Washington, DC – Today, June 4, 2010, marks the 90th anniversary of what many consider the darkest day of 20th century Hungarian history – the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon. Hungarians all over the world recall the tragic injustice of the dismemberment of Hungary, as the nation lost two-thirds of its territory, over half of its population, its sea access and most of its natural resources. While millions of ethnic Hungarians stayed in their historic communities, the borders shifted around them. Against their will, they were forced to become barely tolerated citizens of the successor states of Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and other states.
Although the Treaty’s stated intent was to create democratic societies with self-determination for minorities and lasting peace in the region, instead it caused decades of distrust and systematic discrimination against historic Hungarian communities. During the especially harsh years of Communism, the official policy of forced assimilation forbade all contact and any mention of Hungarians living as minorities in the countries surrounding Hungary.
The Hungarian American community includes many whose ancestors hail from present-day Slovakia, Romania, Serbia or Carpatho-Ukraine. Their grandparents were among the million and a half Hungarian immigrants who left their homeland at the turn of the 20th century, but could not return home in a post-Trianon world. When we visit the historic Hungarian communities in these countries today, we are reminded of the effects of that long-ago treaty. We imagine, sadly, what might have been if the political machinery and resources of these states had been expended not to forcibly assimilate minorities, but rather to build, to teach, to constructively cooperate for the betterment of the whole society.
With the fall of Communism, Hungary at long last was able to reach out to Hungarian minorities. Major historic changes, some peaceful, others violent, caused Hungary’s neighbors, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, to fall apart along ethnic lines. When both Romania and Slovakia followed Hungary into NATO and later, the European Union, Hungarians hoped the universal standard for human and minority rights would bring positive changes in minority-majority relations. These hopes, unfortunately, have not been fully realized to this day.
When the Hungarian American Coalition provides internships and scholarships to dozens of ethnic Hungarian young people; when we continue to advocate for church property restitution in Romania; when we provide support for Hungarian educational and cultural institutions and actively oppose the discriminative Slovak language law; when we applaud the long-overdue possibility of dual citizenship for Hungarians who want it – we recognize that 90 years after the Treaty of Trianon, we are still trying to correct its injustices.
The recently elected Government of Hungary has declared today as the “Day of National of Unity”. The text of the law (attached) states support for “the liberty of the individual – including his right to choose his national identity – and the right of national communities to internal self-determination.” The statement also expresses confidence in the potential for resolving the injustices: not by any appeals to revisionism, but rather by supporting the aspirations of Hungarian communities for “communal autonomy based on accepted European norms and practices.”
We, Hungarian Americans join in observing this “Day of National Unity”. We support and pledge our commitment to all initiatives that serve to achieve equality among the communities and citizens of a genuinely democratic Central Europe: where the freedoms of speech, of language use, of human contacts and fair political representation are constitutionally protected and legally enforced. Only in such a Europe will every person, of every nationality, be truly at home.