Dunajska Streda, Slovakia – Saying Hungarians are divided is something of an understatement. But there’s one topic which appears likely to unite most Hungarians while sitting at the table during a typical Sunday dinner: the Treaty of Trianon, which dismembered the Kingdom of Hungary in the aftermath of World War I – a topic which recently resurfaced with the opening of the Monument of National Solidarity in Budapest.
The problem doesn’t so much pertain to the end of the 1,000-year kingdom as to the injustice of losing a vast majority of its territory. In other words, of losing one another, as nearly 3.3 million Hungarians were suddenly transferred to now foreign states in the Central and Eastern European neighbourhood.
Why it hurts
The Trianon Treaty remains by far the biggest collective trauma for generations of Hungarians, worsened by the fact that if the treaty had redrawn Europe’s borders along ethnic lines, Hungarians could have been united under one common flag and one shared nation. But finding itself on the losing side, Hungary was, to put it mildly, punished by the winners of the war – a beating that remains an open wound to this day.
And this is probably what the recently opened Monument of National Solidarity in Budapest is all about: about a shared national trauma, one which has not ceased to be a topic of discussion among Hungarians. Something symbolized by the eternal flame located at the end of the monument, which burns brightly as a beacon to unite Hungarians, wherever they are and whichever side of the border they are now living in.
The most striking way Hungarian authorities have decided to emphasize the traumatic loss of territory is by putting the names of town and cities lost following Trianon on the wall, in their Hungarian version.
But this is not the right way to go about it. Many ethnic Hungarians today do not give such great importance to the country they belong to… as long as they can enjoy the fundamental rights and personal freedoms as EU citizens. Why the need to mourn the loss of lands when one has the luxury of moving freely across borders and live and work wherever he or she desires?
Why it should not matter
“We don’t need to forget Trianon. That would be impossible… but mourning about Trianon can no longer be the focus of Hungarian politics, because, apart from the fact that it leads nowhere, it paralyses, makes it incapable of action, it also consumes the moral and political power of the homeland,” said Hungary’s opposition Democratic Coalition.
Whenever I see Kingdom of Hungary stickers on cars here in Slovakia, I just chuckle and shake my head in disbelief. Antiquated nationalism has no place in these times, while borders are becoming increasingly obsolete or abstract, especially for Schengen area countries. As an ethnic Hungarian in Slovakia, we enjoy the same rights as Slovaks, and are actually much better off compared to the current situation in Hungary.
Hard-believers in nationalism exist, of course, and I have friends and acquaintances who, for the lack of a better word, advocate for the reunification of Hungarians, despite there being no need for it.
“Why would I want to live in Hungary, when it’s better in Slovakia?” says Andrea, a Hungarian mother from my hometown of Dunajska Streda. “If I wanted to, I could go and shop in Hungary, but I would not want to live or work there. It’s better here,” she says. This type of opinion is widespread among Hungarians living in the border regions, especially so in Slovakia, which doesn’t in any way restrict the rights of ethnic Hungarians while allowing them to have their own schools, media and newspapers, etc.
I was fortunate enough to also speak with Hungarians who moved here from Hungary for various reasons. One of them, Jozsef, said this: “I moved here because you have better salaries, the euro is better, people are nearly the same and I feel at home. The opportunities are simply better.”
While the Hungarian government tries to stoke national pride with a 100-year-old collective trauma and continues to push the “Greater Hungary” rhetoric, average Hungarians are voluntarily leaving the homeland for better opportunities to these same neighbouring countries which have been accused of stealing Hungarian land. The irony is striking.
The takeaway from the Monument of National Solidarity in Budapest
“They f****d it up. If Hungarians had not been so needy and greedy, maybe the kingdom would still exist today. Crying about it will not make our lives better though. We need to do with what we have,” Andrea, the Hungarian mother from Dunajska Streda, argued.
What we should take away from the new Monument of National Solidarity facing the Parliament in Budapest is not the idea that some groups of people, including those in power, are trying to rile up old hatreds, nor should it further serve to lament the loss of Hungarian territories over a century ago. The Monument should symbolize the unity of a nation with a shared trauma; a trauma we shouldn’t keep dwelling on but that we should learn from in order to, once more, think and act as a nation.
With so many divisions and fractures plaguing our society today, Trianon – like the Monument’s flame – may be the last shared heritage capable of bringing us together as Hungarians. But contrary to what many would claim, this search for unity should never be carried out at the expense of our neighbours.
By Mark Szabo
An international relations and European politics student at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, Márk grew up in a bi-cultural Slovak-Hungarian family, stoking his interest in Central European politics and cross-national relations. A former intern at the Bratislava-based Globsec Institute, Márk aims for a career in diplomacy. To check out his latest articles, it’s right here!