In the coming months, there's going to be a lot of media attention devoted to the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. I was fortunate enough to be studying in Budapest at the time and was witness to many of the historic events that fall. I then covered the region for various newspapers and magazines from 1991 to 1996, and again in 1996-1997. Based in Hungary for much of the time, I heard one term over and over: Trianon. Its anniversary was on Thursday.
The 1920 Treaty of Trianon is regarded by many Hungarians as the worst event in their country's history. In the early 1990s, it was often the first thing a drunken worker wanted to share with a foreigner on a train or in a pub; more than once I had maps drawn for me on the backs of napkins or scraps of paper showing how Hungary had been dismembered by the treaty, punishment for their role in World War I. Nationalist politicians brought the treaty up regularly, arguing that it should be renegotiated (which is, effectively, an argument for the annexation of Slovakia, much of Romania, and portions of other neighboring states.) Posters and bumper stickers depicting Hungary with its pre-Trianon borders were the rage. The treaty - which prompted Hungary to ally with Nazi Germany during World War II - is commemorated in tragic monuments and angry anniversary demonstrations like this one held last week.
On the eve of the anniversary, I visited Versailles for the first time and, of course, wanted to visit the Grand Trianon Palace. The emphasis of the museum displays was, rightly, on the Bourbon kings (who built the place) and Marie Antoinette (who resided in it). But in all the pamphlets and signage, there wasn't a single reference to the 1920 treaty. The 270-page official guidebook to the Versailles complex had but one sentence: "It was in the gallery that, on 4 June 1920, the Peace with Hungary was signed."
A reminder that one nation's epic tragedy is another's footnote.