Hungarian nationalist rock opera to retell 1920s grievances
Hungary Hungarian nationalist rock opera to retell 1920s grievances
Treaty that sliced up territory after first world war remains a source of anti-liberal sentiment
The signing of a 1920 peace treaty does not immediately sound like ideal subject matter for musical theatre. But on Friday and Saturday night, hundreds of singers, dancers, acrobats and horsemen will fill the vast concrete expanse of Budapestâs Heroesâ Square for performances of Trianon: the rock opera.
The treaty of Trianon sliced up Hungary in the aftermath of the first world war and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It still features heavily in Hungariansâ historical imagination 98 years later, and the so-called âTrianon traumaâ is one of the building blocks for the nationalism of Viktor OrbÃ¡nâs government.
âTrianon â" the word and the subject matter â" has been stirring passions in our country for a hundred years,â GÃ¡bor Koltay, the rock operaâs director and a member of OrbÃ¡nâs Fidesz party, said at a recent press conference. âWe will show how the events of 1920 â" the dismemberment of the country â" impacted our lives.â
OrbÃ¡n, who recently won a third consecutive term as prime minister, has cannily taken advantage of the sense of historical victimhood and loss among many Hungarians. It has helped him deliver a hard-right agenda, which this week saw parliament pass the so-called Stop Soros law that criminalises any individual or group that offers to help an illegal immigrant.
At Trianon, Hungary was deprived of more than half of its pre-war territory and population. Many of these people were not ethnic Hungarians, but the treaty left more than 3 million Hungarians outside the borders of the new Hungary.
âAround 2 million of these Hungarians were living right on the borders, in majority-Hungarian areas, so any fair treaty based on self-determination would have included them,â said And rÃ¡s Mink, a historian.
When OrbÃ¡nâs government came to power in 2010, one of its first acts was to establish a âday of national unityâ on 4 June, the anniversary of the signing of the Trianon treaty.
OrbÃ¡n quickly made ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring states eligible for Hungarian citizenship. These new citizens â" in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine â" have voted overwhelmingly for OrbÃ¡nâs Fidesz party, giving it an electoral boost.
OrbÃ¡n has painted himself as the man who has led Hungary on a path back to recovering from some of the mental and moral losses at Trianon, if not the territorial ones.
âSince Trianon we have never been so close to bringing our nation back to self-confidence and vitality as we are now,â OrbÃ¡n said in a speech last year. âAnd if Hungary has a government that will serve foreign, globalist interests then Hungarians will lose this historic opportunity, and not just for one electoral cycle but for decades to come.â
Few Hungarians believe that a redrawing of borders to regain lost land is possible or even desirable, although the opinion is still occasionally aired in pro-government media. More often, government figures have called for âmoral reparationsâ and used the painful memory of Trianon as a rallying call for modern-day nationalism, and even to back up OrbÃ¡nâs virulent anti-migration philosophy.
In a letter to locals asking them to vote against EU migration quotas in a 2016 referendum organised by OrbÃ¡nâs government, Ist vÃ¡n VitÃ¡nyi, a Fidesz MP, wrote: âAt Trianon we lost the majority of our country and we cannot lose the rest of it. So vote no!â
OrbÃ¡nâs critics say history teaching is one of many areas where the government is attempting to exercise increasing control. âThere used to be a relatively free textbook market; now thereâs basically a monopoly,â said LÃ¡szlÃ³ MiklÃ³si, chairman of Hungaryâs Independent Association of History Teachers.
He said textbooks now offered a simplistic take on the âTrianon dictateâ and Hungaryâs victimhood. âNobody sensible can doubt that what happened to Hungary in 1920 was unfair; however, itâs better if students can form their own opinions from looking at the sources.â
The approach also stretched to more recent history, MiklÃ³si said. Two years ago the association fought a court battle to have a government-funded history textbook withdrawn that painted OrbÃ¡n as a national hero and asked students to write an essay in support of an anti-migration speech by the PM.
The classroom is not the only place where the lessons of history appear tailored to an official narrative that portrays Hungary purely as a victim. A 2014 monument to the Nazi occupation in a central Budapest square has been criticised for whitewashing the role of Hungarians in the Holocaust. It depicts Hungary as the archangel Gabriel under attack from the German imperial eagle. Locals have created a rival, makeshift memorial on the pavement by the monument, dedicated to âhistorical truthâ.
MÃ¡ria Schmidt, an OrbÃ¡n loyalist, runs the Terror House, a central Budapest museum that chronicles the horrors wrought on Hungary by both the Nazis and the Soviets. Her latest book, heavily advertised inside the museum, is a collection of rants against the alleged Islamisation of Europe and âself-assured and arrogantâ migrants who are enacting a long-held plan of eastern peoples to occupy Europe.
A m agazine controlled by Schmidt recently ran a list of 200 âmercenariesâ supposedly paid by the Hungarian-American financier George Soros to destroy Hungary â" an eyebrow-raising gambit from someone who runs a museum dedicated to the memory of victims of repressive regimes that drew up similar enemy lists.
OrbÃ¡nâs critics say the prime minister has exploited Hungaryâs difficult history to push his nationalist messages, but they also acknowledge that the trials of the 20th century, and particularly the dismemberment at Trianon, provide fertile ground for doing so.
âWhen you want to track down the roots of anti-western and anti-liberal sentiment in Hungary, you should go back to that moment in history, when for many the lesson was that the ideas of liberty and self-determination are valid only for the western powers,â said Mink.Topics
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