István Bethlen

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István Bethlen

de Bethlen
28th Prime Minister of Hungary
3rd Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Hungary
In office
14 April 1921 – 24 August 1931
MonarchMiklós Horthy
as Regent
Preceded byPál Teleki
Succeeded byGyula Károlyi
Member of the House of Representatives
In office
31 October 1901 – 16 November 1918
In office
18 February 1920 – 2 February 1939
Personal details
Born(1874-10-08)8 October 1874
Gernyeszeg, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary
(now Gornești, Romania)
Died5 October 1946(1946-10-05) (aged 71)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Political partyLiberal Party (1901-1903)
Party of Independence and '48 (1904-1913)
National Constitution Party (1913-1918)
Christian National Union Party (1919-1922)
Unity Party (1922-1935)
Spouse(s)Countess Margit Bethlen de Bethlen
Professionpolitician, jurist

Count István Bethlen de Bethlen (8 October 1874, Gernyeszeg – 5 October 1946, Moscow) was a Hungarian aristocrat and statesman and served as Prime Minister from 1921 to 1931.


The scion of a noble Transylvanian family, Bethlen was elected to the Hungarian parliament as a Liberal in 1901.[2] Later, he served as a representative of the new Hungarian government at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. In that year, the weak centrist Hungarian government collapsed, and was soon replaced by a communist Hungarian Soviet Republic, under the leadership of Béla Kun. Bethlen quickly returned to Hungary to assume leadership of the anti-communist "white" government based in Szeged, along with former Austro-Hungarian admiral Miklós Horthy. After the "white" forces seized control of Hungary, Horthy was appointed Regent. Bethlen again took a seat in the Hungarian parliament, allying with the conservative factions there.

In 1919, Bethlen proposed a personal union between Romania and Hungary under the Romanian King.[3]

After the attempted return of King Charles IV to the throne of Hungary in 1921, Horthy asked Bethlen to form a strong government to eliminate the possibility of other such threats to the new country. Bethlen founded the Party of National Unity. Through a system of ballot manipulation, handing out government jobs, and changing the electoral law to enfranchise supporters, he was able to form a political machine that was unstoppable in Hungarian politics. Bethlen was also able to unite the two most powerful factors in Hungarian society, the wealthy, primarily Jewish industrialists in Budapest and the old Magyar gentry in rural Hungary, into a lasting coalition; this effectively checked the rise of Fascism in the country for at least a decade. Bethlen was also able to reach an accord with the labor unions, earning their support for the government and eliminating a source of domestic dissent.

Bethlen and the Hungarian delegation in the Hague

During his decade in office, Bethlen led Hungary into the League of Nations[4] and arranged a close alliance with Fascist Italy, even entering into a Treaty of Friendship with Italy in 1927, in order to further the nation's revisionist hopes.[5] He was, however, defeated in his attempts to change the Treaty of Trianon, which stripped Hungary of most of its territory after the First World War. The Great Depression shifted Hungarian politics to the extreme right, and Horthy replaced Bethlen with Gyula Károlyi,[6] followed quickly by Gyula Gömbös, a noted Fascist and antisemite.

Increasingly shunted into political obscurity, Bethlen stood out as one of the few voices in Hungary actively opposed to an alliance with Nazi Germany. As it became apparent that Germany was going to lose the Second World War, Bethlen attempted, unsuccessfully, to negotiate a separate peace with the Allied powers. By the spring of 1945 most of Hungary had fallen to the advancing Soviet troops. The communists, who returned with the Soviets, immediately began their scheme to take over the country. They saw the aging Bethlen as a threat, a man who could unite the political forces against them. For this they had him arrested by the Soviets in April 1945. Soon after, Bethlen was taken to Moscow,[7] where he died in prison on 5 October 1946.[8]

István Bethlen – Buda Castle


  1. ^ (in Hungarian) Péter Miklós, "Konfliktus és szolidaritás. Szempontok Horthy Miklós és a katolikus egyház kapcsolatának értelmezéséhez", Egyháztörténeti Szemle, 2007, II.
  2. ^ Romsics, p. 25-26.
  3. ^ Ignác Romsics, Social Science Monographs, 1995, István Bethlen: a great conservative statesman of Hungary, 1874-1946, p. 111
  4. ^ Romsics, p. 169.
  5. ^ Romsics, p. 225.
  6. ^ Romsics, p. 298.
  7. ^ Romsics, p. 386.
  8. ^ Romsics, p. 388.


  • Ignác Romsics: István Bethlen: A Great Conservative Statesman of Hungary, 1874–1946. East European Monographs. Columbia University Press, 1995.
  • Bethlen Istvan Emlekirata, 1944, Published in Hungarian/Magyar by Zrinyi Katonai Koenyvkiado, 1988.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Pál Teleki
Prime Minister of Hungary
Succeeded by
Gyula Károlyi
Preceded by
Lajos Hegyeshalmi
Minister of Finance

Succeeded by
Tibor Kállay
Preceded by
Emil Nagy
Minister of Justice

Succeeded by
Pál Pesthy
Preceded by
Géza Daruváry
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Succeeded by
Tibor Scitovszky
Preceded by
István Szabó de Nagyatád
Minister of Agriculture

Succeeded by
János Mayer
Preceded by
Pál Pesthy
Minister of Justice

Succeeded by
Tibor Zsitvay