Courtesy Reuters

Feudal Agrarianism in Hungary

SOME thirty years ago, in a heated debate before the Sociological Society of Budapest (sometimes called the Hungarian Fabians), this writer spoke of the fundamental sickness of Hungary and called it morbus latifundii. The expression became a slogan for all those who realized that the millenary feudal structure of the country, the domination by the large estates, was undermining its economic and cultural foundations and would help bring the tension of the unsolved nationality problems to the breaking point. In the last decade before the World War this diagnosis was also accepted by some influential political and military persons close to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who regarded the anachronistic structure of Hungary as incompatible with their plan to reorganize the Dual Monarchy on a more equitable, federal basis.

But all efforts to carry out an electoral reform -- the prerequisite to an agrarian and constitutional transformation -- were unsuccessful. The power of the latifundia and the political monopoly of the nobility successfully sabotaged all such endeavors. Those in power were perfectly aware that universal suffrage would mean the end of the feudal system. Only the military defeat and the dismemberment of the Monarchy were able to introduce an abrupt change for a few months, when Count Michael Károlyi's government proclaimed universal suffrage and the division of the large estates. Even so, partly from lack of time and partly from the anarchistic conditions resulting from the dismemberment of the country, these long-awaited reforms remained on paper. Meanwhile the Bolshevik experiment swept away the democratic government, and Béla Kun in his narrow-minded Marxian dogmatism stopped the redistribution of the estates. Under the theory of preparing for kolkhozi the Bolshevik leader saved the old agricultural system.

By shrewd manipulation Count Stephan Bethlen was able during the next decade to abolish democratized suffrage, to make an end of the first beginnings of a peasant party, and to create an administrative mechanism by which he could control the elections according to the old feudal pattern.

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