One of my first memories of Hungary is a car sticker, resembling something really close to the shape of the Country, but not quite. I saw it everywhere, from bus stops to cars to pins on hats and jackets. When I inquired about it, they answered with just two words: Nagy Magyarorszag, or, in the english translation, Great Hungary. By this definition, hungarians refer to the Magiar Country pre-Trianon Peace Treaty, which was signed almost 100 years ago, on June, 4th, 1920. That was the day the winning countries of the WWI decided on the fate of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire, in one of the magnificent buildings of the Versailles palace in Paris.
According to this Treaty, Hungary had to be stripped bare of 2/3 of its Empire territories: the new hungarian State now included only 7 million people. Prior to the Treaty, Hungary was home to 19 million people, and its territory run from Carpathian Ruthenia (modern Ukraine) to the Adriatic Sea (city of Fiume/Rijeka, modern Croatia). 100 years later, ethnic hungarians still inhabit those regions, speak hungarian as a first language and live by hungarian traditions. When it comes to census, they refer to themselves as ‘ethnic hungarians’, regardless of the Country they live in. The most famous of the ‘hungarian enclaves’ in Europe is perhaps the Transylvania region in Romania, home of more than 1.2 million ethnic hungarians, descendants of those who were ‘left behind’ by the Trianon Treaty. Even though Hungary is now part of the European Union and the borders of the state have been the same since 1945, the trauma of Trianon is still haunting the hungarian hearts. How is it possible?
The 14 points of Wilson
In 1918 the then President of the United States Woodrow Wilson drafted a 14 points-chart that aimed at establishing a more peaceful way of solving controversies, after the horrific damages of WWI. Point n.10 was specifically designed for the people of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire: they were given the freest opportunity of autonomous development. According to many, this is the first rule the winning powers broke during the Versailles talks: the late Empire was divided into successor States, and the ethnic hungarians found themselves living in new, foreign Countries, with different languages and laws. Secret talks were made between Hungary and the newly created States, and also attempts to organize plebiscites among hungarians to try and keep all the ethnic hungarians together, but eventually changes were implemented without consulting the local population. Thus, Hungary and hungarians felt betrayed by the western powers: the principle of self-determination, one of the key points of Wilson’s agenda, was true only for the winning countries, not at all valid for the losing side of the War. Patriotism grew deeper and deeper inside the minds of those living outside hungarian borders, and this sentiment has not cooled down after a century.
Anti-western sentiment was born then and there.
On May, 31st, 2010, the newly elected parliament decided for the 4th of June to be the Day of Hungarian National Unity. Unity of all hungarians, both inside and outside the borders: a bond as strong as the one between family members at a funeral. The departed is none other than the late Nagy Magyarorszag, family members all those ethnic hungarians that the Trianon Treaty cast away from home. Moreover, 2020 has been made the Year of National Unity.
But a more visible act has been making the headlines for some time now. Back in 2010, the town halls and public buildings of a part of Transylvania, mostly inhabited by the ethnic hungarian Székely people, started to display the Székely flag next to the romanian one. But in 2013, prefect of the region decided to ban such practice, fueling protests both in Romania and in Hungary. Hungarian parliament in Budapest took down the European flag and replaced it with the Székely one, accusing Romania of bullying minorities and of not taking any account of their rights.
In May, 2010, the new citizenship law was approved, making it possible for ethnic hungarians living in neighboring countries to obtain an hungarian passport. This new law reportedly had a merely moral dimension: hungarians who had lost their citizenship due to historical circumstances had now the chance to have it back. From 2014, ethnic hungarians living in neighboring countries also have the right to vote in the hungarian parliamentary elections.
When in 2017 ukraine banned the teaching of minoritarian languages at school, Hungary retaliated, threatening to block Ukraine’s efforts to integrate into the European Union. In a way, protecting ethnic hungarians and their rights is also a political weapon.
All this skirmish is not good for foreign affairs. The official narrative, in the words of the hungarian Prime Minister when it comes to public speeches, is the one about cooperation. Orbán has been highlighting the importance of good relations among neighboring countries, especially those who have common history and are home of the same people. The presence of ethnic hungarians in the border territories must fuel collaboration, not divisions. Countries have to work together: unity is to be found in traditions and language, and both can overcome Country borders without the need for secession.
But on a domestic level, narrative changes. Inside Hungary, even politicians close to Orbán keep on remembering the unfair Trianon Treaty, together with the need for unity of all the ethnic hungarians inside a single Country. A more nationalist and populist approach, which will probably be portraied at its best during this year’s celebrations. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that both these narratives have been and are being used for political purposes, especially when it comes to electoral propaganda.
Will it be possible to solve this issue in the short term? Probably, not. It has been 100 years since the Treaty was signed, and still people and politicians are talking about it. Some of them are just nostalgic, remembering the grandeur of the Empire and wishing for those glorious days to come back again. Some others really feel for the ethnic hungarians stuck outside the borders, and are ready to back them up in their request for more autonomy, but without stepping into any other Country's home policy. Then, we have the radicals, the ones that fuel the nationalist fire of the proud Hungarian people, not afraid of overstepping the official narrative. Until all the hungarians, both inside and outside the borders, will make peace with the 1920 Agreement, everything will stay exactly the same. Only accepting the facts will allow people to focus on present day issues, putting aside nationalist rethoric and propaganda and working for the common good.