Pro-Kremlin media exploit the centuries-old Treaty of Trianon to spread polarizing divisions and narratives that target both Hungarians and Ukrainians.
06/08/2021 – 18:20 •
A centuries-old peace treaty is giving pro-Kremlin media the ammunition to spread divisions and polarize narratives that target both Hungarians and Ukrainians.
The most effective disinformation efforts are tailored to the specific circumstances of particular countries and regions, taking advantage of existing social tensions or bilateral disputes. In Hungary, the living reminder of the loss and defeat enshrined in the Treaty of Trianon also offers an easy angle of attack on Ukraine. Pro-Kremlin portals in Hungary love to cover events in Ukraine in a way that suggests Hungary could reclaim its lost territories there in the near future, even if Budapest is not making any territorial claims on its neighbors.
“The Trauma of Trianon”
Hungary, which was part of the Habsburg Empire before the First World War and which was, together with Austria and Germany, among the losers of the war, saw two thirds of its territory and almost as many of its population go to states of new training in its neighborhood. Signed in 1920, the Treaty of Trianon – companion of the more famous Treaty of Versailles – sanctioned these losses; continues to serve as a reminder of the defeat to this day, providing the pro-Kremlin media with the opportunity to abuse it for political purposes.
The ‘Trauma of Trianon’, as many call it, is still part of the collective memory of Hungarians, not only because discussing it was forbidden during the communist era, but also because many Hungarian families still have relatives living in neighboring countries. A recent Pew poll found that 67% of Hungarians believe parts of neighboring countries “really belong to us”. A representative survey from Hungary revealed that 94% of respondents believe that Trianon is unfair to Hungary and a third said (wrongly) that the treaty would expire after a hundred years.
Major Hungarian political forces generally refrain from using Trianon’s memory to provoke neighbors and play on people’s feelings. However, extremist political groups have tried to capitalize on the memory of the treaty, calling for the ‘reclamation’ of the lost territories or the repeal of the 1921 law ratifying the Treaty of Trianon (even though Hungary’s borders are delineated by the Treaty of 1947 of the Treaty of Paris).
Add fuel to the fire
In the Kremlin’s efforts to create trouble, the first key message is that Hungary still has the opportunity to get its hands on Transcarpathia – a former Hungarian region in western Ukraine – thereby building a parallel with Russia’s actions in the country. Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.
One of the first such occasions was the attempt to sell Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s plans presented in 2014 as a Euro-Atlantic initiative to divide Ukraine, which would have conceded Transcarpathia to Hungary. Another article, cataloged in the EUvsDisinfo database, called on Kiev to give up some of its territories because Ukraine would “not register its borders with the United Nations”, which means that it has no official state borders. The country’s leadership should, according to the article, give up the territories that Ukraine gained when it was part of the USSR, including Transcarpathia, where most of the Hungarian minority live.
Ukraine would also be ready to cede parts of Transcarpathia to Hungary, while Transcarpathia can join the EU without Ukraine. Similar narratives are also present when the claims don’t focus on Ukraine: A Hungarian Facebook page that regularly shares pro-Kremlin content from RT and Sputnik met when President Putin said that if the Kaliningrad issue had been discussed, the question of Hungary and Romania should also be reviewed:
If anyone is willing to reconsider the results of World War II, let’s discuss it. But then we will have to discuss not only Kaliningrad, but also the eastern lands of Germany, the city of Lvov, a former part of Poland, and so on, and so on. Also on the list are Hungary and Romania. If anyone wants to open this Pandora’s box and take care of it, that’s okay, then do it.
On other occasions, the narratives circulated by the pro-Kremlin media implicitly suggest to their Hungarian readers that there is a possibility for Transcarpathia to return to Hungary. For example, there are articles about Ukraine being torn apart in the eastern and western states, or that Poles are ready to take Lviv by introducing their own language and culture to the city. These statements, in the Hungarian context, represent an effort to raise readers’ expectations.
“Correcting a historic mistake” in Ukraine
The second main message about Ukraine, and more specifically about Crimea, is that Russia is only correcting a historical error that closely resembles the one that was committed against Hungary in 1920. In some of these cases, the portals pro Kremlin repeats Hungarian folk narratives about Trianon, but exclusively in the context of Crimea, without mentioning the post-war treaties. The Crimeans, they say, have simply fought to correct a “historical mistake” that often emerges in Hungarian far-right rhetoric regarding Trianon. At the same time, there are articles that explicitly link Crimea and Trianon: the pro-Kremlin portal Orosz Hírek explained to its Hungarian readers that the “Ukrainian statesman Nikita Khrushchev” gave the “territory [of Crimea]’to the Ukrainian SSR, then’ they moved people against their will just like they did with the Hungarian ethnic group in Trianon. ‘
The third message is about false allegations that Ukraine is fighting ethnic Hungarians just as it is fighting ethnic Russians. Pro-Kremlin media seeks to generate tension between Ukrainians and Hungarians in Transcarpathia in hopes of provoking further bilateral tensions between the two sides. One article, for example, stated that the “fascist military junta” wanted to incite civil war in Transcarpathia by sending bloodthirsty “Galician Nazis” there.
The same websites that make such claims and claim – among other things – that “fascism has conquered most of Ukraine” are, curiously, very friendly to fascists when it comes to Trianon. An article in News Front Hungary praises Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini for supporting Hungary in the Italian Senate in 1928, as well as the Italian fascist magazine Fascist Youth for asking for justice for Hungary at the time.
Overall, the pro-Kremlin disinformation in Hungary seeks to attract the sympathies of Hungarians on the Russian side in the case of the illegal annexation of Crimea, in part by drawing parallels between the “historical wrongs” committed against Hungary in Trianon and “Russian Crimea.” “. As a result, pro-Kremlin narratives aim to improve the feelings of Hungarians about the aggression of Moscow and turn them against Ukraine.
Unsurprisingly, pro-Kremlin media claims have little basis in reality. Hungary’s National Security Strategy for 2020 clearly states that Hungary does not consider any country an enemy and seeks to resolve disputes peacefully in line with the principles of the UN Charter and international legal standards. Furthermore, the Hungarian government has consistently supported the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine. It is true that Budapest and Kiev disagree on the Ukrainian language law of 2017, which was also criticized by the Venice Commission (consultative body of the Council of Europe on constitutional law), but there are no signs whatsoever that both sides are to resort to the army means to solve the problem. Regardless, any insinuation of an ongoing conflict between Hungary and Ukraine, real or imaginary, will be used in the future as an opening for pro-Kremlin propaganda.
Tags: Hungary, Russian propaganda, Zakarpattia