Hungarian Civil War
Part of the aftermath of the World War and the Revolutions of 1917–23
Date 20 February – 16 March 1920
(3 weeks and 4 days)
Location Hungary
Result Collapse of the Hungarian Soviet Republic
Hungarian monarchy restored
Flag of Hungary (1919).svg Hungarian Soviet Republic
Socialist red flag.svg Slovak Soviet Republic
Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg Hungarian National Army
Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945.png Grand Duchy of Slovakia
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Hungary (1919).svg Béla Kun
Flag of Hungary (1919).svg Aurél Stromfeld
Flag of Hungary (1919).svg Vilmos Böhm
Socialist red flag.svg Antonín Janoušek
Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg István Bethlen
Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg Miklós Horthy
Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg Anton Lehár
Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg Döme Sztójay
Flag of Hungary (1919).svg 80,000 Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg 20,000
Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945.png 96,000
Casualties and losses
Flag of Hungary (1919).svg 4,538 Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg 3,670
Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945.png 11,666

The Hungarian Civil War was fought between the communist Hungarian Red Army and the counter-revolutionary Hungarian National Army. The First Hungarian Republic was founded by Mihály Károlyi during the Aster Revolution in 1919. In December 1919, the republic was overturned by another revolution, and the Hungarian Soviet Republic (also known as Hungarian Republic of Councils) was created. The unresolved border issues led to a war between Hungary and its neighbor the evolving Slovakia in February 1920. The Hungarian Soviet Republic ceased to exist after the National Army occupied Budapest. The monarchy was restored and Hungary rejoined its union with the other Habsburg realms in March 1920.

Background[edit | edit source]

With the volatile and politically unstable atmosphere of Austro-Hungarian Empire in the inter-war years, the establishment of national governments of the Austrian half of the empire in 1918 would see the struggle to retain territories of the Kingdom of Hungary. However, after the Aster Revolution Mihály Károlyi was appointed Prime Minister by King Charles IV. Rather than participate in the Constitutional Assembly in Vienna, Károlyi terminated the personal union between Austria and Hungary, proclaiming Hungary a people's republic on 31 July 1919.

The Hungarian People's Republic did not last long. Mihály Károlyi, resigned on 6 December 1919 in favour of Béla Kun, a pro-Bolshevik who had been sent by Lenin, quickly seizing power and establishing a new communist state known as Hungarian Soviet Republic.

Conflict[edit | edit source]


Communist József Pogány speaks to revolutionary soldiers during the 1919 revolution

The rise of the Hungarian Communist Party (HCP) to power was rapid. The party was organized in a Moscow hotel on 4 November 1918, when a group of Hungarian prisoners of war and communist sympathizers formed a Central Committee and dispatched members to Hungary to recruit new members, propagate the party's ideas, and radicalize Károlyi's government. By November 1919, the party numbered 30,000 to 40,000 members, including many ex-soldiers, young intellectuals, and Jews. In the same month, Béla Kun was imprisoned for incitement to riot, but his popularity skyrocketed when a journalist reported that he had been beaten by the police. Kun emerged from jail triumphant when the Social Democrats handed power to a government of "People's Commissars," who proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic on 6 December 1919.

The communists wrote a temporary constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly; free education, language and cultural rights to minorities; and other rights. It also provided for suffrage for people over eighteen years of age except clergy, "former exploiters," and certain others. Single-list elections took place in January, but members of the parliament were selected indirectly by popularly elected committees. On 25 March, Kun's government proclaimed a dictatorship of the proletariat, nationalized industrial and commercial enterprises, and socialized housing, transport, banking, medicine, cultural institutions, and all landholdings of more than 40.5 hectares. Kun undertook these measures even though the Hungarian communists were relatively few, and the support they enjoyed was based far more on their program to restore Hungary's borders than on their revolutionary agenda. Kun hoped that the Russian government would intervene on Hungary's behalf and that a worldwide workers' revolution was imminent. In an effort to secure its rule in the interim, the communist government resorted to arbitrary violence. Revolutionary tribunals ordered about 590 executions, including some for "crimes against the revolution." The government also used "red terror" to expropriate grain from peasants. This violence and the regime's moves against the clergy also shocked many Hungarians.

In late February, Kun attempted to fulfill his promise to restore Hungary's borders. The Hungarian Red Army marched northward and reoccupied part of Slovakia. However, the Hungarian offensive was defeated by the Hungarian National Army, and with the consent of King Charles IV, the National Army quickly launched an offensive. This prospect of outright civil war shook Kun's popular support. On 13 March the Hungarian Red Army's lines were broken, the Hungarian capital fell and Kun's Soviet Republic was ousted on 16 March 1920.

Kun fled first to Bucharest and then to the Russian SFSR, where he was executed during Stalin's purge of foreign communists in the late 1930s. A "white terror" ensued that led to the imprisonment, torture, and execution without trial of communists, socialists, Jews, leftist intellectuals, sympathizers with the Károlyi 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 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.

The government of István Bethlen immediately declared null and void all laws and edicts passed by the Karolyi and Kun regimes, restoring the monarchy.

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