"Every nation's homeland is sacred. If you destroy one, you mutilate the
entire human race" said Father Gratry on the pulpit of the Notre Dame Cathedral in 1920. He was talking about the Trianon Treaty, which on June 4, 1920, dismembered the 1,000-year-old kingdom of Hungary. Just as the Jews could not forget the loss of their homeland, nor did the Hungarians - and never will.
Just as Nazism was not born in Germany but in Versailles, so the tragedy of the Balkans originated in Trianon, where, from the fragments of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the successor states of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and greater Romania were created. These artificial formations forced Croats, Serbs and Muslims to live together and compelled Czechs to live with Slovaks.
It takes time for historic events to reveal their consequences. It took nearly 80 years for these creations of Trianon (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia), to self-destruct and as a result, to destabilize the Balkans. In that process, Kosovo is not yet the final act.
Trianon cut mercilessly into the flesh of compact Hungarian populations.
Hundreds of towns were separated from their suburbs; villages were split in two; communities were deprived of their parish churches or cemeteries; townships were cut off from their railroad stations and their water supplies. A 1,000-year-old European country became an invalid. In the process, 35 percent of all Hungarians were turned into foreigners - in the towns built by their forefathers.
Hungarians became Europe's largest minority and in the free for all that
followed the kingdom's dismemberment, even Austria helped herself to parts of Hungary.
The new borders were not drawn on the basis of plebiscites and did not follow ethnographic borders. The dismemberment of the 48 million Austro-Hungarian Empire resulted in the creation of 16 million ethnic minorities. These minorities were not emigrants who voluntarily left their old country, but people who never moved from their hometowns and became foreigners when borders were redrawn around them.
President Woodrow Wilson would have preferred a Danubian Confederation to replace the monarchy, and wanted to draw the new borders of the
confederation's member states on the basis of self-determination through plebiscites. His views were disregarded. On March 31, 1919, he called the proposed dismemberment of Hungary absurd, but was overruled by the French. As a result, the U.S. Congress refused to approve the Treaty of Trianon, but it was implemented anyway.
The Wends and Slovenes of the Muraköz protested their separation from Hungary. The Ruthenians expressed their desire to remain part of the kingdom they shared for a thousand years. The Swabians of the Banat protested their annexation into Romania. Their requests were all denied. There was only a single instance in which self-determination prevailed: The city of Sopron was allowed to hold a plebiscite and voted to remain part of Hungary.
In any society, the acid test of civilization is the respect for minority rights. The successor states that were created validated the words of Tacitus: "We hate whom we hurt." They attempted to solve their minority problems through denationalization, ethnic cleansing, deportation, expulsion, transfer, dispersion and other forms of uprooting. Hungarians were forced to choose between their nationality and their property. Because of intimidation and coercion, 350,000 Hungarians decided to leave all their possessions and flee the mutilated Hungary.
The collective possessions of Hungarian communities were also targeted. In Romania alone, Hungarians lost 1,665 schools and universities, including the world-famous János Bolyay University, which has still not been returned.
After 1956, when 2,700 Hungarians died in fighting the Soviet tanks and the heroic children of Budapest succeeded in unmasking and mortally wounding Communism, the rulers of the successor states used the revolution as a pretext to speed the forced assimilation of their Hungarian minorities.
While 287 were hanged in Hungary and 300,000 escaped from Hungary, things got even worse for Europe's largest minority. This happened after the Hungarian Revolution, when the remaining autonomous Hungarian regions of Transylvania in Romania and Vojvodina in Yugoslavia were abolished. Although autonomy has been guaranteed by the Great Powers in 1920, again in 1945, and once more by the European Parliament, in 1993 (in Article 11 of Decision 1201), today, the over 3 million Hungarian minorities have no autonomy at all After 1989, there was a short period of hope. Hungarian Bishop László Tôkés (who
led the successful revolution against Ceaucescu and was later nominated for the Noble Peace Price) was temporarily heralded as an all-Romanian national hero and Miklós Duray, the Hungarian leader of Charter 77, was also released from jail in Slovakia. Unfortunately, this period of hope did not last.
By 1991, the formerly Communist leaders of the successor states (Milosevic in Yugoslavia, Iliescu in Romania, Mechiar in Slovakia) once again turned to anti-Hungarian propaganda to distract the public's attention from the real problems and things got worse for the Hungarian minorities. Of the above mentioned "leaders," only Milosevic survives today. Even he was forced to give autonomy to Kosovo's Albanians, but not to the Hungarians of Vojvodina, where forced assimilation and ethnic cleansing continues.
One wonders whether there is a limit to the patience of this largest group of European minorities - and what will happen when that limit is reached.
Problems do not solve themselves accidentally. NATO's bombs don't solve problems, either. Those who want a better future must first have a plan; a concept of that future. For the stability and prosperity of Central Europe, that plan must start with cultural autonomy and local self-government for all minorities in the region and should eventually end with the formation of a voluntary federation.
The Central European nations should not only join NATO and the EU, but also form a federation which is economically self-sufficient, politically stable and geographically large enough to fill the power vacuum, which neither Western Europe. the United States nor the United Nations can fill permanently. UN or NATO troops cannot be stationed in the Balkans forever. History teaches us that the Balkans always become unstable whenever a power vacuum evolves in the Danubian Basin. Right now, there is a power vacuum there. History also teaches us that peace and prosperity resulted not only for the region but for all of Europe when there was local power in the Carpathian Basin.
Wise men learn from the mistakes of the past, instead of repeating them. Only mindless bureaucrats worship the status quo. The rest of us know that if something is broken, it should be fixed. What is needed in Central Europe is to build a strong Danubian or Visegrad Federation, one that can be crystallized around the nucleus of Hungary, Slovakia, Vojvodina, Slovenia and Croatia; a federation that later could expand to include Romania, Bosnia, Sub-Carpathia or even Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria.
It would be fitting if, following the 80th anniversary of the dismemberment of the Hungarian Kingdom and after the terrible suffering of three generations of innocent ethnic minorities, we should start the process of rebuilding a nation/state, but a federation of Central Europe. This federation, similar to that of the Benelux states, could take care of its own affairs and guarantee the human rights of all minorities, while also being a vital part of an integrated Europe.
This is what we should learn from this 80-year-old tragedy.
Stamford resident Béla Lipták is a former adjunct professor of Yale
He wrote this piece for The Advocate.
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