In the address marking the centennial celebrations of the Trianon treaty that had reduced the Hungarian territory by two thirds, Viktor Orbán surprisingly hit home a Polish neo-imperial theme: “The people of Central Europe haven't had a chance like this for centuries - with Polish leadership, they could now be the masters of their fate, from the Baltic Sea to the Balkans.”

2020 was to be a year of recognition and celebration for the Trianon treaty; a treaty which came into being after the tragedies of World War I and in which the Great Powers of this world divided the lands of St. Stephen’s Crown.

However, a hundred years have passed and trauma among Hungarians still remains strong as I wrote about in my latest book. Life, if it needs to be said, pauses for nothing and this year has already added a new chapter to it.

The politics of topography

The anniversary celebrations and festivities in Hungary have been somewhat different than expected. The pandemic cancelled the most important one: 4 June, the day the treaty was signed.

However, on 20 August, St. Stephen’s Day, the highest authorities in the country, the President, Prime Minister and President of Parliament, officially opened the 100-metre-long Pantheon of National Reconciliation (or Unity, in Hungarian: Nemzeti Összetartozás Emlékhelye), built at the junction of Kossuth Square and Alkotmány Avenue, directly in front of the Parliament.

Based on a map from 1913 – the moment when Hungary had expanded its greatest reach across Central Europe bringing them underneath a centralised framework of control – the monument displays the names of the more than 12,000 Hungarian towns and villages that belonged to Hungary at that time, and the structure, which resembles the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is watched over by an eternal flame. The symbolism is more than transparent

Memory lost in Transylvania

The pandemic seems to have slowed everything down, but there was one area where there has continued to be heated discussions: there was an unprecedented debate among historians, precisely about Trianon.

Professor Ignác Romsics, the best expert in the history of 20th century Hungary, was placed at its epicentre. He has recently published a volume under the telling title “Losing Transylvania 1918-1947”, and already in May 2018, when the debate around Trianon was only just beginning, he gave an interview to the weekly Heti Válasz, in which he espoused the opinion that it was a loss “forever”.

At the beginning of this “Year of Trianon”, Romsics, who has a strong presence in public life, with many books widely read and available in bookstores, wrote another text in the opposition daily Népszava.

Then he expressed the view that “in the case of a smarter and more efficient policy on the part of Hungary… the losses, perhaps, would not be so great”. In other words, he made it clear that the responsibility for this tragedy also lies with the Hungarians.

At that time, the debate was raging in national circles, but the answer to Romsics’s assumptions came after some time – and from an unexpected, unfamiliar source.

On June 13th, Árpád Szakács, a businessman who was working in the government media – and until then rather unknown as a historian – published a pamphlet in the government’s Magyar Nemzet newspaper, with the significantly provocative name, “Romsics’ Tales from the Freemasons“.

The main thesis is clear from the title: Romsics replicates the theses pushed for years ago by secret societies and Masonic lodges because they were the one who are actually fully responsible for the Trianon tragedy.

Trianon centennial relaunches conspiracy theories

Contrary to appearances, it wasn’t a completely new statement; it has been a common theme of revisionist Hungarian history (and not only) for years, and its most famous advocate is another famous right-wing historian Ernő Raffay.

He has already written many volumes on the subject (see here), and on the occasion of the “Year of Trianon”, he has published another in which he claimed to have gathered all the threads together and emphasising that it was written after reviewing 11,000 pages and 484 volumes on the subject (more in Heti Válasz by András Stumpf, which is a good collection of all the crisscrossing gossamers of the initial stage of this debate).

It was Raffay who, in the conservative portal Magyar Idők and on the anniversary of Trianon in 2018, openly attacked Romsics, or as he put it the “heir to the old Marxist and liberal school” and criticising him for his “devoid of ideas”, and he firmly stated: “Transylvania is not lost.” At that time, he once more put forward a thesis about the responsibility of freemasons for Trianon, and even proposed a “modification of the borders“.

A magical number of Hungarian calamities

However, it was not Raffay, but another influential national publicist and president of the National Trianon Society, János Drabik, who best formulated the essence of the issue in the newly published version of the volume “Hundred Years of Trianon”.

In his opinion, Hungary has gone through “seven national tragedies” in the last century.

– The first is Trianon;
– the second is the Soviet entry after 1945;
– the third is 1956: all of which are commonly referenced historical events.

So, what about the next four? There may be surprises here, because, according to the author:

– the fourth is 1989 and the Round Table talks where “the Hungarian nation was deprived of its property”, and the government  lost control over it (because it had been taken over by supranational forces);
– the fifth is the accession to NATO and the EU, i.e. “to supranational structures”;
– the sixth is the “threat of Islamisation of Europe”, and finally
– the seventh, just beginning, is a threat to the basic structure of our civilisation, i.e. the Family and the Nation as understood by the Great Family.

Of course, Drabik, like Raffay, also places all responsibility for Trianon on the Freemasons, like now for the latest tragedies falls on the liberals, the EU and George Soros.

It is them, according to the last line from the government, who are to blame for the latest “misfortunes”, i.e. the Islamisation and the threat to the family as a result of “forced implementation of a supranational concept”.

Importantly, the theses about the responsibility of Freemasons for the tragedy were fully confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén and former Prime Minister Péter Boross in an extensive statement. Thus, the matter took on a political dimension and quickly went beyond purely historical considerations.

Historians’ consensus on Trianon

Professor Romsics when talking to me, proudly stresses that all influential and well-known historians, including those of the right-wing provenance (some of them his students), were behind him.

One of them, Krisztián Ungváry, in an extremely emotional response in “Magyar Nemzet” on 20 June, accused the initiator of the debate, Árpád Szakács, of historical dilettante, of reaching for dubious or suspicious sources and of getting stuck in the “spiritual half-world”.

Ungváry also signed a special letter with many well-known historians (including, among others,  Balázs Ablonczy, János Fodor. János  Gyurgyák, David Turbucz and Miklós Zeidler) defending Romsics’ achievements.

Since then, the discussion has gained even more momentum. Of course, none of the serious historians can refute the basic findings of Ignác Romsics regarding the origins of the Hungarian disaster in Trianon, the loss of Transylvania and of so much land and people.

According to an extensive interview in Romania as well as the Hungarian-speaking portal Maszol, Romsics mentions these reasons when it comes to the loss of Transylvania:

1) The fact that the population living on 103 km² of detached land was 54% Romanian and only 32% Hungarian, according to the 1910 census;

2) Within the framework of the Central Statistical Office (C.C.C.), the number of people living in the area of Hősöktere Transylvania is estimated to be around 1.5 million. The Hungarian elite did not manage to develop a proper national policy that would satisfy the entire population of this multi-ethnic area;

3) Since 1859, there was already a Romanian state, which had as one of its goals to take control of the area;

4) The great powers after the First World War did not believe that the successors to the central Hungarian Empire would be able to take control this territory;

5) Similarly, it was believed that the successors of the Monarchy would not be able to deal with nationality issues properly, so they sliced it up and established a system of nation states on its ruins (from which the Little Entente of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania);

6) At the end of 1918, chaos arose in the Carpathian Basin, Hungary was plagued by war and revolutionary turmoil and was therefore weak and unable to resist the concepts imposed on it.

Orbán’s new place under the tent

The theses and findings are hard to challenge. Therefore, none of the important professional historians directly do so.

Instead, the debate has shifted to the political level, and from here, there is a clear message: the blame for Trianon’s tragedy lies not with the Hungarians, who are the victims, but with a secret conspiracy to undermine a previously strong nation.

Hence, Ignác Romsics is under public attack while Árpád Szakács just received an additional 50 million forints (c.a. EUR 150,000) for further research on his theses. Moreover, Ernő Raffay, on the occasion of St. Stephen’s Day, received a high state award.

So there is no doubt as to who is now the government’s favourite and whose theses are preferred by the authorities.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has not yet taken the floor in this lively debate yet although he often speaks and comments on all possible issues in the country.

It is important to note, however, what has been done, specifically in his keynote speech on 6 June this year in a Hungarian town Sátoraljaújhely (translated: A New Place Under the Tent). The town was chosen symbolically because it was literally cut in half, the other side is in Slovakia, by the arrangements in Trianon.

It was here that the Hungarian Calvary was set up, the Way of the Cross climbing high up, and at the very top of it, the Prime Minister unveiled another mythical bird, Turul, which is symbolic for Hungarians and whose vast wings are supposed to protect the Hungarian nation from all misfortunes.

A neo-imperial chant implicates Poland

At this pilgrimage site, Orbán began like a preacher, in a canonical and mystical spirit. However, he quickly moved on to politics, turning a statement into a true national manifesto.  He only mentioned a few words “a blow to the back by the conspiring forces”, but he said nothing directly about freemasons.

But then he drew this vision:

“The world trembles in its foundations. There are tectonic changes in it. The USA is no longer a global hegemon, Eurasia is being reborn with incredible dynamism, and our European Union is bursting at the seams, although it is deluded that it will survive by salto mortale (i.e. mortal somersault).

The earth is shaking under the feet of our eastern neighbour. The Balkans are full of questions waiting to be answered.  A new order will emerge.”

“This gives Hungary hope,’ continued the Prime Minister, and in his self-praising style, he raised the qualities of the current government as a result of which “we haven’t been as strong as we are today for a hundred years”. And later he stated strongly: “The era of a hundred years of loneliness is over”, and “the Hungarians have begun their time of return”.

Once again, he pointed out that “only states have borders, nations do not”, which in the Hungarian case and in the context of the Trianon syndrome has additional significance. And, of course, he concluded with a frequent call recently: “Magyarország mindenek előtt”, or “Hungary above all” or Hungary First. Consequently, the Prime Minister put similar theses in his occasional speech in Kossuth Square on August 20, but because of the place and circumstances, he was clearly more careful when choosing words.

However, he repeated the theses about the “hundred years of loneliness” of Hungarians after Trianon, again put stress on the weaknesses of the West, and the formation of a new world order,  which, according to him, creates the need to build a strong organism in the area “between Russia and Germany”.

The only novelty was that he proposed that the latter should be done together with the countries of the region “headed by a Polish leadership “.

Revisionist rationale for a military beef up

Viktor Orbán added another argument, often raised by him recently: “a new Hungarian army is being built at lightning speed.” This is a fact as the Hungarian Prime Minister has been talking to Donald Trump himself, and in August this year, it was reported that “the biggest military contract in history”, amounting to one billion dollars, had just been signed with Lockheed Martin.

At the same time, purchases of military equipment in Germany have recently reached 1.8 million euros, and further purchases are expected. The government has announced an increase in the ranks of the army by 10,000 soldiers, and is also looking for volunteers (up to 20,000) for paramilitary units.

It seems that the Hungarians are again looking for their place – and not so much under a tent as the whole Carpathian Basin. After all, history, and especially the painful Trianon, is determined by political will, not historical knowledge. It is politics, not science or knowledge, that will probably decide what will go into the textbooks.

There will be no place for “defeatists” like Professor Romsics. And the responsibility of the Hungarians and their elite for Trianon will be removed because they were  the victims of  “conspiracy” of Freemasons and the Masonic Lodges. It is time to open a new page of history.

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This article is part of the #DemocraCE project. A Czech version is available on HlídacíPes and a Polish version is published on Res Publica Nowa.

Bogdan J. Góralczyk is Professor and former Director of the Centre for Europe, University of Warsaw, a political scientist and sinologist and an expert on Hungary, where he served as a senior diplomat in the years 1991–98 (afterwards a book was published both in Poland and Hungary). His recent book "Hungarian Syndrome: Trianon" has been published on the anniversary of the treaty


Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

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