Everybody knows about the tragedy of the Palestinians who fled their homeland or were chased out by the new state of Israel in 1948. Most people remember the Troubles in Northern Ireland; everyone saw the attempt of the Catalonian people to gain independence two years ago.
But how many have heard of the destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary? That happened a century ago yesterday, on the 4th of June 1920. The Hungarian delegation was under house arrest; it was allowed to make a speech; and then it was ordered to sign. If not, a four-year-old starvation blockade against their country that had already cost hundreds of thousands of lives would continue.
A thousand-year-old kingdom was carved up by people who knew nothing of the region’s history and geography. It was done in the name of ‘Self-Determination of Peoples’, preached by perhaps America’s most racist president, Woodrow Wilson and in the name of democracy. A request by Hungarians (and others) to let the people decide was rejected.
In a speech marking the occasion in the Hungarian Parliament, President János Áder reminded his countrymen that:
In 1920, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory. Its population shrank from 18 million to 7.5 million. More than three million Hungarians were left as minorities in neighbouring countries. Romania alone gained more territory than Hungary had left. A significant part of our cereal-growing areas, 90 percent of our forests, and two-thirds of our rail network were ceded to neighbouring countries.
How did things come to such a pass?
The savagery of World War I shocked the belligerents. Hilaire Belloc’s famous line about the British colonisation of Africa: ‘Whatever happens we have got / The Maxim Gun, and they have not’ backfired. British soldiers found the Germans had Maxim guns too. And so did everybody else. Millions died and the victors wanted revenge. American writer Herbert Adams Gibbons, in his book Europe Since 1918, published five years later, underlined this. He wrote:
‘These are the three reasons why Europe since 1918 has not found peace. The League of Nations is impotent, with or without the United States as a member, to restore Europe to peace until the three Furies—Vanity, Greed, and Revenge—cease raging.’
But if they wanted revenge, shouldn’t they have gone after the nation they blamed most, Germany? The Treaty of Versailles treated Germany mildly compared to Hungary. Germany remained a cohesive, if shrunken, whole.
The war was ignited by a Bosnian terrorist group — but the Allies supported the terrorists. I will never understand this. In 2001, the United States trashed Afghanistan to (unsuccessfully) find Osama bin-Laden. In 1914, the heir presumptive to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife were murdered by Serbian terrorists; Austria-Hungary demanded that Serbia hand the terrorists over; Serbia refused. So the war was Austria-Hungary’s fault? Whatever.
Austria, that is the ‘Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy’, which had an Austrian Empire component and a Hungarian Kingdom component, each with its own parliament, and a joint military, debated a declaration of war on Serbia. Only one voice argued strongly against it: Hungary’s Prime Minister István Tisza.
Hungary was not German-speaking (like the Allies’ hated enemies, the Germans, and the so-called German-Austrians) but Hungary still was punished after the war — and like no other country.
As a typical second-generation Hungarian, I have often wondered, ‘why us?’. I used to think that God hates Hungarians. This is a widespread view amongst Hungarians. But that’s wrong. None of the Gospels tells us Jesus promised salvation to all who believed in Him, except Hungarians. (Of course, there are those lost Gospels, perhaps it’s in there…)
My research (which has been only moderately scholarly but has gone on for decades) show two things, both matters of attitude.
In 1918 Britain, France and the United States were still empires. If you look at how they treated their African, Asian and other overseas subjects, it becomes clear that they were, to our minds, indescribably arrogant. Ignorance and arrogance are a bad combination.
They were also racists. Not in a small way, but in an open, overt way. If you read correspondence from this conference, terms pop up concerning the Turks, Bulgarians and Hungarians (but not Germans or Austrians) like this: ‘Savages. Barbarians. Hardly human.’ A favourite phrase was: ‘Those barbarian Mongoloid Magyars’. Back in 895AD, one might describe the Magyars who established a pagan steppe state in central Europe as ‘barbarians’. But in 1918?
The Secretary of the British Delegation to the talks, Harold Nicholson, wrote in his book Peacekeeping:
‘My feelings towards Hungary were less detached. I confess that I regarded, and still regard, that Turanian tribe with acute distaste. Like their cousins the Turks, they had destroyed much and created nothing.‘
(In case you doubt their racism, look at what happened to the South African Native National Congress when it visited the ‘peacemakers’ at Versailles. They refused to speak to them. Nor did Britain’s Prime Minister, Lloyd George offer them any comfort.)
It is clear that the three Great (Big, that is, not morally great) Powers had a colonial mindset. They looked on the Indians, the Africans and the Mongoloid Magyars as inferior beings. The category of ‘sub-humans’ was not Hitler’s invention.
Speaking of Hitler, his propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, copied World War I British propaganda because they were dab hands at strategic lying. The centre of this was the sinister Enemy Propaganda Department under Lord Northcliffe at Crewe House. Two men, both of whom had a deep-seated, race-based hatred for Hungarians, caused most of the damage, Robert W. Seton-Watson and Henry Wickam-Steed, as shown by Gábor Bátonyi. They filled the media of the day with hatred of Hungarians. Much of their handiwork remains as ‘historical fact’. Goebbels would have been proud of them.
Just how strong that propaganda remains can be seen in the misnomer, ‘the Austro-Hungarian Empire’. There was never such an entity. You can’t show me an official letterhead from the period showing a document issued by the ‘Austro-Hungarian Empire’. It was called the ‘Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy’. A look at the Encylopaedia Britannica of 1914 (before all the lies were published) shows the Monarchy under this title.
But why does it matter?
Well, if someone says they’re going to destroy an ‘empire’, where ‘small nations’ are locked in what these professional liars called ‘The Prison of Nations’, then that’s not so bad. It doesn’t strike most of us today as a tragedy that France, or Britain, or the Netherlands, lost their empires after World War II.
But Hungary was not an empire, it was a country. The Allies lied. They made up a non-existent ‘empire’ which was ruling over nations which had never existed, like Czecho-Slovakia and Yugoslavia.
Francesco Nitti, the Italian Prime Minister in 1919 and 1920, summed up the injustice shown to Hungary in his 1923 book The Wreck of Europe:
Hungary has undergone the greatest occupation of her territories and her wealth. This poor great country, which saved both civilization and Christianity, has been treated with a bitterness that nothing can explain except the greed of those surrounding her, and the fact that the weaker people, seeing the stronger overcome, wish and insist that she shall be reduced to impotence. Nothing, in fact, can justify the measures of violence and the depredations committed in Magyar territory.
President János Áder, addressing the Hungarian Parliament yesterday, quoted Nicholson’s contemptuous remark and asked: ‘What did this diplomat know about Hungary? About St Stephen founding the state (in 1000 AD), about the wisdom of our first king in his Admonitions, the heroism of Saint László, the bravery of János Hunyadi, of the world-changing Battle of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade)? What did he know of the Renaissance court of (King) Mathias? Of his unparalled library and its Codices? The spiritual greats of the Reform Age? Of our 1848 Freedom Fight? Or the half-century before World War I’s economic dynamism, of its scientific achievements?’
Later in his speech, he summarised the essence of Trianon perfectly. He called it ‘törvénnyé tett törvénytelenség’, legalised lawlessness. He was right to call it that, because the Treaty violated every ideal of justice known to man. After all, if you think the Berlin Wall was wrong, then it can’t be right to divide dozens of cities. If you think apartheid was wrong, then it can’t be right to treat someone according to her/his native language.
If you believe in decency, humanity, or fairness, you simply have to condemn this evil.
Even one of the perpetrators, British Prime Minister Lloyd George admitted: ‘The whole documentation that we received from our allies at the peace talk, was deceitful and untrue. We came to a decision on false principles.’
And the worst thing is this: it’s not over. Romanians rejoice at making their country ‘ethnically pure’. The German minority in Transylvania, invited by Hungary’s King Andrew II in 1220, was around 300,000 in 1918, and today is around 15,000. And it’s no better for the other minorities, but Hungarians stubbornly remain.
Do you think there will be an upwelling of support for national minorities in Europe soon? Perhaps if they all ‘come out’ as LGBTQX+. But if they want to keep their age-old songs, dances, stories, and culture, probably not.
Who cares for sub-humans?