Hungary Insight

Budapest tour guide: Reviewing the Memorial to National Togetherness


Budapest, Hungary – “For those who are Hungarian, Trianon still hurts”: 63% of Hungarians agree with this statement, according to a study conducted in 2020. For those who don’t live in the Carpathian Basin, Trianon may not ring a bell. The Treaty of Trianon was signed in Versailles, on 4th June, 1920, formally ending World War I between most of the Allies and the Kingdom of Hungary. As a result, Hungary lost two thirds of its territories and the majority of its population.

The population lost was not only Hungarians, but instead people from various ethnic groups who now live in the neighboring countries, i.e. nation states – more or less. Trianon, as of today, is the most defining collective trauma in Hungary’s history, is the basis for the collective victimhood mentality in the country, and is deemed the biggest tragedy that has ever happened to any nation ever. Trianon today is still a dividing and often emotional issue, and in politics it is often utilized to deepen the cleavages in society and to position the “west” as an oppressive enemy.

Trianon had its 100 year anniversary in 2020, and for this very reason the government erected the biggest Trianon memorial so far, the Memorial to National Togetherness (Nemzeti Összetartozás Emlékhelye) right in front the Parliament building in Budapest. Every tourist who goes to Budapest visits the Parliament building, so is the memorial also worth taking a look? Is it Banana Populism enough for pure people? Let’s see!

The Memorial to National Togetherness in Budapest, Hungary. Photo credit: Zea Szebeni

So the memorial is basically a progressively deepening trench, which ends in a space with grey columns that embrace an eternal flame. On the walls of the trench we can read all of the 12,537 cities of pre-Trianon Greater Hungary, according to the Local Registry of the Hungarian Kingdom, published in 1913. One would think that these names carry the history of said cities and villages, but instead this registry has names that were forcefully hungaricized, or given a fully new Hungarian name.

This was done to forcefully assimilate minorities in the country and can be regarded as the part of the cultural “conquest” that took place at the time. The name changes happened through translation (Hradec –> Váracska) or by giving it a name that sounded similar to the original (Lunkavica —> Lankás).

This is not only important from the aspect of how we look back at the nation and country, but also because this practice set an example for the neighboring countries that received territories from Hungary after Trianon and inspired them to change the names of actual Hungarian cities and villages (eg. in Romania: Somosd –> Cornesti).

Why is this important? Because by looking at the memorial, we get the false sense that all of these cities were only inhabited by Hungarians, which is not true. The Carpathian Basin was, and is, ethnically mixed, but that wouldn’t play as well in the national trauma sentiment, which is more important than not losing the part of history that the cities’ names hold. In the name of “national togetherness,” the memorial not only defines the nation in an ethno-nationalistic way, but also continues to disregard minorities, just as they did back then.

This is especially ironic, as these ex-minorities – now as part of the neighboring countries – are Orbán’s biggest “allies” in his “fight” against the “west”. As he said at the memorial’s inauguration, “it is time for the Central European nations to take the matters of the region into their own hands” and that the “west has lost its attraction in our eyes”. This is in stark contrast with what the memorial represents: the legitimization of forceful Hungaricization in the region. By using the Registry of 1913 for the memorial, the government essentially erected a memorial to a false illusion and the falsification of history by those in power.

Written by Zea Szebeni and originally published on Banana Populism, an official partner of Kafkadesk.

Banana Populism seeks to shed  light on the seemingly meaningless and profane actions of populist actors in different parts of the world. Their website functions as a space to gather and present insights on how what might not seem political at first sight — pets, sports, food, other aspects of ‘private’ life — becomes highly political when in the hands — or rather on the social media profiles — of your favorite populists.

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