You will find attached an article, which I prepared for the 75th anniversary
of Trianon. Thanks to the Washington Post-Los Angeles Times Syndicate, it was
read by many. Thanks to Jozsef Balogh, the publisher of the Connecticut based
Magyar News, it was reprinted (with maps) and thanks to Odon Sandor, a copy
was mailed to each member of the US Senate, Congress and Government. The
response was positive.
In this text, I attempted to reach beyond the simple recounting of the
injustice done to Hungary and tried to focus on the future. I also tried to
set the "sail of the small Hungarian boat" into the prevailing wind-direction
of world history by showing that it is in the interest of the great powers to
help replace the destabilizing power-vacuum in Central Europe with a new
entity. Hope you will have time to read it.
Best regards: Bela Liptak
The Lessons Of A 75 Year Old Tragedy
The 4th of June was the 75th anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon, the peace
treaty which in 1920 mutilated and dismembered an ancient European nation:
the kingdom of Hungary. At Trianon Hungary was deprived 63.6% of her
inhabitants and 71.5% of her territory. This essay has three parts. I will
first discuss the history of Hungary through the end of World War One,
culminating in the Treaty. Next I will outline the Treaty, its architects,
goals and consequences. I then will discuss Hungary's guilt and the events
of the last 75 years to show, that just as Nazism was not born in Germany but
in Versailles, so the tragedy of Bosnia and the evolving tragedy of the
Balkans (some of it yet to occur) can all be traced back to Trianon. I
conclude by outlining a concept which would reconstitute the Danubian Basin
and could stabilize the whole of Central Europe.
For a thousand years, Hungary occupied an oval shaped central plane
surrounded by the protective bulwark of the Carpathian mountains. Like the
crust on a loaf of bread, the mountains encased the lowlands in a majestic
arch from which all waterways converge toward the center. This perfect
geographic unity was matched by complete self-sufficiency, until this
harmonious symbiosis of the great central plain and its surrounding mountains
was destroyed in Trianon.
For a millennium, Hungary was the eastern bastion of European
civilization, a balancing and stabilizing power between Slavic and Germanic
nations. Hungary's first king, Saint Stephen, wrote to his son, Saint Emeric,
in 1036: Make the strangers welcome in this land, let them keep their
languages and customs, for weak and fragile is the realm which is based on a
single language or on a single set of customs (unius linguae uniusque moris
regnum imbecille et fragile est.) Stephen's advice was respected and obeyed
during the coming centuries: Hungary gave asylum to the Ruthenians in the
north, the Wallachians (Romanians) and Saxons in the east, the Swabians and
Serbs in the south. Eventually the kingdom contained 14 national minorities,
of which the Magyars were only one, and in order not to hurt the feelings of
any, Latin remained the sole official language of the kingdom until 1844.
Hungary became a constitutional monarchy in 1222; her Golden Bull is
junior by only 5 years to the English Magna Carta. This constitutional
monarchy was almost completely annihilated by the Mongol invasion of 1240-41,
but through that enormous struggle it succeeded in protecting Europe and her
civilization. Toward the end of the XVth century, during the realm of the
renaissance king Matthias Corvinus, Hungary's population reached that of
England, the court in Buda became a cultural centers of Europe, and the
library of Buda was Europe's finest. In 1526 Hungary was once again
annihilated, this time by the Turkish invasion, which cut her population in
half and the kingdom in three. During the 150 years of Ottoman occupation,
the west was taken by Austria, the center by the Ottoman invaders and
Hungarian culture survived only in the east, in Transylvania.
Even today, Transylvania is the land where the purest Hungarian is
spoken, where Hungarian popular art has found its most exalted, most perfect
expression, and where Béla Bartók collected his Hungarian folk tunes.
Transylvania is also the place where the Hungarian diet at Torda, in 1557,
declared the freedom of religion for the first time anywhere in the world.
Transylvania provided an atmosphere of religious and ethnic toler ance and as
such became the birthplace of the Unitarian and Sabbatarian religions.
After the Turkish occupation, Austria attempted to take over all of
Hungary. This resulted in a series of uprisings. The fight for Hungarian
independence of 1703-1711 was led by Francis II Rákóczy whose insurgent
fighters were mostly Slovak and Ruthenian peasants. They proudly declared
themselves to be Hungarians, as distinct from the racial term Magyar. The
next fight for national independence was led by Louis Kossuth in 1848, and
the Ruthenian and Slovak nationalities once more contributed masses of
recruits for the Hungarian revolutionary army, which, while defeated by the
combined forces of Austria and Russia, forced the Hapsburgs to accept in 1867
the formation of an Austro-Hungarian duality. It was Kossuth who later
proposed to convert the Austro-Hungarian empire (of 24 million Slavs, 12
million Germans and 12 million Hungarians at the time) into a Danubian
Confederation. Kossuth was also the second foreigner ever invited to address
the United States Congress in January, 1852.
From Sarajevo to Trianon
At the beginning of this century, Russia sponsored pan-slavic agitation in
the region. Archduke Francis Ferdinand was the main opponent of the creation
of a Greater Serbia. His murder on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo had been
encouraged by Russia and engineered by Serbia. The only member of the Council
of Ministers of the Dual Monarchy who was opposed to a war of retaliation
against Serbia was the Hungarian Premier, Count Stephen Tisza. When he was
voted down, Hungary occupied Serbia and by 1915 would have considered the war
over, if Russia did not have scores to settle with the Ottoman empire, France
with Germany, Italy with Austria, and so forth. Therefore the war went on.
During the war, the Czech allies of Serbia, Eduard Benes and Thomas
Masaryk, transformed themselves from consultants of the allies into
architects of allied policy for Central Europe. They organized a deceitful
propaganda campaign for the dismemberment of Hungary and in their efforts
succeeded in obtaining the support of two criminally ignorant French
politicians, Georges Clémenceau and Raymond Pointcaré.
President Wilson refused to cooperate in this conspiracy. He wanted
Europe's new borders to correspond with her ethnographic boundaries and he
wanted the principle of self-determination to prevail, but his views were
disregarded. On January 24, 1919, he protested the illegal Serb and Romanian
occupation of parts of Hungary and on March 31, 1919, he called the proposed
dismemberment of Hungary absurd, but his objections were overruled by the
French. As a result, the United States Congress refused to approve the Treaty
of Trianon, but this product of Neronian insanity, this plan, unjust in
substance and tragic in consequence, was implemented anyway.
The Treaty of Trianon
On the 4th of June, 1920, one of the cruelest treaties of human history was
signed. Never before had a peace, imposed by violence, been more brutal in
its bias, madder in its destructiveness, more forgetful of the lessons of
history and better calculated to create future upheavals. The treaty cut
mercilessly into the flesh of compact Hungarian populations. Hundreds of
towns were separated from their suburbs; villages were split in two;
communities were deprived of their parish churches or cemeteries; townships
were cut off from their railroad stations and their water supplies. A
1000-year-old European country was made into an invalid as its territory was
reduced from 325,000 to
93,000 square kilometers. In the process, 35% of all Hungarians were turned
into foreign ers within the towns built by their fathers, as the borders were
redrawn around them. In this way, the Hungarians became Europe's largest
minority as Hungary's territory was reduced by 71.3%. In comparison, the
leader of the central powers: Germany lost only 9.5% of its territory. The
outrage of this mockery of justice is illustrated by the fact that even
Austria lined up at the carcass and received some parts of the dismembered
From the fragments of Hungary, the unnatural successor states of
Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and greater Romania were created. These artificial
entities forced Croats to live with Serbs and Czechs to live with Slovaks,
demonstrating both the arrogance and the ignorance of Trianon's architects.
These successor states were not only geographic monstrosities but also
economic absurdities and therefore their self-destruction was just a matter
of time. As of this writing two of the three successor states have already
disintegrated. One of the purposes of this writing is to suggest a plan to
construct a healthy federation from the disintegrated pieces and to achieve
that transformation without violence.
Self-Determination Through Plebiscites
The very foundation of the 14 Wilsonian Principles was that people have an
unalien able right to determine their own destiny. Yet at Trianon the
application of self- determination and the use of plebiscites in drawing the
new borders was totally disregarded. When the recommendations of one of the
delegates to the Peace Conference, those of Field Marshall Ian Smith, to hold
plebiscites in Transylvania, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Croatia and Slavonia were
rejected, he was correct in declaring: A plebiscite refused is a plebiscite
taken. By not allowing plebiscites, the dismemberment of the
Austro-Hungarian empire and the redistribution of her 48 million citizens
resulted in the creation of 16 million oppressed ethnic minorities. These
were not emigrants who voluntarily left their old country, but people who
never in their life moved from their home towns and became foreigners, just
because Clémenceau and Benes decided to redraw the borders around them.
When the Wends and Slovenes of the Muraköz protested their separation
from Hungary, when the Ruthenians expressed their desire to remain part of
the kingdom which they shared for a thousand years, when the Swabians of the
Banat protested their annexation into Romania and Yugoslavia (Vojvodina), the
answer of Clémenceau was always the same: no, no and no. There was only one
exception to the arbitrary drawing of the new borders (mostly by Eduard
Benes), there was only a single case where President Wilson's principle of
self-determination prevailed: It was in the case of the city of Sopron, which
was allowed to hold a plebiscite and voted by a majority of 65% to remain
part of Hungary and not to join Austria.
The Guilt Of Hungary
Hungary was dismembered because she could not defend herself and because her
greedy neighbors decided to help themselves to the unprotected carcass.
Naturally, the architects of Trianon could not admit this and therefore
invented the theory of Hun gary's Guilt, claiming that 1) She started the
First World War and 2) She was a historical German ally and as such a
destabilizing force in Europe. Neither were true.
It was the Serb para-governmental organization, Narodna Obrana, which,
encouragement of Russia and with the goal of a Greater Serbia, assassinated
Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914 and it was the Premier of Hungary, who
alone in the Austro- Hungarian Council of Ministers, voted against a war of
retaliation against Serbia.
As to the claim of being a natural German ally, history proves just
the opposite. Whenever Hungary was independent, she acted as a keystone of
balance between the Germanic and Slavic peoples and prevented attempts at
both Pan-Germanic and Pan- Slavic expansions. In the first 500 years of her
existence, starting with the battle of Lechfeld in 955, Hungary fought to
block the spread of German influence and created stability by filling the
power vacuum of the region. When under Germanic (Austrian) occupation between
1688 and 1867, she twice rose against the Germans and eventually gained her
independence from them.
Tacitus: We Hate Whom We Hurt
In any society, the acid test of civilization is the respect for minority
rights. The Great Powers attempted to guarantee these rights by making the
successor states sign minority treaties, which outlined the language,
religious, cultural and property rights of the minorities. For example, the
minority treaty signed with Romania on the 9th of December, 1919 in Paris, a
treaty guaranteed by the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan,
stated the following:
Article 8: No restriction shall be imposed on the free use of any
Article 9: Equal rights to establish, manage and control religious
institutions, schools and other educational establishments.
In Article 11: Roumania agrees to accord to the communities of the
Szecklers (Hungarian Székelys) and Saxons in Transylvania local autonomy in
regard to scholastic and religious matters.
Article 12: Roumania agrees that the stipulations in the foregoing
Articles, constitute obligations of international concern.
Similar treaties were signed with the other successor states, but
none were ever enforced. In fact, the Great Powers looked the other way while
the successor states attempted to solve their minority problems, first
through denationalization, then by ethnic cleansing through deportations,
expulsions, transfers, dispersions and other forms of uprooting. Hungarians
had to choose between their nationality and their property. Because of the
savage oppression, intimidation and coercion, 350,000 Hungarians decided to
leave all their possessions behind and flee to rump Hungary.
The institutions and possessions of Hungarian communities were also
targeted. In Transylvania alone, the Hungarian community lost 1,665 of her
schools, including the world famous János Bolyai University, named after
Einstein's predecessor, the inventor of the new (non-Euclidean) geometry.
The Paris Peace Treaty
On February 10, 1947, the Great Powers had another opportunity to enforce the
until- then-disregarded minority treaties. This was expected because on
August 14, 1941, the Atlantic Charter was signed, and it too (like the
earlier Wilsonian principles) empha sized the right to self-determination and
to plebiscites. Yet, not a single plebiscite was allowed. In fact, rump
Hungary was further violated by the transfer of additional land to Slovakia.
This transfer, later, made possible the construction which unilaterally and
illegally transferred the Danube, Hungary's border river, onto Slovak
territory (in 1992) and to build a hydroelectric dam, thereby destroying
Europe's oldest wetland region.
At the end of the Second World War, the worst crime of legalistic
hypocrisy occurred: Eduard Benes, with the scandalous connivance of the
Western Allies, invented the concept of collective responsibility and used
it to confiscate the properties of the Hungarian minorities in Slovakia and
later, to deport them in cattle cars. To understand the hypocrisy of this
deed, one must realize that wartime Slovakia under Tiso was a protector ate
of Nazi Germany, while it was the representative of the Hungarian minority in
the Slovak parliament, János Esterházy, who cast the only dissenting vote
against the Jewish laws, which were passed by that body. Yet, after the war,
Esterházy died in Czechoslova kian jail and the Hungarian minorities he
represented were collectively sentenced as war criminals. Thereby, when the
deported Jewish Hungarians returned from the death camps, they found their
properties confiscated, because of their collective responsibility.
The Last Decades
By the late 1940s, the last protection left to the Catholic Hungarian
minorities were their churches. In 1948, 600 Hungarian Catholic priests and
all six of their bishops were arrested in Transylvania. Rome later agreed to
gerrymander the Catholic sees and to appoint Romanian bishops to lead the
all-Hungarian church, as the Romanians belong to the Eastern Orthodox faith.
The fate of the Hungarian Catholics in the other successor states was
similar. In 1949, in Ruthenia, the bishop of the 500,000 Catholics was
murdered and the parishioners were forced to merge into the Orthodox Chrurch.
In Slovakia, in April, 1950, the bishop of 320,000 Catholics was arrested and
his parishioners were also forced into the Orthodox Church.
After 1956, when the Hungarian Freedom Fighters of Budapest succeeded
in mortally wounding the Goliath of Communism, the rulers of the successor
states used the uprising as a pretext to speed the forced assimilation of
their Hungarian minorities. It was after the Revolution that the remaining
autonomous Hungarian regions: Transylvania in Romania and Vojvodina in
Yugoslavia were abolished. Today, the more than 3 million Hungarians have no
autonomy at all, although it had been guaranteed by the Great Powers in 1920,
again in 1946 and once more by the European Parliament in 1993, in Article 11
of Recommendation 1201.
After 1989, there was a short period of hope, when for example the
Hungarian bishop, László T kés, was temporarily heralded as an all-Romanian
national hero, for leading the successful revolution against Ceaucescu, or
when Miklós Duray, the Hungarian leader of Charter 77, was released from jail
in Slovakia. Unfortunately, this did not last. By 1991, the formerly
Communist leaders of the successor states (Milosevic in Yugoslavia, Iliescu
in Romania, Mechiar in Slovakia) once again started to use nationalistic and
anti-Hungarian propaganda to distract public attention from the pressing
economic problems of their nations.
In September, 1995, for the first time ever, Hungarian students who
speak no other language but Hungarian, will not be allowed to be taught in
their mother's tongue by their Hungarian teachers, in their Hungarian
schools. In addition to this cultural genocide taking place in Romania and
Slovakia, Serbia and Croatia are fighting over the posession of Hungarian
villages in Eastern Slavonia, which has been part of Hungary for 1000 years.
Yet, the worst of all tragedies is occuring in Vojvodina, where the Serb
refugies from Krajina are ehnically cleansing the native Hungarian
population, which had nothing to do with the fighting in Bosnia.
One wonders if there is a limit to the patience of this, the largest
minority in Europe, and what will happen when that limit is reached?
It takes time for historic events to reveal their consequences. It took
nearly 75 years for the creations of Trianon, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia,
to selfdestruct. It took some 75 years until it became clear that it is the
legacy of Trianon which is destabilizing and balkanizing Central Europe . By
now we see that Trianon did not eliminate the causes of the 1914 murder in
Sarajevo and we also realize that no unjust solution can stand the erosion
of time, and Trianon did not provide justice.
But what is justice? In this relativistic age, - when my terrorist can
be your freedom fighter, when the life of one UN soldier can be more valuable
than that of a thousand Bosnian children, and when the Chechen or the Kurd
nations are less deserving of self- determination than some others, - it is
desirable to remind ourselves of what justice is. On the pulpit of the
Notre-Dame Cathedral, Father R. P. Gratry has put it this way: Every
nation's homeland is sacred. If you destroy one of them, you mutilate the
entire human race.
Therefore, the main mistake of 1920 was that it attempted to satisfy
the desires of a Benes and a Clémenceau, instead of attempting to apply just
principles to solve the nationality problems of Central Europe.
Unfortunately, this approach has not changed during the last 75 years. The
only thing that changed are the names of the architects of injustice. Today,
the goal of international efforts is to appease a Milosevic and a Yeltsin,
instead of establishing some general principles and applying them to
everybody. The principles of a permanent solution, must involve
self-determination through plebiscites, autonomy for ethnic minorities and a
Danubian or Central European Federation as the ultimate goal.
The United Nations should declare that all national minorities anywhere
in the world (exceeding some minimum number, say 100,000) have the right to
hold UN supervised plebiscites and receive cultural and linguistic autonomy,
if the majority so desires. It should make no difference how these minorities
evolved, how long they lived in the particular area, or what their language
or religion is. Regardless of all that, they all have the right to maintain
their heritage and the right to determine their own cultural destiny. Once
cultural autonomy is guaranteed, the main cause of tensions between Central
European neighbors will also diminish.
When the Hungarians enjoy the same autonomy in Romania as the Romanian
minorities in Hungary, when the Serb, Russian, Turkish, Albanian, German, or
any other minorities of the region, are also treated equally, the tensions
will disappear and the rebuilding can start.
The Danubian Confederation
It is the wrong goal for the Danubian nations to rush into NATO or the
European Community individually. A much better first goal is the
establishment of an economically self-sufficient, politically stable,
militarily neutral and geographically large enough federation, which by
itself is able to fill the power vacuum of the region.
It should by now be obvious, that neither Western Europe, nor the UN
can fill the present power vacuum in Central Europe and therefore they are
not competent to resolve the problems of the region. History teaches us, that
the Balkans became unstable whenever a power vacuum evolved in the Carpathian
Basin. The wise learn from history, instead of repeating it's errors. We
should learn from history, that the tragedy of Trianon will not be corrected
and justice and stability will not be obtained, by maintaining the status
quo. What is needed, once the minority problems are solved through autonomy,
is to build a strong Danubian Federation, one that can be crystallized around
the nucleus of Hungary, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Slovenia and Croatia, a
Federation that later could expand to include Romania, Yugoslavia or even
Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria.
History does not solve problems accidentally. Those who want a better
future must first have a plan, a concept of that future. For the stability
and prosperity of Central Europe, that plan should start with autonomy for
all the minorities and should end with a voluntary federation. It would be
fitting if on the 75th anniversary of the dismemberment of the Hungarian
Kingdom, after the unnecessary and undeserved suffering of three generations
of innocent ethnic minorities, we would start the process of rebuilding, not
a nation state, but the Federation of Central Europe.