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Magyar-British Relations in the Era of the Two World Wars, 1914-44: Documentary Appendix, Part One – Between the Wars, 1919-39.   Leave a comment

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Magyar-British Relations in the Era of the Two World Wars, 1914-44

Extracts from Domokos Szent-Iványi’s book, edited by Gyula Kodolányi and Nora Szeklér (2013),

 The Hungarian Independence Movement, 1936 – 46.

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Documents and Debates

 

Part One: Between the Wars, 1919-39

A. On Churchill:

It was not just the authors of the system of peace treaties of 1919-20 who failed to appreciate what it was they were doing; Churchill was also late in perceiving the upheaval that was to befall Europe.

In his “The Second World War”, Churchill gives a short account of his conversation with the Turkish Prime Minister… on the 30th and 31st of January, 1943, in the course of which he writes… “I thought to… recreate in modern forms what had been in general outline the Austro-Hungarian Empire of which it has been well said, ‘if it did not exist, it would have been invented’.”

B. On the Paris Peace ‘Settlement’:

One thing that particularly struck me was the way in which the case of Hungary, and even Hungary itself, was hurriedly dropped by France and Great Britain, despite the fact that Hungary had been an important member of the European family but also the bulwark shielding and protecting Western civilization.

All efforts by Hungary to have the Treaty of Trianon revised were frustrated by France and Britain and the votes of the Little Entente states which had the majority in the League of Nations. Their vain attempts 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.

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C. On Rapprochement with Italy:

The attitude of Great Britain to a possible rapprochement with Italy was rather favourable. The British felt that such a development would, to a certain degree, reduce the influence of France in the League of Nations, where France, with the supporting votes of the three Little Entente satellites,,, was, most of the time, able to push through decisions in her interest…

Conversations between the Hungarian Premier, Count István Bethlen and… the British Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Sir Austen Chamberlain, encouraged the Hungarian government to adopt a pro-Italian stance.

In 1927, one of Britain’s leading newspaper tycoons, Lord Rothermere, had a long conversation with Mussolini concerning the political isolation of Hungary after which he published a long article in one of his dailies, the Daily Mail. The article, appearing shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Friendship (5 April 1927) between Italy and Hungary, voiced the opinion that the Peace Treaty of Trianon was unjust and politically unsound and made a call for its revision.

(Editorial Note: … on 21 June 1927 Lord Rothermere published an editorial… in which he suggested the restoration to Hungary of Hungarian-inhabited pieces of territory along its borders with Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia, lest tensions created by the Treaty of Trianon jeopardized security in Europe. The article elicited huge international reaction. The British government distanced itself from Lord Rothermere’s stance, which Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain communicated to the Hungarian government in December 1927).

D. On Trade Talks and Nazi Economic Influence on Hungary:

Alarmed by the increasing (Nazi) influence, leading moderate circles then (from 1932) began exercising pressure on the government in order to lessen German economic and political power in Hungary. Negotiations followed with London and Paris in the hope of securing economic aid which would reduce Hungary’s dependence on Germany for trade. Among other efforts, Hungary tried to have her surplus wheat taken by Britain and France. These actions proved fruitless since London, on account of the wheat-producing members of the British Empire… took little if any interest in the matter.

E. On the Anglophile Group in Hungary, 1930-36:

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In international matters… Group A (Anglophile) carried greater weight than the combined influence of all other groups. The two focuses of Hungarian foreign policy were centred on Britain and Rome…This situation was, in part, created by the very strong links the constituent members of Group A had with the City of London, the Holy See and Downing Street in the period 1920-1939: the rich aristocracy, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, formed their political views in accordance with that of the Holy See and the English aristocracy; finance and industry felt at home in the City; and even a large section of the Hungarian middle classes found many similarities between themselves and with one of these three forces. Britain served as a model in sport, lifestyle (in particular so, as W. S. Churchill himself pointed out to Pál Teleki, in the case of the landed gentry) and even in outward appearance (clothing, manners and so on). These common points of reference, also rooted in strong links with the British conservatism and liberalism of the nineteenth century, were strong enough to foster a pro-English way of looking at international problems in the circles of Group A. The attitude of two eminent politicians of that Group, i.e. Bethlen and Baranyay, to the political situation of 1942-44… illustrates this outlook. Even when the hostile military and political supremacy of the USA and Soviet Russia was more than evident, these two Hungarian politicians were still standing fast by an essentially pro-Britain and pro-Holy See Foreign Policy.

F. On Count István Bethlen and Great Britain:

… he turned in the direction of Great Britain. As a Transylvanian nobleman he bore a striking resemblance to the English aristocrat. His pastimes consisted of reading, hunting and engaging in sport… Bethlen endeavoured to harmonise Hungarian policy with that of Britain… A policy based on British orientation suited the beliefs and feelings of Bethlen… he was strongly backed not only by the Hungarian aristocracy but also by Hungarian banking and financial circles which traditionally had been oriented towards the Bank of England and the City.

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G. On Premier Darányi:

… here I will quote a few lines from C. A. Macartney’s widely known work, October the Fifteenth”:

Darányi… was nothing approaching a Liberal or a Democrat in the Western sense of the terms”.

H. On the Chamberlain Government and Lord Halifax’s conversations with Hitler:

(Editorial note: ‘… with the Chamberlain cabinet coming to power in Britain, non-intervention became the standard foreign policy directive. During his visit to Germany in November 1937, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax assured Hitler of Britain’s yielding free way to Germany’s position as regards the revision of the peace treaties in Central Europe. From this Hitler concluded that Britain would put no obstacles in the way of the Anschluss and the occupation of Sudetenland.’)

I. On Britain and Yugoslavia, 1937:

Great Britain was not bound by Treaty obligations to any Danubian or Balkan state. She was clearly anxious to find a solution by agreement of the German problem. Her opinion was not unfriendly towards Hungary, and alone in Europe she seemed to have some feeling for the applicability in practice of theoretical principles, including that of justice. Hungary believed passionately in the justice of her cause, and thought that Britain might recognise this, and the Hungarians whose feelings and calculations we have been describing… were the more anxious to get British support because of their belief that the war which they foresaw would end in a German defeat and a British victory. (Macartney)

J. On The ’Independence’ Position in Autumn 1937, before The Berlin Negotiations:

The most important individuals representing the position above were Bethlen, Teleki and Gyula Károlyi. They were, in addition, pro-British, as was the Regent himself, due to his former career as a naval officer. Horthy was convinced that “a naval power would certainly beat a land power in war, and that the British were the only people capable of dominating the world, whereas the Germans were so rude and tactless that they made themselves disliked wherever they went”… But even Bethlen and Baranyay, as late as the winter of 1943/44, still believed that it would be the British who would have the greatest influence on the shaping of a future Europe.

K. On the Austrian Anshluss of 1938 and Eden’s Resignation:

… on the twelfth of a sensational meeting took place at Berchtesgaden between the Austrian Chancellor, Mr Schusschnig and Hitler, in the course of which the former was forced to promise to remodel his Cabinet with the addition of pro-Nazi elements. On 20 February, the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Eden, having found Mr Chamberlain’s Central European policy too weak, resigned.

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L. On the British Reaction to the Return of Teleki as Premier, May 1938:

In many respects Teleki was the best man whom Hungary could have chosen to guide her through the crisis now so fast approaching. While he was there, the mere fact was an asset to her. The Western Powers, Great Britain in particular, who were usually very quick to suspect the good faith and intentions of a Hungarian, made an exception in the case of Teleki, who was probably the only Hungarian Prime Minister since 1918 whom they sincerely regarded, and treated as a friend; and they took much from him that they would have allowed no one else…

The messages sent by Churchill, through Cadogan, Sargent and/or Barcza, to Premier Teleki were of the utmost importance. In one of his messages Churchill stressed the similarities between the British and Hungarian peoples, declaring that the majority of the British people felt a strong liking for Hungary and Hungarians and stating that as long as Horthy was the Head of State and Teleki was the head of the government, the British would feel assured as to the future developments in Hungary notwithstanding the approaching Nazi evil…

Some authors claim that Teleki was too much of an idealist to be able to embrace the political realism required of the time. This, however was not so. And here I am quoting from my manuscript…

“In connection with the rumours of German troops passing across Hungary. …the British ambassador called… on Premier Teleki. The latter did not deny that German troops ‘in civilian clothes’ were travelling across Hungary on collective tourist-passage’ passports, which did not allow holders of such passports to stay in Hungary. At the end of their conversation O’Malley asked the Premier whether he was not afraid of the R.A.F. Teleki, sadly smiling, answered: ‘Yes, very much. But for the time being I am much more afraid of the Luftwaffe’.”

M. On Imrédy’s Premiership, May-August 1938:

Undoubtedly, after Teleki, Imrédy was the best known of Hungarian political leaders abroad, particularly in financial and business circles in Britain and France. Macartney writes:

“The appointment of this Cabinet… was… well received in the West: The Times, for instance, wrote of it on 30 May that it was one ‘of which nothing but good may be expected’.

Imrédy tried to encourage stronger Hungarian and British commercial and cultural connections, and in that respect he made some practical efforts.

His foreign policy, still directed by Kánya, aimed at the breaking up of the Little Entente, the first step of which was the policy attempting to isolate Czechoslovakia. But the rapidly deteriorating situation between Germany and Czechoslovakia, the British intervention, first through the so-called Lord Runciman mission, and the increasingly menacing Polish attitude towards Prague, led to a rapid change in Imrédy’s foreign policy.

N. On the Entry of the Reich’s Armies into Prague, 15-16 March, 1939, and the coming conflagration:

At the beginning of writing my report, I believed that with Germany occupying the German’ part of Czechoslovakia, absorbing Austria, breaking up the Little Entente, establishing a strong army and establishing better relations with Poland, Hitler had achieved what he had set out to…I also thought that with Chamberlain and Deladier in power, Hitler would enjoy several years of peace during which he would be able to strengthen his dominant position in Europe… As soon as I heard of Hitler’s latest offensive, I felt sure that it would prove a catalyst for France and Britain to declare war. My report… had concluded that the situation in Central Europe would not, at least for a few years, spark off a world conflagration. I now realised I was wrong…

Accordingly I went to work and changed my conclusions. Instead of predicting a period of peace and reconstruction for Europe, I now rewrote my conclusion… The main points of my argument were the following… A world conflagration would break out within ten months; the ensuing Second World War would be lost by Poland, Italy, France, Germany; the British Empire would crumble; the colonies would free themselves, breaking up the British, French and Italian Empires; Europe would be devastated by aerial attacks against which there was no defense (as demonstrated in 1938 the Spanish Civil War); two victorious powers would emerge from the struggle, i.e. the USA and the Soviet Union; in consequence of the devastation of Germany, France and Italy, the Soviet-Boshevik expansion in Europe would intensify.

… As to land forces, I came to the conclusion that Germany, unless she was able to conquer Great Britain within a year and a half, would lose any war that dragged on for more than two years.

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O. On Teleki’s taking up of the Premiership, February 1939:

Immediately on taking office, he sent Barcza a telegram charging him to assure the Foreign Office that ‘although Hungary’s geographical and political situation compelled her to co-operate loyally with Germany up to a point, he was absolutely determined that such co-operation should never go so far as to impair, much less sacrifice, Hungary’s sovereignty, independence or honour. The Government attached great importance to the understanding and support of the British Government, and would never do anything to injure the interests of Great Britain’.

P. On the idea of a Hungarian Government in Exile, July 1939 (from Macartney):

On 14 May Sargent told Barcza that he understood Teleki to have told O’Malley some days earlier that if Germany asked permission for the transit it would be given her. The Foreign Office now made Hungary an offer of considerable importance: Sargent said that if Germany forced a passage and Hungary at least protested, this would put her in the same position as Denmark. Cadogan repeated the advice three days later, and further suggested that if the Hungarian Government (the existing one, or another nominated by the Regent) would go abroad, HM Government would recognise it as the legitimate Government of Hungary. Teleki, however, does not seem to have taken up the suggestion… The question… was the subject of various conversations the Hungarian Minister to Britain, Barcza, conducted with Sir Alexander Cadogan the Permanent Under Secretary and with Sir Orme Sargent the Head of the Political Department of the Foreign Office.

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