Living in defeat

Brief summary

The new order set up by the Hungarian National Assembly was one of the most extraordinary parliamentary democracies in Europe. It was a kingdom without a king. The new Hungarian state’s legitimacy was derived from the Crown of King Saint Stephen, the founder of Hungary. As Regent, Miklós Horthy assumed the role of head of state. The political process launched in 1920 amounted to a re-establishment of the state. Not only was it necessary to create new institutions and a new state administration, but Hungary’s independent foreign and economic policies had to be created from virtually nothing. Millions of Hungarians were suffering as a result of high inflation and prolonged food and fuel shortages, and it was imperative to stimulate the economy of a country which had been robbed of a substantial part of its industrial and agricultural sectors. The fact that in the first third of the decade chaos was brought under control, law and order was restored and the country was under the rule of stable governments can be considered an extraordinary achievement. The cultural revival which began in the 1920s became associated with the name of Count Kuno Klebelsberg, Minister of Religious Affairs and Education. This triggered a rare cultural dynamism which is rightly considered to be one of the greatest periods in Hungarian cultural history. The restoration of order after the war was also marked, however, by phenomena which have been rightly denounced – for instance the introduction in 1920 of the numerus clausus Act in higher education, which infringed the equal rights of members of Hungary’s Jewish community.

The world in which we live was born a hundred years ago, in World War I. To this day, however, the interpretation of that war is dominated by the biased value judgements of the victors, the so-called “interwar consensus”, and the lies and half-truths of the 20th-century dictatorships. It is no accident that the worldwide conflict is still attributed to bloodthirsty, globally divisive nationalism, although what started in 1914 was in fact an imperial war among great powers. The only question addressed by the war was that of who would rule Europe. After 1918 an unequivocal answer emerged: Europe had lost its status as a world power, and the American century had begun. Hungary was the war’s biggest loser, but after 500 years she had regained her independence. We Hungarians tend to judge our past too severely, exaggerating every hardship and injustice and measuring them against perfect utopias that have never existed anywhere. And yet Hungarians – both within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and in what remained of it as post-Trianon Hungary – have fulfilled their historical mission. They have survived as a nation. In the short 20th century huge empires which surrounded us have disappeared: empires which had sought to rule the world, such as the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the Nazis’ Third Reich. We have survived, and could thus enter the 21st century as victors.



„The victorious powers dealt with us Hungarians in a perfunctory fashion, like a rail passenger taking a
mid-morning snack while the train has stopped for just five minutes."

Ferenc Herczeg


„What I see again is Hungary – not in its mutilated state, but the true, Historical Hungary: the full rounded, complete line that has been ingrained within me since childhood. I was virtually in love with that line; it was my first love."
Mihály Babits


„They want to sever the soul of the nation from its body."
Gyula Krúdy


„Kolozsvár, Pride of Matthias, city of beauty and treasure,

Roumania’s ornament you can never be: no, never!

For Serbs, bread from Bánát will never flow,

Across the Carpathians a Hungarian wind will always blow."
Attila József


„No need to ever talk of it,

But let it always be in our minds."
Gyula Juhász


„June 4, 1920: this date invites rebellion, threatens and warns."
Sándor Reményik


„Mr. Lloyd George, who during the operation that was Trianon sank his knife deepest around our hearts, now says he knew not what he was doing – and was in any case a mere trainee surgeon beside the great Professor Wilson. Hungary’s death sentence bears the stamp of Western culture."
Ferenc Móra


„At Trianon, the West has mercilessly put paid to its defender over the past thousand years, who stood defenceless before its tribunal."
Zsigmond Móricz


„The continents greeted Trianon with applause, and we had no friends anywhere."
Cécile Tormay


„We have been thrown down from the heights we scaled with our own effort, with the labour of a thousand years; with our own muscles and minds, carving every stone step from the colossal rock face, washed with our blood."
Károly Kós


„We cannot forget the past: Trianon is still a burning wound today."
Sándor Márai


„The Carpathian Mountains are a true border; something drawn through the second pier of the bridge at Esztergom is just a stripe.."
Béla Hamvas


„Hungary can only survive if there is a border guard within every Hungarian soul."
Zoltán Kodály


„Lost homelands tend to creak."
Géza Páskándy


„Small people, do not hold out hope – there has never been a benign great power."
Sándor Kányádi


„Had there been no Trianon, there would have been no Holocaust; for mania is always contagious, and gives rise to a new mania."
Sándor Csoóri


„Had Trianon not been such a peace, but had been a just peace, World War II would have been far less
certain to break out; and surely communism would not have had such an opportunity to advance."

István Csurka


„To have a chance of success, any programme of revision must conform with the right of the peoples to self-determination."
Count István Bethlen


 „With every available peaceful means we are striving to have the peace treaties revised in the spirit of law and justice."
Gyula Gömbös


Further rooms

An entire era is lowered into the grave

Franz Joseph’s death was felt as a tragedy by his contemporaries.

Back from the front

The military casualties of the war numbered 10 million dead and 21 million wounded.

The creators of the peace structure

The victors invoked the principle of “national self-determination”, but their decisions bore no trace of this.

The dawn of the American century

After World War I the United States took over the leading role in world politics from Europe.

Europe in tumult

The continent’s victors and vanquished alike faced similar problems: everyday life was overshadowed by social unrest and economic hopelessness.

The Spanish flu pandemic

In three devastating waves, the pandemic killed over twenty million people: more than twice the number of soldiers killed in the war.

The league of nations

The organisation founded at President Wilson’s initiative was the first attempt at peaceful resolution of the world’s conflicts.

Red terror

Violence and intimidation were from the very start the essence of communist dictatorships.

The Leninist model

Attempts at transforming European societies and the threat of a communist world revolution posed a serious challenge to European states.

Changes – 1914–1922

“Divide and rule!” The victors redrew the world map in a way that would possibly perpetuate ethnic and religious conflicts.

In the shadow of Trianon

The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy plunged the Kingdom of Hungary into its deepest crisis since the Ottoman occupation.