Andrew Cohen: The past isn’t past in Hungary

by Andrew Cohen
The OttawaCitizen newspaper, June 7, 2011

Trecutul nu a fost uitat de Ungaria. Fapt descurajant mai ales ca suntem in secolul XXI iar Ungaria este member a Uniunii Europene. Un articol publicat de Andrew Cohen in The Ottawa Citizen, profesor de jurnalism la Carleton University.

Tensiuni etnice, urmate de cererea unui arbitraj international, dupa modelul diktatului de la Viena. Tot ce le lipsea ungurilor era un motiv care sa initieze tensiunile.

Un comentariu al unui vizitator

BUDAPEST — This week, for the second year, Hungarians will observe National Unity Day. It mourns the loss of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War.

The holiday is less celebration than sorrow. In fact, National Unity Day is about nostalgia that afflicts places that are suddenly smaller and less impor tant than they were, like Russia and Japan. It is about a sense of longing among a people who are no longer united as destiny meant them to be.

Blame the Treaty of Trianon. When the victors re-drew the map of Europe in 1919, they broke up the fabled Austro-Hungarian Empire and scattered it to the winds.

For the Hungarians, it was a calamity: the loss of almost three-quarters of their territory, nearly two-thirds of their people, half their cities, their access to the sea, much of their military. And reparations, too.

The treaty, named after a smaller palace near the Château of Versailles, was signed on June 4, 1920. Long forgotten by the rest of the world, the agreement remains an affront to Hungarians. Their anxiety is skilfully exploited by opportunistic conservative politicians who talk sentimentally about a return to Greater Hungary.

Psychologically, you learn here, Hungary has never recovered from the Treaty of Trianon. In her superb new book, The Ghosts of Europe, Anna Porter pointedly calls it “the most painful of all the national losses” of Versailles. Hungary lost Transylvania, for example, which it had ruled since the ninth century. It is now in Romania, a storied, mountainous dominion where there are more Romanians than Hungarians. That bothers Hungarians.

The treaty intrudes upon life here. A Budapest student explaining the monuments and memorials of this grand capital reflecting a thousand years of Hungarian life muses about Trianon, unprompted, as if it were a deep personal insult, as if it were yesterday.

“What did we do to deserve that?” she asks. “We didn’t even want the war. We were in it because the Austrians were.”

Souvenir shops sell small flags and key chains showing the map of today’s Hungary surrounded by the vast country before 1914. A laminated, multi-colour postcard features a hologram that, when viewed from different angles, dramatically shows Hungary’s boundaries before and after Trianon.

This obsession with Trianon would be no more than an historical curiosity if the country were not Hungary and the neighbourhood were not Central Europe, home to a multitude of proud, self-aware nationalities, acutely conscious of who they are and where they were.

The past isn’t past in Hungary. It’s not distant or remote. Memory matters. And in that tortured national memory, Trianon is a tragedy, even if you cannot accept that you chose the wrong side generations ago.

It’s not abstract. As Porter notes, football fans from Hungary make a habit of going to games in Romania and other neighbouring countries carrying flags emblazoned with old maps of the Hungarian Kingdom, which include the territories of Serbia, Croatia and Romania. It’s deliberately provocative and predictably violent; in Slovakia, the hosts were displeased to see Hungarians carrying banners showing Slovakia as part of Greater Hungary. The police cheerfully beat up the visiting Hungarians and their Slovak-Hungarian hosts.

If the grievance is old, National Unity Day is not. It was created by law a year ago, marking the 90th anniversary of the Treaty, declaring “all Hungarians and communities are part of a unified Hungarian nation, which exists over state boundaries and is an essential element of the Hungarian identity.”

The law was proposed by the far-right Jobbik Party and supported by the newly elected centre-right government of Viktor Orbán. He has long spoken passionately of the 14 million people of the Carpathian Basin, some five million of whom live outside Hungary. He wants to protect their language and other rights. With the law establishing National Unity Day, another law passed at the same time offered citizenship to ethnic Hungarians outside this country’s borders.

Orbán, the new strongman of Europe, is playing the nationalist card. He isn’t looking to restore Greater Hungary. But he is making a play for the right on the grounds of ethnicity, perhaps to distract Hungarians from the reality of a corrupt, indebted country with one of the worst economies in Europe.

Oh, we have seen this movie before. What’s discouraging is this is the 21st century. We thought we’d moved on. We’re created a European Union, and Hungary is a member. In fact, Hungary now holds the presidency.

But that scarcely matters against the unfathomable ties of blood. So here we are again, almost a century after Trianon, exhuming old hatreds, peddling ancient grievances, watching the struggle between ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism play out, yet again.

Andrew Cohen is a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University.

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Previous Tokes sau pana unde duce nesimtirea !
Next Legacy of Trianon still haunts Central and Eastern Europe

1 Comment

  1. Rares

    Nu-mi vine sa cred ce aberati pot sa nascoceasca , astfel de oameni care de obicei binenteles sunt la conducere.

    Pe scurt sunt un roman autentic care sta in ungaria si nu am nici o problema cu localci, cu alte cuvinte domnilor care sunteti la conducere mai lasati prostiile de o parte si ocupativa de economia tari .

Care este opinia ta ? Ai curajul sa spui ceea ce gandesti !