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100 years ago on December 14, 1921, the legendary referendum took place in the western Hungarian town of Sopron according to the Venice Protocol, whether a total of 257 km² should belong to Hungary or Austria. This was the only major territorial revision of the Treaty of Trianon that was permanently accepted by the Great Powers. After a result of 72.8 percent having voted for Hungary, the city was awarded the title of “Civitas Fidelissima” (most loyal town).

This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute. Translated by Júlia Tar.

Prehistory of the referendum

After Austria-Hungary had lost the First World War, the peace treaty of Saint-Germain on September 10, 1919, surprisingly granted part of western Hungary to Austria without a referendum. With this “compensation,” the Great Powers wanted to prevent Austria’s annexation to Germany.

Trianon Memorial Park Inaugurated in Sopron
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There were several uprisings before December 14, 1921. The first, the so-called West Hungarian Uprising, took place between August 28, 1921, and October 13, 1921, in what is now Burgenland and western Hungary. A second attempt was made between July 15 and July 27, 1922. The uprising was triggered by a declaration of the Austrian Council of State on November 17, 1918, in which it declared its territorial claim to western Hungary, including the city of Sopron, which was predominantly German but had a significant Croatian and Hungarian minority, on the basis of ethnic principles. The Entente recognized the Austrian claim and awarded the territory to Austria in the Treaty of Saint-Germain of September 10, 1919, which was confirmed in the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920.

The Hungarian government also protested the decision and tried to reach an agreement with the Austrian government, but the attempts were unsuccessful. At this point, the organization of a Hungarian rebel force of volunteers began.

Hungary began to clear the area on August 26, 1921, whereupon the Austrian gendarmes crossed the border on August 28. However, a group of Hungarian volunteers, mainly students, stopped them at Ágfalva, west of Sopron, which resulted in three Austrians and one Hungarian dead. Subsequently, the number of Hungarian rebels increased to 3,000, so that by the beginning of September they were already able to cope with a major Austrian attack. On October 4, 1921, in Felsőőr, Hungarians proclaimed the autonomous state of Lajtabánság, the territory of which extended approximately to the present Austrian province of Burgenland.

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The Hungarian government did not officially support the rebels but also did nothing to put down the uprising.

As a result of the successes of the Hungarian irregulars, negotiation took place in Venice between Austria and Hungary on the initiative of Italy between October 11 and 13. Finally, in order to be able to resolve the stalemate, a referendum was ordered in Sopron and in eight surrounding municipalities.

The referendum organized in and around Sopron between December 14-16, 1921

The names of the two states were written on the ballot papers in Hungarian, German, and Croatian. With the blue ballot paper, one could vote for Hungary and for Austria with the yellow. Although almost 50 percent of the town was inhabited by Germans, 72.8 percent voted to remain in Hungary and 27.2 percent voted to join Austria. If the other eight municipalities around the town where the referendum was held two days later on December 16, are also included, the result is 65.16 percent for Hungary and 34.84 percent for Austria. The result was greeted with huge joy by the population in the city. Despite the ban on assemblies, thousands took to the streets to celebrate. Although this meant that western Hungary was annexed to Austria and organized as a new province under the name Burgenland, the most important city in the region was retained for Hungary thanks to the Freeholders.

Sopron in 1919. Source: Fortepan/Zsuzsa Vargha

Sopron in 1920. Source: Fortepan/Vargha Zsuzsa

Sopron with the Fire Tower and the Gate of Loyalty in 1930. Source: Fortepan/Andor Gara

The Entente surrendered Sopron to Hungary on January 1, 1922, and its troops left the city on January 5. In 1922, the Hungarian Parliament granted the town the title of “Civitas Fidelissima” (Most Loyal Town) in Article XXIX. The baroque coat of arms of the town was then completed with this writing.

The Hungarian government declared December 14 as the Day of Loyalty in Sopron in 2001, so the biggest awards of the town are given every year on this day.

Although Austria had made the decision not to send observers to Sopron one day before the referendum, the Austrian government did not accept the result and wanted to turn to the Ambassadors’ Conference. In Austrian historiography, the result is still disputed today. In fact, Sopron was originally intended to be the capital of the new province of Burgenland.

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After the successful referendum around Sopron, protests later broke out in ten West Hungarian villages in the territories that had been granted to Austria under the Treaty of Trianon. Referendums were also held in these settlements, between 10 January and 9 March 1923, resulting in these villages returning to Hungary as well. These were the villages of Narda (then named Kisnarda and Nagynarda), Felsőcsatár (then Alsócsatár and Felsőcsatár), Vaskeresztes (then Németkeresztes and Magyarkeresztes), Horvátlövő, Pornóapáti, Szentpéterfa, Ólmod, the northeast of Kőszeg, Fertőújlak (then Mekszikópuszta), and east of Fertő, west and southwest of Szombathely. Szentpéterfa, which played a leading role in this process, was later awarded the title of “Communitas Fidelissima,” i.e. “Most Faithful Community.”

Karácsfa, Lovászad, and Nagysároslak, on the other hand, voted in favor of joining Austria.

Sources: Hungarian National Archives, MúltKor, Demokrata.hu

Featured image via the Facebook page Loyalty 100 Sopron


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