Mosaic of an Ambivalent Relationship

In 1909, an English artist named Adrian Stokes and his Styrian wife Marianne published an account of their travels and painting expeditions in Hungary, chiefly Transylvania and Upper Hungary (now Slovakia). The prose is vivid, if a little mannered and occasionally rhapsodic. On the last page he writes: ‘I would like to state before concluding that, having lived, as few strangers ever have, among the different nationalities, we ourselves heard no complaints of their hard treatment by the Magyars. The general instruction in schools, where we were, was given in their own tongues; and if they were taught Hungarian, that was no hardship, for it is evidently an advantage that all inhabitants of a country should understand one common language; and it is natural that the chosen one should be that of the dominant and most numerous race.’

Of course, Stokes is a little disingenuous about the demographics—Hungarians were by then often in a minority in the areas where the pair spent most of their time. One also wonders about the rosy picture painted of schools. However, the word ‘dominant’ may be justified by the fact that the Magyars had been the ‘state- forming’ nation in the region for over a thousand years. One suspects that Stokes is reacting with some indignation to recently published books on Hungary which he cites for readers who wish to gain greater knowledge of the region’s politics. ‘In Hungary,’ he observes, ‘most men are patriots, all are politicians; but I have not touched on politics in these pages.’ Among the expert authors he mentions is the markedly anti-Magyar ‘Scotus Viator’ (Robert Seton-Watson)1 who had reported the massacre of twelve Slovak protesters in Černová, and successfully publicized it in Western Europe as an atrocity illustrating the iniquity of Magyar rule. It played a similar role in mobilizing public opinion against Hungarian domination as the Amritsar Massacre by the British in India still does today.

It is clear that the artists had been entranced by the hospitality wherever they went and Stokes himself describes participation in extremely dangerous-sounding local shoots where a mix of ethnicities were often present. (These shoots consisted of a huge circle of hunters who then advanced towards each other shooting hares at first in front of them and then swinging round to shoot behind the line when participants were too close to convergence.) He even says that the reason that local inns or hotels were often sub-standard was that local private hospitality was so generous to strangers it took the former’s potential tourist business away. However, although he is obviously aware of the language issue, it looks as if his manuscript was completed before the huge potential threat posed by the Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy officially bringing forward universal male suffrage in 1907. If introduced in Hungary (as Franz Joseph was threatening in the bargaining over the Monarchy’s budgets), this would have undermined Magyar claims to an exclusive hold on governance. For at least three decades, coercive ‘Magyarization’ had already been a policy to head off such a danger, and this new threat only spurred it on. Stokes is describing an idyll (if it ever existed) that the advance of nationalism and above all the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848–1849 had already shredded.

Historian László Kontler offers a measured view of the situation as it existed at the census of 1910: ‘The dimensions of “forced Magyarization” have been often exaggerated, even if the ratio of Magyars within the population of Hungary (without Croatia) climbed from 41 per cent to 54 per cent between 1848 and 1910; and nationalism was as intense among the non-Magyars of the region as among the Hungarians. The difference was that the latter had the state machinery at their disposal to promote the realization of the ideal of the Hungarian nation-state.’2 For example, the Lex Apponyi of 1907 decreed that all pupils should know Hungarian by the end of the fourth form in school. However, it is worth adding that in Transylvania (where the Stokes’ travelled quite a lot) there was a long multilingual tradition related to confessional tolerance (Edict of Torda, 1568), whereby identity markers were related to confession rather than language or ethnicity.3

Under the Dual Monarchy, Austria’s and Hungary’s situation were essentially the same—but different. Austria, for example, had an analogous dilemma with the issue of nationalities and minorities which it had tried to address with Count Badeni’s language law in 1897. Badeni, a Polish aristocrat with a strong record as conciliator in Galicia, pushed a law that would have required all civil servants in Bohemia to be bilingual (German and Czech), something which met with fierce opposition from the ethnically German Bohemians. It effectively excluded many of them from desirable jobs in the bureaucracy since they maintained that they would not, or could not, learn Czech. (Czechs, on the other hand, learned German at school.) The anger this provoked spread also to Austrian cities, and the project had to be abandoned when an alarmed Franz Joseph dismissed Badeni shortly afterwards.

Still, in 1905, a compromise was drawn up at least in Moravia (the Moravian Compromise) regarding the organization of political representation in the Diet. In the different electoral districts, a specific number of seats were reserved for each national group according to a fixed formula. It was only possible to vote for candidates within the curias, with the result that Czechs could only vote for Czechs and Germans only for Germans. The aim was to prevent one side out-voting the other, as had occurred under the previously purely geographical arrangement, where electoral wards frequently had mixed populations. The idea for Moravia was based on the principle of personal autonomy, developed by the then Social Democrat member of the Diet and subsequent Chancellor in the First Austrian Republic, Karl Renner (1870–1950) as a way of solving the paralysing nationalities dispute.4 One wonders how such a model would have fared in Hungary. Probably not too well. Renner, himself Moravian born, is a somewhat ambivalent figure who voted for the Anschluss and then re-emerged as the Soviet- sponsored head of the provisional Austrian government at the end of the Second World War. Allegedly he was also very anti-Semitic.

The Austria of the Dual Monarchy consisted of the Crown Lands of Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Galicia, combined with the other imperial territories not under Hungarian rule, and was officially called, somewhat evasively, ‘the Lands and Kingdoms Represented in the Imperial Council’. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the assimilated Jews in each half of the Monarchy identified themselves with the state-forming ethnicity. The urban German-speaking population in Hungary generally took the same attitude as the Jews, though they did not feel the need to Hungarianize their names as the Jews did, and not all spoke more than rudimentary Hungarian. Ethnic assimilation thus accounted for a significant part of the rise in those proclaiming themselves Magyars in the second half of the nineteenth century, as mentioned by Kontler. However, while there was a clear national consciousness to which someone could assimilate in Hungary, Germanness in the Cisleithanian (Austrian) part of the Empire was a more complex matter. There were Bohemians of German ethnicity (Deutschböhmen) and Austrian Germans, the latter in turn divided into Grossdeutsch and imperial Austrian factions. The former desired to be gathered into the increasingly aggressive German Reich under the leadership of Prussia, which had humiliated the Austrian Reich at the Battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa) in 1866; the latter saw themselves as the mainstay of Kaiser Franz Joseph’s Empire. This meant that there was little or no ‘Austrian’ consciousness as such, but rather an imperial consciousness where German was indeed the state language but German identity was split. One can see this, for example, in the case of the Czech Germans who had dominated the city of Prague (just as ethnic Germans had dominated the city of Buda) up to mid-century, but were gradually edged out of power by Czech nationalism, many of them actually embracing a Czech national consciousness subsequently. On the other hand, František Palacký, the towering intellectual force behind Czech nationalism, had an educational grounding almost entirely in German thought (Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller, and so forth).

Assimilated Jews typically converted to Christianity or preferred a secular (‘neo’) Judaism in both halves of the Monarchy, and their mastery of language(s) made them very influential makers of culture especially at the end of the nineteenth century, their numbers also steadily increasing through migration. Above all they were typically extremely loyal to the constitutional legitimacy of the Habsburg dynasty and (like the Austrian writer Joseph Roth, renowned for his patriotic novels The Radetzky March and The Emperor’s Tomb) tended to view the Emperor as providing the glue that held the Empire together.

Yet Austria was also very different from Hungary in other ways, and it is often rather hard to gauge the amount of sympathy between German Austrians and Magyars at any one time. When I first arrived in Austria and the subject of Hungary came up, my Hungarian wife made some reference in regard to the 1848 War of Independence to our rather aristocratic Austrian friend. ‘Well, the Hungarians were always revolting!’, he said, his excellent English nicely and ironically balancing the two meanings of the word ‘revolting’. From the Austrian point of view, this was no more than the truth (using revolting in its sense of ‘rebelling’). Nevertheless, one should point out that Hungarians had always seen themselves as the last bastion of Christendom against the Ottomans, and so did the Habsburgs—when it suited them. The plot led by Miklós Zrínyi against Habsburg rule in 1670 had been sparked by Leopold I’s betrayal of his Hungarian subjects when he signed the Treaty of Vasvár in 1664. This returned to the Turks almost all the territory the Hungarians had recently spent blood and treasure reconquering, an act of Realpolitik by Leopold who was under pressure in the West from an advancing Louis XIV. The Hungarian resentment at being used as cannon fodder by their supposed allies was to recur in the horrific wars of the twentieth century.

In 1848 some, but not all, the Hungarians had sought to throw off Habsburg imperial rule altogether, but this was more complicated, both as desire and enterprise, than it might appear. For a start, the only existing army in Hungary when the struggle began was the Austrian imperial one. Among those Hungarians serving in it, a conflict of conscience immediately arose: whether to remain loyal to their oath to the Emperor, or to follow the orders of a legally constituted government of Hungary of which the Austrian Emperor was also the King. The historian István Deák has given us a coruscating account of the confusion, both tragic and Gilbertian, that this conflict frequently engendered.5 Should they stay with the army, resign (if they were officers) or join the hastily assembling honvédség (literally: ‘Homeland Defence’). An anecdote illustrates the differing ways of thinking: in 1849, the Hungarian general Artúr Görgey sent a message to the ‘Austrian’ commander of the Buda fortress asking him to surrender on the grounds that he (General Hentzi) had been born in Debrecen and was therefore a Hungarian. Hentzi replied that, yes, his birthplace was Debrecen but he had also formerly been a Swiss subject in Bern; now he was neither Swiss nor Hungarian but had taken his oath as a loyal subject of the Emperor. It is almost touching that such a debate between rival commanders should take place at all in a time of war, but rather similar discussions must have happened repeatedly in the late Roman Empire.

Deák explains how, through the summer and autumn of 1848, individual commanders, assemblies, committees ‘and even genuine soldiers’ councils’ made decisions on whether to join or resist the Hungarian struggle, while the important fortresses likewise had to make decisions of allegiance. To take one example of several, successive commanders of the virtually impregnable fortress of Komárom on the Upper Danube tried to turn it over to the Austrians but were thwarted by civilian commissioners and officer assemblies. Deák adds that the presence of Imperial units in honvéd forces ‘led to tragicomic incidents: soldiers dutifully obeyed well-known trumpet signals coming from the enemy, or obeyed enemy officers whom they knew and thought to be their own; commanders spent a considerable time at the battlefield trying to distinguish between friend and foe. Not until Windisch-Grätz’s forces adopted a white ribbon on their shakos did the misunderstandings cease.’6

It is worth noting that Austrian attitudes to Hungarians in this conflict were mainly based on a perception of duties and legitimate power rather than ethnic prejudice. Indeed, the initially successful Hungarian march toward Vienna had been welcomed by Viennese liberals and radicals who had staged their own revolution in the capital, forced the hated Metternich to flee to England, and hanged Count Latour, the Minister for War, on a lamp-post. It had, in fact, been Latour’s decision to send Austrian units to the aid of the force led by the Croatian General, Josip Jelačić which was moving to put down the Hungarians, that triggered the Viennese revolt in the first place—and some German-speaking soldiers in the units concerned proved to have liberal nationalist sympathies. On the other hand, the imperial loyalist and playwright Franz Grillparzer, terrified by such instances of violence, saw nationalism(s) as simply abhorrent and coined his famous aphorism Der Weg der neueren Bildung geht / Von Humanität über Nationalität zur Bestialität. This was not aimed specifically at Hungarians, but against the forces and emotions unleashed by nationalism, and is today often interpreted as uncannily prescient of the horrors of the next century. Nevertheless, Grillparzer was not alone among Austrians in expressing a disdainful view of Hungarian cultural pretensions. In 1840, he had written in his diary that ‘[the Hungarian language] has no future. Without links to any other European language and limited to a few million mostly uncultured people, it will never have a public, quite apart from the fact that the Hungarian nation has never shown any talent in science or art. Had Kant written his Critique of Pure Reason in Hungarian, he would perhaps have sold three copies. … A Hungarian who speaks no other language is uneducated and will remain so, however great his abilities.’ 7

From the point of view of an Austrian German writer in 1840, this perspective was entirely understandable. Yet Grillparzer overlooked the impulse for language renewal and literary creativity that the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder’s earlier prediction of Hungarian linguistic demise had unleashed, together with the stimulus provided by the imposition of German under Joseph II’s absolutism (1780–1790). But he was right about the need for multi- or at least bi-lingualism, just as the Scots, Welsh, and Irish, notwithstanding the beauty and grace of their own folk literature, have felt they needed English to get on politically and economically. This is broadly the view of the influential work on nationalism and language by Ernst Gellner, which, however, has been criticized for its ‘technological determinism’ and indeed its failure to account for the patriotic passion that would impel a man to die for his country.8 This question is particularly relevant to Hungarians. As the great Hungarian writer Gyula Illyés very beautifully put it, ‘the Hungarian language is at one and the same time our softest cradle and our most solid coffin’. Something similar could be said of Gaelic in Scotland, Welsh in Wales, and (to a lesser extent) of Irish in the Republic of Ireland, where English is taught as the first language of instruction in schools and also shares with Irish the status of an official state language. In taking the opposite view to Grillparzer, the Hungarians stressed, following an Enlightenment proverb, that ‘nations exist in their own language’. The writer György Bessenyei had advanced a programme for replacing Latin, then used in public life, with Hungarian, since ‘every nation is primarily recognized by its own language’. The mother tongue was an instrument of advancement, not decay.Well, that can certainly be said of English, but of course, there were other factors involved.

It was largely through ‘Magyarization’ (whatever you think of it) that magyar, the exclusive official language of Magyarország since an Act passed by the Diet in 1844, not only prevailed but flourished. After the Compromise of 1867 was reached with the imperial dynasty, the most frequently recurring dispute (and arguably the most bitter) concerned the issue of whether Hungarian or German should be the language of command for the military in Hungary. This was an issue as powerful symbolically as common versus sovereign fisheries is for the EU and Brexit Britain.

Of course, the reforming Hungarian aristocrats were nonetheless well aware of the need for linguistic diversity. Count István Széchenyi, the greatest of them, spoke German, French, Italian, and English fluently, but had to learn Hungarian properly as a young man. The aristocracy were well integrated with their Austrian peers culturally and linguistically, yet that did not prevent the story of their relationship with the imperial dynasty over the centuries being ambivalent and often stormy or violent.


It is tempting to describe the relationship between Magyars and German Austrians as one of love–hate. It is not the same as the relationship between Magyars and Germans, since the former have generally absorbed, if not always welcomed, so many Germans to their territory after it was devastated in history—‘Saxons’ (generic term for ethnic Germans) to Transylvania from the mid-twelfth century or Swabians (Donauschwaben) after the Turks’ one and half centuries of exploitative and population-diminishing rule. These Germans sometimes lived in linguistic and social isolation, but others became ‘Hungarus’ and German villages survived until many of their inhabitants were driven out after the Hitler war. By contrast, the German Austrians themselves had a somewhat ambivalent attitude to their German cousins, some regarding them as their destiny as mentioned above, others looking back on the eclipse of the Habsburg imperial power and now regarding with horror the millstone of history that German nationalism had hung round their necks. Ernst Bruckmüller in his excellent new Österreichische Geschichte mentions the bitterness felt by some Austrians after fighting as subordinate power to the Germans even in the First World War, let alone the second. He cites a member of the Austrian government in 1920 who asserted that, although he was a good German, he was somewhat more a German Austrian, especially after experiencing the general arrogance and officious manner (Korporalston) of the ‘brothers from the north’10 during the war.

The first encounters of the Bajuwarischen settlers in Austria with warlike Hungarians were not propitious. In the post-Carolingian age Magyar mercenary bands, often allied with one or the other warring factions in the West, terrified the inhabitants of lands they passed through, just as the first Viking raids terrified the people of northeastern England and coastal Scotland. It is said that monasteries and churches in Western Europe included in their prayers an extra one—A sagittis Hungarorum libera nos, Domine! The very name of these raiders seemed to suggest a connection with the terrible Huns, of whose atrocities centuries earlier a folk memory still existed. The word was derived by the early chroniclers from the fact that the Hungarians had recently been part of the onogur (ten tribes) alliance, led by a Khazar dynasty that had succeeded that of the Huns. The great historian C. A. Macartney devotes some space to analysing how Hun ancestry crept into Hungarian chronicles from the twelfth century onwards.11  Most egregious was ‘Anonymus’, an unnamed notary at the court of Béla III (1172–1196), in his influential Gesta Hungarorum, which drew haphazardly on misinformed Western chroniclers. In the nineteenth century, romanticizing anthropologists among the Hungarians themselves sometimes cited a Hun connection. This may be why Westerners are still surprised to find that a mild-mannered and bespectacled Hungarian friend bears the name Attila.

After the Carpathian Basin was permanently settled by the Magyars (as they called themselves) and converted to Christianity by Saint King Stephen I (c. 970–1038), the royal house of Árpád began making dynastic alliances both with the Eastern Byzantine Empire and with the leading dynasties in the West. This of course did not prevent outbreaks of war from time to time and the manner in which the Magyars were stigmatized endured for a while. Otto of Freising (1112–1158), an important medieval chronicler who was born in Klosterneuburg to an Austrian father, spent some time in Hungary and around 1150 painted an unflattering picture of the inhabitants (compared to the beauty of its countryside): ‘[After the Huns, Hungary was trampled by the Avars, who fed [on] raw and unclean meat, and finally became the property of the Hungarians coming out of Scythia, who still live there.] These Hungarians are swarthy, with deep-set eyes, short in stature, and have wild, barbaric customs and language. One seems justified in blaming fortune or rather in marvelling at divine patience, that has exposed such a delightful land to such—I will not say men, but rather caricatures of men.’12

The last of the Babenberg line in Austria, Friedrich II, was indeed to lose his life in a border struggle with the Hungarians on the River Leitha in 1246. It seems the Magyars had lost none of their warlike propensities, but this was turned to advantage in 1278 when the half-Cuman (and half-mad) Hungarian King Ladislas IV helped Rudolf of Habsburg to eliminate his Bohemian rival Ottokar II at Dürnkrut on the River March northeast of Vienna.

This marks the first interaction between the Habsburg dynasty and Hungary, revived when Albert (Albrecht), Duke of Austria, was briefly king (1437–1439) before dying of dysentery while campaigning against the Turks. From his death onwards and the disputed election of his posthumous son as King, the Habsburgs were to be periodically involved in Hungarian affairs. Ferdinand I was claimant to the Hungarian throne through a dynastic Jagiellonian–Habsburg alliance after the death of his brother-in-law, the Jagiellonian King Louis (Lajos) II, at the disastrous battle against the Turks at Mohács (1526). Ferdinand’s opponent was the Transylvanian Voivode, János Szapolyai, who had been elected by the nobles relying on a decree of the Diet in 1505 requiring a ‘national king’. This would be cause for recurring dispute with the Habsburgs until Leopold I (Lipót, 1658–1705) finally succeeded in removing the elective rights of the Magyar nobles through abolition of their so-called ius resistendi. The Habsburgs had in fact established themselves as the ruling dynasty in 1564 under Maximilian II (of Habsburg, known as Miksa in Hungary). It was the beginning of an often stormy or ambivalent relationship between Hungary and Habsburg Austria that only ended some 350 years later with the Trianon annex to the Versailles Treaty that drew down the shutters on the Habsburgs’ great multinational empire in 1920.


These two terms of doubtful etymology stand for the long-standing split between Hungarians who were Habsburg loyalists (labanc) and those who wanted Hungary to escape from Habsburg rule (kuruc). The latter were so powerfully supported in Transylvania, which had remained somewhat autonomous as a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire through the years of Turkish rule in central Hungary, that a small army under Imre Thököly actually joined the Turks in besieging Vienna in 1683. Early in the next century, kuruc Magyars hardly endeared themselves to Austrians by raging through Lower Austria in the War of Independence (1705– 1711) led by Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II. The insurgents were additionally abhorred by the Habsburg rulers as they were Protestants who threatened the successful Counter-Reformation in Austria. Notoriously, Leopold I’s chief adviser, Cardinal Kollonitsch, is alleged to have said of the ever-rebellious Magyars: ‘First I will make the Hungarians beggars, then I will make them Catholics, and finally I will make them Germans.’13 He also sent forty-two Hungarian pastors to the Neapolitan galleys in 1675.

The Habsburgs did quite a lot of Germanizing in their Hungarian territories in the next century, when Maria Theresia brought in the Swabian settlers already mentioned to repopulate the territories devastated by Turkish occupation. Maria Theresia’s son, Joseph II indulged his own Germanizing inclination by insisting on German as the language of state and education—something that infuriated the Hungarians, particularly the nobility who insisted on the archaism of using Latin for official business. He also refused to be crowned as King of Hungary. Nevertheless, the new settlers mostly became ‘Hungarus’; the communities that settled on the Great Plain would often prove especially strong supporters of Lajos Kossuth and independence in 1848. It is also worth mentioning that, of the thirteen Hungarian generals executed by the Austrians in 1849 (‘The Martyrs of Arad’), five had German names, one was a German Czech and one of Serbian origin. Most were Catholic.

Although much of the resistance to Habsburg absolutism under Joseph II may reasonably be seen as a defence of the nobility’s neo-feudal rights and privileges, the Revolution of 1848 may with equal reason be seen as a defence of the nation’s rights qua nation. It thus attracted a broad swathe of support from across the confessional communities. Calvinism had been dubbed the ‘Magyar faith’, but militant patriotism now extended well beyond that; indeed János Scitovsky, whose forebears were Polish, was primate of Hungary at the time of the Revolution, but his name was near the top of the list of Hungarian ‘subversives’ kept by the Vienna chief of police, so ardent a Hungarian patriot was he.14 Hungarian identity, and therefore allegiance, could extend into the other minorities too—after all, Sándor Petőfi, the poet of the Revolution and of the nation, was of Slovak descent. The ‘lawful revolution’ was progressive, being supported by reform-oriented nobles whose parents were children of the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, however, for the most part the ethnic minorities in historical Hungary also became infused with a sense of the injustice of the Magyar yoke, just as the Hungarians rejected the imperial yoke.


A recent article in Rubicon by Attila Pók15 on the recurring image of Hungary as a ‘scapegoat’ for what are often European failings begins with a list of characterizations applied to it at various times: a ‘Turanic tribe … which, like its Turkish cousins, never created anything, only destroyed’ (Harold Nicolson), ‘treasonable’, ‘rebellious’, ‘merciless’, ‘lazy and uneducated’, to name but a few. Those who follow anti-Fidesz propaganda on social media today will have seen similar stereotypes or worse. This misrepresentation even seeps into supposedly academic offerings as well. For example, an American online evangelical journal has an article on the treatment of the Transylvanian pastors persecuted by Kollonitsch on behalf of the Habsburgs that I described above. Throughout the article, the persecutors are described as ‘the Hungarian authorities’. Among Pók’s most interesting references for generalized misrepresentation of the Magyars is the designation of them as non-European ‘Asiatic’ interlopers into Central Europe, a status they share with Armenians, Gypsies, and Jews.16 This comes from the chief statistician of the Austrian Empire and dates to 1857—i.e. still the period of neo- absolutism following the Revolution. His Austrian forerunner in 1790 in a highly negative judgement of the Hungarians was Alois Leopold Hoffman, Professor of German language at the Pest University. According to him, the Hungarians were ‘miserable, uncultivated and perfidious… The Hungarian is as proud as he is stupid.’ His pamphlets were possibly part of a propaganda initiative at the court of Emperor Leopold II during whose brief reign a Jacobin conspiracy was uncovered in Hungary.17

The Compromise or Ausgleich of 1867 ushered in, if not a golden age of the image of Hungary amongst Austrians, at least a less hostile and indeed romanticized version of the herdsmen and csikósok of the Great Plain on the one hand, and the clever, cultivated burghers and businessmen (often Jewish) of Budapest on the other. That did not prevent a parallel anti-Semitism—the Christian Social Mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger, notoriously referred to Budapest as ‘Judapest’—but the Jewish population of Vienna was of course itself rapidly expanding. Earlier in the century, the Austrian Biedermeier poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802–1850) had spent time in Western Hungary, studied in Magyaróvár, and was greatly influenced by Magyar and gypsy folk-music. His poems (in German) exuded a characteristic Hungarian melancholy and despairing love of the homeland (honfibú). The devotion of Franz Liszt (1811–1886), who chose Hungarian identity, to what he understood as Hungarian music (partly misunderstood as gypsy music) is well known. August von Pettenkofen, who had acted as a war artist on the Austrian side in 1848, founded an artists’ colony at Szolnok on the Great Plain as early as 1851 and depicted the landscapes and rural life of Hungary with sympathy and brilliant realism. Hungarians had thus become to the Austrians both modern and delightfully anachronistic. Even well before the Ausgleich, mutual antipathies had softened, an extraordinary example being that of the sadistic monster, General Haynau, who had exacted revenge for the Austrians after 1848, but retired later to an estate in Hungary. He is thought to be the model for the protagonist of Mór Jókai’s novel The New Landlord (1862), a rather starry-eyed evocation of the pre-Compromise spirit of reconciliation.18 Queen Victoria was a particular fan of this story, perhaps having in mind the reconciliation between England and Scotland dating from the time of Walter Scott, and herself buying a Scottish castle (Balmoral) in 1852 as a summer residence.

Cooperation, despite bickering, lasted until the disaster of the First World War and the even greater disaster of Trianon Peace Treaty, which dismembered Hungary in 1920. There was little sympathy among Austrians for a Hungary mourning its losses—after all, the Austrian Empire had been similarly reduced. In the dispute over Burgenland (awarded to Austria by the Versailles Treaty) local propaganda produced posters reminiscent of medieval woodcuts—on the left Hungary, a land of murder, mayhem, and ruins, complete with a man hung on a tree; and on the right an allegory of Austria as a pure maiden floating above a glowing landscape of peace and prosperity. It rather reminds one of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes of ‘Good Governance and Bad Governance’ (1338/9) in the Sala dei Nove of the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena. For Burgenland propaganda, the old ‘Hun’ meme was reactivated and both Béla Kun (the Communist putschist of 1919) and Admiral Horthy, Kun’s authoritarian conservative successor, were pinned down with the epithet Bluthund, a clumsy term of abuse for unloved Magyars.19

In the Nazi period, Hungary succumbed later than Austria to direct Nazi rule, but at the cost of being allied to Hitler and receiving some of the lost territories back courtesy of an evil regime. The Austrians played the ‘Hitler’s first victim’ card at the end of the war, and with some success, while Hungary could conveniently be branded ‘Hitler’s last ally’, as Communist propaganda represented them. Yet 1956 sparked an outpouring of sympathy, when the Austrian government of the day, only a year into its liberation from occupation, courageously ignored its precarious situation vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and made its sympathy with the beleaguered Hungarians evident.

Today the image of Hungary, though not necessarily Hungarians as individuals, is poor in Austria due to the relentless demonization of the Orbán government in the media. This does not seem to prevent my Austrian friends from enjoying Budapest or popping over the border to a Hungarian dentist. And it is always useful to have a neighbour whose political misdeeds can be loudly disdained even as its hospitality can be enjoyed and its business opportunities exploited. Hungary’s toxic image might seem wildly disproportionate to some of its deeds (for example a more than usually mediocre Socialist Austrian Chancellor compared Hungary’s measures to stop illegal immigration to the Nazi deportations), but since it is vigorously peddled by oppositional Hungarians at home and abroad, it has a sympathetic audience. To some extent, Hungary’s politics have become a proxy war for the cultural and identity wars of the politically besieged West. This is not about to change any time soon, unless the Fidesz Party loses power. Hungary as the bad guy—bűnbak—is a conveniently risk-free target for virtue- signalling intellectuals, politicians, and the media; no longer perhaps the barbaric Asiatic interloper, but more the autistic pupil who needs firm schooling.

1 R. W. Seton-Watson, Racial Problems in Hungary (1908).

2 László Kontler, Millennium in Central Europe. A History of Hungary (Budapest: Atlantisz Publishing House, 1999), 298.

3 See the exhaustive study by Zoltán Csepregi, Ethnische konfessionelle Identitätsbildung im Königreich Ungarn von der Reformation bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts in Márta Fata and Anton Schindlling (Hgg.), Luther und die Evangelisch-Lutherischen in Ungarn und Siebenbürgen (Aschendorff Verlag, 2017). 4 See Martin Mutschlechner, ‘The Moravian Compromise: Light at the End of the Tunnel?’, The World of the Habsburgs, Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges, m.b.H., Wien, n.d., https//

5  István Deák, The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians 1848–1849 (Columbia University Press, 1979), 187 ff.

6 Deák, The Lawful Revolution, 194.

7 Quoted in Paul Lendvai, Die Ungarn. Ein Jahrtausend Sieger in Niederlagen (Bertelsmann, 1999). This translation of Grillparzer’s remarks appears in the Princeton University Press revised and updated edition of The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat (2021), 200.

8 See in particular Ernst Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Cornell University Press, 1983).

9 See László Péter and Miklós Lojkó, Language, the Constitution and the Past in Hungarian Nationalism (Brill, 2012), 184.

10 Cited in Ernst Bruckmüller, Österreichische Geschichte von der Urgeschichte bis zur Gegenwart (Böhlau Verlag, 2019), 519.

11 C. A. Macartney, The Medieval Hungarian Historians: A Critical and Analytical Guide (Cambridge University Press, 1953; reissued digitally, 2008), 3942 and 59 ff. Macartney gives an amusing account of Anonymus’s random method, describing it as more the technique of a historical novelist than of a chronicler.

12 Quoted in ‘Hungarians as vremde in Medieval Germany’, in Albrecht H. Classen, ed., Meeting the Foreign in the Middles Ages, Ch.3 (Routledge, 2002). The original Latin is also cited, as there have been various colourful renditions of these remarks. The preliminary sentence in square brackets is taken from another translation.

13 Se non è vero, è ben trovato—Kollonitsch’s actions certainly bespeak such an attitude.

14  See: Michael O’Sullivan, ed., Trianon, Tragedy of a Nation. The Memoirs of Tibor Scitovszky (Hungarian Review, 2020), xiv–xv.

15 Attila Pók, ‘A magyarság mint európai bűnbak’, Rubicon 12 (2021), 142 ff.

16 Karl Freiherr von Czoernig (1804–1889), Ethnographie der Österreichischen Monarchie (I. Bd. Wien, 1857), 74–80.

17 Quoted in Márta Fata, ‘Mein geliebtes Kalmuckenvolk’, in Márta Fata (Hrsg.), Das Ungarnbild der deutschen Historiographie (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004), 49–83.

18 See Lóránt Czigány, The History of Hungarian Literature (Oxford University Press, 1986), 222. Haynau died in Vienna in 1853, and was buried in Graz.

19  See Péter Lőkös, ‘Das Ungarnbild der österreichischen Presse zwischen 1919 und 1921’ (Acta Universitatis, Germanistische Studie Band XI, 2018), 111–128.

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