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* 2 Peacemaking after World War I: The Western Democracies and the Hungarian Question

Zsuzsa L. Nagy

Austria and Hungary, the two component states of the Habsburg Monarchy, laid down their arms together on November 3, 1918. But they signed their peace treaties as independent states separately on different dates: Austria on September 10, 1919, and Hungary not until June 4, 1920. From November 1918 to June 1920, Hungary had been without internationally defined and recognized borders. Certain territories of the new Hungarian state - some still in dispute - remained under foreign occupation until the ratification of the peace treaty, and in a few cases almost a year longer. Between November 1918 and November 1919, the Allied Powers (or "the Entente," as the Western democracies were known to the Hungarians) found none of the successive Hungarian governments qualified enough to come to Paris and sign a treaty of peace. The Hungarian situation was unusually complex and it took the Peace Conference a long time to resolve it.

During the war against the Central Powers, Hungary figured prominently in the anti-German secret wartime agreements which ushered in the creation of a string of independent nation-states stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic and Black seas. The postwar reorganization of Central and Eastern Europe according to the nationality principle, as interpreted by the Western democracies, could not be achieved merely by dissolving the dualist union of the Austro-Hungarian Mon-

Peacemaking after World War I 33

archy. To carry out the Entente Powers, peace plans, it was necessary to break up the historical unity of the Hungarian state as well. Furthermore, following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Entente-created nation-states in Central and Eastern Europe were to assume a twofold function: on the one hand, they were to isolate Germany, forming a bulwark against Germany's eastward expansion, and, on the other, they were to isolate Soviet Russia in order to prevent Communist revolutions from spreading westward into Europe."

Thus, it was not the Hungarian question as such that engrossed the attention of the Peace Conference for almost two years, but, rather, the way it affected the general postwar objectives of the Allied Powers. In the spring of 1919, Bela Kun, head of the Hungarian Communist republic, pretty accurately described the situation when he said that in Hungary, "the battles of two world currents have clashed . . . [those of] imperialist capitalism and Bolshevik socialism."2

The Habsburg Monarchy's military defeat swept Hungary's ruling regime away, thus clearing the way, on one hand, for the non-Magyars to secede and, on the other, for Hungary to embark on a program of democratization. In the fall of 1918, a bourgeois democratic revolution took place in Budapest, just as it did in Vienna and Prague. Count Mihaly Karolyi formed a new Hungarian government with the support of the progressive bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. Although of outstandingly high quality, this government proved of limited appeal to the nation as a whole. Elsewhere in the Danube region, the nationalist factors helped the consolidation of new regimes (as in Czechoslovakia) or the strengthening of old ones (as in Romania). In Hungary, however, they played an entirely different role. The hostile policy of the Entente Powers, combined with the shock of the ensuing collapse of the historic Hungary, had unique and most unfortunate consequences. National grievances had been generated which, in turn, became the decisive factors affecting both the fall of the Hungarian bourgeois democracy and everything that followed from that collapse.

When the Peace Conference in Paris opened on January 18, 1919, the main territorial issues concerning Hungary's partition were no longer a matter for debate, only the exact demarcation of the lands promised to Hungary's neighbors had to be decided. In the secret treaty of August 18, 1915, Britain, France, and Russia had promised


Serbia the territories of Bosnia, Herzegovina, part of Dalmatia, Slavonia, and Croatia, as well as parts of historical Hungary inhabited by southern Slavs or of mixed population, including the Banat.3 Romania, too, after two years of negotiations, concluded a secret treaty on August 17, 1916. In that treaty Britain, France, Russia, and Italy had promised the Romanians Transylvania and additional territories to the west, formerly known as the Partium, as well as the acquisition of Bukovina and Dobrudja. The Banat, too, was assigned to Romania, leading to a bitter conflict later with Yugoslavia, a rival contender for the same province.4 The Czechoslovak emigres led by T. G. Masaryk and Edvard Benes could not rely on secret agreements. But when the Entente Powers in the last months of the war acknowledged the Czechoslovaks as their allies, they conceded the Czechoslovak right to independence "within the historical borders of their territories." This phrasing was highly inaccurate: Bohemia and Moravia constituted the historic lands of the Czechs but the Slovaks never had a state of their own and hence had no historical borders. Slovakia was to be carved out of Upper Hungary with borders yet to be determined.5

At the end of the war, the Great Powers intended to fulfill their wartime promises only insofar as they were in accord with their interests under postwar circumstances.6 Furthermore, various governments held different opinions of what those interests were, in particular with reference to the Danube region. The resolution of these differences was far from simple.

The United States did not join the Allied Powers until 1917, and thus it had not been a signatory to the secret agreements. Although President Woodrow Wilson's team of experts, the so-called Inquiry in charge of postwar plans, endorsed the basic principles of the secret agreements, the United States had neither economic nor political interests in the Danube region. That lack of vested interest, along with President Wilson's own views, caused the American standpoint on several questions to be fairly favorable toward the Hungarians, for the American peace planning stressed primarily the ethnic principle and the traditional economic relations within the region.7 The head of the British delegation, Lloyd George, agreed with President Wilson on many points. The Foreign Office, however, had followed the traditional British policy of balance of power, striving primarily to prevent France from increasing her influence on the European continent.8

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Among the Entente Powers, France's policy was the least flexible: it aimed at weakening Germany and her allies as much as possible. Opposed by the United States, and often restrained by Britain, France supported every claim against Hungary to the full.9 Italy, meanwhile, would have liked to draw the Danube region into her own sphere of influence, but Italy's position was weak within the alliance system of the Entente Powers and Italian policy was less consistent in the Danube region than that of the French.10

Not surprisingly in light of the foregoing, the postwar Karolyi government focused its foreign policy on Wilson and on the Wilsonian principles of national self-determination. It should also be noted that although Soviet Russia withdrew from the Entente following the October Revolution of 1917 and took no part in the Paris Peace Conference, the existence and influence of Russia had a significant effect on the conference's work.11

The armistice agreement of November 3, 1918, laid down a demarcation line for Hungary that mainly corresponded to Italian interests. Accordingly, the only change in the borders of historical Hungary spelled out by the armistice agreement was the loss of Croatia, which even in dualist Hungary had enjoyed a separate status.12 This demarcation line, however, was not to last long. On November 13, 1918, the Karolyi government signed a military convention with General Louis Franchet d'Esperey, the French commander of the Allied forces in the Balkans. The new agreement modified the earlier demarcation line in the south and the southeast to the advantage of the Romanians and the Yugoslavs. In the north, it brought about no changes in the existing situation since that area was beyond the Entente's immediate military interests. Among the countries affected, however, only Hungary was ready to respect the new agreement.

On November 8, 1918, the Czechoslovak government ordered its troops to advance into Upper Hungary in order to claim "Slovakia" as its own. On December 3, 1918, Stephen Pichon, the French foreign minister, obtained the belated consent of the Entente Powers to that move.14 After a few minor battles, the Hungarians withdrew, upon which General Ferdinand Foch assented to a further advance of the Czechoslovak troops in accordance with Czechoslovak territorial claims. In December 1918 Karolyi was informed of the Czechoslovak


Hungarian demarcation line, which largely coincided with the frontiers later endorsed by the Peace Treaty of Trianon.15 The Romanian government was most unhappy with the demarcation line established by the November armistice agreement: Romanian claims, based on the 1916 secret agreements with the Entente, were far more far-reaching. If honored the border between the two countries would have been at the Tisza River, in the heart of today's Hungary. In addition to Entente promises, Romania was also in possession of a declaration of union with Transylvania issued by self-appointed representatives of Transylvanian Romanians in case territorial claims based on secret wartime treaties were declared null and void. Already in December the Romanian forces, encouraged by Franchet d'Esperey, crossed the demarcation line and by February reached a line running through Maramarossziget (Sighet), Nagybanya (Bania Mare), Zilah (Zilau), and Csucsa, well beyond the historic boundaries of Transylvania. The Allies were forced to send French troops to Arad after bloody encounters took place there between Romanians and Hungarians.'6 And, since both Yugoslavs and Romanians claimed the Banat, armed conflicts also broke out between them, stopped only by the French.17

Following their advance, the Romanian and Czechoslovak forces took over public administration and began to integrate the occupied areas into their respective countries despite the explicit stipulation of the armistice agreement that administration would remain in Hungarian hands until the final decisions over the fate of these territories were determined by the peace conference. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians, mainly administrators, clerks, teachers, and their families, fled to Budapest from the occupied territories, leaving all their possessions behind.18

As a result of both the international and domestic situation, Hungarian bourgeois democracy found itself in a catastrophic situation. The popularity of Karolyi and his administration was shaken. The hopes that democracy and Karolyi's Entente orientation would ensure an equitable and just treatment for Hungary at the hands of the victors quickly vanished. Needless to say, there was no chance whatsoever to implement the Danubian peace plans for an "Eastern Switzerland" advocated by Oszkar Jaszi, leader of the Bourgeois Radical party and minister in charge of nationality affairs in Karolyi's cabinet. Any compromise with Hungary's non-Magyar nationalities at that late date

Peacemaking after World War I 37

became unattainable. The Karolyi government's federal peace plans were no match for the attractiveness of territorial annexations proposed by the Entente to the non-Magyars of the Danube region.19

With the Romanian and Czechoslovak occupations, defeated Hungary lost much of her food and raw material supplies. A further blow was Hungary's exclusion from the aid programs of the Supreme Economic Council and the American Relief Administration. By contrast, defeated Austria received considerable food relief and other supplies.20 All these factors, according even to Allied reports,21 tended to strengthen the extreme left. The Communist opposition to bourgeois democracy was daily engaged in fanning the flames of hatred against the rich and the victorious Western democracies. An instructive account of public feeling was given by the Social Democratic leader Dezso Bokanyi: "We realized that the whole appeal [of President Wilson's Fourteen Points] had been a disappointment; it was quite fruitless to make harangues in favor of the English and the French. By then only the light of the Russian star was left."22

The Entente's hostile actions against Hungary continued relentlessly. They culminated, on March 20, 1919, in the notorious Vyx note ordering the formation of a so-called Hungarian-Romanian neutral zone whose western line bore a suspicious resemblance to the promised border of the 1916 secret agreement between Romania and the Allies.23 Karolyi, supported unanimously by his government, was not prepared to concede further territories. The Karolyi government resigned and the Hungarian bourgeois democratic regime collapsed.

The situation in the spring of 1919 had two contradictory results. In the short run, it paved the way for the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic which, with Bela Kun as its head, came to power without encountering any resistance. Indeed, it enjoyed the support of the most varied strata of Hungarian society, since the change in regime in itself signified a protest against the brutal policy of the Entente Powers. In the long run, however, the events of 1919 deepened and reinforced Hungarian conservative and nationalist sentiments. The grievances aroused by Hungary's humiliation were so strong that, following the fall of the Soviet Republic, the counter-revolutionary Horthy regime was able to make use of them in support of its antidemocratic, right-wing nationalist policy.

By the time the peacemakers in Paris began to deal with the Hun-


garian question, a fait accompli had been created in the Danube region, allowing no essential modifications in the peace conditions dictated by the victors. The losers had no opportunity to participate in preparing the peace treaties. Hungary's delegates were not permitted to take part in the negotiations. The Czechoslovak, Romanian, and Yugoslav peace delegations, on the other hand, were allowed to submit their demands and argue in favor of their acceptance. The territorial decisions were made in subcommittees, then submitted to the Central Territorial Committee under Andre Tardieu, and finally ratified by the Supreme Council.24

The most heated and frequent discussions developed over the Romanian territorial claims demanding full implementation of the 1916 secret wartime agreements.25 Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and British Prime Minister Lloyd George questioned whether the inhabitants of Transylvania, Bukovina, Bessarabia, and the Banat really desired union with Romania. Doubt was also cast on the data on the ethnic composition of these territories. However, when Lloyd George raised the idea of a possible referendum, Romanian Prime Minister Ion Bratianu countered by saying: "Roumania had fought in order to impose her national will on the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. It was certain, therefore, that if the Hungarians were asked to vote in favor of union with Roumania, they could hardly be expected to do so."26 American experts continued to argue strongly, though in vain, against some of the Romanian claims and proposed to leave a number of Hungarian towns - such as Szatmarnemeti (Satu Mare), Nagyvarad (Oradea), and Arad - in Hungarian hands.27

The Czechoslovaks aimed at setting their border along the Danube and then, going even deeper into Hungarian ethnic territory, along a line as far as Vac, Miskolc, and the Ung River. They were supported by the French and the British who sympathized with the Czech politicians Masaryk and Benes far more than with the Romanian Bratianu.28 However, the American delegation - and, eventually, Britain's Lloyd George too - expressed reservations and were more successful in influencing the outcome than in the case of Romania. As a result, Vac, Salgotarjan, with the surrounding coal mines, and Miskolc, one of the centers of Hungarian heavy industry, as well as Sarospatak, Satoraljaujhely, Tokaj, and Csap, remained in Hungarian hands. But, despite American opposition, the Csallokoz (a purely Hungarian island located between the Little Danube and the main Danube) was

Peacemaking after World War I 39

annexed by Czechoslovakia; and so was mostly Ruthenian-populated Subcarpathia which figured on the list of Romanian claims as well.29

The Czechoslovak territorial demands against Hungary formed part of Prague's aspiration to fill the power vacuum in the Danube region and assume a leading role there among the small allies of the victorious powers.30 For that reason Czechoslovakia also sought access to the Adriatic Sea through a swath of Austrian and Hungarian territory. This so-called corridor plan31 was opposed by the Great Powers, and also by Yugoslavia.32 But Benes and his supporters did not give up the corridor plan easily, despite being told by an exhausted Harold Nicolson, the British representative on the commission: "Je vous en prie, n'en parlez pas. C'est une betise."33 When the Peace Conference was trying to prepare a military attack on the Hungarian Soviet Republic in July 1919, Prague again requested the corridor as a price for her intervention.34 As the Czechs saw it, the corridor was to surround Hungary completely by a ring of hostile countries territorially linked by common borders. Since a common border had already been established between Czechoslovakia and Romania, the corridor would have closed the ring by creating a common Czechoslovak-Yugoslav border, and cutting Hungary off from Austria.35

In connection with her claim for a leading role in the Danube region, Czechoslovakia also wanted to obtain the Tesin (Teschen) coal basin, coveted by Poland, and the coal mines in northern Hungary (Salgotarjan).36 Masaryk, although generally more moderate, supported Benes in that instance since he too believed that coal would help exert political influence, not only on defeated Austria and Hungary but on Germany as well.37 In all these matters it is not hard to discern the outlines of the future Little Entente already taking shape in the spring of 1919.

The drawing of borders between Hungary and Yugoslavia was accompanied by far fewer conflicts, and quite understandably so. Neither the size nor the political weight of the territories involved were comparable to those of Transylvania or Upper Hungary. Also, Belgrade was in a more difficult position than the other claimants against Hungary. (Yugoslavia's aspirations clashed with those of both Romania and Italy, since the Banat had earlier been promised to both Romania and Serbia. The Paris peacemakers eventually decided to partition it between Romania and Yugoslavia.) Yugoslavia would have liked to obtain the city of Pecs and the valuable coal mines nearby from Hun-


gary. Although not awarded to her, both remained under Yugoslav occupation through the summer of 1921. 38

The drawing of the border between Austria and Hungary concerned two vanquished countries. Despite conflicting claims, there were no heated debates.39 The Austro-Hungarian border question concerned the so-called Burgenland. Austria was eager to get the whole of it, inhabited as it was, more or less, by a German-speaking population. The Peace Conference showed sympathy toward Austria, eager as the Entente Powers were to prevent Austria from slipping, in a state of frustration, from bourgeois democracy into a dictatorship of the proletariat as Hungary did. Nevertheless, the Austrian territorial demands were only partially fulfilled by the Peace Conference. Moreover, after the signing of the Austrian peace treaty, the city of Sopron and its surroundings, by virtue of a referendum, remained in Hungary - this being the only instance when old Hungary's new borders were decided by a popular vote.

A few further examples may illustrate the flimsy ways Hungarian territorial issues were handled by the Peace Conference. The decisions were all based on expediency, paying little or no attention to ethnic principles, let alone to the wishes of the populations involved. Thus, in western Transdanubia certain territories (Szentgotthard, Csorna, and a few other towns and their surroundings), were awarded to Hungary as compensation in part for her territorial losses elsewhere such as the Csallokoz, and the city of Kassa (Kosice) which had been awarded to Czechoslovakia. Since Pozsony (Pressburg), too, was annexed by Czechoslovakia (despite Italian opposition), Szeged in southern Hungary remained Hungarian (even though Romania also claimed it).

On May 8, 1919, with the peacemakers' work finished, Hungary's borders were fixed.41 They were based on the unilateral decisions of the victors and were arrived at mainly in consideration of the victors' economic and strategic interests. States were thus created in a way that allowed territorial aggrandizements by overriding the ethnic principle entirely. The populations concerned were given no opportunity to exercise their right to national self-determination by voting in a referendum. In Hungary's case, the principles of President Wilson's Fourteen Points were wholly ignored.42

Among the countries formed in the Danube region as a result of

Peacemaking after World War I 41

the peace treaties, only two, Austria and Hungary, could be considered national states in the sense that they had no significant national minorities. The result of territorial gains by Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia, on the other hand, was the creation of large national minorities, which became the source of serious postwar problems and tensions in Central Europe.43 To make matters worse, the various nationalities were at different levels of historical development, with different traditions, and belonging to different cultural and religious spheres - in some cases, the national minorities stood at a higher level of development than the majority nations now ruling over them. Thus, the main postwar concern of the new multinational states was to unify themselves economically, socially, and culturally - a process that was slow, and has still not ended.

The peacemakers were not entirely unaware of the dangers inherent in the new situation their decisions had created. Lloyd George pointed out as early as the end of March 1919 that the decisions they had taken laid the foundations for a German-Hungarian-Bulgarian-Turkish alliance to work for the revision of the peace treaties.44 Also, President Wilson proposed that separate provisions aimed at protecting the national minorities be included in the peace treaties. Dubbed the Minority Treaty, these provisions were meant to ensure that the national minorities should enjoy equal citizenship rights with the ruling nations.45

In reality, the idea of the Minority Treaty was met with repugnance by the ruling majority nations. Among the Danubian states the most vehement opposition came from the Romanian government. Bratianu refused to sign it, claiming that it constituted interference in Romania's internal affairs. The Romanian government's opposition to any international protection of minority rights led to several months' delay in completing the work of the peacemakers. Efforts to induce Romania to sign the Minority Treaty prompted the Supreme Council to award Bessarabia to Romania.46 (In deciding this territorial issue in Romania's favor, Romanian help in defeating the Hungarian Soviet Republic had also scored points in the eyes of the peacemakers.47) The storm over the Minority Treaty brought to the surface the problem of Romanian Jews. As late as 1919, they still did not enjoy equal citizenship rights, and the Romanian government remained reluctant to grant them those rights.48

Signing the Minority Treaty in itself was no guarantee that its pro-


visions would be carried out. Once the treaties were ratified, the Great Powers showed no concern with the matter. For years, the complaints lodged by the Hungarian government at the League of Nations concerning the legitimate grievances of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries were treated as if they were merely propaganda moves of irredentist Hungarian policy.

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