Courtesy Reuters

The Tragedy of the Magyars

Revisionism and Nazism

UP to the early nineteenth century Hungary was not a national but a Christian state with Latin as its official language. In the high schools all subjects were taught in Latin and as late as 1830 students who ventured to speak their mother tongue in the classroom had to sign a liber asinorum -- a book of asses. In the upper strata of society the language of conversation was chiefly Latin and German. Only the serfs spoke their native tongues. We must not forget that, owing to the Habsburg policy of settling non-Magyars in areas depopulated in the Turkish wars, by the end of the eighteenth century not more than 29 percent of the population was Magyar. Nevertheless, prior to the national uprising in 1830, the multilingual masses lived together in perfect harmony and peace. They all were equally drudges, laboring to maintain the nobility -- five percent of the population -- in self-satisfied exuberance.

When the rising tide of nationalism reached Hungary after the Napoleonic deluge it came not by way of the middle class, as in most western countries, but through the efforts of aristocrats such as Count Széchényi, who became aware of the backwardness of the lower nobility, and through men of letters who discovered the Magyar language and the Magyar people. As the Holy Alliance was engaged in an attempt to suppress nationalism wherever it sprang up, the Magyar ruling class, in its effort to establish its national independence, was bound to embrace liberalism, which, like nationalism, was a heritage of the French Revolution. Under the influence of this true liberal spirit, which had brilliant representatives such as Eotvoes, Deák, Szalay and others, it happened that many Slovaks, Germans and Serbians turned Magyar. Paradoxical as it sounds, most of the non-Magyar population became Magyar at a time when no pressure had as yet been brought to bear on them to do so. During the 60 years between 1790 and 1850, the number of Magyars in Hungary increased 15 percent; while during

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