Collective memory in Hungary Everynation has its very own collective memories, victimhoods and narcissisms.
Welive with them and often live by them, since these events, bad or good, canhave a huge impact on our lives. Hungary got a big share of happenings we canremember, and there is a good reason we are often deemed one the most pessimistnations that ever lived. Hungarywent through tragedies like the Tatar and Turkish invasions, the Battle ofMohács or the losses of both World War I and World War II, leaving Hungarianswith a whole lot of material for their collective memory.
Among these, the mosttragic and most effective was the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. TheTreaty of Trianon was a formal agreement in order to formally and legally endWorld War I between the Allied countries and the Kingdom of Hungary. The treatytook away about two thirds of Hungary’s area and population, with more than 3million Hungarians being forced to live in another state. The negativeconsequences of the treaty are so numerous I will not try to name them all.
However, Hungary was not the only country that suffered losses after World WarI. Manyforgot that Austria had to sign a treaty in 1919 in Saint Germain as well. Theylost South Tirol, as well as their northern regions along with Karinthia. Therest of Europe deemed Austria unviable, including Austrians, who were seekingthe opportunity to join Germany in order to survive. Only after this and WorldWar II happened, did they realize Austria was capable of surviving on its ownjust fine. Austrians did their best to cope with the tragedies and losses, andforgot about the pangerman dream.
This sobering, the realization of the needfor independence led to the rise of the nation. It led to Austria being one ofthe top five most successful countries in the European Union. Onthe other hand, Trianon still affects not only the everyday life in Hungary,but both internal and foreign policies are based on this traumatic event almosta hundred years after it took into effect. Even though the European Union makesits internal borders less and less important, there are people still believing,or rather hoping for the restoration of the pre-Trianon borders of Hungary.Hungarian politics (most of all the nationalist parties) still use Trianon assomething to look back on and feel hurt, rather than something to look back onand learn from it. Of course, the Allied powers did take away just too muchfrom both Hungary and Austria (and other losing countries), but evoking it atevery possible opportunity is not helping anyone, rather, it keeps putting saltin some old wounds and strengthens the differences between Europe’s nations. Ofcourse I need to mention, old grievances affect the policies of not justHungary, but almost every Central European state as well. Onereason that could more or less validate this difference between Austria andHungary might be that fact that after the World War II Austria remained part ofa democratic, ‘western’ Europe, while Hungary got under the control of theSoviet regime.
A regime that choose not to talk about problematic issues, suchas national and minority issues, including the issues with the Treaty ofTrianon. Open discussion about the topic has been allowed for less than onlythirty years, which might not be enough to process it and learn from it justyet. Since the World War II many things have changed in internationalrelations, old enemies have found peace between each other and decided not tofight over history anymore. This reconciliation could be a great way of growingas a nation, an example that Hungary should follow. However,what lies inside Hungary’s collective memory is still deeply attached to WorldWar I and Trianon.
It is sad to say that ever since then, there was simpleno opportunity in the country to processand leave behind all that happened. Free speech does not mean that anyone thatbrings up the topic is not flagged as problematic or even extremist – while inmost of the cases, it is nationalist and extremist groups mentioning Trianonand talking about a border revision, they interiorize the motive so much, thatany neutral discussion about it is marked extremist as well. An open, neutraland most of all highly professional debate would help understand what was wrongand right with the Treaty, decide about the legitimacy of collective victimhoodand maybe clear the line between real and imagined problems. Itis also safe to say that the consequences of Trianon are the causes Hungarianscan not openly talk about neither about their past or their current feelings,about their collective memories. The fact that we can not share our collectivememory makes our collective memory somewhat alien to us. These tabus keep usfrom solving past problems.
And by problems I do not mean only those in thelives of everyday people, but the problems with Hungary’s foreign and internalpolicies as well. Hungarian collective memory can be translated as collectiveincapability to act. TheEuropean Union membership was a small but effective medicine for these traumas,since internal borders became less important, while also there is now asupernational institution monitoring the status of hungarian minorities in theneighbouring states. This might put an end to the cyclic return of conflictsbetween Hungary and its neighbours. Onemore thing that could help Hungarians process these old traumas would be themgetting implemented into the education system. As a 2004 research shows, almosthalf of the hungarian youth did not know that there are Hungarians livingoutside Hungary. These younglings failed to get educated on the matter,therefore are much more easily manipulated by the extremist propaganda that hadalways used the Trianon motive to gain new followers.
These medias do not givea full picture of the events surrounding the treaty and only bother with thetheme of border revision, which can lead to growing anger towards othernations. Which basically led to the world wars. Thepains and traumas caused by Trianon surely left their marks in Hungary’scollective memory for decades, but ever since the fall of the Soviet Union,they kept healing slowly, yet steadily. Hungarian minorities now have the rightto organize and get in touch with the motherland, which affects those livingthere in a positive way.
Joining the European Union and most importantly theSchengen zone had a huge impact as well, and if all that lasts, collectivememory might turn to a positive direction in a few years. However, the problemis still not solved completely, as the nation is still in fear of talking aboutthe issue and their opinions are much divided. The direction Hungary’scollective memory is going in is good, yet it still needs much more work to bedone before we can say we solved our historical problems.