Are Hungary and Croatia historical allies

Hungary and the First World War

The First World War led to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. The Kingdom of Hungary was strongly affected by the acts of war from the beginning and was transformed into a small state by the Trianon Peace Treaty.

A contribution by Zsolt Vitári

Dr. habil. Vitári Zsolt is a lecturer at the Department of Contemporary History at the Historical Institute of the University of Pécs (Hungary).

Without a doubt, the First World War remains one of the most important reference points in European history to this day. The commemorative events, exhibitions, scientific conferences and films that have been going on since 2014 bear witness to the unchanged interest. Other anniversaries such as B. the re-emergence of an independent Poland and the formation of successor states of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy are a direct consequence of the "Great War". Of course, the First World War and even more so its consequences represent the most important turning point in Hungarian history, which put an end to the historical and millennial Hungary. The national trauma “Trianon”, which is still alive today, will be in the focus of memories in 2020 - statements by Hungarian politicians already suggest this, but science is also getting involved, as the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has set up a research group “Trianon 100” to mark the Anniversary to be able to present new research results.

"Happy Peace Years"?

In the case of Hungary, not only the defeat in World War I and the subsequent loss of the greater part of the country or the population meant a severe shock - the contrast to the pre-war world was no less depressing for the people. In other words: The "happy years of peace" are transfigured in historical memory: With the compromise of 1867, Hungary regained its freedom of movement within the dual monarchy, and has since developed and modernized rapidly; Urbanization showed great progress, the infrastructure with the first subway on the continent became paramount, the country had not been affected by any war since 1849 - and with Franz Joseph on the throne it seemed to stay that way for all eternity.

However, a number of problems also accumulated behind the facade. The monarchy became more and more cumbersome in the second half of the 19th century. The empire, once regarded as an important stabilizing power in the south-east European area, first had to accept the emergence of modern Italy at its own expense on the international stage, then it became more and more alienated from Russia, whereby the tsarist empire gradually became the main enemy whose interests were Dual monarchy crossed primarily in the Balkans.

A possible Russian attack, seen as inevitable as early as the 1870s, was also the first axiom in the Austro-Hungarian military doctrines. In the Bismarck era, the overall foreign policy constellation for Austria-Hungary was still quite favorable because Italy and Romania were allies of the German Reich and Austria-Hungary, as were Serbia and Bulgaria. In addition, dynastic relationships existed through dynasties of German descent on the thrones of Romania, Greece and Bulgaria. However, this situation changed after Bismarck's resignation in 1890. The Franco-Russian alliance concluded in 1892 formed a sharp cut. After France and later also Great Britain began to work more and more closely with Russia in view of the armament of the German Reich (agreements of 1904 and 1907), Austria-Hungary only had the option of deepening the alliance with the German Reich, although the impression was growing more and more that it is only a satellite of the more powerful partner in the west. In view of these uncertainties, nobody has ruled out a war since the beginning of the 20th century, which resulted in numerous developments in the economy and in the army. Diplomatic maneuvers that were often not thought through or missed, an inglorious attitude of the officer corps (“If it comes to war, then as soon as possible”) and the increase in nationalisms led to an increasingly tense climate at the beginning of the 20th century.

In addition to foreign policy uncertainty, there were also internal problems. Emperor and King Franz Joseph was able to stabilize his rule; the necessary internal reform and modernization of the state as a whole failed to materialize, however, and when the Hungarians were favored by the system of dualism (since the compromise of 1867) other parts of the monarchy were disadvantaged and increasingly impatient. Thus, the national aspirations both in the overall monarchy and within the Hungarian half of the empire represented the greatest problem. However, while in the Austrian half of the empire first progress was recorded (Moravian Compromise of 1905 and the trialism program, ie efforts to achieve equality of the Slavic peoples within the Dual monarchy), was Hungary - apart from the Hungarian-Croatian settlement (1868)1 - More and more concerned with the nationalization and Magyarization of the Hungarian half of the empire. As long as these processes were not completed or at least there was no significant numerical majority of Hungarians (last census before the war in 1910: Hungarians 54 percent), no democratization was dared in the Hungarian half of the empire.

The economic development, however, was remarkable. The internal market of the monarchy offered sufficient sales opportunities for the economically very different provinces. A developed infrastructure with a dense railway network emerged, and every city gained its character that is still visible today during this period. When it came to cultural heritage, architecture, coffee house culture and much more, the monarchy had an attractive flair.

War in sight

After the alliance of the Entente (from France, Russia and Great Britain) was formed in 1907 in return for the alliance between the German Empire, Austria-Hungary (and Italy) and thus two blocs faced each other, it was initially unclear how the smaller countries would behave . Serbia created more and more problems for the monarchy, because there the time had come to implement Greater Serbian-South Slavic plans. The so-called annexation crisis of 1908 threw a clear spotlight on the explosive overall situation. Many citizens in Austria-Hungary agreed that, after the introduction of import duties against Serbia, the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina represented a further step towards deterring Serbia; Because of Hungary's negative attitude, however, it was not possible to lay the foundations for trialism instead of the previous dualistic state structure from the areas of Carniola and Dalmatia (belonging to the Austrian half of the empire), Croatia (belonging to the Hungarian half of the empire) and the annexed area of ​​Bosnia and Herzegovina through which the Serbian unification goals could have been neutralized. So around 1910 the Slovenes and Croats in Austria-Hungary were disappointed, Serbia and Russia offended. The latter were still bowing, but mutual aversion and distrust could no longer be removed.

But even in the June crisis of 1914, when Serbian nationalists murdered the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife during a military maneuver directed against Serbia in Sarajevo, the majority of rulers and politicians in Vienna and Budapest did not want a war, much less a war of conquest - man was aware of the fragility of the monarchy in view of the problems with the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. In Hungary, Prime Minister István Tisza saw very clearly that a war would hit the country immediately in the event of both a Russian and a Serbian attack, because a considerable part of the southern Slavic areas of the monarchy targeted by Serbia belonged to Hungary.

However, the need to punish Serbia has been widely accepted in Hungary. On the one hand, the Hungarian political elite was unfortunately unable to develop a distinctive Hungarian foreign policy vision of its own; they shied away from a trialist transformation of the empire more than a possible war. On the other hand, they relied on the strength of the German Reich according to the motto: if war did break out, Berlin would master it. This ambivalent attitude of the Hungarian politicians was also aware of the Emperor and King Franz Joseph, who saw the war as a real danger and in the secret "U-Plan" accepted an occupation of parts of Hungary if necessary.

War aims: The struggle between the military leadership and Prime Minister Tisza

If a war was imminent, war goals were also formulated in Hungary, although there was also no consensus on this. After all, it was declared in the summer of 1914 that the monarchy did not want a war of conquest. Should there be a war against Serbia, its annexation would not be planned; at most, minor strategic border changes were promised. This logic corresponded completely to the Hungarian argumentation, which by joining further non-Hungarian areas did not want to endanger the finally achieved majority of Hungarians in the Hungarian half of the empire and their further expansion through assimilation; At the level of the overall monarchy, however, with the increase in the number of the Slavic population, a trialist federalization could not have been avoided. The Hungarian Prime Minister Tisza also hoped to limit a possible war to a conflict with Serbia and at the same time to prevent Russian interference - which turned out to be a complete misjudgment, however, because Russia was determined to intervene in any case.

Tisza also wanted to curb Serbia as a disruptive factor by peaceful means (loans, investments, contracts) and thus loosen its close ties to Russia, which Belgrade might even have been willing to do in July 1914. However, Tisza was left with his own opinion, as the monarchy's leading military led everyone to believe that the only solution to the Serbian question could only be a preventive war, with the General Staff assuming considerable annexations.

In a memorandum to Franz Joseph, Tisza stated that the time for the war in July 1914 would by no means have been favorable, since the international constellation would have changed unfavorably for the monarchy: Romania was virtually lost as an ally, Bulgaria was still lost after its last defeat in the second Balkan war not recovered; Last but not least, he considered the evidence of a Serbian background for the assassination attempt in Sarajevo to be questionable. If war is seen as the only option, one should make the necessary preparations and find a favorable timing - he said.

Tisza was aware that a Russian attack on Transylvania would be difficult to fend off, and otherwise it was clear to him that Hungary would have to absorb the first blows against the monarchy. However, he relented to the General Staff when he was assured that Germany would influence Rumania and Bulgaria and win both countries as allies.

War mood?

After it became clear that war would be waged against Serbia, all political forces stood behind it, including those who had previously rejected this solution, including the Social Democrats. Even the Anglophile Albert Apponyi, former and future minister of education, rejected the American President Woodrow Wilson's appeal for peace.

The generally ill-informed masses of the population, who did not follow the fueling of the threat of war in the press, did not even think that a war could break out. The assassination attempt on the heir apparent caused consternation; loud protests and rallies like in Vienna,
Zagreb or Bosnia stayed away in Budapest, however. The press - especially the government newspapers and right-wing papers - immediately began to influence the mood, threatening voices were soon to be heard, and the declaration of war on Serbia was welcomed.

So there could be no talk of general enthusiasm for the war at all. The upper classes in particular hoped for a quick war, while peasants and workers looked on with resignation. Some of the non-Hungarian peoples such as the Serbs, Ruthenians and Romanians behaved ambivalently and often expressed themselves critically, but this did not mean that they became generally disloyal to Hungary and the entire monarchy.

The last war of old Hungary

The inadequate war planning became apparent within a very short time. While Germany was unable to defeat French and British forces in a blitzkrieg, the dual monarchy was unable to defeat Serbia and Russia at the same time. Of the 1.8 million soldiers who were ready to fight at the beginning of the war, a million were no longer operational after just a few weeks - these soldiers were either captured, wounded or killed. Austria-Hungary could never get over this disaster.

After it quickly became clear that the war would last longer than expected, the warring parties were forced to make new allies. The accession of Italy (1915) and Romania (1916) on the side of the Entente had immediate effects on Hungary as well, as new fronts arose in both northern Italy and Transylvania. The Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary gained new allies with Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, through which Serbia could finally be conquered. The Russians were repulsed and the Romanians driven from Transylvania. On the Italian front, however, there was no decisive breakthrough.

At the end of 1917, after Russia withdrew from the war, it appeared to be entirely possible for the Central Powers to win the war, but after the USA had entered the war on the side of the Entente and this aid had an effect from the spring of 1918, the fronts collapsed one by one. After the "Black Day of Amiens" (August 8), which heralded the collapse of the Western Front and thus the defeat of Germany, the Bulgarians surrendered in September and the Ottomans in October. On October 17, 1918, Prime Minister Tisza announced in the Hungarian Parliament: "We have lost the war."

During the First World War, Austria-Hungary sent 9 million people into battle, 3.4 million of them Hungarians (with Croatia). A total of 1.1 million fell, 3.6 million were wounded, and 2 million were taken prisoner. About half came from Hungary, so that the losses affected the Hungarian half of the empire disproportionately.

In addition to the direct human losses that had already occurred during the war, there were the consequences of the war in the hinterland, which, comparable to the situation in other countries, triggered war economic conditions, supply bottlenecks, inflation and wage cuts in Hungary as well. all in all, there was a sharp drop in the standard of living. As early as 1915-1916, the confidence and enthusiasm that slowly began to develop after the outbreak of war turned into war weariness, insecurity and bitterness. From 1917 onwards there were more and more refusals of orders, desertions, demonstrations, looting, strikes, etc.

However, other symptoms of war were also evident in Hungary. The war activated the non-Hungarian elites; their revised plans affected both the entire monarchy and Hungary. When the new ruler, Emperor Charles I (as King Charles IV of Hungary) convened the Austrian Parliament in May 1917, the Czech, Ukrainian and South Slav MPs who appeared there demanded the federalization of the empire. According to these ideas, Croatia should be separated from the Kingdom of Hungary and become the basis for a South Slav federal unit within the monarchy, while the Czechs envisioned a similar model with the Slovaks living in Hungary. But the Serbian leadership in Belgrade and the Czech emigrants in Paris were already aiming for solutions that were independent of the dual monarchy, with a Serbian-Croatian-Slovenian state led from Belgrade and Czechoslovakia supplemented with Carpathian-Ukraine. A little later the "National Council of Romanian Unity" was established in Paris with the aim of securing the areas promised when Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies in August 1916 (Transylvania, Partium, Banat)2 secure for Romania.

At the beginning of 1918, the Entente Powers took the position that although the “legitimate” claims of their allies could be satisfied, Austria-Hungary would have to remain as the power of order in Southeastern Europe in order to curb German ambitions. The "14 points" of American President Wilson consequently only promised extensive autonomies for the individual peoples of the monarchy.3 However, since King Charles IV's peace initiatives failed and the influence of the German Empire on Austria-Hungary increased in 1917/1918, it became clear that the dual monarchy would not be able to play the balancing role vis-à-vis Germany that the Entente powers of you expected.

In the spring of 1918, the coming winners finally made the decision to dissolve the monarchy. A first signal was the congress of emigrated nationality leaders held in Rome in April 1918, the final act of which provided for the creation of the national and political unity of the individual peoples as well as their complete political and economic independence. This meant that the announcement by Emperor and King Karl that the monarchy would be federalized in October 1918 came too late. In a note issued shortly thereafter, President Wilson recognized the independence of the peoples of the monarchy, whereupon the newly established national councils declared the separation from Hungary. In Budapest took over during the "aster revolution"4 a Hungarian National Council, in which the former opposition parties were represented, came to power in October.

The contours of the disaster are taking shape - the trauma of Trianon

Since the borders of the future Hungary were to be foreseen by the Entente demarcation lines after the armistice, all political forces in Hungary agreed that the territorial integrity of the country should be preserved by all means. They tried to achieve this by promising a liberal minority policy, generous autonomy laws and modern suffrage - but all measures were felt to be belated and could no longer change the mind of the non-Hungarian minorities. Even in this critical phase, however, old habits in the treatment of non-Hungarian peoples reappeared, and the unspoken primacy of the Hungarian nation continued to apply. In the phase of the Soviet republic in Budapest (March - August 1919) the well-known folk politics were reverted, and even the speech of the head of the Hungarian peace delegation in Paris, Count Albert Apponyi, reflected the old views. So the catastrophe could not be prevented: Hungary lost two thirds of its territory and 58 percent of its population in the Treaty of Trianon (June 4, 1920).

In Hungary, people were not ready, and in some cases still are not today, to recognize their own responsibility for this development. The national politics of the interwar period was determined by two aspects: on the one hand by the non-recognition or the attempt to revise the peace treaty of Trianon and on the other hand by the avoidance of a second Trianon through further homogenization of the country (1920 the proportion was of ethnic Hungarians 89 percent).

However, it must also be emphasized that in view of the strong nationalism among the peoples of the monarchy, the collapse of historical Hungary could not have been prevented even with an accommodating nationality policy towards the non-Hungarian peoples. In the 19th century, however, Hungarian politics did not envisage taking into account the wishes of nationalities as an adequate method of preventing secession tendencies, but rather assimilating them. The “peacemakers”, who - as prisoners of their own promises during the war and their political ambitions for power politics - were unable to create peace and ultimately forced millions of Hungarians into a minority existence in the neighboring states, cannot be absolved of complicity.

In 1920 the new Hungary ("Rumfenarn") and its population had to redefine themselves. Since "Trianon" has been the reference point of the new identity to this day, this self-image was also made up of old elements, according to which, despite the loss of its historical territories due to its cultural superiority and with its thousand-year statehood, Hungary continues to play the role of the regulatory power in Southeast Europe and especially in the Pannonian Basin , can and will play.

This thought faded from time to time, but is still virulent today.


Content created: 07.12.2017, last changed: 15.06.2020