Life-saving. (Borsszem Jankó 04.29. 1917.)

“How could they do this world war?” – Strengthening anti-war sentiments in the spring of 1917

Three lead articles of Az Est, published rapidly after each other, indicated that the change in the mood of the hinterland became tangible in the spring of 1917, which appeared in the press as well. These three statements are noticeable even if we know that Az Est was not a pro-government organ. However, during the ear, it was mostly disciplined to keep to the official line and did not fail to indicate to the authorities what merits the press had in preserving peace in the hinterland. However, all three lead articles in April 1917 wished for the end of war: even if they were far from open and “militant anti-war sentiments”, they were still the voice of people’s strong desire for peace. Below we will have a look at what developments have made it possible.

The first article, published on April 18-i was entitled A gonosz szellem (The evil spirit). This evil spirit did not symbolize a country of the Entente – the propaganda of central powers regularly mentioned England as the main culprit, the driving force behind the war and its financial beneficiary, but the spirit of killing. As the author phrased it, the power of this evil spirit started to fade away: “The human soul has started to get free from the bonds more and more, and with the slow return of consciousness, it can now see the size and futility of the sin more clearly.” So Az Est in fact declared that the war, which had been fought for three years, is not only a heavy sacrifice, but also a futile one. The author already anticipated the upcoming end of the war: “The blood shed and tears fallen made the ground marshy under the iron legs of war. The monstrous monster is moving harder, sinking into the swamp, until it submerges fully.”

The lead article of the next day was written in a similar spirit. The author greeted social democrats planning to negotiate for peace and compared them to diplomats who he blamed for the war. “Where are the diplomats who have made this war? How they have concealed it! We do not even remember their names any more. And where are their secrets that made them so wise and subtle? Are there any diplomatic secrets? Apart from the one how grown-ups could be so short-sighted and how they could make this world war?” Here war was already depicted as a horror to burden the masses, the machinations of the top leadership circles – which rhymed with the position of Népszava, which had been voiced for a longer time.

The next writing, published two days later, is the last piece of the “trilogy of anti-war lead articles”. This article was reasoned by the fact that the newspaper thought the 1000th day of the war arrived. (If we consider July 28, 1914 the first day of war, the thousandth day only arrived a day later, on 22 April.) The balance is clearly negative again, the war should not have been started: „Extreme honesty is required. During the thousand day, we have got older with a thousand years, and a thousand years younger – more barbaric. Had we known a thousand days before what we were about to start, no cannon would have been fired.”

This was published in the middle of April 1917: the fifth month of the reign of Charles IV, one and a half months after the Russian revolution, two weeks after the entry into war by the US, and two weeks before 1 May (which – indicating the extraordinary times – was celebrated by social democrats with a non-working day). In a period when international and Hungarian politics were uncertain and at the sharp end. This also favoured the formulation of brave, but at the same time cautious anti-war opinions. Examining the three articles of Az Est closer, we can find the most significant components of processes resulting in this new, complicated situation.

The first lead article highlighted the Russian aspect. Since the retreat of the evil spirit was resulted, in this framework, by the crippling tsarist Russia as an autocracy. This had such an elemental impact on the world, that it seemed that the obstacles to peace could be overcome: “at once,as if the soul had got out of the beast of war and stubbornness, bestiality and implacability ceased.” The news of the Russian revolution, which flooded the national press in March, caused serious panic in the Monarchy, including the leadership circles of the Hungarian government. There was a growing fear that the suffering, deprivation, losses, national tensions caused by the “thousand-day war” might lead to an outbreak here as well. In April, “political concentration”, i.e. setting up a large coalition government did not seem unimaginable either; the most probable candidate for head of government was Count Gyula Andrássy.

The lead article referenced England as the last evil spirit, which could still benefit from continuing the war. England, the global power of the era was regularly depicted as a paunchy capitalist, pulling its allies on strings, pushing them forward on the front and paying them instead of manfully rushing to fight itself. It now seemed that the implacable Nicholas II cannot be displayed as the enemy of equal strength. Miklós. At the beginning of 1917, the leadership of the Monarchy was not as dedicated either regarding warfare. Charles IV, who took the throne in November, expressed his intention to achieve peace as a king already in his manifesto published at the day of Francis Joseph’s death. In February-March 1917 – after the Germans just expanded the unlimited submarine warfare – Charles IV’s attempts for separate peace started, while he also sought to persuade its German ally that the Monarchy cannot continue the war. Though the topic of these negotiations only turned out a year later, the prospect of peace seemed closer in the spring of 1917.

The Russian revolution brought new light to the social democrats who joined the queue in 1914 – partly forced, partly persuaded with “powerful” arguments. The meeting of European social democrats in Stockholm, highlighted by the second lead article, appeared at the same time as a nightmare (peace reached over the heads of leadership of fighting countries, and the revolution  blowing it apart) and as a hope (accepted under pressure from the socialists, wished by everyone). The article focused on the latter when formulating the opposition of diplomats and social democrats as the opposition of war and peace advocates. Instead of the government of Entente countries, the paper sympathized with and put hope in labour leaders, like Lenin, Kropotkin, Brizon, Morgari. “Never before during the entire war such a serious attempt for peace came to light than the one now getting ready in Stockholm.” Or, as the same situation was described by the pro-government Borsszem Jankó in the imaginary conversation of two insurgents:

– „And what do you think, buddy, can anything be done by these socialists? Will there be peace?

– Well, I would say there was a huge twist in the faith of this world. Since it has turned out: those said to wish for peace made this goddamn war, while the ones who had never been in peace are running around to fix this broken world.”

Owing to the circumstances, this meeting also had a great publicity in Hungary – and now, to a certain extent, positive press coverage –, though finally the great European workers’ meeting failed to happen. Though the Dutch-Scandinavian preparatory committee was established in Stockholm, socialists of the Entente countries were waited for in vain: they did not receive visas from their governments.

Let’s also add some issues of internal politics as well: In the spring of 1917, István Tisza’s resignation rom the head of government position seemed a realistic alternative. Following the above international situation, the issue of expanding the right to vote came to light, which Tisza did not want and could not support. On May 13, 1917, Borsszem Jankó depicted Tisza at the bottom of a hillside, holding back the avalanche – representing the universal and secret suffrage with his back and hands. Two weeks alter, the same image showed that the fence, that had been broken through, buried István Tisza: the prime minister had submitted his resignation by then. The provision, or at least the promise for the right to vote seemed to be a result that supports blowing off the steam and supports the preservation of the stability of Hungary and the Monarchy.

The situation was similar regarding the control of the press too: the uncertainty influenced censorship as well – this also contributed to the birth of these three lead articles. In May-June, the cessation of censorship was also on the agenda. As a joke in Borsszem Jankó depicted the promises of the new prime minister:

„- My friend. Count Móric Esterházy is the greatest natural scientist in the world.
– I do not know him from this aspect.
– He wants to cease censorship. If he succeeds, in the future – a Nap /the Sun/ would not have any spots.”

Fiziker Róbert: IV. Károly békekísérletei (1916–1917) =, 1914.06.29.
A gonosz szellem = Az Est, 1917. április 18.
Mintha börtönök = Az Est, 1917. április 19.
Ma 1000 napos = Az Est, 1917. április 21.
Molnár Jenő: Lövészárok-párbeszéd a szocialistákról = Borsszem Jankó, 1917. április 29.
A fenomén = Borsszem Jankó, 1917. június 24.
A lavina = Borsszem Jankó, 1917. május 13.
A lavina = Borsszem Jankó, 1917. május 27.

Written by: Takács Róbert