Great Expectations and Interwar Realities

Hungarian Cultural Diplomacy, 1918-1941
Author: 
ISBN: 
978-963-386-194-3
cloth
$65.00 / €58.00 / £50.00
Publication date: 
2017
354 pages incl. 8 pages color gallery

After the shock of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which Hungarians perceived as an unfair dictate, the leaders of the country found it imperative to change Hungary’s international image in a way that would help the revision of the post-World War I settlement. The monograph examines the development of interwar Hungarian cultural diplomacy in three areas: universities, the tourist industry, and the media—primarily motion pictures and radio production. It is a story of the Hungarian elites’ high hopes and deep-seated anxieties about the country’s place in a Europe newly reconstructed after World War I, and how these elites perceived and misperceived themselves, their surroundings, and their own ability to affect the country’s fate. The defeat in the Great War was crushing, but it was also stimulating, as Nagy documents in his examination of foreignlanguage journals, tourism, radio, and other tools of cultural diplomacy. The mobilization
of diverse cultural and intellectual resources, the author argues, helped establish Hungary’s legitimacy in the international arena, contributed to the modernization of the country, and established a set of enduring national images.
Though the study is rooted in Hungary, it explores the dynamic and contingent relationship between identity construction and transnational cultural and political currents in East-Central European nations in the interwar period.

ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS; ACKNOWLEDGMENTS; INTRODUCTION

1. MOBILIZING THE NATION: FROM WAR PROPAGANDA TO PEACETIME CULTURAL DIPLOMACY AND BEYOND
From the Emergence of Wartime Propaganda to the Changing; Nature of International Relations; Hungarian Dreamland and Its Destruction, 1918–1920; Hungary, 1920–1927: From Turmoil to Consolidation; 1927: Opening a New Phase; Stages of Traditional and Cultural Diplomacy, 1927–1941; Conclusion

2. DEFINING THE NATION
National Identity before the Nation-State?; Post-World War I Crisis of Culture; Hungarian Nemzetkarakterológia; Main Themes and Topoi; Conclusion

3. EDUCATING INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OPINION: CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS AND SCHOLARLY PUBLICATIONS
Institutions; The Hungarian Reference Library; Academic Publishing and Lectures; Conclusion

4. SHOWCASING THE NATION: THE ROLE OF TOURISM
The Hungarian Tourist Industry and the Image of Hungary before Trianon; “A Country without Mountains or Sea”: The Reorganization of the Hungarian Tourist Industry after World War I; Tourism Propaganda and the Constant Problem of Image; Competing Mental and Physical Landscapes of Hungary’s Tourist Image; 1938: Hopes, Disappointments, and Change; Conclusion

5. BECOMING AUDIBLE AND VISIBLE: RADIO BROADCASTING AND CINEMATIC PRODUCTION IN THE SERVICE OF CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
Radio Broadcasting: Providing Voice for a Nation; Radio: Cultural Diplomacy’s Sharpest Weapon; Domestic Challenges: The Hungarianness of Hungarian Radio; Challenges to the Radio’s Foreign Policy: From “the Battle of Radio Armaments” to War; The Birth, Destruction, and Rebirth of the Hungarian Movie Industry, 1896–1929; Celluloid Résumés: The Role of Kulturfilme and Newsreels; Conclusion

CONCLUSION

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Slavic and East European Journal

"As Nagy starkly demonstrates, there was a massive discrepancy between government expectations and political realities, since no amount of investment in culture, or its dissemination, could compensate for Hungary’s geopolitical weaknesses. Indeed, cultural production turned out to be a very ‘poor substitute for real power’. Yet the cultural capital built up in these turbulent years was significant, and ‘the infrastructure created for interwar cultural diplomacy remained essential during the communist era’ and beyond. Accordingly, the book concludes that in the long run the propaganda drive was not ‘for naught’, as it ‘helped to legitimize Hungary’s status as an independent state’ and to develop a ‘basic template of Hungarian identity," which, for better or worse, survives today’."

Slavic Review

"Trianon Hungary was militarily powerless, economically exhausted, and surrounded by hostile neighbors. The popular frustration expressed in the slogan “nem, nem soha” (signifying “no, no never” will we accept this dictate) was ignored or deplored by the Great Powers. The regime thus turned to the only option, cultural diplomacy. In a work of high scholarly quality, Zsolt Nagy relates the historical background, local and international context, and political execution of this approach. Nagy concludes that all cultural propaganda, however well-conceived and whatever its genuine services to national pride (there is little data that might allow the historian to propose a better-documented cost-benefit analysis), was vitiated by a “bad” (revisionist) foreign policy resting on a “mistaken interpretation of geopolitical realities” (293). The truth may be somewhat simpler, if no more reassuring. Small, defeated countries are particularly vulnerable pawns in the turbulent world of power politics, and chess games are seldom won by pawns."

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