Culture & Society Hungary News Politics & International

Has the Trianon centenary brought a divided Hungary one step closer to unity?

Budapest, Hungary – In the summer of 2020, the hundredth anniversary of the Trianon treaty was widely commemorated across Hungary, regardless of political affiliation, bringing a divided nation one step closer to unity.

June 4, 2020, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1920 treaty of Trianon, which resulted in Hungary losing ⅔ of its territory. It is considered to be an open wound for many Hungarians and its remembrance often causes heated debates and controversy, thus many were cautious ahead of its centenary.

Due to current restrictions, mass gatherings and public events were not allowed, but the country still found a way to remember Trianon and its consequences.

A day that was not without controversy

The day started with a commemoratory session in parliament. The session was not without controversy.

A few days earlier the parliament voted to disallow opposition MPs from making speeches during the session. This was controversial because the parliament passed a declaration which was also accepted by the vast majority of the opposition. The declaration acknowledged the systemic discrimination Hungarian minorities living abroad face as well as called for the National Parliaments of the Carpathian Basin to guarantee the right to national self-identification.

The Trianon Treaty is still considered to be an open wound for many in Hungary and its remembrance often causes heated debates and controversy.

Before the vote on the bill, the speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, László Kövér made a speech in which he stated that Trianon is not merely a bitter memory of the past but a harsh reality for Hungarians living outside a country who have to fight every day to keep their language and culture.

Mr Kövér also drew parallels between the signature of the treaty and present-day Europe, attacking further EU-integration efforts. “The only difference is that while a hundred years ago, the then-winners only questioned the existence of the Hungarian nation, today those who are strong enough and consider themselves eternal winners, question the existence of all European nations”, he said.

Hungarian diaspora’s ambivalence

There was a great difference compared to the usual Trianon remembrance practices; its acknowledgement outside the traditional, right-wing circles. The Hungarian left has had a troubled relationship with Hungarians outside the country and remembering Trianon. However this time, instead of ignoring the wound in an attempt to flee from the right-wing narrative, the memory was embraced and own narratives of remembrance were created by everyone, regardless of political affiliation.

In an unprecedented level of national unity, even Viktor Orbán shook hands with the leaders of the opposition parties in parliament.

Most importantly, Hungarians living outside the country’s present-day borders, who are often forgotten victims of culture wars both in Hungary and in their country of residence, found themselves at centre stage. Various publications published interviews, hour-long discussions, or articles focusing exclusively on them.

A recurring theme in these discussions was the Hungarian diaspora’s ambivalence towards Hungarian state aid coming to their territory. Among others, Örs Székely expressed his criticism of how the Hungarian state is effectively “colonising” the Hungarian community in Transylvania, taking away their unique regional character.

“We might be living in Romania physically, but mentally we live in Hungary. In 2020, we see the construction of a Transylvanian cultural life completely coordinated by Budapest”, he wrote for online publication Mérce.

The left’s relationship with the treaty

In the capital, Budapest’s recently elected left-wing mayor Gergely Karácsony ordered all public transport to stop for a minute at 4:30 pm and urged Budapesters to reflect on what the drastic border changes hundred years ago meant for Hungary.

The mayor even published a long article for Mérce in which he urged the Hungarian left to leave behind its troubled relationship with the treaty and embrace its memory. “If our goal really is to process the past for a better future, we need to address the shadow of Trianon. We must admit that Trianon does not belong to the right. It belongs to all of us, Hungarians”

The 1920 treaty of Trianon resulted in Hungary losing ⅔ of its territory.

His sentiments seem to have been shared by the vast majority of politicians regardless of political affiliation. Politicians across the spectrum commemorated Trianon. Some wrote about what Hungary can learn from the historic tragedy. Others decided to give their posts a personal touch: they wrote about their families who are from territories outside the present-day borders.

In an unprecedented level of national unity, even Viktor Orbán shook hands with the leaders of the opposition parties in parliament and expressed his gratitude to Karácsony for stopping the Budapest traffic for a minute. International tensions also seemed to have calmed down for the day. Slovakia PM Igor Matovic talked about his appreciation of Hungarians living in Slovakia and how they contributed to the country’s culture.

It is uncertain if this minimal national unity is here to stay, but the significance of the day’s relatively respectful atmosphere should not be underestimated. Regardless of political affiliation, people remembered and reflected on Trianon. The nation, at least for a day, reclaimed a part of itself from bumper stickers and underground rock bands. The wound is healing.

By Ábel Bede

Ábel Bede was born in Budapest and is currently studying History at Durham University. He wrote his dissertation on early 20th century Hungarian politics and culture and published several pieces in prominent Hungarian newspapers. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!

Main photo credit: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters