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


Five conflicts of inter-war Hungarian society



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6. Five conflicts of inter-war Hungarian society
The most noted Magyar historian, Gyula Szekfű, offered the most encompassing, critical assessment in his book, Three Generations [Három nemzedék] (Budapest, 1920), of the generations of 1848, 1867 and the turn-of-the-century. The seminal work was crucial in assisting post-1919 Hungary in confronting its problems; Szekfű mirrored the vast changes – and the attendant problems – that took place in the second half of 19th century Hungary, drawing parallels with the reform ideas and value system of Count István Széchenyi – whom he called the greatest Magyar – and the activities and motivations of the three generations. The fundamental difference between Széchenyi and the representatives of the three generations, in Szekfű’s opinion, was that the primary goal of Széchenyi was did not lie in changing the political, economic or constitutional environment – that the representatives of all three generations wanted – but to effect a deep shift in the moral and spiritual outlook of the Hungarians. Széchenyi’s reform plans took aim to improve the moral, cultural and political capacity of eaqch and every Hungarian. It was his firm belief that it was the only path to the ennoblement of the national ethos and national spirit. Széchenyi’s ideal was a cultured Man, who not only possessed a multi-faceted, educated mind, but also a stature based upon an ethical-moral grounding. It was his opinion that permanent and pervasive reforms could only be based on this foundation.
This was the measure that Szekfű used to compare the leading strata of the three generations and the intellectual currents wafting through those times. Thus, of necessity, he expressed disapproval of liberalism; more precisely, the shallow, peripheral and unrestrained demands, which completely ignored basic norms, rules of decency and the “unwritten rules of fair play.” The establishment of this sort of liberalism, based on the realities of the day, could only have negative consequences for Hungary.
Initially, enthusiastic and noble idealism attended, and was typical of, this liberalism; later to descend into a shallow and barren materialism. This process was especially enabled by the returning émigrés, from the retinues of Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour, having also absorbed their anti-Church ideas. They called themselves Freemasons and spread their tenets, without regard to the mentality and everyday needs of Hungarians. Eager acolytes were recruited mainly in Jewish circles who, through their as-yet-meager association with Hungary, did not possess adequate knowledge of either the Magyar mentality, their sense of destiny, or their feelings of religious sensitivity and international sense of community. As we noted previously, Gusz­táv Gratz drew the attention of the young sociologists to the contradictions of their theories and activities. This group was able, at the time, to influence a wide spectrum of the population through the media, theater, the arts and literature – and not only in Budapest but elsewhere in the country. The results that originated from them were widely divergent from that, which Széchenyi and Szekfű felt as desirable and necessary from the point of view of Hungary.
In addition, the news media was engaged in a heated, vigorous but barren political campaign of constitutional debates, which was actually restricted mainly to Parliament. This exclusive reliance on parliament was the tragedy of Kálmán Tisza, as well as his son, István Tisza. They could only form concepts of nation and state only within parliamentary constraints. They failed to recognize and understand that parliamentary activity was merely one of the various and necessary measures in the life of a nation and state.
Szekfű’s work drew lively interest in Hungary. The second – unchanged – edition saw the light of day in 1922. The author expanded his tome in 1934, with scrutiny of the period after Trianon, called Three Generations and what ensued [Három nemzedék és ami utána következik]. Szekfű’s work eventually saw a total of six editions. At the beginning of the new chapter, added in the new edition, was the closing sentence of the first edition: “We were and are guilty and ailing, and no tiny initiative will help our ills, only a spiritual purification and inner reformation.” This was no other than Széchenyi’s century old demand: an inner rational and spiritual catharsis.89
Szekfű alluded to to the differences that became evident between the Turkish subjugation [begun 1526, ended in 1687-ed.] and the after-effects of Trianon, stressing the necessity of changing fundamental human behavior. In his opinion, the impacts of Trianon posed substantially more difficult problems for Hungary than a century and a half of Turkish rule. Although the Turks conquered most of the country, usurping political and military power, they left the Magyars on their lands. Only in the second half of their conquest did they settle Vlahs and Serbs on depopulated Magyar lands. Contrary-wise, the territories separated by the Trianon treaty had their Magyar civil servants and entrepreneurs evicted, the Magyar owned lands declared to be in the ownership of Czechs, Slovaks, Vlachs and Serbs.90 A nation faced with such problems, Szekfű opined, could only overcome it through total catharsis, which, in his opinion, was missing in Hungary.
He also noted that it was only in the decadent 19th century that the slavish copying of earlier styles of art and architecture could be seen; neo-Roman, -Gothic, -Renaissance and -Baroque only then became a fad. Yet, this imitation was merely stylistic and superficial. The people living and creating in these decades of the 19th century were unable to express either the inner artistic values of the imitated periods or the intellectual-cultural message of its elite, its thoughts or essence. The first generation of Hungarians of the 20th century grew up in this tendency to replicate, being especially fond of the neo-Baroque. Szekfű’s view was that neo-Baroque thinking and a neo-Baroque society fitted with this neo-Baroque building boom. He meant this observation as a dismissive and devastating judgement.
“There seems to be some grudging resentment in this new formation, which, as a reaction to the people-friendly phraseology of the revolutions, turns its back on the ’poor people’ and expresses itself in class consciousness. And this stratum, even if it attempts to work on behalf of the poor, does so behind an attitude of the Baroque nobility, lofty and patronizing” – opined Szekfű.91 The so-called ruling class – the common and upper nobility – only differed from the othe social classes in that “it wanted to rule and entrusted the reins of power only to those who either inherited that class identity or successfully managed to make it their own.”92
This class consciousness, a patriarchal hierarchy and respect of any and all authority was also typical of the middle class, too, made up of the urbanized lower nobility, administrative functionaries, ‘Christian’ and ‘national’ intellectuals, the officer corps and the more affluent wage earners. This group administered those instruments of power that enabled the middle and upper echelons of the ruling class to run the country. Thus, it had a role in excercising power over the agrarian and industrial working class but, in the end, it was but an assistant of the ruling classes. Between the wars, the middle class was not to be confused with the ‘civic class,’ which was primarily made up of merchants, the self-employed, artisans and wage earners. In some anti-semitically infected circles, this civic class was essentially equated with the Jewish population, since a significant portion of the towns, especially Budapest, was made up of Jews.93
For the ruling and middle classes, authority and the principle of authoritarianism was a significant matter. Both could be attained with the benefit of birth, estate or wealth but also through knowledge and ability. In such a socio-political environment, natural selection had limited opportunity. The continued support of authoritarianism and the limited opportunity to advance, strictly controlled by the ruling class, reinforced the grip on power over a neo-Baroque society. These, in turn, delayed the solution of such problems that stood in the way of continued development and dynamic progress.
Szekfű dissected five broad problem areas associated with it in his book Three Generations and what ensued (Három nemzedék és ami utána következik). These he called conflicts and he found them to exist between the following groups: (1) large estate owners vs. landless farm laborers, (2) Catholics vs. Protestants, (3) Magyars vs. Jews, (4) the old vs. the unemployed young, and (5) Magyars living within and outside the Trianon borders. All five problem areas demanded solutions – stressed Szekfű – if the nation wished to avoid a revolutionary catastrophe, if it wanted to aid successful development and national unity.
(1.) The “Hungarian Land Problem” was an article by Mihály Kerék, one of the best agricultural experts of Hungary, printed in 1939, and was a factual assessment of the problem.94 Prior to the second world war, Hungary was an agricultural country. A significant portion of the little-over nine million population worked in farming, giving livelihood to about 50%. Between 1920 and 1940, the number of people inside the Trianon borders employed in agriculture fell from 55.7% to 50%. Previously, within the boundaries of the historical Hungary, farming used to employ 68.5% of the population.
Hungary possessed one of the most fertile agricultural lands in Europe. The total area of the country was 92,963 km2 or 16.08 million cadastral acres (the usual definition in Hungary: 1 ca = 0.575 hectares = 1.422 acres, or 1 hectare = 1.738 ca = 2.471 acres) equal to 9.2 million hectares. Of the 16.08 million ca’s, 13.14 million were under cultivation, of which 9.76 million ca’s (60.7%) were being tilled. This put Hungary at the top of the list because, with the exception of Denmark and Germany, every other country had a smaller percentage of agriculural land under cultivation – generally in the 30-40% range. The number of farms, in 1935, was slightly more than 1.63 million, making up the approximately 16.1 million ca’s.
The number of farms and their size (1935)
Category (in ca’s) Number Total area (in ca’s)

Under 1 ca. 628,431 (38.5%) 236,417 (1.5%)

1-5 556,352 (34.2%) 1,394,829 (8.7%)

5 - 10 204,471 (12.5%) 1,477,376 (9.2%)

10 - 50 217,849 (13.2%) 4,198,246 (26.2%)

50 - 100 15,240 (1.0%) 1,036,162 (6.4%)

100 - 500 9,632 (0.5%) 1,985,715 (12.3%)

500 - 1,000 1,362 (0.1 %) 944,250 (5.9%)

1,000 - 5,000 885 1,701,975 (10.6%)

5,000 - 10,000 101 680,084 (4.2%)

10,000 - 20,000 48 690,953 (4.2%)

20,000 - 50,000 25 855,106 (5.3%)

50,000 - 100,000 10 671,475 (4.2%)

Over 100,000 ca. 1 209,256 (1.3%)



Total 1,634,407 farms 16,081,844 ca’s.
If we look at the distribution ratios, we see the surprising fact that 38% of the farms made up a mere 1.5% of the country’s area; the total for farms under 10 ca shows approx. 1.39 million farmers (85% of the total), yet they only farm on 3.108 million ca’s, or 19.4% of the total. On the other hand, there were 1070 large estates with over 1,000 ca of land, to a total of 4.8 million ca. Put another way, 0.06% of the farmers owned 30% of the agricultural land.
The territories annexed from Hungary in 1920 also went through land reforms. In the early years of the occupation, the governments of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia confiscated the lands owned by the Hungarian nobility and distributed among the peasants; Romania distributed 2.8 million ca’s, Czechoslovakia 2.3 million and Yugoslavia 2.1 million.
There were a large number of large and middle sized farms in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Carpatho-Ukraine. In Bohemia and Moravia, for example, 150 aristocratic families owned almost one-third of the land. During the land reform, more than 28% of the agricultural land was re-distributed after confiscating 785 large farms. In Slovakia, the large landowners were almost exclusively Magyars; land reform hit the especially hard. In total, 944 estates were re-distributed, of which 31 were larger than 10 thousand hectares. Czechoslovakia’s settlement policy was also aimed at the Magyars; the beneficiaries were almost always Czechs or Slovaks. The land reforms that took place between 1925 and 1930 led to the numerical increase of the small landholders, although it also increased the total area they tilled. Micro-farms of under 1 ca grew from 281,499 in 1925 to 551,714 in 1930; farms under 2 ca grew from 184,605 in 1925 to 277,391 in 1930; farms under 3 ca grew from 117,702 in 1925 to 148,601 in 1930. in spite of these changes, the number of mid-sized and large farms remained virtually unchanged in Hungary.95
These reform steps did not solve either the Hungarian land problem or the closely related social-welfare problem. The facts further exacerbated the situation in that the “three million beggars” were almost exclusively Magyars. They were the ‘hope of the future’, the mass of a people with an independent identity. The saving of this stratum, elevating them in human dignity is not only a great but perhaps our only great national mission – wrote Szekfű.96 The voices demanding radical land reform for the “three million beggars” became more insistent. The most impartial reform plan was put forward by the agricultural expert already mentioned, Mihály Kerék. In the final section of his work, Hungarian Land Problem, under the sub-heading Urgent Tasks, he again recapitulates what, in his opinion, must be done. “It is not a question of whether there should, or should not, be land reform. Rather, the question is whether the reform comes about through evolution or revolution” – he stressed. “Mihály Kerék suggested the distribution of 3.2 million ca’s among 380 thousand families, as well as 160 thousand house lots. He recommended a period of 10 years to accomplish it, at an estimated cost of 70-75 million Pengő. The former owners were to be compensated by a 10% cash payout of the estimated value of the ceded land, the rest in promissory notes. The buyers were required to pay 10% at the time of purchase and the rest was payable, at 2% interest, over 40 years.”97
The proposed land reform of Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky planned to redistribute 3 million ca; Tibor Eckhardt also put forward his plan to the Independent Smallholder’s June 26, 1938 meeting, of 3 million ca; Mátyás matolcsy suggested the expropriation and distribution of 3.1 million ca. none of these plans were, however, realized due to the shortsightedness and greed of the ruling classes. In the interest of fairness, it must be said that the foreign affairs situation of the day, especially the delivery of agricultural exports to Germany and Italy as covered by contractual agreements, and in no small way the war-like atmosphere, did not present a conducive atmosphere for land reforms.
(2.) In this connection, it can not be left unsaid that, during the first world war, two well-known personalities of the Catholic Church, Bishop Ottokár Prohászka and prelate Sándor Giesswein urged land reforms. In 1916, Bishop Prohászka presented a concrete plan of reforms at the congress of the Hungarian Farmer’ Alliance. In his plan, every estate greater than 10,000 acres, if they were the agriculturally usable portion of a religious group’s holding, church asset or public foundation, was to be leased in perpetuity to the peasantry, subdividing it into 15-30 acre parcels. The final years of the war, however, prevented this perceptive and brave suggestion from being carried out.98 After the war, Prohászka wanted to lead by example. In the fall of 1920, he subdivided 1025 ca of the land holding of his bishopric and sold it to small landholders. However, there were no takers among the synod of bishops to follow his example.99
Szekfű interpreted the tensions that repeatedly arose in inter-war period Hungary between the Catholics and Protestants as primarily religious differences. In 1930, the total population of Hungary was 8,688,319 people. Of those, 5,634,000 were Roman Catholics (64.9%), 1,813,162 were Calvinists (20.9%), 534,165 were evangelicals (6.1%), 444,567 were Jewish (5.1%) and 201,093 were Greek Catholics (2.3%).100
Since the Reformation, two separate intellectual, cultural and political value systems evolved, which were influenced as much by autonomous religious influences as regional stimuli or ethnic intermixing. Over the centuries, both systems produced outstanding personalities; they reached exceptional cultural and political achievements, which rank among the most cherished values, the best traditions, of the Magyar nation: István Báthory, Péter and Pál Pázmány, Miklós Ester­házy, Ferenc Rákóczi, István Széchenyi, Ferenc Deák, József Eötvös, Ottokár Prohászka, Pál Teleki, Zoltán Kodály, Mihály Babits, Gyula Szekfű, as well as István Bocskay, Gábor Bethlen, Lajos Kossuth, István Tisza, István Bethlen, Zsigmond Móricz, László Ravasz, Sándor Karácsony, László Németh and many others.
To describe and define these two separate ways of thinking, various label pairs were created, albeit extremely simplified and undifferentiated: Baroque – rationalist; western – eastern; Trans-danubian – Transylvanian; loyal monarchist – independent; tends to compromise – intractable; conservative – radical; European – nationalist.
The strongest polarization – and most fatal – identified the concept of ‘Catholic’ with ‘Habsburg and German allied’ or western orientation; on the other side, ‘Protestant,’ more accurately Calvinist, became associated with Turk-friendly, in time a fanatically independent eastern orientation. This differentiation created the deep schism between Pannonhalma and Debrecen, with extremely negative consequences later for the entire Magyar nation. The debate again flared up at the end of the 30’s (Who is a Magyar? What is a Magyar?) illustrating the underlying questions of the tensions. Gyula Szekfű expressively paints in his volumes of Magyar development, Magyar Történet, from Mohács up to the first world war (1526-1914).101 His view and interpretation can still be said to be acceptable today.
Szekfű discusses exhaustively Transylvania’s feudal relationship to the Turkish empire and the negative consequences from it, in the same way as western Hungary’s close ties to the Habsburgs and its consequences. Szekfű’s stern criticism of the Transylvanian Calvinist spirit, as well as the more positive view of the 18th century Counter-Reformation, explains the calamitous contradictions which eventually, after the breaking of the Turkish occupation, became Hungary’s virtue.
The historically conflicting intellectual, cultural and political differences were aggravated during he 20th centurt by social stresses. The Catholic priesthood was indicted on account of their wealth; the leading Protestant tier for its position of power in politics, in public administration and the sciences. Protestants were, on average, better off than Catholics, while the Catholics were more child-centric, leading to a higher reproduction rate than the Protestants. The one-child family was more prevalent among Protestants than Catholics.
The Calvinist elite were devout believers in rationalism. Many of their leading personalities were members of Freemason lodges, as well as active participants in the 1918 and 1919 revolutions. Zoltán Tildy, a Reformed minister organized a union of Reformed ministers in April of 1919 in Somogy County. In the same period, a Catholic priest was arrested and interned in Zala County. His name was József Pehm but was better known by his later (after 1941) name József Mindszenty. All through their lives, they maintained a conflicted relationship with each other.
The depth of religious belief of the average man, both Catholics and Protestants, was fairly superficial in the second half of the 19th century. The elites sacrificed at the altar of liberalism and freedom of thought. The masses treated religious traditions as mere formality. Change began to take place around the turn of the century. First, the Catholic masses were shook awake, both in their politics and their beliefs. In politics, Count Nándor Zichy, founder of the Catholic People’s Party (1885) and the Catholic League (1898), was pioneer. He was the first to dare to convene a Catholic grand assembly in Budapest (1900). The advocate and apostle of a rebirth of Catholic self-awareness was Ottokár Prohászka, bishop of Székesfehérvár. He was well equipped to exhort the Catholic elite through his speeches, articles and books to declare a living proclamation of faith. Beside, and after, Bishop Prohászka, the other outstanding personality of Catholic rebirth was the Jesuit, Béla Bangha. His speeches and essays captured and galvanized people. His most significant, and longet lasting, achievement was the creation of the Central Press Co. (1919). The success of the Catholic renaissance process was convincingly demonstrated before the entire world when in May of 1938, three months after the annexation of Austria (the Anschluss), the XXXIV. World Eucharistic Congress was held in Budapest.
Around the same time, a conscious renewal effort was begun among the Protestants, as well. In the middle of the 19th century, Hungary was home to about 2.5 million Protestants: the Reformed Church, composed almost exclusively of Magyars, numbered 1.6 million; of the circa 830,000 evangelical Lutheran Christians about 180,000 were Magyars, 200,000 Germans and 450,000 Slovaks. There were a number of pan-German and pan-Slav sympathizers among the German and Slovak Lutheran ministers and leaders. The Transylvanian Saxon Lutheran Church was completely independent and enjoyed autonomy. Church constitution, and standardized organizational by-laws for the Reformed Church of Hungary, was drafted and accepted at the Synod of Debrecen in 1881, for the evangelical Lutherans at their national synod in Budapest in 1891.
The internal life of the two large Hungarian Protestant churches during the second half of the 19th century can best be described as a debate between the liberals and orthodoxy, although only among a small intellectual circle – with widespread religious ennui among the majority. Change only began to occur when foreign influences regarding religious rebirth penetrated the country. They advocated vigorous religious group activity and proselytizing. Subsequently, the movement for the ‘theology of awakening’ and ‘inner mission’ also recommended the same. Attention was turned to the creation of a rational educational infrastructure, with significant support from government coffers. In the area of religious literature, it was mainly liturgical literature that made noticable gains. The more important Protestant periodicals of the era were: Protestant Church and School Paper (Protestáns Egyházi és Iskolai Lap), Paperbacks of Sárospatak (Sárospataki Füzetek), Church Reform (Egyházi Reform), Church Review (Egyházi Szemle), Cautioner (Figyelmező), Christian Disseminater (Keresztyén Magvető), Protestant Review (Protestáns Szemle), Theological Vocational Paper (Theológiai Szaklap), Church and School Review (Egyházi és Iskolai Szemle). During the inter-war period, the Theological Review (Theológiai Szemle), Hungarian Calvinism (Magyar Kálvinizmus), Evangelical Life (Evangélikus Élet), The Vicar (Lelkipásztor) and Christian Truth (Keresztyén Igazság) joined them.
The dismemberment of the historical Kingdom of Hungary also significantly affected the Protestant churches. Of the 2,086 Hungarian Reformed parishes, only 1,020 were left in post-Trianon Hungary, 1,066 being annexed to other countries. Statistically, 1,670,000 Reformed Christians lived in the now-truncated Hungary, or 21% of the population, while, according to the 1920 census, 900,000 were transferred to neighboring countries. The losses suffered by the Hungarian Ágostai Evangelical Church (a Lutheran sect) were even greater, ending up with only 286 parishes within Hungary after transferring 484 elsewhere – mainly Czechoslovakia. The evangelicals’ numbers now stood at 497,000, or 6.2% of the population of Hungary, while 843,000 became citizens of other countries, mainly Czechoslovakia and Romania. In spite of these losses, during the inter-war period the Hungarian Protestants were able to retain the positions of power they acquired during the liberal period – in fact, they were able to broaden it. It was not inconsequential that Regent Horthy and prime ministers Bethlen, Gömbös and Darányi were Protestants and gave assistance to this endeavor.
The religious experience of the Hungarian Protestants gained further significant encouragement from the theological works of Karl Barth and László Ravasz, as well as the movements calling for proselytizing and ‘inner mission,’ which continued to urge an active social interaction and religious re-awakening. Since the beginning of the 30’s, the “theology of the serving Church” laid the onus on the actual delivery of its theological goals. There was always the danger present in that philosophy that the needs of society, or the well-being of an individual, come too far to the forefront and the Church’s primary task, that of spreading the Gospel, will be be neglected. A strong commitment to social work also, unfortunately, means working closely with – and for – the ruling regime of the day. In carrying out the work of preaching the Gospel and the ‘inner mission,’ an extraordinarily large and active role was played by dedicated societies (Bethánia, Országos Missziós Munkaközösség /National Mission Society/) and youth organizations, such as the KIE (Keresztyén Ifjúsági Egyesületek /Christian Youth Associations/, founded in 1892, the Bethlen circles, the Protestant Student Association after 1910, the Ichthüsz: the Protestant scouting movement after 1910, the SDG /Soli Deo Gloria, founded in 1921.)102
Hungarian Protestantism is a uniqely Hungarian phenomenon. Its origin and development were significantly influenced by the historical events and opportunities of the day. Hungarian Calvinism expended a good portion of its strength in protecting the Hungarian people against recognized oppressors. Hungarian Protestantism’s strong sense of social justice dedicated itself to improving the social conditions of the population. To achieve this entirely secular goal, it was necessary to take take on serious involvement in worldly ruling circles, something successfully attained by the Hungarian Protestants. They continued with success after Trianon, even though the peace treaty deprived them of just those territories where they had their beginnings in the 16th and 17th centuries and where they were especially strong: Transylvania and Upper Hungary [the northern crescent, now part of Slovakia-ed.]. The Calvinists dedicated themselves to protecting the national interests, before all else. Fired by this goal, – and with the exception of their liberal-leaning leadership stratum – they were totally lacking the advantage conferred by Catholicism’s internationalism and its uniting strength, as well as the aim to lessen any differences between the majority peoples of a country and its minorities.
The relationship between the Hungarian Catholic and Reformed churches, as noted before, was never smooth, but that between the Calvinists and Lutherans was also not without its troubles. The Calvinists were of the opinion that Hungarian Protestantism was the same as Calvinism, and that Calvinism is the true Hungarian religion. The Calvinists were, by and large, ethnic Magyars; the Reformed Church, during the inter-war period, had very few German-speaking members, perhaps 5,000. The evangelical Lutheran Church, on the other hand, could point to 100,000 German-speaking Lutherans (of whom only approx. 20+% belonged to Hungary’s German minority) in 50 parishes.
Even before the annexation of Hungarian territories, the Slovak and German Lutherans created some tension with their pan-Slav and pan-German agitations. Beginning in the mid-30’s, tensions rose between some of the Magyars and the Germans of Hungary, mainly due to the increased activities of the Volksbund and the agitation among the Hungarian Germans directed from Germany. A memorandum by Lajos Wolf, titled “The burning questions of the evangelical Lutheran assemblies of the German minority in Hungary,” and the answers he proposed, clarified the dangers and the serious repercussions represented by the separatist attempts fueled from abroad, both for the evangelical Lutheran Church and Hungary.
Different ideas existed within Hungarian Protestantism regarding the foreign education of theologians and educators. The Calvinists preferred the Dutch, British and Swiss universities for student studies, while the Lutherans favored German institutions. This was natural enough, since most Lutheran theologians spoke German well, hence they concentrated on German-language religious publications. Exclusive reliance on German Lutheran theology only began to weaken in the 30’s, as a result of cooperation with the Swedish and Finnish Lutheran Churches. Interest in ecumenism and pietism also arrived from the North. They also differed on the relationship between the secular and spiritual worlds. In the eyes of the Calvinists, these two spheres of activity were not mutually exclusive. At different times, John Calvin himself wielded power over one or the other in Geneva. Martin Luther, on the other hand, took a stand on the side of separation between secular and spiritual authority.
The facts, events and intricacies – only presented in sketchy form here – must be studied, evaluated and understood in greater detail to grasp the outcomes that occurred, before and after the second world war, in the existence of the various religious denominations.
(3.) To make the third conflict – Jewish vs. Magyar – understandable, Szekfű, in his already noted work, examined the numerical make-up of the Jewish influence in Hungary in economics, politics and cultural areas. An outcome of the liberal immigration policy of the Kingdom of Hungary resulted in Hungary having 851,378 residents of Jewish origin in 1900, a number that had quadrupled since 1840. By 1914, Hungary had in excess of 1 million residents of Jewish extraction, of whom only approximately 50% have been residents of the country for over 30 years.103
Already in the 1870’s, they held a principal position in trade, industry and banking. Over time, they increased their position in these areas. Their flood to the cities, especially the capital, can be statistically shown. The Jewry were the standardbearers of capitalism in Hungary, if for no other reason than that neither the Magyars nor any of the other minorities expressed any great interest in it or were unable to rise to the challenges posed by it.104
Liberalism, become stale and sunk to mere materialism, excluded all conservative views , all new ideas of idealism, all cultural progress, which could produce some gradual improvement or advance.105 As the second generation ceded the organization of capitalism to the Jewry, the third generation also relinquished its grasp over culture, while continuing to cling to the pretense. Thus, a ‘Jewish-Hungarian culture’ was born in Budapest, which was essentially a country-wide state monopoly.106
The substantial Jewish cultural influence was based on their large proportion in the newspaper and entertainment businesses. In a capitalist world, both are extremely lucrative businesses, even today; content and production being governed by the maximum profit; business sense replaces character and training. The Hungarian press, being totally profit oriented, resulted in foreign contemporaries remarking that only the French and South American press come even close in spreading moral decay and national devastation.107 The culture of Budapest was a distillation of the cultures of Vienna and Berlin and, by extension, the culture of these three major cities was a special product of Jewish capitalism and Jewish intellectuals.108
Budapest’s religious make-up in 1934 was: Catholics 58.5%, Jews 23.6%, Calvinists 10.9% and Lutherans 4.9%; public employees or civil servants were distributed as: Catholics 70%, Calvinists 14%, Lutherans 7.9% and Jews 5.2%. Among the self-employed, the break-down was: Catholics 51%, Jews 32%,, Calvinists 9.6% and Lutherans 4.8%; the numbers for independent tradesmen was: Jewish 61.7%, Catholic 28%, Calvinists 5.6% and evangelical 2.5%. Employees in the trades were 60.9% Jewish, 29.5% Catholic, 6% Calvinist and 2.6% Lutheran; employees in the self-employed category were 44.8% Jewish, 40.3% Catholic, 7.3% Calvinist and 6.5% Lutheran.109
It was almost self evident that propagandists for racial purity endevored to make the most of the previous figures, and others not detailed here, through their demagoguery and anti-Semitic slogans, to draw the attention of the unemployed worker and diploma’d intellectual to their political program. These campaigns did not remain fruitless. It was impossible not to notice the fact that the majority of industry and trade were in the hands of immigrants, or their offsprings, and that 40% of Hungarian land holdings were not held by the people but were owned by not quite 2,000 people. The time had come to safeguard the interests of the Hungarian people.110 A just solution – according to the musings of Gyula Szekfű – must also serve the interests of the Jews. Thus, the relationship between the Magyars and the Magyarized Jews could have been defused and possibly laid to rest forever. This should be possible to achieve in a Christian country – warned Szekfű.111 This would have been all the more important and deserved because the Hungarian Jews enriched the sciences, literature, the applied and graphic arts, the economy and society with outstanding achievements and treasures.
(4.) The fourth area of conflict was that of inter-generational problems. Here, Szekfű meant the tensions inherent between the young – and partially unemployed – intelligentsia and the older generation clinging to their jobs and positions of power. He attributed this problem to the neo-Baroque development, whereby the intellectual outlook of the ruling and middle classes became inflexible and formalized. They treated new movements, especially the new ideas of the younger generation, with suspicion; they tried to keep the young away from government and the exercise of power. The problem continued to escalate with the number of unemployed intellectuals, whose numbers grew, especially with the refugees from the annexed territories. In the second half of the 20’s, there were about 10-12 thousand unemployed intellectuals, as well as a further approximately 23 thousand who were forced to accept unemployment for which they were over-qualified.112
The basic stance of the younger generation differed significantly from that of their elders. Large numbers were influenced in their outlook by the poet Endre Ady and the writer Dezső Szabó. They both questioned the image formed of the ‘nation’ by the “third generation.” Ady stated that the real existence of the nation is not played out in parliament but in the people – in the souls of each and every Hungarian. Szabó traced the national demeanor back to ethic mysticism. The young, for their part, adopted his relentless criticism of the regime and ridicule of authority figures.113 At the same time, the young were exposed to Hungarian folk songs and authentic folk music through the work of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. They came to understand that these come from the deep well-spring of the soul of the Hungarian people, climaxing in a modern and precious art. The change in orientation also made itself felt in the fine arts, as well. The followers of the ‘Munich school’ were shunned and the significance of artists such as Szőnyi, Aba-Novák and Pátzay were begun to be understood.
A deep impression was made in many a young mind by the thoughts of the Hungarian populist writers [usually of lower class origins, writing about the lives and problems of ordinary working people-ed.] The twenty- and thirty-something groups were equally exhilarated by the commitment of these writers to land reforms and the betterment of the situation of the farm workers as to the discovery of federative plans: those ideas which urged a union of the small people between the Germans and the Russians, from the Balkans to the Baltic. These ideas and motives were especially prevalent in Protestant youth associations and organizations; they adopted the concept of ethnicity as defined by these populist writers.
In the case of the Catholic youth associations and organizations, an orientation toward the Széchenyi ideals was discernible, whether intentionally embraced or not, especially with regard to the “cultured mind.” The members endeavored for an all-round cultural education, as espoused by the classical Hungarian thinkers of the 19th century. At the same time, they rediscovered the significance of such values as compassion, religion and patriotism. The concepts of country, reputation and religious ethics gained new content and new dimensions thereby. This direction was bolstered by the newly founded Catholic newspapers and periodicals, or rather, the progressive Christian spiritualism of Europe that they disseminated. The best expression illustrative of the difference between the outlook of the young and the old is by the founder of Hungarian scouting, Sándor Sík: “This world is not my world; in the purest meaning of the word, I am a revolutionary.”
Many young rejected the ideology of the ‘gentry,’ the neo-Baroque deference paid to title and position. At the same time, they were equally critical of all the romanticism of the peasantry, the idea of a Turkic-Slavic agricultural based rural country. Others placed their belief in a synthesis of pure Magyar nationalism and socialism, and believed in its feasibility. The political thinking of the elite of the younger generation crystallized in two directions during the war. One group thought that the future of the country could be ensured through close cooperation with the East Central European agrarian states, as well as the creation of a Hungarian-faced social democracy. The followers of this principle accepted the post-war (WWII) events that transpired in the Danubian valley as the new reality and were committed to building the road to the so-called people’s democracy.
The followers of the other view placed their faith in the free and independent growth of Hungary. They felt that the unique ethnic characteristics could only be retained through cooperation with democratic Europe and based on the principles of Christianity. Their goal was to increase the number of educated people, to acquire a humane and Christian spirituality, an openness to the world, which would serve to bolster the national identity and the commitment to freedom and democracy. During the war, they took part in the intellectual resistance; after the war, they took a stand against the Bolshevisation of the country. After the Communist takeover, they had to suffer serious discrimination and personal sacrifices.
The governing and middle classes could not fathom the ways or direction of thinking of the next generation; they were also unable to bridge the inter-generational chasm. While this gulf existed, the thought of national unity was but a dream. This situation was becoming more and more worrisome as signs of war multiplied in Europe.
(5.) The question of the fate of the Magyars living in the annexed territories was the fifth controversy, one that continues to enjoy lively interest in Hungarian public opinion. Revisionist demands formed an integral part of Hungarian state policy between the wars. Reporting of the situation of the Magyars ripped from the motherland was essentially mandatory for the information media. Over the years, this duty became a sort-of routine, which made it superficial. Factual reporting and dutiful information became cheap propaganda. This development was all the more depressing because respected experts studied and analyzed the situation of the Magyars in these annexed regions and published their findings in English- and German-language books.114
The reason that objective information was difficult to obtain for Hungarian media reporting about the Magyars living in the annexed territories was that it had to contend with the belligerent agenda and hate-fuelled propaganda campaigns of the magyar émigrés: the Octoberists, the left-wing socialists and Communists, living mainly in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The campaign against the Hungarian government was enabled and supported by the governing circles of the Little Entente. At the same time, many Magyars suffered persecution for remaining faithful to their Magyar roots and mother tongue. They were removed from their jobs or had their farms confiscated. It was mainly the mindful Magyar intellectuals of conviction who were harried; some were expelled from the countries. The leadership of the Little Entente well knew that an ethnic minority would be unable to retain its unique traits if it is deprived of its intellectual role models.
The Magyar youth growing up in Czechoslovakia were the recipients of a dual education. On the one hand, they were exposed to educational theories imbued with various liberal-democratic and socialist tendencies, as well as the local anti-Magyar attitudes and propaganda of the resident émigrés; on the other, most young received a patriotic and religious grounding at home. For their ongoing education, the creation of scouting groups in the institutions of higher education in Prague (the first wave of the Magyar minority began their studies in 1925-1927) were of exceptional significance. These later spawned the leftist Sicle movement, the Catholic Prohászka circles and the liberal leaning Magyar Assembly.
If we examine the stated goals of the time, we must come to the conclusion that, for the Magyars of Slovakia, the most important were acquiring the social philosophy of the day, educating for self-confident behavior and further enabling an ethical-moral stand. In these aspects, the Prohászka circles deserve exeptional praise. They sought contacts in Czechoslovakia and Transylvania with similar thinking organizations, as well as Hungary, the KALOT movement, and especially among the leading contributors of the newspapers Voice of our Times (Korunk szava) and Vigil (Vigilia). Their paper, the New Life (Új Élet), was published until 1938. The Sicle movement had its apogee between 1928 and 1931. Similar to the Magyar ethnographic village-researchers, its members carried out sociological studies among the members of the ethnic Magyar minority. Until 1931, the movement was generously supported by some members of the Freemason lodges. But, since the philosophy of the local Freemasons rejected the concept of any manner of dictatorship, a rift occurred when the Sicle movement joined the ‘revolutionary proletariat’ and found a political home in the camp of international Communist or social-democratic parties.115
The fortunes of the Magyar minority in Transylvania (annexed to Romania) started out after 1919 amid equally difficult circumstances. With dedicated attention to minor actions, it became possible to create an independent cultural entity that served the circumstances and needs of the Transylvanian Magyars. For a model, they went back to the concept of the 17th century principality of Transylvania. In those days, Transylvania was one of those small states which, until it was no longer possible, retained its freedom and independence between the Habsburgs and the Turks, where three nationalities and several religions lived peacably side by side for a long time. Launched and encouraged by the works of the Romanian sociologist Dimitrie Gusti, the Magyar high school and university students also began their own ethnographic village research efforts. In 1921, the Transylvanian Youth movement (Erdélyi fiatalok) was born; a year later, a periodical by the same name, published by the same students in an effort to continue the research among the ethnic Magyar minority. We must not forget the activities of the Majláth circles, either, which carried on work similar to the Prohászka circles.
The school founded in 1933 by the Catholic priest, and later bishop, Aaron Márton, had a special significance. A model and example for public education, the school was intended to raise the quality of life in the spirit of Széchenyi, all the while lending confidence to ethnic and patriotic identity. A self-assured Magyar literary tradition developed in Transylvania, which reached its zenith in the works of Lajos Áprily, Károly Kós, Sándor Reményik, József Nyírő and Áron Tamási.
In Szekfű’s opinion, this fifth question, this conflict, was a tougher nut to crack than the previous four because the ‘separated bretheren’ received scant moral support from truncated Hungary. The reason for this is, to some degree, that Hungarian public opinion was far from being accurately informed of the true circumstances of the 3,000,000 Magyars annexed to the surrounding states.116
Today, more than half a century later, the critical question may be posed: was the majority of the Hungarian population clear, at the time, of these inescapable conflict areas? Since the problems stemming from the noted opposing pairs were constant topics in schools, in the press and radio, in writings and productions, at the meetings of political parties and youth associations, they must be considered as the enduring foundation blocks of national identity, of religious, civil and patriotic solidarity in the Hungary of the era. Although, obviously, they did not create the most burning problem for the poorest farm worker, whose most urgent difficulty was his own social situation, yet, the vast majority of even this group instinctively felt that the Trianon treaty was inherently unjust and that the fate of every Magyar torn from the mother country affects all, that religious differences exist and influence everyone down to the smallest hamlets. The emergence of comprehension, national awareness and political thinking are influenced by rational and emotional motivations, the promulgation of inherited value systems and ideals, no less than by social conditions and financial status.
After his thorough analysis of the situation in Hungary, Szekfű, in his cited work Three Generations and what ensued, attempted to find answers. Firstly, he dealt with those options which he deemed unsatisfactory to deal with a problem, calling them the ‘lesser Hungarian options.’. One such minor option was the Magyarization of family names. In his opinion, this would lead, sooner or later, to the re-Germanization or re-Slavization or re-Romanianization of the family names. He also deemed it a misguided effort to try and reduce the Hungarian nation, on a racial-biological basis, to the ‘pure Magyars.’ The followers of this movement, he wrote, have not thought through that thereby Hungary would lose many outstanding personalities of her history; that, because of the centuries of intermarriage between Magyars, Germans, Slavs, Jews and Romanians, this attempt is doomed for failure from the start. This ‘solution’ was favored by many among the Calvinists because – they reasoned – they could weaken the position of both the Catholic and evangelical Lutheran Churches at the same time.
The reduction of the bulk of the nation was also the aim of the Turanian Society. This group counted on the assistance of the related ‘Turanian peoples,’ the Japanese and Indians. The members of the society imagined that it was a foolish and ill-considered act to have carried on fighting against racially related people – the Tatars and Turks – instead of being allied to them and taking part in their wars against the Western people. The writer and Reformed Church bishop, Sándor Makkai, a supporter of this point of view, in his book Yellow Tempest (Sárga vihar) presents a dialogue between the representative of King Béla IV, the Palatine (viceroy) Tomaj and the ambassador of Batu Khan, Mukhuli before the 1241 battle of Mohi Plan. The Tatar khan offers an anti-western alliance to the king: “If you wanted, you could explain to your king that there is no sense in us fighting. We are headed against the West. What have you to do with the West? … You belong with us. You are people of the East. We are brothers.”117 According to the members of the Turanian circles, the Turkish sultan, Suleiman, offered an alliance to King Louis of Hungary before the 1526 battle of Mohács but theforeign-born prelates and nobles urged the Hungarians to battle. This idea [conspiracy theory in our age-ed.], as phantasmagorical and pseudo-historical as it may seem, captured and captivated the fancy of many - mainly among the young. These views, these opinions – in spite of their revitalizing effect and stimulus for national rebirth, which was palpable all over Europe – were unable to offer any solutions to the existing hostilites.118
The ‘better Hungarian option’ suggested by Szekfű consisted of expanding the politics of the country [in the manner of creating inclusiveness in our day-ed.], as the generation of reformist heirs of Széchenyi had demanded. Thus, the greatest possible number of people must receive the preconditions necessary for human dignity and must be able to access the national culture. The task was, hence, bi-directional: to broaden the concept of ‘folk’ horizontally and deepen it vertically. Szekfű’s formula demanded extensive reforms and was, at the very same time, extremely conservative; a path that demanded staying in constant contact with tradition and the values of the past. If a culture wishes to remain alive, it must have an unbroken, yet adaptable, continuum of traditions. The demands of the reformist heirs were also radical; however, the most outspoken proponents, with the exception of Kossuth, did not want revolution.
Szekfű was of the opinion that the middle class must be enlarged. This, though, would only be feasible if the lower classes rise in financial stature and awaken to their own national-political interests. The true Hungarian ethos must be bolstered by those strengths, which slowly developed in the Magyars over many generations. These strengths were as inherently Magyar in the 11th century as during the Turkish occupation or, indeed, as they are today. This cultural value, however, must be nourished from those moral values which dampen the movements created by eternal change. One collective aspect of it is called the the people, the other is called tradition, or history. The one reflects today’s version of the the Magyar psyche, the ancient, unchanging values; the other observes the changes taking place in the fertile soil of ethnicity and analyzes them. The activities of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály in music, János Horváth in literature are convincing exemplars how folk history and tradition can be synthesized and harnessed in the interest of the ‘better Hungarian option.’
The growing interest in spiritualism among the young gave Szekfű a hopeful indication for change. This younger generation was free from both apathy and the temptation of revolution. According to their stated goals, they wished to return, not merely in word and rethoric but in spirit and handiwork, to a synthesis of innovation and tradition, of reform and preservation. In other words, to the eternally valid Magyar program of Széchenyi’s: the continually evolving, improving Magyar.119


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