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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 regionís 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.6/3/2010 - The 90th Anniversary of Hungary's Dismemberment: Hungary declares "National Day of Unity," AHF issues statement: "Trianon is not only tragic history, it is a lingering tragedy which continues to affect the Hungarian minorities and historical communities living in the states neighboring Hungary even today." The full statement is below and available for [download]

Trianon: A Relic of the Past or a Continuing Tragedy?

Trianon: A Relic of the Past or a Continuing Tragedy?
Frank Koszorus, Jr., President, American Hungarian Federation, June 3, 2010, on the occasion of the 90th Anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon

Over the course of its more than 100-year history, the American Hungarian Federation has commemorated the Treaty of Trianon,1 highlighting the gross injustices wrought by that treaty (better described as a diktat) and the entire Versailles so-called peacemaking, including how it dismembered Hungary; transferred more than three million Hungarians to foreign rule; treated Hungarians and their ancient homeland as pawns and chattels; ignored the vaunted  principle of self-determination; denied the affected populations the right to choose through plebiscites; destroyed a self-contained, geographically and economically coherent and durable formation in the Carpathian Basin and boasting the longest lasting historical borders of Europe; and set the stage for a conflagration and human suffering on a vast and virtually incomprehensible scale. No wonder that even Harold Nicolson, the young British diplomat at the peace conference, was appalled by what he witnessed and aptly described the peacemakers as “ignorant and irresponsible men.”

The ill-conceived Treaty of Trianon was a part of this extraordinarily flawed Versailles ”peacemaking” that had devastating consequences for the victors and vanquished alike.  As one commentator astutely noted:

      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.2

Among the failures of Versailles:

      the Fourteen Points – under whose banner American boys had gone to war, and often their deaths, on the battlefields of France and Belgium – were eviscerated by America’s own allies, all of whom had come to Paris with their own particular priorities. None of these involved self-determination, territorial integrity, or the various freedoms on which the Points were based.3

Indeed, Versailles “proved a colossal failure for Woodrow Wilson, for the United States, and for the future of the world that had hoped it might be governed by principles of freedom and self-determination – even today.” 4

Even today!  And that is the point and the problem. Trianon is not only tragic history, it is a lingering tragedy which continues to affect the Hungarian minorities and historical communities living in the states neighboring Hungary.  For instance, while Romania obtained a large chunk of Hungarian territory by the Treaty of Trianon – more territory than remained as Hungary – it refuses to this day to grant the legitimate aspiration of its Hungarian minority for various forms of autonomy that do not threaten the territorial integrity of Romania but which would promote democracy.5

And Slovakia, which was detached from Hungary by Trianon to form Czechoslovakia, exercised its right of external self-determination when it broke away from Pragues’s perceived dominance in 1992.  Nonetheless, Slovakia has taken a series of official actions that have created an inhospitable environment for Slovakia’s Hungarian minority.  These actions include the gerrymandering of the administrative division of Slovakia so that Hungarians are in the minority in the administrative regions; adopting a resolution proposed by extremist Jan Slota ratifying and confirming the Benes decrees (which imposed collective guilt on Hungarians and continue to adversely  affect them); refusing to rehabilitate Janos Esterhazy, who as leader of the Hungarian Party in Tiso’s Fascist Sovakia was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the deportation of Jews in 1942, yet who died in a Czechoslovak prison after the war; adopting a discriminatory language law that curtails or eliminates the use of minority languages from the public sphere, which law targets ethnic Hungarians; and now most recently adopted a law that threatens to strip Hungarians in Slovakia of their citizenship if they apply for Hungarian citizenship made possible by an act of the Hungarian parliament extending citizenship to Hungarians living beyond Hungary’s border – a sensible approach by Budapest to lessen the adverse impact of Trianon without threatening the states neighboring Hungary and an approach that is consistent with dual citizenship policies in Europe.

In the final analysis, but for Trianon there would be no Hungarian minorities who are subjected to discriminatory policies.  There would not be a need for the type of citizenship law recently adopted by Budapest that seeks to protect these minorities.
Trianon, however, occurred.  And considering the far-reaching implications of discrimination, intolerance, and hatred directed at the Hungarian minorities, the response from the European Union and the United States to date has been tepid.  But it is not the victims of discrimination who cause intra-state and inter-state tensions but the victimizers.

It can be hoped that ninety years after Trianon, an ill-conceived treaty that created these adverse conditions, steps will be taken to ensure that Western values, democratic principles and international norms and practices relating to national minorities will finally prevail in Central and Eastern Europe, thereby at long last relegating Trianon to the history books.

1 American Hungarian Federation, Treaty of Trianon site
2 David A. Andelman, A Shattered Peace:  Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today, (2008) at 1-3.
3 Id. at 285.
4 Id. at 284.
5 Foreign Policy Review: Article by Frank Koszorus, Jr., President of the American Hungarian Federation


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Updates:

  • AHF's Geza Cseri Letter to the Editor published in [the Washington Times]
  • Amb. Geza Jeszenszky writes article,
    "Gyásznapok után - az elkeseredés ellen" Mögöttünk a Trianon évfordulóját „a Nemzeti Összetartozás Napjá”-vá nyilvánító törvény elfogadása, a majdnem kerek dátumot kísérő számtalan megemlékezés és írás. Közelebb kerültünk-e a nemzeti tragédia okainak megértéséhez, a trauma földolgozásához, és a jövőben követendő optimális magatartás megtalálásához?

AHF Statements:


Count Apponyi pleading to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace ConferenceCount 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." [more on Count Apponyi]

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 brought to the innocent.We are sad to report that they were right.


Shortcuts to Trianon Resources Below:

Ethnic Distribution in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1910 (Hungarians shown in red)

Ethnic Distribution in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1910 (Hungarians shown in red)
[download extra large image 4962x3509]
[download large image 1000x707]

Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, this trend continued over the past 90 years.

Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies sucha s the 2009 Slovak Language Law, this trend continued over the past 90 years.

  • In Upper Hungary (awarded to Slovakia, Czechoslovakia): 1,687,977 Slovaks and 1,233,454 others (mostly Hungarians - 886,044, Germans, Ruthenians and Roma) [according to the 1921 census, however, there were 1,941,942 Slovaks and 1,058,928 others]
  • In Carpathian Ruthenia (awarded to Czechoslovakia): 330,010 Ruthenians and 275,932 others (mostly Hungarians, Germans, Romanians, and Slovaks)
  • In Transylvania (awarded to Romania): 2,831,222 Romanians (53.8%) and 2,431,273 others (mostly Hungarians - 1,662,948 (31.6%) and Germans - 563,087 (10.7%)). The 1919 and 1920 Transylvanian censuses indicate a greater percentage of Romanians (57.1%/57.3%) and a smaller Hungarian minority (26.5%/25.5%)
  • In Vojvodina 510,754 Serbs and 1,002,229 others (mostly Hungarians 425,672 and Germans 324,017)
  • In Vojvodina and Croatia-Slavonia combined (awarded to Yugoslavia): 2,756,000 Croats and Serbs and 1,366,000 others (mostly Hungarians and Germans)
  • In Burgenland (awarded to Austria): 217,072 Germans and 69,858 others (mainly Croatian and Hungarian)

About the Treaty
by Bryan Dawson

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 got 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.

Returned Lands to Hungary
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

Additional 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.
    [download]
  • "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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