Heritagization of the Treaty of Trianon

Heritagization of the Treaty of Trianon

The twentieth century was a blossoming century for heritage organisations, labelling and designating “heritage,” cataloguing and categorising on lists and registers. The erection of monuments was also included in this widespread interest in the past within official heritage discourse. Those in the form of statues and monuments are an extremely important visual medium, which has contributed to forming and deepening of various national and state identities and helped to create and disseminate collective memory (Mikša 2018: 34). Although monuments are mostly works of art in the public space, their aesthetic side has a mostly secondary purpose, as they are perceived primarily as bearers of ideological messages.

Over the past months, the media has been full of images showing the demolition and violent destruction of monuments, mainly statues of imperial politicians and other “important men” of past centuries. As one of the radical ways of drawing attention to the need for a different, on-the-other-hand, enlightened understanding of past social and economic political events, protestors have come to the fore within the Black Lives Matter movement. Public focus, in particular that of the heritage profession, from researchers to curators and museums, has been monitoring developments in these former colonial nations. In this protesting embodiment of post-colonial discourse, not only has materialization of the past and of heritage artefacts been called into question, but it primarily disputes the content, collective memory and the reviewed discourse behind them. “Desecration of monuments,” which until recently was understood as “vandalism” by official institutions, especially when a monument is “the work of a renowned artist” and placed on a list of monuments of special importance, has been overridden by the question of what a monument represents to a community and why such designated monuments anger them. The monuments are, in a sense, the “materialisation – an embodiment even – of one’s (collective) self” (Macdonald 2013: 238), therefore it is of paramount importance for the individual communities for which, and for whose past, is in the present, be chosen and designed for the needs of the future (cf. Macdonald 2013). If we understand monuments as a medium that helps us shape collective memories, and removing them helps us forget, or forces it into oblivion, having “control” over them is a very important mechanism of social groups in power (Mikša 2018: 34–35). The monuments themselves, as well their heritagization as a selection of the past for the needs of the present and future, have therefore found themselves being reconsidered.

Centenary of signing the Treaty of Trianon

A 1920s propaganda poster warned the population of the consequences of the Treaty of Trianon with fierce visual rhetoric. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In practice, the mechanisms described above are implemented in a wide variety of ways, within the specific community and the chosen case. As an example, let us take the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon (as it is remembered in Slovenia and Hungary), with which present-day Hungary, or its imperial predecessor, lost part of its population and territory. If the signing of the Treaty of Trianon for Hungary is considered a “black day”, the perspective from present-day Slovenia on the other side of the border is quite different.

In Slovenia, after commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War, which was concentrated mainly in the areas of the former Isonzo or Soča Front, the central location to commemorate changes after the collapse of Austro-Hungary has shifted to Prekmurje in the last two years. Last year’s centenary of Prekmurje Reunification Day was dedicated to several events reflecting different concepts of commemorating the same historic event. To commemorate the centenary of the annexation of Prekmurje to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Kingdom of SHS), Mihael Šooš, Director of the Institute for Culture of Hungarian Ethnicity challenged the name of the celebration. It was only supposed to  “commemorate this event,” as he did not like “that the Hungarian minority be forced to celebrate the date. It is not our holiday” (Vučkič, Maučec 2019). The commemoration of historical events serves to remember matters of cultural or ideological importance for a particular community, while also testifying to the power and attainment of certain political influence in the area (cf. Mód 2019). One of the most important features of heritagization is that it turns the past from something that simply happened into an arena from which it is possible to choose and derive values for the present. Thus, heritagization turns the past into The Past (Macdonald 2013: 33).

Marking the association of Prekmurje with the Kingdom of SHS and the reunification of the Prekmurje Slovenes with the rest of the Slovene speaking population, and despite the high emotions during the celebrations, it did not have such a discursive charge as the opening of the National Unity Monument near the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. In Hungary, on the occasion of this central heritagization of the centenary of the Treaty of Trianon — the installation of the 100-metre long Trianon Memorial, the official Memorial of National Unity (Nemzeti összetartozás emlékhelye), with its 12,000 engraved place names of imperial Hungary, formed two parallel narratives — one “revisionist”[1] and one “official,” emphasising a Central European identity[2]. Erecting monuments and other memorials that remember loss represents apowerful point of identification and emotional intensification. Therefore, the turbulent responses in neighbouring countries with Hungarian minorities are not surprising.  As a response to such commemorations, the Romanian parliament this year voted to enact a new national holiday, the so-called Trianon Day.

The stainless-steel letters on the Budapest monument indicate the Hungarian names of all towns and villages of so-called “Greater Hungary” according to their size at the last, pre-war population census of 1910. An eternal flame burns at the heart of this granite monument of national unity, which, in addition to material compactness, adds a touch of eternity. If, by commemorating past events and erecting monuments, the past is defended for the purpose of directing the future (Smith 2006), the question that surely arises, is, what implications for political relations with neighbouring countries does the monument suggest? Namely, the national unity monument does not take into account the geographical position of places within neighbouring sovereign states and does not mark the names of other national communities living in those places. The location of the monument in a space next to parliament implies association with state structures, and the physical walk through the memorial offers an alternative timeline: not only by representing another time, that is, 100 years ago, but also in “creating a ‘condensed’ time for contemplation” (Macdonald 2013: 221). This condensed time is layered, as it combines elements of different periods of time into the visitor’s personal reality experience.

The tri-border monument receives media attention especially during commemorative anniversaries. Photo: Marjeta Pisk.

 According to Nora, memorial sites (lieux de mémoire), among which the new Hungarian memorial could be classified, are created at a point where memorial environments (milieux de mémoire) no longer exist. The impulse after the erection of monuments and heritagization of events thus arises from an essentially paradoxical connection: at the point where memory becomes a less indisputable part of life and a more consciously created phenomenon, the requirement for memorization becomes sharper. Thus, the memory site fulfils several functions: material, symbolic and functional (Young 1993). One such example of a memory site, which passed from its original instrumental purpose into a predominantly symbolic one, is the tri-border monument in Trdkova, Slovenia, which, as an act of the physical demarcation between Austria, Hungary and the Kingdom of SHS, was set by an international demarcation commission in 1924. The state coat of arms and the date determining the state border can be found on each side of the three-sided pyramidal monument. On the Austrian face, the date of the Treaty of Saint-Germain (10. 9. 1919), the Treaty of Trianon on the Hungarian face (4. 6. 1920), and both dates on the Slovenian face. As a memorial site linked to the remembrance of Treaty of Trianon signing and its related geopolitical consequences, the tri-border monument has been a marker for different interpretations of the First World War and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The physical embodiment of the new geopolitical reality, as expressed by the tri-border monument, encompasses the symbolic language of the heritagization of a geopolitical division of space that flourished, both in Hungary and Slovenia, on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty. Although new monuments symbolise ideas that seem to oppose each other in political embodiment (the Greater Hungary idea, the reunification of Prekmurje Slovenes with their motherland), both are rooted in a specific perception of the world, which takes the nation-state as its basis, and (thus) demarcations from that position.

Monuments of the Unification of Prekmurje Slovenes with the mother nation

The monument marking the centenary of the annexation of the Prekmurje region in Murska Sobota by academic sculptor, Mirsad Begić, is given symbolic significance by two bronze tree branches that interconnect the busts of national awakeners with the soft soil of Prekmurje. A composition of busts of Prekmurje national awakeners Matija Slavic, Franc Ivanocy, Jožef Klekl senior, Ivan Jerič and Franc Kovačič are mounted on a supporting granite block measuring two metres in width, six metres long and 1.7 metres high. The bust of the Catholic priest, Matija Slavič, along with four depictions in larger-than-life size are cast in bronze. In symbolic terms, these depictions ensure none of the merits of the annexation of the Prekmurje region and the unification of Prekmurje Slovenes with the mother nation are excluded from the monument nor historically forgotten in a wider context. At the same time, the monument as a whole is suggestive of the silhouette of the boat, with which natural or symbolic obstacles and demarcations are overcome. “In this sense, the monument represents a boat sailing on the river of time, simultaneously crossing a very special and invisible river – a river of oblivion” Inhof 2019. The task of erecting monuments is therefore to tear out a certain event or personality from oblivion, transferring the past into the future.

The monument in Beltinci, which was also erected on the centenary of the annexation of Prekmurje region, symbolically recreates the crowd that gathered in this place in 1919 to publicly identify themselves as Prekmurci and thus Slovenes. The pillars that make up the monument represent a multitude that is outwardly uniform and anonymous, and at the same time consists of individual, distinct and unique elements. The central three pillars bear depictions of awakeners Ivan Jerič, Matija Slavic and Jožef Klekl senior. The author of the monument, academic sculptor Mirko Bratuš, included physical perceptions within the commemoration — with visitors given the possibility to mingle within the sculpture, to relive the crowd and symbolically attend the historical event Nov spomenik 2019. The memorial is not classically designed, but is “active urban equipment with water sprays that cool the air in the park during the summer, with the water also symbolising the Mura, a river that, as Klekl senior says, does not separate but connects, and the water spray represents mist above the waters of the Mura.” Nov spomenik 2019.

Prekmurje Square in Ljubljana — a new urban space connected to commemorating the centenary of the reunification of Prekmurje with the rest of the Slovenian territory. Photo: Marjeta Pisk.

The function of urban gathering, and of performance space, next to the Ljubljanica river has been created in Ljubljana’s Prekmurje Square; it includes an allegory of a pottery fair on its edge. The author, academic sculptor Zoran Srdić Janežič and co-author Cveto Kunešević placed 340 concrete containers, from individuals to those that symbolize the community, over an area measuring 15 metres in length and 5 metres wide. According to the author, “the monument is characterized by a form of pottery, which is key evidence for understanding Slavic settlement in the Prekmurje region between the 6th and 12th centuries and a contemporary sculptural design style by combining and duplicating forms” (Vučkič 2019). The story of unification is marked on a pedestal which, with the inscribed work of Tomato Košir, commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the unification of Prekmurje region and Prekmurje Slovenes with the mother nation. Redesigning of the square began last year and the monument was unveiled on the annual commemoration of the unification of Prekmurje Slovenes with the mother nation. Another interesting point is the narrative related to the culinary heritage of Prekmurje, namely that the pottery suggests a vessel “from which Prekmurci ate bograč and other stews” (Vučkič 2019).

The erection of this monument places the heritage of Prekmurje in the newly planned avenue, which, in addition to the Hrens Cross, the oldest public monument in Ljubljana, connects a series of monuments of important figures who spent part of their lives in this part of the city.

The centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon was a strong impetus to mark the event with the erection of monuments, the consequences of which became part of the daily normalcy of the population along the Slovenian-Hungarian border, with positive and negative consequences for individual places and people.

Heritagization of past events

The demolition of statues that marked many political turning points and changes in social paradigms, has always been present in the erection of statues in Slovenia. Ljubljana is supposed to be a whole town where monuments have the shortest life span (Jezernik 2014), although after 1991, unlike other Eastern European countries, the visual presence of the Slovenian public monument landscape remains almost unchanged (Murovec 2013). For example, the centre of Murska Sobota is still marked by a 17.35 m high obelisk and a Russian cannon from the Second World War on a socio-realistic monument built by the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The 2.40 m tall statues of a Russian soldier and a partisan next to a tank were made by sculptors Boris and Zdenko Kalin, above the soldiers there is an inscription in Russian and Slovenian: “Eternal glory to the heroes, fallen in the struggle for freedom and independence of the brotherly Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.” Construction of the monument began on 24 May 1945 at the initiative of the War Council of the 57th Army of the 3rd Ukrainian Front. The unveiling, attended by Slovenian and Yugoslav politicians and representatives of the Red Army and the French and British military, was on 12. 8. 1945. “At the time of Informbiro, the monument was sentenced to “death” by blasting. The explosives had already been set, and the trigger ready, but then someone advised it might be too hasty, because we will be “good again” and then there would be no monument.” (Kuzmič)

Thus, monuments are both memorials and documents that emerge from an impressive experience of a historical moment, but by their existence they refer to what is no more. Integrating monuments into present-day space and its “open moment” encourage (critical) consideration and remind the community that a monument needs to be complemented by new meanings, contemporary social contexts and maybe even physical intervention. At a time when the dimensions of the “contested heritage” show themselves as a fundamental universal component of all heritage and heritage processes, monuments are also bound to seek out ways of coexisting with the heritage of different, even (politically) marginalized communities.

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  12. Vučkič, Anja. 2019. Spomenik, posvečen stoti obletnici priključitve Prekmurja [Monument dedicated to the hundredth anniversary of the annexation of Prekmurje] Delo, 7 June 2019.
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