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4: Revisionism in Hungary

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NO ONE could be in Hungary very long without knowing that "nem, nem, soha" meant "no, no - -- never," and that it referred to the boundaries fixed by the Treaty of Trianon. If Japan had defeated us and made Canada and Mexico her satellites and given Texas to the latter and most of New England to the former, and had annexed California and Oregon, something similar to nem, nem, soha would probably have appeared in our flower beds, on our mountain slopes and would have burned in our hearts. It is very hard for one not intimately acquainted with the history of Hungary to understand what revision meant to Hungarians, but if we would think of it in terms of our own country, we could better appreciate the fanaticism with which Hungarians clung at the time of my arrival to the idea of some sort of revision of the Treaty of Trianon.

After being deprived by the treaty (June 1920) of two-thirds of her territory and one-half of her population, Hungary still retained 7,500,000 people who were almost homogeneously Magyar. Three and one-quarter million Magyars were allotted to Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia besides populations of other races. Of these three and a quarter million Magyars, about 1,600,000 could have remained with Hungary, being solidly settled along its periphery, without exposing any considerable number of non-Magyars to Hungarian domination. In other words, about one-third of the Magyar race was put under foreign rule and about one-half of this third had to suffer this fate needlessly -one of the errors which might have been avoided had the victors betn willing to do anything else than dictate the peace. The Hungarians resented the iniquity imposed upon them all the more as the beneficiaries of the Trianon Peace Treaty (Slovaks, Croats, Transylvanians) had been brothers in arms, fighting the war to the bitter end. The Hungarians were well aware that the various national groups in Hungary had been offered a chance by the victorious Western powers to sit down at the peace conference as victors if they discarded loyalty and broke away from the Austro-Hungarian system. They especially resented the undue favors granted to Rumania who had betrayed her alliance with Austria-Hungary; had made a very bad show as an ally of the Western powers; had concluded after its rapid defeat a separate treaty with the Central powers, and in the end obtained more of Hungary's territory than was left to Hungary itself. To the Hungarian revisionist, this was adding insult to injury.

The peace treaties on the whole sanctioned the accomplished facts created by Hungary's neighbors during the period of armistice. Possession, as so often, was nine points of the law. The justification offered by the victors was that only by surgical separation could the declared war aim of national self-determination be achieved. It was assumed that, given a free choice, every ethnic group would want its own sovereign racial state. Where races were indissolubly intermixed, the proper method would have been to leave on both sides of a new frontier an approximately equal number of the heterogeneous nationality, but the victors solved every difficulty in favor of the Czechs, the Rumanians, and the Serbs. They did so even where no difficulty would have arisen in case of a more just decision.

It is a fact, though, that even the worst blunders committed at this time were morally and politically far less dreadful than the ruthless method adopted in the spirit of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, which disposed that populations should be adjusted to territories instead of frontiers being adjusted to the wishes of the populations concerned.

The Hungarians did not feel that the peace of Trianon was the final word of history and their revisionism was encouraged by the Covenant of the League of Nations, Article 19, which ran as follows:

The Assembly may from time to time advise the reconsideration by members of the League of treaties which have become inapplicable and the consideration of international conditions whose continuance might endanger the peace of the world.

This article was apparently adopted as a compromise between the realists at the peace conference and the idealists, who had wanted to do something more than facilitate peaceful change. Professor G. M. GathorneHardy said in a Chatham House discussion that it was "little more than a harmless concession to the feelings of the vanquished party (meaning Woodrow Wilson and Lord Robert Cecil) which softened the bitterness of defeat by allowing them to voice their opinion as to the desirability of some provisions for peaceful change." This was not the view of President Wilson, who sincerely believed that the League of Nations would repair unjust decisions. Nor could it be the view of the vanquished nations to whom Article 19 was presented as a silver lining of otherwise black clouds. The Hungarians especially received encouragement and comfort by its presence in the covenant.

On May 6, 1920, M. Millerand, President of the French Republic, delivered the peace terms to the Hungarian delegation with a letter according to which

should an enquiry on the spot perhaps reveal the necessity of altering certain parts of the frontier line provided for in the Treaty, and should the Boundary Commissions consider that the provisions of the Treaty involve an injustice at any point which it would be to the general interest to remove, they may submit a report on this matter to the Council of the League of Nations. In that case, the Allied and Associated Powers agree that the Council of the League of Nations, if requested to do so by one of the parties concerned, may, under the same conditions, offer its services to obtain by a friendly settlement the rectification of the original tracing in places where the alteration of the frontier is considered desirable by the Boundary Commissions. The Allied and Associated Powers feel confident that this procedure constitutes an appropriate method for removing any injustice in the tracing of the frontier line which may give rise to well-founded objections.

This letter apparently referred to the possibility of slight corrections, but, even so, nothing came of it. It was not even communicated to the boundary commissions.

Concerning the principle of revision, I think the opinion expressed by the English historian, Professor C. K. Webster, is irrefutable: "No territorial settlement in Europe has ever been permanent for very long. Clearly, then, if war is to be averted, something must be devised to do in the future what war has done in the past." It is apparent that the making of wise and durable peace treaties is absolutely necessary if this is to be accomplished.

Looking back, it is easy to understand that for political reasons no attempt was made by the League of Nations to put Article 19 into effect. We can also understand that those who considered themselves wronged could not look upon the League's failure to give them consideration with equanimity. They felt cheated and tricked. On March 30, 1920, Lord Newton in the British House of Lords said of Hungary:

Their crime is that they fought against us. That is perfectly true. But the Czecho-Slovaks and the Poles and the Yugo-Slavs and all these other people whom we now greet as friends and brothers fought against us too. Hungary really is in the position of a man who has had a paralytic stroke and is being constantly kicked and cuffed by his former associates and dependents.

Hungary never forgot that, when on August 29, 1921, the United States concluded peace, all mention of new frontiers was omitted. That omission was a strong gesture in favor of territorial revision and was so considered by Hungarians. In 1927, Mr. Lloyd George, former British premier and one of the big four at the peace conference, confessed in a letter to Mr. George Foeldiak, a Hungarian banker, that the authors of the peace treaties "never claimed for them such a degree of perfection that they held them to be immutable." Certainly, therefore, revisionism cannot be considered identical with aggressiveness as we have been taught to believe.

The revisionism I found in Hungary was a curious myth rather than a clear program. National disasters are just as conducive to psychological derangements as national triumphs. The main symptom, in both cases, is the growth of legends. In Hungary, people spoke with religious fervor of the restoration of the thousand-year-old realm, quite oblivious of the fact that in King Stephen's time, Hungary did not have the frontier which she lost in 1919. As I became better acquainted, I found that the camp of revisionism was somewhat divided against itself. Some people wanted restitution of the borders of 1914, others claimed all regions inhabited by Magyars, even if it meant the reincorporation of other elements. Others, very modestly, wanted but the inclusion of all Magyar regions directly adjacent to the new frontiers. Almost all the revisionists had two things in common: a desire for a common frontier with Poland and the return of Transylvania to Hungary.

A common frontier with Poland meant the taking over of Ruthenia. Eastern Hungary around the Tisza River area suffered greatly from droughts because all the water conservation projects, etc., were in Ruthenia and Transylvania. When these provinces were taken away, the whole flood protection system was destroyed and great hardship was caused in the eastern part of Hungary. As a result, when I was there this section was more inclined to Nazism than any other.

Hungary also wanted a common frontier with Poland because the Poles and Magyars had much in common and she longed for friendly neighbors. Hungary felt herself completely encircled by enemy countries, with the exception of Austria, which was weak politically and economically. Further, the Polish-Hungarian frontier had always been like the Canadian-American border: there had never been a war between Poland and Hungary, and each had confidence in the good intentions of the other.

Transylvania had played a great part in the turmoil of the first World War. In Transylvania were the largest compact settlements of Magyars which had been "lost" by the Treaty of Trianon. The trouble was that most of them were in territory separated from their fellow-Magyars in Hungary by Rumanian areas. For this reason it was frequently proposed to overcome Hungarian and Rumanian antagonism by compromise which would have established Transylvania as an autonomous state. These proposals came from Hungarians, not Rumanians, and I think they were prompted by the thought that an independent Transylvania would ultimately reunite with Hungary.

Hungary's preoccupation with this special part of the revisionist program was caused by historical precedent. Every Magyar had inherited the subconscious conviction that the Carpathian Mountains were the God-given wall against the East, against barbarism, against Asia, Europe's eternal menace. Even today, in spite of airplanes and atom bombs, people still cling to the idea of maintaining natural frontiers.

As time went on and I gained the confidence of my Magyar friends, I discovered that many responsible Magyars were by no means in favor of a revisionist policy. On the contrary, they considered it a serious handicap, because it had become a national obsession. The sober and intelligent administrators of Hungary's foreign policy knew that the Slovaks, though on very bad terms with their Czech cousins, did not want to return to the Hungarian fold. They also knew that revisionism was a dangerous toy and that Hungary was utterly unprepared for war. They realized that it was even questionable whether all the separated Magyars, if given a choice, would want to rejoin the old country. Most of them were farmers, and agricultural prices were higher in industrialized Czechoslovakia than in Hungary. The Hungarian Foreign Office was not fond of discussing revisionism and was always eager to emphasize that it was identical, in their concept, with peaceful change.

Foreign Minister de Kanya told me quite frankly that he considered revisionism insanity, but that there was nothing he could do about it since the Hungarian people were not quite sane on that subject and foreign policy could not be divorced entirely from home politics. He sought to keep it as subdued as possible since he realized that the League of Nations never had any idea of giving consideration to Hungarian claims.

To the politicians, revisionism was a godsend, but more responsible men thought it dangerous. Therefore the volume of the official clamor depended upon the character of the prime minister. With General Gombos, the noise was shrill, with Count Teleki it was subdued, but it could never be entirely ignored.

Revisionism was the great obstacle to co-operation with Hungary's neighbors. The Little Entente demanded that Hungary abjure revisionism and accept the status quo, which was asking for the impossible. I am certain that there never was a time while I was there that the Little Entente, by making some slight territorial concessions to Hungary, could not have cleared the whole situation.

After World War I, as now after World War II, newly established frontiers were soon considered sacred and inviolate. With the same speed, they lost this quality as soon as the tide turned. Although it took longer to go from Prague to Ruthenia than it did to go from Prague to London, and the Czechs had very little need for Ruthenia, they considered the Hungarian claims to this territory outrageous. But when the Soviet Union in 1945 claimed the same region, enlarged by a slice of Slovakia, the sacredness and inviolability of the 1919 frontiers vanished. The Czechs, somewhat shamefacedly, described their yielding as an example of peaceful change.

After World War I, France, the dominating power in Europe and the protector of the Little Entente, pursued a shortsighted, vindictive and narrow-minded policy, apparently confused by fear. In the Danubian Basin, her policy was purely militaristic, dominated by the idea that Hungary and Austria, being non-Slavic and therefore perhaps amenable to German allurements, should be kept down by the Little Entente. To be sure, some Frenchmen, for instance Prime Minister André Tardieu, advocated Danubian collaboration and solidarity, but these blessings could never materialize without a foundation of equality. Neither England nor France seemed to realize that to fill the vacuum created by the dissection of old Austria-Hungary and to set up a counterpoise to both Germany and Russia, it was imperative that the little countries, formerly part of Austria-Hungary, should co-operate closely and form a united front.

France seemed to have an unchangeable policy which took nothing into consideration that happened after the Treaty of Trianon. England did not seem to care one way or the other what happened. Neither apparently foresaw the danger to central and southeastern Europe of a defenseless Austria and Hungary, and Hitler later must have wondered at their stupidity.

Hitler would not have been Hitler if he had not used Hungary's territorial grievances for his devilish game. He played one nation against the other. He promised Rumania that her frontiers would be safe and at the same time dangled revision before Hungary's eyes as a reward if she would behave as he wished. Watching the rise of Nazism and realizing its dangers, responsible Hungarians foresaw that after the fall of Austria and Czechoslovakia, it would soon be Hungary's turn. Admiral Horthy had the backing of his nation when, in August 1938, he rejected Hitler's proposal of a military alliance against the Czechs. However, the Hungarians could not help thinking that if Hitler destroyed Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia and Rumania, it would be much better for them to get back as much territory as they could rather than let Germany have it, which was the alternative. For example, Kassa, which the Czechs called Kosice, the capital of Prince Rakoczi during his fight for Hungarian independence: Since the Czechs were going to lose it, why should it become German rather than Hungarian? Or Ruthenia, which was so important to Hungarian economy? Hitler had given Hungarians, Foreign Minister de Kanya told me, his solemn word of honor that after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Ruthenia and Kassa, with its hinterland, would be given to Hungary. According to Mr. de Kanya, this was not in response to any request, but a voluntary statement made by Hitler. However, when Count Teleki was unwilling to join in Germany's attack on Yugoslavia, in April 1941, Hitler made it know that he would invite Rumania to seize the territory in the Banat which had formerly been a part of Hungary.

At the time of the Munich conference, I happened to be in Washington. Mr. George Creel, the eminent writer, who had charge of the Bureau of Information under President Woodrow Wilson and had been more or less one of his right-hand men, Homer Cummings and William Gibbs McAdoo, Wilson's son-in-law, had dinner with me. We discussed the symptoms that seemed to presage another war. Both Mr. McAdoo and Mr. Creel confirmed the fact that President Wilson had strongly relied upon the League of Nations' ability and willingness to change boundaries. For that reason he had consented to many boundaries that did not seem proper.

For example, Hungary: the French had told Wilson that Hungary was going communist and it was necessary to make the frontiers conform to the ideas of the French general staff in order to protect European civilization. President Wilson was incredulous and sent George Creel to investigate. He spent a week with Count Michael Karolyi, the premier, and observed the latter's feebleness and conditions as they then existed, returning with the correct forecast that the communists would take over within a week. This induced Wilson to agree to the French proposal with the idea of determining the frontiers on a different basis when the communist interlude was over. However, once fixed, they remained fixed.

I have said before that responsible men in the Hungarian Foreign Office regarded revisionism as a serious handicap that diminished their freedom of movement. Not only Hitler but Mussolini played on this instrument. The Duce was, of course, not interested in improving Hungary's lot, but originally Hungary's discontent offered him the possibility of strengthening Italy's bargaining position toward Yugoslavia and France, against whom Italian revisionism was generally directed.

Mussolini took up the Hungarian cause and elaborated on Italian revisionism or expansionism in the Balkans, which involved placing Yugoslavia in a pair of Italian-Hungarian pincers. Later, when the Duce became afraid of Hitler, he supported Hungary, just as he had assisted Austria, in order to buttress her resistance against German pressure. He competed with Hitler and posed as a greater champion of Hungarian revisionism than the Hungarians themselves. Men like Foreign Minister de Kanya and Baron Gabriel Apor, undersecretary of state, one of the best informed and cleverest of European diplomats, watched it with disquiet, as it is always risky to be on the thin edge of a wedge.

Sometimes Italy's ardor became embarrassing, as when Dino Alfieri, Mussolini's minister for public enlightenment, made a violent and unexpected revisionist speech at the opening of an Italian art exhibition in Budapest, to which the diplomatic corps had been invited. Basil Grigorcea, the Rumanian minister, attended out of politeness, being dean of the diplomatic corps. Don Ascanio Colonna, the Italian minister, and his staff were very much embarrassed. Baron Apor -and this was very characteristic of his kind of diplomacy- told me afterward that Prince Colonna should have warned Grigorcea in advance, just as he himself had done as minister to Vienna, when he kept the Rumanian envoy away from a revisionistic address delivered by a Hungarian politician. The probabilities are, though, that the Italian minister and his staff were just as much surprised as the Rumanian minister.

When Italy grew too interested in Hungarian revisionism, responsible Magyars, as I have said, felt uneasy. When Germany talked revision, they became thoroughly alarmed. On such an occasion, in May 1938, Mr. de Kanya said to me that any territorial gain obtained by agreement with Germany alone would be a mistake. To accept favors from any government over the protests of other governments would make Hungary, he said, a partner of the former. Previously, in December 1936, Baron Apor had told me that Hungary would be very nervous if Germany began to back her revisionism because "it would indicate that Germany was getting too friendly for comfort." These two conversations occurred, as can be seen, before the war, when Hungarians were still hoping that they could avoid strangling entanglements.

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