Sunday, June 7, 2009

France: Forgetting Trianon

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.


  1. Colin -

    Maybe the reason you didnt find any reference is because the Trianon Treaty was signed in Le Petite Trianon, another building close to Grand Trianon.

    The Hungarians werent even allowed the real Trianon

    I could not post to the BWR group for some reason - maybe because I keep correcting people?


    Stephen Saracco

  2. I think you're mistaken, Steve. According to the journalists who covered it at the time, it took place in the Gallerie of Grand Trianon, and the Hungarian representatives were there. Notice also the photoprahic match in my blog posting.

    Here's an excerpt of the Times of London's coverage, June 4 1920:

    "In somewhat gloomy weather the Hungarian Peace Treaty was signed at the Grand Trianon, Vesailles, this afternoon. It will be know in history as the Traite du Grand Trianon....The Galerie du Grand Trianon in which the delegates met much resembled hte Hall of Mirrors [where the Versailles Treaty was earlier signed]....M. August Denard, Minister of Labour and M Alfred Drasche-Lazaar, the Hungarian plenipotentiaries were introduced a quarter of an hour later [and] immediately led to seats provided for them on M. Millerand's extreme left.

  3. there is a plaque at le Petit Trianon noting the event

  4. After French shameful defeats in Sedan on 1870, on 1914 and 1940, France is doing whatever it takes to kip down Germany and Austria-Hungary. Since then, France, in a fierce struggle for existence, is denying the right of Germans, Austrian, Hungarian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Bulgarians to exist. French are enough ignorant not to understand that:
    The red army, with 360 divisions, equipped with prestigious artillery, supported by armor, and decent air force, would invade them and stop at the Biscay Bay. They ignore the Anglo Americans efforts and ultimate sacrifices to save them. What goes around comes around. One day they will get what are looking for, but this day will be the last day of Europe too.

  5. Anonymous: while I'm no fan of France's foreign policy -- witness their shameful role in Vietnam or the Bosnian conflict -- your analysis seems to forget the whole World War II thing. (Denying the right of *Germans* to exist?) And weren't the French important patrons of the Bulgarian kingdom, not to mention Poland, interwar Romania and Milosevic's Serbia?

  6. Interesting angry feelings exposed here. Let's not confuse the actions of certain men in power with the will and thoughts of nations.