Orbán instrumentalizes the Hungarian trauma of Trianon

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

     After World War I, in 1920, the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and Hungary was obliged to sign an agreement with the Allied Powers at the Trianon Palace in Versailles, France (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). Hungary lost two thirds of its territory and millions of people found themselves in another country from one day to another (2020, Ozsváth). Due to the immense loss of territory, almost every family experienced the consequence of Trianon, meaning that “every family has a family member who either had to leave their home and move to (the new) Hungary, or was separated for decades” (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). After World War II, Hungary was under the influence of the USSR. In the wake of the socialist doctrine, the Soviet Union aimed at pacifying the region and the trauma of Trianon was increasingly tabooed (Mdr.de, 2020). However, the conflict did not disappear. Now, 100 years after Trianon, the treaty still has an impact on national politics and the comprehension of history.

      The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, uses Trianon for his political purposes. Calling Trianon, a “dictate” (which calls to mind the right-extremist choice of words of the Nazi-Propaganda in the times of the Weimar Republic), Orbán creates a myth around Hungary’s past in order to consolidate and promote nationalist ideas (Mdr.dw, 2020). Orbán invested 14,5 Million Euro into a monument commemorating Trianon (Schlagwein, 2020).  The monument shows the names of all the 12.536 places that have been part of Hungary before World War I (Mdr.de, 2020). However, some of these places have never been populated by a Hungarian majority (Mdr.de, 2020). On the day of the centenary of Trianon, flags were at half-mast (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). By drawing attention to Trianon, Orbán not only promotes nationalist ideas, but also manipulates the national understanding of history.

      Orbán aims at creating a national feeling across borders in order to secure the electoral support of the Hungarian diaspora. Hungarian people living abroad are also granted the right to vote and a dual citizenship (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). Furthermore, Orbán supports the Hungarian diaspora financially by investing in Hungarian speaking schools, universities and churches (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020).  The integration of the Hungarian diaspora has the purpose to generate a devoted and faithful electorate. 90% of the Hungarian diaspora living in Romania votes for Orban  (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020). In Romania, the Hungarian minority is not well integrated in the society. Orbán actively supports the isolation of the Hungarian minority in Romania by financing Hungarian cultural and educational projects (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020). By further contributing to the isolation of the Hungarian diaspora he not only secures important votes, but also creates a relationship of dependence which has a positive effect on his expansion of power.

      The isolation of the Hungarian minority, however, also leads to conflicts as in 2019, when Romanian nationalists and Hungarian nationalists disputed “the right to place crosses for Romanian soldiers in an international war cemetery which contains the remains of soldiers of multiple nationalities from both world wars” (Palfi, Asbóth, & Musaddique, 2019). In Slovakia, Hungarians are better integrated into the society. The party of the Hungarian minority has even been part of government from time to time (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020). In Slovakia, only 50% of the Hungarian minority support Orbán. This shows that the more Orbán influences the Hungarian diaspora politically and financially, the more likely the electorate is to support him.

      In May 2020, Orbán published a post on Facebook showing a map of Hungary before World War I, before Trianon, on the occasion of the final history high school exams in the subject history (Schlagwein, 2020). This was an international scandal. The president of Slovenia, Borut Pahor expressed “rejection and concern” over the map (Walker, 2020). This shows that until today Trianon is a sensitive issue. However, approximately 85% of Hungarians see Trianon as Hungary’s “greatest tragedy” (Than & Fenyo, 2020). This shows that Orbán’s attempts to manipulate the country’s understanding of history was successful.

      In conclusion, Orbán successfully instrumentalized Trianon for its purposes. By drawing attention to Trianon, Orbán promoted nationalist ideas and manipulated the national understanding of history.  In the wake of the idea of the “dictate of Trianon”, Orbán can more easily mobilize his electorate and justify his extension of power. 


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