National delirium

War propaganda in theaters[1]


In the whole of Europe, the summer of 1914 was about whether there would be a war or not. When it turned out that the weapons would go off, the society and political elite of every participating country were pervaded by enthusiasm for the war. All over Europe, even those social democrats that had previously been expressly against an armed conflict joined those who faithfully supported the war.

On July 28, 1914, 31 days after the assassination of heir presumptive Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy declared war on Serbia, and following this a stream of mutual declarations of war started between states and their partners belonging to various European alliances.

The August of 1914 was already about the war. Nobody suspected that this conflict would dominate Europe entirely and partially also the continents outside of Europe for four years. What is more, nobody could foresee how the series of events called the Great War at the time would reshape the world.

At the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, 1914 everyone was enthusiastic and national feeling was at its peak.

This was no different in Hungary, then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. The political elite unequivocally supported the war, even if certain representatives of it showed slight hesitation. The wider layers of society also approved of the war, and people thought that after a long period of peace it was time to remedy with arms the grievances endured and considered to be national.[2]

This pro-war atmosphere was discernible in art life as well. Rousing songs and cabaret songs were born, and theaters endeavored to take part in the strengthening of the commitment to the war; they tried to stage plays which they thought would match their audience’s needs.

Those theater plays which were written in this era were clearly meant to popularize the war, or to justify it without criticism. They aimed to further or strengthen emotional identification with the war. We can call all these plays instances of propaganda in the everyday sense of the word, since the playwrights’ aim with the pieces staged was not to give a subtle depiction of characters and present various interpretations, but to express commitment to the political aim, a heavily didactic meaning. The plays were written and staged for this reason.

Obviously, we could use another expression instead of “propaganda”. These plays contained creeds in favor of the war; therefore they can also be referred to as creed plays.

In Hungary, theater at the time was a form of entertainment which was available for a great number of people and which covered a wide social spectrum. The show bills attest that ticket prices moved in quite a wide range since one could buy tickets from the 0.40-crown gallery seat to the 15-crown box seat. Moreover, after the war broke out soldiers – of the rank sergeant and lower – received a 50% discount on theater tickets in every price category.

In order to get a better understanding of ticket prices, it is perhaps worthwhile to recall and compare the prices of some other products characteristic of the everyday life of the time. Let our source of these prices be a July 1914 advertisement of the food department of “Párisi Nagy Áruház”, a French-style department store in Budapest. Based on this: “35 fresh eggs cost 2 crowns, a half-a-kilo bowl of cottage cheese costs 1 crown, a 1-kg bottle of raspberry shrub 2 crowns, lump sugar 0.82 crowns per kg if a 5-kg carton is bought, 1 kg of wheatmeal flour 0.43 crowns, 1 kg of Christmas candies 1.50 crowns, 1 loaf of rye-bread (around 1.5 kg) 0.40 crowns, 1 kg of granulated sugar for preservation 0.80 crowns.”[3] Some other prices: for 0.40 crowns one could get a standing place at a soccer match, and for 1 crown a seat.[4] In the cheapest ticket category, one could choose between the soccer match and the theater show or – in a more expensive variant – between 35 eggs and a good seat in the theater.

We could also present additional prices but to cut a long story short: going to the theater was not a luxury, especially if one wanted a cheaper seat.

Thus, we could say that theater shows attracted a relatively large number of people, and, for this reason, it seemed worth drawing profit from war enthusiasm. Writing and staging plays was, thus, without exception a private business. Private companies – theaters – ordered plays from private individuals, that is, from playwrights. That is to say, plays were not written on the order of the state even though their content and meaning entirely coincided with contemporary state interests. They were meant to emotionally reinforce and strengthen the already existing enthusiasm. Thus, support for the war was not created by theater shows, but the other way around: theaters with their own tools expected to make financial profit as a result of emphasizing enthusiasm.

During the Great War, theaters staged a great number of plays which can be categorized as propaganda or creed plays.[5] It is also true that during the war years, the enthusiasm of the society gradually disappeared; therefore it was less and less lucrative to stage plays which overtly approved of the armed and bloody conflict. For this reason, theaters which had a vested financial interest attempted to create new audience groups capable of paying. This move was partially related to the fact that the authors could hardly come up with messages other than those of the canon developed at the beginning.[6]

In the present paper I will focus my attention on the roughly one-month period which marked the beginning of the history of theater propaganda supporting the war. More specifically, this means that I will investigate Hungarian theater programs from August to September, 1914. Those plays that I will attempt to survey in what follows were written in this period of little more than one month. I chose to discuss this time interval because it was then that the canon which was meant to assure emotional identification with the war was created. In other words, I will attempt to pinpoint the outbreak of Hungarian discourse in favor of the war.

I will consider five plays in the order of their production. Having taken a look at contemporary theater repertoires, at least two more plays could be classified as propaganda pieces.[7] They are not discussed in the paper, because their inclusion would not have added anything to the plays analyzed here from a content point of view.

My approach will not have an esthetic or theater historical dimension. I will exclusively focus on the reason why these plays were written and staged: what kind of content – overt messages – they were meant to convey to the audience; how they viewed the role of the war; how they perceived the Hungarian national quality as well as the Hungarian national goal and role.


“Franz Joseph sent a message…”

As for the genre of the play, it is a “spectacular theater piece from our times in six scenes”.

Árpád Pásztor’s[8] play was produced by the companies of Király (King)[9] and Magyar (Hungarian) Theaters on August 25, 1914[10], the day Japan declared war on the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. In certain scenes of the storyline, unanimous enthusiasm and self-abnegation, both characteristic of the era after the outbreak of the war, manifest themselves: a soldier of the 1848 Hungarian revolution miraculously becomes young again and gladly joins the young draftees. When the mobilization order is posted, the factory worker also decides to join the army, despite his critical views on the war. The woman for whose graces two young soldiers about to go to combat are competing is generous to both men. The scene in which two Hungarian army officers capture a Russian female spy and have her executed already shows the events of the war. The play also features the emperor when he announces the news of victory arriving from the battlefield to his people himself. A further scene exemplifies the heroic Hungarian resoluteness. It presents a Hungarian combat unit that beats off a Russian attack without the support of the German army. However, a Hungarian officer is mortally wounded in that action: his sweetheart who followed him from home nurses the heroic soldier who wishes the victory of Hungary with his last breath.[11]

The six-scene structure is as follows. Scene No. 1: A soldier of the 1848 revolution rejuvenates. Scene No. 2: A factory worker is enlisted. The soldiers’ oath. Scene No. 3: Foot-soldiers in love are going to combat. Scene No. 4: Having the Russian female spy shot dead. Scene No. 5: News of victory. Scene No. 6: The brave Hungarian soldier is becoming a martyr.

The audience is informed about the main ideological meaning already at the beginning of the play.

The first scene is set on a farm on the Segesvár (now Sighișoara, Romania) Plain. An old Hungarian soldier of the 1848 revolution, who, according to his account, is looking for “the traces of the horseshoe of General Uncle Bem’s horse and the murmur of the poet Petőfi’s word” on this plain, all of a sudden pays a visit to the Juhász couple living there. He says: “I wanted to see this land once again where Hungarian freedom was born”. During the conversation it is mentioned that “over there, in enormous Russia, a war is being prepared against us” and “rumor has it that the soul of the assassinated heir-presumptive regularly walks around at night to visit the rifles and the bayonets in the barracks”. It is also mentioned that “the bones of the old soldiers resting on the Segesvár Plain rise from the ground”. The old soldier of the 1848 revolution expresses his hopes that “then perhaps trumpets will nevertheless sound again, and Hungarians can be Hungarians again”. Then he starts a long monologue and while he is speaking he rejuvenates: “As if the seas, the mountains and the forests had started moving, as if armies were marching from houses in infinite lines. This world has become too narrow for people. Evil has set off to stomp on justice but we are going to stand in its way and we will either run over it or lose. My muscles are young again, I walk hardened… The coat is too tight… I need to take it off…My hair is black as a raven again. /He throws off his coat, underneath there is a field gray military coat, he rolls off his gray wig and beard with his hands./ Listen, just listen! /It grows dark. Mr and Mrs Juhász are looking at him frozen, without any word; there is a howling wind, carrying the well-known words of the song: “To your homeland be faithful steadfastly…/ In the dark, he picked up a trench cap from among the many things on the tulip-decorated wooden chest and put it on his head. He put on a belt, and took his weapon in his hand./ I feel as if I had been alive for a thousand years, as if I had crossed the Veretsky Pass with the conquering Árpád, as if I had banged on the gates of Constantinople with Botond… my flag had swayed in Italy with Louis the Great. /Light/ I had been Thököly’s liveried attendant, Rákóczi’s kurutz… Uncle Bem’s artilleryman and now Franz Joseph’s soldier… All fighting Hungarians are my brothers; all Hungarian parents are my parents. /To Mr Juhász/ Goodbye, father. From every cottage, from every tiled house, a man is setting off now… Now that we have to die for our country: we have become one. There are no noblemen, no peasants, no rich and no poor! There is only one thing: the homeland! All of us for her, and she for all of us…”

The war is fought for precious goals because Hungarian freedom is at stake. The Russians had already repressed Hungarian freedom in 1849, and for this reason the fight against them is a struggle for Hungarian freedom. The idea of Hungarian freedom is historicized: it runs from Árpád through the kurutz fighters to contemporary present. And as the 1848 revolution in former times, now Franz Joseph symbolizes Hungarian values. Obviously, in this Hungarian value system not only freedom matters. What national greatness and glory mean also counts – that is why the occupation of Italian territories by the Hungarian king Louis the Great could be part of the enumeration. The Hungarian value community reaches beyond everything, which is why there is no inner stratification; there are no noblemen, no peasants, no rich and no poor.

In the second scene which takes place in the street, the character of the factory worker belonging to the Social Democratic Party appears, also speaking in favor of the war. His wife asks him crying how they are going to make a living if the husband is going to the war?! The pro-war worker answers: “Don’t cry, my woman. We are living at a time when the homeland comes first, and family only comes after that, because if we lose our homeland now, we will lose family, work and freedom… everything! Every man needs to go to combat, and those who cannot will be helped by the ones staying at home.”

The wife is not easy to convince, and mentions that her husband had had quite a different opinion up until the end of July. She is angry with him and says: “Is this why you went to the trade union so many times? You kept chanting at home that a self-conscious factory worker wouldn’t go to war.” She receives a witty response immediately, while the song starting with “Up, up, warriors, let’s go to war” is beginning to play: “I’m definitely not going to a war which is fought for robbery or for money. But to a war which is fought for freedom, against murderers and tyrants, all of us must go!”

Several people join in the conversation in the street. An infantry officer exclaims: “Forward to Belgrade!” An artillery officer says: “Forward to Saint Petersburg!” After a short introduction, a hussar officer says laconically, not even trying to hide his intent to rape: “My twanging spur resounds, I’m drinking red wine today, the French dame will scream as I embrace her! Forward to Paris!” A sailor and the crowd unanimously exclaim: “Forward to London!”

The infantry officer sums up the situation: “Wherever we go, to the north, to the south, to the west, to the east, (he takes out a small silk flag with national colors from under his coat) this sign shall shine before us everywhere.”

The Social Democrat worker who had changed his opinion senses the situation from a historical point of view. He says to his son: “When you grow up, son, you will be the citizen of a happy, free, great Hungary, and then you will hear wonderful stories about a song, which, on the first birthday of freedom, began like this: Lajos Kossuth… and on the second birthday of freedom became: ‘Franz Joseph sent a message…’”

As we can see, the case of Hungarian freedom demands the defeat of the Serbs, the Russians, the French and the British, and – without any doubt – it seems that Hungarians are capable of defeating all of them. The Hungary of the future will be free and great at the same time. Lajos Kossuth who fought against Franz Joseph, and finally also Franz Joseph himself become parts of a unified line of history. They are the founders of Hungarian greatness and glory.

During the plot, quite a number of songs make the message more colorful. These songs are mainly about the dedication which – according to the playwright – characterizes the Hungarian people and the Hungarian soldier. He says: “I will cut that damn Rascian (Serb)!” But he also says other things: “The reservist will not stop until he drinks all the blood of the Russians!” Others are criticized as well: “Long live the Hungarians and the Germans, damn the French and the English!” A parable about soccer imported from England which was becoming more and more popular in Hungary by this time, and which was adapted to the given situation also seeps in: “The whole of Europe is a gigantic soccer field; Results: 10 nil for Hungarians; Yuck, English game, this is how it is; This is the war, Das ist der Krieg.”

Apart from emphasizing the image of the external enemy, in accordance with the idea of national unity and national co-operation, the songs are also about there being no more internal political conflict; about our having become unified with the government and the other half of the empire. This is how the lyrics goes:

“So far it’s been ‘Down with Count Tisza’,

down with the liquor tax,

down with everything that’s black and yellow,

down with the government reps.

/While today/

‘Long live Count Tisza’, this is sung by the country,

‘Long live the defense force, long live the Austrians’,

What a miracle, this is how it is,

This is the war, das ist der Krieg.”

It seems then that the war is such a unifying national enterprise that it overwrites all internal social and political conflicts as well as antagonisms between different parts of the empire.

The message of the play is made emphatic in a way that a Russian female spy is caught in scene No. 4, who claims that she is Evelin Nachrowszka, the daughter of a Polish-Hungarian couple. Yet, it turns out that she is, in fact, the daughter of a Serbian primary school teacher and her name is Mari Stefánovics. Evidence is found at her place that she has been spying for the Russians; therefore she is executed promptly without a court-martial procedure. These actions reflect the lyrics saying that both Rascians (Serbs) and Russians are mortal enemies, whose only proper punishment can be the death penalty.

The last part of the play is about the situation that can be said to be unusual, because it features the 84-year-old Franz Joseph in the uniform of a reservist officer in 1914 as he is walking to and fro among soldiers at night. This generates very warm emotions in the soldiers talking to each other. They even start singing about this: “Franz Joseph cannot dance anymore, he is two old and his legs aren’t fit for that anymore. Never mind! If he is unable to dance, we will make the Rascians dance also on behalf of him.”

In the meantime, there are ongoing military actions, and one of the soldiers gets mortally wounded. His last words, also serving as the final accords of the play, depict the future in an optimistic way: “Even out of this war, out of this bloodshed a new life is born…  our shed blood will water the hills and the plains, and we will all bathe in this sacred river and we will be united in the only and eternal faith in the love of our homeland, and Hungarians will be great… Peoples will get together across borders; no people will hate the other; they will respect one another, and none of the peoples will ever be servants of another… Hungarians will be strong, independent, enlightened… and remain only Hungarians. /The first tacts of the music of the national anthem begin to play/. God bless you! Farewell to arms! Fruitful peace, your kingdom come! God, bless the Hungarians! /The Hungarian national anthem/”

With the music and words of the Hungarian anthem, the unambiguous approval of the war is wrapped with national sacrality. The war is thus becoming a Hungarian cause worthy enough to die for.


“All of us must go”

As for the genre of the play[12], it is: “an occasional theater piece in 6 scenes”.

The premiere of the play written by Gyula Hegedűs[13] and Jenő Faragó[14] was on September 1, 1914 in Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest)[15]. Incidentally, the French government moved to Bordeaux the following day, as Paris became endangered by the attack of the Germans. “The authors’ aim is to strengthen national sentiments,” the reviewer of the theater performance wrote in the journal Magyar Színpad (The Hungarian Stage).[16] The storyline propagates the joining of national forces and obviously ends with the glorious victory of the Central Powers. This play also features a man who is a Socialist in spirit, and who nevertheless becomes convinced that he needs to be enlisted for the sake of his homeland. On the Russian front Hungarian soldiers encounter the insidious activities of a spying orthodox priest, and then they meet Jews that welcome them as their liberators from tsarist tyranny. The plot would not be complete without the figure of a self-sacrificing Hungarian woman, who in this case is an acrobat choosing death instead of entertaining the Russians.

The scenes are as follows: Scene No. 1: The Socialist is enlisted. Scene No. 2: The spying orthodox priest. Scene No. 3: The Hungarian “liberators”. Scene No. 4: The Hungarian acrobat woman who is becoming a martyr. Scene No. 5: The disappointed French general. Scene No. 6: Victory and peace.

The theater piece propagates the war in a highly committed manner. The characters claim right at the beginning of the play: “Our house was set on fire…”, and they name the perpetrators right away: “…by the Rascians (Serbs) and the Russians”; therefore all of us must go to war. This expression is related to the 1848 Hungarian revolution, or, more specifically, to its emblematic song, the so-called “Kossuth Song”, according to which Lajos Kossuth has sent a message saying that “All of us must go…”.

This is again a strong manifestation of the emotional and political parallel between the events of 1848 and those of 1914.  Not only men, but also women are happy about the war. When a girl named Erzsi (Ellie) is asked by her father if she is happy about the war, she answers as follows: “If I am happy about it? About the war against the Serbs, against the murderers?! Against those villains?! If I am happy about it? Daddy, I am just an ignorant girl, I don’t know anything except that three orphans are crying all by themselves in a deserted castle somewhere far away…”

Out of her deep loyalty felt for the dynastic family, Erzsi refers to the three children of the assassinated Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek. Then she summarizes her message in the following way: “So death to all!” (that is, all the murderers).

The war, at least according to the theater piece, is generally approved. Manó Reich, a Jewish grocery store owner, appears on stage, and claims that he must also go to war. His words attest his heartfelt patriotism. He also points out that, as a Jewish person, he can become a genuine member of the Hungarian nation in this way: “Starting today, I am truly accepted”. He also talks about the mood of the rest of his family: “Both my wife and children were amazed. But when I explained the situation to them, that the homeland, our dear homeland was in danger, and all were called to arms by the king, our dear old king, they began to cry and laugh, and they encouraged me to go… Little Moritz started singing ‘Up, up, warriors, let’s go to war’.”

The fact that Mr. Reich asks a Christian acquaintance to take care of his saved assets is a sign of capital of confidence due to assimilation.

As a typical figure of Hungarian public life of the time, a Socialist-spirited man named Ernő (Ernest) appears. He listens to all the pathetic speeches about Hungarian honor and the Hungarian homeland, and then he comments on them as follows: “Honor! Homeland! Treasure! Phrases without reason. The poverty and suffering that the war brings will make you sober. If we lose our best people, will it help our homeland? If everything gets ruined that we had built for decades, will it help our homeland? If death touches every house, if mourning becomes infinite, will honor be restored?”

Ernő states: “It is my duty to be human. And humans must not take up arms against fellow humans. The homeland cannot expect that from me!” Ernő’s words cause great indignation among his family members. He eventually changes his opinion due to the influence of a woman (Erzsi, who has been referred to above). All of a sudden he tears the red ribbon off his clothes, and pins a sign with the national colors in its place. The Socialist who has already found the right path claims: “I have found my heart!”

After the Socialist who came under the spell of the national cause, in other words, who became a supporter of the war, the potential internal enemy, that is, the Serbian orthodox Christian priest appears. He does not want to drink to the destruction of Serbia with the Hungarian soldiers, because he thinks that Hungarian soldiers are “the Devil’s demons and our mortal enemies”. Therefore he scolds his daughter, Lyubitsa for making friends with the Hungarian soldiers of the Monarchy. Incidentally, Lyubitsa disagrees with his father and declares her commitment to the Hungarian nation in her confession: “I am not Rascian (Serbian). Why would I be? Because we live in the borderland? I am Hungarian!” Then she turns to the Hungarian soldier and makes her motivation clear: “And if I had not been Hungarian anyway, I would have turned Hungarian because of you!” Following this, the Hungarian soldier obviously puts his arms around her.

The conflict between Lyubitsa and her father becomes more intense. Lyubitsa says to him: “The sky above their heads and ours is the same after all; we drink their water and eat their bread. They are kin to us.” Her father retorts: “Shut up soon! They eat our bread. They eat it away from us! Not a drop of blood of theirs is common with our blood. I utterly hate them! Death to all!”

It turns out that the orthodox priest has been spying for Serbia, so he is shot dead. Lyubitsa bursts out crying and leans her head on her dead father’s chest. Demonstrating that her commitment to the Hungarian nation overrides ties of blood, she comments on the assassination of her father in this way: “Righteous God!”

A separate scene is devoted in the play to those Jews who live under Russian rule. They heavily dislike the Romanovs, and are looking forward to the arrival of Hungarian soldiers as that of their liberators. They arrive, indeed, and say: “Come out to the sun, to the light; now the sun is becoming brighter also for you! Come, this is the day of the liberation!” Mr. Reich is among the liberators and he has a discussion with his coreligionists. They ask him: “How are you there in beautiful Hungary?” Reich answers: “We are fine, thanks, with our good old king.” As a consequence of their liberation by the Hungarians, the Jews are happy.

The conflict with the Russians continues. The Russians capture some women; more specifically, acrobat girls, one is which is Hungarian. The Russians try to persuade her to sing and dance to them, but Kató (Kate, for this is her name) gets into conflict with them because of this. Eventually, she picks up a national tricolor flag from the ground, which has been left there by a killed Hungarian soldier; then she spills the drink that was offered to her into the face of the Russian officer, and cries out: “Hungarians! Where are you? Come here! Kill every one of them! I want to see their blood!”

The Russians shoot Kató, but Hungarian soldiers arrive immediately, and chase the Russians away. Kató already addresses the Hungarian soldiers in her last words: “I am dying. But, Mr. 2nd Lieutenant, please allow me one last request. I have been to many infamous taverns in several countries and towns. Believe me; I was like a whipped dog, stained and dirty. But now I feel… that this blood purifies me of all the stains and dirt, so that I can rest in peace beside my mother at last. Mr. 2nd Lieutenant, please be so kind to promise that you will take me home to Hungary once I die. (She collapses and dies.)”

A death suffered for the national cause morally justifies all deeds of one’s life prior to that, no matter if this happens backwards.

The theater piece also includes a part that praises the Germans, who are allied with the Hungarians, or more precisely, the Monarchy. This is taken care of in a way that a scene about an old French general is incorporated into the play. The old French general thinks that now it is time to take revenge for the French defeat suffered in the Franco-Prussian War, and the French army can annihilate the German military forces. The people in the environment of the old man tell him such pieces of pseudo news that strengthen this idea of his. The situation depicted as real in the play is that the Germans have beaten the French to sticks, they are in Paris already, and the French are asking for a ceasefire. As for how the British are doing, their position is described in the play as follows: “They have been arrested.” The general does not know anything about the tragedy of the French. He steps to the window of his apartment in Paris wearing a festive suit and notices the German soldiers marching into the city. He immediately clutches his chest and collapses.

The play also foresees circumstances 50 years ahead of time. The final scene takes place in 1964. It is meant to present the long-term consequences of the war for Europe. The authors describe the stage in this way: “This scene is the apotheosis of the 1914 events. It takes place on August 18 (the birthday of Franz Joseph – AG) in the National Museum in Budapest. The stage shows a special room of the museum. The walls are decorated with flags and military badges. The flags were all seized from the Russians, the Serbians and the Japanese by the troops of the Monarchy in 1914. There are two glass display cabinets in the middle of the room. One displays the Serbian crown; the other shows the crown and the scepter of the Russian tsar. Their beds and other belongings are placed against the middle wall surrounded by a green laurel wreath with the digits of the year 1914. There is an armchair in the foreground on the left for the guard. There are double doors both to the right and to the left of the stage. On the wall facing the audience the portraits of emperors Franz Joseph I and Wilhelm II can be seen.”

The visitors of the museum are talking to each other on the stage. Noticing the crown of the tsar a woman asks: “And has Russia been a republic since then?” Her husband replies: “Yes, it has. The happiest republic. We Hungarians have liberated Poles, Jews and the people of Bessarabia…” The woman carries on talking: “Oh, yes, I have learned in the upper girls’ school that having occupied their country, we dictated the peace terms to them in Warsaw. And the Russian people chased the Romanovs away.”

They also talk about the weapons displayed in the room. A woman mentions that her grandfather also has a rifle at home. Her husband replies: “That’s rare! Nobody has rifles anymore. What would they be used for?” Then the woman continues the conversation as follows: “But when grandfather was a young man, the world was different. Everybody was enlisted; all men went to war and killed other people by swords, rifles and cannons.” The man responds in this way: “Isn’t it better today then? There are no wars anymore. We live in peace and abundance instead. We only know the army from old photographs, we do not pay tax, and our sons are not taken away…”

The characters of the 1914 play also appear in the scene, now turned old. They recall the old times nostalgically: “Every day brought a triumph. The Germans chopped the French as if they had been carrots: Liège, Namur, Brussels, Paris!” Upon hearing this sentence, their grandson, who is also present, immediately joins in and asks: “Did Paris belong to the French then?” The answer is as follows: “Yes, a long time ago, but Wilhelm of Hohenzollern took it away from them.”

The stage goes dark, and then only the portraits of the two emperors remain light, in shining brightness. The portraits of the emperors come to life, and they start to talk. Emperor Wilhelm says to Franz Joseph: “Look at that! Hungarians are happy! This is your achievement.” Franz Joseph replies immediately: “And the world is happy too, my true friend, because that is what you have wished for.” And then music is played in the end; more specifically, according to the stage directions: “Two lines from the German anthem, two lines from the Emperor’s Hymn and finally the Rákóczi March.”

According to the play, the victory of the Central Powers including Hungary has completely transformed Europe, and the triumph of Hungarians is apparent also on the level of global politics. This vision attaches a historical perspective to the topical (1914) time frame in order to convince the audience that the given war is the last war, and it is for this reason, among others, that it is worth participating in it enthusiastically.

For the sake of historical precision, it is worth noting that Hungary was a country occupied by the Soviet Union in 1964, as there was a second war after the first one, in which Hungary again happened to stand on the side of the defeated. In the National Museum in Budapest in 1964 not only the Serbian and the Russian crowns could not be seen. The Hungarian crown was not on display there, either, since at that time it was held in Fort Knox in the United States of America.

Yet, this image of the future would have had no credibility at all in 1914. The vision performed on the stage of Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest) seemed much easier for the audience to believe.


“From Warsaw to the Adriatic Sea”

As for the genre of the play[17], it is a romantic comedy.[18] It was written by László Márkus.[19]

Staged jointly by the companies of Király (King) and Magyar (Hungarian) Theaters, the play was first performed on September 15, 1914. The central theme of this occasional theater piece is the heroic effort made by the Hungarian troops to rescue Polish people languishing in Russian prisons. For a young Pole with an awakening patriotism the courage of the Hungarians serves as an example to follow: our soldiers liberate the imprisoned Polish soldiers, who then attain independence for their country. The storyline would not be complete without the figure of a Hungarian hussar captain in love who saves his sweetheart from the Russian officer abducting her.

The structure of the theater piece is as follows.

Scene No. 1: Poland is not lost, yet: the Polish and Ukrainian political prisoners of Russian prisons are waiting for the Hungarians to liberate them. Scene No. 2: At a Polish estate: the approaching Hungarian troops are to put an end to the Russian tyranny. Scene No. 3: The sea answers: the young Pole with an awakening patriotism. Scene No. 4: The Hungarians are coming: the heroic Hungarian hussar captain. Scene No. 5: Orzel Polski! (The Polish eagle): the Hungarians set the prisoners free. Scene No. 6: Poland is free! The hussar captain’s lover is released.

Based on its title, the play sets the Hungarian propaganda of the Great War in a Central European dimension. As the plot progresses, it turns out that there are intertwining Hungarian family relations across the region. The Polish-Hungarian friendship, which was historically regarded as traditional already back in 1914, has a special significance in the play.

The Polish prison life illustrated in the first scene gives us an insight into the assumed political atmosphere of the Polish territories held under Russian control. We hear the Polish officer unjustly accused by the authorities speak, just like the Jew interned here or the prisoner representing a godless nihilist view. They are all anti-Russian men waiting to be liberated.

The nihilist says: “There is a law for villains. The law is the tsar.” He thinks the tsar must be killed. One of the Poles makes the following self-confession: “There is something out there. I can hear it with my soul; I can hear the sound of freedom through the walls. I was deported from the pulpit, because I was praying for Poland, and at that time I could also hear God coming from far away to help us.” The Jew says: “I used to believe in God. I observed the Sabbath. I helped the poor. And my mother was killed. And my store was robbed. And I was locked up in here. And God was not there with me.” The unjustly accused Polish officer called Casimir also introduces himself: “I used to be an officer. I am Polish, and there has been something fermenting in diplomacy for quite a long time. They do not trust Poles, and they are right. When the storm breaks out, the Polish will wake up, and so will I. I was commanded to leave my troop. I was brought here to this rotten depot, next to the border, but my soldiers will never forget me.”

They all have a reason to wait for their liberation.

Casimir uses the following words: “And we will be outside. And they will be coming from the south and they will be coming from the west. Free and happy brothers! Hungarian brothers, German brothers! Strong ones. They will be coming from the south, and the dawn will thrill through the Polish land. Can you see the dawn? It is coming, and it will light fires on the Polish land. The graves will open, and the old Poles, the good old lords will come from beneath the ground and down from the skies!”

But it’s not only the prisoners who have hopes, but also those who are outside the prison. Ida, a lady living on a Polish estate is playing the Kossuth Song on the piano, and expresses her hope that “The Hungarians will move off”. The old Pole listening to her is skeptical and states that “The Hungarians forgot about us long ago.” Ida doubts this. She thinks that if the Hungarians arrive the “prisons will open”. A Cossack man coming round the estate and speaking a rather strange language mocks the Hungarians: “There might be some kind of a small war. I admit that they have mobilized against the Serbs. Oh, yes, the Serbs broke into Hungary and caught the whole bunch of Hungarians on the hop. Now they are being pushed upwards.”

People are talking about the Hungarians also on the Dalmatian coast, where a man called Bánhidai is trying to convince a lady named Blanka (Blanche) as follows: “Believe me, Blanka, the entire warrior heritage of our Hungarian ancestors come to life in us. That gunfire in the south sounds like gypsy music…”

In the small Polish town on the border introduced at the beginning of the theater piece an interesting conversation is going on between a Hungarian hussar and a Cossack man. In fact, the Hungarian hussar is an ethnic Slovak from Hungary or a Slovak Hungarian (called “tót” in the Hungarian language of the time). The conversation goes like this:

“Cossack: Hey, you, Slovak Hungarian!

Slovak Hungarian: What do you want, Cossack?

Cossack: Is it true that the Hungarian hussar has a dog’s head?

Slovak Hungarian: That’s your mother’s! I am a hussar, too.

Cossack: What the hell!”

And this curious conversation goes on. The Slovak Hungarian asks what the Russians want to do with them. The Cossack says that since they are subordinates of another ethnicity, they are probably going to be interned. The Slovak Hungarian asks what that means. The Cossack says hell knows, but they will surely be whipped. The Slovak Hungarian answers with that typical Hungarian bravado: “I’ll tell you who’s going to be whipped, you Cossack bastard! Hit me once and I’ll never be able to put your pieces together again, although I can fix anything.” Now the Slovak Hungarian turns to the ethnic Romanian (also from Hungary) in their company, whose contemporary Hungarian name was “oláh” (Wallachian), and tells him that the Russian wants to whip him, so the Russian cannot be the Romanian Hungarian’s friend. The Romanian Hungarian immediately stands away from the Russian and says that the Russian is Beelzebub’s friend, not his. To further increase this diversity, the Jew, who is listening to the conversation, asks the Slovak Hungarian: “Are you Hungarian?” And the Slovak Hungarian replies: “I was a Slovak Hungarian when I came here, but since I found my relative (according to pan-Slavic views, the Slavs belong together, so the Slovaks and the Russians are relatives – AG), I am a Hungarian.” The Jew is happy to hear this, because for him Hungarians equal liberators.

This small surreal piece of conversation shows that Hungarians are able to turn even Slovaks into Hungarians, and can also make Romanians take sides with them. As for the Jews, given their situation they can only be the friends of the Hungarians.

Hearing the news of the approaching Hungarian troops the Romanian Hungarian and the Slovak Hungarian decide to capture a Cossack together for the Hungarians. As the Romanian Hungarian puts it: “Let’s catch a Cossack for our Hungarian brothers!”

While marching in, the Hungarian soldiers announce: “Wherever the Hungarians arrive, the prisons will open.” They call upon the prisoners: “Poles, the chain is off. Now it’s your turn to take a sword in your free hands. Stop praying! You must fight!” And this is what actually happens: the prison opens, and Casimir, the unjustly accused Polish officer expresses his commitment to the Hungarians.

The last part of the play is almost like a celebration. The Slovak Hungarian sings: “Tsar Nicholas scratches his ear in a funk, we beat them up from the Vistula to the Bug; It is true, you must believe it, no matter what you think, He’s so wretched that even with the Jews he wants to have a bruderschaft drink.”

The Cossack, having made friends with the Slovak Hungarian soldier, also seems to be willing to become Hungarian. Although up to now he has called himself Fedor, which is a Slavic given name, his friend, the Slovak Hungarian soldier renames him and calls him Fodor, which is a Hungarian surname.

The Austrian captain marching in along with the Hungarian soldiers is also enthusiastic: “You, Hungarians, are great fellows! From now on I won’t care if people talk about rebellious Hungarians. We Austrians thought you hated us! But it’s not true. We have found each other at last. We will never be strangers any more.” After this statement, which may as well be interpreted as being homoerotic, the conflict between Austrians and Hungarians prevailing in the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy seems to be dissolved.

But the war has not come to an end yet, therefore, in the final sentences of the play the words of unbroken optimism are spoken out: “And we shall win! We are facing a huge mass of extremely hard enemies, and blood is flowing everywhere. Perhaps it will be difficult, perhaps we’ll have bad luck, and the glorious attacks will be brought to a halt for a moment. Perhaps we’ll have bad luck, but we cannot be defeated. The prayer of all enslaved peoples helps, and God is here with us. You may hear bad news about us, but we’ll jump up and off we go again! The Hungarians must win, and we shall win!”

The nihilist, who has been an atheist up to that point, says the closing sentence:  “Now I know that God exists!”

And after the Hungarians won, they liberated the Poles and the Jews; the Slovak Hungarian and the Cossack turned into Hungarians, the Romanian became the Hungarians’ friend, and the godless nihilist started to believe in God. To close the final scene, they all sing the National Anthem.

On the basis of the play, Hungarians seem to be more than mere winners of the war: they are saviors.

One day after the premiere, the Russian army enclosed Przemyśl, the main pillar of Galicia’s defense.


“Those who stayed at home”

As for the genre of the play written in rhymed prose, it is: “an occasional theater piece in one act”.

Jenő Heltai’s[20] play[21] was first staged on September 19, 1914 in Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest)[22] – one day before the Monarchy’s second offensive against Serbia. The short play presents the life of a family in which the elderly and female relatives who stayed at home are praying for the safety of the conscripted family members and the successful outcome of the war.

The play is set in the interior of a petty bourgeois home, during a summer night. This is where the grandfather, the young wife, the young girl and a little a boy sit together. It is their conversation that we can hear in the play. The speakers observe that soldiers are marching in the street to the sounds of martial music. They express their pleasure at the fact that they consider the music to be a beautiful Hungarian melody. The young wife waves at the soldiers with her handkerchief through the window and states: “Sadness is nowhere to be seen, they are brave, strong, proud and happy. Their brown-red faces shine with cheerfulness, and one of them is holding a flag.” The young girl reinforces the message: “One of them is singing, a bouquet on the rifle, a cockade on the cap; he is going to combat as if he was going to a ball.”

The idyllic scene is slightly disturbed by the young wife’s announcement that her husband is also a soldier, and the young girl adds that so is her fiancé. The little boy expresses his desire to become a soldier like his father. The grandfather says that he is also involved in the war through his family because his three sons are all soldiers. He expresses his regret that he cannot serve in the army due to his age but states resolutely: “Forward, forward!”

The grandfather says to the child consolingly that “he will surely have the opportunity to draw out his sword for the homeland”; as opposed to him who is “shackled by old age”.

The young wife places the emphasis elsewhere: “Calm down, my dear! Let us take with good heart what fate had bestowed on us. We are all fighting for the homeland. The strong with a sword, the weak with compassion; blood and tears soak the sacred land of our homeland, both of which are equally beneficial dew; the land on which they fall cannot remain barren. Oh, how I wish to march with a flying flag, with cheerful boys, with happy music. It is easy to go to combat with an easy heart, to fight the vicious enemy merrily, and to forget everything in the elation of battles. It is difficult to shiver at home with a heavy heart, to cry and to worry, to wait and to love, and to forget nothing at a sleepless night.” The child responds to this at once: “I am not scared either for my father or for Hungary; we will win against no matter how many, even if we are alone against the whole world. Intrigue, betrayal and villainy are in vain, daddy told me that ours is the truth. And if daddy said this, it has to be so, surely, nobody will run over us.”

The young girl whose fiancé had gone away with the army shares the child’s opinion but expresses her doubts as to whether her fiancé will return from the war. If he does not come back, she will be left here with “unkissed lips”, which she considers to be a problem.

The grandfather also reinforces the optimism when he says: “We must not give up hope. Trust, and be brave. Buda is standing; Hungarians are alive, and so is Hungary.”

After this, they pray to God together and everyone says what they wish for. They would like God to help the country, to lessen the suffering and pain; and to give hope and trust to those who are losing hope; to give bread and water, and to grant blessing instead of squalor, and quick reunion with their loved ones. Finally, they finish together like this: “God, whose name is blessed forever, give us a new, strong Hungary!”

Heltai takes a path that differs from the one that the authors have taken before him. He presents the war from the point of view of those who stayed at home, and tries to make the viewer perceive its human side. He wishes for the country’s victory just as much as the other authors, but he does not encourage bloodshed, he does not wish for the enemy’s death, and, most importantly, he does not feature any soldiers in his short play. His writing is obviously propagandistic but he is pro-war in a way that allows him to be pro-human at the same time. He represents the concern and dedication of the hinterland, but he does not claim that Hungarians are more or better than those who belong to other nations.

This is propaganda of the type that is not warmongering; more patriotic than nationalistic.


“War is a big thing”

As for the genre of the piece[23], it is a “musical play in four scenes”. It was written by Géza Vágó.[24]

The play was first staged on September 27, 1914 in the Király (King) Theater.[25] In the theater piece, the young soldiers who are going to combat from the village undertake the struggles on the frontline with the aim of acquiring a Russian flag there and taking it home, and this way winning the graces of the local innkeeper’s daughter. To everyone’s greatest surprise, from among the combatants, a Jewish boy who joined the army with a ruse becomes victorious, and then, after giving evidence of his bravery, is allowed to marry the innkeeper’s daughter.[26]

The structure of the play is as follows: Scene No. 1: The cowardly lad; Scene No. 2: The saviors; Scene No. 3: Misó is becoming an angel; Scene No. 4: Dawn.

The play begins with a song which reflects the entire ideological message. The scene is set in an inn, where those present are dancing a czardas, to the following lyrics:

“Hungarian foot-soldiers are going to Belgrade;

Dark clouds are flying towards Belgrade,

Bloody rain is streaming from the clouds,

Franz Joseph is angry with the Serbs.


Hungarian foot-soldiers are at the border,

Forests of bayonets are standing at the border,

The Hungarian foot-soldier’s bullet doesn’t miss the target,

He chases the Serbs into the river.


We are sending a message to the great Russian tsar

that they will come off badly with us.

Because Hungarians are not afraid of anyone,

They have no reason to fear anyone, except God.”

Among the merrymakers, the heated men talk in this way: “I am in such a bad mood, I feel like cutting some Russian or Rascian (Serb)”, “…that Russian will find out that it is not a good idea to taunt the boys from Somogy County”. They start singing again:

“Our flag is a tricolor,

It is unparalleled,

We’ll tie King Peter on it,

as a ribbon of victory.”[27]

The characters express their hope that the war will not last long: “First, we will tidy up among the Rascians (Serbs), then we will beat the Russians, … then it will end soon enough.”

The memory of the 1848 revolution comes up in the inn, and one of the elderly speakers says that practically everything is the same as it once was: “… everything is exactly the same as it was long ago, at that time. Only the uniform changed but your souls are exactly like mine was. Then it was said also only once that we had to go, and all of us went, indeed. Then our father Kossuth sent a message, and now Franz Joseph – the father of every one of us.”

Then Simi (Simon), the Jewish boy from the village appears, who has not been allowed to join the army because he is scraggy and chicken-breasted. The others consider him to be cowardly but he objects, and decides to join the army at all costs. Since he is secretly in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, he is further motivated by the fact that he might win Rozi’s (Rosie’s) love with a captured Russian flag.

Simi is finally allowed to join the army. His lieutenant gives him a speech: “The real, the new redemption will come now. The prisoners’ chains will be broken, and the victorious trombone of freedom will sound triumphantly all over the world. The blood, the innocent people’s blood which will strew blood-roses all over the battlefields in this terrible victory, will be unified with the blood of the crucified Savior as an eternal insignia of a true, happy and peaceful life!” As a result of this, Simi immediately gives his address to the lady who is in the company of the lieutenant: “Excuse me, miss! I forgot to tell you our address; in case you want to write to us, my address is this: Simi Fröhlich, Saint Petersburg, poste-restante!”

In the following scene, the men are already seen on the frontline. Here, they enter into combat with the Russians, and while some of the village boys die, Simi captures a Russian flag. The lieutenant comments on the death of the Hungarian soldier in this way: “The horror of war – the purity of the future.” He then proceeds to cover the dead body with a national tricolor flag.

In the next scene, which takes place in the inn of the village again, the locals analyze the situation in detail and in a song. From the point of view of internal politics, their analysis is absolutely unambiguous. They bravely and unanimously express their commitment to the contemporary prime minister and his system:

“So far we have chided greatly
The tax penalty,

We have said many times
‘Down with Count István Tisza’,

But we’ve found out since
That it might be smarter

To shout with one heart:

‘Long live István Tisza!’”

The Serbian political elite receive crushing criticism:

“George is the prince of the Serbs,

He has gone off to combat,

A Hungarian bullet
Hit him at once.

Georgie comes from
A family of pig herders,

Nothing will remain of him

But a blood sausage!”

However, not only the Serbian elite but also the Serbian folk becomes the subject of criticism:

“The fierce Rascian fared

Badly at Mitrovicza,

A Slovak Hungarian foot-soldier cut off
The Rascian’s hand.

‘Why did you cut off his hand?’,

Answer this, Slovak Hungarian,

‘What should I have done if by then

He had no head!’”

The Hungarian pride and the Hungarian power, which is considered to be overwhelming, encourage the people singing in the inn to make value judgments on international politics as well:

“I wouldn’t exchange my clothes
For the English fleet,

People are desperate
In London.

It doesn’t matter if we call the islanders
British or English,

Their ships wander
Crying on the sea!


The French army
Cannot prepare,

Because French mothers
Don’t like giving birth.

Yet, we can look at
Our army proudly,

Because Hungarian maidens

Incessantly breed.”

It seems that the British fleet cannot navigate on the oceans, and the French suffer from a demographic deficit, as opposed to the Hungarians who obviously beat them as regards population, or, more specifically, their reproductive abilities.

Simi returns to his village with the captured Russian flag, and thus may marry Rozi. However, unfortunately, he must return to the war, which will surely end with the victory of the Hungarian weapons. Simi’s lieutenant, along with Simi, assures the inhabitants of the village and the viewers of the play about this: “Boys, we’re going! Bravely, cheerfully ahead! Off to new battles! Off to new victories! We cannot lose hope, children, because this battle cry shines on our flag: ‘Triumph’. And if we return, we will remember our sacred battles and sufferings proudly, with our heads held high because war is a big thing.”

Everyone starts singing, and they sing what they sung in 1848: “Up, up, warriors, let’s go to war!”

All’s well that ends well!

Two days after the premiere of the play, Russian troops marched into the territory of Hungary through the Uzhok Pass.


National eroticism and daze

On the basis of the analyzed plays, we can formulate a picture about what kind of messages (emotionally legitimized contents) were meant to be conveyed to the highly acclaimed general public in the August and September of 1914, at the time of the beginning of the war.

War is a national cause. This is why it is associated with the triumphant national content wired into modern Hungarian national consciousness, which can, historically, be traced back to an emotional starting point, that is, the year 1848. The events of 1848 are not detailed anywhere in these plays. It is not mentioned, for example, that the process reached a Declaration of Independence by 1849. Nor are those issues mentioned on which the nation was not united in 1848 and in 1849. In the plays, the year 1848 is present only as a positive reference point of the collective national memory, and the only historical personage(s) 1848 is associated with is Lajos Kossuth (or, perhaps also Sándor Petőfi).

This point, about which a national consensus is supposed, is linked to 1914, and, likewise, Kossuth is linked to Franz Joseph. The linkage is justified by the fact that in 1848 (or, more precisely, in 1848-49) the Serbs and the Russians were the Hungarians’ enemies, and the Hungarians are also waging war against them in 1914. The undifferentiated synchronization of 1848 with 1914 refers both to the revenge taken for the defeat of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight, and to the intention to continue and to complete the process that was broken at that time. In this way, the opposition between Kossuth, representing the idea of an independent Hungary, and Franz Joseph, the opponent of this idea, becomes forgettable. War renders the Hungarian past in harmony.

1848 is the sacral and emotionally unquestionable point of modern Hungarian national consciousness, and if we link this to 1914, we claim that the war is also sacral and Hungarian in an emotionally unquestionable way.

Emphasizing the value of freedom is an important motif which plays a significant part in the identification of the 1848 revolution with the events of 1914. Hungarians fight for their freedom not only in 1848, but also in 1914. This idea appears almost everywhere but it is also associated with other issues. Hungarians consider freedom so important that they want to share it with others as well. This is why Hungarians are liberators, which further strengthens and glorifies the country’s participation in the war from moral and emotional viewpoints.

In this fight Hungarians are unified. The nation’s history and its dedication to freedom create national unity. In the spirit of this national unity, there are no poor and rich, no noblemen and peasants. Those who oppose the war are excluded from national unity, and for this reason, national unity will comprise even former opponents of the war.

Hungarians do not simply represent themselves; they also acquire a role in world history with their liberating mission. Their triumphant struggle contributes to the end of all wars after this war. With their liberating task, they are placed in the role of their own and other peoples’ savior. Hungarians have a biblical mission, and they also have a divine power to carry it out.

National unity and the emotionally grounded historical dedication make Hungarians stronger and better compared to those whom they are fighting against. This is why they are going to be able to defeat the Serbs and the Russians, and this why the French and the British should fear them. Hungarians are the best among all nations.

Their outstanding quality makes Hungarians attractive. We could also say that Hungarians are sexy; they have a certain erotic appeal, which we might call national eroticism. The best proof of this idea is that Slovaks also want to become Hungarians, the Jews expressly endeavor to do this, and even the Cossacks are tempted – they are also on their way to becoming Hungarian.

Given this approach, people of other ethnicities or religions living together with Hungarians are not enemies. Jews are not enemies. Slovaks are not enemies, either. What is more, the assimilative force of Hungarians strengthens the nation, and the nation strengthens, indeed. Jews or Slovaks may become the most Hungarian Hungarians, and the most valiant heroes.

The enemies of the Hungarians are those who attempt to make their lives impossible, who want to destroy them or to take their homeland away from them. These must be fought against ruthlessly, and their blood must be shed. Obviously, there will also be Hungarian casualties in this fight, but these victims are heroes as opposed to those who also die but do so as enemies of the Hungarians. This is what the objective viewer sees, since the daughter of the murdered Serbian spy acknowledges herself that the death of her father was the doing of the righteous God.

It is remarkable that even though Hungarians have allies, they basically stand by themselves against their enemies. They defeat the Serbs and the Russians without any help from their allies. It is only by coincidental references that we are informed that Hungarians have no separate military force in the war, since their soldiers belong to the common army of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy.

The world of plays is usually that of fiction. It is also like that in the case at hand. The messages conveyed by these plays to the contemporary audience and the means by which they managed to achieve the extra emotional effect necessary for their acceptance had very little to do with so-called reality. Nevertheless, it is still of some importance what we ordinarily call reality. It is so simply because the plays are about the war that took place at that time with all the blood and sweat that this sequence of events brought about or could possibly bring about. The picture of the war presented in the theater pieces is fictitious, yet the war was real at the time they were staged. This fiction feeds on reality, but these two have very little in common; there is hardly anything in reality that corresponds to its fictitious rendering. It seems then that fiction completely overwrote reality on the stages of Budapest in the August and September of 1914, and it constructed such a Hungarian self-image and situation, even parts of which would have been difficult to account for in a rational way. Obviously, rational accountability was not a requirement, anyway.

A similar enthusiasm and identification could be observed everywhere, in all countries at war. Consequently, I have no reason to suppose that the emotional milieu and logic of self-flattering were different elsewhere. The word “Hungarian” above can probably be substituted for “Serbian”, “French” or “German”, for that matter; and we could not find essential but only slight differences as regards self-image.

On the basis of all the above, we can infer that the unlimited outbreak of national sentiment at the beginning of the war, even if it happened in an esthetized form, essentially created a peculiar emotional state. This state could be called national daze, national delirium or national drunkenness.

Excessive consumption of alcohol distorts judgment, changes reactions, deconstructs inhibitions, and places the person to a surreal world created by the effects of alcohol. The moderate consumption of a psychoactive and mind-altering drink is rather beneficial for the individual, because his or her mental state is not changed; only his or her mood is enhanced.

The belonging together of a political community can be helped by the moderate application of national sentiment, especially if the given community needs to accomplish a great task.[28] At the moment when this turns into excessiveness, the self-assessment of the given political community will lose all its anchors in reality and get into a completely surreal world.

In my view, this is an adequate description of the situation that came about in Europe in the autumn of 1914. It has been sufficient to review the above theater pieces to ascertain that the situation was not different in Hungary. The outbreak of the war coincided with the excessive manifestation of national narrow-mindedness.

Metaphorically speaking, Hungary was delirious with its own supposed national greatness in September 1914. In other words, Hungary got into an altered state of consciousness along with other European countries. It took the country a long time to sober up, and then it became tipsy again.

As a matter of fact, we need to be aware on the basis of the experience of the period after the Great War that it is not only national sentiment that can get people drunk.

[1] This essay was originally published in: Faculty of Letters. II. International History Symposium First World War Centenary, October 16-18, 2014, Izmir. Ed.: Daş, Mustafa Prof. Dr. Dokuz Eylul University. (Symposium Paper Book) Izmir, 2015, 509-538. pp.

[2] This process is discussed by: Merénylettől hadüzenetig. A béke utolsó hónapja a Monarchia Magyarországán (From the Assassination to the Declaration of War: The Last Month of Peace in the Hungary of the Monarchy). (June 28 – July 28, 1914) (Ed. by András Gerő). Institute of Habsburg History, Budapest, 2014.

[3] Esti Újság (Evening News). Vol. 19 (1914), issue No. 165.

[4] Kecskeméti Lapok (Kecskemét Pages). Vol. 1914, issue No. 145.

[5] It is a possible approach is to label all theater pieces touching on war-related topics and including soldier characters instances of war propaganda. As for me, I consider to be war creeds only those plays that have expressly been written with this purpose. However, it is undoubtedly true that a great number of theater pieces written before 1914 were transformed in a way that emphases related to the war were added. To give a comprehensive overview of these concepts of the stage directors would be a truly scholarly enterprise for theater historians, and as such, is out of the scope of the present paper.

[6] The plays addressed to children comprise a separate branch of war propaganda theater. An example of this is the piece entitled “Szepi (Steve), the scout group leader” written by Gyula Komor and Károly Stephanides, which was first performed by the company of Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest) on December 19, 1914. According to its summary, Bomb Country (read: Serbia) sends an agitator called “Rebel” to the Hungarians to turn them against the war. However, he does not succeed to do that, and everybody goes to combat against the bombs with great joy. After the Hungarians invade the capital, Nyebogar flees to the “Evil of the evils”, who is feared for his cellar prisons, but his effort to get help is in vain, as the Hungarians triumph. (Magyar Színpad [The Hungarian Stage], December 19, 1914, issue No. 329). Another play of this type was the piece entitled “Uncle Hindenburg”, also written by Gyula Komor and first staged in Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest) in December 1915. In the not too difficult storyline of the play, valiants Hungaria and Conrad join their forces and successfully defeat the evil Russian Nikolaievich, who is duly punished at the end. (Színházi Élet [Theater Life], December 21, 1915, issue No. 15).

[7] The play entitled “Red Devils” was first performed by the company of Népopera (People’s Theater, now Erkel Theater). As for the genre of the play, it is an occasional theater piece in seven scenes. It was written by Adolf Mérei and Dr. Izor Béldi. The structure of the play is the following: Scene No. 1: The red devils. Scene No. 2: The dance of Mitrovicza. Scene No. 3: The Nazarene. Scene No. 4: No bad place like home. Scene No. 5: I have taken revenge for Világos (read: the unconditional surrender of the Hungarians at the end of the lost 1848-1849 freedom fight in this village; now Şiria, Romania). Scene No. 6: Long live the Emperor! Scene No. 7: Hungary has not been, but it will be. A story about two Hungarian hussars who fight successfully on the frontline. A one-time soldier of the 1848 revolution takes revenge for his old insults by killing a Russian general. A revolution breaks out in Paris, and the people demand that the French surrender to the Germans: the spirit of Napoleon appears, and places his laurel wreath on the head of Emperor Wilhelm. The Hungarian Parliament declares at its first meeting after the war that the crowns of Poland and Serbia now belong to the Hungarian king. (Magyar Színpad [The Hungarian Stage], September 12, 1914, issues No. 231 and 235)

Andor Gábor’s play in five scenes entitled “Forward!” was first performed by Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest). A Hungarian nobleman who could not return from France because of the declaration of war and his daughter are attacked by the mob. A Hungarian diplomat comes to their defense: having heard the news that the Prussians are approaching Paris, the attackers disperse. The young man and woman get close to each other. In the meantime, soldiers going to combat gather in Hotel Astoria in Budapest, and we can also see two spies of the “Great Serbian Committee”. (Magyar Színpad [The Hungarian Stage], September 17, 1914, issue No. 236)

[8] According to Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon (A Hungarian Autobiographical Lexicon), Árpád Pásztor was born in 1877, and he died in 1940. He had been active as a playwright, translator, and journalist. According to Mátyás Sárközi, the grandson and the author of a monograph on Ferenc Molnár, the theater originally asked his grandfather to write the play, who did not comply with this request; nevertheless Molnár helped the work of Árpád Pásztor with his pieces of advice. (Personal communication)

[9] According to the data of Magyar Színházművészeti Lexikon (A Hungarian Lexicon on Theater Art), Király (King) Theater was opened in 1903 as the seventh theater of Budapest. It was founded by László Beöthy. Pongrác Kacsóh’s play entitled “János vitéz (John the Valiant)” was first staged in this theater in 1904. Since that show, the theater has preferred performances of musical plays. Király (King) Theater operated until 1936. From among the premieres, it is worth mentioning those of the operettas entitled Leányvásár (The Marriage Market) and Szibill (Sybill) written by Viktor Jacobi, Gül Baba by Jenő Huszka, Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count of Luxembourg) by Ferenc (Franz) Lehár, Die Csárdásfürstin (The Gipsy Princess) by Imre (Emmerich) Kálmán and Mágnás Miska (Miska the Magnate) by Albert Szirmai (Sirmay).

[10] The main roles of the play were performed by Sári Fedák, László Z. Molnár, Károly Huszár and Márton Rátkai. The play is available in a typewritten form in the Theater History Collection of the National Széchenyi Library in Budapest.

[11] Magyar Színpad (The Hungarian Stage), August 25, 1914, issue No. 213.

[12] The manuscript of the play is available in the Theater History Collection of the National Széchenyi Library in Budapest.

[13] Gyula Hegedűs (1870-1931): actor. From 1896 to 1926 (with interruptions) he played in Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest), then he became a contracted actor of the Magyar (Hungarian) Theater. (Magyar Színházművészeti Lexikon [A Hungarian Lexicon on Theater Art])

[14] Jenő Faragó (1872-1940): writer and journalist. Author of a great number of theater pieces, librettos of operettas, film scripts, novels and short stories. (Magyar Színházművészeti Lexikon [A Hungarian Lexicon on Theater Art], Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon [A Hungarian Autobiographical Lexicon])

[15] Vígszínház (the Comedy Theater of Budapest) was opened in 1896 and became one of the mostly visited theaters of the bourgeois audience of the Hungarian capital almost immediately. Its original mission was to stage plays written by contemporary Hungarian dramatists. Nevertheless, it was also committed to the performance of modern foreign theater pieces. The theater has been in operation to date. Its building got damaged during the siege of Budapest in 1945; after the building was restored, it was reopened as the Theater of the Hungarian People’s Army in 1951. It regained its original name in 1960, and was called Vígszínház (Comedy Theater) again. (Cf. Magyar Színházművészeti Lexikon / A Hungarian Lexicon on Theater Art.) The main roles of the play were performed by Ferenc Vendrey, Frigyes Tanay, Sándor Virányi, Gyula Hegedűs and Frida Gombaszögi.

[16] Magyar Színpad (The Hungarian Stage), September 2, 1914, issue No. 231.

[17] The manuscript of the play is available in the Theater History Collection of the National Széchenyi Library in Budapest.

[18] The main roles of the play were performed by Jenő Törzs, Ernő Tarnay and Árpád Latabár. (Magyar Színpad [The Hungarian Stage], September 15, 1914, issue No. 235)

[19] László Márkus (1881-1948): author, critic, stage and film director, stage and costume designer, and director of theaters. He also served as the director of the National Theater and that of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest for some time. (Magyar Színházművészeti Lexikon [A Hungarian Lexicon on Theater Art]

[20] Jenő Heltai was born in 1871 and he died in 1957. He had been active as a poet, writer, dramatist and director of theaters. (Magyar Színházművészeti Lexikon / A Hungarian Lexicon on Theater Art, Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon / A Hungarian Autobiographical Lexicon) The list of professions on its own shows that he had been an accomplished artist in several different fields.

[21] The manuscript of the play is available in the Theater History Collection of the National Széchenyi Library in Budapest.

[22] The main roles of Heltai’s play were performed by Gyula Hegedűs, Irén Sz. Varsányi and Ella Gombaszögi.

[23] The manuscript of the play is available in the Theater History Collection of the National Széchenyi Library in Budapest.

[24] Géza Vágó (1882-?): actor, stage director and director of theaters.

[25] The main roles of the play were performed by Frigyes Tanay, Árpád Latabár, László Z. Molnár, Károly Huszár and Márton Rátkai.

[26] Magyar Színpad [The Hungarian Stage], September 27, 1914, issue No. 246.

[27] The tricolor in the lyrics refers to the red-white-green flag of Hungary, while King Peter (I) is the Serbian monarch.

[28] Of the five theater pieces analyzed here, only Jenő Heltai’s play meets this criterion.