2017. May 8. Monday, 10:01
Thinking in terms of linear history, looking back from the present, we tend to believe that mobility of individuals and groups is the product of modern times, and that as we approach the present more people enjoy its advantages or suffer from the damages it causes than earlier.

Yet, the Hungarian society before 1914 was not the static dollop that many would like to see it. Phenomena of temporary mobility became part of everyday life due to mandatory military service and the reform of railway fairs. As a result of mass emigration that began in the 1880s, more or less free movement of people became a fundamental experience of peasant communities, directly or indirectly. Moreover, emigration often was not definitive: a peasant who worked as a miner in Pennsylvania or as factory worker would return if he had enough money or a family event forced him to do so. Then, having learned about conditions in Hungary or when his savings were spent, he would set out again. There were some who crossed the ocean five or six times or even more. From research that Balázs Pálvölgyi and others carried out, we learnt that the response of the government was ambivalent, to say the least. Initially, it attempted to regulate activities of migration agents while the shipping companies, that also dictated to agents, exerted pressure. However, Hungarian government could not realistically consider curtailing free movement, and it tolerated emigration from areas inhabitant by minority nationalities (even if it feared the potential activities of Pan-Slavic agitators). It only occurred to the Hungarian government decades later that it should care about organizations and spiritual life of those that remained overseas. In this context, we often limit our attention to overseas areas, while emigration to Romania and internal migration to Slavonia-Bosnia are neglected. One of the few historians that addressed this issue is Béla Makkai. The phenomenon that people in the country, and not only from towns, leave, return and bring new attitudes, goods and objects to their community was an aspect of modernity in many regions.

Movement in the opposite direction, that is large groups of refugees appearing in certain localities, was not part of everydays in all areas of the country, but it was not unheard of. Quickly modernising cities attracted crowds of national minorities. It was not only the case of Budapest demanding tens of thousands of Slovak workers, but also in growing regional centres such as Temesvár (Timişoara) and Győr. There are also examples of foreign nationals arriving for military reasons: in 1912–13, during the Balkan Wars, large Turkish army units were forced to stay in the territory of Austria-Hungary that were sent to Miskolc, Lőcse (Levoča), Ungvár (Uzhhorod) and Kaposvár until the cessation of hostilities and before their return home. Although there were some tensions, local society mostly welcomed Turkish soldiers and officers. They were allowed to practice their religion and there were some marriages between local middle class women and officers. We learn about these from the military historian Tibor Balla’s study published in 1997. During World War I, already in September 1914, thousands of refugees appeared in the interior of the country due to the unexpectedly successful Russian attack in Galicia and in the Carpathians. There were a number of Orthodox Jews from Galicia. Their presence was the pretext for anti-Semitic agitation after the war. Popular demand for their expulsion was a prelude to events of World War II, including deportations to Kamianets-Podilskyi. Apart from the groups mentioned, there were Armenians escaping the genocide, while Italian and Slovenian refugees appeared along the southwestern border after Italy had declared war. 

The most important test of Hungarian refugee policy – and the prelude to the mass migration of 1918-1924 – was refugees fleeing the Southern and Eastern fringes of Transylvania, as a consequence of Romanian attack in August 1916.  Recently, a number of works, such as those of Csaba Csóti, Ilona Juhász L. and József Buczkó, have been published about the local level reception of Transylvanian refugees. More than 200 000 people escaped to interior areas of Hungary in those months. Since Hungarian public administration could not cope with the pressure, there were refugees in Transdanubia, too. The exodus also known as ‘the flight of women’ shaped the methods of handling similar situations, be it distribution of aid, child protection and designated districts (for example the government designated Debrecen, its surroundings and Hajdú County as reception area for those coming from Csíkszereda /Miercurea-Ciuc/ and Csík County), or settlement.

The return of refugees has hardly been completed when, in autumn 1918, waves of refugees reached interior regions of the country from all areas under occupation, and not only from Transylvania. This migration was initially spontaneous. (For example municipal officials left Gyulafehérvár /Alba Iulia/ already in November so that Romanian intelligentsia took over administration before the army arrived. The city was the venue of the assembly of the Romanian delegates.) As far as military activities and blockade at the border allowed, the escape continued during the so-called Dictatorship of the Proletariat. According to official statistics, 57 000 people sought refuge in the last two months of 1918. This figure doubled in 1919 (110 000) and peaked in 1920, the year when the peace treaty was signed, reaching 121 000. According to the National Refugee Office set up in 1920, 350 000 people came to the ‘Trianon’ Hungary until 1924. Hungarian government made an effort to decrease this figure through administrative means.

The American-Hungarian historian István Mocsy is the only one who has carried out a monographic study of the issue. In 1983 he put the figure higher, at 420 - 425 000. According to official statistics, there were more than 104 000 people seeking job among 350 000 refugees. The group of former officials of towns and other municipalities, and employees of the railway company were 20 000 strong each. Regarding this crowd, it is worth clarifying two stereotypes that circulate widely. On the one hand, the majority of refugees did not depend on the state for their earned income (although their proportion was much larger than the proportion of state employees within the whole population). We still do not know about the proportion of those that followed their offices, those that new states expelled from their territory, and we do not know the number of those that simply left. Second, not all refugees lived in railway wagons. Those that lived in wagons always constituted a minority of the 350 000 refugees, even if they were more visible and easily presented to the public opinion. Some estimates put the total number of wagon dwellers to 40-50 000, pointing out that there were no more than 16 000 people that lived in wagon parked at railway stations and secondary railway tracks at any one point. The others lived at warrens, and at settlements in outskirts that soon acquired bad reputation, or in barrack-rooms. For these groups state funded construction projects were helpful. Since state railways struggled with lack of wagons due to war damage, and the Romanian occupation, in certain cases Hungarian governemnt blocked the border from refugees entering in order to have sufficient number of wagons for summer harvests. There are two more aspects worth noting: the ratio of earners and dependents differed significantly from national average (there were more dependents among refugees), while the proportion of those living from agriculture was very low (while the majority of the population earned their living from agriculture, the figure was 10% among refugees). Second, although public opinion talked of refugees as an allegory of the suffering of 'Christian Hungary', it seems that a siginificant proportion of refugees were Jewish. However, we only have partial research results on this regard. It was so even if, for fear that the case of wartime Galician refugees would be confused with the issue, Jewish press did not talk much about it.

Government wished to relieve Budapest that was the main destination for refugees. They tried to stop the trains in large towns near the border and handle the refugee issue there. Gradually, the disproportinate role of Budapest in settling wagon dwellers waned. In Summer 1924, there were hardly 300 wagon dwellers counted in Budapest, while nationally they still numbered around 3000. The National Refugee Office, established for managing the refugee situation did not only conduct inquiry about their number, but it also acted as labour market agent, provided allowance for students and became involved in constructing houses, among other activities facilitating the integration of refugees (Hungarian society viewed refugees ambivalently).

Many refugees created their own associations that tried to recall the lost homeland in publications, monuments and rites. In general, we may say that responding to expulsion alone was not sufficient: remembrance soon became empty, membership shrank and rites of remembrance served nostalgy and prestige of few people. Maintaining memory of lost homeland proved durable if it became part of a process of mobility, if it could rely on ethno-regional identity (the case of Székely diaspora and the diaspora from Szepes-Zips-Spiš County are exemplar in this regard) and if contact with the homeland remained lively as a result of travel, children' s holiday programmes or through other means.

From studies that Gergely István Szűts and other published we learn more and more about political options and integration of this group. However, their stories are still untold, missing history.         


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