The standpoint of the Tisza István Friends Society concerning the historical figure of Count István Tisza
We consider the publication of our standpoint essential as the majority of the sources, studies and tape scripts on the website are professional materials and reflect the academic viewpoint of their author. Considering the fact that the figure of the late Count István Tisza has always been subject to political and historical arguments, the publication of our views may help clarify our standpoint between prejudiced criticism and praise without critique. Furthermore, in our views, we intend to explain the following: why we consider István Tisza a prominent figure of 20th century Hungarian history.
Our views are often based on the records of István Tisza: we will summarize the former Prime Minister’s views on his era and the ideas and further his concepts of the political process of the 20th century.
To begin with, we would like to cite from the book “The History of Hungary in the 20th Century” by Ignác Romsics, who is a highly-respected expert in the field of history. The lines referring to István Tisza are as follows: “Tisza ... was above his generation. He was aware of the dangers that threatened the unity of historic Hungary due to its multinational character and the territorial ambitions of the Balkan states supported by the Russian Empire. Furthermore, Tisza knew that Hungary could not overcome these threats alone, only as a member of the Habsburg Empire. Furthermore, he always tried to prevent those who aimed to radically change the system from gaining political power. Beside his insight as a statesman, fanaticism and religious Calvinist commitment were also typical of Tisza. He stood by everything that he considered right even if it was against the public or if this could make him unpopular. His contemporary and great opponent, Endre Ady (Hungarian poet of Tisza’s age) called him “the fool of Geszt”, this was however a prejudiced and unfair comment from him. Gyula Szekfű (Hungarian historian in the 20th century) compared Tisza to István Széchenyi (statesman of Tisza’s age, the Hungarians call him the ‘Greatest Hungarian’ because of his activities): it may have been a bit exaggerated but true.
István Tisza was born on April 22, 1861 in Budapest. His father was Kálmán Tisza de Borosjenő, who was a politician, a minister and also Prime Minister. His mother was Ilona Degenfeld-Schomburg. István Tisza studied law and economics in Berlin, Heidelberg and Budapest, and he received a doctorate in political sciences. Then he took care of the family estates in Bihar county and Geszt. He became the representative of the Liberal Party (Szabadelvű Párt) in 1886. In 1897 his uncle, Count Lajos Tisza’s title was given to him by the king. He was the president of the Hungarian Industrial and Commercial Bank (Magyar Ipar- és Kereskedelmi Bank) and was a member of the boards of numerous joint-stock companies. During his first Prime Ministership which started on November 3, 1903, he managed to have the remains of Francis Rákóczi II. repatriated, he increased the number of army recruits over the resistance from the opposition, and he modified the parliamentary rules of procedure which hindered the work of the majority in the Parliament. Because of parliamentarian affairs and the polarization of the public, on January 3, 1905, the king dissolved the Parliament and called new elections. As a result of the new elections, the Liberal Party, which had ruled for thirty years with absolute majority and had been the most popular Hungarian political party, was defeated by the Federal Opposition (Szövetkezett Ellenzék). After the defeat at the polls, Tisza participated only in the daily operations of the House of Parliament between 1906 and 1910, but refrained from governmental politics (meanwhile his liberal party was also dissolved). The governing Independence Party (Függetlenségi Párt) was unable to carry out the ideas which protected the interests of Hungary so the coalition government resigned on April 25, 1909. On February 19, 1910, Tisza founded the National Party of Work (Nemzeti Munkapárt), which won the elections in June. Originally Tisza did not want to be the Prime Minister, but he was the leading figure in the governing party. Finally, on May 22, 1912, Tisza was elected the Speaker of the House, and he became Prime Minister on June 7, 1913. During his second Prime Ministership, Tisza’s most urgent task was to strengthen state power in an insecure international field. This was necessary, indeed as the First World War broke out on July 28, 1914, during which time he did his best for the victory of Austria-Hungary. Because he opposed the politics of King Charles IV who experimented with moderate reforms and became king after the death of Franz Joseph on December 30, 1916, Tisza handed in his resignation at the monarch’s demand on May 23, 1917. However, with the majority of the Parliament supporting him, he still remained an influential figure of Hungary. On June 15, 1917, he also went to the frontline as the commander of the cavalry regiment of Debrecen. Before and during the First World War, the name of István Tisza became asymbol of dualism and war politics for many people. Because of this, there were four attempts to assassinate him, the last one resulting in his death. On 31 October 1918, on the day of the otherwise bloodless “Chrysanthemum Revolution“, Tisza was shot to death in his home, in the Róheim-villa.
Liberalism and conservatism
Interestingly enough, although Count István Tisza considered himself liberal, today’s history and political philosophy think of him as a conservative political figure. This is partly due to István Tisza’s traditionalist and religious personality. However, the tendency which was strengthened mostly by the left-wing intellectuals also contributed to another characterisation of Tisza: this tendency aims to equal conservatism with old-fashioned ideas and by that discredits Tisza as the need for “progress” is the opium of “modern age”. According to our association, István Tisza was never an old-fashioned conservative, but a sober politician respecting human and social peace and values. Construed by Marxist historiography Tisza was considered a politician “who did not understand necessity”.
Today Tisza still shoulders the burden of this notion. The liberalist views of Tisza can be best observed in the field of economic policy based on free trade following the English model where the government primarily aimed to improve market and economic infrastructure in the field of economy: “The improvement of credit conditions reduced our debt burden and made it possible to satisfy the increasing circulating asset needs of an intensive economy. The increase of population in cities, industrial improvement and the welfare of those not engaged in agriculture increased domestic consumption ..., and it created new sources of income for farmers in the countryside. With its drastic improvement, our capital itself forms the basis of economic flourishing of a wider and wider zone. Besides, the development and nationalization of the railway system and the fundamental transformation of tariffs provide the essential grounds of economic development of further settlements.”
Furthermore, Tisza had liberal views concerning landredistribution when he did not support the proprietorship in Hungary to be changed by higher powers. Landredistribution is not a liberal program even if today’s liberals judge István Tisza for not supporting this “progressive” demand. We are convinced that today’s left-wing and liberal critics of Tisza’s political activities would be the first to attack any political power (based on the liberal principles of the sanctity of state and property) if it was to initiate the disarrangement of land system in Hungary today. What is more: Tisza also recognized that in Central-Europe, the most essential demand of the rising left-wing movements did not become the regulation of capital, but the question of land, due to the substantial support of money capital. By “solving” the land question (redistribution), the economic and political power of the traditional elite could be weakened.
The liberal views of Tisza differed from today’s liberalism in Hungary on some important issues among which the most important one is his liberalism filled with nationalism. He wrote about this as follows: “There is an underlying difference between Hungarian liberalism and continental liberalism. Hungarian liberalism is not based on classes but on our nation’s political character and is connected to our national improvement. It is nation and state which dominate Hungarian liberalism, it aims to satisfy the needs of national and state life; it is characterized by active, self-sacrificing patriotism. Furthermore, Hungarian liberalism is above class struggles and has always refused the narrow-minded politics of economic one-sidedness.”
According to Tisza, the contemporary “progressive” groups started to divert liberalism from national ideas even in his era. “We fully confess: in our views, liberalism is based on nation. According to hypermodern people, we are nationalist. They do not speak about national aspects, but only about nationalist prejudices. These prejudices saturate us. We cannot deal with the prosperity of mankind if it is not connected to the well-doing and success of the Hungarian nation”.
Today’s Hungarian liberalism is based on the views of Mihály Károlyi (who had rather communist views in his old age) and the First Republic (officially called People’s Republic) founded by Károlyi rather than by István Tisza who consistently represented national liberal politics and had conservative personal qualities.
Socialism, the working class and atheism
Although István Tisza completely approved of liberalism and conservatism, he never accepted the socialist views of his age. Remember, we do not speak about today’s post-communist social-democrats here, but the working-class movement in Tisza’s time aiming to gain political power: they radically fought for equality, their program was based on atheism, they aimed to change property relations radically and thought about the aspect of class struggle.
Tisza, for whom the union of the Hungarian political nation was essential, primarily disapproved of the view of class struggle; he contended that it was not true that economic self-interest governed humanity. "It is not true that class interest divides society into hostile groups, it is not true that the ideal goods of humanity become the victims of the hostile fight of the classes. Historical materialism is a superficial, empty ideology and a phantasm reflecting mental emptiness. It is a nightmare which is pushed away to the obscurity of night by the sunshine of life; it is a harmful miasma that must be expelled from the Hungarian soul.”
Neither did he accept that the aim of our life is to possess material goods and the aim of social classes is to be in power. “...are we not above the world view which sees only material selfishness in human development and in all the historic struggles, and which considers mankind a horde whose life is centred round a desperate fight around the feeding trough?”
Tisza especially disapproved of the left-wing movement agitations among the peasantry in the country: "This is simply an aspiration for better living conditions and higher wages. I do not consider it socialism, at all.” Tisza was convinced that socialism only causes political upheaval, but it is only work, effectiveness and productivity growth which serve the improvement of life circumstances. “And if I see how much work productivity has increased and I hope that it will increase further - I think working class people should not work so long, they should have time for resting, pastime and other programmes; working class people should earn enough to make ends meet and to secure their future; I am sure that all this is possible if we all aim to increase work productivity.”
Following from Tisza’s liberal views and the English model supported by him, he did not consider the improvement of working class life conditions as a duty of the state. He wrote about this as follows: “The state’s duty starts when a striking worker wants to intimidate and use force; however, if they intend to achieve better working conditions with the help of peaceful discussions, they have the right to do so as it is the natural consequence of the theory of free trade and economic freedom.” It means that Tisza did not reject the improvement of the life conditions of the working class at all; he only disapproved of state intervention into the relation between employer and employee. Actually, the real wages of the workers were continuously increasing between 1900 and 1914, and the number of people earning subsistence wages was drastically decreasing.
It is not true, either, that Tisza disapproved of the working class and intended to suppress this social layer. He considered the increase of the number of people coming from the working class as the strengthening of the Hungarian nation. “Every large industrial unit is still the centre of Hungary, our national culture. This developing industrial working class should not be surrendered to international dreams.” This is partly due to the tendency that by the years before the First World War, Hungary had gained a relative majority in all the important industrial centres in the Carpathian Basin.
Furthermore, Tisza could not accept that the “progression” and the working-class movements were based on atheist and materialistic grounds. Being a believing Calvinist, he thought that “We cannot find the pillars of human thinking, which may have been an obstacle to progress, but provided the spiritual balance of humanity. Today, these stone pillars must be substituted with our soul’s inner pillars. Today, instead of the intellectual weapons attacking humanity’s faith, one must turn to intellectual defence.”
Moreover, Tisza, who found security and relief in religion, did not consider the conscious atheist propaganda as a denominational-scientific issue, but as the interests of political parties when he wrote as follows: “Whereas in the past only few philosophers were preoccupied with the problems of divinity, faith and materialism, and for the past some centuries there had been only a few great philosophers who dealt with solving the problems of existence in an untraditional way, nowadays these issues have become the subject of extreme, uncontrollable criticism for the populace...all these issues nowadays originate from half-educated and semi-educated views.”
Even today, it is worth paying attention to Tisza’s prediction, which unfortunately proved to be true, in which he prognosticated the division of Hungarian society in two as a result of the spread of the atheist world view: “the peace of nations and societies becomes a victim of this horrible bifurcation of the world view. Nations are divided into two hostile groups and they no longer understand each other, they fight with each other as enemies. Consequently, there two opposing trends torture the seeking human spirit. The two noblest human instincts become enemies of each other: the one that seeks knowledge and the one that seeks God.” Dividing the nation was considered a conscious political activity by István Tisza, as long as “If someone did not pay attention to the development of radical intellectual tendencies only for a few years, they could be amazed by the fundamental change which took place within such a short period. It was just yesterday when everybody who wanted to win the mood of the Hungarian youth showing an inclination towards extremism rivalled with each other concerning the preservation of national dreams and the cult of past; and what can we see now? Internationalism based on an atheist and materialist world view appears more and more boldly and frequently, and the modern prophets of the Hungarian youth want to wipe religious morality, national ideal out of its soul.”
For that reason, Tisza urged conservative revolution against the ideas which justified themselves with “progressive” signs. “The free thinking of today’s generation is threatened by a completely different danger. It is the terrorism of semi-education feeding on hypermodern key words, whose market noise fills the whole building of modern culture ... it decries every contrary opinion with the impatience of semi-education. We must protect the freedom of thinking from the “free-thinkers”.
Respecting the intellectual heritage of its eponym, our association supports the multi-party system and democracy based on free elections. However, from an intellectual aspect we must admit that István Tisza was right when he foretold the division of Hungarian society, or rather that of the political elite due to the political processes at the turn of the century. He predicted that the political elite was going to be divided into an atheist and religious group, one which supports national interest, another which does not.
Parliamentarism and suffrage
The liberal István Tisza considered the Parliament based on the principle of majority as an unquestionable political figure, and he considered parliamentarism as the most suitable form of governing. As his political creed, Tisza stated consistently that “freedom lies in us participating in the creation of laws and also law enforcement in the case of local governments, but we must also respect and observe the rules created with our cooperation.” Generally, Tisza’s critics attack his parliamentarism (which we consider unquestionable) on two points: firstly, because of the termination of obstruction and the acceptance of the new parliamentary rules of procedure, secondly, because of the refusal of universal suffrage.
First of all, let us deal with the issues of obstruction and the parliamentary rules of procedure. The parliamentary rules of procedure in the dualism in Hungary followed the common law of feudal Parliament, according to which everybody could speak as much as they wished: so, the most prominent speakers could speak up to 4-8- hours in public. However, this made the procedure of legislature impossible. For decades, the opposition often used this weapon in the case of extremely important or disputed issues. It is to be observed that this way the opposition disregarded the principle of majority, on which parliamentarism is based, when they hindered voting in the Parliament. It was not only the intrigues of the opposition which hindered the activities of Tisza as a politician of the governing party, but he was also annoyed at their disregarding the basis of parliamentarism. When he had the new parliamentary rules of procedure accepted during the famous “election by handkerchief” without the acceptance of the opposition on November 18, 1904, he practically restored the functionality of the Parliament, thought not with elegant and appealing methods. The opposition naturally did not want to accept the new parliamentary rules of procedure which restricted their rights, that is why the “progressive” representatives smashed the furniture of the session-room in the Parliament on December 13, (also not with elegant and appealing methods). On second thought, changing the parliamentary rules of procedure and the session order is a compulsory governmental duty during the change of government today in Hungary, and it is always carried out with the protest of the opposition. However, thank God for their good sense, the representatives do not smash furniture these days.
As the Speaker of the House, Tisza took a stand against obstruction in 1912 when he made the representatives breaking the parliamentary rules of procedure leave the session-room escorted by Parliament Guard, and he made the governing party vote for the new military-improvement programme. We are convinced that this measure does not prove the lack of Tisza’s commitment to parliamentarism, either. Today, the same thing happens to the representatives disregarding parliamentary rules of procedure in a normal democracy. Secondly, let us look at the Tisza’s views concerning universal suffrage.
Tisza - based on the English model and the Hungarian middle class political tradition - thought that it is the duty of the social middle class to practice and run public affairs. He wrote about this as follows: “Nations must earn the pleasure of freedom, not only in those doubtful days when enthusiasm and the love of liberty are able to make us perform heroic deeds, but in the everyday struggles of public life, as well. The most talented citizens of the nation must push the wagon of public affairs step by step on the muddy road ... the majority of the citizens do not fulfil this duty, they refrain from this type of struggle, that is why they surrender the fate of their land to the attempts of extreme parties led by passion and self-interest.” So, according to Tisza, the practice of public affairs means the work and duty in the interest of the freedom and development of one’s land. That is why it is essential to decide who has this duty; it was defined by suffrage.
Tisza knew that in Hungary it is the elite citizens (6-7% of the inhabitants) who had political rights (elected by property status), that is why it would be needed to extend suffrage some time. He wrote about this as follows: “I am fully convinced that the strong improvement of the Hungarian nation requires more and more layers of society to be involved in political life. We should however not start from radical aprioristic theories; we should not open the barriers of public life for everybody. We should not let ourselves outbid each other in the field of liberalism.” “The final goal of the tendency of liberalism, freedom and the free development of humanity is by all means democracy and universal suffrage. However, I think the difference between the friends and enemies of liberty is that those who really aim to extend rights in the interest of liberty, intend to educate the nation that everyone should respect these rights and live by them. Furthermore, these “friends” gradually aim to involve in political rights those who can be trusted with the interests of the nation gradually. On the other hand, the other tendency, which places state decisions in the hand of the masses by outbidding the standpoint of liberal parties, can only be the device of terroristic demagogy or Caesarism.”
In the light of all these, it becomes obvious that although Tisza was first against the extension of suffrage, he did not refuse it but he could imagine its realisation on the basis of the English model: step by step, in decades. This view is also proved by his governmental activity: after the election victory in 1910 (during 1913-14), he modified the suffrage law and extended suffrage to trade workers. Furthermore, he introduced cultural census, and he also aimed to introduce the secret voting system (!) in Budapest and in municipal boroughs. It is true though, that because of the breaking out of the First World War, there was no election held in Hungary, but it is to be noted that Tisza’s opposition did not legitimize the change of October 31, 1918 with a parliamentary election, in spite of the codification of universal suffrage. The election held in an electoral system by Béla Kun and his party in 1919 took place in humiliating circumstances. (As a result of all this - we are convinced that - the legality and legitimacy of both the regime of the People’s Republic and the Hungarian Soviet Republic can be questioned.) It is naturally not typical to reproach these “progressive” forces that they did not hold an election as the circumstances were not appropriate to do so. It can also be stated that it was not only in the dualist Hungary where universal suffrage did not refer to everybody: Switzerland may have been “democratic” enough for the progressives, although women have been allowed to vote only since the 1970s, and the Afro-Americans in the United States were not allowed to vote everywhere in the 1970s, either. Historical fact: In the era of István Tisza, universal, secret, free and equal suffrage extended to everybody was not to be found anywhere in the world!
To conclude, it can be stated that in spite of the accusations, Tisza was a true democrat who carried out the reform of the parliamentary rules of procedure (in a way that would satisfy the norms of today) despite the “progressive” opposition. Furthermore, he started the extension of suffrage in Hungary and it could have led to the introduction of universal suffrage after a time in peaceful political circumstances.
The freedom of the press
István Tisza can be considered the initiator of modern press regulation and the supporter of quality-journalism. Though contemporary press harshly criticised the press law of 1914, it should not deceive anyone: with some exceptions, it is primarily today’s top-newspapers, which belonged to the political opposition in Tisza’s time, who attacked the new press law. It is hard to prove the right of those judging if it is taken into consideration that Tisza’s government modified the previously loose press law after half a year of discussions: in fact, the XIV. law coming into force on April 11, 1914 increased the severity of the cases of adjustment only by preventing the tabloids from writing fake news and it codified the liability for compensation. It is not surprising that the press - being involved financially - and the opposition were not fond of the new regulation, but it must be admitted that correction and compensation are also working legal principles today. The views of contemporary critiques become especially untrustworthy if we study their own press operating system of 1918 or analyse the later press politics of their party family.
We are convinced that István Tisza was an honest follower of the freedom of the press, but not that of loose press. The new law applied to Tisza’s own paper called ‘Nemzeti Figyelő’ as well as to the extreme tabloid in opposition called “Az Est”.
The question of nationality
Concerning the question of nationality, Tisza concluded his thoughts as follows: “We must adhere to the unity, integrity and national character of the Hungarian state with relentless rigour and steadiness. We must maintain the unity of the Hungarian nation. We should help only those who consider themselves members of the Hungarian political nation irrespective of their mother tongue. It should however be accepted that the Hungarian political nation was created by our fellow-citizens belonging to different nations. We must provide rights for them to preserve their languages, religions and cultures. We should not be offended if they adhere to these. We should not be annoyed at the fact that Romanians call themselves Romanian, the Serbians call themselves Serbian. We should behave, think and feel as if they were our siblings even if they do not deny their nationality. We must let all of our patriotic fellow-citizens succeed and we should not let them feel strangers, oppressed or, what is worse than this, despised.” We believe that every Hungarian politician of the era considered the adherence to a unified Hungarian political nation of fundamental importance - the same was considered by the French, British or American political elite concerning their own political nation. The expected behaviour towards people belonging to any minorities, which the citation is about, still holds its own in the 21th century.
Marxist historiography wrote about Tisza as the supporter of minority oppression in the dualist Hungary: he allegedly supported the policy of forced assimilation by “not recognising historical necessity”, that is why he is to be blamed for the collapse of the land in 1918. His opponents - especially the internationalist Mihály Károlyi and Oszkár Jászi - tried to save what they could in 1918, it was however too late then. Our association cannot accept this historic standpoint as it is historically incorrect.
First and foremost, it must be cleared that Tisza and the National Party of Work were not considered the most nationalist characters in the Hungarian Parliament. It was rather the Independence Party and that of 48 that represented the loud nationalists. Those who would disagree with all these should have a look at the regional distribution of the election results of 1910: The majority of the National Party of Work was assured by the mandates gained in the areas where national minorities lived. It shows that they preferred Tisza and the Party of Work to the opposition which gained mandates on the Great Plain where only Hungarians lived. It can also be mentioned that Lex Apponyi, who was responsible for the offences committed against national minorities, was accepted by the opposition of Tisza in 1907. It is due to historiography that for long (and at times even today) Tisza and his party were mentioned as the symbol of national oppression, and his opposition was mentioned as the forces of fellowship in history books.
Anyway, Tisza considered the leaders of radical nationality movements as fighting minorities within their own nations. Today it is obvious that it was not they who broke up Hungary, though it is true that they did not aim to keep the land together either in 1918, when the neighbouring countries occupied the areas where the national minorities lived. Without the military collapse and the further consideration of great power interests based on the French model, the nationality movements alone would not been enough for a division like Trianon. It is incredible that whereas Tisza and his political environment were aware of the dangers of nationalities, how optimistic and dilettante the “progressive” forces gaining political power in the fall of 1918, were about the disastrous future. We really hope that as István Tisza has been exempted from the historic accusation of entering the First World War by historiography, it will clear his - absolutely not negative - role in the nationality question.
The land question
The political elite of dualism including István Tisza were often accused of increasing social and national tension by blocking the distribution of public lands, which led to the collapse in 1918.
We should however not forget that the sanctity of property and economic free trade - as a liberal principle - were not questioned at that time. Moreover, the political principle of distribution - which is popular today - was not accepted. It must be accepted that unfortunately, public lands were distributed in order to gain the votes of citizens in Hungary as well as in other countries in the 20th century. It is to be noted that land reforms which also connected to possessions were carried out only after serious crises and/or at least partial change of the elite in Hungary and elsewhere; consequently, land reform could not be expected from the mainly national liberal Hungarian political elite before 1914. It can be observed that even the Károlyi-government, which considered land distribution of fundamental importance, did not take this programme seriously. Left-wing intellectuals generally exempt the Károlyi-government from the accusation of land distribution sabotage when it is proved that the government did not have time for carrying out the land reform in 1918 as they failed so quickly. Furthermore, it is also to be mentioned that Mihály Károlyi himself distributed his valueless lands in Kápolna.
Tisza recognised that agreeing to land distribution in relatively stable political circumstances leeds to political instability. On top of that, when carrying out the process, it is the nationalities living on the perimeters that profit from land distribution, and the positive discrimination of Hungarian claimants for land could have had unforeseeable consequences. After Trianon, land distributors did not have to face this problem. So, when someone demands an account of István Tisza unwillingness to distribute lands (which we also consider inappropriate) at the turn of the century, the negligence did not have any significant political reality.
Moreover, left-wing intellectuals consider Tisza the protector of gentry and feudal class interests even today, although it was never his aim to lock the country into an economic and social quarantine, which would have saved this social layer from eventual doom. On the contrary, István Tisza, unlike many left- and right-wing politicians in the 20th century, supported agricultural and industrial modernisation and considered the improvement of the Hungarian economy as the only way for economic growth. Concerning this issue, he wrote as follows: “Is it the economic interest of our country to hinder the foundation of foreign enterprises? We want to create industry, and foreign capital is inevitably needed for this. Our own capital cannot even satisfy the investment needs of agriculture which is drastically improving in the field of intensive farming, and it is possible only in the far future that the Hungarian citizens spend the capital returns of the Hungarian economy in their land. What is the most important factor is that the industrial unit is founded, it manufactures, works and employs workers here.” At the turn of the century, cash investments bought land from traditional mediumsize-landowners (gentry) faster and faster; this way, this layer of society could have disappeared in a few decades and thus change of possession would have taken place on the basis of the English model.
Tisza and the Monarchy, Tisza and the world war
Both historiography and public opinion rank István Tisza among the group which accepted, what is more, supported the Compromise of 67. Generally, his left-wing critics justify his old-fashioned ideas by stating that Tisza hindered the - historically necessary - reform of the dualist Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. However, the public knows far less about Tisza’s motives.
István Tisza supported the functional principles and the institutional system of the Monarchy and did not oppose the reforms because he was a blind follower of the Habsburgs, or disregarded the independence of his nation, but because he, unlike his opposition, recognized that the survival and wholeness of historic Hungary depended on the European great power status of the Monarchy. Unfortunately, Tisza was justified by history as some months after his death historic Hungary disappeared, and the independent Hungary, which the independent politicians who hated Tisza dreamed of, turned out to become the broken land of Trianon. Being an adherent of realpolitik and the supporter of Széchényi and Deák, István Tisza predicted all this and wanted to save his nation and land from this disaster.
Tisza was aware that it was in the interest of the Russian Empire to weaken and break up the Monarchy and it would make it possible for Russians to dominate over the weak Central-European and Balkan successor states. The irony of history is that this vision could be realized only in 1945, after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution when Soviets occupied Central-Europe, but the root of the Soviet occupation lie in the destruction of the Monarchy, which caused a power vacuum in the region, and that it was surrendered to German and Russian power interests. It can also be stated that the political views of István Tisza and Winston Churchill, later British Prime Minister about the necessity of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy were completely the same.
By taking into consideration the Balkanic intrigues against the Monarchy (the Balkan states were supported by the Russian Empire), Tisza was against the world war. Tisza knew that Hungary would be unable to win a big war, at best it would receive new ethnic territories, but it could lose everything when fate was in the hand of the winners after a defeat. After the criminal attempt in Sarajevo, he did not want the obviously coming world war to break out because of Hungarian national interests. It is worth asking the question: which Hungarian statesman today would have the courage to say no to the Great Powers and would be able to block a coming world war for at least two weeks? The fact that a Hungarian politician was able to do this, shows the power of the Monarchy. Neither Hungary nor the region since then has been able to show such unity.
Tisza was convicted of the inevitability of entering the war when strategic analyses stated that the chance of the central powers, including Hungary, to win the war would be less and less possible because of Russia’s fast armament programme and Germany’s temporary technological advantage. This political analysis at the time, whivh is reflected in todays historical view, was imperfect on one important issue: at the beginning of the war, in 1914, the central powers were not able to win the war. Therefore, in our opinion, István Tisza could not be held responsible for it.
We believe that during the world war István Tisza was the only Hungarian politician who was never enthusiastic by the war and during the 4 years of the war - unlike his opposition - he was aware of the decisive character of the struggles concerning national aspects. He is not to be blamed that instead of governing, he had to face his assassinators in a crucial moment, and he had to die an undeserved death.
We consider Count István Tisza as a prominent statesman of our land and nation. He was such a figure who followed our greatest kings and politicians and represented his land and nation in a respectful way. Every Hungarian and European citizen who believes in freedom and democracy can be proud of Count István Tisza. He has symbolic fate as he was murdered exactly when a so called revolution wiped out all the remains of - the naturally not whole and perfect - constitutionality and democracy.
Unfortunately, the public opinion concerning Tisza is still what his opponents created in the past century. They are who think that Hungary in the Monarchy was an oppressed country in the status of a colony. Since the reign of King Matthias though, our land had never improved so fast, spectacularly, in such short period of time, in the fields of economy, politics and culture as during Tisza’s time. For us, Tisza embodies the palmy days of peace in Hungary. He was the one who intended to preserve his land’s achievements, and who protested against the world war (alone European politicians). Then, after two weeks of resistance, he gave in, and joined his soldiers in the trenches.
Furthermore, we also aim to make it clear that we do not consider Tisza to be an infallible person, politician. Like every other person, he had faults and made wrong decisions. Despite the wrong decisions made, it is still a fact that Tisza fought for his land and nation to his last breath. On top of that, he submitted himself to a martyr’s death for his faith and convictions. He did not rush away from Budapest even though he received warnings several times that soon there would be an attempt made on his life. He accepted responsibility for his decisions, wether good or bad, and he faced death with a clear conscience.
In the name of the chairmanship of the Tisza István Friends Society:
Dr. Zoltán Maruzsa chairman