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Overcoming History through Trauma. The Hungarian Historikerstreit

  • Éva Kovács (a1)

In the mid-summer of 2012, a sort of Historikerstreit broke out in Hungary. The main topics of the controversy were the language of and the attitude to the history of the Holocaust. In what follows I will argue that the Hungarian Historikerstreit is closely related to both the renaissance of the Horthy era (1920–1944) in current Hungarian politics and the ambivalent attitude towards the Holocaust in public memory. Since 2010, Hungary has celebrated ‘Trianon commemoration day’, remembering on the peace treaty of Trianon after the First World War. In today’s Hungary, Trianon seems to be a permanent trauma of the nation not only in the public memory but also in history writing. In spite of the fact that many respected scholars argue that currently the construction of the trauma of Trianon has a hegemonic position in Hungarian social memory and that the Holocaust cannot compete with it, I will show that the Trianon trauma is a construction of the current politics of history, which overshadows the tragic experiences of the First World War. Moreover, Trianon and the Holocaust are strongly interconnected historical events, which cannot be understood separately.

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1.This is a revised version of a longer paper published in Korall in March 2015 entitled ‘Trianon, avagy ‘traumatikus fordulat’ a magyar történetírásban’ [Trianon – or a Traumatic Turn in Hungarian Historiography].
2.For example, Gábor Gyáni, Péter György, Ágnes Heller, Mária Ormos and Ignác Romsics.
3.See Laczó, F. (2011) The ‘Trianon’ – debate in the Hungarian left-liberal weekly Élet és Irodalom. Forum Geschichtskulturen, Hungary, Version: 1.0, 14.6.2011. (
4.See Rigó, M. (2012) A Hungarian version of the Historikerstreit? A summary of the Romsics-Gerő debate among Hungarian historians (2012). Forum Geschichtskulturen, Hungary, Version: 1.0, 25.06.2013, (
5. Kovács, É. (2010) Trianon traumatikus emlékezetéről [On the traumatic memory of Trianon]. Limes, 4, pp. 47–56; É. Kovács (2013) A nemzet einstandolása? Töprengések egy történészvita közben [The expropriation of the category of the nation? Reflections on the Hungarian Historikerstreit]. Café Babel, 72, 35–44.
6. Romsics, I. (2012) Magyar sorsfordulók 1920–1989 [Hungarian Peripeties 1920–1989] (Budapest: Osiris).
7. Bojtár, E. (2012) Antiszemita-e vagy? [Are you an anti-Semite?]. Élet és Irodalom, 30 (;antiszemita_vagy-e;2012-07-25.html).
8. Romsics, I. (2012) Antiszemita vagyok-e? [Am I an anti-Semite?]. Élet és Irodalom, 31 (;antiszemita_vagyok-e;2012-08-03.html).
9. Gyáni, G. (2012) Trianon versus holokauszt. Élet és Irodalom, 32 (;trianon_versus_holokauszt;2012-08-09.html).
10. György, P. (2012) Trianon és holokauszt – A múlt jövője. Élet és Irodalom, 34 (;trianon_es_holokauszt_8211;_a_mult_jovoje;2012-08-23.html).
11. Romsics, I. (2012) Trianon és a holokauszt. Népszabadság (1 September) (
12.See Radnóti, S. (2002) The glass cabinet. An essay about the place of the Hungarian crown. Acta Historiae Artium, 43(1), pp. 83–111; P. László (2003) The Holy Crown of Hungary, visible and invisible. Slavonic and East European Review, 81(3), pp. 421–510.
13.See Fritz, R. (2012) Nach Krieg und Judenmord. Ungarns Geschichtspolitik seit 1944 (Göttingen: Wallstein).
14. Kovács, É. and Seewann, G. (2006) Juden und Holocaust in der ungarischen Erinnerungskultur. Südosteuropa (54. Jhrg.), 1, pp. 2459.
15.See Feischmidt, M. (ed.) (2014) Nemzet a mindennapokban. Az újnacionalizmus populáris kultúrája [Nation in the Everyday Life. The Popular Culture of Neonationalism] (Budapest: L’Harmattan – MTA TK).
16.See Kolozsi, Á. (2012) Social constructions of the native faith: Mytho-historical Narratives and Identity-discourse of Hungarian Neopaganism. PhD Dissertation CEU Budapest 2012.
17.See Balog, I. (2004) Politikai hisztériák Közép- és Kelet-Európában. Bibó István fasizmusról, nacionalizmusról, antiszemitizmusról [Political Hysterias in East-Central Europe. István Bibó on Fascism, Nationalism and Anti-Semitism] (Budapest: Argumentum); I. Z. Dénes (2012) Adopting the European model versus national egoism: the task of surpassing political hysteria. European Review, 4, pp. 514–525; B. Trencsényi (2009) History and character: visions of national peculiarity in the Romanian political discourse of the nineteenth-century. In: D. Mishkova (ed.), We, the People: Politics of National Peculiarity in Southeastern Europe (Budapest: CEU Press), pp. 139–178.
18.See, for example, Alexander, J. C. (2012) Trauma: A Social Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press); S. Friedländer Saul (ed.) (1992) Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the ‘Final Solution’ (Boston: Harvard University Press); D. LaCapra (2001) Writing History, Writing Trauma (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press); R. Leys (2013) Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago: Chicago University Press); M. Roth (2011) Memory, trauma, and history. Essays on living with the past (New York: Columbia University Press).
19. Erős, F. (2007) Trauma és történelem [Trauma and History] (Budapest: Jószöveg); J. L. Herman (1992) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books).
20. Braun, R. (1994) The Holocaust and problems of historical representation. History and Theory, 2, pp. 172–197; R. Braun (1995) Holocaust, elbeszélés, történelem [Holocaust, Narration, History] (Budapest: Osiris–Gond).
21. Komoróczy, G. (2000) Holocaust. A pernye beleég a bőrünkbe [Holocaust. The Ashes Burnt Into Our Skin] (Budapest: Osiris).
22. Gyáni, G. (2007) Relatív történelem [Relative History] (Budapest: Typotex).
23. Virágh, Sz. (2011) Trauma és történelem találkozása. Emlékezet, reprezentáció, rítus. [Trauma Meets with History. Memory, Representation, Ritual]. BUKSZ, 2, pp. 161170.
24.See Kansteiner, W. (2004) Genealogy of a category mistake: a critical intellectual history of the cultural trauma metaphor. Rethinking History, 2, pp. 193–221; H. Weilnböck (2007) ‘Das Trauma muss dem Gedächtnis unverfügbar bleiben.’ Trauma-Ontologie und anderer Miss-/Brauch von Traumakonzepten in geisteswissenschaftlichen Diskursen. Mittelweg, 2, pp. 2–64. In English:
25.For example, Feischmidt, M. (2014) Populáris emlékezetpolitikák és az újnacionalizmus: a Trianon-kultusz társadalmi alapjai [Neonationalist popular memory cultures: the social roots of the Trianon cult]. In: M. Feischmidt (ed.), Nemzet a mindennapokban. Az újnacionalizmus populáris kultúrája [Nation in the Everyday Life. The Popular Culture of Neonacionalism] (Budapest: L’Harmattan – MTA Társadalomtudományi Kutatóközpont), pp. 51–81.
26. Connerton, P. (1989) How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
27.See, for example, Benko, J., Hanula, M., Hollý, K., Hudek, A., Michela, M., Rybářová, P., Sabol, M., Schvarc, M., Segeš, D., Šoltés, P., Vörös, L. and Zavacká, M. (2013) Overcoming the Old Borders Beyond the Paradigm of Slovak National History (Bratislava: Institute of History, Slovak Academy of Sciences in Prodama).
28. Ablonczy, B. (2010) Triano n-legen dák [Trianon Legends] (Budapest: Jaffa); D. Turbucz (2011) Horthy Miklós (Budapest, Napvilág); M. Zeidler (2007) Ideas on Territorial Revision in Hungary 1920–1945 (Atlantic Research and Publications: Boulder/Highland Lakes/New York).
29. Freud, S., Ferenczi, S., Abraham, K., Simmel, E. and Jones, E. (1919) Zur Psychoanalyse der Kriegsneurosen. (Diskussion gehalten auf dem V. Internationalen Psychoanalytischen Kongress in Budapest, 28. und 29. September 1918) (Leipzig/Wien: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag).
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European Review
  • ISSN: 1062-7987
  • EISSN: 1474-0575
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