Lost Prestige

Géza Jeszenszky

ISBN: 978-1-9433596-17-1
Helena History Press
411 pages

This book is not about how present-day Hungary has recently lost so much of the prestige it won with its heroic uprising in 1956 and its role in the fall of the communist satellites in 1989. Rather, it is the story of the formation of Hungary’s image abroad before and during World War I. That contributed to the exceptionally harsh terms the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty meted out to Hungary: the historic kingdom was reduced to one third of its territory and population, leaving 3.5 million Hungarians outside the new borders. Despite the constant discrimination the Hungarian minorities have faced in most of Hungary’s neighbours in language use, education and administration, today they number about 2.5 million and they want to enjoy all the rights international law recommends and local self-government would provide.

Géza Jeszenszky  chronicles how the very favourable reputation of Hungary and the Hungarians, established in their 1848–49  war for a liberal constitution and independence from Habsburg absolutism, was seriously damaged in the decade preceding the First World War. He shows its causes: the internal political crisis in 1904–06 undermined the notion that Hungary was a stabilizing and liberalizing factor in the Habsburg Monarchy; the almost daily London Times reports by its extremely well-informed correspondent, H.W. Steed, exposed the short-sighted social and electoral policies of Hungary’s political elite; and increasing awareness of the unfair treatment of the non-Hungarian national minorities, as revealed (with bias and exaggeration) by the political writer R.W. Seton-Watson. All of which coincided with the ascendancy of progressive social and political reforms in Britain, in the light of which Hungary appeared “backward”. Finally, what counted most, was that despite its strong Anglophile sympathies Hungary found itself among the enemies of Great Britain in the Great War, on the side of Germany, the power which was seen as a threat to the British Empire and its command of the seas. 

The relationship between foreign policy and the national image is followed through the chronological account of the metamorphosis of Hungary’s image in Britain. The book also explores the alleged similarities between English and Hungarian society and values. A final chapter describes how succeeding generations of Hungarians of various political stripes reflected on that lost prestige and its role in the making of the national tragedy, the Treaty of Trianon.

About the Author, Géza Jeszenszky

Géza Jeszenszky is a retired professor of history at Corvinus University of Budapest, as well a politician and diplomat. Instrumental in the transition of Hungary into a democracy in 1989, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first freely elected government (1990-94) after the fall of communism. From 1998 to 2002 he served as the Hungarian ambassador to the United and States and to Norway and Iceland from 2011 to 2014.

He was visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in Warsaw, Poland, and in Cluj/Kolozsvár in Romania. He is the author of a large number of scholarly publications. His latest book in English is Post-Communist Europe and Its National/Ethnic Problems (Budapest, 2009). His memoir and analysis of Hungary’s relations with its neighbors during the years of the regime change (in Hungarian) was published in 2016. This present work is a translation of his highly regarded history of the changing of view of Hungary in Great Britain 1894-1918. (Az Elveszett Préztizs) and has recently been revised and updated by the author for the anglophone reader.