A people’s republic

After the dissolution of the Austria-Hungary Empire and the collapse of the long-standing Habsburg ruling monarchy, Hungary experienced major upheaval and change.

The Aster Revolution of 1918 – widespread protests in Hungary about its involvement in the First World War, saw the social democrat Mihály Károlyi come to power as Prime Minister.

One of his first acts was to formally terminate the personal union between Austria and Hungary.

A few days later the provisional government proclaimed Hungary a people's republic with Károlyi as both prime minister and interim president.

Mihály Károlyi

​At the wars end, Hungary still found itself with a powerful army of 1,400,000 soldiers but the new Prime Minister ordered its disarmament, in line with the U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson's, demands for pacifism as part of the Treaty of Versailles negotiations. 

1919 Map of Hungary after the First World War.

C0PkT.jpg (2047×1198) (imgur.com)

Although this disarmament may have been seen a a positive step for those wary of powerful Hungary (and a logical one, given its role in the First World War), it resulted in the country having no means in which to effectively defend itself.

As a result, Hungary lost control of vast tracts of its territories to rival European powers. A huge 75% (325,411 square kilometres) of its pre-war territories was occupied and annexed by other countries:

  • On 5th November 1918, a joint Serbian French enterprise annexed Vojvodina and other southern regions.
  • on 8 November 1918, the Czechoslovak Army crossed the northern borders and took Upper Hungary.
  • on 13 November 1918, the Romanian army crossed the eastern borders of Hungary and annexed Transylvania.

A peasant couple in rural Hungary at work during the harvest, their belongings beside them, January 1930.


The Hungarian Soviet Republic

This weakened to government and in March 1919, communists led by Béla Kun ousted the Károlyi government and proclaimed the new Hungarian Soviet Republic.

This new republic struggled to convert a Hungary still reeling from defeat in the war and traditionally Habsburg orientated, into a socialist society.

It lacked the time, experienced administrative and organizational staff and was politically and economically naive.

0It’s attempts to win over peasants failed as trying to improve agricultural production and keep the populations sufficiently supplied was a lengthy, complicated process. 

Béla Kun, keader of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.


Budapest, Hungary --- View of traffic along the Danube, with the Royal Castle in background, January 1930.


Another challenge was the inherent hostility towards communism from its neighbouring countries and attempts by the Hungarians to reclaim lost territories ultimately ended in failure. Despite some initial successes against Czechoslovakia, Kun's forces were ultimately unable to resist a Romanian invasion and by August 1919, Romanian troops occupied Budapest and ousted Kun.

A propaganda poster depicting how Hungary was being dismembered due to the Treaty of Trianon.

​Miklós Horthy

In November 1919, rightist forces led by a former Austro-Hungarian admiral Miklós Horthy entered Budapest. The Hungarian population, tired of the constant upheaval and instability, accepted him as leader.

In January 1920, elections were held, and Horthy officially became Regent of the re-established Kingdom of Hungary.

This was the beginning of the so called ‘Horthy era’ which highlights his political influence and leadership of this period.

Miklós Horthy, Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, 1920–1944.

Horthy was able to re-establish normal foreign relations and established new borders for Hungary with the Treaty of Trianon on 4th June 1920. Hungary lost 71% of its territory, a large chunk of its population, significant resources, and raw materials and – significantly for a landlocked country – access to its only port, Fiume.

Horthy though – whilst putting the revision of this harsh treaty at the top of his agenda, was careful enough not to consider military intervention to do so – Hungary was simply not strong enough.

The right-leaning Horthy suppressed communism and dealt with a migration crisis which had been sparked off by the border changes. Although free elections continued, Horthy increasingly dominated national politics and his government continued to drift more and more to the right, with increasing antisemitism and closer economic ties with Italy and Germany.

​The move to the political right was further imbedded with the rise to power of openly fascist politicians such as Gyula Gömbös and Ferenc Szálasi, whose promises of restoring Hungary’s economic and social recovery, proved popular amongst the population.

Mohacs, Hungary --- Peasant women sell bread at the market, January 1930.