November 12-18, 1918. The first Hungarian Republic

Barkóczi Janka

On November 13, 1918, Béla Linder Minister without portfolio of the Károlyi cabinet and representatives of the Balkan Entente signed the Belgrade Armistice.

Everyone agreed that the losing party should suffer serious consequences, but also promised not to interfere with Hungarian politics - which all might have looked nice on paper, but in real life the Czechs, Serbians and Romanians were at the border to claim their territories, and Mihály Károlyi's cabinet had to deal with the threat in the coming days while planning Hungary's future after the Monarchy.

Overcrowded trains arriving from the front

During November and early December, 10-12 trains arrived daily to the hinterland carrying soldiers from the front-lines, and organizing their transportation was fairly complicated; sometimes they jammed 2-3000 people in one wagon, and for some of the passengers, Budapest was only a transit zone. Their arrival was far from joyful; the news happened to capture the extreme exhaustion in the soldier's eyes. Counselor Rezső Temple's committee sent lady volunteers to the Déli Railway Terminal to hand out food and beverages to the tired army men. The massive crowd in uniform reappeared at marches, at the Parliament and several other events the news crew documented. Their presence was overshadowed by conflict as they carried the horrors of war: they were linked to robberies and some of them had the Spanish flu, which we mentioned in earlier episodes, but thankfully the city did not have to suffer another epidemic. The Spanish flu-situation got somehow worse when on October 31st Mihály Károlyi officially lifted the ban on nightclubs and other entertainment institutions to maintain a better morale, and a massive amount of people attended the shows and political events, which gave ground for this deadly illness to spread.  

Soldiers leaving the train station to fight the Czech

This week we get to see both arriving and departing army men. The troops were sent North to stop Czechs who were trying to enter the Highlands. Károlyi and Albert Bartha Minister of Defense penned a statement on the matter: „The tót nation desires to follow the Wilsonian principles and strongly believes that the peace talks will represent their truth. Therefore, there is no reason to attack Hungary, the Hungarian government is absolutely against any attacks and decided to protect the country's borders against such actions violating international laws.” Yet the occupation continued in the region and the borders and national committees seceded. As there was no real power or reserves to prevent them, they were able to share their claims (for lands) at future peace talks. The chaos captured by the media perfectly reflect those wild autumn days.  

Milán Hodzsa

The report on Milan Hodža (1878-1944) is closely related to the aforementioned events. As Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Czechoslovakia he was negotiating with Mihály Károlyi and Oszkár Jászi about the Hungarian-Slovakian borders from November, 1918. They met numerous times in Hotel Astoria between November 28 and December 6 to discuss the Belgrade Armistice, which secured the Hungarian government's integrity. They also talked about the new Slovakian National Council and the Túrócszentmárton declaration securing their independence. The parties intended to agree on a transitional state before the peace talks began and Hodža was lobbying for a language-based demarcation line. He used to be the Slovakian National Council's Vice President and a committed spokesperson for national politics in the Monarchy. He was Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938, urging Central European states to join forces against higher powers. He immigrated to France in 1938 and later settled in the United States. He never came back to Europe.  

Proclamation of the Hungarian People's Republic on November 16, 1918

The proclamation was documented by several news outlets, including Az Est, Star, Schwarzenberg és társa and Pesti Napló, so we have an almost perfect picture of what happened on this important day. All images were recorded outside the Parliament, no one was shooting inside as the films were not enough photosensitive for that. Materials available for interior shots were only introduced in the 1930s.

Károlyi's speech at the Parliament after the proclamation

On Saturday, November 16 Budapest was dressed up with flags. The red and national colored silks had a unique ceremonial effect on the city, which was already covered with posters inviting the nation for a joint celebration at the Parliament. The square was decorated by painter Károly Kernstock's design and both the Kúria and Ministry of Agriculture were decorated for the occasion. Around 10:00 there were 30.000 people, which grew to 60.000 by the afternoon when Károlyi appeared.

The first thing we see is the police, working hard to keep everything in order. They were there since early morning. Police chief Dr. Károly Dietz (1885-1969) also appears, leading one of the units. Dietz had an interesting life; he was imprisoned in the Republic, and when it fell, he was Police Chief again for 4 days, then in the '30s he worked as an accountant and lawyer. He was the national football team's captain from 1934 to 1939, and in 1944 he was arrested by the Arrow Cross Party and got deported to Sopronkőhida then Mauthausen. When he came back home, he was displaced in 1951 and was only allowed back in Budapest in 1953.  

The National Council (from Tolnai Világlapja)  

Pictures of the crowd reveal numerous organization's flags and signs. We can see the Student Council's sign with a version of Jenő Paizs Goebel's revolutionary poster. The Pesti Napló's crew also captured the sailors led by Viktor Heltai, who were waiting in uniform for the proclamation of the People's Republic, and soon after left to the Highlands to fight the Czech. The next scene shows and old 1848 soldier, Szirmay György who sheds some tears on stage, as the idea they fought for 60 years ago finally turns into reality. The crowd cheers him in ecstasy while asking each other to keep the stage visible for all. The euphoria was heightened by gipsy bands playing the Kossuth-nóta, Szózat and Marseillaise amongst other patriotic tunes, for which the crowd sang along.  

The '48 soldier's dreams come true (from Tolnai Világlapja)  

Meanwhile in the Parliament, the House of Representatives and the Upper House stepped down, and the rally became a constituent assembly. A proposal was born at the dome hall declaring freedom, defining the new form of state and empowering Mihály Károlyi's government and the National Council's acting committee. The proposal also included future  acts, such as a general, secret, equal, national and municipal right to vote, freedom of press, people's jurisdiction, freedom of assembly and land distribution for farmers.  

Sailors headed to the Highlands the same day (from Tolnai Világlapja)  

At one point, Dezső Bokányi, Márton Lovászy and Oszkár Jászi came out to inform the masses on what was happening behind the Parliament's closed doors. Bokányi read the new ruling stating that "Hungary is independent from all other countries, a sovereign People's Republic". Károlyi appeared at the main entrance after 12:30 to declare the victory of the Revolution and the formation of the Hungarian People's Republic. Then he said the following: „Our government is guided by the Hungarian people's will, and we have no other wish than to honor that. We want to secure freedom and give power to the people. (Cheering, ovation) We need to establish institutions that protect Hungarian rights. We would like to provide our farmers with lands and we want them to be respected. We would like to provide the workers of capitalism with rights and secure their wellbeing. We want equal and secret voting rights, so the government could represent the real will of this country.” His speech was welcomed with enormous ovation, just like the following ones from János Hock, leader of the National Council and Ernő Garami Minister of Commerce. The event ended around 13:00, after which Károlyi tried to cross the square. The news crew managed to capture the moment when the crowd broke through the police cordon, lifted up the Prime Minister and marched down Alkotmány utca with the biggest hero of the day.