Collective We live with them and often live

Collective memory in Hungary

 

            Every
nation has its very own collective memories, victimhoods and narcissisms. We
live with them and often live by them, since these events, bad or good, can
have a huge impact on our lives. Hungary got a big share of happenings we can
remember, and there is a good reason we are often deemed one the most pessimist
nations that ever lived.

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            Hungary
went through tragedies like the Tatar and Turkish invasions, the Battle of
Mohács or the losses of both World War I and World War II, leaving Hungarians
with a whole lot of material for their collective memory. Among these, the most
tragic and most effective was the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.

            The
Treaty of Trianon was a formal agreement in order to formally and legally end
World War I between the Allied countries and the Kingdom of Hungary. The treaty
took away about two thirds of Hungary’s area and population, with more than 3
million Hungarians being forced to live in another state. The negative
consequences 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 War
I.

            Many
forgot that Austria had to sign a treaty in 1919 in Saint Germain as well. They
lost South Tirol, as well as their northern regions along with Karinthia. The
rest of Europe deemed Austria unviable, including Austrians, who were seeking
the opportunity to join Germany in order to survive. Only after this and World
War II happened, did they realize Austria was capable of surviving on its own
just fine. Austrians did their best to cope with the tragedies and losses, and
forgot about the pangerman dream. This sobering, the realization of the need
for independence led to the rise of the nation. It led to Austria being one of
the top five most successful countries in the European Union.

            On
the other hand, Trianon still affects not only the everyday life in Hungary,
but both internal and foreign policies are based on this traumatic event almost
a hundred years after it took into effect. Even though the European Union makes
its 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 as
something to look back on and feel hurt, rather than something to look back on
and learn from it. Of course, the Allied powers did take away just too much
from both Hungary and Austria (and other losing countries), but evoking it at
every possible opportunity is not helping anyone, rather, it keeps putting salt
in some old wounds and strengthens the differences between Europe’s nations. Of
course I need to mention, old grievances affect the policies of not just
Hungary, but almost every Central European state as well.

            One
reason that could more or less validate this difference between Austria and
Hungary might be that fact that after the World War II Austria remained part of
a democratic, ‘western’ Europe, while Hungary got under the control of the
Soviet regime. A regime that choose not to talk about problematic issues, such
as national and minority issues, including the issues with the Treaty of
Trianon. Open discussion about the topic has been allowed for less than only
thirty years, which might not be enough to process it and learn from it just
yet. Since the World War II many things have changed in international
relations, old enemies have found peace between each other and decided not to
fight over history anymore. This reconciliation could be a great way of growing
as a nation, an example that Hungary should follow.

            However,
what lies inside Hungary’s collective memory is still deeply attached to World
War I and Trianon. It is sad to say that ever since then, there was simple
no  opportunity in the country to process
and leave behind all that happened. Free speech does not mean that anyone that
brings up the topic is not flagged as problematic or even extremist – while in
most of the cases, it is nationalist and extremist groups mentioning Trianon
and talking about a border revision, they interiorize the motive so much, that
any neutral discussion about it is marked extremist as well. An open, neutral
and most of all highly professional debate would help understand what was wrong
and right with the Treaty, decide about the legitimacy of collective victimhood
and maybe clear the line between real and imagined problems.

            It
is also safe to say that the consequences of Trianon are the causes Hungarians
can not openly talk about neither about their past or their current feelings,
about their collective memories. The fact that we can not share our collective
memory makes our collective memory somewhat alien to us. These tabus keep us
from solving past problems. And by problems I do not mean only those in the
lives of everyday people, but the problems with Hungary’s foreign and internal
policies as well. Hungarian collective memory can be translated as collective
incapability to act.

            The
European Union membership was a small but effective medicine for these traumas,
since internal borders became less important, while also there is now a
supernational institution monitoring the status of hungarian minorities in the
neighbouring states. This might put an end to the cyclic return of conflicts
between Hungary and its neighbours.

            One
more thing that could help Hungarians process these old traumas would be them
getting implemented into the education system. As a 2004 research shows, almost
half of the hungarian youth did not know that there are Hungarians living
outside Hungary. These younglings failed to get educated on the matter,
therefore are much more easily manipulated by the extremist propaganda that had
always used the Trianon motive to gain new followers. These medias do not give
a full picture of the events surrounding the treaty and only bother with the
theme of border revision, which can lead to growing anger towards other
nations. Which basically led to the world wars.

            The
pains and traumas caused by Trianon surely left their marks in Hungary’s
collective memory for decades, but ever since the fall of the Soviet Union,
they kept healing slowly, yet steadily. Hungarian minorities now have the right
to organize and get in touch with the motherland, which affects those living
there in a positive way. Joining the European Union and most importantly the
Schengen zone had a huge impact as well, and if all that lasts, collective
memory might turn to a positive direction in a few years. However, the problem
is still not solved completely, as the nation is still in fear of talking about
the issue and their opinions are much divided. The direction Hungary’s
collective memory is going in is good, yet it still needs much more work to be
done before we can say we solved our historical problems.