In his present study, Barnabás Vajda is focusing on some particular issues of Hungarian cultural institutions set up abroad by Count Kunó Klebelsberg, Minister of Culture and Education of Hungary between 1922-1931. Vajda’s work is based on the revision of letters and drafts that are part of Klebelsberg’s written inheritance kept at National Széchényi Library, Budapest.
Klebelsberg (1875–1932), a conservative Hungarian politician and minister in István Bethlen’s government from 1922 to 1931, is today considered as a significant policy maker, mainly due to his progressive reforms in public education and university research. In the second half of his nine-year-long ministership, Klebelsberg founded three Collegium Hungaricums in Vienna, Rome and Berlin, and scholarship centres in Paris, London, Geneva and Warsaw. Based on Act 1927:XIII, established institutions were proposed to consist of research centres, art institutions, and undergraduate colleges. A supportive scholarship system was also created. The first College was opened in Vienna (Sept. 1924), nevertheless the strategically most important one was in Berlin. From here Hungary could reach not only Germany but also Scandinavia and, rather surprisingly, some small Finno-Ugric nations, linguistically related to Hungarians but living isolated in the Soviet Union. From the correspondence it is obvious that Klebelsber had two major helpers in Berlin: Carl Heinrich Becker as Minister of Culture of Prussia and Róbert Gragger, Klebelsberg’s confident subordinate as head of the Berlin institution.
There can be two major motivations found behind Klebelsberg’s actions. First, he attached exceptional importance to the goal that remnants of Hungarian culture and science, after the disastrously lost Word War I, would be able to compete with or at least not left behind too much by the most prestigious cultures of Europe. The locations of the Colleges clearly show the limited possibilities of Hungarian cultural policy in particular as well as of Hungarian foreign policy in general, for Vienna, Rome, and Berlin were capitals of countries from where Hungary, as a country forced into fierce international isolation after 1918, could expect help with its revisionist aims. With his slogan: „The Ministry of Culture is our Ministry of Defence”, Klebelsberg referred not only to the severe restrictions over the Hungarian Army after 1920, but also to his personal desire of a peaceful Hungary competing with other European nations in science and culture. Klebelsberg’s second motivation for creating Hungarian cultural centres abroad, was his private conviction that any scholarship abroad, especially in the most developed countries, would highly encourage young Hungarian researchers, mainly those who keen on social sciences.
Some documents show that Klebelsberg as a minister had made attempts to back up Italian and English culture against the traditionally strong German cultural influence over Hungary. Some new approach concerning Klebelsberg’s attitude toward England can be comprehended from his correspondence with lord Rothermere, with whom the Minister had changed letters regarding a plan of a boarding school on the Tihany Peninsula. The school was proposed to copy Eaton not only as to the system but also the language of education.