Today is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Trianon peace treaty. Such occasions create an opportunity for reflection on the past and an evaluation of lost opportunities and even perhaps contemplation of the future.
As it usually is the case in any historical evaluation, a treaty concluding a devastating war generally creates grievance and suffering for the losers and opportunities for the winners.
This is certainly the case for the treaty ending the First World War, the most tragic war of human history to date. For Hungarians the treaty meant the dissolution of their 1000-year old kingdom, a loss of two thirds of its territory and 3.2 million of its ethnicity to neighbouring countries. On the other hand, for winners it meant territorial gain, resources and – in many instances – the birth of their independent nationhood on the ruins of another state.
However, if we have to evaluate the repercussions of the peace settlement with the benefit of hindsight concerning events of the 20th century that followed, we might come to a more nuanced conclusion, especially if we evaluate the events in the broader context of geopolitics and European history.
For the Trianon peace settlement has brought about not only a new equilibrium in the continuous struggle for dominance of nation states in the region but it has contributed to sowing the seeds of perpetual unrest and instability on the edge of Europe, which eventually lead to an even more devastating Second World War culminating in the division of our continent during the Cold War.
Short-sighted and ignorant Western-European powers agreed to create artificial states such as Czechoslovakia that failed to withstand the test of time and disintegrated decades later, not to mention Yugoslavia that fell apart under the pressure of brutal ethnic violence with lasting effects. Furthermore, in a purely cultural and civilizational sense, the Western civilization – as per Huntington’s definition – lost out significantly by discarding territories such as Vojvodina (today Serbia), Transcarpathia (today Ukraine) or Transylvania (today Romania), where to this day the crowding out of ethnic Hungarians can be seen as a cultural loss of the Western civilization.
With all the chaotic conditions created and preserved in the course of our turbulent history, the fall of the Iron Curtain opened the prospect of European integration and the promise of a new beginning. Divided and underdeveloped countries of Central-Eastern Europe could receive tested know-how, institutions and learn the best practices of Western European democracies to overcome their difficulties. In the post-war era, previously hostile Western-European nations also had to learn the art of political and economic cooperation over time.
The success of peace and cooperation in Europe is essentially founded on two pillars of solidarity: firstly, the recognition of collective rights of ethnic minorities and the granting of territorial or cultural autonomy to indigenous people; secondly, the establishment of a welfare state that provided the opportunity for most to live and prosper in their homeland.
Over three decades have lapsed since the end of the Cold War, and good few years since accession to the European Union, but there is no sign of European-style reconciliation between our nations. On the 100th anniversary of the Trianon peace deal, we might wish to contemplate this option for the sake of next generations.
If there is anything that all Europeans can be proud of regardless of their nationality, origin or identity, it is most certainly the rule of law, transparency, access to legal representation and equality before the law. We can be proud of how our continent has been governed by these principles for centuries and, even if an aggressive regime has occasionally been able to drag its country away from them, we could always find our way back to them eventually. On the other hand, there has always been another system lurking at the frontiers of Europe, ready to spread its untransparent and self-interested laws – let’s call it tribalism, clan mentality or mafia. Weak monarchs or governments have been known to give in to or at least co-exist with the mafia or the oligarchs but strong leaders and strong societies refused to tolerate them.
For a long time, we may have thought that the European Union was such a strong community since we have heard so much about its values and strict but fair laws. We Hungarians had long been hoping to become a member of this alliance because we thought that its norms and regulations would protect us once and for all from the backward forces that have regularly attempted to drive our Central European country to another, Asian road. In short, we thought we would be protected from the political mafia, the oligarchs, the obscure informal networks and the consequent vulnerability, weakness and general social deprivation.
Parliamentary elections held in Serbia last weekend did not hold too many surprises for those familiar with recent political developments in the small Balkan republic. In an election originally announced for 26 April but postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Alaksandar Vučić’s populist right-wing Serbia Progressive Party (SNS) snatched over 60 percent of the vote and some 190 mandates in the 250-seat Skupština, the Serbian parliament. The dominance of SNS is further underlined by the fact that virtually all real opposition parties dropped out of parliament regardless of parliamentary threshold cut down to 3 percent prior to the elections. Ivica Dačić’s Socialist Party scoring second place with just over 10 percent of the vote functions more like a satellite organization in a permanent governing coalition with the SNS. Thus, the strongest and only opposition party in the Serbian parliament will be the novel formation of Aleksandar Šapić, barely scraping through the threshold.
Let us be clear at the outset: it is entirely unacceptable when a police officer kneels on the neck of a defenceless person until they suffocate. However, it is equally revolting when some take advantage of the tragedy of George Floyd and use it for their political purposes to annihilate opponents. Brutality of US police is a long overdue problem that roots deeply in American society. It did not start with the inauguration of Donald Trump as some would like to see it, and it is not only aimed at black people. It is undisputedly related to the ultraliberal right to keep and bear arms or the enormous social inequalities characteristic of the US.