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The Trianon Treaty Manners

Milan Zemko:
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here tonight to discuss a topic which has been relevant for almost 86 years. It is related to the common history of Slovakia, Czechoslovakia (until the year of 1993) and Hungary as well. It is an event which remarkably influenced the life of this Middle European area. This event affected the life of several generations and I think, it indirectly concerns us too. We have already heard a lot of discussion about the Treaty of Trianon, which is actually part of the Versailles Treaty, but still many things remain unanswered.
As the impetus to organise this encounter was the publication of the book, "Treaty of Trianon" written by Prof. Ignác Romsics, let me start the introduction of the participants with him. He teaches at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. He worked at Indiana University for a few years where he conducted the basic research. Out of his more than 20 books, let me mention at least some of his publications: Wartime American Plans for a New Hungary--problems related to Hungary during World War II, a huge monograph of the famous Hungarian statesman in the interwar period, István Bethlen; 20th Century Hungary and the Great Powers, Geopolitcs in the Danube Region. A well-known publication, Hungary in the 20th Century, which was published also in English, is relatively well known in Slovakia as well. His latest book is The Peace Treaty of Trianon, which has been translated into the Slovak language. The monograph on the Paris Peace Conference and Peace Treaty in 1946-47 is a relatively new publication. It is also available from Kalligram publishing house and sooner or later it will be published in Slovak, too. I am glad to welcome you among us.
The famous literary scholar, historian, Hungarologist, politician, senior lecturer and former minister Mr. Rudolf Chmel is currently the director of the Institute of Slavic and East-European Studies at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University in Prague. Besides this, he is a constant and persistent developer of Slovak Hungarology.
Dr. Dušan Kováč is my colleague from the Academy of Science of the Slovak Republic. His publications are well known, he deals with problems of the last decades of the 19th century as well as the first decades of the 20th century. He has also published or co-authored several works on the history of Slovakia.
Mr. Robert Pejša, the promising Czech historian studied at Comenius University, Bratislava. He finished his studies at Charles University in Prague. His professional interest is very extensive; he is devoted to Hungarian, Slovak and Bohemian Studies. His diploma work dealt with Ruthenia, so again a territory which is closely associated with the Treaty of Trianon and the Versailles System.
We approach the problem of the Treaty of Trianon in medias res. I will just remind you of some factual data. Probably our guests will come back to these facts again, but in my opinion it would be useful to mention them right at the beginning.
As a result of the signing of the Trianon Treaty between the Hungarian State  I'm not sure if that was a restored kingdom--and the succession states including Czechoslovakia, the former historical Kingdom of Hungary was reduced by 71% of its territory, if we include Croatia--and there isn't the slightest reason not to do so, because, even though it had autonomy, it was an integral part of the Hungarian Kingdom.
At the same time, Hungary lost 63.5% of its population, according to the census of 1910, if I count well. Of course, these figures are informative, because between 1910 and 1920 there was a huge migration of the population due to the war and the border changes. In any case, the pre-war Hungarian Kingdom was basically reduced by 70% with reference to its territory and nearly two thirds as to its population. Roughly 25% of the lost population was of Hungarian nationality. I'm more than certain that this matter will be a subject to discuss since the method of census as well as the determination of people's nationality is more or less disputable.
Hungarian statistics, according to the census of 1910, indicate that in the territory of Czechoslovakia there remained 1,072,000 people of Hungarian nationality. However, the first census in Czechoslovakia in 1921-11 years after the 1910 census-showed only slightly more than 744,600 people of Hungarian nationality, basically 300,000 less than in 1910. One of the reasons was apparently the migration of the population. The second reason was probably the fact that people with "double identity", who spoke both languages, first identified themselves as Hungarians or rather people with Hungarian as their native language, since in Hungary they didn't count the number of nationalities but the language status. The native language was defined as the language which was considered to be the most popular and the most frequently spoken, so this definition was not really accurate. Many of the people who were bilingual or trilingual--many of them also spoke German--after 1918 probably reported themselves as Slovaks.
Let me ask all of you about your attitude to the Versailles peace system, including the Treaty of Trianon on the threshold of the 21st century. What is the opinion of a Hungarian, Slovak and Czech historian about the Versailles peace system, including the Treaty of Trianon after more than eighty years of its completion?
Ignác Romsics:
In my opinion, the subject-matter of the development of states and nations in Middle and Eastern Europe during the 19th and 20th century was the transformation of big, multinational empires, political units into smaller, more homogeneous units. At the beginning of the 19th century the Ottoman, Habsburg and Russian Empires ruled over this territory. Currently it is divided into almost two dozen bigger and smaller states. The Versailles solution principally and practically integrated this trend, supported this tendency. However, the realisation is that because of a variety of reasons we cannot call it perfect at all. Look at Yugoslavia, which was somehow similar to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy regarding the composition of national minorities, just the country itself was smaller.
Regarding the character of Czechoslovakia as a national state there were also uncertainties. As far as I know (I don't cite Hungarian statistics because there were no statistics about this issue): the number of Czechs was higher than 50%, the second biggest nationality was the Germans and then the Slovaks, moreover we could observe a good deal of Ruthenians and Hungarians. From this point of view, it's almost irrelevant whether the number of Hungarians was one million or seven hundred thousand. In any case, it was a huge mass of people, which according to national principles shouldn't have lived here.
The system of states formed between the two world wars in Eastern Europe was not able to satisfy those security, political and strategic functions that were expected by the winners of Versailles. This function should have been partly the blocking of the eastward German penetration on one hand and the westward penetration of Russia or the Soviet Union on the other hand. The relations and contacts of the newly created states were not based on cooperation, but conflicts. After Germany came around and the Soviet Union fortified, it became evident that this territory would not be able to manage the function, in French called "barrière de l'est" or "cordon sanitaire". It resulted in a new partition of these territories by the Great Powers in a short time.
Within the scope of this whole process, Hungarian public opinion interpreted and explained the Treaty of Trianon in several different ways. Some considered it an unacceptable resolution of powers and rejected it with the slogan "everything back". There were some other Hungarian democrats, like István Bibó, Oszkár Jászi, Imre Kovács, etc., who showed empathy towards neighbouring countries and did not perceive the end of the Habsburg Monarchy, including Hungary as a catastrophe, but that outside the Trianon borders, in a quite coherent path, in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia there were almost 1.5 million Hungarians. They didn't criticise Trianon according to the "everything back" principle, but on ethnic grounds.
I consider the Peace Treaty of Versailles as a part of a 200-year trend. The Treaty of Trianon partly expressed these principles or adapted to them, however it partly contradicts this principle for strategic, economic and other reasons.
Rudolf Chmel:
Actually, I agree with Mr. Romsics on basic starting points. This problem currently has at least two levels: a historical level, which is also presented by the monograph by Mr. Romsics. There is an objective discussion about the topic and the Slovak public was very positively acquainted with it. The interest in this topic shows evidence of its having a significant place in the Slovak consciousness from the historical point of view up to this day. Certainly not as important a role as in the Hungarian social or historical consciousness. The significance of this event showed up again in the second half of the '60s of the last century, not thanks to historians but through the good offices of writers and literary men.
Then, at the turn of the '70s and '80s, Hungarian historians started to deal more seriously with this theme and the results of this struggle appeared mainly in the '90s. However, the topic of the Trianon syndrome from 1920 went through several metamorphoses. By the year 1945 it was certainly a very lively matter and it was associated with attributes like national tort, injustice, etc. After 1945 the theme became taboo and it was reopened just recently. There isn't a problem with historical interpretation of this matter, but once it becomes a subject of political discussions and litigations then it can cause many problems and misinterpretations. We have been witnesses to this phenomenon since 1990. The matter of Trianon was tangled up in the consciousness of Hungary and its neighbouring countries. The Trianon topic in this political interpretation became first of all a problem related to minorities. I wrote a longer essay seven years ago on the "Status Law", which is a law concerning Hungarians beyond the borders. This topic also consists of matters to be settled. At this time I felt that the Hungarian "pilgrimage" from Trianon to the European Union-at that time our countries were not members of the EU--with this compatriotic law becomes unnecessarily complicated. I don't think time justified me, but in any case the compatriotic law was a kind of compensation or answer to Trianon from the political representation of that time. Within the European integration it was already redundant. Today I think that this Trianon complex in Hungary as well as in the neighbouring countries--particularly in Slovakia--is unnecessarily magnified with respect to the political side of the matter. As regards the historiography we probably still have some debts.
Dušan Kováč:
In my opinion, and I agree with my colleague Mr. Romsics, the Versailles system, including the Treaty of Trianon should be handled first of all in connection with European development in the last two centuries, that is, in connection with the development of European nationalism. The idea of a national state is the product of European nationalism. When I talk about a national state I usually talk about it figuratively, since hardly any countries in Europe could call themselves a national state in the strictest sense of the word.
But actually this idea commands the whole of the European community. It would be too roundabout to analyse why this idea that still controls us became so successful. Why do we still have national interests, national states, even though we have established the EU? The fact is that the idea of a national state had a beneficial and constructive effect on one part of Europe: the German Empire and Italy were formed on this basis. On the other hand, this idea in the Habsburg Monarchy had a destructive effect. The Habsburg Monarchy couldn't become a national state, but the idea existed, nations took it over. Actually, this idea was reflected in the Versailles system, even though this system was defective.
I will take the liberty of not completely agreeing with Milan Zemko. He defined that historical Hungary was reduced in Trianon, that it lost thus many inhabitants and territory as well. In my opinion, something different happened. Basically, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy fell apart. Hungary was a multinational or rather a multi-ethnic state since its constitution. The idea of a national state here caused deep conflicts. In Hungarian politics this idea broke out into the concept that the royal Hungary is a Hungarian national state in matter of fact. Actually, it never could become a national state. It is just an idea, an illusion, which has been here for a long time and is still evident even today. This Hungary fell apart and national states were established. If we view the problem from this side, then this trauma, which still exists within a certain part of Hungarian society, in my opinion, is a trauma from the above mentioned fiction and illusion.
If we accept that this state fell apart into "nation states", then of course, the other point of the discussion is, if this disintegration of the state could not have been carried out in a different way from a geographic point of view, that is, if they couldn't have drawn the line in another way. But it is already not a question of trauma. It's a question of a particular attitude, it's not a loss or reduction but an issue of discussion about borders. Questions like: Why did this state fall apart? Was it necessary? Why didn't it remain together after World War I? So, reasons and "guilty parties"--it's a discussion of a secondary stream.
As for the Peace Treaty itself, I think that a historian must sometimes be cynical. Sometimes he has to name things rather inconsiderately. Peace treaties were considered to be unfair just like borders. I don't know of a fair peace treaty and I have never heard of fair and rightful borders. Besides this, it's just an illusion to think that after the World War, which was a huge trauma for humanity, borders could be determined properly as well as to expect that nations would love and respect each other. Unfortunately, this illusion sometimes gets even into literature, because some authors think that peace should be just, according to Wilson's principles.
We know that Wilson had nice ideas but he didn't have any interests in Europe, especially in Middle Europe. Countries which had those interests fought in the war and they achieved what they wanted to.
Our goal, collaboration among nations, mutual sympathy and respect can be achieved only through longstanding democratic development in peace. Not under dictatorship and totality, when nations or their representatives can't freely discuss. It's possible only in societies where experts can have free discussions with each other, when there isn't too much emotion involved. It isn't possible immediately after a war. Therefore, in my opinion, Trianon is still a fragile topic to be discussed by historians. We won't solve this issue today for sure. But if we solved it, what would we do as a next step?
Milan Zemko:
What does Versailles and Trianon mean for a Czech historian?
Robert Pejša:
In fact, I can only summarise what we have already heard. I agree with Mr. Romsics, and also with Mr. Kováč: Hungary or the Hungarian-Austrian Kingdom as an idea of a politically homogeneous Hungarian-Ugrian nation didn't correspond to the facts. On the other hand, we have to remember, specifically from the Czech point of view and with regard to Slovak history, that also among well-known Hungarian personalities of the 19th century we could find people like Lajos Mocsáry, Lajos Kossuth, Oszkár Jászi, who were aware of the problem of nationhood much more than the actual Hungarian political scene.
We have heard, that the Hungarian issue--also within the history of Czechoslovakia--is a minority problem. In my opinion, what happened after the cataclysm of World War I, and also events occurred during the 19th century had to be treated. It means that there was a possibility of realising the transformation of the Middle European region. Even in the 19th century there existed ideas of transforming the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which could be completed after World War I, also within the framework of the so-called newly formed Versailles peace system.
I would like to talk briefly about the problem of minorities. I suppose, that the deciding powers somehow misunderstood the principles of the Hungarian internal politicy during the years 1918-20, when the government of Károlyi or Berinkey and later the government of Gyula Peidl had an ambition to rule the country on similar principles to those on which Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk or Eduard Beneš wanted to build Czechoslovakia.
The agreement from this point of view de facto missed the chance for Hungary to get rid of the domination of the old, national and conservative as well as Christian and national elite for the next twenty years. We Czechs and Slovaks probably don't even realise that Hungary had the same chance between the years 1918 and 1920 as for example Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of SHS (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes).
In the territory of Czechoslovakia during 1919-20 there was a significant Hungarian migration, it was one of the centres alongside the centre in Vienna. It's also evident that the circle around Károlyi and Oszkár Jászi was financially supported by T. G. Masaryk and Eduard Beneš.
The Versailles peace system in its own way created or tried to create conditions for the collaboration of new, succeeding states; that is cooperation not only among Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians or the Kingdom of SHS but also Hungarians. Czechoslovakia as well as other states and great powers also missed today's chance for the transformation of Central Europe. Just as they couldn't do anything with the possibility offered at the turn of the 19th century and also before the outbreak of World War I. I apologise for going into details but I'm devoted to the problem of Ruthenia and the Hungarian minority in the territory of Czechoslovakia, and I think, that in terms of Czechoslovak and Hungarian bilateral relationships, the minority policy is one of the key questions of the Czechoslovak-Hungarian and Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation.
Milan Zemko:
It is said, that the discussant can dispute with the moderator, but the moderator should never dispute with discussants, so I won't do it either. I just want to ask you a question, which could "enlighten" the problem. The question is the following: nations got involved in World War I, they didn't even know how. Then they prepared themselves for peace and when peace came in November 1918, it turned out that nations weren't prepared to establish peace, they weren't ready to accept "intelligent" contracts. My colleague Mr. Kováč said that it wasn't possible. Let's accept that. But for all that, the world constructed during these post-war months, after a few years proved to be very unstable. After the next war it became consolidated again. Its results were demonstrated only after the next decades since the peace block didn't allow a change in idea or anything else. After the fall of this block it seems to be slightly unsteady again. Well, allow me to return to the period of peace negotiations. To what extent can we talk about the uncertainty of peace contracts? Why am I talking about uncertainty? Because we, who are a bit older, remember the slogan: "without the revolution in October, Czechoslovakia wouldn't exist". It wasn't this way at all. This is determinism. We sometimes hear that as soon as Masaryk decided to leave the Monarchy and started to work for the independence of Bohemia, Czechia and then Czechoslovakia, it seemed that it automatically led to the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic. This is a naive and simplified determinism. That's the reason I ask the question. We know the differences among triumphant powers as well as the conflicts among associated countries. I would like to ask you, gentlemen, how did you perceive this process of the "naturalisation" of peace agreements? For triumphant countries at least it was obvious that: "it is this way and it can't be otherwise". On the other hand, the other side had a different opinion: "no, no never" and "everything back".
Ignác Romsics:
There are so many questions to answer that it's almost impossible to respond to them. However, it's clear to me that this discussion has two different lines, that is, the professional historical line and the political debate. I guess both are valid. Now, let me return to the professional level and add some remarks to all those that we've heard here. In the end, I'll probably also tell you something about my ars poetica.
In my opinion, it isn't acceptable to declare that the historical Hungary or the Hungarian Kingdom during its existence was only a fiction or a phantom. In terms of pragmatic and real policy it was a reality. However, it is possible to open up some particular problems, especially from the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, that is, when modern nationalism became a "state creating" principle.
However, it wasn't like this in the Middle Ages, or after the battle in Mohács. At this time the "state creating" principle was neither a language nor a cultural identity. However, it's undisputed that the language and culture definitely became "state creating" principles around the 19th century. This existing, multi-national political entity within the monarchy, called the Hungarian Kingdom, wasn't able to establish a political structure which could offer a satisfying solution for non-Hungarian nations already in the fall of the 19th century.
According to Slovak, Romanian and Serb representatives of this time--I refer to the national congress in 1895--the solution would have been territorial autonomy within the Hungarian Kingdom. For Hungarian leaders it was unacceptable. I do agree, that for this situation the Hungarian administration bears the responsibility. If I go back to the second remark of the vice president, in connection with history there are some significant moral categories like justice, recognition and responsibility. In my opinion, they make a difference. According to his words, it seems that until 1918 these categories were important for him but after 1918 they were not. At least I understood it in this way. If I accept the comments on the internal establishment of Hungary, the Habsburg Monarchy, including the Hungarian Kingdom before 1918 concerning real political or other principal and moral categories that were in place, then I think it would be necessary to accept the above mentioned categories also after 1918 or 1920.
Now, to be specific: I think we can drop the expressions fair and unfair. I don't have to insist on them. I, myself try to avoid too moralistic and justice providing historiography. But during 1919-20 triumphant powers in Paris and Versailles spread principles. When Mr. Zemko mentioned the word justice, I suppose he had in mind that they weren't fair in relation to their own principles. But let's forget the word "justice" and let's say that what they had created didn't meet the proclaimed principles and goals.
In the book, which you can read also in Slovak thanks to Kalligram, there are specific ideas and maps of the American delegation in Paris. There are British ideas about the borders. They suggest the principle I talked about. Well, if we advocate an ethnic principle, then it's difficult to legitimise the decision which, besides planned boundaries, keeps groups which don't belong to the particular national state, in a coherent block.
We've also heard that national states in the strictest sense of the word never existed and they do not exist, they are just goals. I would like to specify. In Europe, during the interwar period there were national states, homogenous national states-they were the defeated countries: Austria, Hungary and Albania. They were absolutely national states. In Hungary there remained only 5-6% of Germans, other minorities even less. The ethnic principle was strongly connected with geographical, economic and other aspects. It's enough to read the reasoning of the Czechoslovak peace delegation or rather Mr. Beneš, who generally proclaimed the ethnic principle, but when there was a discussion about Hungarian-Slovak borders then he talked about the importance of the Danube as a strategic border; when they discussed the Sudeten Germans, he again referred to geographical, historical and other arguments. The reasoning was as inconsistent as the reasoning of the Hungarian administration for holding together a multinational Hungary as long as it was possible.
I just said this to demonstrate that this kind of approach to the last 200-250 years is also possible. I don't think it is necessary to accept it, I only wanted to make it clear that it's my historical approach.
But in my opinion, it isn't really worth lamenting about whether the situation was more principled before 1918 or more unprincipled after 1918. It's the past and historians have to deal with it. If the discussion goes in this direction, I suppose we should be able to find a common language for the sake of the present and the future and we have to overcome these interpretative differences. We must look for those standpoints and guidelines, which basically connect us. I see these tendencies and developments, which could fill us with optimism.
Dušan Kováč:
I've always been optimistic but I'd like to respond. Probably we misunderstand each other in one thing. I'm not against morality or justice. I just said we can't expect that peace treaties, which were signed after the war-especially such a war as World War I-could be fair and follow certain concepts. Yes, Wilson's idea. However, don't forget that Wilson could have afforded it since he didn't have any interests. The United States of America didn't have any interests in Europe, especially in Central Europe. My personal opinion is that we have to look for justice, but maybe we don't always look for it at the right historical moment and place. With reference to concrete matters, I don't think there were homogenous states. Neither Hungary, Austria nor Germany was an ethnically homogenous state. In each of these states there existed national minorities-in this case it isn't a question of quantity but quality. For that reason I always speak about national states metaphorically (in brackets). It's certainly a question of what could have happened and how much better it could have been.
The peace treaties which were signed represented a certain stage in the development of political thinking and reality in Europe. The course of progress, of course went on.
I reject determinism like this: everything happened as it happened. Sometimes it depends on details, and the course of history goes a completely different way. The interwar period was too short, in Central Europe it actually took only 10 years. After Hitler came to power the peace wasn't immediately over, but it was practically a "peace in arms", it was already rattling its sabre, the further division of the world and aggression was in view. This all brought a completely new situation to Central Europe. I think we saw certain signs of consolidation in this area already during the twenties, but the new aggression smashed these manifestations. Is it determinism? Did it have to be? Did Hitler have to come to power in Germany? What were the conditions for it? Did war repatriations frustrate German society so much that it was ready to accept this type of democratic dictator like him in the elections? And we could continue with asking more and more questions. But I would like to underline once more, that in my opinion, sometimes even really small details can influence the development of history.
Robert Pejša:
Regarding the homogeneity of Hungary in 1918, 1920, I would like to say the following: on the level of ministerial committees, for instance the Czechoslovakian Economic Ministry, there were negotiations on the repatriation of the population in the first half of the twenties. They were similar to what we know from the period after 1940 and World War II. Czechoslovakian authorities observed the situation of a rather small group of Slovaks in Hungary in detail. I share Mr. Kováč's opinion, it is not possible to speak about the homogeneity of Hungary after Trianon or 1918. I suppose there were moments, and after the signing of the Trianon Treaty there were some Hungarian politicians, namely Gusztáv Gratz the foreign minister, the former ambassador in Vienna, and Pál Teleki, who accepted the ideology of political revision, who were conscious of the necessity of collaboration and stronger economic connections. I mean the collaboration between Czechoslovakia and Hungary and not within a broader European context. Concerning Czechoslovak and Hungarian relations, we have to mention Milan Hodža, who in 1919, 1920 and later, de facto called for negotiations "free of politics" and stronger economic relations. It means that even in the era of more radical Hungarian political manifestations it was possible to follow such trends which could have led to a stronger collaboration of states in this region. At least until 1927 or up to the end of the twenties, until the signing of the Hungarian-Italian agreement in 1927, this possibility became distinct, moreover directly offered itself.
Rudolf Chmel:
If we wanted to talk about the unnaturalness or meaning of peace treaties, we could invite Achtisari himself, he could surely talk about it. In my opinion it would be an excellent example. But as long as we discuss borders, they are certainly the focus of peace treaties. I read somewhere a long time ago that the only uncontroversial, "good" border drawn in the last 150 years was somewhere in between Spain and Portugal. Borders were never drawn ideally. Vladimír Mináč, national ideologist in the second half of the 60's "resounded" really nationally when Gyula Illyés formulated the idea of the second Trianon Mohács. Mináč in his declining years said something that fulfils Mr. Romsics's words to a certain extent, that is: if there had not been Beneš's piggishness--he worded it very nicely in Slovak--everything could have been different. Moreover, in the nineties he thought everything would have been better if the borders were drawn according to the conceptions of Štefan Marko Daxner. So--as Kohn said on his death-bed--with borders and peace treaties everything is a different way.
Dušan Kováč:
Slovak history makes no question of the fact that the Hungarian Kingdom in the Middle Ages existed as an integral part, since it was an active state. But it was a multi-national state. However, at this time it made no difference because it was not a national state but a kingdom with its own king, and it was based on the ruler and the national assembly.
History--even the Slovak one--got rid of the illusion that Slovaks have been oppressed for one thousand years. It is of course, not true at all. Slovaks were patriots of Hungary-I can back it with all historical documents. A Slovak political programme was developed even during the culmination of nationalism, which struggled to establish a Slovak autonomy within Hungary. Slovaks did not want to leave Hungary, they were Hungarian patriots. Today we know--it was taboo a bit after 1918--that there were also Slovaks who didn't want to tolerate the loss of their old country and as Hungarian patriots, didn't accept Czechoslovakia. We also know, that later the whole situation deteriorated, but yes, there were people who didn't accept Czechoslovakia. It would be strange if there weren't. People who lived in the country were loyal to their king and suddenly something made a radical alteration. I agree with my colleague, Mr. Romsics, that the situation in Hungary started to get complicated since the concept of national state didn't offer any solution, but those who had the solution in their hands didn't accept it. If the solutions had been ideal, today it could probably be simulated even on a computer, but I'm not really convinced. But there were certain possibilities, which have simply not been utilised.
Milan Zemko:
I would like to talk about the issue of justice again. The justice of "inadequate time and place". But how about seeking actual justice in an adequate time? Is there a suitable time at all? When does this time become actual? I ask because it is connected with the Versailles peace system. The victors said it was a peace for generations. Moreover, according to president Masaryk, Czechoslovakia would need 50 years of peace to become a really democratic country. These decades weren't destined either for Czechoslovakia or for Hungary or the whole of Europe. My question is the following--Dr. Kováč has mentioned Hitler: did we make use of those relatively calm years in order to avoid cataclysms? We know we didn't. But maybe it would be worth the effort to consider why it happened in order to avoid things repeating again and again.
Ignác Romsics:
I'm not sure that what I say now is going to be popular. I turn back to the previous issue. I cannot adopt a viewpoint according to which it is necessary for nations in this area to oppose or fight to each other again and again. I accept the situation that other nations who lived in Hungary were dissatisfied with their lives before 1918. Probably also the participants of these sessions have enough empathy that they understand the situation after 1918 or 1920 was not acceptable for Hungarians.
Naturally, pragmatic politicians tried to apply the policy of power to change this situation. The question is, if there is a solution applicable in practice, which would be acceptable to Slovaks, Hungarians, Serbs, Romanians or to everybody. That was also in the mind of István Bibó and others during the thirties and forties. Not a perfect solution, but more acceptable, which would be more stable compared with the situation before and after 1918. Bibó and other like-minded Hungarians considered synchronising the language and political boundaries on one hand. On the other hand, in their opinion, this situation could be solved with the mutual or internationally controlled voluntary movement of people as well as creating autonomies. I'm not really talking about Czech-Slovak or Slovak-Hungarian relations, I'm rather thinking of that part of today's Romania, Székely Land.
If the already mentioned second book of mine is published in Slovak, you will be able to read about how American, British, partially French and other peace treaty developers, enlightened by the advantages and mistakes of the Versailles system tried to create a better post-war situation. They wanted to achieve a mutually more acceptable solution. I don't want to say a more fair solution since it's a relative thing, but they really struggled to achieve a more stable and acceptable situation than there was between the two world wars. These plans weren't realised at all. But it shouldn't be a reason for not keeping in mind that history doesn't only consist of already realised things but always of alternatives. It was such an unrealised but significant alternative.
Between the World Wars and after 1945 as well, the Hungarian political and spiritual elite thought that the only solution was the displacement of borders. In my opinion, the question of borders during the past years, decades has reduced, its relevance has decreased. There are two aspects to why it has happened: due to global trends, which means that Tescos are built both in Bratislava and Budapest, young people wear the same clothes, listen to the same music on one hand, and the so-called regional approach, which is the cardinal point of EU policy on the other hand. If I compare today's situation, which is obviously not 100% perfect, with the situation in the seventies and the eighties, I think we have already made huge progress.
If I just take the example of how I crossed the Slovak-Hungarian border by car now and in the seventies-and I haven't talked about the Hungarian-Romanian border, which was a completely different story-the change is evident. Just one more example: I have plenty of Hungarian students from Slovakia at the university in Budapest who get diplomas there and then they come back to work in Slovakia or stay in Hungary or anywhere in the world, it is also very optimistic. In my opinion, Hungarian citizens living in Slovakia are more or less satisfied with their situation, they have the opportunity to present their political views in the Slovak parliament or in newspapers--it's also positive progress and these trends could be continually improved. I think the mentioned trends also entitle us to fill our minds with optimism and that collaboration, friendship, stability as well as mutual relationship at all can be achieved without the displacement of borders.
Dušan Kováč:
The question of the moderator was: when is that right time? The right time could arrive any time, but first of all it depends on our way of thinking. I'm convinced that World War I as well as II--I actually define it as one big war of the 20th century, which basically ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and that the cold war would have been inconceivable without World War II--this huge trauma of the 20th century was the result of the development of European nationalism. All attempts to explain this war through monopolies and economic interests have failed. Of course, some monopolies were interested in the war--e.g. the arms industry, which made a fortune from it-but there were monopolies which opposed the war since they were economically strong and could develop much easier without the war. Simply, the war was caused by reasoning in absolute categories; the absolute nation, national state as an absolute value. The German anthem said-it's a good example--"Deutschland, Deutschland über alles..."--above all, above all other human values. To simply put it, there is something that is an absolute value. And it was impossible to solve after World War I because it's possible to solve only if something is changed in the European mind, in the mind of all of us. We should not absolutise the national state but relativise it. So, we will not absolutise borders but we stop perceiving them and they are actually not borders anymore. Thus to speak about fair borders under conditions when the mind is full of visions of the national state is quite complicated or rather impossible. But everything could be solved under the principle of state perception as contracts among citizens. Countries perceived in conformity with the civilian principle do not have either national or territorial conflicts. In the EU, borders have stopped playing an important role. Mr. Romsics talked about the difference between crossing the borders now and in the seventies, but let's imagine if Hungary and Slovakia become part of the Schengen area, the borders will completely disappear. We don't perceive them anymore as you just travel from Germany to Holland by train. You won't even know that you crossed the borders. That is the right way to follow. In my opinion, there is also a period when people's way of thinking should be influenced and we historians could also play an important role in it.
Milan Zemko:
Does it mean that we should handle extremes consistently as extremes in politics and public activity as well, in order not to attach more importance to them than they deserve, and thereby not move them from the periphery to the centre? I would like to call your attention to this phenomenon which we handle like this both in Hungary and Slovakia. Is it possible to keep extremes on the periphery and prevent them from causing conflicts within domestic politics and foreign policy as well as only with a certain correctness? I don't expect an answer to this question.
Questioner 1:
I think this is a useful discussion because everyone who is here is a historian. If we had more historical knowledge in places where political deeds are done sometimes dirt cheap, our situation could also be better. Mr. Romsics talked about how to achieve perfection, while Dušan Kováč claimed that perfect things do not exist. Who is going to be the arbitrator in the case of a particular historical phenomenon or when things are about ethnic issues? Where is that perfection? I suppose, it doesn't exist. It's also likewise with the matter of justice. When different opposing interests meet, it's almost impossible to find a justice acceptable to everyone. What do I mean? I mean that people should respect civic principles as well as each other. People should understand: I have interests and I respect other people's interests too. How was Czechoslovakia perceived as a national state? Viktor Dyk, the well-known and surely excellent poet presented his opinions in his book entitled "About the National state". Historians know that Masaryk rejected it. Certainly, he did not fight with Dyk openly but he instructed his people not to prefer and discuss Dyk's theses referring to the national state. "I have already told Švehla that the agrarian press should not deal with it and I will tell it also to others., etc.". According to his conception it was a multinational state. I think Mr. Chmel has already mentioned what Masaryk said regarding the situation in Czechoslovakia: we need 40-50 years of peace to have a really strong democratic establishment. So, that is the wise philosophical thesis of a humanist.
Questioner 2:
This historical discussion is very nice and useful for sure, but its political reality is already less agreeable. For example, for Mr. Orbán and Duray the Hungarian borders end at the foot of the Tatras. I would like to remark that Hungarian ruling circles, alongside Germany, participated in the bloodiest war of humanity ever. It was a predatory war and the Hungarian ethnic group has to bear its consequences. Mr. Romsics speaks as if there were unfair borders drawn in Europe without any prior events. This bloody aggression from the Hungarian side continued also during World War II, when Hungary joined up with Germany again. So, these political consequences are not as innocent as they seem to be. To talk about border modifications in Europe like Mr. Romsics did... Well, the change of borders was the matter of almost every war. Therefore the politics is not as simple as your historical discourse. The point is, that Trianon is a consequence of an aggressive war and those who caused it have to bear the consequences.
Questioner 3:
If we want to be objective, then Trianon was the end of the reign of feudal multinational empires and the establishment of Wilson's solution to Europe's arrangement on the principle of a nation's self-determination within their own national states. If we take it from the Hungarian point of view: Hungarians always talk about Hungary as a state, which since 1000, let's say from Vajk, also called István I, continuously existed until 1918. It was not Hungary, it was "Uhorsko" (the Historical Hungary). Our Hungarian friends will have to find a new dictionary in order to be able to name their own history in a correct way, since the state, which existed from 1000 to 1526 was not Hungary but it was "Uhorsko". It had 21 kings of the House of Árpád, out of them only three had more than 50% of Hungarian blood in their veins, the rest did not. From 1526 this state, so-called Hungary, stopped existing.
(Milan Zemko: Stick to the topic, please!)
Questioner 3:
I am talking about the topic, since I am talking about Trianon. Trianon is the culmination of the historical development of Central Europe or the Carpathian Basin. So, from 1541 neither "Uhorsko" nor Hungary existed. Transylvania did exist as the protectorate of the Ottoman Empire and Hungary was Hungary, the ethnic Hungary, the current Hungarian Republic was part of the Ottoman Empire. "Uhorsko" was the Habsburg "Uhorsko" and it was Slovakia. Since 1687 the "Uhorsko" Parliament met in Bratislava--we are in Bratislava, please...
Milan Zemko:
Then I have to ask you a question: Was there a historical Czechoslovakia defined by constitutional law during the period of 1939-45? Was there a continuity of Czechoslovakia?
Questioner 3:
I am talking about "Uhorsko" and not Czechoslovakia. Trianon is the question of the disintegration of "Uhorsko" and not of Czechoslovakia, please.
Milan Zemko:
We cannot continue the discussion like this. Finish your talk, please.
Questioner 3:
Well, if you don't want to listen to me, I just want to mention that this Hungarian "Uhorsko" has never been Hungarian. According to the Hungarian census in 1880 Hungarians represented only 40 %. According to the Hungarian faked census this figure was 48 %. It has never had Hungarian rulers and since 1526 it has never been a Hungarian state. Only since 1918 it has been a part of the Austrian Habsburg empire. Therefore, our Hungarian friends should be glad that there was 1918 and Trianon and the Hungarian nation finally could establish its own Hungarian ethnic state, which could be ruled by real Hungarian ethnic rulers.
Milan Zemko:
You probably will not believe it, but English people did not have any English kings from the 17th century. Maybe you don't believe it, but it was like this. You are talking about certain contingencies, which exceed everything, including Trianon.
Questioner 4:
Good evening, I would have two questions. The first one is for the Czech historian: if he knows exactly what kind of relevant power or effort there was in the Hungarian political scene which supported the reconciliation with neighbouring countries, because as far as I know, such kind of relevant political power or effort didn't exist at all. In the Hungarian political scene there was a definite political request, expressed by the slogan: "Everything back!" I would appreciate if he could convince me that there was a kind of political power supporting the reconciliation. If it was like this until 1927--when the treaty of alliance was signed with Mussolini-it's possible to doubt it either from the point of view of the day or recent viewpoint. In Czechoslovakia there was a democracy, while in Hungary there wasn't. To achieve agreement between a democratic and non-democratic regime is possible only temporarily. We can see it even today. My second question is regarding this discussion in general. I respect the opinion of Slovak historians, but it seems to me that they have a bit of a naive attitude towards the topic. In my opinion, this Trianon trauma is not triggered by us. If we disregard some of Slota's folkloric excesses and other similar ideas--it would be a question for Mr. Romsics--is there a politician in Hungary, who would be able to stand forth before the nation? Currently, probably there isn't. At least, I don't know of anyone. When is it going to happen? Who is going to open a nationwide discussion and reflection? Who is going to tell those facts to the nations, which are probably uncomfortable, but must be solved? I also see this similar problem in Austria. They didn't come to terms with Nazism like Germans. Let Hungary face up to Trianon itself. It reminds me somehow of "crying over spilt milk" [beating a dead horse]. On the other hand, I'm happy that there's a nation in Europe which has even greater self-pity and slightness than our Slovak nation. Since Trianon is only an excessive and soppy crying over spilt milk. I'm sorry to be a bit personal, who here among the participants is more than 87 or 90 years old? Who lived at that time? Hungarian politics kindle these flames, however it already doesn't refer to any living witnesses of these events, nobody who could be hurt with it indeed. We also have a problem with the Slovak State and we should occupy ourselves with this problem.
Milan Zemko:
Dear colleague, you said you asked two questions...
Questioner 4:
Excuse me, it's a question for the professor and I ventured to explain it just to be sure Mr. Romsics understands it in the way I meant. When does a relevant political power-which opens this discussion-appear in Hungary and solve the problem on behalf of Hungarian society? Without accusing us of nationalism. I will be glad if we live together in the EU as friends but the whole situation seems to me really excessive and "overheated".
Milan Zemko:
In my opinion, your question is clear. I suppose, Mr. Romsics understood it very well.
Robert Pejša:
Regarding the first question: What kind of political power? In 1918-20 there were intensive unofficial negotiations between Czechoslovak representatives, diplomats and the Hungarian side. For example, Gusztáv Gratz, the only Hungarian ambassador at this time, who later became a minister of foreign affairs under the government of Pál Teleki, unofficially initiated these negotiations in 1919. These meetings set the conditions for the first official Czechoslovak-Hungarian negotiations in 1921 in Mariánske Lázně. The Hungarian side had certain goals with these negotiations and rapprochements. It was about possible territorial corrections. This request was refused upon a sort of consensus. They discussed mainly economic co-operations, which were vital for both the Hungarian and Czechoslovak side. Of course, we could continue with the first phase of the cultural approach when they attempted to establish a relationship between Czech-Slovak-Hungarian culture. That is also a minority issue, the issue of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia, its opportunities, abilities as well as the ability of the Czech and Slovak society to accept the completely different attitude towards ideas of the Czechoslovak state; to respect the a priori disclaimer opinion after the first years of the war.
Of course, this opinion of the Hungarian minority during the '20s somehow differentiated. There were groups of Hungarian intellectuals, literary men, who understood that within the Czechoslovak parliamentary democracy they have a wider field of activity than in the Christian, national and conservative Hungary. I would like to add something to the question for Mr Romsics. In the review I wrote about the book of Mr. Romsics I mentioned that reflection on Hungarian history since the beginning of the nineties is in a very advanced state. The most joyful thing is that this reflection is the result of a new, ambitious generation of Hungarian historians. It is very important. Names like Balázs Ablonczy, István Bertényi Junior belong to the generation of historians who write specifically about Hungarian history of the interwar period. This interwar period is not very known either in Slovakia or in Czechoslovakia. I see the problem of cultural communication. The reason for the lack of communication, for instance in the sphere of Czech, Slovak and Hungarian science, is the language barrier. It would be useful if publishing companies could issue and translate more specialised literarure, also in Hungarian, because they are not really available.
Ignác Romsics:
The beginning of specialised Hungarian historiography goes back to the 19th century and during the last 150 years it has continuously tried to improve itself both in its terminology and approaches and struggles to reconstruct its own past. I know this struggle was not perfect and I am really glad that Slovak historiography and the public already have a perfect terminology and access, which enable the reconstruction of its history.
If Viktor Orbán, or whoever in Hungary thinks that the Hungarian borders extend to the Tatras, I'm very sorry for it. And I'm glad that there's no Slovak politician who would come to Budapest with tanks.
Concerning Hungarian politicians and Trianon borders, the Hungarian state policy since the peace treaty in 1947 has many times confirmed that the Trianon borders are definite. If I were a politician, I would read the last sentence of my book, where I make it clear that Hungarians consider the Peace Treaty of Trianon unfair with good reason, but they think it is definite and they confirmed it also after World War II.
I really regret that there are some political groups in Hungary, which do not think in the same way, but I think it goes along with a democratic society. I am also convinced that Hungarian historiography always made (makes, will make) an effort to face the Hungarian past and nationalism. I wish the same to Slovak historians and Slovak historiography as well. Thank you very much.
Rudolf Chmel:
Until recently I thought we were good only at football and pop music, but it seems we are also Trianon specialists. It's good because it's not such huge trauma
for us as it was manifested by some contributions heard in this discussion--in any case, we still have to learn a lot. When I listed my notes--I wanted to say something clever but nothing like this came to my mind-I read one of my old papers, that I wanted to keep for a suitable moment. Probably we could translate the words of the novel "Transatlantic" written by one of the biggest Polish writers of the 20th century, Witold Gombrovicz into reality. He wanted to defend Polish people from Poland and free Polish men from Poland. He wanted the Polish man not to conform passively himself to "Polishness" but to be able to see himself also from outside. In his novel he wrote: "The nation is not only a beautiful and noble thing but also something dangerous that we have to be aware of ".
Robert Pejša:
I would also like to say thank you for the invitation. This discussion is similar to the one that was organised last year in the Czech Centre in Budapest. The discussion was also about the trauma of Trianon and the Trianon issue as well. As a representative of Czech historical science, I would be glad to have such a discussion also at the Czech university, since in my opinion, the problem of Trianon and the Slovak-Hungarian relationship as well is not only the problem of Slovakia and Slovak history and Hungary and Hungarian history, but also a problem of Czechoslovak history in the interwar period. It's a topic also for Czech historians, who are rather devoted to the still traumatic Czech-German problem.
Dušan Kováč:
I also would like to say thank you that I could be here. It was really useful for me, since this discussion demonstrated-inter alia-that we are all not only experts of Trianon, but we also have plenty of stereotypes in our mind that we should get rid of as soon as possible. We can move forward only if we stop thinking in too narrow-minded national categories and try to behave in a normal way, that is, to understand each other and communicate with each other. We heard only a few things about the book itself. I would like to make a brief comment on it. It's very appreciable that it was issued in the Slovak language but in my opinion, it's also good that it was published in Hungarian. This book is devoted to Hungarian readers. I don't know how many of you have read it. I think it's a really objective book, based on facts. A book where you cannot find that traditional pain we mentioned here several times. We could discuss it a great deal for sure. I mention this book because in my opinion this book is a really good contribution to the discussion on Trianon in Hungarian society. Hungarian society could lean on it indeed, since this book gives a very sober picture of this topic. It's necessary also for us, Slovak historians to follow this path and to judge things moderately upon facts. The more such attitudes we have, the less problems we'll have in this region.

Ignác Romsics (historian, professor at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest), Rudolf Chmel (literary historian, director of the Institute of Slavic and East-European Studies at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University, Prague), Dušan Kováč (historian, Academy of Science of the Slovak Republic) and Robert Pejša (historian, Czech Republic)

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