Czechoslovakia had been a victim of attack in world war two and had been invaded by Hungary. As a result, there was massive anti-Hungarian sentiment in the country. This sentiment was focused against the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. The Czechoslovak bourgeoisie wanted to deport as many Hungarians as possible, and wanted Hungary to send their Slovak minority to Czechoslovakia, i.e. they suggested a population exchange. The Czechoslovak and Hungarian Communists were willing to exile fascists and war-criminals, but demanded that deportation wouldn’t target all Hungarians.
The same applied to the German minority. The anti-German sentiment was even stronger than the anti-Hungarian. Still, the Communists were able to get the government to pass a decision, that anti-fascist Germans in Czechoslovakia “were exempted from loss of citizenship and the resultant compulsory transfer, by virtue of Art. 2 of the Czechoslovak Decree on Citizenship of August 2, 1945. They were permitted to stay on as fullfledged citizens” (Schechtman, p. 156)
The Kosice Program of the Czechoslovak provisional government was a compromise between all the anti-Hitler forces. It said:
“Only those residents of Hungarian nationality will retain Czechoslovak citizenship who were anti-Fascist or who participated in the resistance movement for the liberation of Czechoslovakia or who were persecuted for their loyalty to the republic; (2) the Czechoslovak citizenship of all other Hungarian residents is withdrawn, but they will be given the opportunity to opt [between staying as non-residents or moving to Hungary] and every appeal of this nature will be separately examined; (3) those persons of Hungarian nationality who have committed a crime against the republic… will be placed before a tribunal, deprived of their citizenship and forever expelled from the territory of the republic.”” (Roman, 1945-1950, p. 54)
The Czechoslovak capitalist president “Benes and his supporters cherished the idea of creating a single “Czechoslovak nation.”… Benes’s overt efforts to get rid of the Hungarian population living compactly in Southern Slovakia along the Hungarian border resulted in a population exchange and forced deportation of twelve to fifteen percent of the Hungarian national minority in the country” (Zhelitski, p. 82)
Czechoslovakia was in a much stronger position than Hungary to make demands, as Hungary had been a fascist-aggressor nation in the war, and had even been the last European country to leave the alliance with Germany.
“In February 1946, Hungary and Czechoslovakia held tense bilateral negotiations. These led to an agreement on a population exchange between the two countries, under which Czechoslovakia was allowed to deport as many Hungarians as Slovaks from Hungary applied for resettlement in Czechoslovakia. Less than 80,000 Hungarian Slovaks did so, despite a huge publicity campaign, but President Eduard Benes continued to nurture plans to deport 200,000 Hungarians unilaterally.”
(Hungary 1944-53, website by “1956 institute”)
The deportation is usually blamed on Communists, but actually it was invented by the Czechoslovak emigre government of Benes, which spent the war time in Britain:
“As early as the end of 1942, the emigrant Czechoslovak government led by Benes called for the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians… To this end, they deprived the Hungarians (and the Germans) of their citizenship, forcing the Tildy government of defeated Hungary in early 1946 to sign a population exchange agreement with the victorious Czechoslovakia. [Rakosi]… had asked Stalin for help to prevent the deportation… he left for London to negotiate with British representative Attlee, but in the meantime three times as many Hungarians were transferred across the border as before.” (Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
There were several issues at play. Firstly, the Communists demanded that only criminals be deported, not all minorities. Secondly, the Communists demanded that the minorities should not be deprived of civil rights as Benes wanted:
“Rakosi objected to the Slovakian policy towards the Hungarian national minority, which “contradicted the Stalinist nationality policy, as well as the treatment of Hungarians in Romania and the Soviet Union.” He criticized an article published in Novoe Vremia, describing its call for the limitation of the political rights of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia as “harmful.”” (Borhi, p. 205)
“Rákosi, the leader of the Communist Party proclaimed… [the communists would] take a strong line against the persecution of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia” (Csaba Békés, The Communist Parties and the National Issue in Central and Eastern Europe (1945-1947))
Even according to reactionary rightist politicians Stalin told Ferenc Nagy that ““I acknowledge that you are just in desiring equal citizenship rights for the Hungarian population in Czechoslovak territory and I state herewith that the Soviet Union will support such undertakings.”… [rightist] Gyéngyési later reported it to the parliamentary foreign policy committee” (Roman, p. 122)
As early as “October, 1945, the Hungarian Communist Party announced that it was “firmly opposed to the oppression of the Hungarian population in Slovakia.”” (Martin Ebon, World Communism Today, p. 79)
“Rakosi begged Dimitrov to talk about the matter with Slovak comrades scheduled to arrive in Moscow for talks.” (Roman, p. 104)
However, the Western imperialists sided with Benes and despite all their lies nowadays, it was actually the USA and Great Britain, who totally ignored the persecution and supported the deportations. Americans denied that there was any persecution, and called such reports mere tricks by Hungarians:
“The American ambassador in Prague, Laurence Steinhardt, took the side of the Czechs as a matter of course, writing home that “reports of persecutions and expulsions . . . have been grossly exaggerated and have been designed to operate as a spearhead [for Hungarians] to win the peace after having lost the war.”” (Roman, p. 105)
The British also denied any persecution or any racist motives:
“the British ambassador in Prague, Philip Nicols, sent a reassuring report to London explaining that the internal resettlement was being carried out humanely and with the sole purpose of easing overpopulation in some areas and relieving labor shortage in others.” (Roman, p. 169)
In 1947 at the Cominform meeting in Poland, Revai said:
“We Hungarian Communists, as the party of the people, represent the interests of the people. We cannot accept the fact that the Hungarians in Slovakia have been deprived of civil liberties. We hope that ultimately an agreement will be reached on this question.” (Revai, The Activities of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party, speech at the Cominform Conference in Warsaw in September 1947)
Rakosi stressed their friendship with Czechoslovakia, but also demanded that the issue be solved:
“The keystone of our foreign policy is friendship with the Soviet Union, close cooperation with the other new democracies, and an endeavour—in line with the Lenin-Stalin minorities policy—to settle with Czechoslovak democracy the matter of the Hungarians residing in Slovakia.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
The disagreement lasted for several years, because 1) the Communists were not in control in Czechoslovakia until 1948 and thus couldn’t stop the actions of Benes, and 2) because the Communists did not immediately know that Benes was being helped by nationalist deviationists and traitors inside the Czechoslovak Communist Party itself.
According to historian Pünkösti, Rakosi complained to Stalin who strongly criticized the Czechoslovak communist leader Gottwald for failure to stop the deportation. Stalin and Gottwald halted the deportations for the period of negotiations, but they soon began again, backed by the revisionist Rudolf Slansky. Rakosi criticized Slansky as a nationalist but only several years later it was discovered that Slansky was actually a traitor inside the Czechoslovak communist party.
THE CZECHOSLOVAK REVISIONIST TRAITORS
Revisionist traitors inside the Czechoslovak Communist Party supported the nationalist policy of Benes. The most influential revisionists were Clementis, Slansky and Husak.
“Vladimir Clementis… [was] the most unbending foe of Hungarians” (Roman, p. 51)
Roman describes revisionist Husak as “a communist with uncharacteristically strong national convictions who was dedicated to the proposition that the republic should become a purely Slavic state.” (Roman, p. 53) In actuality Husak was a bourgeois-nationalist and not a communist at all.
The negotiations between Czechoslovakia and Hungary were carried out by revisionist Clementis and smallholder Gyöngyösi.
“Gyéngyési’s vis-a-vis in Prague was Vladimir Clementis; his extreme Slovak position in itself doomed the talks to failure.” (Roman, p. 106)
At the first Cominform meeting “The Czechoslovak representative, Rudolf Slansky, accused the Hungarian comrades of sabotaging the peace treaty that had ordered the two sides to reach an agreement about the fate of Hungarians in Slovakia who were not included in the population exchange. As a matter of fact, Slansky charged, Hungary was not even carrying out its part of the exchange. For a thousand years Hungarians had dominated Slovaks and forcibly Magyarized them. As long as there were Hungarians in Slovakia, [territorial] revisionism remained a threat. This was hardly the kind of talk suited for a gathering of communists with internationalist views.” (Roman, pp. 199-200)
“Gustav Husak, one of the leading Slovak communists, Vladimir Clementis, and a man named Okali, formed a clique dedicated to freeing Slovakia not only of Hungarians but of Jews as well. Confiscations continued and a report had it that the Slovak Commissariat of the Interior (in charge of the political police) had instructed lower administrative officials to prepare lists of Hungarians most likely to emerge as the cultural elite—they would be slated for deportation first” (Roman, p. 232)
After the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia, Gottwald stopped the actions of these nationalists. This Slovak nationalist clique of Husak was smashed, Clementis and Slansky were also arrested. However, they were charged with many other crimes too, mainly economic sabotage, espionage, treason and collaboration with Tito, which I will have to discuss separately at another time.
At his trial Slansky testified “My associate Clementis and others used their position for cooperation with Western capitalist diplomats… my associates held up negotiations with popular democratic countries, such as those with Hungary, with respect to the position of Hungarians in Slovakia and Slovaks in Hungary.” (PROCEEDINGS of the TRIALS of Slansky, et al, p. 17)
“Asked what he knew about Clementis’ conspiratorial work in the Foreign Ministry, Hajdu replied that he knew that “at the Paris Peace Conference, Clementis openly adopted a hostile attitude to Popular Democratic Hungary, artificially creating difficulties on the subject of a population exchange between Hungary and Czechoslovakia, thereby intensifying the tension between the two countries, worsening relations between them, and thus aiding the imperialist camp.”” (PROCEEDINGS of the TRIALS of Slansky, et al, p. 46)
“The next witness to be examined was Novemesky, former Chairman of the Slovak Academy of Arts and Sciences, described by the announcer as a “bourgeois nationalist, traitor, and spy.”… Describing the execution of this policy after Clementis’ and his own return from London to Czechoslovakia in 1945, the witness said he had numerous secret meetings with Clementis and Dr. Gustav Husak in Bratislava. The outcome of those meetings had been the dissemination of views hostile to the Republic, such as the fanning of hatred among the Hungarian minority against the other nationalities of the Republic and the People’s Democratic regime.” (PROCEEDINGS of the TRIALS of Slansky, et al, p. 36)
END OF THE DEPORTATIONS
Roman says about the situation before Benes was ousted and the traitors caught:
“even as members of the peace camp were drawing closer together, the difficulties with Czechoslovakia showed no signs of abating. Rakosi (to whom the problem was an extremely painful one) had daily reports of the worsening lot of Hungarians in the republic… The Czechoslovak Communist Party, isolated from workers’ parties in other countries, “drifted down the bourgeois-nationalistic slope and only after the February events [i.e. after the Communists came to power] did it become aware of its rightist deviation. Only then did the Slovakian Communist Party change its thinking in the Hungarian question. It accepted with grinding teeth, under pressure . . . the agreement suggested by the Cominform.”” (Roman, p. 230)
This means that in Rakosi’s opinion at the time, the Czechoslovaks corrected their position after the Communists came to power, and only then the Slovak Communists were forced into accepting the Cominform’s suggestion, that the issue be solved and all persecution stopped. However, Rakosi did not know at the time that the Slovak clique of Husak, and various Czech leaders like Slansky were not merely misguided, but traitors.
Since 1948 the rights of minorities were restored in Czechoslovakia:
“Hungarians would be free to use their mother tongue, even in contacts with local authorities, would have the right to vote, and would receive back their confiscated land if it did not exceed 50 hectares. The law of labor mobilization would apply to all ethnic groups equally and Hungarians who had been removed from their places of domicile would be allowed to return. Hungarian-language schools would be set up within the Czechoslovak school system, with their own buildings, teachers, and supplies. Citizenship would be restored to those who had lost it and exceptions would be kept to a minimum.” (Roman, p. 230)
“The population exchange with Czechoslovakia was terminated in June 1948” (Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: from Kun to Kādār, p. 265)
“The conflict was easily solved by repeal of the anti-Hungarian discriminatory measures as soon as the Communists seized power” (Helmreich, p. 28)
“Klement Gottwald prevailed on his politburo to agree to the cancellation of all existing financial obligations between [Czechoslovakia and Hungary], including reparations. Czechoslovak firms that had been nationalized in Hungary would be compensated for by corresponding expropriations of Hungarian firms in the republic.” (Roman, p. 250)
“As a new and more sympathetic policy towards the national minorities began to emerge, the 50,000 or so Hungarians, who had been forcibly settled in the Sudeten areas abandoned by the Germans in 1945 were allowed to return to their villages once relations between Czechoslovakia and Hungary had returned to normal.” (Hoensch, p. 177)
The relations with Hungary improved since 1948, and in 1949 the two countries signed a pact of friendship. Rakosi said:
“The international importance and prestige of our motherland grew accordingly as we put our house in order and strengthened the foundations of democracy. This was expressed in the treaties of friendship in defence of peace and for mutual aid that we concluded with the other People’s Democracies and, above all, with our liberator, the great Soviet Union. We signed such an agreement with our northern neighbour, the People’s Democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia. This agreement represents an outstanding achievement of the Hungarian people for, over a number of years, reaction prevented the working people of Hungary from establishing good relations with the working people of Czechoslovakia. This agreement is a big victory for Hungarian and Czechoslovak democracy, a victory opening the path to a deeper friendship between the two countries which complement each other. It represents a victory for the entire peace front, bringing the progressive forces still closer together at a time when such consolidation is particularly important.” (Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order)
Joseph B. Schechtman, Postwar Population Transfers in Europe: A Survey. The Review of Politics, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Apr., 1953)
Eric Roman, Hungary and the victor powers, 1945-1950
Bela Zhelitski, “Postwar Hungary, 1944-1946” in The establishment of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, 1944-1949, ed. Norman Naimark & Leonid Gibianskii
Hungary 1944-53 by “1956 institute”
Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért
László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: between the United States and the Soviet Union
Csaba Békés, The Communist Parties and the National Issue in Central and Eastern Europe (1945-1947)
Martin Ebon, World Communism Today
Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: from Kun to Kādār
Ernst Helmreich, Hungary
Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary