One Hundred Years Ago, Countries were established that have been all but forgotten – August 1921: Baranya-Baja and Tannu-Tuva

Zur deutschen Fassung.

Attentive readers of this series know that the maps of Europe and the Middle East were shaped in the years following World War I. For some states, however, you needed a magnifying glass to even find them on the map. Take the Republic of Baranya-Baja, for example, founded on 14 August 1921 in a thin strip of land between Hungary and Yugoslavia.

Anyone familiar with Hungarian or Yugoslavian cuisine knows that both have a strong aversion to thin strips of land.

Tito: “Thin is dumb.”

I don’t understand either why you would stick a cigar in a pipe. But that’s not the point here. Because the problem for the Baranya-Baja Banana Republic did not come from Yugoslavia, but from Hungary. Its leader, Miklós Horthy, Viktor Orbán’s political mentor, was angry about the Treaty of Trianon, in which Hungary lost a large part of its territories to neighboring states. This is a great trauma for all Hungarians, which is why they erect eerie monuments all over Europe, even on icy, snowy and wind-swept mountaintops in Romania.

Yes, that’s me in the photo. But I forgot the name of the mountain. Whenever my brother visits me, I get some good photos of myself. And of the scenery. Once we discovered a secret submarine base in Montenegro and were arrested by the navy. But it wasn’t that bad. Only our mother, who meanwhile was waiting with a broken foot in the car, which was parked dangerously close to a steadily eroding cliff during a storm, didn’t find it all so funny. Probably also because she had broken the foot after I had gotten us lost in the mountains. Since then, no one visits me anymore. And the brother is now doing wedding photography and stuff like that. I’m against weddings, but if you need someone, give him a call.

In fact, before the Treaty of Trianon, there had been no independent Hungary at all. It had merely been an Austrian province. In this respect, post-Trianon was better for Hungary than pre-Trianon. But nationalism does not go well with historical facts. Neither in Hungary, nor in Yugoslavia.

It was particularly Hungarian socialists who had fled to this border region between Hungary and Yugoslavia after that bully Horthy had destroyed the Hungarian Federative Socialist Republic of Councils and covered the country with his White Terror. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, I had a neighbor from the U.S. who told me that his grandpa had been People’s Commissar of Finances in that short-lived socialist state. So that must have been one of those guys:

I tried to encourage Gary to get to the bottom of the matter and travel to Hungary. But then, I’m the last person who wouldn’t understand that you can’t pursue every idea determinedly. Come to think of it, I need to resume the search for Dimitri.

Later, at the border control from Peru to Ecuador, I met another Hungarian from Transylvania, which is in Romania. That was a funny coincidence, because that day I was wearing a hat from Transylvania.

The young man invited me to visit him in the jungle in Ecuador, where he was working as a reptile researcher. That was nice, but unfortunately I have a panic phobia of reptiles. Some fears I can overcome to provide you with great stories, like when I got lost in the Amazon. But there’s a limit to everything, and my limits are reptiles and skydiving. I haven’t heard from him in a long time, so he probably got eaten by a killer frog.

Back to the Baranya-Baja Republic. It was founded in Pécs on 14 August 1921. Because Hungarians, Serbs and Germans, among others, lived in the area, the workers and peasants
thought: “Let’s establish something like a precursor to the European Union!” The government was therefore headed by a Hungarian, a Serb and a German, each with names that could not be more typical of their ethnic group. Magyarovics, Dobrović and Schwarz. Petar Dobrović is the only one who has been preserved for posterity because he dabbled not only in politics but also in art.

The Hungary under Orbán, I mean Horthy did not think much of European values, and so Admiral Horthy, lacking a ship, let alone a navy at the time, rode to Pécs and conquered the peaceful Baranya-Baja Republic. That was on 20 August 1921.

The small state had existed less than a week.

That must be a record, one is tempted to believe. But your favorite history blogger cannot rest until that has been established beyond any doubt.

And indeed: There are countries with an even shorter life expectancy. The Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence on 15 March 1939, because the day before, Slovakia had declared its independence from Czechoslovakia in order to ally with Nazi Germany. Carpathian Ukraine, which until then had been an autonomous region in the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia, wanted nothing to do with this.

But guess who objected to the independence of Carpathian Ukraine? Exactly: Hungary under Horthy. This time he did not wait six days, but marched into the new neighboring country on the same 15 March 1939, bringing death and terror instead of bread and salt. The Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine had existed less than a day. That one must really be a world record.

We are going to run into this Horthy again in October 1921, by the way.

But let’s stay in August 1921, which was a fertile month for state-founding, because a little further east, another country saw the light of day: the People’s Republic of Tannu-Tuva.

“No wonder I’ve never heard of it, if that was another one- or two-week state,” you’re thinking to yourself now, reassured. But this time you are wrong. This country existed for 23 years, twice as long as the Third Reich, and you have surely heard of that.

Maybe it’s due to geography, because Tannu-Tuva is located between Siberia and Mongolia. When people hear Siberia and Mongolia, they think it’s far away. Although there is a train going there. (To Siberia and Mongolia, not to Tannu-Tuva, but more about that later.) So it’s more environmentally friendly to get there than to the Azores or Easter Island. And you have surely heard of those. Although they are not independent states.

Tannu-Tuva is not small either. 165,000 square kilometers, that’s larger than Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria or Hungary. Oh, I shouldn’t have mentioned the latter, now that Horthy guy wants to invade right away.

Actually, the only reason he didn’t was because the People’s Republic of Tannu-Tuva declared its independence on the same day as the Republic of Baranya-Baja, 14 August 1921. As if they had arranged it. Or telepathy.

“Independence from whom?” someone should ask now, and I will happily answer. Or would like to. If only I understood it myself. But the turmoil between Chinese Empire, Russian Empire, Xinhai Revolution, Urjanchai Republic, Russian Protectorate of Urjanchajski Kraj, White Army under Admiral Kolchak (what are all these admirals doing so far from the sea? ) and the Red Army were so confusing even to contemporaries that the People’s Republic of Tannu-Tuva declared its independence from Russia (both White and Red), China (both Communist and Kuomintang), and Mongolia (both Inner and Outer) to be on the safe side. That’s actually a clever move, which you should keep in mind. If you want to cancel your cell phone contract, for example, but can’t remember your provider, you can write to all the phone companies and terminate the contract. As long as the right one is among them. When I was still working as an attorney, I once had a client who didn’t know who the father of her child was. That made her sad. Especially financially. So I simply sued all the men whose names were listed in the lady’s phone book. That’s why I don’t use WhatsApp myself. The right one wasn’t among them, though, because they hadn’t had time to exchange business cards. It’s a shame that business cards have gone out of fashion. And with descriptions like “He had a big car and used to show up at the club on Fridays” you don’t get very far. For a lawyer, I am even relatively creative. I told her to lie in wait at the club and, if she recognized the man, follow him to his car and write down the license plate number. But she never did. Nowadays, people want their lawyer to do all the legwork. And all of that on legal aid.

By the way, the thing about telepathy above was not some throwaway line. You will rarely encounter a mere throwaway line on this blog, where everything has a deeper meaning. Because one of the early heads of state was Donduk Kuular, an esoteric and therefore certainly telepathic monk. Sadly, he was not a bulletproof monk, which is how Stalin could shoot him in 1932.

The reason was that there was a bit of a dispute about the political direction of Tannu-Tuva. The country was founded in 1921 as a socialist soviet republic, which was quite modern at the time. In Germany, even Bremen and Bavaria had been soviet republics, albeit only for a short time.

However, there must still have been some confusion about political symbolism, because Tannu-Tuva’s first flag looked like this:

There is an explanation for this. And no, it has nothing to do with Buddhism. Instead, we find ourselves in the fortunate situation that my article about March 1921 can fully explain the swastika and shed further light on the region at the time. You should definitely read that (again)!

The flag was regularly updated and finally displayed the communist broom and sickle.

That was too much progress for the religious, especially Buddhists, Lamaists and Shamanists. Among them was the above-mentioned Donduk Kuular, who became speaker of parliament in 1924 and prime minister of the Republic of Tannu-Tuva in 1926. He wanted to take the country in the direction of a theocracy. “Just think how many tourists will come when we have monasteries and Dalai Lamas and yoga,” he tried to dissuade people from socialism.

No, the other type of lama.

Unfortunately, a bitter blow was dealt during his term of office. The Swedish author Astrid Lindgren had secured the copyright for “Taka-Tuka-Land” and thought that Tannu-Tuva-Land sounded confusingly similar. She obtained an injunction from the district court in Vimmerby. Because the Permanent International Court of Justice would not begin its work until 1922, and because no one in Tannu-Tuva spoke Swedish (now they regretted that they had executed the Baltic baron), the Central Asian republic could not defend itself. Therefore, in 1926, it changed its name to Tuvan People’s Republic.

In 1929, the religious and unsocialist activities of the Tuvan People’s Republic became too much for the Soviet Union. The Politburo pondered until someone came up with the splendid idea: “Let’s do it like we did in Afghanistan!” No sooner said than done, there was a coup d’état. The Tuvan People’s Republic remained formally independent, continued to be ruled by Tuvans, but from then on it was more like a Soviet satellite state. But at least it was on the right side of history, because from June 1941 the Tuvan army helped the Allies against Nazi Germany.

In 1944, after it was clear how World War II would end, the Tuvan People’s Republic applied to join the Soviet Union. The application was generously granted. Two weeks later, the first uranium deposits of the Soviet Union were discovered on the territory of Tannu-Tuva. Such a coincidence.

By the way, you can learn a lot about the world from collecting stamps. I did so as a child, and I suspect a lot of my geographic, historical, and political knowledge comes from that. Based on my small collection alone, I could write a whole world history.

These stamps were produced for sale to international collectors. Hence the exotic shapes and exoticizing depiction of nomads. (Real stamps in a Soviet satellite state would show engineering achievements like tractors and satellites. That’s why they’re called satellite states, after all.)

And what did Tuva do when the Soviet Union disintegrated? Well, of course, it declared independence again. Tannu-tuva-ta-ta-ta, a new country enters the world! The only reason no one noticed this at the time was that in November 1991, the world was fully occupied with the war in Yugoslavia, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the independence movements in the Baltic States, the attempted coup against Gorbachev and the war in Kuwait.

Somewhat disappointed by this lack of attention, Tuva changed its mind and concluded a federation treaty with Russia in March 1992. Quite voluntarily, I’m sure. I mean, we know how Russia works. But at least a Tuvan became Russian defense minister. In any case, since then, the Republic of Tuva has been an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. And the geographical center of Asia. And probably still sad about the lack of attention.

But don’t despair, dear Tuvans! When the railroad, which was already steaming on your stamps 85 years ago, will finally be built, I will come to visit personally.


  • All articles of the series “One Hundred Years Ago …”.
  • More history.
  • The best known writer from Tuva is probably Galsan Tschinag. Only a few of his books are available in English, so far. He writes in German, deeming it, correctly, a much more poetic language.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in History, Hungary, Politics, Ukraine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to One Hundred Years Ago, Countries were established that have been all but forgotten – August 1921: Baranya-Baja and Tannu-Tuva

  1. danysobeida says:

    La fotografía de la llama podría verse muy bien en un timbre de correo para Bolivia.

  2. Llamas always make me smile. Well, pictures of them, and the animated movie “The Emperor’s New Groove”.

    With all the changes to Europe and Asia, it’s no wonder I still see the map from my school days, especially eastern Europe and Asia, with USSR and China covering most of it. We never learned about the countries within the Soviet Union, or that China claimed. I know all 50 states and their capitols though😉

    Thanks Andreas for new knowledge and another fun adventure!🌻

    • In high school, I had a classmate, when we were bored, we were trying to compile the list of all 50 US states, seeing who could get the most. I think we knew US geography better than the German one. Definitely better than East Germany, because we lived in West Germany.

      But with those really random republics like Tannu-Wuwa that I pick for my stories, I am not even sure if most people in Russia know it.

  3. adanepst1 says:

    Another great article Andreas. Incidentally, have you heard of the book “Tuva or Bust!”, about the great physicist Richard Feynman’s attempts to travel to Tuva in the 1970s and 80s?!

    • I hadn’t heard about it until I was researching this story and discovered that the stamps were more famous than the country itself.

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