Chapter Two: Tribulation, Trial and Treaty: Hungary, 1919-20.
Domokos Szent-Iványi, writing in the 1970s about his early twenties as a student before becoming a diplomat from 1927, had this to say about the system of peace treaties of 1919/20:
The system… shattered the economic and political structure and the unity of the Carpatho-Danubian Basin to its very core. After more than one thousand years, Hungary was dismembered: she lost over two-thirds (71.4 per cent) of her geographical area, almost two-thirds (63.5 per cent) of her population and more than half her waterways (55.2 per cent).
Hungary’s political isolation was complete. The Little Entente, composed of newly and artificially created states was created for the sole purpose of keeping Hungary in check, guaranteeing almost complete political isolation.
Peter Haslinger (historian, Munich):
The Western powers wanted to preserve the Monarchy for much longer, obviously in an adjusted form of a federation consisting of national units. However, the wave of revolutions swept this possibility away. Then, it was the concept of “Cordon sanitaire” which prevailed. This meant the formation of a belt in the East of small and middle-sized countries that could balance and at the same time separate Germany and Soviet Russia. According to this theory, this zone was to ensure the stability of the continent by its dual function. These states were to unite in a federal system, leaving the losing countries outside. Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria were considered to be the losers. They were considered to be allies of Germany, and therefore subject to similar treatment.
Ablonczy (historian, Hungary):
World War I, like every cataclysm in history, had its symbolic meeting places. One of them was Sarajevo, where Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand was shot on 28 June 1918. Another is the famous wagon of Compiegne, where the Franco-German Armistice was signed. On 11 November 1918, at 5:30 a.m., the German delegation, led by Matthias Erzberger, later to become Chancellor, met the French, led by Marshall Foch, commander-in-chief of the Entente forces. It was later recorded that when Marshall Foch heard the peace terms drawn up in Versailles, he said: “This is not a Peace, it’s a twenty-year armistice!” Foch didn’t want lighter conditions for Germany; he wanted to weaken Germany completely, and therefore wanted to see more onerous conditions imposed.
Margaret MacMillan (historian, Toronto):
Unfortunately, in that period, at the beginning of 1919, there were many very different ethnic groups clambering for their own countries, for their own states. The reason it was so difficult to draw proper borders was that the essence of these were mixed. It wasn’t possible to draw a border that put all the Poles in Poland, or all the Germans in Germany, or all the Hungarians in Hungary. Populations were often so mixed that you simply couldn’t draw a neat line through them. What they were doing in Paris was trying to make states that would work, but they were trying to do this in a very complicated world. Were they to blame for that? I don’t think they were to blame for what actually existed on the ground. That was the result of many centuries of history, and there wasn’t anything that anyone could very much do about it.
Preparations for the Hungarian Peace began in November-December 1918 in the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. There were forty to sixty planners, cartographers and geographers, working on the documents of the Hungarian delegation, coordinated mostly by Pál Teleki. Due to Teleki’s departure abroad, and the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, these preparations were interrupted in March 1919. We do not have information about any further preparation during the four months of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Teleki began to draw up the so-called ‘Red Map’ in the autumn of 1918, while suffering from ‘Spanish flu’. This map was a characteristic piece of preparation for the Peace Conference, on which there were huge red spots indicating the majority Hungarian populations within the Carpathian Basin. There was a tiny trick in the map, since the population living in the mountains and the nationalities were indicated not in the mountains, but in the nearby valleys along the rivers. Therefore, there were huge blank spots in the mountains, indicating the areas inhabited by the nationalities, while the huge red spots indicated Hungarians, thus giving the impression of them being in the majority.
The Peace Conference in Paris began on 18th January 1919. All the Great Powers of the world were present: The President of the USA, the Premiers of Britain, France and Italy. They constituted the highest decision-making organ of the Peace Conference, the Supreme Council, which had to make decisions in every matter of dispute. Debates about the borders of Hungary were held in the Romanian, Czechoslovak and Yugoslavian committees. There was no separate Hungarian committee. The Hungarian peace plan was ready by the beginning of March 1919. Hungary’s borders were defined before the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.
So, the people who met in Paris, only the victors,… hoped they would make a lasting peace, because they had just come through a dreadful war, which was very much on their minds, because they were very conscious of the losses and the damage and the destruction and the terrible cost to Europe. They were trying to set up a better system for dealing with international relations, and that reflected a very deep feeling throughout Europe, and in North America and, indeed, throughout the world, that there must be a better way of settling issues among countries than going to war. So they hoped to set up, many of them, something like the League of Nations, an association of nations where nations would settle their disputes peacefully, and where they would work together to try and build a better world, a world in which nations were linked rather than divided.
Miklós Zeidler (historian, Hungary):
… even Hungary was hoping that this war would end like the ones before. The losers would have to pay for their role in the war by losing parts of their territory. They could only guess about the loss of territories and figure out the interests they could come up against. There were several plans and historical arguments about Hungary’s one thousand year-old existence. Some economic and geopolitical arguments also pointed to the importance of its integrity. However, there were arguments on the other side, relating to the Great Powers’ military aims, such as ‘Wilsonianism’, which represented the starting point and also the precept of national self-determination, or the referenda, which the losers hoped to turn against the winning powers and use for the purpose of keeping Hungary whole.
It depended partly on how much support they already had; it depended partly on the people who represented them, and it depended partly on whether the Great Powers saw an interest in supporting a particular demand, or supporting a particular country. So, I think it was a mix of all three.
Láaszló Szarka (historian, Hungary):
The Czechoslovakian delegation arrived before the Conference. Benes didn’t even go home, since he felt the importance of the situation, as borders could be created by facts, without any great ‘circus’, and not by diplomatic battles. He had three aims. One was not to acknowledge Hungary as a state. The second central aim was to have the previously non-existent Slovak borders acknowledged as historic borders. The third was not to invite representatives of the defeated countries.
Ignác Romsics (historian, Hungary):
The foreign policy of the Károlyi Government was based on the honesty of the Entente at the Peace Conference. They believed that if Hungary was not seen to act against the Peace process until the Conference, it might result in some advantage and give them the chance to come out with its point of view at the Conference. Therefore, Károlyi neglected organisation of armed resistance, which began late, in the spring of 1919. Following this, the Hungarian Soviet Republic started it immediately, fighting against the Romanians, and then began fighting against the Czechoslovaks. In spite of this, the result remained the same.
Mária Ormos (historian, Hungary):
Béla Kun never thought that the village where he lived and the town where he worked as a journalist – Nagyvárad (Oradea) was Romanian. He never thought that Hungary would have to renounce these areas. He hoped to create an international Central Europe with Austrian-Hungarian administration: ‘Thank God, the Socialists were in power over there, and we were here, so it could work’. They ensured autonomy for everyone: the Germans living there, the Ukrainians, and Byelorussians, everyone that lived there. He hoped to create a federation here in which Hungary would play a very important and influential role. This “world revolution” was a wise idea and the scene of this must be Central Europe, or the middle section of the Danube basin.
However, was there anybody who believed in it?
Maybe. They didn’t mind. I suppose even Lenin didn’t. In Lenin’s eyes, the whole thing spread only to Germany.
On 21 March 1919, Kun had come to power as the result of a communist revolution, and, soon after, the young British diplomat and diarist, Harold Nicolson accompanied General Jan Smuts, South African member of the War Cabinet, Their ‘mission’ was to investigate the ramifications of the revolution for the peace process. For the world’s leaders gathered in Paris, the spectre of Bolshevism cost a long westward shadow over central-eastern Europe. Therefore, Béla Kun’s strike for communism triggered many anxious moments for the Supreme Council.
Smuts was given a specially prepared train to travel from Paris to Budapest. They stopped overnight in Vienna to warn Kun of their imminent arrival and to ensure safe passage. Nicolson was sento the headquarters of the Hungarian Bolsheviks to make the initial contact and the commissar-in-charge, a Chicago-educated Galician Jew, secured the assurances. As Kun was a monoglot Magyar, he was brought along to translate. The next morning, 2 April, the train pulled into the Keleti (Eastern) station in Pest and was encircled by Red Guards with fixed bayonets. Smuts conducted the negotiations from the wagon, not wishing to imply recognition for the Soviet Republic. Nicolson was sent out to meet Kun as he arrived at the station. He described him as,
A little man of about thirty; puffy white face and loose wet lips; shaven head; impression of red hair; shifty, suspicious eyes; he has the face of a sulky, uncertain criminal.
The negotiations centred on whether or not the Bosheviks would accept the Allies’ armistice proposals, lines that would commit them to accepting considerable territorial losses, particularly to the Romanians. They hesitated all day, and in the interval Harold visited the city, where he had lived as a young boy, when accompanying his parents on his father’s diplomatic posting there, and had last visited in 1912, in his mid-twenties. He wrote that the whole place is wretched – sad – unkempt. Although the tea room at the Hungaria, Pest’s leading hotel, had been ‘communised’, with Red Guards patrolling the hall, it flew a Union Flag and Tricoleur as a gesture of good intent. There was a band playing, but, as there was an energy shortage in the capital, everyone was wearing coats inside.
Later that evening, Kun returned to the train’s dining car, accompanied by his senior ministers, and handed Smuts his answer. Smuts read it twice and shook his head, responding; ‘no, gentlemen, this is a Note which I cannot accept. There must be no reservations.’ He was prepared to offer minor concessions, but his terms of reference were uncompromising. The Hungarian Soviet Government must first agree to the occupation of a neutral zone by Allied forces, separating the Bolshevik forces from the Romanian Army; if he complied, the Allies would be willing to raise their blockade strangling his regime. He desperately needed Allied recognition of his government, but he inserted a clause to Smut’s draft agreement requiring the Romanians to withdraw to a line east of the neutral zone, in effect evacuating Transylvania. Smuts would not countenance such a deal and appealed to reason, as he saw it. However, appearing silent and sullen, and looking like convicts standing before the Director of the Prison, they remained obdurate. Smuts ended the proceedings with an aside that ‘Béla Kun is just an incident and not worth taking seriously’.
Smuts impressions of the situation, and of Béla Kun, proved correct. On 10 April, a day after Nicolson wrote the above account in his letter to his wife, Vita, and little more than a week since the peace mission had left Budapest, a provisional government was set up in the Hungarian capital that reflected the old ruling, aristocratic circles, led by Count Julius Károlyi, Count István Bethlen and Admiral Miklós Horthy de Nagybanya. On 1 August, Béla Kun fled the capital in the face of invading Romanian armies. Some months later, in February 1920, after the Romanians had left the capital, Horthy was appointed Regent and Head of State, a position he held until 1944.
Harold Nicolson remained in Paris until the end of 1919, working for the League of Nations as well as putting the final touches to the treaties with Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, Lloyd George and Balfour having left to immerse themselves in Westminster politics.
By the time the Soviet Republic was born in Hungary on 21 March 1919, the borders were arranged along the Czechoslovakian, Romanian and Serbian lines. Experts worked using maps, sketches and materials based on the Hungarian (Census) statistics of 1910, and their aim was to concentrate on the nationality concept. There were areas where the validation of the nationality concept was easily acceptable, while in some areas it wasn’t. The latter included the Banat and Transylvania, with the Széklerland on its eastern front, with 600,000 Széklers, as a pure Hungarian area. It was impossible to push it further on the map, while there was a half-moon shaped area with a Romanian majority, between the Trans-Tisza region and the Székerland.
There were two occasions when the Entente informed the Hungarian Government of its proposals for Hungary’s borders. One of these happened in the middle of March 1919, at the handing over of the second ‘Vyx Register’, from which the Hungarians suspected that it fixed a border along the borderline agreed in the armistice. The other occasion took place in April 1919, during the Hungarian Soviet Republic, when the Clemenceau Register was passed, requiring the evacuation of the Hungarian Army from Upper Hungary. It also contained the demand that the Hungarian troops pull back from beyond these lines, since these were the borders that the Peace Conference appointed for Hungary. (The Hungarian) politicians were aware of these texts and records, so in June 1919 at the latest, the measure of the territory wanted by the Great Powers became known. The Hungarian middle class began to flee from Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Austria, a migration which lasted until 1924. The bulk of the refugees arrived in Hungary between 1918 and 1921, before the ratification of the Peace Treaty.
The American and British preparations wanted to leave a larger area for Hungary than Trianon did. The French were less principled and did not take the ethnic concept into consideration, even where this was possible. The Italians hesitated. The future succession states: the Czechs, Romanians and Southern Slavs obviously demanded the maximum territory, while infiltrating deep into Hungarian ‘Trianon’ territory. In the end, they did not uphold even their own nationality precept, backed by the Americans and the British. This concept was never used by itself. There were always other concepts used, such as train transport, as well as the strategic point of ‘defensibility’. There was also the concept of natural borders, and last, but not least, the question of Hungary as a subdued nation, though one of the (successor) countries had been acknowledged as its ally. All the decisions were made at the expense of Hungary, favouring the successor states and over-riding the principle of national self-determination.
Peter Haslinger (Munich):
The most important representative of these emancipatory views was Woodrow Wilson, calling several times for the rights of nationalities to be upheld. However, the leading personality of the Conference was Georges Clemenceau. Even selecting the place, Paris, indicated the strength of the French, and this weight was indicated in further decisions too.
The Hungarian Peace Treaty was part of the settlement that closed World War I. It was not only about Hungary, but the other loser countries, such as Austria, Bulgaria and the ancient enemy, Germany. The German Peace Treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on 28 June 1919, in the same hall as the treaty that closed the Franco-Prussian war forty-eight years earlier.
… it is clear that the personalities were very important, because, in the end, although there were many committees working away on many issues that made all sorts of reports,… it was on the big issues, as well as sometimes on the small issues, the three main statesmen who made the decisions… at the very heart of the peace conference was something called the ’Council of Four’, and it was Lloyd George…, Wilson…, Clemenceau…, and Orlando of Italy, (who) played a much less important part. He tended only to speak when it was questions involving Italy. So it was really Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Wilson who were making, in many cases, the key decisions. Woodrow Wilson, who is often held up as the great example of idealism,… was also a realist. He understood power,… how important it was to have economic and military power, and he was very well aware that the United States was becoming a more powerful country. Georges Clemenceau wanted to protect France and he knew that France could not be protected from Germany simply by military means… it was necessary to try to build an international system or structure that would work. He didn’t oppose the League of Nations. He said, ‘I like the League of Nations, but I don’t believe in it!’ Lloyd George came out of the British Liberal tradition… he also was… a British imperialist… he believed in the British Empire; he was determined to extend that Empire as much as possible, so in the Middle East, for example, he did a lot of grabbing of land…
Peace preparations restarted after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and then that of the Pleidl Government in August 1919. It wasn’t done at a central place, but scattered around town in various places. Budapest was still under Romanian occupation, and the Romanian Army did everything it could to block preparations there. Pál Teleki was patrolling by car between the various spots, keeping in contact with the working groups. The Romanian occupiers would have confiscated his car if they could.
There was a sharp debate in the Sándor Palace in Buda about the Hungarian strategy. Several politicians thought that the Hungarian Peace Delegation had no reason to travel to Paris. For example, Albert Apponyi reported on the information he had received that the Entente would cease to exist as a power factor by the spring of 1920. In the end, they decided to send the delegation anyway.
The decision was made at the end of December 1919 that the Hungarian delegation should accept the invitation of the Peace Conference and travel to Paris.The delegation left from the Keleti station, Budapest, on 4 January 1920,
Francois Boulet (historian, Saint-Germain-en-Laye):
When the Austro-Hungarian delegation was invited to Paris in April 1919, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy no longer existed. Hungary had just suffered its Bolshevik Revolution, but the Austrian delegation accepted the invitation and showed up in Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 14 May 1919. Leading the delegation was the new Austrian Chancellor, Karl Renner. He was known as someone less attached to the Anschluss and therefore became Head of Delegation.
The Austrian delegation signed the Treaty of Saint-Germain on 19 September 1919. The luckier part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had reached peace and legality almost a year earlier.
Horst Haselsteiner (historian, Vienna):
Prior to the signing of the peace treaty, Austrian politicians still hoped to change the borders in favour of Austria. They were hoping to receive the… Southern Tyrol, the Sudeten German areas and the larger part of Hungary, Transdanubia. At first, the Government in Vienna dreamt about receiving Styria, Görtz, Gorizia, Carinthia and the German-inhabited part of Kraina. This would have meant more than doubling Austria’s territory, by comparison with the status formulated in Saint-Germain.
Austria was treated relatively mildly, partly because they looked at it and said, ‘well there’s nothing left there really, to take reparations out of’. The Italians tried to argue that the contents of the Italian art galleries in Vienna should be sent back to Italy, but the other allies would have none of that and in the end Austria did not pay reparations, but, in fact, received a good deal of aid. Austria was the only defeated country at the Peace Conference which actually gained land; it gained that strip of territory called the ‘Burgenland’, from Hungary. The Austrians argued very successfully that they needed it, partly for protecting Vienna and partly for providing food to Vienna. So the Austrian Treaty treated Austria fairly mildly.
The Hungarian Treaty was another matter. There were a number of issues which came into play there. Some of the statesmen in Paris were anti-Hungarian, and for some reason they blamed the Hungarians more than the Austrians for the last war. Lloyd George claimed that the Hungarians had been far more determined to go to war than the Austrians, which was completely false. What also counted against Hungary was that it was impossible to make a peace with it for about a year, partly because of Béla Kun and his communist regime and none of the powers in Paris wanted to deal with a communist regime. They (had) sent a peace mission under General Smuts, who was the South African Foreign Minister, to Budapest, to talk to Béla Kun, and Smuts concluded that there was no point making peace with him because he wasn’t going to last that long. Hungary was in such turmoil that it seemed impossible to the Allies to make peace with it. They were generally anti-Bolshevik and so Béla Kun and his regime was not someone and something that they would have liked.
The problem of the Hungarian Peace Treaty was that the Hungarian delegation arrived in Paris fairly late. There was not a Government that the Entente regarded as capable of negotiating. Finally, the Entente agreed with the Huszár Government as able to form a peace delegation.
Peter Haslinger (Munich):
Apponyi’s mission was often interpreted as evidence of the intention of the Hungarian political elite to return to the pre-war repressive nationality policy after the treaty. Besides which, the Hungarian delegation kept returning in its memoranda to the restoration of the Hungarian Kingdom’s borders in 1914. This increased the doubt in the other participants that the Hungarians dreamt about integral restoration.
Some thought that if a different Head of Delegation had been chosen whom the Entente might have found less irritating to than the pro-German Apponyi, perhaps one without the aristocratic appearance of the nineteenth century, but rather having a modern, conciliative approach, accepting of the concept of self-determination, he might have achieved a better territorial outcome. I do not believe this, and neither did the rest of the delegation at that time. It is possible that they wanted to defend themselves from responsibility for the anticipated failure. When leaving from Keleti Station, Apponyi said that nothing positive could be expected from the peace treaty, and that their forthcoming task in Paris would be more like a moral deed than some kind of protective work in defence of Hungary.
The Hungarian delegation consisted of seventy-three people altogether, including typists, telegraphers and diplomats. The diplomats included the most prestigious politician of the early years of the century, Count Albert Apponyi, the future Premiers Pál Teleki and Count István Bethlen, the future Foreign Minister, Imre Csáky, the first President of the National Bank, Sándor Popovics, an expert in political economy, Vilmos Lersch, and an expert in agriculture, László Somssich.
The members of the Hungarian delegation were accommodated in the ‘Chateau de Madrid’ in January 1920. They were not allowed to leave the building and the village of Neuilly. They were only allowed to take walks in the nearby Bois de Boulogne under heavy police escort. The written conditions were presented to the Hungarian delegation in the French Foreign Ministry on the bank of the Seine.
The proposed line of the Hungarian border represented a shock for the delegation, since they it was only in Paris that, officially, they learnt of it for the first time.
Apponyi was received in the hall by the British and French Premiers, Lloyd George and Clemenceau, together with the American Ambassador Welles and the Japanese Ambassador Matsui. They presented him with the preliminary conditions of the Hungarian peace treaty, so that Apponyi could react in a long speech the next day, 16 January. His speech, which was mostly in French, with sections in English and Italian, contained legal and historical arguments, without strategic and ethnic arguments. Apponyi dissected the design of the treaty, and gave a comprehensive critique of it. His counter-proposal was that of a referendum, asking for a referendum in every Hungarian area that the Treaty took away. Besides this, he used arguments serving the preservation of integrity, which would have kept more than ten million non-Hungarian citizens within Hungary’s borders.
The Hungarians were given some time to present their reply. These papers and documents were prepared in Budapest. However, by then the Peace Conference was over. Consequently, the Conference of Ambassadors was set up in order to deal with unsolved issues. Later it was called ‘Council of Ambassadors’. That’s where the Hungarian issue was referred. The Hungarian Government objected to this, and asked for the Hungarian issue to be placed on the agenda of the Great Powers’ Conference in London, to which they agreed. It took place in early March, 1920. Therefore the case was completed, not in Paris, but in London. That was where it turned out that, having received the Hungarian responses, Apponyi put forward another proposal. This was the one which contained the oft-quoted sentence,
“hundreds of thousands of people are being driven here and there, from one country to another, like flocks of sheep into the pen…”
This is when the two Premiers present, Lloyd George and the new Italian Premier, Francesco Nitti, in front of all those present, added in a caveat to the original text of the peace treaty. Lloyd George did it in a general sense, saying that it had to be supervised, where it did not make sense, and concerned millions of people. Nitti wanted, first of all, to revise the southern border. So, two of the three signatories said that it did not make sense, but still nothing happened. In Nitti’s case, it was his own Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several ambassadors who revolted against him, in order to safeguard Romania’s interests. The story of the English was even more special. We know that the Foreign Minister, Carson, pointed out to his Prime Minister, that he had already signed the same text less than a year earlier.
British politics was not united over Hungary. There were differences between the PM, Lloyd George, and the Foreign Office secretaries. When the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy came to an end, the vacuum it left had to be filled… Arthur Balfour (who resigned as Foreign Secretary after the Peace Conference, but remained in the Government until 1922), said in his speech to Parliament in February 1920, that their policy was unfair to Hungary, but that from the British point of view the Slavic-Romanian alliance of forty million was a much better guarantee than a Hungarian block of seven to ten million.
Every politician that counted (in Hungary), from Horthy to Andrássy, Apponyi, Bethlen, and Teleki, were of the opinion that the treaty had to be signed. However, it had to be clear that the signature was given only under coercion, and that Hungary would do everything to alter these decisions.
During May and June 1920, the question arose as to whether or not to sign the Peace Treaty. What were the arguments for and against?
It’s not difficult to list the counter-arguments;… Since there was the loss, loss of the territory, loss of the economy, loss of population; there were thousands of arguments. No wonder that Apponyi and the whole delegation renounced. Then the search began for the new person to sign. There has always been some ratio in politics; they knew that signing was unavoidable, otherwise the blockade would have remained, and there was no hope of receiving any help. Everything was on the side of signing, no matter how bitter that was.
We are facing the rebuttal of a misunderstanding that has been present for decades. On the 4th June 1920, Hungary was dismembered. At around 4:30 p.m. the Hungarian Peace Treaty was signed in the hall of the Grand Trianon Palace. The Secretary of State of the Foreign Ministry, Alfréd Lázár, and Minister of Welfare and Labour, Ágostan Benárd, signed the Treaty. No other politicians signed. In addition to the Hungarians, the Romanian, Czechoslovak and Yugoslavian Peace Delegations, commander-in-chief of the Entente forces, Marshall Foch, commander-in-chief of the ex-French Army in the Balkans, General Franchet d’Esperey, the Prince of Udine, the King of Greece and President of the Conference, French Premier, Alexandre Millerand were present.
What was the meaning of Trianon for the Romanians? It was a painful trauma for Hungary; some of its elements still effect it, due to the Hungarian minorities beyond its borders. However, what did it mean for Romania? Was it the fulfillment of the national dream? Or a poisoned fruit with a lot of hostile minority people?
Traian Sandu (historian, Paris):
It began with euphoria and then the Transylvanian issue had to be handled. The role of the minorities increased. The Hungarians played an important role in Transylvanian society. There were also Germans who had no territorial connection with Germany, and there were obviously Jews as well. Right after the euphoria, the first problems arose in connection with the minorities. It was not just the Hungarians, but also the Romanians of Transylvania who were discriminated against. Let’s just recall Juliu Maniu, his whole activity. As well as Hungarian-Romanian relations, Transylvania also meant Romanian-Romanian conflict in the process of integration.
Eva Irmanova (historian, Prague):
It is obvious that among the peace treaties that determined the outcome of World War I, that of Trianon was the most unrighteous. On the other side, it was the Treaty of Versailles that resulted in the basis of the existence of the state of Czechoslovakia. These two approaches were obvious contradictions. However, it ought to have made conscious for the Czechs the extent to which the Versailles peace system and Trianon were unacceptable for the Hungarians, even though it cannot be changed. I suppose that the Hungarians understand the reasons for the Trianon decisions better than the Czechs, who are conscious of the kind of adversity it was and that it cannot be changed.
Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia and even Austria were winners in this peace treaty, since they were given huge Hungarian territories. Transylvania, with over a hundred thousand square kilometres was larger than the remnant of Hungary. It was not just about territory and population, but also about minerals and industry, commerce and railways. It meant huge losses for Hungary, which could never be recovered. During the period between the two wars, the succession states were more or less uniform in handling the three million Hungarians who remained in their territories, with suspicion or outright hostility. Whether in the Czechoslovakia of democratic public life and government, or Romania with its semi-dictatorship, or Yugoslavia. The situation of these minorities grew steadily worse than had been the case for the Romanian or Serbian minorities before 1920 in Hungary. However, we mustn’t forget that the decision in Trianon brought liberation for these countries, and for many of them it meant the creation of modern nation states at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Conclusion: The Twenties and Beyond: Unrest, Rivalry and Revision.
László Kontler (2009):
… even Italy (Fiume) and Poland obtained some of its former territory. Well over ninety per cent of the land ceded went to Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, the ratio of Hungarians in the territories each of these states gained exceeding thirty per cent. About half of the nearly 3.2 million Hungarians finding themselves in minority status lived in compact blocs contiguous with Hungary across new borders. Compared to its new neighbours… Hungary became ethnically nearly homogeneous, ninety per cent of its population being Magyar (Germans, over six per cent, constituting the largest minority group). Even so, Yugoslav troops refused to evacuate the area around Pécs until August 1921. Tension also arose between Hungary and Austria over the Burgenland, the western border region, parts of which Hungarian paramilitary units occupied and only left when, simultaneously to an ultimatum of the Entente, representatives of the two countries agreed that in and around Sopron a plebiscite would be held in December 1921 (which, despite a slight German majority in the area, ultimately favoured Hungary). As a result of territorial resettlement, the Hungarian economy was deemed hardly viable by most contemporary observers. The country retained none of its salt and precious metal mines, a mere ten per cent of its forests and iron resources, and only half its once flourishing food processing industry… Thus, more than ever before, Hungary became dependent on exports and imports, and was extremely vulnerable to changes in the world economy… Hungary was required by the treaty to pay reparations…
In the twenties, Hungary concentrated her efforts on the peaceful revision of the Treaty of Trianon. At the same time Hungary made various attempts at breaking the iron ring, i.e. the Little Entente, which stifled her, both economically and politically. Her attempts in that direction, however, were constantly frustrated by the stiff resistance of the Little Entente states… fully supported by France.
As a first step in the course of such attempts, Premier Bethlen and Foreign Minister Miklós Bánffy attempted to negotiate, and even made an approach towards Romania.
(Editors: In August and September 1919, Romanian-Hungarian negotiations were conducted with the participation of István Bethlen, Pál Teleki and Miklós Bánffy. The Hungarian negotiators tried recognition of Transylvania’s secession to the status of the Hungarian state in the Dual Monarchy. The idea of a Romanian-Hungarian ‘personal’ union under Romanian King Ferdinand was brought up, just as it was several times in the 1920s.)… Bánffy, in an attempt to appease the Romanians, even returned to his homeland, Transylvania… and became a Romanian citizen. But all was in vain as the machinations of the Czechoslovak Premier Benes and of French politics saw to it that there was to be no improvement in the terms of the peace treaties.
From the signing of the Peace Treaty of Trianon onwards, Hungarian public opinion, and in consequence Hungarian foreign policy, have been dominated by its consequences. Seen as unjust and harmful by the great majority of Hungarians, revising the terms of the Treaty has become the primary foreign policy issue. This can be illustrated by the case of Bárdossy, former Premier and Foreign Minister (1941-42), who declared in his last plea before the People’s Tribunal that condemned him to death in 1946, that Hungarian Foreign Policy had been dominated by the idea of a revision of the Trianon Peace Treaty.
In the years following the signing of the Peace Treaty of Trianon, the Hungarian Government inaugurated a policy of revision through peaceful means. The government based its hopes on Article 19 of the Covenant of the League of Nations as well as on the declarations contained in the Covering letter of President Millerand, both documents admitting the possibility of a peaceful revision of all the treaties signed at the Peace Conference of 1919-20.
All efforts by Hungary to have the Treaty of Trianon revised were frustrated by France and Britain and the supporting votes of the Little Entente states, which had the majority in the League of Nations. Their vain attempt led many to believe that peaceful attempts at revision were doomed, and by the beginning of the thirties all hopes of revision had essentially vanished. Yet, at the same time world events of great economic and political importance gave cause for optimism and a new direction to revisionist hopes and activities.
There is much here to uphold Margaret MacMillan’s argument that, harsh as the terms of the peace treaties were, especially for Hungary, there was every possibility at the end of the decade that the growth of democracy and the growing prosperity in central Europe and its states, including Germany, would lead to the issue of their borders and minorities being transcended. Therefore, there was nothing automatic about the relationship between 1919-21 and 1939-41. Nevertheless, ever since that day at the beginning of June, 1920, when the Treaty of Trianon was signed, hundreds of thousands have come out on the streets of Budapest on the anniversary of the signing, to protest about its injustice. The Hungarian collective memory of that dark event has been kept alive in countless memorials across the country, where politicians and public figures continue to gather for ceremonies. As Kontler has written:
The sheer magnitude of the losses, which cannot be compared to anything but those occasioned by the Ottoman Conquest in the sixteenth century, combined with the dubious arguments that were supposed to justify them, are sufficient to explain the bitterness they engendered… The fact that, besides the plight of the Hungarian minorities in the neighbouring states, some of the country’s social and economic problems could indeed be blamed on the peace settlement, was a convenient ideological pretext for a nationalist regime opposed to far-reaching reform to impute all hardships to a vicious treaty whose revision became the alpha and omega of its policies for a quarter of a century. This was all the more possible because as all parties in the otherwise variegated Hungarian political spectrum were united in slogans like ‘Justice to Hungary!’, even if they were divided as to the precise ways and extent in which they hoped to attain it. Trianon has continued to plague the Hungarian public scene after its reissue in the wake of the Second World War, even when it seemed to lay dormant under the veil of socialist internationalism, and today, when the attitude to the Hungarian minorities and their circumstances is of necessity an important item of domestic policy… the post-war settlement… served to keep, with tragic consequences, the nationalist agenda in its nineteenth century form awake into the twenty-first century.
Hungary is still, almost a century after the events leading to its break-up at Trianon, trying to pour new wine into old wine-skins.
MTV Zrt. (2006), The Trianon Syndrome (DVD).
László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz.
Domokos Szent-Iványi (2013), The Hungarian Independence Movement . Budapest: Hungarian Review Books.
Norman Rose (2006), Harold Nicolson. London: Pimlico.
Introduction: The Problems of the Peacemakers and the Trouble with Hindsight.
It was in the hall of the Grand Trianon Palace that the Hungarian government delegation signed the peace treaty on 4 June 1920. It meant both the end of World War I and also the end of historic Hungary. From that day on, the territory of Hungary dwindled from 283 thousand km 2 to 93 thousand km 2, while the country’s population was cut from 18.2 million to 7.6 million. What had happened? What had been the crime for which the punishment was so serious?
A new generation of historians like Margaret MacMillan have been challenging the view of the Peace Treaties of Paris as a failed peace. These historians contend that the Peace Conference was a realistic attempt to shift the map of Europe. They see Paris as a global summit, with a liberal, progressive agenda for the world, and urge greater understanding for the peacemakers of 1919 as they faced great dilemmas, which still remain grimly familiar to us today.
Here are their views set out in their own words, delivered in lectures and television interviews, beginning with those of MacMillan:
The trouble with hindsight is you know how the story ends, and so you look back for things that tell you that the story was bound to end this way, and that’s not really how events unfold. In many cases they were dealing with factors way outside their control or anyone else’s control, outside anyone’s ability to control… How do you control ethnic nationalism? We haven’t made such a great job of it today.
Following the signing of the Armistice, The German Army marched back to Germany in good order and was greeted by the new President of the Republic who said, ‘we welcome you, you haven’t been defeated.’
The simultaneous collapse of four powers was unprecedented. It meant that the map of Europe would not look the same in 1919, whatever the peacemakers did. This was a map that would have to be withdrawn because the very blocks that had constituted Europe… no longer existed.
Throughout the Peace Conference, there was quiet on the western front, but fighting continued in the east; Poles against Russians, Romanians against Hungarians. How to deal with this? Allied troops were being quickly demobilised, and those who waited to go home were impatient, even mutinous. So, during these months in Paris, there were always going to be severe limits to the power of the Allied leaders.
Wilson had a Presbyterian belief in punishment for Germany, but he also believed in redemption. His fourteen points addressed to Congress in January 1918 promised a new, more open diplomacy, and expressed a belief in national self-determination and the moral supremacy of democracy.
He seemed to embody America and that was a very important factor. America had entered world politics at this point, and many Europeans looked to it for salvation… from the ills of the old world, which was very the American view of themselves, that they were bringing peace and redemption to the old world.
Harold Nicolson, of the British Foreign Office in Paris, reflected a passionate desire for change:
We were journeying to Paris not merely to liquidate war, but to found a new order in Europe. We were preparing not peace only, but eternal peace. There was about us the halo of some divine mission. We must be alert, stern, righteous and ascetic, for we were bent on doing great, permanent and noble things.
However, during the mid-winter break, when Wilson returned to America to persuade a sceptical Congress of the value and virtue of the League of Nations, the remaining British delegates and their entourage occupied themselves in all manner of tea dances, poetry readings, recitals and other entertainments, to the extent that one British diplomat from central Europe complained that he couldn’t get anyone to talk about the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire because they were all too busy talking about the latest amateur theatrical production. But beyond the salons and dining rooms of Paris, Europe was physically and mentally exhausted. Communism was spreading from the east, following the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia. There had been insurrection in Germany and a communist government was soon established in Hungary, at the heart of the old Hapsburg Empire.
They see Bolshevism as a sort of short-hand for chaos, for anarchy, for famine, for the lack of traditional authority, and given that much of eastern and central Europe was now without a recognised government, the fear was that if they did not make a settlement quickly, then the plague, the bacillus, the germ of Russian communism would spread into eastern and central Europe among defeated peoples and among disillusioned people, and this was a really serious threat to the whole conference.
As if to symbolise this threat, Clemenceau was himself shot by a would-be assassin in February 1919. When Wilson returned to Paris on 14 March, it was obvious that his honeymoon with the French was over. Clemenceau in particular was determined to push on with the German settlement, the Treaty of Versailles. The allies now asserted their belief that German should be punished for starting the war and must pay for its aggression. The leaders had promised their electorates that Germany would pay.
There were also fundamental tensions over the borders between France and Germany, especially along the Rhineland, over Alsace-Lorraine and control of the Saar Basin. These tensions over border security were duplicated all over Europe, due to the collapse of the former Empires. All that the peacemakers had left as a principle to work with in re-drawing these borders was Wilson’s idea of self-determination. By the time the Peace Conference had opened, new states were already emerging from the wreckage of empires. All the peacemakers could do was to fix the borders in accordance with their liberal ideals.
The idea that people should be allowed to choose which state they belonged to was going to be very difficult to apply in eastern-central Europe which had seen invasions, migrations, people coming and going, some people going on, little pools of people left all across the ‘sea-shore’ of eastern-central Europe.
For Harold Nicolson it was agonising work, trying to agree where the borders should go:
How fallible one feels here! A map, a pencil, tracing paper, yet my courage fails at the thought of the people whom our errant lines enclose or exclude, the happiness of tens of thousands of people…
In his own Reminiscences of the Paris Peace Conference, published in 1933, Nicolson angrily attacked Wilson’s approach to diplomacy at the Peace Conference:
On the reparation, financial and economic clauses he exercised no beneficial influence at all, being, as he confessed, “not much interested in the economic subjects”. He allowed the self-determination of Austria to be prohibited. He permitted the frontiers of Germany, Austria and Hungary to be drawn in a manner that was a flagrant violation of his own doctrine… The old diplomacy may have possessed grave faults. Yet they were minor in comparison to the threats that confront the new diplomacy.
The statesmen in Paris became aware as they tried to draw up the frontiers that they simply weren’t going to produce frontiers that would leave everybody on the right side of that frontier. There were bound to be people who would be left in a country they didn’t want to be part of, who would themselves be almost the living personification of the fact that national self-determination didn’t work.
So the peacemakers found a solution that tried to protect the rights of these national minorities. Separate agreements were drawn up which would safeguard religious protection, language rights and schooling, and offer plebiscites or referenda in disputed areas.
The terms offered to Germany at Versailles meant that it lost about 13% of its pre-war territory and about 10% of its population. Politically, it remained intact, although it was forced to pay significant amounts of reparation to Britain and France.
The standard view of the Peace Conference was that a group of short-sighted and stupid men – mainly men – made some very bad decisions, and that those very bad decisions led directly to the Second World War. Increasingly, as I looked at it, I came to the conclusion that they didn’t make bad decisions; they made, in many cases, the best decisions that they could make at the time, but that the circumstances were such that it was very difficult to make a lasting peace, and so I became very interested in this question of ‘does the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and all its arrangements, all its settlements, lead directly to 1939?’ My own conclusion, which may be wrong, was that it didn’t,… that it set up a system which could have worked, but then, over twenty years, a number of things happened, including the rise to power of Hitler in Germany, that made it break down.
In particular, MacMillan has come to the defence of Woodrow Wilson:
Woodrow Wilson is sometimes blamed for creating the expectations that ethnic groups should have their own nation states. This again is unfair. He certainly gave encouragement to the idea in his public statements, including the Fourteen Points, but he did not create what was by now a very powerful force. Europe had already seen how powerful nationalism and the desire of nations to have their own states could be with both Italian and German unification. It had already seen how powerful that force could be in the Balkans. Ethnic nationalism and self-determination for ethnic states was not suddenly created by a few careless words from the American President… Wilson spoke for many both in Europe and the wider world when he said that new and more open diplomacy was needed based on moral principles including democratic values, with respect for the rights of peoples to choose their own governments and an international organisation to mediate among nations and provide collective security for its members. He was called dangerously naïve at the time and Wilsonianism has been controversial ever since. In the world of 1919, though, when the failure of older forms of diplomacy – secret treaties and agreements, for example, or a balance of power as the way to keep peace – was so terribly apparent, a new way of dealing with international relations made considerable sense.
Chapter One: All Paths Lead to Paris – Hungary’s War and Peace, 1914-1918
Balázs Ablonczy (Hungarian historian):
What do we know about the military plans of the Great Powers concerning Central Europe? What were the ideas of Great Britain, France and Italy when they joined the war?
Ignác Romsics (Hungary):
It was a combination of long-term and immediate military plans. Both the Entente and the Central Powers wanted to win the war. How to win a war? You have to be superior in numbers and you need technical supremacy. You can be superior in numbers by having new allies. You can have new allies if you promise them something. The easiest promise can be part of your enemy’s land. That is what was going on from the end of 1914. That was the way that Italy was dragged into the war in 1915, in spite of the fact that previously it had belonged to the Central Powers and was a member of the Triple Alliance. However, Italy joined the enemy in 1915 in the hope of gaining South Tyrol, Istria and the Northern Dalmatian region. In the same way, Serbia was not promised in the autumn of 1914 a great Slavic state with its centre in Belgrade. The heroism in defence was much less in the Serbian areas and from the end of 1916, in Corfu, respectively. Unlike others, the Serbs did not surrender. They trusted in promises. The Romanian case was different. They hesitated for two years as to which side to enter the war on. Who would promise more? Romania needed Bessarabia, and that could be granted by the Central Powers. However, Transylvania was even more important, and they could not hope to gain it from the Central Powers. Although Berlin was inclined to agree, István Tisza and the Budapest politicians were completely opposed. However, they hoped to gain support from St Petersburg. After the Brusilov offensive, the Romanians considered, in the summer of 1916, that the winners of the war would be the Entente. Therefore, they decided to enter the war on the side of the Entente, in the hope of gaining Transylvania, the Marmures, the Partium, and a part of the Banat.
What were the precepts of the great powers before the First World War concerning the Austro-Hungarian monarchy?
Mária Ormos (H):
They did not care much; their concern was Germany. There was only one among them that, prior to the war, had been seriously interested in further expansion in the region, and that was Russia. There is documentary diplomatic evidence of Russia’s hope to receive further territories in the region through the support of Romania and Serbia, which could later form the basis of feuds. What concerned Great Britain and France was only the creation of a federal German state on the western front. However, neither of them had concrete ideas or political plans before the war. There were certain connections prior to the war, as several French men had visited the Monarchy, forming relations, For example, it is a known fact that Clemenceau had regularly visited Karlsbad, where he nearly “fell in love” with Crown Prince Rudolf, and it was he that mourned the Prince most in Europe. He probably also liked him for the reason that Rudolf had ideas for the transformation of the Empire. It was not Austria but Hungary which sparked off the First World War, even though it was Vienna that sent the ultimatum to Belgrade. The whole conflict could have been stopped at that moment. It was a blunder for which the Serbian state was not primarily responsible, even though such were the connections and the suppositions that were made at the time. However, the fact that neither of the sides was able to control the situation meant that in other conflicts, namely the French-German conflict, the politics of revenge on the French side became a dominant factor. In the British-German relationship, it was not due to colonial expansion, but rather to the excitement or hysteria in British industrial and commercial circles generated by the dynamics of German industrial and commercial development. Then there were the annoying German colonial demands. Accordingly, the outbreak of war had several causes; Austria and Hungary only sped up the events.
The key issue of European, or even world politics, was not the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, but Germany. The Monarchy’s role depended on it, since a tight military and political cooperation had been formed between the Monarchy and Germany during World War One, and especially by 1918. It was expected to become even tighter after Germany had won the war. German thinkers even described it as “Mitteleuropa”, built on the Berlin-Vienna-Budapest axis, as the dominant power in Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals. This represented a global political challenge to the power of Great Britain and the USA. Therefore, from the strategic point of view, the prevailing opinion at the end of the war was to create a series of more homogeneous, smaller and therefore more easily influenced states. Russia was the first to create a more fragmented state structure that would be easier to influence from St Petersburg.
Russia wanted to extend its influence over the smaller Balkan states as well, hence its support for Romania over Transylvania, while Austria-Hungary was interested in creating a southern Slav federation. Both Crown Prince Rudolf and Franz Ferdinand tried to develop this idea, negotiating with the various nationalities. However, the Serbs, of course, planned their own enlarged state, and were determined to resist Austrian over-lordship.
When Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo on 18th June 1914, some knew exactly what the meaning of this event was, while others didn’t. However, later everybody understood the significance of that day and that event, and remembered what they were doing when they heard the news. Following it, there was a month-long diplomatic battle. It started behind the stage, when government circles in Vienna tried to persuade Premier István Tisza that the Monarchy should confront Serbia, the suspected inciter of the assassination. Tisza resisted and surrendered only at the last moment. We still don’t know the reasons for this.
The historical Hungary was a multinational state. If we exclude the population of Croatia, Hungarians made up 54% of the total population., and counting Croatia, Hungarians made up just under half of the population. Romanians made up 16%, Slovaks 10%, and there were significant populations of Germans, Serbs and Croatians in the South. The central region of Hungary was inhabited by Hungarians.
What were the steps which led the Entente Powers to eliminate the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy?
The first important step was the fall of the Russian Empire and the Bolshevik Revolution that resulted in chaos in the territory of Russia. Meanwhile, there was a close cooperation between the Monarchy and Germany which included a customs union, as well as political and also military alliances. Plus, the domination of areas of Poland, Byelorussia, the Balkans and Ukrainian regions. They subdued Romania, and thus their influence was extended all the way to the Black Sea, while in France the Western Front was still standing.This was the second factor that greatly influenced the Great Powers, while the efforts of the Monarchy to achieve separate peace treaties failed. It was further evidence that the Monarchy could not leave Germany’s path, so our interest was to weaken Germany. How to do this? By not sedating but by stimulating conflicts between nationalities in the Monarchy. In April 1918, this became obvious for the public as well. When representatives of the so-called oppressed nationalities joined the Entente expressing their intention to form their own states.
Important representatives of the Hungarian political elite were conscious of the multinational character of their country. It was described as such in every contemporary itinerary. However, it was not only that the itineraries that agreed that “Hungary was a small Europe” as one of them mentioned, but that even the politicians agreed about the proper political and administrative structure.
Leaders of the nationalities in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (had long) considered means of achieving autonomy or federalisation.
French historian, Catherine Horel:
For France the Monarchy was an archaic and clerical empire that oppressed its nationalities. It had an old ruler who didn’t want to make any reforms. Since neither Franz Josef nor Franz Ferdinand could provide reform, Clemenceau realised, at the end of the war, that if there was no way to change this empire and it could not be disunited from the German alliance, then it had to be destroyed.
What were the military targets?
First of all, Alsace-Lotharingia. However, what was most important was to defeat Germany. The other aim was the redistribution of the colonies, and possibly obtaining German colonies in Africa. Military aims against the Monarchy were not integrated.
In 1915-16, Austria-Hungary was considered an ally of the Germans, thus it was useless. Although it was written off, there were no concrete plans as to how to take it to pieces. Therefore, when Franz Josef died and Charles IV of Austria ascended the throne and sent his letter with his brother-in-law to the French President Poincaré, saying that he wanted to stop the war, he acknowledged that Alsace-Lotharingia belonged to France. Following this, the French Government began to think about whether Austria-Hungary could represent a balance against Germany. Some of the leaders in Vienna attempted to keep the Emperor from coming to terms with France. Then, it was said in Paris that Charles easily sacrificed Alsace – which never belonged to him – and made an offer to the detriment of the Germans. However, if it were the Italian demand concerning South-Tyrol, Vienna would immediately retreat. Since the case dragged on, the French got fed up and Clemenceau, who had become the Premier in 1916, published the letter. It led to the end for Austria-Hungary. The Germans focused on Vienna, and even the poor Emperor’s “walk to Canossa” wasn’t sufficient. That was the time when the Germans, probably Hindenburg and Ludendorff, elaborated the negotiations and texts that were proposed for the customs union between Germany and Austria-Hungary, and Vienna was forced to accept it and sign it. The other plan was to set up a common army. In Berlin they were already thinking about the way to teach Hungarian soldiers to speak German, since their knowledge was insufficient.
Austrian historian, Horst Haselsteiner (Vienna):
Charles had to agree to adhere loyally to his German ally. The Spa Conference took place on 18 May 1918. It was about the final aim, the victory, and that both parties would continue to stand by each other. In September, Charles elaborated a so-called ‘völkermanifest’ for the Austrians, and promised changes of great significance for the sake of the unity of the Monarchy. The reaction from the so-called national councils was negative, probably because they were formed of the various nationalities, and it was obvious that they preferred secession.
By this time, it was known in Paris that federalisation plans of the King and Emperor Charles would not be successful. The economy, military and national collapse would destroy the empire. National councils were formed, including that of the Hungarians. It became clear that peoples living here could not be held together, since their ideas were so much different from each other.
From that time on, Austria-Hungary had no more practical steps in the foreign political sphere. That was the time when the changes happened in London and Paris, and soon in America too. They expressed the view that this state was needed no more.
Did the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918 have any role in this process?
After the February Revolution they (the Entente) still believed that Russia could be kept in the war. Even the Provisional Government trusted in this. They didn’t want to leave the war in the victorious stage. In addition, why should they leave their likely prey, the results and their influence? So they wanted to go on, but it didn’t work. They were waiting even after the Bolshevik take-over. Both the Swiss and the French sent envoys and Socialist representatives to negotiate, because they weren’t sure if the Bolsheviks would sign or not. When it took place, they threw in the towel and said, ‘No more!’ This meant a great geopolitical change from the point of view of the great powers’ way of thinking. The question was already one of whether to rely on the Monarchy or not.However, the certainty was that we couldn’t rely on Russia at all. From that time on, it became of essential importance as to how to substitute the balance of power with Germany. Although it seemed that Russia was suitable, in reality it wasn’t, due to its huge size and giant army. This empire simply left the stage.
Miklós Zeidler, Hungarian historian:
This was the last year of the war; the Central Powers were about to lose. What was the great powers’ policy? What kind of ideas did they have when they entered 1918? Although military aims had already been thought out by every great power, there were certain changes made in these aims. The most important, that seemingly affected the whole peace conference, was the American point of view. It was announced by President Woodrow Wilson, who formulated the basic guidelines of the post-war provision in fourteen points. There was a point among them, the tenth, that dealt with the Monarchy, and with that, Hungary, It stated that the nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy needed ’self-determination’. The slightly cloudy composition of this was given more detail during the spring and summer. Wilson outlined his theory of self-determination, which the peace conference validated, in respect of the region’s countries.
By the end of May, there was a basic change in the American concept, including that of President Wilson. It seemed that, alongside the negotiators, it was the view of the US Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, that prevailed. He convinced the President and was the representative sent to Europe in May. He it was who sat down with French Premier Georges Clemenceau and British Prime-Minister Lloyd George, and persuaded them to make an agreement. This was the moment when Eastern European policy was born. That was when it was announced that the three powers agreed that all would acknowledge the unity of Poland, and the formation of the state of the Western Slavs – the Czechs and Slovaks. Besides these two, there was a third issue which Europeans neglected, that of the unification of the Southern Slavs. The European politicians explained to Lansing that it was the task of the USA alone, since they were committed against Italy on several issues.
László Szarka (H):
From the summer of 1918 on it was evident that the war would end soon. There would be a new situation, when the seemingly passive national movements would rise within the country.
On 23 October 1918 Sándor Wekerle’s government collapsed. During the following transitory period the ruler, Charles IV, attempted to put in place various formations. A revolution broke out in Budapest, and the National Council was formed. On 31 October, the ruler appointed a new Premier, Count Mihály Károlyi, and on 13 November Charles renounced the throne. Károlyi was the first Premier of the new Republic and in January 1919, he became the President of the bourgeois-democratic, revolutionary Hungary.
The real problems began when the Minister for Nationalities in Károlyi’s Government, Oszkár Jászi, put forward his ideas, in spite of the fact that he knew that Hungary was unable to survive a war. He wanted to enact emergency policies, and a decision was taken, with the involvement of the Transylvanian aristocratic politicians, who were invited to join the Council of Ministers – István Tisza and Pál Teleki.
Éva Irmanova, Czech historian (Prague):
It was obvious that the integrity of the historic Hungary could not be preserved. Those Hungarian politicians who saw clearly were conscious of this. Trusting in President Wilson’s statement about the self-determination of the nationalities, they wanted to achieve the realisation of these rights in the case of the Hungarians as well. The unfortunate example of this trust in Wilson was Mihályi Károlyi, who represented the democratic wing, but who was ignored by the Entente, the peacemakers, because his policy did not coincide with their aims. They needed to present an image of a subdued Hungary for the sake of their French ally.
Paul Gradvohl, historian (Nancy):
In truth, the deeds of the Károlyi Government were the last issue to be considered. Hungary was no longer important for the Czechs, the Yugoslavs, or the Austrians. Let’s not forget that Hungary was not considered to be a partner. It was the only country in the region that had no effective diplomatic relations. The situation in Hungary was much worse than that in Germany or in Austria.
Soon after the war had broken out, Masaryk and Benes did everything in their power to disrupt the Monarchy and to create a state according to their dreams. At first, they wanted to create an independent Czech state. However, they soon realised that this would not work without Slovakia.
These programmes and processes were supported by France and Great Britain, and by the beginning of 1918 they became explicit items of in the project of creating small European states, the ’Zwisseneuropa’. The French first articulated these war aims in December 1916, when the slogans of the Czech and Slovak independence were still poorly defined.
Masaryk and Benes had elaborated the concept of the Czechoslovak state, but they had to face, and try to resolve, the serious contradictions inherent in the concept of the ’Czechoslovak nation’. The first of these was the fact that there were more than three million Germans living in the territory of the historic Czech kingdom, with whom they had to make a secure balance. This balance could only be achieved through Slovakia and the Slovak population. The there was another contradiction. When making plans for the creation of the Czechoslovak state, they could refer to the German-populated area as that of the former Czech Kingdom. However, in the case of Slovakia this was impossible. There had been no historical relationship between the Czech and Slovak territories. Therefore, they based their concept on natural law. This duality formed the basic characteristic of the future Czechoslovakia. Pretension was based on historicity and natural law, and the contradiction between them proved to be an Achilles heel, the source of several tensions.
Within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy Hungary was a country without considerable political emigrants. If Mihályi Károlyi had been Czech, he would have been exiled in Paris or London, able to build up an extensive system of contacts. However, from Budapest, this was impossible. So, the first aspect was that Hungary did not have a good network of democratic contacts on the winning side. The second aspect was that the French did not have a clear political vision over Hungary in November 1918, before the Padua armistice. From the military point of view, this armistice was useless for the French. This was due to the lack of any plan… It is interesting that Hungary’s northern and eastern areas were not mentioned in the text of the Padua armistice. This was absurd, since they already knew how they wanted to distribute the Monarchy. This is impossible to understand.
There was not a single Hungarian representative present at the signing of the Padua armistice. The armistice did not refer to the borders of Hungary. Additionally, the US Secretary of State, Lansing, declared the US’s support for Romania’s claim to Transylvania. It was obviously annoying for Budapest and they decided to make connections and order within the demarcation lines. They sent a cable to the Head of the Eastern Forces of the Entente, Franchet d’Esperey, saying that they wanted to negotiate. He asked for permission from Paris. Paris agreed and sent him the text. So, he had the authorisation from Paris, defining the demarcation line. Well, a demarcation line can be defined where there is a war. There was no war in Northern Hungary, where the Czechs and Slovaks were not enemies of the Hungarians, but were fighting together on the same side. It was the Romanians and the Serbs whom Hungary was still fighting. Therefore, it was this line that they defined according to military convention. This was what was signed to on 13 November 1918, and it cut away part of Transylvania. More or less the Carpathians to the south of the River Muros, except for the Székler region. Theoretically, it was an acceptable line for negotiations to consider. It meant that the politicians did not agree with the soldiers.
The French Foreign Minister and Premier, Georges Clemenceau, later became President of the Paris Peace Conference. It’s hard to imagine him functioning well in the dual role of Premier and Foreign Minister, but Clemenceau would have had to agree to this demarcation line in both of these roles, not only about Transylvania,(but also about all the territories either side of the line). What’s more, when Mihályi Károlyi had talks in Belgrade with the French commander-in-chief, Franchet d’Esperey, the negotiations were about the occupation of areas further from the line, by units of the Eastern Troops of the Entente. These would form strategic points. This was welcomed, since it meant that the French, Greek and British would come, alongside the Serbs (who were included in the military staff). However, they would surely not draft Czech and Slovak army units in order to occupy Northern Hungary, and neither could the Romanians come all the way to the Tisza. There was still no settled French policy concerning Hungary. It was still a time when d’Esperey could tell Károlyi that he would propose friendship in the future. Then, both the British and Italian governments objected, as did the new French Foreign Minister, Etienne Pisson, with reference to the interests of Romania. It also meant agreement with Czecho-Slovak unity. They did not even know in the French Foreign Ministry where to find Slovakia. So it was not a carefully prepared scenario. This position was formed out of the pressures of daily politics in which, in addition to the objections of the British and the Italians played their role as well. They claimed that the French were acting unilaterally and were neglecting the interests of the Allies.
Why didn’t they ’notice’ that this demarcation line was not accepted as valid by the Entente? Did the politicians in Budapest take it into consideration?
It was too late when they did. Vyx also played a role in this. He wanted to protect the Hungarian Government and when he received the critique, he refused to forward it. When the Government realised the true situation by the end of December, Károlyi immediately began to search for another way out. He looked towards Rome and sent Gustáv Sámán there, not to Fiume or Trieste, but to Rome, where he negotiated with the chief of the political department, Bianceri. He passed him Károlyi’s signed letter, which expressed the desire for Hungary to follow an Italian orientation in the future, by agreeing to the formation of a united Hungarian-Romanian state. It failed because the Romanians began further manoeuvres, not even stopping for a while (to consider the offer on the table)…
What was the reason why Károlyi’s Government did not do everything for the military protection of the country? We have to note that there was chaos. Not only was there an a mutiny in the Army, but there were also severe shortages in the autumn of 1918, and everybody was fed up with the war. The government had first put its hope in Paris, and considered Hungary’s fate to be dependent on the Entente. The turn of the years 1918/19 was already bringing some local incidents between the foreign troops and the Hungarian Army. On 2 March 1919, Mihályi Károlyi stated, in a speech in Szatmárnémeti, that military defence of the borders and the country was a possible option.
Both Károlyi and others began to consider looking for support from Bolshevik Russia, when they had finally run out of potential Western European supporters.
Peter Haslinger (Munich):
The War had brought complete chaos. In 1918, there were several countries in Central Europe where this chaos looked ready to erupt into full-scale revolution. Discontented crowds began to turn into ones with revolutionary attitudes, first of all in the territories of the defeated empires. Russia was in a state of permanent revolution and the Bolsheviks also declared the right of the different former imperial peoples to self-determination, resulting in some stormy reactions within its territories. There was a chance for Russia to rule the situation by becoming a future winner. In parallel with social tensions there was cruel competition between the national elites in the region, each aiming to obtain control over more and more territories and towns. The Peace Conference had not even started when small border incidents began breaking out between Czechoslovakia and Poland, as well as between Romania and Hungary. Diplomats, the future decision-makers, were under serious pressure, and there was a general worry about the active results of the slogans of world revolution. There was a particular fear of a possible German revolution that annoyed the politicians.
BBC Video (c 1999), The Peacemakers.
Margaret MacMillan (2005), Lessons from History? The Paris Peace Conference of 1919, a lecture delivered at the Vancouver Institute.
Magyar Televízió, Zrt, (2006), The Trianon Syndrome.