Martonyi: First world war “joint suicide attempt” of European nations

October 21, 2014


The Hungarian parliament hosted a historical conference last Friday to mark the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Organized by the cultural directorate of parliament, the discussion featured leading historians dealing with the conflict.

In his opening remarks, former minister of foreign affairs János Martonyi said that the First World War was “nothing else but a collective suicide attempt of European nations”. He cited the opinion of leading historians when he remarked that the “key players in Europe of the 1910’s were behaving like sleepwalkers, and had no idea what awaited Europe” as the consequence of their actions.

Ignác Romsics, historian and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said that the seal on the fate of Central European nations was the 1917 Russian revolution, as well as the fact that attempts by the last Austro-Hungarian emperor, Charles IV. to make a separate peace with the Entente was discovered early on by Imperial Germany. Romsics also remarked that, even though the ideological basis of the Versailles and Trianon peace treaties in 1919-1920 was national self-determination, the reality was quite different. He reminded the audience that the original 1916 plans of France and Britain concerning the fate of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy involved the federalization of the constituent lands, but that in 1918 carving up its territory into smaller nation-states was the only viable option.

Hungarian-American history professor John Lukacs joined the discussion via videochat from his home in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He said, that although the consequences of the First World War were devastating for the whole continent, its most lasting legacy was the escalation of political anti-Semitism throughout Europe. Lukacs also added that Hungary’s principal misfortune was the fact that Horthy and his regime was unable to represent the country’s interests in the 1920s and 1930’s as effectively as, for instance, Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal. Lukacs said that Horthy’s inability to overcome Hungary’s diplomatic isolation together with what he called a very effective joint propaganda effort by Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Romania in the West, made it impossible for Hungary to represent its interests properly on the international stage.

Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia in July 1914 in response to the murder of the heir to the Habsburg throne, Franz Ferdinand, was the opening salvo in a regional conflict that quickly escalated into a European and even global conflict. During the war the Kingdom of Hungary deployed a total number of 3,8 million soldiers of which 520,000 died and 1.45 million became prisoners of war.

The First World War economically ruined Austria-Hungary, forcing its unconditional capitulation at the end of 1918 and triggering national uprisings across the empire. After a Bolshevik revolution in 1919, Hungary faced very difficult conditions of peace in the Little Trianon palace near Paris. According to the peace treaty, Hungary lost two-thirds of the country’s territory and a significant part of its industry and agriculture. Historians agree that the Trianon treaty was a major tragedy in Hungarian history and the outrage generated by it helped regent-admiral Miklós Horthy to establish its ultra-nationalist regime after 1920.

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