Playing the Part: Hungarian Boy Scouts and the Performance of Trauma in Interwar Hungary

Steven Jobbitt


In 1920, the historic Kingdom of Hungary was dismembered according to the dictates of the Treaty of Trianon. Resulting in the loss of two-thirds of the nation’s pre-World War I territory, and one-third of its prewar population, Trianon has long stood as a symbol for Hungarian suffering and trauma in the twentieth century. Historians of modern Hungary have given much consideration to Trianon, with serious attention being paid to what some have called the Trianon syndrome, or the Trianon trauma. Arguing that interwar Hungarian culture and politics need to be understood in light of the menacing psychological shadow cast by Trianon, a number of historians have suggested that the people of Hungary were traumatized spontaneously and universally by the dismemberment of the nation and the suffering that followed. This paper argues that, though this may indeed have been the case on a raw emotional level, careful consideration needs to be given to the overlapping political and pedagogical functions of the Trianon trauma, especially as this trauma found expression in repeated public “performances” of the Trianon tragedy. Focusing on the revisionist performances of Hungarian boy scouts between the wars, and in particular on the personal papers of the Hungarian geographer and boy scout leader Ferenc Fodor, this paper draws a direct link between trauma and performance in the interwar period, and argues that, though trauma was indeed central to Hungarian cultural politics, it functioned as much as a pedagogical strategy as it did a psychological reality.


trauma, performance, performativity, Trianon, identity

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