Trianon Trauma, The Hungarian Settlement, this is a step in which we’ll engage with one of the more dramatic decisions of the Paris Peace Conference, namely, its decision to cut the territory of the state of Hungary massively to, more or less, its present-day size. That is a decision which remains highly unpopular, highly controversial in Hungary this day. So it’s an important long-term effect of the Paris Peace Conference.
In many of the territorial settlements reached at Paris, aspirational principles clashed with power politics. And the treatment of Hungary, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire defeated in the war, illustrates this. Now most of the debates about the Paris Peace Conference focus on the treatment of Germany.
But the Hungarian settlement was probably more dramatic. And it’s instructive for two reasons.
It shows the power of the peacemakers. And it shows the lasting effect of their decisions.
Until 1918, the Kingdom of Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It had its own political institutions and a large degree of independence. It was a huge multiethnic nation with large minorities, among them, Romanians, Slovaks, and Serbs. And the map on the screen illustrates this.
On it you can see the Kingdom of Hungary with Croatia and Slovonia marked in light pink. The Austrian Kingdom, the second part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is shown in bronze. And Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were annexed in 1908 are marked in blue. And Bosnia and Herzegovina were jointly administered by Austria and by Hungary.
As in many other parts of Europe, the end of World War I brought civil unrest to Hungary, and this would massively affect Hungary’s boundaries. In late 1918, after the Armistice, Hungary proclaimed its independence from Austria. But the new independent Hungarian government never controlled the whole of prewar Hungary. Its territory melted away. A Romanian army occupied Transylvania.
Slavic troops took over the Hungarian parts of what would eventually become Yugoslavia.
The Czechoslovak legions established control over Slovakia.
The Hungarian government appealed for outside help, but the allied powers would not intervene. They have little sympathy for Hungary. And in fact, Lloyd George said that Hungary was in need of a revolution.
Now eventually Hungary would have its revolution. But it was not of the character expected or hoped for by Lloyd George. A leftist government took over in the spring of 1919. And this prompted fears that Hungary might follow Russia on the path towards Bolshevism. The allied leaders sent a delegation to Budapest in the spring of 1919, but at the same time, they were signing away former Hungarian territory. In Paris, they met with the Romanian, the Czechoslovak, and the Yugoslav delegations.
And while the Allies resisted some of the more far-reaching claims for territory put forward by Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, leaving no one fully satisfied in the end, they endorsed the formation of these new States– Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the massively increased Romania. The broad lines of the settlement were clear from mid-1919, but only after a new all-party government, no longer a leftist government, had been formed in Hungary, were the Hungarians invited to Paris. They tried to renegotiate the terms on that treaty but failed. And eventually, signed it under protest at the Grand Palace at Trianon on the 4th of June, 1920.
And the impact of this treaty, the Trianon Treaty, is shown on the next map, which you see on the screen. Here the light and dark green territories combined represent prewar Hungary– the Kingdom of Hungary as it existed until 1918. The Treaty of Trianon established postwar Hungary on the territory marked in the light green colour. And you see immediately that this was a massive resising. And to give just two figures, postwar Hungary occupied 35,000 square miles in size. Prewar Hungary had occupied 125,000 square miles. Postwar Hungary has 7.5 million inhabitants. Prewar Hungary had had 20 million inhabitants. So these were severe turns. To an extent, they reflected the idea of self-determination of ethnic groups.
The new Hungary was now relatively ethnically homogeneous.
And conversely, as the map also shows, ethnic Hungarians never constituted a majority in any of the large regions Hungary had to give up. Neither in Transylvania, in Slovakia, in the Banat regions, always ethnic Hungarians were in the minority. But the Trianon settlement also reflected the difficulties inherent in the concept of self-determination. So overall, there may have been more Romanians than Hungarians in Transylvania, the region that was given to Romania. But of course, in some parts of that region, Hungarians were the majority group. And yet, they have to join the State of Romania. And overall, three million ethnic Hungarians ended up outside the new State of Hungary. And of course, there’s a second point.
Whatever the argument about self-determination, the Trianon settlement marked a radical break with history. Huge territories that had formed parts of Hungary for centuries were now cut away by force and given to other states. Of the European territorial settlement, Trianon is the most dramatic. Other defeated nations– like Australia, like Germany, or Bulgaria– they lost relevant parts of their territory, too. And they sometimes took decades to come to terms with the new realities. But no settlement has been as divisive as that of Trianon. The newly formed States– Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, et cetera– were disappointed that some of their more far-reaching claims had not been granted. But they hailed the overall settlement as a liberation from Hungarian dominance.
By contrast, in Hungary, the Trianon settlement triggered bitterness and resentment. And the following is the way Margaret MacMillan in her book on the Paris Peace Conference, describes the impact.
“Trianon became shorthand for Allied cruelty and it’s memory fueled an almost universal desire among Hungarians to undo its provisions. In the 1930s, Hungary cautiously drew closer to the other revisionist powers, Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.
After the Munich Conference of 1938 left Czechoslovakia alone and exposed to Hitler, Hungary successfully demanded a slice of Slovakia and the whole of Ruthenia. In 1940 it was Romania’s turn, and in 1941, Yugoslavia’s. With Hitler’s support, Hungary got back about two-fifths of Transylvania and part of the Banat in the south.” So in other words, Hungaria, in the 1930s and 1940s, successfully reclaimed some of the lost territories. But that revision was to be short-lived. After the Second World War had ended, the Allied confirmed the boundaries drawn at the Paris Peace Conference. And Hungary has since agreed not to alter them by force. And yet, Trianon remains a sensitive matter to say the least.
Hungarian minorities and neighbouring countries remain a major source of friction. In 2010, the Hungarian Parliament voted to mark the 4th of June, the date on which the Trianon Treaty was signed, a National Day of Unity. And the Preamble to Hungary’s new Constitution emphasises Hungary’s historical continuity, which it says is only suspended. And continuity, of course, means continuity on more than the territory of present-day Hungary.
So what we to make of the Trianon settlement? Was it just? Or was it, at least, defensible? Did in, perhaps, merely except the status quo that have already been reached on the ground? All that is a matter of perspective. But two things are clear. So far, the Trianon settlement has been stable. But until now, it has remained disputed. And so Trianon illustrates the two central points of our course– the massive impact of the decisions reached at Paris, and the consequences for our European order today. So will the Trianon settlement remain? Just as was allegedly said about the French Revolution, it may be too early to tell. In conclusion, here are two observations that reflect our uncertainty. The first is optimistic.
It comes from a book on boundaries and boundary conflicts in the world, by Prescott and Triggs. They said, “For the present the previous cycle of territorial dispute, war, boundary adjustment, and new territorial dispute seems to have been broken.” So that is a relatively optimistic note. But to this, Margaret MacMillan, in her book, adds a note of caution. And on that note of caution we conclude this step. And she says, “In 1945, the victorious Allies restored the boundaries of Trianon and there they remain, one of the arrangements from the Paris Peace Conference that has not been undone. Yet.” So almost a century on, a decision reached in Paris remains highly controversial.
And even on the continent of Europe, considerable amount of instability remains with respect to boundary settlements, predicts Margaret MacMillan. Now this concludes our discussion in this step of the Hungarian settlement. We now turn, in the next step, to a region that is renowned for its absence of stability, the Middle East. And we will learn how the decisions taken at Paris or foreshadowed at Paris, affect the boundaries drawn there– boundaries drawn in the sand.