Counter-revolution and the Treaty of Trianon

Despite the Entente's objections, the Romanian Army marched into Budapest on 4 August. Within two days, an interim government of trade-unionists was replaced by a counter-revolutionary government. Kept on a short leash by the Romanian military command, the new government failed to marshal military strength and restore stability. (East of the Tisza, in a region occupied until early 1920, the Romanians would not allow even a moderately progressive party such as the Smallholders to organize.) The peace conference repeatedly urged the Romanians to withdraw from Budapest and the region between the Duna and the Tisza rivers, then delivered an ultimatum which finally brought Romanian compliance in mid-November. Conservative politicians and officers in the French zone of occupation had been assembling an armed force, and this 'national army,' led by Admiral Miklós Horthy, now marched into Budapest. The Entente thus ushered into power a counter-revolutionary régime which would govern Hungary for a long time to come. One of the first tasks of this new government was to conclude a peace treaty with the Entente.

In January 1920, a peace delegation led by Count Albert Apponyi went to Paris at the invitation of the victorious powers. Its function was simply to receive the dictated peace terms, and Apponyi was rebuffed in his attempt to initiate substantive negotiations. The {3-794.} conference did give him an opportunity, on 16 January, to outline the situation in Hungary and the views of his government. In an eloquent and multilingual address, he summarized the arguments developed by a Hungarian preparatory committee that had been chaired by Pál Teleki; Hungary's voluminous brief was then handed over to the conference.

The Hungarians made several attempts to obtain more favourable terms. They tried to convince the victors that the proposed borders satisfied neither the principle of national self-determination nor ethnic criteria, and that the ethnic mix in the Carpathian Basin did not lend itself to a perfectly just solution. Since political dismemberment would greatly damage the economy, they laid great emphasis on the economic coherence of historic Hungary, citing the transportation network, the management of water resources, the mobility of labour, and the interdependence of certain regions. A mass of statistics and data on economic geography was marshalled in defence of Hungary's economic interests. The Hungarian brief included some well-founded criticisms of the proposed peace terms, but the expert analyses were undermined by some anachronistic arguments, by a tendency to embellish the past, and by a scarcely-veiled claim to Hungarian cultural superiority. The Hungarian delegation had to be flexible in its tactics. It argued that full application of the ethnic principle would be unrealistic, yet it protested — necessarily on ethnic grounds — at the annexation by other states of cities that had a predominantly Hungarian population. The delegation proposed, without any hope of success, that the ethnic minorities remain within a Hungary, where they would benefit from full autonomy.

Drawing a lesson from the examples of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania, Hungary's government recognized that the best way to win favour in Paris was to join the anti-Soviet campaign. In March, approaches were made to those members of the French political and economic elite (including Maurice Paléologue, a senior official at the foreign ministry) who wished to enlist {3-795.} Hungary in a military operation against the Russian bolsheviks. The French were keen to acquire an interest in Hungary's financial institutions, Danubian shipping, railways, and some state-owned engineering enterprises; they promised that, in return for such concessions, they would make Hungary the linchpin of a new alliance system, turn her into France's economic outpost in Southeastern Europe, and, perhaps, revise the frontier-line to restore some of Transylvania to Hungary. The key demand of the French was for several hundred thousand Hungarian troops, which they would equip and dispatch to help the Poles. In the event, these tentative discussions did not reach the stage of serious planning, for Paléologue's scheme was eclipsed by other political strategies. With regard to Transylvania, the Hungarian delegation proposed several alternatives. One was for an autonomous province within Hungary; another, for a fully independent state, on the Swiss model, that preserved the ethnic balance. They proposed that ethnic rights be protected in Transylvania by the creation of four autonomous regions, three of them encompassing a large ethnic majority, the fourth ethnically mixed; there would be a trilingual, central government and a parliament in which nationalities would have proportional representation. Finally, the Hungarian delegation requested that a plebiscite be held in Transylvania (as well as in the other contested territories). Said Apponyi, 'I declare we are willing to bow to the decision of a plebiscite whatever it should be.'[42]42. Albert Apponyi's speech at the peace conference, 16 January 1920, in The Hungarian Peace Negotiations, I (Budapest, 1921), p. 313.

However, the peacemakers had already made their choice, and the Hungarian delegation's proposals were all rejected. In communicating this verdict to the Hungarians, Millerand acknowledged indirectly that the settlement was not free of injustice; he also acknowledged its fragility by arguing that the slightest alteration would bring down the whole edifice. The new border between Hungary and Romania was the outcome of a compromise reached the previous year by the allied powers. Romania received slightly less than had been promised in 1916: although its western border came close to the line drawn by English and French experts, {3-796.} American experts (who were more pragmatic, as well as less partisan with regard to European affairs), together with independent-minded Italian politicians, had managed to shift it eastward by some 30 to 60 kilometres, leaving in Hungary the towns on the fringe of the Great Plain. On 4 June 1920, the peace treaty was signed on behalf of Romania by I. Cantacuzino and N. Titulescu, and of Hungary by Ágoston Bénárd and Alfréd Drasche-Lázár. Hungary thereby transferred to Romania 102,093 square kilometres, 31.7 percent of its territory, encompassing historical Transylvania as well as the bordering districts of the Great Plain. It also lost 25.2 percent of its population: 5,257,476 people, including 1,704,851 Hungarians and 559,824 Germans. A new chapter began in the history of Transylvania's peoples.

By virtue of the Trianon Peace Treaty, Hungary became the smallest country in Central Europe, and, at least in military terms, the weakest one. Within the space of a few months, the country had suffered defeat in war, a revolutionary upheaval, and a dictated peace that truncated its historical domain and gave rise to a profound sense of injustice. These tribulations all conspired against the establishment of a fully democratic political system, one that might have helped Hungarians adapt to the consequences of radical change and forge a cooperative relationship with the neighbouring countries. The new order created by the peacemakers was condemned not only by the defeated nations, who yearned to alter terms that they considered unjust, but also by the international socialist movement, which regarded that order as inimical to its own revolutionary objectives.

The Entente's politicians had wished to replace the anachronistic structure of the Habsburg empire with a more modern political order. In the event, the tensions they generated in the Danubian Basin were even more acute than those that had prevailed before the war, and the countries of the region became the pawns of great-power politics. All this would bring dire consequences for Transylvania, which was now part of another sovereign state.