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21 September 2020

Trianon: A Nation’s Tragedy – Part I

 

4 June 1920 is not a date which rings the bells of memory for most people in Europe or elsewhere; it should. For the treaty signed on that day in the Grand Trianon palace between Hungary and the Allied and Associated Powers had considerable historic significance and practical consequences which would bedevil the political life of East Central Europe for decades to come. So far as symbolism is concerned, Trianon was the final legal act confirming the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy which under one name or another – had been a vital factor in European politics for nearly four hundred years. More immediately, it legalised the dismemberment of the ancient Kingdom of Hungary and brought its 800-year-old union with Croatia to an end. Most contentiously of all, it assigned Hungary new borders which managed to ignore both history and ethnicity in equal measure.

It is with the months of negotiations preceding the final signature of the treaty that Tibor Scitovszky begins his reminiscences and, in a sense, the shadow of Trianon hangs over the rest of his account. The terms of the treaty – once they became known in Hungary produced a collective national trauma akin to the one suffered by Poles following successive 18th century partitions of their country. Hungarians almost unanimously rejected the treaty as it stood and – for once – there was little difference between Left and Right on this particular issue.


Baráthely (Brateiu, Pretai, Romania). In the middle, a 14th-century parish church fortified in the 16th century. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

During the 1920s and 1930s there was continued and intense pressure on various Hungarian governments to do whatever could be done to revise the treaty and even restore the old kingdom in its entirety; at a time when there was little possibility of achieving this under existing political circumstances. Hungarian foreign policy had the unenviable task of reconciling the often unrealistic expectations of the public with the hard reality of the post-war European order in which Hungary had few cards to play. Tibor Scitovszky was both a participant in and an astute, level-headed observer of this process.

The Hungarian treaty was the last but one to be signed with one of the defeated Central Powers; the Treaty of Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire would be signed a few months later. Why had it taken the Hungarians so long to send a delegation to Versailles? Quite simply because there was no government in Budapest in a position to send one. Between October 1918 and the first few months of 1920, the country had become a laboratory for political and social experimentation without parallel in Europe. The process started in late October 1918 with street demonstrations, orchestrated by the extra-parliamentary opposition, led by the Social Democrats, demanding an immediate end to the war and a total transformation of the old political and social order. In accordance with the political fashion of the day, a National Council was hastily formed. It was composed of Social Democrats, bourgeois radicals as well a few members of parliament from the ranks of the 1848 Independence Party, among whom Count Mihály Károlyi was the most prominent. Károlyi, the bearer of a historic name and one of the richest men in the country, was seen as a wild-eyed radical by conservative public opinion. On the Left, however, he was regarded as a heroic figure because of his support for pacifism, franchise reform and distribution of land to the landless peasantry.

Under normal circumstances, it was highly unlikely that Károlyi could ever have become prime minister. He simply did not have the requisite support in parliament. But these were not normal times. Demonstrations on the streets of Budapest escalated into violence with deserters openly joining the crowds. News from the front lines was relentlessly depressing. The final blow came with Count István Tisza’s open admission in parliament, on 17 October, that the war was lost. Even Károlyi’s political enemies now conceded that he was the only man to control an increasingly volatile situation. Despite some last minute backstairs intrigue to prevent his appointment, King Charles IV named him royal Prime Minister of Hungary on 31 October 1918. It was to be the last appointment of a Hungarian Prime Minister by a Habsburg monarch. During the two weeks which followed, the political landscape changed with mind-numbing rapidity: Hungary declared its separation from Austria and shortly thereafter abolished its ancient monarchy and became a “People’s Republic”. A whole number of reforms followed: total freedom of the press, an end to censorship, the right to freedom of assembly and association and others of a similarly liberal democratic inspiration. A long overdue reform of the franchise gave most men the right to vote and – in a bold move – extended this to certain categories of women as well. These eminently democratic reforms were, alas, enacted by a self-appointed, unelected body – the National Council – and no election was ever held, or could be held while Károlyi was in office. Most of the government’s political reforms were thus destined to remain on paper. The promised land reform law – not particularly radical when contrasted with measures soon to be taken in neighbouring states – could not be carried out because of the increasingly turbulent political situation. At the end of February 1919, in a highly symbolic gesture, Károlyi decided to distribute one of his own estates northeast of Budapest. Cameras clicked and journalists wrote frantically. It was just about the only piece of land ever distributed under the law. Vicious tongues would later whisper that the estate in question had been mortgaged to the hilt.


Szászbogács (Băgaciu, Bogeschdorf, Romania). Its Lutheran church was built in the second half of the 14th century and fortified in the 16th century. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

But it was not Károlyi’s promises of radical political and social reforms which gave him almost universal public support during his early days in office. Rather it was a general, if mistaken, belief that he was the only politician who could now save the country from dismemberment by the victors.

It was blithely assumed that he had excellent personal connections with liberal democratic politicians in the enemy camp. Surely it would credit his demonstrated opposition to the war, his pacifism, the democratic reforms he now enacted and the republic proclaimed under his auspices. All of this was meant to show that Hungary had changed its ways and by breaking its centuries-old association with Austria, it deserved to be welcomed by the victors as a newly minted, independent republic with institutions resembling those of the victorious French Third Republic. In the cold light of reality much of this turned out to be nothing more than a collective case of wishful thinking.

Károlyi, alas, was himself subject to this endless wave of national self-delusion. Far from being the “traitor” his enemies later accused him of being, Károlyi was in fact a Hungarian patriot though his patriotism was certainly unconventional. Like most Hungarians of his generation, he was unwilling to accept the destruction of the geographic and economic unity of the old kingdom. He realised, however, that its old centralised form of government could no longer be maintained. The non-Hungarian nationalities which composed close to fifty per cent of the total population must be allowed to participate in political life on a basis of equality with the Hungarians. This could be best achieved, he believed, by transforming Hungary into a genuine federal state following principles elaborated by Oszkár Jászi, his long-time collaborator and Minister of Nationality Affairs.


Baráthely (Brateiu, Pretai, Romania). 14th-century parish church fortified in the 16th century. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

Decisions concerning the Hungarian minorities, however, were no longer in the hands of the Budapest government. The recognition of the Paris Czechoslovak National Council by the French, British, American and Italian governments as a belligerent and as the legal representative of a state which did not yet exist, was a clear signal that the Allies had abandoned their former policy of maintaining the integrity of the Dual Monarchy. President Wilson’s reply on 18 October 1918 to the latest Austro-Hungarian peace offer made this perfectly clear: Point Ten of the Fourteen Points, concerning Austria–Hungary, was no longer valid. He instructed the Austrian and Hungarian governments to seek agreements with the Czechoslovaks and Yugoslavs. (In private, Wilson went farther. He would support “the just claims” of the latter he told an English listener shortly before sending his reply to Vienna.) Given Károlyi’s somewhat naive faith in the Wilsonian principles, it is clear he could expect little from that quarter.

Equally disquieting was the sudden change in Romania’s position: having signed a peace treaty with Austria–Hungary only a few months before, it now re-entered the war in early November on the Allied side. This raised the thorny question of the 1916 secret Treaty of Bucharest – between Romania and the Allies – which had promised the former, all of Transylvania, the Banat and territory in eastern Hungary reaching as far as the Tisza River. Was it still valid after Romania had signed a separate peace with the Central Powers? Only time and a cool assessment of Romania’s value to the Allies would tell.


Darlac (Dârlos, Durles, Romania). Late Byzantine fresco cycle on the southern wall of the Lutheran church’s choir. Around 1500. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

So far as Serbia was concerned, it had been a loyal British and French ally since the beginning of the conflict. It had fought long and hard against great odds. Much of its territory had been occupied. Now that victory was at hand, it was time for Serbia to claim its reward. Allied politicians and the public were generally united on this. There was thus little opposition to the creation of a south Slav state under Serbian leadership. On 29 October 1918, the Croatian Sabor officially proclaimed the country’s adhesion to the new state. Dissident Croatian and Macedonian voices were neither consulted nor heard, thus storing up trouble for the future but this hardly seemed to matter in the heady atmosphere of imminent victory.

Károlyi’s government accepted Croatia’s departure without demur. It had never been part of Hungary proper but had been an autonomous associated kingdom for centuries. The Serbian and Croatian parts of Hungary were another matter. The Hungarian government lost the battle to retain these territories early on. The Austro-Hungarian high command had signed an armistice with the Allies, on behalf of the entire Dual Monarchy on 4 November 1918 at Padua. Wishing to underline Hungary’s new independence, Károlyi contacted General Franchet d’Espèrey, the commander in chief of Allied armies in southeastern Europe. Two days after the Padua armistice, a Hungarian delegation, sailed down the Danube to the general’s headquarters in Belgrade. The encounter with the gruff and condescending general was not a success. There was no acknowledgement of Károlyi’s democratic credentials or pro-Allied sympathies. Clemenceau had instructed d’Espèrey to limit himself to discussing military questions with what Clemenceau called, “a de facto local authority”. There was not the slightest hint that the French or their allies were prepared to recognise Károlyi as the head of a legitimate government in Hungary.

After this somewhat unpromising encounter, a military convention was nonetheless concluded a week later and signed by Franchet and Béla Linder, Károlyi’s Minister of War. The agreement filled the Hungarian government with some hope for it left the Hungarian administration in place throughout the old kingdom and permitted Allied occupation only up to a specific demarcation line. The latter had little geographic or historic significance and had been deliberately drawn to facilitate a Serbian occupation of most of southern Hungary an area of mixed ethnicity with a sizeable Serbian minority. The western part of the Serbian occupation zone, the county of Baranya and the historical city of Pécs, on the other hand, had almost no Serbian population to speak of. The Serbian Army rapidly occupied the area south of the demarcation line and by 14 November its forces entered Pécs. They were not to leave the city until August 1921.

The eastern part of the demarcation line presented problems for the Hungarian government: it essentially split the Transylvanian area in two by permitting its southern and eastern parts to be occupied. But occupied by whom? The Franco-Serbian forces were over-extended and were incapable of controlling territories hundreds of kilometres from Belgrade. The obvious answer was that the line was drawn not to help the Serbians, but to facilitate the entry of the Romanian Army into Transylvania.


Detail of the Legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Szászivánfalva (Ighişu Nou, Eibesdorf, Romania) Saxon Lutheran church, around 1400. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

In a desperate attempt to prevent this, Károlyi had sent Jászi to negotiate with Transylvanian Romanian leaders to see if they could be persuaded to remain within Hungary in return for generous promises of autonomy. Despite hours of talk, the answer was a resounding no from the Romanian side. In calmer times, such an offer might have had a chance of being accepted, but now it had been overtaken by the events. National unity, at any price, was the order of the day. On the very day these talks were held, the Romanian Army crossed the Carpathians and occupied parts of Transylvania up to the demarcation line.

A little more than two weeks later, a mass meeting of Transylvanian Romanians was organised by religious and political leaders in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), the ancient princely capital. A hundred thousand people gathered beneath the walls and spires of the city to proclaim the union of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania. The non-Romanians, Hungarians, Germans and others – roughly 45 per cent of the population in the areas claimed by Romania – were assured that the new greater Romania would protect their linguistic and educational rights. Shortly thereafter, the Romanian Army crossed the demarcation line with Franchet’s approval – and headed westward towards Kolozsvár (Cluj), which it entered on Christmas Eve 1918. Károlyi’s desperate protests at this violation of the military convention went unheeded.

By now, the Hungarians realised that the Belgrade military convention was essentially worthless as a guarantee against invasion. Events during the previous month in northern Hungary were ample proof of this. On 28 October, the Czech National Council in Prague proclaimed the independence of Czechoslovakia. Two days later, a Slovak National Council, meeting in the northwest Hungarian town of Turócszentmárton declared the independence of Slovakia and its immediate union with Czechoslovakia. Whether this declaration adequately expressed the will of all, or even the majority, of Slovaks is debatable, but it was generally accepted as such by the new Czechoslovak government and its friends in Paris.

In the early days of November Czechoslovak irregulars made several incursions into Hungarian territory from Moravia but were repulsed by local Hungarian gendarmes. A week later, Károlyi received a telegram from his envoy in Prague stating that the new Czechoslovak government had laid claim to land in northern Hungary which included all of today’s Slovakia as well a considerable stretch of territory south of today’s border between the two countries. This was not good news. Károlyi hoped, however, that the Belgrade military convention would prevent further incursions since northern Hungary was outside the demarcation line of Allied occupation.


The closed panels of the triptych, 1518, Szászbogács (Băgaciu, Bogeschdorf, Romania), Saxon Lutheran church. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

Despite this, Czechoslovak forces – led and advised by Italian, later French officers – continued their incursions hoping to occupy most, or all, of the territories claimed by their government. Károlyi’s protests went unheeded and the advances continued. Finally, on 3 December the Hungarians received an ultimatum from the Allied High Command stating that as an allied and belligerent nation, Czechoslovakia had a perfect right to occupy northern Hungary under the provisions of the Padua armistice with Austria–Hungary, which had stipulated that the Allies were entitled to occupy any strategic point on the territory of the former Dual Monarchy. This made it crystal clear that the Belgrade military convention was now a dead letter.

The 3 December note instructed the Hungarian government to withdraw immediately from the Slovak lands without indicating exactly where borders of the latter lay. In order to clarify the situation, the new Hungarian Minister of War, Colonel Albert Bartha met Milan Hodža, the envoy of the Czechoslovak government in Budapest. Hodža, a former Slovak member of the Hungarian parliament and one of the signatories of the Slovak declaration of independence, was certainly familiar with the situation in northern Hungary and enjoyed the confidence of the Slovak National Council. Together with Bartha they drew up a new – temporary – demarcation line which more or less followed the Hungarian– Slovak ethnic frontier and left the historic cities of Pozsony (later, Bratislava) and Kassa (Košice) under Hungarian civil and military rule.

When news of the Hodža–Bartha agreement was received in Prague, there was general consternation. The Czechoslovak government declared that Hodža had not been authorised to sign any deal with the Hungarians. The new Czechoslovak foreign minister, Edvard Beneš, worried that the sight of Hungarian and Slovak politicians negotiating without reference to Prague or Paris might make the worst possible impression on the Allied leadership. He feared that the Hungarians could use the demarcation line as a basis for negotiations about any future permanent frontiers. In any case, so far as Beneš was concerned, Hodža had simply given too much away, in particular by leaving both banks of the Danube under Hungarian control. The new Czechoslovakia was determined to have access to the Danube for economic reasons even when this could not be justified on ethnic grounds. With his usual agility, he swung into action, putting pressure on Allied leaders and mobilising his multitude of political friends in Paris and London. In a relatively short time Beneš achieved the desired result.

Károlyi’s government received a new Allied note on 24 December ordering it to withdraw beyond “the historical borders of Slovakia”. This caused some puzzlement in Budapest since “Slovakia”, as such, had never existed as a separate administrative unit in old Hungary. Where could these “historical” borders possibly be? The Allied note provided a precise answer. They were described with great exactitude. And they were almost exactly the same as the ones laid down, a few months later, by the Paris Peace Conference and eventually incorporated into the Treaty of Trianon. The Hungarian government rejected the Allied demand on “legal, ethical and ethnic grounds” pointing out that the area in question contained 1.6 million Slovaks and one million Hungarians, Germans and Rusyns. There was no reply from Paris. At this stage, Károlyi could only hope that these occupations would be temporary and that at the Peace Conference, whose meeting in Paris was imminent, a more equitable settlement would be reached on the basis of the Wilsonian principles. When a journalist asked him, in the early days of January 1919, what his foreign policy was, Károlyi replied, “three words, Wilson, Wilson and Wilson”.

It was a good slogan but not much of a foreign policy. Károlyi seemed oblivious to the fact that the American President’s celebrated liberal democratic principles were engraved on tablets of porous stone which were in constant need of re-carving. By the end of this process, the impact of the original Fourteen Points had become obscured by the president’s subsequent amendments, clarifications and explanations as demanded by the changing political situation. What Károlyi could not have possibly known was that despite the ecstatic reception he received in London, Paris and Rome in December 1918, the president’s political influence at the Peace Conference began to wane after the end of January. Wilson’s increasingly threatened political position at home, as well as emerging differences with his allies, had much to do with this.


Szászbogács (Băgaciu, Bogeschdorf, Romania). Fortified Saxon Lutheran church from the second half of the 14th century. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

The Peace Conference began its meetings in Paris in early January 1919. The Hungarians were of course not invited to attend. Neither were the other defeated nations, the Germans, the Austrians or the Turks. Unlike the Congress of Vienna in 1815, this was to be a conference of the victors alone joined by their second-string, more or less legitimate allies. The opinion of the defeated was neither solicited nor accepted; if it ever managed – on rare occasions – to reach the conference tables. So far as the Hungarian government was concerned, it was not recognised as a legitimate government at all but merely a de facto local authority, no matter how genuine its democratic credentials might appear to be. There might have been occasional expressions of sympathy for Károlyi himself, but it rarely went beyond that. On the contrary, many Allied officials believed that Károlyi was insincere in his attachment to democratic principles and was nothing more than an old Hungarian nationalist wolf, deceptively posturing in brand new democratic sheep’s clothing. The problem with Károlyi was the direct opposite of this view. It was his childlike faith in the ability of democratic leaders and their principles to produce an equitable settlement in Central Europe which led to his eventual downfall.

Having been bullied by President Wilson into spending the first month of the conference in setting up the future League of Nations which the president, somewhat naively, hoped would eventually be able to remedy any wrongs committed by the Peace Conference – the task of legalising the territorial divisions which had already taken place in Central Europe was at hand. Contrary to the once popular image of the Big Four standing around a large round table and arbitrarily drawing new borders with thick blue pencils (or red, or green, depending on the imagination of the writer), most of the new frontiers were actually designated by special frontier commissions. Within these commissions Hungary had few friends. Apart from the Great Powers, their lesser allies were also represented. The latter – Czechoslovaks, Yugoslavs and Romanians – naturally had a vested interest in obtaining as much territory from the old Hungarian Kingdom as they could possibly get. Their interpretations of history, their statistics, their military and economic needs were generally accepted and only very rarely challenged by the diplomats and academics gathered around the commission tables. Reading the minutes of the Czechoslovak or Yugoslav frontier commission meetings, the general hostility to Hungary is palpable.

The young British diplomat, Harold Nicholson, summed up the prevailing anti-Hungarian atmosphere in his memoir Peacemaking 1919. His heart sang hymns at heaven’s gate, not for retrograde old Hungary but for bright, new, liberated Czechoslovakia. To which one could add “gallant little Serbia”, now finally free to unite the “oppressed South Slavs” under its protective wings. For Nicholson, the Hungarians were nothing but an odious “Turanian tribe” and their capital, Budapest, a fake modern city without any autochthonous reality. In matters affecting Central Europe, the younger members of the British delegation, including Nicholson himself, were firmly under the influence of R. W. Seton-Watson, a veteran anti-Hungarian crusader. A classic example of the wealthy, slightly dilettantish, private scholar, Seton-Watson was best known for a book, written some ten years before, condemning – with some justice – the Hungarian treatment of Slovaks in northern Hungary. Though the pre-war British ambassador to Vienna was to describe him as a partisan observer, this seemed to matter little in early 1919.

But what really counted in the drawing-up of the new frontiers were not the opinions of young diplomats but the political objectives of the great powers. And among them, those of the French Third Republic were pressed most insistently. At the time the Peace Conference opened in Paris, France had emerged – albeit temporarily – as the most important power on the Continent. Her armies had been victorious and were intact while those of her principal enemy – Germany – were in dissolution. Her American ally was withdrawing its forces as quickly as possible, now that the war was won. The British, acting more slowly and carefully, were doing the same. And France had little to fear from the Italian Army. This seemed to be a perfect time to reorganise the continent to suit French security needs. Her allies were in no position to stop her by military means, should they seriously disagree with the implementation of her objectives.

The power vacuum which emerged in Central Europe due to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire provided a perfect opportunity to realise French diplomatic aims in the region. France had suffered more during the war than her major allies. Her loss of men was proportionally higher than that of either the British or the Americans. Parts of her territory were occupied by the enemy and some of the deadliest battles of the war were fought there resulting in a terrible loss of life and destruction of property. It was perfectly understandable under the circumstances that the French should be determined to avoid another such conflict with a dangerous and overly powerful neighbour. Consequently it was French policy throughout the conference to weaken Germany as much as possible.

But extreme French demands – such as the extension of its borders to the Rhine – were not supported by either the British or the Americans. It also soon became clear that the territorial amputations – Alsace–Lorraine, among others – proposed in the German treaty, though much resented by German opinion, were not capable of significantly reducing Germany’s long-term advantage over France either in military or economic terms. Another solution had to be found. Until the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, Imperial Russia had been France’s powerful ally in the east and used to keep a restless Germany in check. But, now, Russia, in the throes of a deadly civil war between Reds and Whites, was – temporarily – out of the picture as a great power. What is more, Lenin’s Bolsheviks had repudiated Imperial Russia’s foreign debt, eighty per cent of which was in French hands. This, plus the reckless nationalisation of foreign-owned factories, banks and mines – many of them also French-owned – did not endear Lenin’s new Russia to a large proportion of the French public.

With Russia gone for the time being, what could possibly replace her? Obviously the greatest land empire in the world could not be easily replaced. Other solutions would have to be found. One of these was the creation of a string of new French allies stretching from Poland through Czechoslovakia and Romania to Yugoslavia in the Balkans. These states, either reborn like Poland, or greatly enlarged like Romania, or newly created, like Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia, would receive French investments and more importantly French political support at the Peace Conference, to ensure that they were given borders which were both economically and militarily advantageous. Once solidly established these states would help to keep Germany in check or so it was hoped in Paris – and act as a cordon sanitaire to prevent the Russian Bolshevik virus from infecting Central and Western Europe.


Kükülőkőrös (Curciu, Kritsch, Romania). The western doorway of the parish church. First half of the 15th century. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

What was Hungary’s role in all of this? Frankly, not very much. After all, some of France’s new allies were to be rewarded with huge tracts of Hungarian land to ensure their future loyalty. No one could have any illusions about Hungarian reaction to such a drastic amputation of their historical territory. Philippe Berthelot, the omnipotent Secretary General at the French Foreign Office, had little use for the Hungarians: they were fierce enemies – this phrase often crops up in confidential documents of the time – and must be punished for their role in the war. Czechoslovakia, not Hungary, was destined to be the lynchpin of the new French-inspired order in central Europe. Both Clemenceau and Berthelot remembered that only a few months before the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia had played a vital role in the anti-Bolshevik campaign because of its control of the Trans-Siberian Railway. French officials on the various frontier committees were told to support Czechoslovak demands wherever possible.

Given the above, the shape of the future Czechoslovak–Hungarian border was fairly predictable. It followed the 24 December demarcation line almost exactly in the west with some alterations as it proceeded northeast of the Ipoly (Ipel) river. Further east lay a region which was outside the demarcation line and therefore remained under Hungarian administration. A land of mysterious blue-green mountains, imposing but crumbling castles of the Rákóczi dynasty, it was also one of the poorest and most backward areas of old Hungary. Most of the inhabitants were Rusyn farmers and lumberjacks who mostly adhered to the Greek Catholic Church. In the south and the northweast, on the fringes of the Great Hungarian Plain, the population was largely Hungarian, together with some Germans and a substantial Jewish population. It was only here that Károlyi’s government was able to put its plans for federalising old Hungary into practice. A “People’s Law” established the Rusyn Autonomous Region, with its own local administration and government. Rusyn and Hungarian were to be the official languages. A Rusyn assembly was established and elections for it were held on 4 March 1919. All of this was to little avail. The Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Edvard Beneš had already presented a demand for the Rusyn lands to the Peace Conference.


The tower of the fortress of Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureş), 17th century. Photo courtesy: Géza Entz

The Czechoslovak claim was not particularly strong on grounds of history or ethnicity. Beneš emphasised instead the needs of strategy: it was essential for the new Czechoslovakia and enlarged Romania, he argued, to have a common border in order to keep eventual Hungarian revisionist aspirations in check. And, though this was never openly said, it was useful from the Czechoslovak viewpoint to prevent a common border between Hungary and reborn Poland. Both countries had a fraternal friendship for centuries and both now had territorial disputes with Czechoslovakia. Beneš argued that in any case, a meeting of Rusyn immigrants in Pennsylvania led by a local lawyer had already signed a declaration expressing the desire of the Rusyn people to join the new state of Czechoslovakia. Moreover, a Rusyn Council, meeting in Czechoslovak-occupied Ungvár (Uzhgorod) in early January 1919 had also voted in favour of union with the new state.

Did these declarations represent the true will of the Rusyn people? It is highly doubtful. Those Rusyns who concerned themselves with politics were, in any case, divided into three camps: the traditional pro-Hungarian one – which had already seen some of its demands met by Károlyi; a pro-Ukranian nationalist faction; and advocates of union with Czechoslovakia. The vast majority of Rusyn farmers and lumbermen were uninterested in these abstract questions. They wished to be left in peace to work and trade with those they had traded with for centuries, without regard for religion or ethnicity. Among the bewildering new proposals for their future, most might have opted for what was familiar and remain within Hungary. They were not given that choice or, indeed, any choice. On 12 March 1919, the incorporation of the Rusyn lands into Czechoslovakia was approved by the Peace Conference. In the following months the area would be occupied by Czechoslovak and Romanian troops.

The new southern frontier of Hungary with Yugoslavia also generally followed the line which had been occupied by the Serbian Army in November 1918 with the exception of Baranya county and Pécs which was allowed to remain within Hungary. A small section of southern Baranya was, however, allotted to Yugoslavia. Further west, near the Austrian border a stretch of land, between the Danube and the Mura Rivers, with a mixed Slovene and Hungarian population was also assigned to Yugoslavia. So far as Croatia was concerned, its separation from Hungary had been accepted by Károlyi’s government as early as November 1918 and was consequently no longer a matter of dispute.

Drawing Hungary’s eastern frontier with Romania proved to be far more contentious. Controversy revolved around the secret Treaty of Bucharest which the Allies had signed with Romania in 1916. The British and French governments had been generous in offering Austro-Hungarian territory in exchange for Romania’s entry into the war on their side. The nationalist dream of “Greater Romania” involved the unification of all Romanians into a single state which would encompass all lands as the slogan had it “from the Dnieper to the Tisza”. The Dnieper was something of a problem since Bessarabia, whose eastern border was the Dnieper and was still part of Imperial Russia, an ally of both Britain and France. Obviously, no promises could be made in that direction. In the west, the sky seemed to be the limit. Austrian Bukovina was promised, as well a frontier reaching the Tisza River in Hungary. The Banat, one of the richest agricultural areas in Europe, was grandly added to the package. The fact that this would entail the inclusion of several million unwilling Hungarians, Germans and Serbs into a greatly enlarged Romanian state seems not to have troubled the signatories. They had a war to win.

(Tamás Barcsay’s essay is from the unpublished manuscript of Trianon: Tragedy of a Nation – The Memoirs of Tibor Scitovszky; edited by Michael O’Sullivan. The memoir is to be published later on this year.)

 


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