Documents and Debates: Paris, 1919-20: New Wine in Old Wine-skins? (Part One)   1 comment


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.’

Zara Steiner:

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 This was a map that would have to be withdrawn because the very blocks that had constituted Europe… no longer existed.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.

John Thompson:

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.

Alan Sharp:

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.

Alan Sharp:

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.

Alan Sharp:

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.

Margaret MacMillan:

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.

Balázs Ablonczy:

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.




One response to “Documents and Debates: Paris, 1919-20: New Wine in Old Wine-skins? (Part One)

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pingback: International youth camp “First World War in 1915-1916”. Lyubeshiv, Ukraine. | Youth In Advancement 18+

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: