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DOCUMENTS - Part Three: Political Reorganization of Hungary

Document 3

Secret H Document 135

February 26, 1944



The problem is the form of provisional government best suited to Hungary for the period between its surrender to the United Nations and the establishment of a permanent government.

The principal United Nations are committed to the imposition of unconditional surrender on Hungary and to joint action in all matters relating to its surrender and disarmament. The United States Govern- ment, as well as the U.S.S R., has warned the Hungarian Government that it will have to share the responsibility for and the consequences of the defeat which United Nations arms will inflict on Nazi Germany.

Acceptance of any provisional government should depend upon that government's ability to preserve order in Hungary and to stabilize conditions in the Balkan-Danubian area in conjunction with the other states of the region, its willingness to cooperate with the United Nations, of which the U.S.S.R. is their closest neighbor and against which Hungarian troops have been used, and its desire to help bring about on the consent of the Hungarian people.

The personnel for the provisional government could be drawn from a number of sources: (1) MÉP, the party in power; (2) anti-German groups such as the Industrialists of the M.E.P.; (3) the Imrédyist Party of Regeneration and the National Socialists; (4) the Clerical elements such as the Christian Peoples Party; (5) the Smallholders and Liberals; (6) the Social Democrats; (7) Peasant elements; (8) the Communists.

The Party of Hungarian Life (M.É.P.) which now controls 220 seats out of 375 in the Chamber of Deputies, has been in power since 1920.* It obtained 80 percent of those seats in the 1939 election and bears responsibility for Hungary's adherence to the Anti-Comintern Pact signed several months later.** The Hungarian Government, at that time under the M.É.P.,*** established friendly relations with Fascist Italy as early as 1927 and with Nazi Germany during the Gömbös Ministry (1932-1936) and subscribed to the Rome Protocols in 1934 as a counter-weight to the Little Entente.**** Since 1939 pro-Nazi and Fascist Hungarians within the Party have become the leading collabora- tionists. A cleavage, which has not developed into a formal rift within the party, became apparent in the spring of 1943. At that time the M.E.P. split into two groups, the Agrarians and Industrialists. The Agrarian Group led by Béla Lukács, is pro-German and is reported to number among its adherents Antal, Minister of Propaganda, Szász, Minister of Foods, Zsindely, minister of Commerce, Reményi-Schneller, Minister of Finance, and all political under-secretaries with the exception of Gargeliffe. The majority of the M.E.P. deputies are collaborationists in the sense that they tacitly favored or, at least did not rigorously oppose, the Government's participation in the Axis. The


* An inaccurate statement. The Party of Hungarian Life was forrned on February 22, 1939, and formed the govermnent until October 16, 1944. Its predecessors in power were the Party of National Unity (1932-1939), and the Unified Party before that. For the latter's political structure and activities, see: William M. Batkay, Authoritarian Politics in a Transitional State. István Bethlen and the Unifed Party in Hungary 1919-1926 (New York, 1982).

** Hungary joined the Anti-Comintern Pact on February 24, 1939. Parliamentary elections, however, were held only on May 28-29, 1939.

*** Properly: Unified Party.

**** The Italian-Austrian-Hungarian cooperation agreed upon in Rome, on May 17, 1934, was to safeguard not only against the Little Entente, but also against the German penetration of Southeastern Europe, which was already under way. hope of regaining lost territory brought many within the Party to the side of the Axis.

Since the anti-German Industrial Group of the M.E.P. fears a German occupation of Hungary it is unwilling to break with the pro-German Agrarians. The Industrialists, led by Professor Zaky, are reported to control 100 out of 220 members of the M.É.P. Only 15 to 20 individuals are considered to be favorable to the United Nations, and they are anti-Soviet in attitude. Count Bethlen, a member of the M.É.P.* and a premier of Hungary from 1921 to 1931, i6 considered in some English and American circles as a Hungarian of great possibi1ities, despite his somewhat advanced age. Although he restored order and to a certain extent economic stability in Hungary, he reduced the electorate, effectively opposed any adequate land reform, tolerated the Awakening Magyar scandal,** adopted an extremely revisionist foreign policy and permitted anti-Semitic practices.*** During his premiership occurred the Treaty of Friendship with Italy and the first of the subsequent shipment of arms from Italy to Hungary and the counterfeiting of French Francs.**** Keresztes-Fischer, the present Minister of the Interior, may be of assistance to the United Nations, although he like Bethlen, has a record that is open to question. He has been minister of the Interior almost continuously since 1931 and as such has been acceptable to even the pro-Nazi cabinets. On the other hand he recently attempted to protect the Left Opposition from attack by the pro-Nazi parties.

The Hungarian Right Opposition, the Nyilasok, is more pro-Nazi than the Agrarian wing of the M.É.P. Imrédy, once a member of the M.É.P., is now allied with a group of Nyilas which calls itself the Party


* Count Bethlen was not a member of the Party of Hungarian Life. He resigned from the ruling party already in 1935, and he continued his political activities as an independent member of Parliament.

** Bethlen did not "tolerate" the terrorist activities of the Association of Awakening Magyars; on the contrary, he unrelentingly castigated them at every turn. See , Bethlen István (Budapest, 1991), 124-125.

*** What was characteristic of the Bethlen government's policies (1921 to 1931) was not a permissive attitude toward Anti-Semitic practices, but their condemnation and repression. Romsics, ibid, 126, 156.

**** The 1925 counterfeiting of the French franc wae an action of various extreme rightist organizations. Their aim was a rather naive one. They expected to create a monetary crisis in France, which they held responsible for Peace Treaty Trianon, and, at the same time, to create funding for their irredentist activities. The Italian-Hungarian Treaty of Friendship was signed on April 5, 1927. of Regeneration.* The express aim of this group is to bring Hungary into closer alignment with Germany. In December 1943, Imrédy, until than a violent critic of the Government, declared a truce with the Government. According to one source, Imrédy may become the head of a Hungarian puppet state under German aegis.

The clerical Center group is a political force of some importance since it is in a position to hold the balance of power between Right and Left. At the present the Christian People's Party is taking no definite stand in either direction. Conceivably the Center may move toward the Right because of its legitimist sympathies. It is possible that from this group may emerge some trustworthy personnel satisfactory both to the M.É.P. and the Left Opposition. The Prince Primate, Cardinal Serédi, might be acceptable as head of the government in the interim period. He has stated that the Church does not oppose necessary land reforms.

Until recently there was no outward expression of monarchist sentiment in Hungary except from the German Nazis who have publicly proclaimed the candidacy of Archduke Albrecht. Abroad Archduke Otto has continued to reassert his claim to the throne from Count Sigray and Marquis Pallavicini, of the Upper House, Tibor Eckhardt, the Albert Apponyi Society, the Catholic hierarchy, high army circles and many elements of the nobility. The Christian People's Party is pro-Legitimist. The Smallholders, now under the leadership of Zoltán Tildy, have twelve deputies in the Lower House and a considerable following in the country. The departure from Hungary of their former leader, Tibor Eckhardt, and the alleged loss of his citizenship brought political reverses to the Smallholders. According to the latest report the Smallholders have recovered from that political set-back and are now willing to accept Eckhardt as one of them. He is a Hungarian of undoubted political ability who was associated with the Awakening Magyars in the early years of the Bethlen Ministry. In the late thirties he demanded some changes in the electoral law and land reforms of a somewhat limited nature. He left Hungary for America in 1941 on a mission for the Teleki Government. Since his Independent Hungary Movement collapsed in the summer of 1942 he has been reported as moving in Habsburg circles in the United States. As a consequence he would not be acceptable to the Social Democrats with which his party, the Smallholders, is now cooperating. He might, on the other hand, have the backing of the Legitimists, in addition to support from his own


* As of October 3, 1940, Imrédy was no longer a member of the ruling party. From October 21, he led the fascistic Party of Hungarian Regeneration, fighting and criticizing the ruling party's actions. ranks. Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, an influential member of the Smallholders somewhat to the left of Zoltán Tildy, might be acceptable to the Social Democrats.

The Social Democrats have been the most outspoken of all Left Opposition elements, in their criticism of the Government and their leader, Károly Peyer, so audacious in his attacks upon the Government that he has aroused the wrath of Imrédy, Count Bethlen and the General Staff. It is possible that the charge of treason recently brought against him, will so affect Peyer's political career that he may lose caste in Hungary. It is doubtful that his standing outside the country will be altered to any extent.

To date there are no real peasant groups emerging as distinctly peasant in character. The government sponsored Peasant Union is not a political party, although some of its members have acting as unofficial observers at po1itical meetings arranged by the Social Democrats, Smallholders and Liberals. Ferenc Nagy, former president of the Peasant Union, just recently was removed from his post because of political activity. At the present there are indications of the emergence of a "People's Front" in Hungary, with backing from the Social Demo- crats, Smallholders and Liberals. This coalition, however, has a parliamentary representation of only twenty-two deputies, but a following of possibly four millions. The Liberals, led by Rassay, represent a caste that is unpopular, hence they are more a group of individuals than a political force of size and importance such as the Social Democrats and Smallholders. Professor Gyula Szekfû, who enjoys the confidence of the Liberals, is striving to effect cooperation of the Hungarian middle class with the workers. His interest in the political role of the middle class and his concern with the nationality question have attracted attention but produced no political results of conse- quence. Professor Szekfû is a Hungarian historian well known in and outside of Hungary; he is not, unfortunately, a man of political experience, yet it is expected that both Szekfû and Peyer would be prominent leaders of a "People's Front" should such develop. Szekfû, unlike Peyer, is acceptable to clerical circles being a spokesman for the Catholic point of view in the academic world.

There is no reliable information concerning the Communists who are regarded as an unknown quantity in Hungary. Secret calls in the Socialist trade unions do exist and radical-elements which went Nyilas in 1939 may become Communistic. Memories of the Béla Kun Soviet, traditional fear of Bolshevism so constantly expressed in the Hungarian press, and dislike of the Czechs, now regarded as protégés of the U.S.S.R., are obstacles to the growth of a Soviet movement within Hungary. Soviet policies and the progress of their armies may be a determining factor as to whether Hungary will be Sovietized.


A. Acceptance of the Anti-German Groups within the MEP.

This solution would mean the continuation in power of experienced men of anti-German views, such as the Industrialists of Count Stephen Bethlen and his following. These men, however, are partly responsible for Hungary's membership in the Axis and its participation in the war against the United Nations and for Hungary's contribution of men and material resources to the Nazi war machine.

Their governmental experience might be useful for the preservation of order, but by the mere act of retention, the principal United Nations would be open to the charge of favoring a government tainted with collaboration and unrepresentative of the Hungarian people. The U.S.S.R. would look with disfavor upon the retention of the present regime which from 1920 to the present, has been violently anti-Soviet. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia would view with distrust the continua- tion in power of the M.E.P., which waged war upon them.

B. Acceptance of a Clerical Provisional Government with or without Legitimist Backing

This solution would imply the creation of a clerical government with personnel drawn from the Center and conservative groups favorable to the Catholic Church, and the Protestant leaders. Cardinal Seredi, the Prince Primate of Hungary, might head this government. It is possible that the Legitimists would be willing to unite with the clericals in a Clerical-Legitimist Provisional Government; under such auspices it would be easier for the Legitimists to submit to the Hungarian nation the question of the monarchial restoration. It is probable that the M.E.P. would furnish some support to a purely ecclesiastical provisional regime.

A clerical provisional government might satisfy the Catholic majority, 65 percent of the Hungarian nation and a very stable element. The other religious groups and the liberal elements might oppose this solution, the latter on the grounds of the Church's reactionary policies. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Rumania would look with disfavor upon any coalition which might open the way for the return of the Habsburgs. C. Formation of a "People's Front"

A coalition government supported by Smallholders, Social Demo- crats, Liberals and other political forces may develop in Hungary in opposition to the Government. It is possible that this coalition would be a transitory one, dissolving once conditions in Hungary were more normal.

Two of the group, the Smallholders and the Social Democrats, have concluded a formal working agreement.* Although their parliamenta- ry representation is small (seventeen seats) their potentia1 backing might be the greatest in Hungary, especially if the peasants, attracted by the program of land reforms, join in large numbers. This group might contribute a large reservoir of untrained personnel with a democratic point of view and program. Parliamentarians of the Opposition now associated with the coalition are Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, Peyer and Rassay. These men and Professor Szekfû may become leaders of the "People's Front." Its program is perhaps overambitious and the coalition is composed of such diversified elements that it may not survive the period of the crisis.

D. Emergence of A Peasant Government

This solution presupposes the creation of a peasant government unlike any which has existed in Hungary. Rigid electoral requirements have disfranchised many individuals among the peasants who, therefore, have not been courted by any particular party.

The peasant group, including the landless peasant is a large aggregation and given the vote might become a political force of great importance strong enough to carry on adequate land reform. It would be a stable force interested in the protection of the rights and property of the peasant and in the maintenance of order. Given some economic and technical assistance in the early period this group might be expected to furnish competent personnel for the management of land problems. On the other hand it might encounter great difficulties for lack of personnel qualified to handle the complicated questions of government, such as foreign relations, banking, industry and education.


* The Smallholders' Party and the Social Democratic Party formed a political alliance at the end of July, 1943. E. Acceptance of a Soviet Regime

If a revolution takes place in Hungary with or without the support of invading Red armies a Soviet regime may emerge.

This solution would presumably bring Hungary into closer alignment with the neighboring states, particularly if these states maintained friendly relations with the U.S.S.R. The propertied classes, the strongest workers' party (the Social Democrats) and probably the peasants, who do not desire collectivized agriculture would oppose this solution.

F. Acceptance of a Non-Party Regime

There is a possibility of an obviously transitory non-Party regime arising in Hungary. It might be headed by a personality of integrity and prestige who would agree to assume office on behalf of the Hungarian nation. A college professor like Elemér Hantos or the former head of the National Bank, Lipót Baranyai, might be acceptable to Hungary and to the United Nations. Presumably government functionaries would carry on under this regime as under any regularly selected politica1 head.

One advantage of this solution is the transitory character of the regime which could give its entire attention to the protection of Hungarian interests and to the preservation of order in a period of highly probable confusion. The character and standing of the head would be suffscient pledge of the regime's willingness to cooperate with the United Nations and at the same time an indication of its desire to bring about the establishment of a permanent regime based on the consent of the Hungarian people.

TS:MEBradshaw:LB Box

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