Fantasies Do Come True
History is full of contradictions. History is the story of humanity and human beings are complex, contradictory and full of surprises. They are about as predictable as the future. In other words, they are totally unpredictable.
The small unassuming village of Parádsasvár holds structures and stories that illustrate the contradictions of history. Arriving in Parádsasvár visitors are almost immediately drawn to the Károlyi Kastély Sasvár.This otherworldly creation of the famed architect Miklós Ybl is a contradiction in itself.
For all intents and purposes this highly imaginative concoction with its wickedly steep roofs, its turret not for defense, but decoration, its orange/red coat of color trimmed in vibrant yellow, is an architectural festival, celebrating opulence and eclecticism. The contradiction comes from the castle’s setting, surrounded by forest.
This confection of neoclassicism is the direct opposite of its serene natural setting.
Like the castle, its former owner is a contradiction as well. The castle was home to Mihály Károlyi, one of the most complex and controversial figures in Hungarian history.
He was born in nearby Fot, into the immense wealth and prestige of the noble Károlyi family. The family was part of the stable of rich landowning aristocrats in the pre-World War I Kingdom of Hungary that ran the country. The old nobility enjoyed vast political prestige and power.
They were the crème de la crème of a rigid class system.
Mihály Károlyi grew up in this world of wealth and power. He was something of a wastrel in his youth squandering both opportunity and money in equal measure. Nevertheless, he was elected to parliament as a member of the opposition in 1910.
Even though opposed to many of the government’s policies Károlyi like almost everyone else at the time supported the Kingdom’s entry into World War I. As the war dragged on, Károlyi became extremely critical of the government in power.
He was seen as something of a radical. Judging by those times, he was a radical. By today’s standards though, his politics seem perfectly normal. For instance, he supported war veteran’s right to vote, women’s right to vote and land reform.
And herein lay the contradiction, a man who had benefited from his aristocratic birthright, who was a scion of one of Europe’s richest families was advocating policies diametrically opposed to their interests. He wanted to free the peasants from the yoke of noble control, giving them land and rights they had never before experienced.
Here was Mihály Károlyi who lived in the most opulent circumstances imaginable fomenting revolutionary policies. Was this out of benevolence or guilt? Was Károlyi trying to make up for the fact that he always spoke with a lisp and had never really fit within aristocratic circles?
Was he trying to get back at his own class? Was he a naïve idealist who did not foresee that he was sowing the seeds of disintegration? Was he a reckless wastrel who only knew how to squander power? Was he a visionary, a hypocrite or a contradiction? It is hard to say.
Nevertheless, the rest as they say is history. Károlyi grabbed hold of the reins of power at the single worst time possible. Days after the war ended with the Kingdom crumbling, Károlyi was put in charge of the government.
He expressed the same values as the victorious allies, self-determination and a peace free of reparations. He trusted the British and French to believe that he, Mihály Károlyi could not only right the wrongs of the past, but lead Hungary into the bright uplands of democratic rule.
He would extend the franchise beyond the meager 5.8% of the male population that had been able to vote, he would give land to the peasants. He even set a stirring example by dividing his own estates up for peasants. Meanwhile, the Allies generally ignored Károlyi. The Romanians, Czechs and Serbs invaded Hungary.
Károlyi’s government was a disaster and he ended up turning the nation over to the communists which was even more of a disaster. The outcome of all this: chaos and dissolution.
Hungary had the Treaty of Trianon forced upon it, losing two-thirds of its land and population. Nothing was ever the same again.Károlyi had been at the helm when chaos was at its worst and he suffered much of the blame.
It is hard not to look at the Károlyi Kastély, with it’s almost fantasy like lavishness and wonder how in the world a man who once lived in such a palatial mansion, surrounded by natural beauty and bounty could ever have involved himself in radicalism.
Perhaps the castle offers a clue. It contradicts the surroundings, just as Károlyi contradicted his upbringing and aristocratic lifestyle. The castle remains, proof that fantasy does come true. Károlyi has long since passed away, dying in exile, another proof that fantasy does come true. In Mihály Károlyi’s case that fantasy became a historic tragedy.
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