"White Terror" in Hungary 1919-1921

[ 1919 - 1921 ]

Admiral Nicholas Horthy de Nagybanya (1868-1957), who had led the counterrevolutionaries and their government, entered Budapest and was appointed regent and head of state in March 1920. He restored the monarchy, albeit separated from Austria, and thwarted two attempts (March and October 1921) by former Austrian emperor Charles I (1887-1922) to regain the Hungarian throne.

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A militantly anticommunist authoritarian government composed of military officers entered Budapest on the heels of the Romanians. A "white terror" ensued that led to the imprisonment, torture, and execution without trial of communists, socialists, Jews, leftist intellectuals, sympathizers with the Karolyi and Kun regimes, and others who threatened the traditional Hungarian political order that the officers sought to reestablish. Estimates placed the number of executions at approximately 5,000. In addition, about 75,000 people were jailed. In particular, the Hungarian right wing and the Romanian forces targeted Jews for retribution. Ultimately, the white terror forced nearly 100,000 people to leave the country, most of them socialists, intellectuals, and middle-class Jews.

In 1920 and 1921, internal chaos racked Hungary. The white terror continued to plague Jews and leftists, unemployment and inflation soared, and penniless Hungarian refugees poured across the border from neighboring countries and burdened the floundering economy. The government offered the population little succor. In January 1920, Hungarian men and women cast the first secret ballots in the country's political history and elected a large counterrevolutionary and agrarian majority to a unicameral parliament. Two main political parties emerged: the socially conservative Christian National Union and the Independent Smallholders' Party, which advocated land reform. In March the parliament annulled both the Pragmatic Sanction of 1723 and the Compromise of 1867, and it restored the Hungarian monarchy but postponed electing a king until civil disorder had subsided. Instead, Miklos Horthy (1920-44)--a former commander in chief of the Austro-Hungarian navy--was elected regent and was empowered, among other things, to appoint Hungary's prime minister, veto legislation, convene or dissolve the parliament, and command the armed forces.

Horthy appointed Pal Teleki prime minister in July 1920. His right-wing government set quotas effectively limiting admission of Jews to universities, legalized corporal punishment, and, to quiet rural discontent, took initial steps toward fulfilling a promise of major land reform by dividing about 385,000 hectares from the largest estates into smallholdings.

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