Hungary in Revolution, 1918-19: Nine Essays

By Iván Völgyes | Go to book overview

Nationality Problems of the Hungarian Soviet Republic

Eva S. Balogh

For centuries the Danubian basin, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, has been a meeting place of the various nationalities of eastern Europe. Before the outburst of nationalist sentiments in the nineteenth century, people of diverse tongue and heritage lived rather amiably side by side under the protection of the Hungarian crown. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, as the idea of nationalism spread across Europe, the nationality question in this heterogeneous kingdom became a potential threat to the territorial integrity of the thousand-year-old Hungarian state. Rumanians in Transylvania could, by the second half of the nineteenth century, find in the newly emerged kingdom of Rumania a symbol of their national identity. Nor were the Serbs unaffected by Serbian nationalism and the expansionist ambitions of the ever-growing Serbian kingdom. The Hungarians, also fiercely nationalistic, answered the threat with oppression and a policy of Magyarization. The government's fear that the aspirations of the nationalities might not ultimately be checked by these methods proved to be well founded.

At the end of World War I, with the victorious neighbors of Hungary laying claim to territories inhabited by various nationality groups, Hungary's territorial integrity, indeed her very existence, was jeopardized. The magnitude of her potential loss can be seen in the fact that half of her population was of other than Hungarian nationality.

At this period of crisis there occurred, in 1918 and 1919, two revolutions: a bourgeois democratic revolution headed by Mihály Károlyi on October 31, 1918; and, when his government failed to prevent the foreign occupation of large parts of Hungary, on March 21, 1919, a bloodless Bolshevik revolution led by Béla Kun.

The Károlyi government, in its efforts to preserve the territorial integrity of Hungary, promoted a liberal nationality policy. Following the constructive federative plans of Oszkár Jászi, minister of nationalities, the government granted autonomy to several nationalities and was willing to negotiate with others. The regime based its hopes for keeping Hungary intact on the allegiance of its nationalities, trusting that the Paris Peace Conference would allow plebiscites in the disputed areas.

____________________
This article is based on a paper which was originally written as a master's thesis at Yale University in 1967 under the guidance of Professor Piotr S. Wandycz. I would like to thank Professor Wandycz for all his advice concerning the topic and Brenda Jubin, dean of Morse College, Yale University, for her wonderful help in editing the manuscript for publication.

-89-

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