in violation of the cease fire, and then pushed through the Treaty of Versailles (Trianon). Hungary, along with Germany and Austria, experienced rapid economic expansion during the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th. This challenge alarmed France and Russia. Each needed a way to stave off German-Hungarian economic competition. With the advent of WWI, France had her chance and began fostering anti-Hungarian sentiment among non-Magyar speaking Hungarian nationals. It is important to note that for over a thousand years, Hungary never experienced ethnic civil war. France, eager to weaken Hungary, offered to reward those nations and groups that assisted them in the war with large pieces of territory. The "Little Entente" of Rumania (who switched sides in the last minute), Czechoslovakia, and Serbia took that opportunity and got very lucky.

The United States has never ratified this treaty. At the time President Wilson said: “The proposal to dismember Hungary is absurd” and later Sir Winston Churchill said: “Ancient poets and theologians could not imagine such suffering, which Trianon bought to the innocent.” We are sad to report that he was right.

The French, despite American protests and calls for plebiscites, sent their troops to Northern Hungary in violation of the cease fire, and then pushed through the Treaty of Versailles (Trianon). Although Rumania, herself created only in 1862, switched to the French side almost at the very end of the war, she gained all of Transylvania and majority of the Banat, but claimed the river Tisza. The Czechs were awarded all of Northern Hungary (now Slovakia), despite equal numbers of Hungarians and Slovaks in the region, to create Czechoslovakia. The Serbs received Southern Hungary (Vojvodina), Slavonia, and Croatia (confederated with Hungary for 700 years) to create the unlikely "Yugoslavia," which, like Czechoslovakia, effectively, no longer exists. Perhaps most amazingly, the Austrians who were responsible for getting Hungary into the war in the first place, got Western Hungary (Burgenland).

Ethnic Map of Slovakia - 1910 vs 1991 showing population decline

The dictators in these successor states began to foster nationalism and teach a less-than-accurate history to help bring legitimacy to their regimes. These claims are based on some seriously unfortunate state propaganda-cum-history about an ancient Roman province called Dacia. In Rumania, this revised history, accelerated by Ceaucescu, has become the accepted state historical doctrine even today, making the process of reconciliation much more difficult. In the newly formed Czechslovakia, Eduard Benes and his infamous "Benes Decrees" forcibly expelled tens of thousands of Hungarians and confiscated personal and church properties. See the additional steps the Slovak Government has taken against the Hungarian minority. AHF's efforts to guarantee anew the rights of the Hungarian "minorities" continue.

Though the United States recommended a slightly more liberal approach in regards to Hungary, it did not prevail. The "self-determination of the nationalities" posited by President Woodrow Wilson resulted in only one plebiscite in Sopron, in Western Hungary. The vote was overwhelmingly pro-Hungarian and Sopron remained within the new borders. Oddly enough, although Austria was also a loser in the war, she also received a part of Hungary, and Sopron became a border city.

The dismemberment and instability brought economic collapse and governmental crisis. The Rumanians, also in defiance of the armistice agreement with their new-found French allies, took advantage of the turmoil in Hungary and moved troops into the defenseless nation and occupied Budapest and beyond. To this day, the Greater Rumania Party and other in Rumania still claim territory that includes the river Tisza and even Budapest. A mini-communist takeover, a republican government, finally gave way to Royalist Admiral Miklos Horthy who took over as "Regent" of Hungary and brought some stability back to the country. The new government got to work on trying to revise the unjst treaty. Sadly, the US with its growing isolationist stance, pulled out of the League of Nations and Western Europe wanted no part in re-opening the case. France was focused on making sure Germany was punished. The Hungarians got a sympathetic ear from only Italy and Germany. This tragic alliance initially gained Hungary part of her northern territory from Czechoslovakia and Northern Transylvania from Rumania. But this alliance would only to plunge her into another disaster and occupations by first Nazis and later Soviet communists. Her land was again taken. One part of northern Hungary was then transferred from Czechoslovakia and became part of the Soviet Union and is today part of the Ukraine.

Although Rumania, herself created only in 1862, switched to the French side almost at the very end of the war, she gained all of Transylvania and majority of the Banat. The Czechs were awarded all of Northern Hungary (now Slovakia), despite equal numbers of Hungarians and Slovaks in the region, to create Czechoslovakia, the Serbs got Southern Hungary (Vojvodina) and Croatia to create the unlikely "Yugoslavia," which, like Czechoslovakia, no longer exists. Perhaps most amazingly, the Austrians who were responsible for getting Hungary into the war in the first place, got Western Hungary (Burgenland).The maps here not only show graphically the extent to which the Treaty of Trianon dismembered Hungary, it shows how much Hungarian-majority areas were arbitrarily "reassigned." Hungarians today are the one of the largest minorities in Europe and face oppression and violence. Numbering in the millions, Hungarian minorities are second only to the Russians who became "minorities" with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Hungarians live under harsh persecution in the new states created by the treaty. The Helsinki Watch Committee called Romanian efforts to "purify" Transylvania as "Cultural Genocide." Read the Treaty in full text

AHF Links on Trianon

External Links on Trianon

Related Downloads

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  • Hungary's Accession to NATO: An expanded report - 7/17/2007
  • "NATO Enlargement" by Frank Koszorus Jr. March 29, 2004 - Remarks on the Occasion of the Enlargement of NATO, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. [download]
  • AHF Memorandum on Romanian President Iliescu Visit - 10/24/2003
  • "Nato Enlargement And Minority Rights: Prerequisites To Security" by Frank Koszorus, Jr., April 2003 - A memorandum that was submitted to Robert A. Bradtke, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Heather A. Conley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs during a roundtable discussion on "NATO Enlargement and the Current State of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance." This submission follows several other intiatives, including submissions to Lord Roberston, Secretary General of NATO. [download]
  • “Nato Enlargement: Promoting Western Values, Strengthening The Alliance” by Frank Koszorus, Jr., April 29, 2003 - A Statement Before The United States Senate Committee On Foreign Relations.
  • "U.S. Senate Unanimously Ratifies Nato Treaty; Senators Raise Rights Of Minorities: Federation Supports Efforts Aimed At Encouraging Romania And Slovakia To Respect Rights Of Hungarian Minorities And Restore Communal Properties" - Press Release by Zoltan Bagdy, May 9, 2003 [download]
  • An Essay on the foundations of Rumanian Identity, Nationalism and Ethnic Cleansing - CONCEPTUAL CONFUSIONS CONCERNING THE ROMANIAN IDENTITY: NEAM AND POPOR AS EXPRESSIONS OF ETHNO-NATIONALISM (PART 3) - "...the motivation and the goal was common: racially determined mass murder." (Appeared in RFE/RFL Newsline, 6/5/2005 By Victor Neumann, professor of history at the West University of Timisoara, Romania.) [download]
  • Transylvanian Monitor #14: Property Restitution.

Congressional Resolutions & Records

  • H.RES 191 - A RESOLUTION urging the "prompt and fair restitution of church properties by Romania and Slovakia - TOM LANTOS / TOM TANCREDO (April 6th 2005) in the House of Representatives [download]
  • A RESOLUTION REGARDING THE ISSUE OF TRANSYLVANIAN HUNGARIANS -- HON. DONALD E. `BUZ' LUKENS (Extension of Remarks - February 26, 1990) in the House of Representatives [download]
  • VIOLENCE IN TRANSYLVANIA -- HON. DON RITTER (Extension of Remarks - March 22, 1990) in the House of Representatives [download]

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