|1st President of Hungary|
11 January 1919 – 21 March 1919
Acting: 16 November 1918 – 11 January 1919
|Prime Minister||Dénes Berinkey|
|Preceded by||Position Established|
|Succeeded by||Sándor Garbai|
|20th Prime Minister of Hungary|
31 October 1918 – 11 January 1919
|Preceded by||János Hadik|
|Succeeded by||Dénes Berinkey|
Ádám György Miklós Károlyi de Nagykároly
4 March 1875
Fót, Kingdom of Hungary
(now Fót, Hungary)
|Died||19 March 1955 (aged 80)|
|Political party||National Independence Kossuth Party|
Count Mihály Ádám György Miklós Károlyi de Nagykároly, archaically English: Michael Adam George Nicholas Károlyi, or in short simple form: Michael Károlyi (4 March 1875 – 19 March 1955) was a Hungarian politician who served as a leader of the short-lived and unrecognized First Hungarian Republic from 1918 to 1919. He served as prime minister between 1 and 16 November 1918 and as president between 16 November 1918 and 21 March 1919.
Early life and career
The Károlyi family were an illustrious, extremely wealthy, Roman Catholic aristocratic family who had played an important role in the Hungarian society since the 17th century. Mihály Károlyi was born on March 4, 1875, in the Károlyi Palace in the aristocratic palace district of Pest. Károlyi was born into a cousin's marriage, and as a consequence he was born with a severe malformation: cleft lip and cleft palate, and his illness deeply determined his entire childhood and personality development. Her mother died early in Tuberculosis and her father soon remarried. His father considered Mihály unsuitable for a more serious career, because of his speech disorder. Due to his cleft lip and cleft palate, the young Mihály was often mocked and humiliated during his childhood by his cousins and other relatives of similar age, despite the power and wealth of his family, which influenced his subsequent vanity, ambition and desire for power. Mihály was raised with great devotion by his maternal grandmother.
He was raised with overcare with his older sister in the Castle of his grandmother at Fót, because Count Julius Károlyi, the politician father had not enough time for Mihály. At the age of 14, his grandmother sent him to a Viennese clinic, where he underwent a special surgery to restore his palate and mouth. The surgery proved to be a sharp turning point; for, after a couple of weeks of recovery, Mihály started to speak quickly, fluently and very elaborately, despite the fact that the family and relatives formerly thought that he was too dumb to speak. As a result, he became a relatively superficial aristocrat, but his knowledge and awareness were lower in comparison with other members of the higher aristocracy. His mindset and character were shaped by extracurricular influences: the hatred towards the Habsburg dynasty, the traditional anti-German sentiment of his family, his foster father, the world-view of uncle Sándor Károlyi, his adoration of the 1848 revolution in Hungary, his idea of organizing peasants into farming cooperatives. Having unbroken optimistic faith in the fast development of science and technology, which he tought would solve all problems of humankind, he developed an idealistic devotion to the cause of social justice based on his reading experiences, including the French Encyclopédie and Jules Verne novels. Although he was not interested in university lectures, he managed to pass his exams with the help of a tutor and obtained a law degree. At the age of 24, became a rampant adult. He wanted to make up for what he had missed as a teenager, throwing himself into the nightlife, with striking vehemence; he spent his time ruthlessly, playing cards, having fun hunting. Besides he lived in French spa towns, attended many international horse races and early automobile racings in various European countries. He was interested in all the technical innovations: he enjoyed driving cars and became a passionate collector of race cars and yachts. On one occasion a fellow pilot of Louis Blériot flew the plane to Hungary, which had crossed the English Channel. Then, Károlyi bargained with the pilot until he could board the famous plane and made flight over Budapest. It was a characteristic of the young Károlyi's recklessness that he sat on the frame of the one-seater airplane and clung to the iron bars, making his flight with hanging legs in the air. Being a Francophone as it was in the tradition of the family, he spent several years in Paris; he also traveled across the United Kingdom and the United States. As a gambling addict, he was known for his card battles, his lone card losses and his "dandy" lifestyle in famous casinos across Western Europe. The young tycoon began to get serious and turn to politics and public life.
Early political career
In his youth, he was a wastrel, but, as he grew older, he became devoted to more serious pursuits. In 1909, he became the President of the OMGE (National Agricultural Society), the main rural organization of the nobility. Initially a supporter of the existing political and social system in Hungary, Károlyi gradually became more progressive, leaning to left-wing orientation during his career.
He run in the 1901 and 1905 and 1906 parliamentary elections in the lower house of parliament (House of Representatives) without any success, however, as a count, he has right to participate as a member in the Upper house (House of Magnates) of parliament. In 1910, Károlyi was elected to Parliament as a member of the opposition Party of Independence, so he could participate in the political life as a member of the House of representatives in parliament.
István Tisza and Mihály Károlyi became implacable political enemies following the 1905 elections. Their debates in parliament further increased their mutual personal antagonism with time. In January 1913, he was challenged to a duel by prime minister István Tisza, after refusing to shake Tisza's hand following a political disagreement. The 34-bout duel with cavalry sabres lasted an hour until Tisza cut Károlyi's arm and the seconds ended the duel.
World War I, political campaign for the Allied Powers
On August 5, when the war broke out, his ship arrived in Le Havre after returning from his long trip to the United States. Then he was shortly arrested, as a citizen of a belligerent country, despite the fact that Austria-Hungary was not at war with the French Republic yet, thus he was released from prison. Later, he was arrested again for several weeks in Bordeaux for being a citizen of a belligerent country. However, after promising that he wouldn't fight against the French during the war, he was allowed to return to Hungary via Switzerland.
During the First World War, the pro-Entente Károlyi led a small but very active pacifist anti-war maverick faction in the Hungarian parliament. Károlyi made contact with British and French Entente diplomats behind the scenes in Switzerland during the war. The Károlyi Party was always a weak group with no mass organization and only 20 members in Parliament, most of whom had little commitment to the party. Károlyi argued for peace with the Allies, loosing ties between Austria and Hungary, abolishing the property-based franchise requirements that allowed only 5.8% of the population to vote and run for office before the war, and giving women the right to vote and hold office. In particular, Károlyi demanded in 1915 that veterans should be granted the right to vote that won so much popular support that enraged Prime Minister, Count István Tisza. In 1916 Károlyi broke off with his party, which had found his openly pro-Entente attitude to be too radical and dangerous for a war-time pacifist faction in parliament. Therefore, Károlyi formed a new party, called the United Party of Independence of 1848; generally known as the Károlyi Party.
Marriage and family
On 7 November 1914 in Budapest, Károlyi married Countess Katalin Andrássy de Csíkszentkirály et Krasznahorka, with whom he had three children. As Károlyi's wife was a member of one of Hungary's most powerful families; by the marriage, Károlyi got under the protection of his influential father-in-law.
Leading the Democratic Republic
Following the Aster Revolution of October 1918, Károlyi became leader of the nation. On 25 October 1918 Károlyi had formed the Hungarian National Council. His reputation as an opponent of the much-hated war had thrust him into a role for which he was not suited. King-Emperor Charles IV designated him as prime minister as a part of a desperate attempt to hold Hungary on to the Habsburgs. Károlyi would have preferred to keep the monarchy and some link to Austria if possible. Only after Charles's withdrawal from government on 16 November 1918 made Károlyi proclaim the Hungarian Democratic Republic, with himself as provisional president. On 11 January 1919 the National Council formally recognized him as president.
The Hungarian Royal Honvéd army still had more than 1,400,000 soldiers when Mihály Károlyi was announced as prime minister of Hungary. Károlyi yielded to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's demand for pacifism by ordering the unilateral self-disarmament of the Hungarian army. This happened under the direction of Béla Linder, (minister of war) on 2 November 1918. Due to the full disarmament of its army, Hungary was to remain without a national defence at a time of particular vulnerability. The Hungarian self-disarmament made the occupation of Hungary directly possible for the relatively small armies of Romania, the Franco-Serbian army and the armed forces of the newly established Czechoslovakia. When Károlyi appointed Oszkár Jászi as the new Minister for National Minorities of Hungary, Jászi immediately offered democratic referendums about the disputed borders for minorities, however, the political leaders of those minorities refused the very idea of democratic referendums regarding disputed territories at the Paris peace conference. After the Hungarian self-disarmament, Czech, Serbian, and Romanian political leaders chose to attack Hungary instead of holding democratic plebiscites concerning the disputed areas.
Military and political events changed rapidly and drastically after the Hungarian self-disarmament.
- on 5 November 1918, the Serbian army, with the help of the French army, crossed southern borders,
- on 8 November, the Czechoslovak Army crossed the northern borders,
- on 10 November d'Espérey's French-Serbian army crossed the Danube river and was poised to enter the Hungarian heartland,
- on 11 November Germany signed an armistice with Allies, under which they had to immediately withdraw all German troops in Romania and in the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire back to German territory and Allies to have access to these countries.
- on 13 November, Károlyi signed the Armistice of Belgrade with the Allied Powers. It limited the size of the Hungarian army to six infantry and two cavalry divisions. Demarcation lines defining the territory to remain under Hungarian control were made, and
- on 13 November, the Romanian army crossed the eastern borders of the Kingdom of Hungary.
During the rule of Károlyi's pacifist cabinet, Hungary lost control over approx. 75% of its former pre-WW1 territories (325 411 km2) without armed resistance and was subject to foreign occupation.
The lines would apply until definitive borders could be established. Under the terms of the armistice, Serbian and French troops advanced from the south, taking control of the Banat and Croatia. Czechoslovakia took control of Upper Hungary and Carpathian Ruthenia. Romanian forces were permitted to advance to the River Maros (Mureș). However, on 14 November, Serbia occupied Pécs.
Many citizens thought that Károlyi could negotiate soft peace terms with the Allies for Hungary. Károlyi headed the Provisional Government from 1 November 1918 until 16 November, when the Hungarian Democratic Republic was proclaimed. Károlyi ruled Hungary through a National Council, transformed into the government that consisted of his party in alliance with the large Hungarian Social Democratic Party and the small Civic Radical Party led by Oszkár Jászi.
At the same time, there existed various revolutionary councils, which were dominated by the Social Democrats, which were not unlike the Soviets (Councils) that existed in Russia in 1917. This situation of Dual Power gave Károlyi responsibility without much power while giving the Social Democrats power without much responsibility.
During their brief periods in power, Károlyi and Jászi, who served as Nationalities Minister, tried to create an "Eastern Switzerland" by persuading the non-Magyar peoples of Hungary to stay as part of the new Hungarian Democratic Republic.
Additional trouble for the new government occurred over the question of the armistice. Austria-Hungary had signed the lenient Armistice of villa Giusti (close to Padua, Italy) with the Allies on 3 November 1918. Since Hungary was now independent, some in the Cabinet argued that Hungary needed to sign a new armistice. Against his better judgement, Károlyi agreed to this idea, and had Hungary sign in November 1918, a new armistice with the Allies in Belgrade with the Allied Commander in the Balkans, the French General Louis Franchet d'Esperey.
General Franchet d'Esperey treated the Hungarians with open contempt and imposed a much harsher armistice on the defeated nation than the Padua Armistice had. This was the source of much criticism of Károlyi, who had been expected – and who himself expected – the Allies to treat Hungary as a friend, not an enemy. Moreover, Károlyi's opponents argued that by needlessly seeking a second armistice, Károlyi had worsened Hungary's situation.
Furthermore, the Social Democrats who were Hungary's largest party by far, frequently undercut Károlyi and imposed their decisions on him without taking responsibility for their actions. Károlyi wished to transfer almost all of the rural lands to the peasants. To set an example, he gave all of his own vast family estates to his tenants. But this was the only land transfer that took place; the Social Democrats blocked any measures that might give the control of those lands to the peasantry on the grounds that it was promoting capitalism.
In another equally unfortunate move, the pacific-minded Károlyi had abolished almost all the Hungarian armed forces in November 1918. All through the winter of 1918–19, the Romanians, the Yugoslavs and the Czechoslovaks often broke the armistice in order to seize more territory for themselves. After January 1919, Károlyi ordered the build-up of a Hungarian army and started to consider the idea of an alliance with Soviet Russia, through Károlyi was opposed to the idea of Communism in Hungary itself.
In addition, as Hungary had signed an armistice, not a peace treaty, the Allied blockade continued until such time as a peace treaty was signed. Hungary had suffered from food shortages throughout the war and deaths from starvation had become common from 1917 onwards. Furthermore, the country had been overwhelmed with refugees from Transylvania and Galicia.
Making things worse was the creation of Czechoslovakia which had cut Hungary off from supplies of German coal. Hungary which possessed little coal depended upon German coal imports. Without coal, most had to live without heat in the winter of 1918–19, and the railroad network had gradually ceased to function. The collapse of railroads in their turn caused the collapse of industry and hence mass unemployment.
Making things even worse was the economic incompetence of the government which printed more and more money, leading to massive inflation and even more impoverishment. Károlyi's failure to improve living conditions or persuade the Allies to lift the blockade led to public criticism of Károlyi.
Baron Lajos Hatvany described Károlyi's leadership well when he noted "From the discussions no decisions arose, and from the decisions – no actions. A cabinet? No, it was a debating club". In the same vein, the British writer Harold Nicolson, who had known Károlyi during his exile in Britain, when reviewing Károlyi's memoirs in 1957 noted that: "he had many qualities, but unfortunately lacked those for which a man is taken seriously by serious people".
Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychologist—who had known the two politicians personally—wrote about the assassination of István Tisza and the appointment of Mihály Károlyi as new prime minister of Hungary:
"I was certainly no adherent of the ancient regime, but it seems doubtful to me whether it is a sign of political shrewdness to beat to death the smartest of the many counts [Count István Tisza] and to make the stupidest one [Count Mihály Károlyi] president."
On 20 March 1919 the French presented the Vix Note ordering Hungarian troops further back into Hungary; it was widely assumed that the military lines would be the new frontiers. Károlyi and Prime Minister Dénes Berinkey were now in an untenable position. Although they did not want to accept this French demand, they were in no position to reject it either. On 21 March, Berinkey resigned. Károlyi then announced that only the Social Democrats could form a new government. Unknown to Károlyi, however, the Social Democrats had merged their party with the Communists led by Béla Kun. Hours after Berinkey resigned, the newly merged Hungarian Socialist Party announced Károlyi's resignation and the formation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The liberal president Károlyi was arrested by the new Communist government on the first day. He managed to make his escape and flee to Paris in July 1919.
- Minister of Agriculture: Barna Buza
- Minister of Commerce: Ernő Garami
- Minister of Defense: Béla Linder (31 October 1918 to 9 November 1918); Albert Bartha (9 November 1918 to 12 December 1918; Mihály Károlyi (12 December 1918 to 29 December 1918; Sándor Festetics (29 December 1918 to 19 January 1919)
- Minister of Finance: Mihály Károlyi (31 October 1918 to 25 November 1918; Pál Szende (25 November 1918 to 19 January 1919)
- Minister of Food: Ferenc Nagy
- Minister of the Interior: Tivadar Batthyány (31 October 1918 to 12 December 1918; Vince Nagy (12 December 1918 to 19 January 1919)
- Minister of Justice: Barna Buza (31 October 1918 to 3 November 1918; Dénes Berinkey (3 November 1918 to 19 January 1919)
- King's Personal Minister: Tivadar Batthyány (31 October 1918 to 1 November 1918)
- Minister of Religion and Education: Márton Lovászy (31 October 1918 to 23 December 1918)
- Minister of Welfare and Labour: Zsigmond Kunfi (12 December 1918 to 19 January 1919)
- Minister Without Portfolio: Oszkár Jászi (31 October 1918 to 1 November 1918); Zsigmond Kunfi (31 October 1918 to 12 November 1918); Béla Linder (9 November 1918 to 12 December 1918)
- Minister Without Portfolio for Croatia-Slavonia and Dalmatia: Zsigmond Kunfi (6 November 1918 to 19 January 1919)
- Minister Without Portfolio for Nationalities: Oszkár Jászi (1 November 1918 to 19 January 1919)
On 10 April 1919, "Romanian troops began to invade Hungary to forestall reconquest of Transylvania. A provisional government was set up by Count Julius Karolyi (brother of Michael), Count István Bethlen, Admiral Horthy, and Archduke Joseph at Szeged (under French occupation)."
In July 1919, Károlyi went into exile in France and during World War Two, in Britain. In August 1944, Károlyi, as president of the Hungarian Council in Great Britain, and his colleagues held a meeting to protest against the ongoing genocidal persecution of Hungarian Jews. Throughout the Horthy era, Károlyi was in a state of official disgrace in his homeland.
In 1924, while Károlyi's wife was in the United States she came down with typhoid fever. Károlyi applied for a visa to come to the United States to visit her, but the State Department imposed a gag order, preventing him from giving any political speeches, as the State Department believed him to be a Communist. A year later, Countess Károlyi was denied a visa to visit the United States, but Secretary Kellogg of the State Department refused to explain on what grounds her visa denial was made. Morris Ernst acted as Károlyi's lawyer for these issues.
In 1946, Károlyi, who by that time had become a socialist, returned to Hungary and from 1947 to 1949 served as the Hungarian Ambassador to France. In 1949, he resigned in protest over the show trial and execution of László Rajk.
He wrote two volumes of memoirs in exile; Egy egész világ ellen ("Against the Entire World") in 1925 and Memoirs: Faith without Illusion in 1954.
He died in Vence, France, on 19 March 1955 at the age of 80.
During the socialist era of Hungary, Károlyi was praised as the founder of the first Hungarian republic. Many streets and other public places were named after him, and even a few statues were erected in his honor. The most famous one, sculpted by Imre Varga, was installed in Budapest's Kossuth Lajos tér in 1975. By the 21st century however, the view on him has become mixed at best. Many Hungarians blame him for the disintegration of Greater Hungary and for the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919. Because of this, when in 2012, the government began renovating the Kossuth square to the way it looked before World War II, Károlyi's statue was moved to Siófok. At the same time, throughout Hungary, most cities also renamed their own streets named after him, sometimes in a creative way. In Budapest for example the name of the prominent street in downtown, was changed from "Károlyi Mihály utca" to simply "Károlyi utca", removing the association with him.
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References and further reading
- Deak, Istvan. "Budapest and the Hungarian Revolutions of 1918-1919." Slavonic and East European Review 46.106 (1968): 129-140. online
- Deak, Istvan "The Decline and Fall of Habsburg Hungary, 1914–18" pages 10–30 from Hungary in Revolution edited by Ivan Volgyes Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.
- Hajdu, Tibor. "Michael Károlyi and the Revolutions of 1918–19." Acta Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 10.3/4 (1964): 351-371. online
- Károlyi, Mihály. Fighting the World : The Struggle for Peace (New York: Albert & Charles Boni, 1925). 
- Károlyi, Mihály. Memoirs of Michael Karolyi: faith without illusion (London: J. Cape, 1956). online free to borrow
- Menczer, Bela "Bela Kun and the Hungarian Revolution of 1919" pages 299–309 from History Today Volume XIX, Issue #5, May 1969, History Today Inc: London
- Pastor, Peter, Hungary between Wilson and Lenin: the Hungarian revolution of 1918–1919 and the Big Three, Boulder: East European Quarterly; New York: distributed by Columbia University Press, 1976.
- Polanyi, Karl. "Count Michael Károlyi." Slavonic and East European Review (1946): 92-97. online
- Szilassy, Sándor Revolutionary Hungary, 1918–1921, Astor Park. Fla., Danubian Press 1971.
- Vassady, Bela. "The" Homeland Cause" as Stimulant to Ethnic Unity: The Hungarian-American Response to Károlyi's 1914 American Tour." Journal of American Ethnic History 2.1 (1982): 39-64. online
- Vermes, Gabor "The October Revolution In Hungary" pages 31–60 from Hungary in Revolution edited by Ivan Volgyes Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.
- Mihály Graf Károlyi von Nagykárolyi at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
- Newspaper clippings about Mihály Károlyi in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW
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