Guilty nation or unwilling ally? by József Varga Addenda to the history of Hungary and the Danubian basin Part I, 1918-1939

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by József Varga
Addenda to the history of Hungary and the Danubian basin

Part I, 1918-1939

Originally published in German under the title:

Schuldige Nation oder VasalI wider Willen?

Beitrage zur Zeitgeschichte Ungarns und des Donauraumes

Teil 1918-1939

Magyarra fordította:



Budapest, 1991

ISBN: 963 400 482 2

Felelős kiadó: Varga József 91/529

Veszprémi Nyomda Kft., Veszprém

Felelős vezető: Fekete István ügyvezető igazgató

Translated into English and edited by:



1. The two ‘revolutions’ and their failure
“The mountain of material written about the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire can broadly be categorized into two distinct groups. The point-of-view held by one side is that the impetus for the break-up of Austria came from forces external to the empire; the other group sees internal problems as the main cause. For the first side, the indigenous ethnic groups are merely seen as having been swept along by events; for the other side, the foreign influences are attributed to have played only minor parts.”1
The termination of the Danubian monarchy was influenced in equal parts by the aims of the European major powers and internal socio-ethnic tensions. The process was hastened in no small manner by the various secret treaties and organizations, promises made to the nationalistic movements and irredentist goals. [Irredentism: any position advocating annexation of territories administered by another state on the grounds of common ethnicity and/or prior historical possession, actual or alleged.] Although the Allied Powers had differing opinions regarding the fate of the Monarchy, there was consensus regarding the liberation of the ‘oppressed peoples.’ The Monarchy was literally carved apart by its ethnic constituents.
Three events occurred in 1917, which fundamentally altered the situation: the United States entered the war, Russia pulled-out of the war, and the secret talks generally known as the Sixtus-dialogue.
During the summer of 1918, the war took a decisive turn after significant American men and equipment were shipped to France but mostly due to the innovation of using massed tanks. The German offensive on the Marne failed, while the French counter-offensive was successful. By the end of the summer of 1918, German forces were on the defensive and in retreat.
On October 17, 1918, Prime Minister Count István (Stephen) Tisza – repeating the words of Count Mihály (Michael) Károlyi [in opposition at the time and the next PM from November 1–ed.] – said in Parliament: “We have lost the war.” At the same time, he called on Károlyi and his followers to collaborate for the good of the country and to make use of their oft-referred to ‘close connections’ among the Allied Powers.
There was a burning need for it, as European public opinion was decidedly anti-Hungarian. In volume five of his Hungarian History, the historian Gyula (Julius) Szekfű documents the anti-Magyar propaganda in Europe. Many prominent europeans took a stand against the Magyars and their ‘oppressive methods’: Björnstjerne Björnson and Leo Tolstoy, influenced by the Czechs, and Lord Bryce and Lord Fitzmaurice, influenced by the Romanians. Georges Clémenceau, the historian Ernest Lavisse and the sociologist-economist Leroy-Beaulieu took a position against the Magyars. Even Garibaldi’s son, Menotti, rejected his father’s friendship towards the Magyars on the grounds that the Magyars oppress the Romanians, the brothers of Italians. Seton-Watson arrived in Hungary as an observer of the election process. He eagerly sought – and managed to find – ‘proof’ of the oppression of the minorities.
Prior to this period, members of the [oppressed-ed.] Romanian minority, with the support of Romanian banks, methodically purchased the Transylvanian estates of the Magyar nobility. In the period between 1908 and 1913, these purchases totalled approx. 63,500 acres of agricultural land and 30,000 acres of forest (25,300 and 11,500 hectares). The cautionary words of Count István (Stephen) Bethlen went unheeded. This anti-Magyar economic assault in Transylvania and Upper Hungary [today Slovakia-ed.] was funded by 156 Romanian and 36 Slovak banks. The banks were centered in Bucharest and Prague, with respective assets of 54 million and 18 million Kronas.
There was an organized anti-Hungary propaganda campaign being waged among the German and Austrian allies. In their works, Rudolf Heinze, Friedrich-Guntram Schultheiss and Heinrich Wastian flailed at the ‘Judeo-Magyar’ atrocities. The founder and president of the United German Alliance /Alldeutscher Verband/, Ernst Hasse, wrote in his German political handbook some suggestions on how to increase German influence outside the borders of the German empire. To quote his words: “The alliance with Austria-Hungary no longer fills Germany’s needs, as it can not be in Germany’s interest to be allied with a weaker power. The Austro-Hungarian Empire must be made into a territory populated by Germans and the Slovaks removed from lands West of the Leithe River. In Hungary, the Hungarian language may be permitted alongside the official state language of German; in Transylvania, Romanian … Since these lands are sites of “ancient Germanic settlements,” and since the small nations of the Danubian region are not viable, the sole possibility for these areas is via German hegemony and culture …”2
In Vienna, the adversaries of Hungary formed a clique around the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the mayor of Vienna, Karl Luger. Hungary had scarce a friend, near and far, and could not count on any understanding or goodwill from the victorious Allies. It was long forgotten that the Hungarian Prime Minister, Count Tisza, was the sole dissenting voice against presenting the ultimatum to Serbia, trying to avoid even a ‘local’ Balkan war. (Twenty seven years later, Prime Minister Pál (Paul) Teleki sacrificed his life in protest against the breach of the Hungarian-Yugoslav Friendship Treaty. This fact was ignored at the peace conference following the second world war.) In this critical situation, there was dire need for close co-operation between all the political factions.
On October 17, 1918, Emperor Karl published a manifesto regarding the transformation of Cis-Leithenia into an alliance of national states. [The River Leitha formed the boundary between Austria and the Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary. The emperor’s edict covered the non-Magyar lands of his empire-ed.] The plan, alas, was too late; the disbanding of the Danubian monarchy was impossible to avoid. On October 25, 1918, Heinrich Lammasch formed a government in Vienna and Count Gyula (Julius) Andrássy was appointed as Foreign Minister. On the same day, Andrássy sent a message to President Woodrow Wilson suggesting talks with the aim of concluding a separate peace agreement. At the same time, Kaiser Willhelm was advised that the Monarchy was taking steps to try and conclude a separate peace treaty. Still on the same day, October 25, Count Károlyi, in alliance with the socialists and the radicals, created the Hungarian National Council /HNC/ and presented their 12 point program. This more or less reflected the program presented by the Social Democrats on October 8. Among other items, they demanded the dissolution of the government, the proroguing of Parliament, the right of a universal secret ballot, wide-ranging land and civil reforms, and right of self determination. The retention and assurance of territorial integrity was to be achieved not by force but common sense, based on mutual economic and geographic factors.
The Council consisted of Mihály Károlyi, Dezső Ábrahám, Tivadar Batthyány, János Hock, Zoltán Jánosi, Mihály Lovászy (they belonged to the Károlyi group); Vilmos Böhm, Ernő Garami, Sándor Garbai, Zsigmond Kunfi, Jakab Weltner (social-democrats); Lajos Bíró, Oszkár Jászi, Lajos Purjesz, Pál Szende (radicals). Other members were: Irén Müller, Róza Bédy-Schwim­mer, Lajos Hatvany, László Fényes and József Diner-Dénes.3 The Council was a form of counter-government. They also brought into being a military council, which relieved the soldiers, along with the Council members, of their oath of allegiance and urged them to rebel against their former officers. On October 31, 1918, the Viceroy, Archduke Joseph, appointed Károlyi as prime minister. Coincidentally, the ‘strong man of Hungary’, Count Tisza, was assassinated on the same day.
Both the political and economic conditions were absent to be able to carry out the 12-point platform of the new government. The basis for the democratic reform of the multi-ethic society was barely, if at all, evident, along with the emotional shift necessary to be able to solve mutual problems, especially borders, peacefully. Also, other contributing factors were the apprehension growing through the war years regarding the continued existence of the Magyar nation, the historic borders of Hungary and the expected harsh peace terms. The catastrophic economic situation, the spiritual and moral disintegration of the upper and middle classes and the radicalization of the electorate – as well as groups who did not, in the past, partake in government – all gave rise to grave concerns. The suddenly lifted stringent law and order of the war years resulted in excessive euphoria, which began to drift inexorably toward anarchy. In this atmosphere, it was an easy task to incite to revolutionary fervor and shout deceptively sounding demands. Achieving the political, social, economic and welfare plans proved to be especially difficult, all the while trying to ensure the continued functioning of government bodies, the social, economic and welfare agencies.
These limitations were only dimly grasped by Károlyi and the HNC, or not taken seriously enough. In this, they partly share the responsibility for the disbanding of Hungary’s historical borders, the new boundaries, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the polarization of society, which shortly brought the eruption of anti-semitism and a thirst for revenge during the months of the Hungarian Soviet and in the aftermath of its collapse; also, for the reservations expressed later regarding their democratic reform ideas.
A pivotal role was played in the October 1918 revolution by the Freemasons. Since the turn of the century, Hungarian lodges increasingly became the meeting places of the young radical intellectuals, and those who held themselves to be intellectuals. The Masonic movement split in 1906. Under the leadership of Oszkár (Oscar) Jászi and Zsigmond (Sigismund) Kunfi, a segment of the lodge brothers demanded militant atheism; they removed the Bible for the lodge altars. By 1912, the majority of Hungarian Masons were adherents of the radical direction. Increased radicalization was becoming apparent among the members of the Galilei Circle, as well as the publications Twentieth Century (Huszadik Század) and West (Nyugat).
Already in 1905, Gusztáv Gratz warned the sociologists gathered around West not to fall prey to the ‘illusion of progress.’ Progress can not be achieved by transplanting, pure and simple, the French, German or Italian ideas of a ‘progressive culture’ before these ideas had time to germinate and take root. Rather, it should be carefully examined what manner of new political direction is necessary and possible, given the local conditions, cultural mores and special problems, to overcome those difficulties – wrote Gratz, expressing his view.4
The situation deteriorated in Germany and Austria, also. The Kaiser left Germany on November 10, 1918; the Emperor abdicated from all active participation in Austrian state affairs. On November 12, 1918, the provisional National Assembly proclaimed the Republic of German Austria.
The independent Hungarian Republic was proclaimed on November 16, 1918. In the meantime, Hungary’s internal and external situation worsened by the day. Appeals were made repeatedly to the workers and soldiers to return to their places of work, or their bases; the populace was repeatedly warned to safeguard property. The actions of the rabble, encouraged by its own campaign of agitation, especially against the ‘old order’, its value system and its representatives, continued to escalate. Due to the breakdown of transportation, fuel and raw materials were not being delivered to factories and production mostly came to a halt, contributing to the daily climb in the number of the unemployed. The crisis situation was further fuelled by the radicalization of the soldiers and the flood of refugees from the formerly Hungarian territories now occupied by foreign troops.
The country was encircled by a ring of adversarial neighbors. The explosively emergent nationalism of the neighboring states was driving them toward the annexation of the greatest possible territory of the rapidly declining Hungary. The government announced such laws, declared such orders and made such comments, which unquestionably reflected progressive attitudes; however, the necessary power and deference were lacking, along with the economic and political means. Also in short supply was the population’s ability and willingness to assume the burdens and responsibilities.
The ‘brains of the government,’ Oszkár Jászi, conducted discussions in Arad [in today’s Romania-ed.] with the members of the Romanian National Council. Most members of this body were personal friends of his. For many years, his fond dream was the creation of a ‘Switzerland of the East.’ The failure of this design forced the bitter comment from his lips: “You, gentlemen, are nationalists!” Maniu’s reply was unequivocal: “Yes, we are nationalists. We are working primarily for the interest and welfare of our people.”5 The truce agreement also presented serious difficulties for the government. The terms of the agreement signed by Austria-Hungary, signed in Padua on November 3, 1918, suspended hostilities and ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from areas occupied by the Monarchy. The line of demarcation, however, was only drawn in the southwest. As a result, Hungary deemed its own historical border as the line of demarcation, with the exception of Croatia. Prague, Bucharest and Belgrade had a substantially different opinion.
A delegation, under the leadership of Károlyi and Jászi, left for Belgrade on November 6, 1918, to confer with General Franchet d’Esperey, the commander-in-chief of the Army of the East. The military pact tabled by d’Esprey contained 18 points, which Károlyi and Jászi deemed unacceptable. However, in view of the growing tensions between Hungary and the neighboring states, the National Assembly eventually decided on November 10 to accept the terms offered.6 The ‘agreement’ was signed by the Minister of War, Béla Linder, in Belgrade on November 13, 1918.
Another circumstance, which affected Hungary unfavorably: with the elimination of Germany and the Danubian Monarchy, a power vacuum formed in Central Europe. Russia was initially discerned to fill this vacuum. However, due to the events of the October revolution, Russia could not assume this role. Only after the second world war did the Soviet Union become the regulating power of Central Europe. Thus, the role fell temporarily to France to fill the vacuum, to try and create a counterbalance against a re-emerging Germany and the spread of Bolshevism. In this, an important role was allotted to the Army of the East. “Marshal Foch planned on uniting all the anti-Bolshevik forces of the perimeter states – Polish and Romanian units, German prisoners of war, volunteer and allied units – under French command, in a massive assemblage against Russia … The Allied Supreme Council rejected his plan on March 27, 1919. The American disagreement was decisive.”7
The Romanians, on the other hand, grasped the favorable opportunity at the right time. They offered entire divisions to the French generals, thus gaining their support against Hungary. They were tireless in pointing out the danger that a Bolshevik Hungary would pose for the entire region. The tactic was successful: Romanian troops occupied territories well past the lines of demarcation, a portion of the country with 300,000 people. These territories they were officially allowed to keep, as part of the peace treaty signed a year later.
Prague used an entirely different line of reasoning to gain their ends. They pointed out to the victorious allied leaders the danger that the regime in Budapest, based on its record, presented to democracy. The leading Czech politicians stated that Mihály Károlyi was no less nationalistic than Tisza was in his day, and that the Károlyi government maintains an adversarial stand against the minorities.8 The Czech government in Prague received Upper Hungary and Trans-Carpathia [also known as Carpatho-Ukraine, now part of the Ukraine-ed.]. Prague’s reasoning was appropriated by the French Foreign Minister. France instructed its embassies in London, Rome and Washington to draw the appropriate government official’s attention to the perfidious and devious politics of the Károlyi government, whose ultra-democratic façade was adopted strictly to oppress the ethnic minorities. No surprise then that the rumors spread of Károlyi’s and his followers’ friendly French contacts, as well as the mystical faith placed in democracy, soon lost its credit. The believability and political integrity of the leaders of the so-called Chrysanthemum Revolution (October 1918) was further shaken by the fact that the neighboring countries, hungry to annex Hungarian territory, ignored the terms of the Belgrade agreement. Lt. Col. Ferdinand Vix (variously Vyx) wrote in his report of November 23, 1918: “In summary, we can say that the Belgrade agreement is merely a piece of paper. The behavior of our small allies, our own behavior, as well as the absence of authority which could remedy breaches, is palpably evident, so that only one principle guides: the right of the stronger.”9
Shortages of accomodations, food, fuel, controls over electricity and natural gas, the insecurity created by the presence of armed units, the increasing chasm between the urban and rural environments would have required effective and energetic action from the government. The government, however, was lacking the economic means and political power necessary for effective action. In a protest against the obvious inability of the government, two members, Count Tivadar Batthyány and Márton (Martin) Lovászy, tendered their resignation. The radical press (Red News /Vörös Újság/, Red Soldier /Vörös Katona/, Young Proletarian /Ifjú Proletár/) stirred up the workers and the soldiers against the government; they demanded the arming of the workers and the collectivization of land. Béla Kun, recently returned from Russia, passionately fought against democratic socialism. The first issue of the Red News (December 7, 1918) demanded class struggle.
On January 11, 1919, Mihály Károlyi was proclaimed as president of the republic. His successor as prime minister was Dénes (Dennis) Berinkey. The land reform was passed on February 16, 1919. The law nationalized estates greater than 280 hectares (approx. 700 acres) or, in the case of church lands, 115 hectares (approx. 275 acres). The government did not have time to enforce the law. The Berinkey government fell after four weeks. The proletarian dictatorship did not want land redistribution, it wanted land collectivization. The president, Count Károlyi, began to distribute his estate in Kápolna on February 23 but there the process ended.
On February 20, communist militias attacked the newspaper offices of the People’s Voice (Nép­szava). There were dead and wounded. The government arrested Béla Kun and 87 accomplices. In the interest of ‘maintaining equilibrium,’ general Szurmay, Bishop Mikes and Baron Szterényi were incarcerated from the conservative side.10 The middle class began to recover from its torpor. Count István Bethlen founded the National United Party. The chain of events, however, came to a crossroad. On March 14, 1919, the Union of Metalworkers joined the Communists. On March 19, 1919, Lt. Col. Vix presented a note to the Hungarian government. The new line of demarcation was even more unfavorable to Hungary than the previous demarcation proposals. The government refused to accept the note and resigned.
In the meantime, behind the back of Károlyi, Kunfi and Weltner came to an agreement with the Communists and the Soldiers’ Council. Power was assumed by the Communists and the radicals and, in the Russian style, proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic. There was no more need for Count Károlyi. Károlyi related his ‘resignation’ in the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung on June 25, 1919 in the following manner: “I did not cede power to the protetariat; it seized power for itself by the creation of a socialist army.”11
Regarding Károlyi’s character and abilities, let’s turn to two contemporaries. Miklós (Nicholas) Asztalos and Sándor (Alexander) Pethő wrote the following lines in their work History of the Hungarian nation: “quietly, almost imperceptibly, the Hungarian Kerenski, Mihály Károlyi, crept away from the front lines of the revolution. It is his fault that, at the most perilous period of his country and nation, he demanded and fought for the leadership, accepting an historical task for which his mental and moral abilities disqualified him … Others, useful and valuable forces … he simply expunge from power. He accepted without critical thought those tenets and ideologies with which those around him filled his head.”12
According to Jászi’s opinion (who was Károlyi’s friend), Károlyi’s fall was brought about by the betrayal of the social-democrats and the blindness of the Little Entente. A portion of the socialists came to an agreement with the communists, exhibiting similar behavior during and after the second world war. In his opinion, a further contributing factor was that the imerialistic neighbors, supported by the Allies, undermined what little credibility remained of the democratic Károlyi government. On the other hand, Jászi does not gloss over the weaknesses of the Károlyi regime, either: delaying in agrarian reform, neglecting to build up the strength of the state and the indecisive leadership. He saw two further reasons for the catastrophe in the disorganization and the lack of co-operation among the democratic forces.13 Other character flaws can be found in Károlyi’s vanity and a poor judgement of people. He doted on those confidants him who brought favorable news and justifications for his ideas. It also contributed that he was unable to separate illusions and wishes from reality.
The Revolutionary Governing Council, in its first proclamation (“To All Citizens”) of March 22, 1919, promised the urgent execution of all the extensive tasks and plans, which are necessary precursors for the creation of socialism and communism. The socialist nationalization of land, mines, factories, banks and transportation companies was announced; freedom of the press was suspended, savings accounts, bank accounts and safety deposit boxes were frozen. The powers of the judiciary were replaced by revolutionary courts. The reorganization of military forces was begun almost immediately, on March 25. The police and gendarme units were disbanded and most of its numbers absorbed into the Red Guard.14
The Revolutionary Council, on March 27, eradicated religious instruction in all the schools in the capital and ordered the public use of church assets.15 On march 29, schools and educational institutions were nationalized. In an interview with the Viennese Neue Freie Press, Béla Kun stated: “Hungary is disillusioned in western democracy, and so turns to the Russian Soviet.”16 The Communist takeover handed the Allied Powers an unpleasant surprise. They deemed it a dangerous turn of events, given the Spartacus movement in Germany and the events of Munich and Vienna. The leaders of the Hungarian Soviet Republic would have liked to have Austria side with world revolution. At the march 27 meeting of the Revolutionary Council, Béla Kun stated that “… if Vienna joins with Budapest, we can carry the revolution to the French border.”17 Kun’s concept was an illusion. The leadership of the Austrian social-democrats were of the kind who chose democracy and socialism.
On March 26, nationalization was implement for those factories that employes more than 20 workers, as well as mines, transportation, banks and insurance companies. Instructions regarding land reforms were announced on April 4. Medium and large estates had to be surrendered to the state with no compensation. Between April 6 and 8, 1919, elections were held to the councils (Soviets). Since there was only one slate, the Revolutionary Council gained a majority. Subsequently, it began a slavish copying of the governmental and organizational system introduced in Soviet Russia. The pre-requisites were, however, all missing to carry out this intended radical restructuring. The political situation was uncertain – nay, chaotic. The majority of the populace rejected the unquestioning copying of the Soviet Russian plans and structure. The economy was at its lowest point. The necessary experts, government-loyal bureaucrats and the needed capital were also missing for the announced grandiose plans to have a remote possibility of success. Then, there was Hungary’s foreign affairs situation. Beside the victorious Allies, the Hungarian Soviet Republic was faced in the North, East and South by neighbors who had a decided adversarial stance.
In this situation, the Revolutionary Council turned ever more frequently to ‘administrative means,’ resorting to force and terror. The increasingly frequent breaking of valid laws and the cruel persecution of the regime’s enemies, real or perceived, slowly began to result in resistance among the former social-democrats, in the Hungarian Socialist Party and, even, the Revolutionary Council. At the first congress of the Hungarian Socialist Party, June 12 – 13, 1919, a new program was accepted by the delegates and the party’s name was changed to Socialist-Communist Workers Party of Hungary. Tensions were running high due to, as stated previously, many social-democrats held differing views from the internal and foreign policies of the Communists.
The beginning of the Romanian offensive, April 16, elevated the situation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic to critical. Romanian forces were twice the strength of the Hungarian forces, Czech forces three times. At the end of April, the Revolutionary Council sought refuge in Vienna for the people’s commissars and their families. With the total commitment of the Red Army [of Hungary-ed.], employing members of the the former officer corps (Aurél Stromfeld, Jenő (Eugene) Tombor, Ferenc (Frank) Julier), the Romanian offensive was brought to a halt at the Tisza (Theiss) River; the northern offensive even produced the recapture of the town of Miskolc.
The disastrous political and economic decisions made by the Communists [commonly referred to in Hungary as the Proletarian Dictatorship-ed.] and their catastrophic consequences, their patently obvious weaknesses and increasingly frequent terrorist excesses combined to create a growing opposition among the urban population, as well as among the peasants and the intellectuals. In places, revolts broke out; these, however, were isolated and badly organized. The paramilitary ‘special units’ of Korvin and Szamuely reacted with brutality, occasionally making use of massed units of the army to suppress them. A counter-government was formed in Szeged, headed by Count Gyula Károlyi, that was joined by Count Pál Teleki and Miklós Horthy as the representatives of the anti-Bolshevik Committee of Vienna.
The Revolutionary government received Marshal Foch’s ultimatum on June 23, 1919 in which he ordered, in the name of the peace conference, the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of the Red Army. This step broke the Red Army’s back. On July 30, the Romanian army crossed the Tisza River. In Budapest, the Central Workers Council forced the resignation of the Revolutionary Governing Council on August 1. Excutive power was assumed by a government formed from representatives of the unions. The new government permitted the free exit to Austria of the people’s commissars and their families. The final telegram of Béla Kun, sent from Budapest on July 31 to Lenin, speaks for itself: “Today, a government was formed of right-wing Socialists, which includes the anti-Communist leaders of the unions … The turn of events was caused in part by the disintegration of our military, in part by the anti-Communist behavior of the workers.”18
A noisy debate followed the publishing of a book by Ernő (Ernest) Garami, Seething Hungary. Reflections and conclusions. (Forrongó Magyarország. Emlékezé­sek és tanulságok. Leipzig-Wien, 1922). Many Budapest publications quoted extensively from it (Pesti Napló, Világ, Az Újság, Magyarország, Pester Lloyd, Neues Pester Journal) or published book reviews, including the Hungarian social-democrat’s paper, the People’s Voice. In his assessment of the 1919 ‘revolution’, Garami – a moderate social-democrat and member of the Károlyi and Berinkey governments – held the view that the revolution could only have been successful if it was supported by the workers and peasants, united behind the intelligentsia. This co-operation was not present in the Hungary of the day. Furthermore, in his opinion, the ‘civic radicals’ were also responsible for the Communist takeover.
On the other hand, Zsigmond (Sigismund) Kunfi – a radical social-democrat and member of the Károlyi government and the Revolutionary Governing Council – wrote in a newspaper article that the Hungarian Soviet Republic fell because the Communists took advantage of power, used terrorist methods and behaved in an unethical manner; the takeover was a ‘serious mistake.’ Kunfi assigned most of the blame for the failure of the revolution to Béla Kun. Kun was, by this time, branded from all sides, even by his former comrades, as a visionless, power-hungry adventurer.19 The social-democrat Vilmos (William) Böhm, a member of the Revolutionary Governing Council, admitted that the proletariat’s civil and power basis for the ‘Hungarian revolution’ was rudimentary, imperfect and unreliable, with no economic clout.20 Oszkár Jászi, on the other hand, saw three major problems that existed during the time of the Hungarian Soviet Republic: the socialization of production and distribution, the wiping away of the the class-state, the bureacracy and militarism and, finally, the need for the creation of the spiritual and moral atmosphere necessary for Communism.21
Activities taken in the interest of socialization quickly showed that progress in this direction demands increasingly more comprehensive and rigid central government and fiery propaganda. With the materialization of socialism, the role of an individual was progressively thrust into the background and personal initiatives gradually suppressed. Slowly, this led to the decline of the work ethic, the reduction in the quantity and quality of output and the flooding of the country by radical agitators – mainly young, Jewish intellectuals from Budapest and other cities. This development led to an increase in the antipathy of the peasants against ‘city folks’ that primarily manifested itself as anti-Semitism. This phenomenon was raised at the Council meetings. Rural functionaries complained about the invasion of young (mostly city) radical agitators who suggested, as an example, that local churches be converted to movie houses. Commissar Nyisztor urged energetic steps to curb the ‘youngsters’ who intentionally provoke and trample the religious beliefs of thosands.
Under the motto of “Socialization,” the regime took the road toward dictatorial absolutism. To enforce labor discipline, the Communists were forced to enact an increasing number of restrictive laws and even physical intimidation. Food distribution in the cities was catastrophic. It was barely maintained by the use of the “Red militias.” Corruption, on the other hand, was rampant. In Vienna, an ‘aristocracy of black-marketeers’ was born, who made vast profits by smuggling into Hungary.22
Bureacracy took on gigantic proportions. Instead of curbing it, it was enlarged, so that it became almost impossible to oversee. The commander-in-chief of the Red Army, Vilmos Böhm, castigated the bureacracy on June 22 that this was the problem why food supplies sent to Budapest for the relatives of the soldiers was “unaccountably lost” in certain departments.23
The regime also declared its bankruptcy with regard to creating a new spirit or morale. “Censorship of the press was introduced, compared to which the censorship during the war seemed like a liberal institution. Hunger, corruption, merciless militarism and a hobbled spiritualism poisoned the atmosphere of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The polarization between urban and rural, bourgeois and proletariat, Christian and Jew became more violent and unrelenting. Anti-Semitism – the peasants’ reaction to the increased burdens, the forced food collections and the provocations – did not begin during the White Terror but was in full bloom during the reign of the Communists.”24 In the estimation of Oszkár Jászi, 95% of the upper Communist leadership was Jewish. It must also be noted that Hungarians of Jewish background played a role not only in the Communist revolt but also in the arts, sciences, literature, the economy and politics before and after both revolutions, contributing much, a lot of it exceptional.
Citizens of Jewish origin contributed significantly to Hungary’s civic development. The majority of Hungarian Jewry identified with Hungarian society. The assimilation process, however, progressed too rapidly and thus was mostly a thin veneer. Many among the Jewish citizens could not grasp or understand the Magyar’s essence, their professed value system, the main levers of their thought process and behavior. With regard to their outlook, there was significant diferentiation between the newcomers and those who settled a longer time ago. Based on their position in the economy, finance, culture, entertainment or the media, they attempted to influence events in Hungary according to their personal mentality, their own values and interests. This, of course, created tensions and led to animosity, which fed, in no small way, anti-Semitism.
The events of the previous 10 months, the unfulfilled promises, the anarchy, the terror, the agitation, the provocations, the moral and political inertia of the upper and middle classes created confusion and growing hopelessness among the people; the opportunism of archdukes, aristocrats, bishops, leading officials and members of established parties. (Reformed Bishop Balthazár sent a congratulatory telegram to Sándor Garbai and Zsigmond Kunfi on the proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. On behalf of the teaching staff of the Reformed theological college of Debrecen, Gyula Ferenczy described the new Republic in an address as “the land of God, as prophesied by Jesus of Nazareth and greatly desired by mankind.” Garbai, the president of the Revolutionary Governing Council, was informed by telegram.) These all increased the bewilderment and depressed mood of the people.25
Hungary’s humbling and exceptional harsh treatment by the terms of the Paris peace treaty resulted in devastating consequences in various areas (the country was deprived of 71.5% of its land area, 63.6% of its population, 89% of its iron mines, 84% of its forests, 60% of its railway lines, 68.7% of its railway engines and 50% of its waterborne transports). The changes in the industrial infrastructure also created difficulties for the country: there were industries with excessive over-capacity (garin mills), while others were unable to provide for the minimum internal needs (textiles, light industry). The ineffective performance of the Károlyi government, the illusion of the leaders of the Hungarian Soviet Republic – expecting every problem will be solved by the worldwide revolution, or rather, the subsequent world peace – and, finally, the divisive campaign of the fled leaders of the 1918 and 1919 revolutions (chiefly from Vienna and Prague) awoke frustration and ill-considered reaction in many, even revenge.
Those responsible for the 1918 and 1919 revolutions were accused of selling out their people and country; of lying to the people by stating that they had reliable friends among the Allies, or close contacts among the victors and the leaders of the neighboring countries; of disarming the Hungarian army, relieving the soldiers of their oath of allegiance, urging them to disobedience against their officers – all at the time when the nationalistic and imperialistic neighbors in the North, East and South were preparing to attack Hungary. Furthermore, of wrecking the economy already weakened by the war and of ruining the work ethic and production outputs; of being guilty for creating the resultant rift in Hungarian society (urban vs. rural). Relying on the Lenin Boys (the leather jacketed para-military terrorists) and the paramilitary squads of Ottó Korvin and Tibor Szamuely, everyone, who had a differing opinion than they, was brutally supressed. Those who offered resistance were tortured, with many killed.
After the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the hunt was on for those who were guilty, or at least for scapegoats. Again, special military units were formed – this time of right-wing radicals – who, on occasion, took on themselves the roles of judge, jury and executioner. Those affected were the functionaries and fellow travellers of the 1918 Chrysanthemum Revolution and the 1919 Communist takeover who still remained on Hungarian soil.
Fearing a pogrom, the news of the imminent entry of the ‘national army’ created panic among the Jews of Budapest. They quickly sent a delegation to Siófok, the headquarters of the commander-in-chief. According to one member of the delegation, Horthy received the group amicably. He positively assured the delegation that he would not permit a pogrom in Budapest: “My mission is to save the nation and everything is subordinate to that. It is possible that, during the healing process, the Jews may receive undeserved treatment but, when my nation will again be healthy, I will attempt to rectify this problem” – stated Horthy. He entrusted the delegation to reassure the Jews of Budapest.26
In an effort to strengthen the national army, Horthy went to Budapest – in civilian clothes – where he wished to consult with the new government, as well as the Romanian commander, general Mardarescu. But before his meeting with the general, he met with the military missions of the Allied Powers: generals Bandholtz (USA), Gorton (British), Graziani and Mombelli (Italian). It was in his own interest to gain their support when meeting with general Mardarescu. Horthy impressed the representatives of the victors: his manner, personality and, to no small degree, that he greeted them all in their mother tongue. After chaotic weeks and months, he was introduced to reliable people, who pledged their support. Horthy then met with Mardarescu and informed him that his army had assumed the assurance of law and order in Trans-Danubia [western Hungary-ed.] making it unnecessary to direct Romanian troops (already being concentrated) there. “And what will happen if my troops happen to cross the demarcation line?” – asked the general with some sarcasm. “Then I will fight” – was Horthy’s answer. Mardarescu promised to consult with the heads of the Allied missions, after which a relieved Horthy returned to Siófok.27
The short-lived ‘union government’ of Gyula Peidl was succeeded by the government of István Friedrich. British diplomat Sir George Clark travelled to Budapest, at the behest of the Parisian Council of Five, to try and bring about a unity [i.e., coalition-ed.] government. To ease the process, the Council of Five ordered the withdrawal of Romanian troops from the capital. This allowed Admiral Horthy, commander-in-chief of the national forces, to enter the capital on November 16, 1919 – to enthusiastic reception from the people. There was no embarrasing moment or opposition. Even the liberal media, the paper News of Pest (Pesti Hírlap), wrote the following: “Old and young, men and women, powerful and weak all reverently whisper: the Hungarian army is here and the Hungarian homeland is safe!”28
It appears that the war and the two revolutions further entrenched the conclusion that class identity is a less effective force than national solidarity. The nation and national identity remained as an historical reality and, by the way, not only in Hungary.
On November 22, Károly (Charles) Huszár presented his coalition government. It was immediately recognized by the Allied Powers and invited to the peace conference. The draft terms of the peace were handed to the Hungarian peace delegation, led by Count Albert Apponyi, on January 16, 1920. The terms went far beyond the worst expectations. Apponyi, in his memorable speech, stated that the terms were unacceptable for his country. He suggested the use of plebiscites to decide the fate of contentious areas – to no avail. The Hungarian delegation also tabled eight memoranda, containing documents covering the question of culpability, as well as historical, ethnic, political and economic interdependence and reliance. Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania all rejected the idea of plebiscites and repeatedly stated their demands vis-à-vis Hungary.
On May 6, 1920, the peace treaty – the original draft peace terms, without alteration – was officially presented to the Hungarian delegation. The Millerand letter accompanying it merely alluded to the possibility of subsequent border adjustments. Lloyd George’s statement, that the peace treaty was a mere formality and that he firmly believes that within a year it will be the subject of revision, came as cold comfort. The Allied Powers had already ensured the transfer of Hungarian territories to Hungary’s neighbors. The British Prime Minister had expressed concerns at the Paris peace conference regarding French foreign policies. On March 25, 1919, Lloyd George forwarded a confidential memorandum to President Wilson, as well as Prime Ministers Clémen­ceau and Orlando. In it, the British PM gave voice to his opinion that the overly enthusiastic French foreign policy will be the cause of serious ethnic injustice, laying the foundation of a revisionist movement, maybe alliance. According to Lloyd George’s view, such an alliance could include Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. As later events went on to reveal, the British PM was not too far wrong.
As part of the terms of the peace treaty, Czechoslovakia received 62,937 km2 (with a population of 3,575,000), Romania 101,197 km2 (5,265,000 people) and Serbia 63,497 km2 (4,121,000 people) from the territory of historical Hungary; also, Austria received 4,926 km2 (358,000 people) and Italy 21 km2 (50,000 people). With these border re-definitions, a total of 3.3 million Hungarians suddenly found themselves in a foreign country.29
The disintegration of the Danubian Monarchy, the break-up and annexation of parts of historic Hungary, the torpor of the upper and middle classes following the war, the radical liberals and leftist intellectuals, the assumption of power by the Communists and left-wing socialists and, last but not least, the terms of the Treaty of Trianon resulted in significant consequences for every social class. The consequences each class drew were different. The 1918 revolution, 1919 Communist trauma, followed by the shock of the Trianon treaty, naturally had a significant impact on the upper and middle classes, to some degree the majority of the populace, their attitude, outlook and motivation all the way to 1944. These impacts also manifested themselves in Hungarian internal and foreign policies.
The majority of people rarely react in a careful and reasoned manner to historical events and social changes. Rather, instinct influences action; psychological orientation, hopes, dreams, fears, illusions, suspicions and a need for revenge may be equally defining factors of the ever present reality than concrete political, economic and social realities. Whoever ignores this fact will be unable to grasp the most crucial factors in Hungary’s development in the ‘20s.
The most renowned Hungarian historian of the 20th century, Gyula Szekfű, analyzed the situations thusly: “Among our national aims, at the top of the list, is the obliteration of Trianon and the restoration … of our territorial unity … In this, … there is only one view …”30 Trianon became the hated symbol of Hungary’s humiliation. The thrice-chanted “No, No, Never!” became a daily referendum that reflected every Hungarian’s attitude to the Trianon peace treaty. The slogan, by the way, was born in the fall of 1918. Among the members of ‘The League for the Protection of Hungarian Territorial Integrity,’ high ranking members of the Károlyi coalition government could be found.
The country’s leaders spared no effort to rouse the world’s conscience and point out the injustice done to Hungary in Trianon and the threat to peace in that region of Europe therefrom. The country’s population and government continued to maintain – in spite of the Trianon treaty – the equivalence of partitioned Hungary with historical Hungary. Relying on Hungary’s thousand-year history, they retained the historical identity; the kind of national patriotism that moved every strata of society. It was based on the symbol of the Holy Crown of King St. Stephen, which united all the strata and the people of the annexed territories. Only after a period of slow sobering and awakening to the political reality were concrete revisionist plans begun to be fabricated for the annexed territories, within the legal framework of the right of self-determination.
To raise the mental, political and economic level of partitioned Hungary in August of 1919, there seemed only one possible method: the rediscovery of the fundamental principles and values of Christianity – both Catholicism and Protestantism – and the reabsorption of the most valuable of national traditions. Through these means, the nation could tap sources of effective strength necessary to steel its resolve to survive. Based on these two sources of orientation, the attempt was made to create a modern Christian and national identity, and through them society’s moral and political resurrection. This thought formed the foundation of the so-called ‘Szeged idea,’ which every politician of the following two decades felt necessary to quote as the leading concept – whether true or not. Five men were the major contributors to influence this process of resurrection, through their works, acts and personal stature: Ottokár Prohászka, bishop of Székesfehérvár, theologian, philosopher and orator; Sándor (Alexander) Giesswein, prelate, politician and social reformer; Béla Bangha, Jesuit, the combative organizer; Dezső Szabó, writer and Gyula Szekfű, historian.
Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927) was, without a doubt, the most significant of person; perhaps the very soul of Catholicism’s resurgence in Hungary at the turn of the century. During his seven study years in Rome, he received excellent training in the Collegium Germanicum-Hungaricum, which well prepared him to face the problems of the future. He became a professor of theology in 1885 in Esztergom; a university professor in 1904 in Budapest; bishop of Székesfehérvár in 1906. His activities revolved around three tasks. His chief goal was to reclaim the intellectual men to religion and the Church, since this group sank into deep indifference during the period of liberalism. Prohászka viewed unfettered rationalism (intellectualism) as the greatest danger to legal and civil order. As a spellbinding orator and preacher, as the most sought out religious retreat leader – the was hardly a town in Hungary where he did not preach – Prohászka shook awake the slumbering faith in people, leading them to religious conviction and fearless commitment. “On the road to rebirth, begun by Count Nándor Zichy, Prohászka gave the first firm push that made Hungary Christian again.”31
During his time in Rome, Prohászka met and learned to appreciate Pope Leo XIII’s active interest in social problems. Back in his homeland, he boldly took a stand for a solution to social problems, not the least among them an equitable land reform. His personal wealth, as well as almost all of his professorial and bishop’s income he devoted to charitable causes. As an academic, he left a lasting legacy. His thoughts – theological, philosophical and ideological essays – were published by Antal (Anthony) ­Schütz in 25 volumes. Then, there were the short notes he made for presentations and the religious retreats.32 When elected to the Scientific Academy in 1910, his introductory lecture drew great interest: “The excesses of intellectualism – the rejection of excessive intellectualism in the Bergson fashion.”33 Bishop Prohászka was held in high esteem among the non-Catholic intellectuals, as well. When a Jewish family by the name of Szerb decided to convert, the father of the well known Hungarian writer and literary historian Antal Szeb, asked Prohászka to be the godfather.
Sándor Giesswein (1856-1923) parish priest, social reformer and elected representative. He applied his energies in those areas within Catholic social movements. As a scientific man and theologian, Giesswein strove all his life for the renewal of everyday religious existence, to harmonize religious beliefs and the sciences.
His entry into political movements began with his founding of the Catholic People’s Party in 1896, even though, from the very beginning, his interest and activity was oriented to Christian-Socialism. He represented his Christian and socialist principles in Parliament through almost two decades. Giesswein took up the fight for democratic rights of freedom, first of all the right of the workers to organize and to strike – including the agricultural workers, also. He espoused land re-distribution in the forms of low leases. In 1898, he organized the first Christian workers’ league, which he led for decades. Prohászka targeted mainly the intellectuals, Giesswein the workers. In his final years, Giesswein urged the co-operation of the Catholics and the social-democrats because, in his opinion, this was the only option for lasting peace in Europe. Among other activities, Giesswein was at the head of that civil movement, with Count Apponyi and Baron Szterényi, which attempted to create an umbrella organization in 1921 consisting of industrial owners and workers, so that continued labor co-operation may be possible under its aegis.
Political Catholicism, imbued with a deep social and humanitarian spirit, does not often garner recognition and support from the ‘official church.’ His thoughts and ideas were too progressive for the Catholic masses, hence their impact was moderate in those circles. Only in the second half of the ‘30s and the aftermath of WWII was the value and significance of his thoughts and actions fully understood. It was not accidental that, at the official announcement of the formation of the Democratic People’s Party in August of 1947, István Barankovics, on behalf of his party, described himself as a follower of Sándor Giesswein and his intellectual legacy.
The Jesuit, Béla Bangha (1880-1940), was an excellent organizer and tireless warrior – and among the first to note that people can most easily and effectively be influence by the press. Although there were a large number of Catholic periodicals around 1910 (14 dailies, 30 weeklies and 46 magazines), their significance and influence on the reader was minimal. The first edition of Magyar Kultúra [Hungarian Culture] appeared at Christmas of 1912. It was high quality, aggressive Catholic publication, one which Bangha and his fellow rebel exploited with skill. The column titled ‘Shield and Sword’ and by-lined by Bangha usually took a critical stand on current events, yet was able to influence his readers to see events through his eyes and to take a similar position. The high technical standard, the new style and brave stand of the periodical found wide acceptance and strong feedback.
Through the creation of the Central Media Company, at the end of September of 1919, Béla Bangha made it possible to publish the News of the Nation (Nemzeti Újság) and the New Generation (Új Nemzedék) dailies, and the weekly Illustrated Chronicle (Képes Krónika). Zoltán Nyisztor found Gyula Szekfű’s assessment of Bangha’s achievements and accomplishments as excellent: “The person who was the most energetic embodiment of Christian philosophy in post-Trianon Budapest was the Jesuit, Béla Bangha, reaching his results primarily through his religious activities, reconquering the people holding a cross in his hand.”34 In the last of his writings, World Conquering Christianity, published in 1940, Bangha paints a sober, realistic picture of the situation of Christianity in the world, all the while pointing out real questions and excellent actions to take. He devoted a separate chapter to the assessment of the previous 50-year Catholic revival in Hungary. He sketched the most important events, in his view, which happened around 1890; recounts the activities of Zichy and Prohászka, the actions of various movements and associations, such as the Congregation of Mary, St. Emory (Imre) circles, Credo groups, Emericana, KALOT, EMSZO, Actio Catholica, the effect of the print media, conferences and religious retreats, etc.35
With regard to the essence of national identity, different ideas surface at different times. As a result of the trauma over the terms of the Trianon treaty, the guiding principle became the right of self-determination and the right to have and maintain a unique ethnic identity in a specific country. Dezső Szabó (1879-1945), was an expressive writer of spellbinding style, a novelist of ‘manly calamity.’ Through his personality and attitude, the circle to ‘ensure ethnic differences’ continued to expand. Szabo passionately represented the idea that the unique characteristics of the Magyar race and national uniqueness could only be ensured through the Magyar peasantry. To him, the people were the peasants. He professed that the best characteristics and virtues were embodied in the peasantry. His position was that a significant improvement in the financial and cultural status of the Magyar peasantry was an historical necessity, in the interest of the entire nation. His three-volume novel, The village swept away (Az elsodort falu), published in 1919, raised the Magyar peasant to almost mystic heights, and garnered huge success. That outlook, represented by Szabó, acted as an illuminating energy for a wide segment of the population bitterly disillusioned by the events of October 1918 to August 1919. The peasantry was the sole social segment that remained true to Hungary’s Christian and national traditions through the revolutions of 1918 and 1919.
Gyula Szekfű (1883-1955) wrote his seminal work, Three generations (Három nemzedék) as an assessment and debate of the intellectual and financial realities that left their stamp on the three generations in question (1848, 1867, 1900). This appraisal was also meant to provide guidance to the post-war generation. We shall return to certain conclusions of the book in greater detail later in this work.
The military exerted a not-inconsequential influence on developments between the two wars. There were officers who began to ponder on their country’s problems and necessary reforms and changes, prompted by their front-line war experiences, the inhumane circumstances that accompany wars, or the effects of the two revolutions of 1918-1919. They had substantial influence on the building blocks of a national identity, over internal order; their influence on social reforms could be felt for years.
The radical liberals, socialists and Communist émigrés downplayed, ignored or out-and-out lied about, the actions of the government and the inhuman acts of the paramiltary squads, as the need dictated. They did everything in an attempt to besmirch and trip the Christian national programme. These all contributed to the increasing difficulty of governing the country. There were, however, tensions within the government, too. The social-democrats withdrew their representatives from the government and took a passive role. In spite of it all, the government went ahead with organizing elections on the principle of universal suffrage and a secret ballot.
The elections took place on January 30, 1920, which gave the Christian and national parties a convincing majority. The subsidiary elections, East of the Tisza River after the withdrawal of the Romanian troops, added to the seats captured by the Small Landholder Party. The first task of the National Assembly was the election of a Regent [Hungary was still, technically, a monarchy-ed.]. Only two candidates were deemed worthy: Count Albert Apponyi and Admiral Miklós Horthy. Apponyi was excluded from the start due to his old age and the expected protests from France and Czechoslovakia if elected. The British High Commissioner, Thomas Hohler, reported to his government that he considered Horthy suitable for the Regent post, being absolutely honest, reliable and vigorous; his make-up lacks all adventurism and wild chauvinism.36
The National Assembly elected Miklós Horthy as Regent of Hungary on March 1, 1920. Horthy was held in high regard by the population; he was compared to Kossuth. His person seemed to offer a guarantee of a return to order and security, even the possibility of a revision of the peace treaty. A leader of the Social-Democratic Party, János (John) Vanczák, wrote in the party newspaper, People’s Voice, that the working class offered its calloused hand to the Regent in a sign of peace: “We leave it to Your Excellency’s wisdom to decide whether to accept or reject the offered hand.”37

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