Aestheticizing the Lost Land of Hungarians: How the Carpathian Basin Appears in Right-Wing Populism

By Attila Kustán Magyari and Dr. Robert Imre

Emergent Conversation 17

This essay is part of the series PoLAR Online Emergent Conversation on Aesthetics and Politics of Far Right Movements

In May 2020, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted a message on Facebook to graduating students that showed a photo of the globe with “Greater Hungary” on it, provoking aggrieved reactions from neighboring countries (Barberá and Vladisavljevic 2020). A month later in his “Trianon Speech,” Orbán spoke of the “mission” of defending the Carpathian Basin, drawing upon Hungarian history in the century since the Treaty of Trianon in 1920: “For four hundred years, for four Trianon times the Hungarian state was strong and independent. After that for three hundred years, for three Trianon times we have fought against the Ottoman Empire. Deep inside, in the Balkans, then on the southern ends, later recoiling in the heart of the Carpathian Basin” (Orbán 2020).

The Carpathian Basin—an imagined homeland of all Hungarians—serves in the Hungarian nationalist imaginary as a surrogate of the Greater Hungary dissolved by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. In addition to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which marked the conclusion of World War I (WWI), the war’s victors used the meeting at the Versailles Palace to create a set of treaties for governing various parts of the world. One such document became known as The Treaty of Trianon, which regulated the dismantling of the Kingdom of Hungary and created a set of independent successor-states in Central Europe. Many Hungarians viewed this dissolution as a national tragedy exemplifying Hungary and Hungarian borders as victims of great power politics.

In this essay we examine the different ways in which the pre-Trianon map circulates throughout digital and physical spaces as a rallying cry of the far-right for the restoration for the Kingdom of Hungary. With increasingly regularity, Hungarian right-wing groups and the governing Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán are weaponizing the map of the Hungarian kingdom prior to WWI and the Treaty of Trianon to promote a form of grievance and revanchist politics around the geographical territory and ethno-religious imaginary of the Carpathian Basin. Far-right movements invoke the map to express “humiliation” from the signing of the Trianon Treaty and Western powers’ unjust dismantling of an Empire that was destined for greatness. The map of what many refer to as the “lost land of Hungarians” is circulated in many forms today: as bumper stickers on the back of cars, hanging clocks, badges, on hats, t-shirts, coffee mugs, on public monuments, or in the digital public sphere.

However, many Hungarians recognize the map as simply a depiction of “ancient Hungary” or “the original Hungary,” which harkens back to a version of the country that included parts of today’s Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Transylvania in Romania. In this way, the map is both a ubiquitous feature of the Hungarian public sphere, while also acting as a dog whistle for the country’s extreme right which seeks to both expand the national territory and formalize narrow ethno-religious prerequisites for national belonging and exclusion. It is the banality and ubiquity of images bearing the map of Greater Hungary that make them easily co-opted by right-wing groups.

Nationalist “Facebook-tapestries”


Image 2. Translation: “Be Hungarian from your heart!” Posted as a public image on Posted on April 11, 2020. Authors’ screenshot March 26, 23.  Link:

Many of the objects or images in question are products of grassroots memory politics or self-expressions: small businesses, civil organizations, nationalist rock bands and their fans all produce, wear, and use the image in Hungary and in the “disannexed territories.” The geometric shape of the map is used as a coded backdrop for a series of contested messages around how this specific project of Carpathian unity operates. Multiple fertility symbols, symbols from a reinvented Middle Ages, such as warriors and knights wearing animal skins, swords and shields, and references to Christian holidays including Christmas and Easter, often appear alongside the map. However, this mélange of aesthetic tropes generally do not express any overt claims about the Carpathian Basin.

We collected more than 200 of what we term “nationalist Facebook-tapestries” from several Facebook-groups. From this collection  we identified several types of memes which reflect this kind of aestheticization of a lost land of Hungarians. We named them tapestries since Facebook users spread them on a digital “wall” that contains a collection of similar images. We used three types of overlapping tapestries: 1) those containing a banal message “for Hungarians,” and/or those with nationalist yet not overtly political written content, 2)  openly irredentist ones, and 3) tapestries with religious notions.

The first genre of memes we identified were those with simple messages, such as “Good morning, Hungarians!” or “Have a nice day, Hungary,” “Good morning for all true Hungarians” (see img. 1) with references to national elements, from the map of Greater Hungary to the mythological Turul bird. The Turul symbol is often associated with the original House of Árpád in the 9th/10th Centuries, and as such is treated as a kind of original symbol for Hungarian-speakers and co-ethnics. The House of Árpád brought together various groups and tribes under one unifying political structure across the territory. For many Hungarians, The House of Árpád evokes the “original peoples” of Greater Hungary, who were  accompanied by the Turul bird when they settled in the land. The bird has long been associated with the desire to recover territories lost following the Treaty of Trianon. At the same time, official rhetoric linking the Turul bird to the Árpád Dynasty are part of efforts to empty the symbol from its associations with Twentieth Century fascism, such as the Hungarian National Socialist Workers Party (KissPál 2014).

This genre includes memes with less overtly political messages (such as political party mobilization, openly ethno-nationalist messaging etc.), such as “100% Hungarian” or “I’m proud I was born as a Hungarian”, “Hungarian girl loves Hungarian warrior”. These memes appear less often: without any explicitly irredentist message, only paired with the map, they express an often gendered desire for ethnogenetic belonging (see img. 2).

Image 3. Translation: “They lived and died for the homeland, do you raise your voice for your homeland??? !!! Justice and revision of borders !!!” Posted as a public image on Posted on January 5, 2022. Authors’ screenshot March 26, 2023. Archived permalink:

The third type is openly irredentist. Sometimes memes depict weapons, the map of Greater Hungary and within the map the current borders of the country, or even the number “325411,” the size of the old country in square kilometers. Messages include “Great times are nearing, the stolen lands are soon to be back home”, “What God brazed/welded together, man can’t tear apart”, “Trianon is my holocaust.” These militarizing messages are coupled with the map and often with the mention or image of Virgin Mary as the protectress of Hungary (see img. 3).

Image 4. Translation: “Have a blessed Easter! Hungarians!” Posted as a public image on Posted on March 4, 2021. Authors’ screenshot March 26, 2023. Link:

A fourth type is overtly religious, always Christian (a Christ figure, a cross, or major holiday figures such as Easter bunnies and Christmas trees), coupled with the irredentist messages. For instance, one message is “Blessed and peaceful Easter holidays” with the map of Greater Hungary with angels holding the Hungarian crest and the text: “This is how I love you, Hungary.” In another, the message “Blessed Easter holidays! Hungarians!” is written inside the map containing a crown, Easter bunnies, and colored eggs on its borders (see img. 4).

Greater Hungary in politics

Image 5 Part 1. The cover of Pesti Hírlap’s special issue in 1938, “Az ezeréves Magyarország – A Pesti Hirlap karácsonyi albuma.” Translation: “The Thousand Years Old Hungary—A Pesti Hírlap Christmas Album.” Publisher: Pesti Hirlap, Budapest, 1938. From Pinterest: Author screenshot April 2, 2023.

Over the last decade, right-wing political actors and organizations have increasingly included the imagined Carpathian Basin in their communications. Certainly this process has been facilitated by social media. Partisan practitioners of memory politics returned to  the usage of the map in the early 1990s, highlighting the difference between the borders of Hungary before and after the Treaty of Trianon. Leaving behind the radical universalism of the Soviet bloc in which there was no need to question national boundaries (however false that narrative may have been), right-wing populists emerged in the 1990s with a convenient and easily recognizable aesthetic tool that they used to rally this emerging form of nationalism. In Hungary alone, around 130 memorials to the lost territories stemming from the Treaty of Trianon are registered (Trianon100, nd.), and memorials illustrating the Turul bird can be found not only in the territory of Hungary but also in surrounding countries (, n.d.). These memorials can be found in most small towns in the form of a small tower (Nagykanizsa city has a typical example of this) with four sides, each side representing the four major pieces of “lost territory.” These will usually refer to parts of Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, and a small territory that is on the Ukrainian border. There are also many plaques, carved in stone, with a simple message using the map of Greater Hungary, mentioning the Treaty of Trianon date, sometimes alongside the phrase “Never again.” Many of these memorials read merely as anonymous historical reminders, and are almost never accompanied by any explanation in another language (except for Hungarian runi writing, or rovásírás) (Maxwell 2004; Fehérváry 2022).

Image 5 Part 2:  “Hiszek Magyarország feltámadásában.” Translation “I believe in the resurrection of Hungary.”  People at the Falcon Monument, with an image of “Greater Hungary” in the sky. Publisher:  Ereklyés Országzászló Nagybizottsága. Date, 1920s-1930s. Rightsholder:  Thúry György Múzeum. Source:  Thúry György Múzeum – Múzeum Történeti Dokumentációs Tár – Képeslap Gyüjtemény. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Instead of overtly referring to irredentist goals, Fidesz and Viktor Orbán use this map backdrop to signal their political aspirations to reclaim territory. The ubiquitous nature of the map, coupled with Orbán and Fidesz regularly sponsoring programs in Romania for local Hungarians (see Sipos 2019; 2021a; 2021b), can be understood as a clear yet banal expression of irredentism. The variety of these initiatives in Romania connect these irredentist politics to everyday practices among ethnic Hungarians.  Sociologist Tamás Kiss argues that the financial influence of the Hungarian government affects Romanian-Hungarians’ media consumption, as well as the funding of educational institutions, churches and sports, and can be understood as a system of “ethnic parallelism.” This means that “Hungarians can live their life as if it would be not in Romania but in Hungary” (Keller-Alant 2020). The institutions supported by the Hungarian government—not just in Transylvania, but in parts of Slovenia, Slovakia and Ukraine where Hungarians live—are crucial for these local ethnic communities. As Kiss explains it, “Schooling from kindergarten till university, sport clubs, cultural institutions and media: one can use it all in Hungarian with and only Hungarians;” thus, the Hungarian-language media usage of Hungarians in Romania is a tool of “virtual unification” (Keller-Alant 2020). Through initiatives like these, the everyday practices of Hungarian-speaking peoples are reinforced as “living a life in Hungarian” (Keller-Alant 2020).

A further connection between official policy and more mundane practices is expressed in the regular presence of festivals and celebrations. Mundane celebrations such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are accompanied by numerous expressions of “ethnic strength” and nation-building. For instance, the Minister for Families, Katalin Novák has greeted women on Mother’s Day by expressing her joy at increases in “Hungarian” women giving birth (Pósfai 2020). In these instances, the map of the Greater Hungary appears as a signal that “traditional Hungarian families” are white and heterosexual, and that the national duty of such families is to occupy and expand within the Carpathian Basin. In another example, Bring to Life Another Hungarian Movement—a far-right organization loosely connected to the Mi Hazánk Mozgalom (Our Homeland Movement) party—has a logo which consists of a smiling and waving child inside the map of the Greater Hungary. The Movement often publishes alarmist messages about the disappearance of “white indigenous people” in Europe and the Carpathian Basin, (Mégegymagyart 2018a). The group writes that giving birth has become an expectation of Hungarian nationalists to prevent their “displacement” from the Basin (Mégegymagyart 2018b). In this way, the mundane image becomes part of what Hammet (2021) describes as “everyday nationalism.” It is the mundane everydayness of the image that glosses over the violent ethno-racial and territorial project promulgated by Hungarian right-wing nationalists.

And finally, we describe here how major celebrations in Hungary are increasingly tied to this reinvigoration of the “lost land” aesthetic concept. St Stephen’s Day is celebrated in Hungary as an official state holiday on the 20th of August. This marks the feast day of the first canonized saint in Hungarian lore, considered to be the monarch who united Hungarian tribes under Christian rulership. The holiday coincides with the Catholic holiday of Saint King Stephen. Over the past three decades, the Hungarian government has dramatically increased spending for official holiday commemorations, pouring money into fireworks displays, disseminating various awards for “national achievements” (usually for well-known opera singers, artists and poets) and parades. The holiday has been recognized in Hungary since the end of the eighteeth century, with changes according to the shifting ideological paradigms; after the Treaty of Trianon the holiday is a vehicle for revisionist propaganda (see img. 5) and a celebration of the republic and its constitution after 1950. It became a state holiday after 1991, and the message of the Carpathian Basin still exists: for instance, the “harvest wreath of the Carpathian Basin” presented on this day symbolizes Hungary, the Basin and all Hungarians in the world (see img. 6).


Image 6.Szolnok, August 20, 2014. The members of the local Tisza dance group bring the second of the two breads from the Carpathian Basin to a car at the Szolnok art center on August 20, 2014. In cooperation with the settlements across the border, the second pitókás bread prepared for St. Stephen’s Day is taken to the Hungarian Days in Cluj. MTI Photo: János Bugány.

There is a vast supply of aesthetic representations of the lost land ideology in both digital and physical spaces, in official and in non-offical contexts. The lost land of the Carpathian Basin, uniting the Hungarian speaking peoples of Central Europe, is regularly signaled in the ubiquitous nature of the map. There is no question that the map is recognizable to most Hungarian-speakers in the Carpathian Basin and around the world. It is impossible to avoid a basic history of the map when learning anything about Hungarian language and/or culture. For many, the map conveys a message of a past Empire that was illegitimately dismantled. This normative position is practically universal among Hungarian-speakers, and as such, always leaves an open door to irridentism and a version of grievance politics. The overt policies of Orban and the Fidesz party to support both white ethnic Hungarians as well as Hungarian speakers outside of the current borders of Hungary always begins with the picture of the map. This imaginary then pushes the question of a legitimate “reunification” to the forefront of any policy question almost immediately. In both banal and official iterations, the lost land map transforms right-wing populism into a near-universal populism, normalizing the possible restoration of a benevolent empire.

Attila Kustán Magyari is a doctoral researcher at Tampere University (Finland). He is working on his second popular scientific book on conspiracy theories, while his PhD thesis focuses on the conspiratorial rhetoric of the Hungarian radical right-wing movements and parties from the last 30 years.



Robert Imre is research fellow at the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria, and research fellow at the Department of Politics, University of Tampere. He is working on multiple projects including a book on Global Terrorism, another book-length project on Hungarian Nationalism, and several articles dealing with subjects ranging from Arctic security, the new global political ordering, burgeoning conspiracy theories, the politics of memory.

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