Liberalism in Hungary

By G. H. Mika

[The Bohemian Review, September 1917]

Several months ago American newspapers and periodicals began to write in a hopeful vein about the situation in Hungary and about the possibility of a separate peace. Count Tisza, the iron man of Hungary, who is no less responsible for the outbreak of the war than the German militarists, found his position untenable. His active connection with Berlin and the permanent part he had taken in the war made it desirable to side-track him for the time being, and place in his stead someone whose activity was less known and who would therefore be more acceptable in future negotiations. The fall of his government was viewed in the light of a democratic victory, and It was widely believed that a liberal era was about to ensue. Some expressed the conviction that a separate peace with Hungary would soon become more than a possibility.

How vain the hopes! Even then those who knew Hungary best pointed out the fact that a change in the government of Hungary is but a change of person, involving very slight, if any, modification of policies. In Hungary politics, are the privilege of a favored few aristocrats and plutocrats. There is no parliamentary system in the true sense of the word and when a leader is compelled to retire, it does not mean that a new party, with different principles, comes into power. The fall of the leader is usually due to the fact that he is no longer able to dominate a majority. His person alone counts.

Magyar statesmen, with the exception of a few individuals, are in perfect accord with the objects of the Central Powers. Instead of being opposed to the war they hailed its outbreak as an opportunity to strengthen their internal position and to advance their hegemony over their non-Magyar subjects. This was their firm conviction at the beginning of the war and has remained such to the present day. It will also remain their conviction regardless of who may head the government for the time being. We have now sufficient proof to demonstrate that the only difference between the government of Count Tisza and the present Esterhazy government is one between tweedle dee and tweedle dum.

On the 5th of July Baron Julius Madaraszy-Beek addressed an interpellation to Premier Esterhazy on the relations of the new government of Hungary to Germany. Giving his answer on the 11th of the same month, the Premier said: "We cling fast to the well-tested alliance of the monarchy with Germany. The government identifies itself in this respect fully with the standpoint of the previous government. A few days prior to this, Premier Esterhazy was in Vienna discussing various questions relating to foreign affairs, and taking active part in the conclusion of a new commercial treaty with Germany. On that occasion he was received in audience by the Emperor of Germany, whom the Premier assured, according to the "Vilag," of Hungary's faithful and self-sacrificing alliance. As a result of this attitude Premier Esterhazy was decorated with the Iron Cross of the second class. In view of the fact that Count Karolyi, in a speech delivered at Felégyhaza on the 24th of June, publicly proclaimed that Count Tisza's government bears all the responsibility for the outbreak and the continaution of the war and in view of the fact that Count Esterhazy's government is in perfect accord with the war policies of this same preceding government of Tisza, there is little to hope for in the future. We must regard the change of government in Hungary as a skillful attempt to mislead the Allies into a belief that Hungary's present attitude is favorable to peace. Whereas, in fact, it is no different than it was before.

In some of their notes the Allies had made it plain that in the future the rights of individual nationalities must be respected, and that these nationalities, whether large or small, are to be free from domination. In view of the fact that Hungary is a polyglot state, including within its confines a number of distinct nationalities, such as the Slovaks, the Magyars, the Roumanians, the Ruthenians and the Jugoslavs, it is very interesting to follow the present attitude of Hungary toward this all-important question. Judging by recent utterances of Hungarian statesmen and writers, the chauvinistic policy of suppression and nationalization of the non-Magyar elements is still in full force, and every attempt to grant the right of self-determination to these subject nationalities will be opposed to the end. Recent attempts of Austria to find at least a partial solution for her thorny racial question have found no sympathetic response in Hungary. On the contrary, they have made the Magyars more than ever determined to defend the territorial integrity of the so-called Magyar state (Hungary) and to pursue their policy of de-nationalization.

Commenting on the Austrian Premier's attitude toward the nationalities, the Az Ujsaz of July 1st publishes the following interesting article: "The principles of nationality, and the political development of that right, are constitutions foreign to us and must remain foreign to us. We have Magyar law and Magyar policy because legally, on the basis of general laws and rights, we have only Magyar citizens. We have no law of nationalities, for in the common law sense we have no nationalities, but recognizing them in their actuality, for they exist, the Magyar state idea cannot admit—what the Austria idea demands as a requirement of time—the racial discussion of the unitary Magyar state."

Premier Esterhazy, answering an interpellation of Count Tisza in regard to the same question, gives the following instructive answer: "Neither the Hungarian nor the Austrian government would ever recognize the view propagated recently by the Entente that any group of Hungarian subjects, formed on the basis of nationality or any other basis, could, of their own accord, determine their fate by dissolving their union with the Hungarian state."

These two excerpts are highly instructive, for they give us in a nut-shell the future attitude of Hungary towards the rights of nationalities to exist as independent states. Hungary is anything but a Magyar state, being more than 50 per-cent non- Magyar, but in spite of that the Magyar statesmen cling steadfastly to the Magyar state idea, which means the forcible de-nationalization of the various nationalities in Hungary. From the very moment that dualism was established in Austria-Hungary, Austria's main mission consisted of Germanization, while Hungary's main mission has been and remains one of Magyarization. It is time to cease making a distinction between Austria-Hungary and Germany so far as war policies are concerned. They are both in perfect accord and both determined to prosecute the war to a favorable termination, for only by a victory over the Allies will they be able to pursue their previous policies.

Those who look for any voluntary reforms in Hungary are doomed to a sad disappointment. There will be none, for any genuine democratic reforms are bound to undermine the coveted Magyar hegemony, which every Magyar statesman regards as the divine right of the Magyar people. Whenever internal reforms are considered, or whenever any modification of foreign policies is under consideration, they are always judged according to the influence that they will have on the existing Magyar privileges and since any such reform would put the non-Magyar nationalities in power, they, will have to come from the outside, and will never be introduced from within.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

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