THE WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH were very different for Hungary than for the other nations of Eastern Europe. The Hungarians had not only been belligerents, they had been actively and enthusiastically involved on the losing side. As a consequence, defeat for Hungary did not mean the opportunity to create or renew but was instead the occasion for a thorough reexamination of the past: it was a time to find the explanation for errors and perhaps to find scapegoats as well. Where others were infused with the hope of a bright new future, the Magyars were plunged into gloom, rejecting their defeat and the subsequent losses, but with no clear idea of alternatives.
Hungary had a brief transitional government. Count Mihály Károlyi, a politician who favored independence and significant concessions to the minorities, was appointed head of government by the Habsburg emperor before the armistice. Károlyi's authority did not extend far, however. The non-Magyar regions--Slovakia, Transylvania and Croatia--had already all gone their own way or were in the process of doing so. In Hungary proper, the discontented masses inevitably tended to associate the new government with the old system which spawned it. Károlyi's regime proclaimed a series of democratic reforms, including such routine measures as freedom of press and assembly, but it was unable to carry out the more important changes such as a significant broadening of the franchise and a major land reform. The failure of the new leadership to take hold and set the country firmly in a new direction was rooted in a number of problems: the weak political tradition inherited from the prewar period; the difficulty of restoring economic health to a war-torn land (something which would have challenged any government); and most of all the nationalities question, or as it now manifested itself, the question of the integrity of "Great Hungary."