[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [Notes] [HMK Home] István I. Mócsy:The Effects of World War I ...

These groups were the chief supporters, the mainstay of Horthy's power: the officers' detachments, the army intelligence and propaganda network, and the secret and open right-wing societies and associations. Since, in each of these organizations, the radical refugees participated in great numbers, they formed a powerful bloc behind Horthy in the elections. These groups staffed the election machine that began to campaign all over the country to assure the triumph of the most radical right-wing candidates and the most loyal supporters of Horthy. The particular party label under which a candidate ran was less important to them than the degree of his commitment to the anti-Communist and irredentist crusades, and the degree of his support of Horthy. The Army High Command gave specific instructions to key officers about their role in the elections. They were to assure, regardless of party affiliation, that only supporters of Horthy would be elected.[38] The chief of the army's propaganda division warned officers that the army could not let the leadership of the country slip from its hands as a result of the election. The army propaganda machine therefore had to convince the public that Horthy was "the most suitable person to hold the leadership of the country." When "we search for a dedicated leader," wrote Miklós Kozma, "our eyes, no matter how long we look, will finally come to rest on one man, Miklós Horthy."[39]

The significance of the outcome of the January 1920 elections was not lost upon any of the political factions. It was a struggle for control of the country. For the makeup of the new National Assembly shaped the new society, the foreign policy of the state, and set the whole tone of the regime that was to follow the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary epoch. This National Assembly, possessing constitutional authority, was to decide upon the question of a head of state, who, in turn, would appoint the government from the parliamentary majority to carry out the task of reconstruction. This assembly was also to decide on some vital social and economic questions, the most important of which was land reform.

As a result, the election struggle was conducted, simultaneously, on three fronts: between the right and the left, that is, between the two right-wing parties, on the one hand, and the liberal and Socialist parties, on the other: between the two major parties of the right, the Christian National Unity Party and the Smallholders Party; and finally, between the radical and conservative wings of KNEP and the Smallholders allied with each other, making party labels quite meaningless.

At the opening of the campaign there was considerable uncertainty on the right, since the ultimate outcome of the election was far from clear. No one could predict how the newly enfranchised masses would use their vote. It was not even certain that the two right-wing parties together would be able to muster a parliamentary majority. Party leaders, therefore, in order to prevent splitting of right-wing votes, decided to come to some kind of electoral agreement. Accordingly, a vague reciprocal agreement was worked out, whereby, in each district, the candidate of the weaker party was to withdraw in favor of the other. In 41 districts, partly due to this agreement and partly to the threats against the nominees of the moderate parties, rightist candidates ran unopposed.[40] In the majority of districts, however, the agreement broke down because of the two parties' inability to agree on the degree of their candidates, popularity. Thus, in most parts of the country, the election became an all-out struggle between all parties and all factions. In the end both parties tried to outdo each other in right-wing radicalism, swamping virtually all other issues under the flood of slogans denouncing Socialists and Communists, and supporting chauvinism and restoration of the territorial integrity of Hungary.

The atmosphere that the government, the Army High Command, and the right-wing groups created effectively paralyzed the campaigns of the moderate and Socialist parties. None of their candidates or meetings was safe from assaults of officers or Awakening Hungarians. The Socialists were especially hard hit. They soon realized that it was totally pointless even to attempt to field candidates in districts outside the capital, but even in Budapest their campaign was constantly disrupted, their press severely censored, their candidates and campaign workers arrested or sent to concentration camps. On January 15, therefore, in protest the party decided to withdraw from the coalition government and from the election race.[41]

With all instruments of power behind the two right-wing parties, the outcome of the elections was a foregone conclusion. It surprised no one that both in the January 25 and in the February 13 run-off elections they won with a landslide. The Smallholders Party emerged as the majority party with 79 seats, while KNEP captured 72. Thus, out of a total of 164 seats the two right-wing parties held 151: the others were scattered between the Democratic Party, which gained six seats, the other minority parties, and such independent candidates as Counts Andrássy and Apponyi.[42] In June, an additional 43 deputies were elected in the Trans-Tisza region, which at the time of the January elections was still under Romanian occupation, but these elections did not significantly alter the makeup of the National Assembly. The Smallholders Party captured most of these seats; yet it failed to become a party of absolute parliamentary majority. The reason for this failure was that almost immediately after the February elections both parties of the right began to fragment. especially KNEP. Friedrich split with KNEP and established his own party with some of his followers. Nineteen other deputies from both parties who were supporters of Bethlen established a faction called Dissidents, under the leadership of Count Klebelsberg. Seven dissatisfied Smallholders formed a splinter Smallholders Party; the number of independent deputies rose to 17. Thus, after the June 3 elections, in spite of its victory, out of 207 seats, the Smallholders still held only 91 seats, KNEP 59, the Dissidents 19. Nor was this alignment permanent. Party strength was constantly shifting, factions splitting off and merging with others, making most estimates of actual party strength meaningless.

Soon after the elections the refugees made an attempt to gain direct representation, thereby gaining an absolute majority within the National Assembly. Already, towards the end of 1919, politicians from the lost counties and cities began to organize and to demand legal recognition as representatives of Hungarian territories under temporary occupation. During February 1920, they came forth with the demand that the refugees should be allowed to elect delegates to the National Assembly, arguing that without such refugee representation the National Assembly would represent no more than a third of the nation. Moreover, they argued that to deny representation to the lost areas was tantamount to an acceptance of the country's dismemberment.[43] Had this been allowed, the refugees would have gained an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Yet, even without direct representation, the victory of the right was also their victory.

Within the right the elections represented a victory for the right radicals, that is, for the gentry and gentroid alliance, for Horthy, and for the army. It was a defeat for the legitimists and, partially, for the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie.

The National Assembly's first order of business was election of a new head of state and a definition of his constitutional powers. For this post, the first choice of the legitimists was of course King Károly, who according to them, had never legally abdicated his throne and, therefore, was still the legitimate ruler of the country. They would have been willing to settle for his young son Otto with a regency during his minority. If even that proved to be impossible, they preferred Archduke Joseph. All these options met with the firm opposition of the Successor States and the Western Powers. Early in February their cause suffered a major setback when both France and Great Britain, in order to dispel all rumors about Western support for the King, delivered strong notes of protest to the Hungarian government. Leaving no doubt about their unqualified opposition to a Habsburg restoration in whatever form.[44] As a substitute candidate the legitimists put forth Count Albert Apponyi, whom they could trust to step aside should the international situation become favorable to the Habsburg cause.

Had the attitude of the Western Powers been the opposite, or even if they had maintained a benevolent neutrality on the issue, there is little doubt that Károly would have been returned to the throne by the National Assembly. Even Horthy would have had to acquiesce. The opposition of these powers made the cause of the legitimists hopeless and paved the way for Horthy. It was a major boost to the " free electors," that is, to those who argued that, with the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy, the Pragmatic Sanction lost its validity; that Hungary had regained her ancient right of electing her own sovereign.[45 ]Horthy felt free to apply pressure on both the Huszár government, where the legitimists had a majority, and on the newly elected members of the National Assembly. In a letter to the government Horthy wrote: "The discipline and patriotism of the National Army and law enforcement agencies serve as my guarantee that I will carry out my intentions whatever the circumstances may be."[46] Horthy did nothing to discourage persistent rumors that if he were not elected and on his own terms there would be a military coup d'etat. The legitimists tried in vain to exploit Horthy's last minute embarrassment over the mass murders at Kecskemét, and especially the murder by members of the Ostenburg detachment of two prominent Socialists, Béla Bacsó and Béla Somogyi.

Apponyi, realizing the hopelessness of his candidacy and fearing outbreak of civil war if the army were thwarted, informed KNEP leaders that he was withdrawing his name from consideration. After stormy debates in both party caucuses, Horthy's opponents were disarmed; both parties agreed to vote for him. Resistance to Horthy was especially strong in KNEP, which, nevertheless, finally came around after Prime Minister Huszár bluntly summed up the situation by stating: "I understand your indignation, but you should be conscious of the fact that if tomorrow you do not elect Horthy as regent, they will forcefully scatter the National Assembly."[47]

[]Horthy's election was no longer in doubt. Some of his opponents put up a last-ditch effort to curtail his powers, but Horthy insisted on virtually all the traditional prerogatives of Hungarian kings, On election day, to assure absolute compliance with his wishes, Horthy ordered the Prónay and Ostenburg regiments into action. They closed off all streets leading to the parliament building and escorted Horthy to the Assembly. The cornered Assembly leaders had no other choice but to allow Horthy to dictate his terms. Out of the 141 deputies voting 131 voted for Horthy, and only seven diehards for Apponyi.

Horthy's election was a victory for those refugees who since the days of Szeged saw in him their principal hope for carrying out their program. The radical irredentists triumphed through Horthy: through the National Army, the officers' detachments, the secret societies; and through the Awakening Hungarians who ran Horthy's election campaign and elevated him to the regency.

Most ultraradicals, however, soon came to be disappointed in Horthy. Once secure in his possession of supreme power, Horthy began to search for ways to dissociate himself from the radicalism and the radicals of the 1919-20 period. He was, essentially, a conservative man who turned to radicalism only under the trauma of the times. He preferred authoritarian rule to totalitarian dictatorship. Within a year of his election, he began to search for a compromise with the defeated aristocracy, and even with the Jewish upper bourgeoisie. This was not possible until the legitimacy issue was finally put to rest. The archlegitimists, led by Andrássy, Beniczky, and the Catholic aristocracy of western Hungary and Slovakia, twice attempted to depose Horthy. First during Easter week 1921; then during October 1921 when King Károly suddenly appeared in Hungary to claim his rightful throne. Both times Horthy was able, with the aid of Western pressure, to persuade the king to depart.[48] The politicians and aristocrats responsible for these coup attempts had to be destroyed politically before a compromise could be achieved. Also, some of the worst perpetrators of terror had to be removed from the center of the political scene. Thus one by one the chief terrorists were quietly let go, or forced into oblivion, or opposition. Such was the fate of Prónay, Ostenburg, Héjjas, and even of Gömbös.

The Bethlen-Teleki group was best situated to bring about a compromise on the right. First Horthy turned to Teleki. who in June 1920 became prime minister. The Teleki government was generally ineffective, though it made some progress in normalizing conditions in the country. It was, however not until April 1921 that the return to normalcy began in earnest when Count Bethlen, finally judging the time ripe, decided to accept Horthy's mandate to form a government. Bethlen was, at least in part, acceptable to most factions of the right. He was a man of personal stature, puritanical, stoic, and phlegmatic in his personal habits.[49] A shrewd, artful politician who knew how to wait for the right moment, to exploit the weaknesses of friend and foe alike. As an aristocrat, he was acceptable to most of the aristocrats of inner Hungary, except to the extreme legitimists. His conservatism stood as a guarantee against any diminution of the aristocracy's economic and political power. His motto was: "The revolution had ended. Let us terminate the revolutionary spirit. .."[50] This meant not only an end to all social experimentation and the restoration of prewar conservatism, but also an end to the revolutionary spirit generated by the right. This policy opened the way for a reconciliation with the bourgeoisie, including the Jewish bourgeoisie. As a Transylvanian and as a Protestant, he was also acceptable to Horthy. Bethlen could be trusted to oppose all attempts at a Habsburg restoration. Eventually Bethlen was able to sign a secret pact even with the Socialists. The Social Democratic Party agreed to end republican agitation, stop denouncing atrocities, condemn their fellow Socialist émigrés, refrain from political strikes, and cooperate in foreign policy. In exchange Bethlen guaranteed their right of assembly and association, and promised to reduce the number of interned persons, end the state of siege and martial law, and return the confiscated property and treasury of the trade unions.[51]

Bethlen was also one of the principal leaders of the refugees. Until he became prime minister, he was one of the leading figures in the Peace Preparation Commission. He was also the head of the National Refugee Office and, as such, was highly conscious of the plight of his fellow refugees. He constantly championed the idea of compensation for the refugees, from which, incidentally, he himself was to gain. In addition, Bethlen was president, or honorary president, of literally scores of revisionist, irredentist organizations. Thus, with him at the head of the government, the "Transylvanian Mafia," as his group was at times called, triumphed. The refugees could trust that he would not miss an opportunity to destroy the Treaty of Trianon and to regain the lost territories.

Not only in the government but also in the National Assembly itself the refugees became a major power. The 1920 elections, in fact, signified the assimilation of the refugees into Hungary's party and political life. During the 1920s, refugee strength in parliament remained remarkably constant. In spite of some major party shifts and realignments, they supplied roughly the same proportion of deputies in the 1920,1922, and 1926 elections. Their consistent strength in the First and Second National Assemblies and, after 1926, in parliament, assured that no issue would be decided contrary to the interests or inclinations of the refugees. We have been able to collect biographical data on 239 deputies who were, at one time or another, elected to the First National Assembly.[52 ]From this number 79 deputies. or about a third. were born outside the reduced territory of Hungary: 40 in areas ceded to Czechoslovakia, 30 in Transylvania, 7 in Yugoslavia. and the remainder in the Burgenland or Austria proper. That is, although in the total population. those born outside of Trianon Hungary represented only 6.9 percent, in the National Assembly, they captured 33.1 percent of the seats.

Distribution of the Deputies in the First National
Assembly According to Place of Birth


Number of Deputies Born in





Lost Areas

Trianon Hungary


















Independent, Other
















This group's power was especially felt in the Christian National Unity Party. Out of a total of 99 deputies who were elected, at one time or another, on KNEP lists, or on the lists of its associated parties, 47 or nearly half were born in the lost territories. The figures for the Smallholders Party were 26 out of 117, that is, about a quarter of the deputies. There were several reasons for the greater strength of the refugees in KNEP. First, it enjoyed the backing of the Catholic Church and the wealthier classes of the country. A majority of the Catholic, and therefore, most of the refugees from Slovakia naturally looked upon it as their own party. Similarly, the wealthier refugees from all parts of the country, including some of the Protestant landed gentry and aristocracy also gravitated toward this party. In the National Assembly at least 18 refugees had lost substantial gentry and aristocratic estates located in the Successor States. Eleven of these initially joined KNEP, three remained independent, and only three decided in favor of the Smallholders Party. KNEP also enjoyed the advantage of being the first party to capitalize on right-wing radical issues, which made it attractive to the radical gentry. And, finally, it cannot be ignored that KNEP was the party of the government at the time of the elections, which drew into the campaign large segments of refugee officials, a group which always preferred to support the election of the government party, since an office-holder's or office-seeker's fate always depended on the favors of the various ministers . The high percentage of refugees in KNEP was also partially responsible for its decline. The refugees were less likely to remain within the party, especially the Transylvanians, and were always present in every splinter group. They were more volatile and more easily changed party affiliations.

The Dissidents, for example, were led by the Transylvanian faction, but they were also the group which pressed hardest for the merger of the two parties. It was the " Transylvanian Mafia" of Bethlen, Teleki, Klebelsberg, and Bánffy that ultimately succeeded in forcing the fusion of the two right-wing parties, and in establishing a firm majority for the Bethlen government. This merger clearly worked to the advantage of the refugees.

The number of individuals in the National Assembly from the lost territories, large as it was, still does not accurately reflect the strength of the group. On the whole, they were younger, more vigorous, better educated, and generally had enjoyed a higher social status in prewar society than the rest of the National Assembly. About 43 percent of the deputies born in the lost territories were under forty years of age; only 33 percent of those born in Trianon Hungary. In fact, according to our calculations, the 1920 National Assembly was the youngest elected between 1892 and 1931, in spite of a higher minimum age requirement for candidacy than before the war. Educational advantage, too, was clearly on their side.

Distribution of the Deputies in the First National
Assembly According to Education

Place of Birth

Law and Pol. Sc

Milit Acad



4-8 years Education


Total Educated



Successor States


















Entire Assembly









Slightly above half had studied law or political science, that is, subjects which best prepared a young man for political life. Only 36 percent from Trianon Hungary were thus educated. Even more important, in the category of individuals with less than eight years of education, the first group, the refugees, had only 1.3 percent: the second had above 21 percent. In nearly every area of education, the group born outside the reduced territories of Hungary enjoyed an advantage. Taking the National Assembly as a whole, the strength of the gentry and the aristocracy sharply declined in comparison with prewar parliamentst but among the deputies from the Successor States, their proportion remained as high as ever. Out of the 239 deputies who served in the First National Assembly only 12 were aristocrats, but seven of these were born in the Successor States. A large number of the refugee gentry politicians were seasoned politicians who enjoyed high prestige among the other deputies. Thus, from their ranks, the National Assembly elected its principal officers. Rakovszky, for example, became the president of the House, Szmrecsányi, its vice-president. As we have seen they also captured the leadership of KNEP: even in the Smallholders Party, they were well placed. After the formation of the Unity Party--the merger of these two parties--the leadership was clearly in the hands of the refugees, and specifically in the hands of the Transylvanian nobles.

Additionally, refugee political and parliamentary strength had a strong effect on the makeup of all governments during the 1920s. Of the thirty-five ministers, for example, who served between November 1919 and April 1921, the first Bethlen cabinet inclusive, only eighteen, that is about half were born in Trianon Hungary. Of the other seventeen, eight were Transylvanian, seven born in Slovakia, and two in Austria. Even more indicative of the domination of the politicians from the lost territories is the distribution of offices. Only one of the five prime ministers, between Friedrich and Bethlen, came from Trianon Hungary. The three most prestigious and powerful ministries, that is, interior, defense, and foreign affairs, were similarly dominated by politicians born in the lost territories. From that group came three of the five ministers of defense, four out of seven ministers of interior, and six of the seven ministers of foreign affairs.

The political strength that the refugees demonstrated during the early months of the counterrevolution had a lasting effect on the refugees' role in Hungary's subsequent political life. The refugees eagerly grasped the opportunity opened to them by the fluidity of the situation and, as a group, they succeeded in deeply entrenching themselves in Hungary's political institutions. Some of the most radical, or ultralegitimist groups, to be sure, were politically destroyed by Bethlen and Horthy, or were forced into opposition. The refugees from Slovakia and the Catholics were partly pushed into the background while the Protestants and the Transylvanians rushed to the fore. Some of the deputies retired after the end of the term of the First National Assembly; others were rewarded with high government posts or with appointments in the diplomatic corps. In spite of these changes, the overall strength of the deputies from the lost territories remained constant during the next two assemblies--the 1922 Second National Assembly and the 1926 parliamentary elections. In 1922, their proportion was 33 percent; in 1926, about 35 percent. The 1922 assembly was much more manageable and subdued, in spite of occasional violent debates, than the First National Assembly. For, in 1922, the aristocracy regained its previous strength--their numbers rose sharply from twelve to twenty-eight--whereas many of the peasant deputies along with some of the radical priests and pastors disappeared. Even those radical refugee politicians of 1919 and 1920 who were reelected had moderated their positions by 1922. With their assimilation into the social and political fabric of society their lives became more secure, and they regained or even increased the social prestige they had enjoyed in the lost territories before 1918. With at least the partial restoration of the noble domination of the country and their own personal political successes assured, their once endangered noble identities again began to function. They did not give up the dream of returning to their old homes, of regaining their estates, this remained an idée fixe with them, but they were less willing to risk the security they enjoyed in a foolhardy adventure.

It was, however, relatively easy to satisfy economically and assimilate politically the most vocal and most prominent members of the refugees. The assimilation of the great masses of the refugees was a task which was beyond the strength of any government. In spite of tremendous efforts they were only partially satisfied, with the result that the masses of refugees remained susceptible to political and subsequently to social radicalism.

 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [Notes] [HMK Home] István I. Mócsy:The Effects of World War I ...