The Treaty of Trianon: A Hungarian Tragedy - June 4, 1920
WHY SHOULD TRIANON BIND ONLY HUNGARIANS?
Montenegro’s declaration of independence from Serbia on June 3, 2006, is but the latest nail in
the coffin of the long-crumbling, outdated and superseded post-World War I peacemaking,
To be sure, the Treaty of Trianon, better described as a diktat, solved nothing, as
problems surfaced even before the ink had dried. The newly minted states of Czecho-Slovakia,
the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia), and a greatly enlarged Rumania
acquired large numbers of national minorities that quite naturally resented the harsh treatment
that was meted out to them. Conflict also quickly developed between the victorious parties.
The Slovaks complained of discrimination by Prague, while the Croats resented Belgrade's
domination. Stjepan Radic of the Croatian Peasant Party was interned for petitioning the peace
The new European order imposed in 1920 and then re-imposed in the 1947 Paris peace treaty (by which truncated Hungary had to cede further territory to Czechoslovakia), collapsed
almost within months at the end of the Cold War. One ethnic group after another throughout the
region unceremoniously ignored the provisions of the Treaty of Trianon by seizing the
opportunity to realize their own objectives to exercise external self-determination, even as they
Ironically, none of these peoples can point to a historically better grounded basis for their aspirations than the indigenous Hungarian communities in the Carpathian Basin. Although these other peoples were allowed to successfully exercise the right of self-determination and in so doing drastically change the map of Central and Eastern Europe, the partitioned Hungarians stand alone still “bound” by the grossly unfair Treaty of Trianon.2
The Hungarian historical communities continue to chafe as minorities in the newly
divided post-Trianon successor states. The primary issue is that they are still living with the
stifling Trianon status quo that threatens their very identity, as they are denied a range of
minority and collective rights, including cultural or territorial autonomy. Even the current postcommunist
Rumanian government, for example, refuses to restore the Hungarian language
university in Kolozsvar (Cluj) that had been forcibly eliminated by Ceausescu. Meanwhile,
Hungarians of Vojvodina, that had historically never been part of Serbia, face mounting pressure
from extremist Serbs, and there seems to be little hope for the restoration of the province’s
autonomy that Milosevic had eliminated even before he destroyed Kosovo's autonomy. To make
matters worse, some 15 years after the sea change following the collapse of the USSR, the
Despite these circumstances, the current Hungarian government has yet to articulate its
vision for a creative diplomatic initiative that would protect the historic Hungarian communities
in countries neighboring Hungary. Other than scant generalizations, the government’s program
presented to the Parliament last week is remarkably silent about concrete foreign policy
proposals, such as a strategy to support the Hungarian minorities. Even as Montenegro declares
its independence and Kosovo’s status remains on the front burner, Budapest appears content to
sit on the sidelines and conspicuously refrains from espousing the democratically expressed
As much as they would prefer, Hungary’s ruling political elite can neither escape Hungary’s history nor the consequences of that history. Clearly, the minorities require both the protection from discrimination and intolerance, as well as positive rights, i.e., cultural, territorial and/or personal autonomy. Defusing tensions by promoting enlightened minority policies would advance both genuine democracy and regional stability, desirable objectives that would serve the interests not only of the Republic of Hungary, but also that of the region, the EU, the US and NATO. Budapest can and should play a pivotal role in advancing these interests by stepping forth without hesitation and apology and providing effective support in multilateral and bilateral fora for the legitimate aspirations of their Hungarian kin for autonomy – a precondition for their survival.
Setting out these laudable goals would be a fitting contribution of Budapest to the burial of an inherently unjust diktat whose shackles bind no one by now but the Hungarians.
1Ostensibly in the name of national self-determination, the Treaty of Trianon 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. Following the war to make the "world safe for democracy," the Treaty even denied the affected populations the right to choose under whose sovereignty they would live. Only the city of Sopron in western Hungary was allowed a plebiscite to decide its future, and it opted by a large margin to remain in Hungary. Although the peacemakers included provisions for the protection of minorities in various international instruments they insisted the successor states sign, the latter generally ignored their promises.
2 Czechoslovakia unilaterally changed its border with Hungary (as drawn at Trianon) when it diverted the Danube in
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[download the 86th Anniversary statement]
"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." Count Apponyi pleading to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference
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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Shortcuts to Trianon Resources Below:
One 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, 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).
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 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
External Links on Trianon
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