Peace without transitional justice : cultural heritage as a means of taming collective memory on the example of post-Trianon Hungary

Sadowski, Mirosław Michał; Lixinski, Lucas and Zhu, Yujie, eds. (2024) Peace without transitional justice : cultural heritage as a means of taming collective memory on the example of post-Trianon Hungary. In: Heritage, Conflict, and Peace-Building. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon. ISBN 9781003407331 (

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In the past several decades, the concept of transitional justice (TJ) has been applied to various societies both past and present. TJ is linked to reconciliation, which was supposed to be the ultimate goal of a transition from a non-democratic regime to a democratic one. Reconciliation and, therefore, TJ are thus seen as preconditions for peace by the majority of scholars currently in the field. This position, however, loses sight of other potential approaches towards the understanding of social processes amongst major changes and tends to preclude other narratives. For instance, TJ is still used to explain various events taking place in Central and Eastern Europe today, over 30 years since the transition. This chapter takes a different path, showing that also where no transitional justice – and no reconciliation – took place, the transmission of collective memories of trauma through cultural heritage can still achieve peace. My case study is Hungary after the Treaty of Trianon (1920), an event that continues to be immortalised in numerous monuments spanning every political era in Hungary. While these monuments – and other objects of cultural heritage created in the treaty's wake – stand for the antithesis of transitional justice's goal of reconciliation, keeping the collective memory of the national trauma of losing two-thirds of territory alive today – following other disastrous events of the twentieth century – their presence evokes and facilitates peace. Still reminders of trauma and minders of counter-memories in relation to its neighbours, Hungary's Trianon monuments have become a vital part of national identity. At the same time, I argue, their role is more of carriers of peace rather than means of revisionism, catalysing, as reminders of a ‘glorious’ – but in reality much more complicated – past, much ongoing resentment towards Hungary's neighbours, thus realising cultural heritage's peacebuilding value in a convoluted but nonetheless effective way. Following a theoretical introduction to cultural heritage's relationship with collective memory and transitional justice, as well as its role in maintaining peace and relationship with monuments and identity, I move to the question of the Trianon Treaty. I trace its origins and reverberating effects over the past 100 years, ultimately focusing on the monuments commemorating the treaty as both carriers of memory and objects of cultural heritage. I conclude by showing their peacebuilding role as catalysts of collective memories of trauma, thus sketching out the links between the legal (Trianon Treaty), the political (construction of monuments as a major part of Hungary's cultural heritage and official narrative), and the social (the monuments’ role in sustaining – and placating – collective memory). In doing so, I hope to uncover an alternative account of the intimate details of the relationship between cultural heritage and peace, one that taps into narratives that do not necessitate the full conceptual apparatus, institutional machinery, and political load of transitional justice.