Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Paramilitary Violence in Hungary after the First World War

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Paramilitary Violence in Hungary after the First World War

Article excerpt

Introduction

Long-term structural problems, such as the unequal distribution of power among ethnic groups, a cumbersome bureaucracy and a rigid and essentially undemocratic political structure, coupled with the tensions produced by industrialization and the Great War, led to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in October 1918. The demise of one of the oldest states in Europe failed to generate much sympathy among the Austro-Germans and the Hungarians, who had benefited the most from the existence of the Dual Monarchy, and was welcome by the oppressed minorities whose personal status had suffered from its legal system. The collapse of Austro-Hungarian Empire was also welcome by the Western powers that considered Austria-Hungary, at least since the military debacles of 1916, as nothing more than a German proxy state. The Hungarian Republic that emerged, along with half a dozen small states, to take the place of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 was in a revolution ignited by war weariness and genuine desire for reform. The October Revolution created Hungary's first democratic government; led by the "Red Count," Mihaly Karolyi, the new government quickly initiated wide-ranging social and political reforms, and sought peace and reconciliation with the ethnic minorities in Hungary and the neighboring states. (1) These were formidable tasks, and the Hungarian government, like its Czechoslovak, Yugoslav and Rumanian counterparts, could have accomplished them only with Western support. The victorious powers, especially France, were hostile towards Hungary: they considered the Hungarian aristocracy illiberal, arrogant and semi-Asiatic, and wrongly accused them for the outbreak of the Great War. They generally supported Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and even Austria in their border disputes with Hungary for a number of reasons: besides general antipathy towards the Hungarian elite and Hungarians in general, an attitude tinged with racism, and resentment over the oppression of ethnic minorities before 1914, geopolitical and economic considerations, i.e., the desire to build barriers around Soviet-Russia and Germany and to replace German capital with French and British investment in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe, also pushed the Western powers to disregard Hungarian claims. The Western powers, in particular France, acquiesced, and in some cases supported, the policy of Czechoslovak, Yugoslav and Rumanian governments to create facts on the ground and, in direct violation of the principles of national self-determination, grab more and more Hungarian lands.

The French and British support for the neighboring states undermined the legitimacy of the first democratic Hungarian government, which, in addition to domestic reforms, promised to defend the country's territorial integrity and hoped for an honorable settlement of the border issues. The quick waning of popular support for democracy was in part the government's own making: pacifism, mistaken faith in the goodwill of the Western powers and belated land and social reforms certainly contributed to the decline in the regime's popularity. On the other hand, it is rather difficult to imagine that a strong government could have emerged in Hungary after October 1918 or that strong-armed policies would have been tolerated for long by the war-weary and increasingly disobedient population. Faced with renewed Western demands for more and more territories, the Karolyi government finally handed over power to a group of politicians who belonged to the Social Democratic and Communist parties in March 1919. The rationale behind this move was that Bela Kun and his comrades would obtain Soviet military aid to defend the country's independence and territorial integrity. (2) In spite of the backing of many Social Democrats, Liberal and Conservative politicians--support that, however, did not last long--the first National-Bolshevik experiment in East-Central Europe proved to be a complete failure. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.