Friday, June 05, 2020

100 years after Trianon: Hungarian anxiety and irrationality

Yesterday, we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. The Kingdom of Hungary lost all its non-Hungarian territories, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and a piece of Austria. It was superseded by a new nation state – which was a ministate relatively to the previous 100 years.

Sadly and somewhat surprisingly for us (and especially Slovaks and others who are directly involved), lots of Hungarians including PM Viktor Orbán apparently cannot really reconcile themselves with the (not so) new Europe that began 100 years ago.

I have no idea what the actual distribution of opinions is in Hungary. But please, Hungarian friends, you need to completely reconcile with the fact that 1920 is smaller than 2020 – and smaller by one hundred – and the events in 1920 must be considered as facts about the initial conditions of your lives, not as something you are struggling to shape.

Hungarians have some nomadic Central Asian ancestors but they blended into Central Europe before 900 AD. They became staunch Christians and the "set of people speaking Hungarians" gradually absorbed most of the Central European DNA. That's why, despite "their" apparently exotic origin, the Hungarian DNA only differs by "several percent of exotic additions" from the average of the adjacent nations.

Well, the Hungarians have exploited some internal mess we had in Czechoslovakia around 900, in Great Moravia if you prefer the archaic names, and they occupied the Slovak part of Great Moravia between 900 AD and 910 AD. Since that moment up to 1918 (or 1920 in Trianon, if you wish), Slovakia has been subordinate to the Hungarians. The period was over 1000 years old.

Hungarians have been mostly decent overlords and they were overwhelmingly contributing to peace in Central Europe – and its defense from the real enemies such as the Turks. But don't overlook the obvious thing: the idea of a leading nation that can politically marginalize all speakers of other nations, such as Slovaks, is something that isn't compatible with the "true" 20th century that started in 1918 (or 1920).

Of course it had to end at some moment. The numbers 1918 or 1920 are just some random numbers but in 2020, we live in a different world in which such a Hungarian-led empire is no longer thinkable. One approach to this fact is to talk about human rights, morality, and values. But there is another approach which may be more natural and it's the brute force. Hungary simply doesn't have the military capacity to impose its vision about the organization of Central Europe on its neighbors. Hungary was a country that lost the First World War. But these days, it could lose even in conflicts with less populous nations such as Slovakia.

Hungarians may be proud about their glorious past and the big enough kingdom. Or they may prefer to forget it because the Incredible Shrinking Hungary of 1920 may be considered a painful spot. Well, it shouldn't be painful. Things are rarely painful for 100 years. The Hungarian nation emerged as one of the "equal" nations of Central Europe who have a nation state. The territory is even smaller than the "most natural Hungarian ethnic area" because of the lost First World War. But even from the point of the long-term justice, it's not unfair. Slovakia and other countries have been completely subordinate for 1000 years. So when 10% of Slovakia where Hungarians are a majority has a similar status for 100 or 200 years, it's not even enough to compensate for the opposite asymmetry that we had before 1918 (or 1920).

I think that the Hungarians should be rational and to be rational means to be grateful for the present and happy. Why? Because they are surrounded by some nations that have belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary but they mostly like Hungary and Hungarians. They have quite some respect for the Hungarians way of living, their protection of the European values, their peacefulness, and other things. And more nontrivially, they don't whine about having been oppressed!

If you are a Hungarian, just try to appreciate that the history of the Hungarian-Slovak relationships could be said to be analogous to the history of the white-black relationships in America. That history could be used as a justification of an invasion of Slovaks who would rob all the shops in Budapest ;-), among other things. It's not happening because the Slovaks are also peaceful – perhaps thanks to the Hungarian leadership for 1000 years – and their IQ is way above 85, the number from the other example.

No one is blaming Hungarians for having been oppressors for 1000 years. You may celebrate your greatness. Only the real world borders were adapted to the common sense balance of the ethnic nations of Central Europe. It's great that the other nations that have been controlled by the Kingdom of Hungary don't want any revenge – because Hungary would probably be utterly unable to defend itself today.

I wrote this blog post because I was really surprised by the detachment of many Hungarians (and maybe most Hungarians?) from the geopolitical reality, by the deeply incorporated sorrow about Trianon, something that I find immature although I do understand that Trianon had to be a real shock for any kind of Hungarian imperial sentiments.

But some events happened in Slovakia. It's another reason to be happy about the dissolution of Czechoslovakia because we largely follow these events as some not so important events in "two foreign countries" now. The new Slovak PM Igor Matovič invited representatives of the Hungarian minority to some discussions, offered them other things... but they responded with a combative rant that demanded a full autonomy, among other things. Wow. Matovič feels "deceived" by SMK, a political bloc of the Hungarians in Slovakia, while some other Slovaks say that by trying to be kind to the Hungarians, he was close to treason. Emotions seem to run high there.

You just shouldn't behave in this way, dear Hungarians. This behavior is way too similar to what the Sudetenland Nazis did in Czechoslovakia of the 1930s. It led to the Second World War and the more or less unavoidable expulsion of Germans from the Sudetenland (and from a big part of what is currently Poland). You are really making many people (and nations) upset and your demands don't correspond to any justice – and they don't correspond to your strength on the ground, either.

Meanwhile, Slovakia could have good reason to try to reintegrate with Czechia. The reliably ruling Czech PM is Slovak-born, somewhat proving that Czechs have no problem with someone's being Slovak whatsoever, and it could be a good opportunity to partially if not fully reintegrate some Czech and Slovak structures because problems with 10% of the population are potentially dangerous for a small country like Slovakia (it would be just a 3% problem in Czechoslovakia).

Of course, I believe that Czechs have become the most mature and pragmatic nation in Europe in these matters. We would never try to fool ourselves into thinking that we have been the most brilliant natino and the most original nation etc. in the whole history. This discussion is very old – and since the 9th century, some submissiveness towards Germans has been one of the defining traits of our nation!

But even when it comes to things like the old manuscripts, well, we had these arguments about some very old documents – apparently showing that Czechs were as culturally old as the French and others – two centuries ago. There were early arguments that those were forgeries. The first president of Czechoslovakia, Prof Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, was one of the leading men who claimed that those had to be forgeries, despite the regular Czechs' wishes to put some lipstick on the pig. Only in the 1960s, modern methods have proven that the manuscripts were created in the 19th century, not 800+ years earlier.

Masaryk has often been presented as a non-controversial role model for Czechs, he is often lionized although much of his success was a matter of good luck. But he did have a relationship to the truth, including inconvenient truths. Sometimes Czech arguably like to "overdo" it and enthusiastically scream that we the Czechs are just a pile of šit! Well, I think that this excessive criticism faded away in recent years but it's still around – in healthy amounts among regular Czechs and in unhealthy amounts among the fanatical Czech Germanophiles and EU-philes.

Hungarians and others simply need to be more pragmatic and realist, like the Czechs are. You can't defend some pre-1918 maps of Europe because they are absolutely unrealistic in 2020. It's just the history, something that may become the foundation for emotional films – that don't differ from fiction too much because the plot isn't related to the living people's lives – or something that the kids must learn in the often boring history classes! It's just absolutely stupid to fight the battles of 1920 (and they were already totally lost back in 1920!) in 2020.

And that's the memo.

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