Trianon: Hungary’s dismemberment after WWI

Flag of Hungary 1919–1946

Exactly 100 years ago, on June 4th, 1920 another dark chapter related to the notorious Paris Peace Conference in the aftermath of WWI took place: At the Grand Trianon Palace, a 18th century French chateau located about 20 kilometers southwest from the center of Paris, the Treaty of Trianon was signed between the winners of what the British called the “Great War” and one country which ended up on the losing side: Hungary.

The still mighty United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, revengeful France, ambitious Japan, treacherous Italy, other war profiteers like Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as self-proclaimed European powers like Belgium, Greece and Portugal humiliated the Hungarians like they had done with the Germans at nearby Versailles in 1919. It was not the result of lengthy negotiations, but more an Allied dictate, as the Hungarians had no option but to accept its terms.

Driven by the French desire to meddle in Central Europe and finding future allies against Germany, which rightly considered the Treaty of Versailles an unacceptable opprobrium, the time had for France to make new friends at Hungary’s expense: it lost about 70% of the territory (from 325,411 down to 93,073 square kilometers) and 70% of the total population (7.6 million compared to 20.9 million) that had constituted the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy before.

3.3 million, or 1/3 of all Hungarians, suddenly became foreign citizens and were allocated a fragile minority status. Hungary overnight was turned into a landlocked state, which didn’t need a navy anymore. Its army was limited to a mere 35,000 officers and men. This was done to a nation established in 896, which in the past had contributed decisively to preserve Europe’s Christian identity.

At the same time, Trianon led to the creation of rather artificial entities like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, until 1929 called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The treaty also doubled the size of a relatively new country called Romania, founded in 1877.

Following the principle of self-determination proclaimed by US President Woodrow Wilson, it was disguised as an attempt to give non-Hungarians their own national states. Just as Germany, Hungary was not included in the same category. Only one plebiscite was held in Sopron and its citizens decided to stay with Hungary. At the end, due to strong opposition from the Senate, Washington never ratified the treaty and negotiated directly with Budapest.

Through the First Vienna Award in November 1938, Hungary recovered from Czechoslovakia parts of southern Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia, the Carpatho-Ukraine and the easternmost strip of newly independent Slovakia after a short armed conflict in March 1939, and the northern half of Transylvania from Romania through the Second Vienna Award in September 1940. In December 1941, it annexed sections of occupied Yugoslavia.

In 1945, after another big defeat, Hungary lost the regains and returned to virtually the same boundaries set at Trianon. Hungarian minorities, numbering around five millions or still one third of all ethnic Magyars, currently are second only to those Russians stranded in reestablished nations like the Baltic States or Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

At least, Hungarian war reparations were basically paid in coal. Though the infamous treaty, which entered into force on July 26th, 1921, up to this day is considered by many Hungarians a blatant violation of Hungary’s historical character and an unjustified displacement of ethnic Magyars.

For those who consider the events that happened a century ago a harsh, unjustified punishment it’s a collective trauma, known as the “Trianon syndrome”. It is symptomatic for the state of mind of modern Germany that, regarding the similarly disgraceful Treaty of Versailles, no such phenomenon exists there.


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