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Problems and Solutions

"In a national state there is no room for minority problems." Edvard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia, in his Foreign Affairs article, "Postwar Czechoslovakia," 1946

"The participating States on whose territory national minorities exist will respect the right of persons belonging to such minorities to equality before the law, will afford them the full opportunity for the actual enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and will, in this manner, protect their legitimate interests in this sphere."

Article VII of the "Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States," Final Act, Helsinki, 1975

* 11

The Benes Thesis: A Design for the Liquidation of National Minorities


Vojtech Mastny

The diplomacy of World War II has been customarily regarded as the almost exclusive domain of the Great Powers. In Eastern Europe especially, myths about sinister deals among them at the expense of the small nations have survived with amazing persistency. Although there is much indeed to criticize in the wartime conduct of the Big Three, the Great Powers were by no means alone in their sins and mistakes. Others, far from being hapless pawns, did more than their share by indulging in policies which made a satisfactory postwar settlement difficult, if not impossible.

While the war continued, the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, presided over in London by Edvard Benes, was perhaps the least troublesome of all the Eastem European allies. It kept on excellent terms with all the Great Powers, including the Soviet Union. During a visit to Moscow in December 1943, Benes signed a treaty of friendship and postwar cooperation--the first such agreement between a small allied nation and the Soviet Union. Having first initiated this project and overcome successfully both Russian hesitations and British opposition, the Czechoslovak president was very proud of his accomplishment. Yet, the treaty always remained controversial. Especially after the Communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, there was speculation about the extent to which the 1943


agreement may have actually prepared the groundwork for that cataclysmic event of the Cold War. No reliable evidence has been published to document what transpired during the extensive discussions between Benes and the Soviet leaders in December 1943. The president himself was the main source of information and he obviously disclosed only what he wanted to be known.

The Smutny documents provide the first direct and comprehensive account of the discussions among Benes, Stalin, and Molotov in December 1943. Jaromir Smutny was a close intimate of Benes from 1937 to the President's death in 1948. Thoroughly dedicated to the man whom he regarded as "the greatest Machiavelli our time," Smutny was not an uncritical admirer. Free from any political ambitions, he kept aloof from strife and intrigue in the Benes "court.", Safely established in the center of power, Smutny devoted much of his energy to keeping records of what was going on. Concealed from the eyes of his boss, he maintained a diary.

Jaromir Smutny attended the meeting as the head of the president's chancellery. All the documents are part of Smutny's literary estate which was deposited through the generosity of his widow, Mrs. Jaroslava Smutna, at the Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture at Columbia University. The bulk of Smutny's wartime papers, particularly his diaries, remained in Prague when he fled Czechoslovakia in June 1949 - this time to escape from the Communist regime. He settled in London, in the same house where Benes had set up his temporary headquarters in 1938. Then Smutny began organizing whatever papers he had managed to rescue, filling in gaps and preparing material for his memoirs. By the time he died in 1964, he had completed extensive portions of this work, although he had not given them the final touch. Two years later, selections from the 1939-41 diaries he had left in Prague appeared in a Czech-language publication which is an outstanding source for the history of World War II diplomacy. Of Smutny's London papers, those printed below were not included among the documents published in Prague.

Benes's performance in Moscow hardly bears out the customary Western image of him as a skillful negotiator, a staunch democrat, and a man of compromise. But, the destruction of the myth does not make it any easier to understand the true motives of the man sometimes rightly considered as one of the most enigmatic politicians of

The Benes Thesis 233

his time. For it would be absurd to attribute his conduct to a lack of sophistication or to an excess of Russophile or any other sentiment. The clue to Benes's conduct should be sought in his overwhelming emphasis upon foreign policy; then, as ever, Benes was a true believer in its primacy in the affairs of nations. This is the reason why he took such flexible views of what self-government and sovereignty meant. His policies had always been marked by that disproportion, but the impact of the war magnified it to the extreme. The crushing experience of Munich had led him not only to distrust the West - as has been frequently overemphasized - but also to greatly exaggerate the allegedly perennial German threat and, consequently, the need for Russian protection. Furthermore, his search for intimacy with the Soviet regime could not fail to affect adversely his own devotion to freedom and democracy, which he came to value considerably less than security. And, it is true that he had been predisposed in that direction before.

The president's self-righteous and narrow-minded nationalism is a disconcerting feature of his discussions with Molotov. His antiGerman animus can perhaps be excused most easily - even his plan for the summary expulsion of the Sudeten Germans can be defended as an act of statesman-like wisdom. But there was no need for his demanding such pinpricks as the participation of Czechoslovak troops in the occupation of Germany. It is still more difficult to justify his effort to solicit from the unwilling Russians support for the expulsion of the Hungarian minority. Outright scandalous, however, was his demand that Hungary be occupied by the Red Army rather than by the Westem Allies - just to guarantee that the hated neighbors would be crushed brutally enough.

The excerpts from President Benes's writings that follow the excerpts from the Smutny papers illustrate Benes's effort at presenting his postwar plans against Czechoslovakia's enemies as compatible with the humanistic ideals of Western civilization. Thus, the liquidation of national minorities by removing them forcibly is posited in his Foreign Affairs articles as a policy serving the national security of Czechoslovakia on the one hand, and, on the other, as a realization of lofty ideals of peace, progress, and democracy.


Annex I

Excerpts from the Smutny Papers Political Conversation between Benes and Molotov on December 14, 1943*

( *Excerpted from Vojtech Mastny, "The Benes-Stalin-Molotov Conversations in December 1943: New Documents , Jahrbucherfdr Geschtchte Osteuropas, n.s. 20, no. 3 (September 1972): 376-402.)

President Benes: . . . I don't believe in a just and lasting peace. Peace will last long if we are ready to defend it. The Versailles agreement was not bad. The trouble was that neither you nor others were ready to defend it. . . . Our Germans are responsible for Munich, for the German invasion, and for everything that followed. They are the first to have taken responsibility for the war. War criminals from Germany itself are another story. But the punishment of our Germans is the big thing for us. . . .

The next question is the Hungarians. Many of our people say: They must be destroyed too. I myself am not so radical. A great power could talk like that, but we cannot carry out anything of that sort. Here, too, I want to adapt our policy to yours. An internal revolution must take place in Hungary in order to destroy feudalism. The British and the Americans are beginning to understand it. But they are afraid that the revolution in Hungary might be like the one after the last war - Bela Kun and all that. That's why the occupation of Hungary is so important. I think it is important that you also, not only the British and the Americans, share in it. I can imagine what would happen if the British alone were there. The Hungarian aristocrats would take them out for weekends and for hunting, tell them stories about how their democracy is the oldest in Europe and about their parliament. All that is lies, but the British would be impressed. It was the same after the last war. . . . That must not happen again; your participation in the occupation is very important to us. . . .

Molotov: The Hungarians must be punished, too. As far as the occupation is concerned, we have a shorter way to get there than the others, but the situation is still unclear and not topical. The British and the Americans are going to back the Poles. . . .

The Benes Thesis 235

President Benes: Of course, and the Poles might conduct a pro-Hungarian policy. There are also Yugoslavia and Romania, which I want to discuss later; for the time being, let's speak about our concern in regard to Hungary. . . . The minorities and their transfer. As you recall, I have also discussed this at the dinner with Marshal Stalin. He stated categorically: "We agree." That is very important to me. . . .

A Second Conversation between Benes and Molotov

on December 16, 1943

Benes explains that we [Czechoslovakia] also want to relocate the Hungarians, or else exchange them for Slovaks from Hungary, and to redraw the frontier.

Molotov: All right. Have you submitted these plans to the Americans and the British?

Benes: They know my opinion, but officially I haven't submitted them anything until I could agree with you. I don't have a good experience from the last war; there are many Magyarophiles among the British. They know it in principle, but first of all I wanted to know to what extent you would be supporting us. I discussed the matter twice with Roosevelt; I explained everything to him and during the last visit I wanted to make sure that he understood me correctly. Roosevelt is in favor. After I asked him whether he understood the meaning of what I told him about our treaty with Moscow, he replied: "I understand." In reply to the same question about the transfer, he said not only that he understood but also that the same solution should be applied in other countries. He hinted at Transylvania.

Molotov: Do you think that they honestly want it? [He refers to the promises of the British and the Americans in regard to the transfer.]

Benes: That depends. I think they do, but then they say, how will you pay for it? Now, after the Teheran conference, they are going to be more agreeable.

Molotov: But tell me, what can you pay with? You have no colonies.


Protocol on the exchange of opinion between President Benes and People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs V Molotov on December 14 and 16, 1943, and among Dr Benes and Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars J. Stalin and V Molotov on December 18, 1943

. . . 2. Exchange of opinion on postwar Germany and Hungary. Affirmed that consensus exists among Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Soviet Union concerning the necessity of taking all appropriate measures in order to prevent any attempt at a new aggression on the part of Germany.... Affirmed that Hungary carries a great responsibility for the war, particularly for the atrocities committed in this war against the population of the USSR and of the occupied territories, and that it must suffer the appropriate consequences. The territory of Hungary must be occupied, primarily by the Soviet army, which has a shorter way to get to Hungary than the other Allied armies. . . .

4. The problem with the population transfer. President Benes explained that the transfer from the territory of Czechoslovakia of the German population, which has a great and original share in Germany's responsibility for the present war, is justified both in order to give justice to Czechoslovakia and in order to provide a guarantee against any further abuse of the German minority by the German Reich in the preparation of aggressive plans against peace and Slavdom....

This problem concerns to a considerable extent also the Hungarian minority along the southern frontier of the Republic.

In the course of the discussion, Dr. Benes explained that the British government in a confidential note had agreed in principle to the concept of the transfer of the minorities from Czechoslovakia and that President Roosevelt, too, had adopted a favorable position in this matter.

Affirmed that the government of the Soviet Union, having received from President Benes a memorandum outlining the principles of the transfer, regards this vital problem of Czechoslovakia with full understanding and will give support to its solution. . . .

7(c). The transfer of the German and Hungarian populations from Czechoslovakia is approved in principle and Czechoslovakia is recognized internationally as the national state of the Czechs and the Slovaks. . . .

The Benes Thesis 237

Annex II

Excerpts from Edvard Benes's Writings The Organization of Postwar Europe (1942)*

(*Excerpted from Edvard Benes, "The Organization of Postwar Europe , Foreign Affairs 20, no. 2 (January 1942): 235-39)

The minority question will be one of the most momentous to be dealt with in connection with the new organization of Europe. National minorities are always - and in Central Europe especially - a real thorn in the side of individual nations. This is particularly true if they are German minorities. While other great nations - the English, French, Russians, and Spaniards - have sent their population surpluses to other continents, have opened up new regions, and at the same time have played a civilizing role, the Germans have often been content to send their colonists into neighboring countries, countries usually on the same cultural level as their own, sometimes even culturally ahead of them. They have become the agents for extending German interests and have prepared the ground for what we today describe as fifth columns. In other cases the German population has settled down permanently as a result of century-long German military and cultural pressure, so that today these German populations have an almost autochthonous character. In these territories, therefore, it was not possible in 1918 to create states that were linguistically and nationally homogeneous, unless by extensive transfers of population. This course was actually proposed - for instance, by the French sociologist Bernard Lavergne - but it was rejected as being apparently in contradiction to the idealistic tendencies governing the 1919 plans for a new Europe.

Instead, the course was chosen for defending minorities internationally. I would be the last to condemn the principles upon which this policy is based. But the mistake made from the beginning was in imposing protection of minorities only upon a few states and not on all those which had minorities. Thus it was really scandalous that despite Germany's record for wholesale and forcible Germanization of other nations in the course of previous centuries, she was not compelled to undertake to defend her minorities. It soon appeared, similarly, that a great mistake had been made in not making any provision


for protecting the national minorities in Italy. It was also unfortunate that the protection of minorities finally became a burden upon the states which supported them, while on the other hand those states which interfered with them actually received no punishment. Hungary violated her obligations towards her minorities from the very beginning. She did not give them schools or freedom of speech or of the press, and as a result was able over twenty years to denationalize thousands of Slovaks, Romanians, and Germans, all with entire impunity. Colonel Beck was able to declare that he no longer recognized the competence of the controlling organs of the League in minority questions--and the League was obliged to limit itself to a few platonic protests.

On the other hand, Czechoslovakia did not expect to be thanked for fulfilling her minority obligations, and did not wait to be thanked for doing so. I do not say that everything with us was perfect. I only say that in Europe, apart from Switzerland, we were the best [Benes's footnote: Cf. the testimonial paid Czechoslovakia by Lord Cecil in his book, A Great Experiment (New York, 1941)], and that our policy was always governed by the principles of loyalty to engagements, tolerance, and good will. In spite of this, some of the German and Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia abused the justice which the Republic accorded them, trying under cover of our regime of law to disorganize the Republic and discredit it. For this work they received money from Germany and Hungary. In the name of minority rights, the Czechoslovak Republic was obliged to endure anti-state activities by a number of German political parties, by the Henlein press, and by subversive elements in the German higher schools. The propaganda of the minorities, stimulated by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and reactionary Hungary, and spread by them abroad, finally created in Europe the impression that our minorities were suffering injustices. As a result, those who were trying to preserve peace at all costs found an excuse for sacrificing Czechoslovakia in the thesis that nothing immoral would be involved in her dismemberment as it would mean only the freeing of oppressed minorities from the Czechoslovak yoke.

In the end, things came to such an extraordinary pass that the totalitarian and dictator states - Germany, Hungary, and Italy - persecuted the minorities in their own territories and at the same time posed as the protectors of minorities in states which were really democratic. While denying their minorities any sort of freedom of expression,

The Benes Thesis 239

they cynically abused the freedom of the press and of assembly in the democratic states and shouted at the top of their voices to the whole world about the smallest possible difficulties that arose. The League of Nations, which was perfectly well informed regarding the actual state of affairs, did not move even a finger to set the record right when in 1938 the state which had respected the rights of minorities better than any other was held up before the world as an oppressor. I observe, therefore, though with regret, that the prewar system for the protection of minorities broke down.

The absurd state of affairs that I have just described cannot be renewed. Before we begin to define the rights of minorities we must define the rights of majorities and the obligation of minorities. Every nation has a right to live peaceably and freely within its state frontiers. If these frontiers are also national frontiers, all the better. But this is not the case in Central Europe; every Central European state has its minorities. In the present war, German minorities - which everywhere have served, partly passively, partly actively, as instruments for German imperialism - have actually become an international menace. No Central European state will again wish to risk what we, Jugoslavia, Rumania, or Poland have had to risk in the last few years.

I know of no formula for deciding minority questions in an ideal fashion. I do not recommend any method which involves brutality or violence. Perhaps in certain cases it will be possible by local alterations in the frontiers to diminish somewhat the minority population in individual states. Perhaps it will be necessary to undertake this time the transference of minority populations; Hitler himself has transferred German minorities from the Baltic and from Bessarabia. Germany, therefore, cannot a priori regard it as an injury to her if other states adopt the same methods with regard to German minorities. Possibly certain states, for reasons of national security, will find themselves obliged to institute some system of resettling their minorities within their own frontiers. This would be a painful operation and would involve many small injustices.

Certainly every nation in Central Europe will feel it right and proper to punish severely those members of its minorities who in these terrible years have been guilty of treachery, espionage, tyranny over the majority, terror, murder, and mass looting under the auspices of the German armies. All these crimes, and many more, have been committed, and today are being committed, on Poles in Poland, on


Czechoslovaks in Czechoslovakia, on Norwegians in Norway, on Belgians in Belgium, on Jugoslavs in Jugoslavia, on Hollanders in Holland, on Greeks in Greece. By the same principle every state will punish its own Quislings. Until all this has been carried out, until every state feels sure that its minorities no longer can aim a revolver against its national existence, we shall have to design measures for the protection of loyal minorities, for guaranteeing them their political and cultural rights, on the basis of absolute mutuality. But we cannot again institute the abnormal situation of privileged minorities in some states and of constantly oppressed minorities in others. Neither can we create a state of affairs in which certain larger states perpetually terrorize certain smaller states on the basis of the fact that the latter have a small section of population which speaks the same language.

Although it is impossible today to make definite proposals for solving the minority problems in detail, three general principles may be laid down:

(1) Even after this war it still will be impossible in Europe to create states which are nationall;- homogeneous, since there are cases in which certain countries cannot exist at all as states without a certain region of mixed populations (for instance, Czechoslovakia without the German and mixed districts in Bohemia and Moravia). However, such districts must be united only where really necessary and then on the smallest scale possible.

(2) It will be necessary after this war to carry out a transfer of populations on a very much larger scale than after the last war. This must be done in as humane manner as possible, internationally organized and internationally financed.

(3) The protection of minorities in the future should consist primarily in the defense of human democratic rights and not of national rights. Minorities in individual states must never again be given the character of internationally recognized political and legal units, with the possibility of again becoming sources of disturbance. On the other hand, it is necessary to facilitate emigration from one state to another so that if national minorities do not want to live in a foreign state they may gradually unite with their own people in neighboring states.

The Benes Thesis 241

Czechoslovakia Plans for Peace (1944)*

(*Excerpted from Edvard Benes, "Czechoslovakia Plans for Peace," Foreign Affairs 23, no 1 (October 1944): 3936)

After the First World War, in accordance with the idealistic tendencies of the time, a clause in the Peace Treaty imposed upon the Czechoslovak Republic the protection of national minorities. . . . Experience has shown that the system established by the minorities treaties can be abused by an imperialistic state to promote its policies of expansion. Nazi Germany did just that. No nation - and least of all a small one like Czechoslovakia - can in the future afford a policy which would lay itself open to this sort of disruption by an alliance of enemy forces without and traitorous elements within. Czechoslovakia wishes to avoid any recurrence of the situation which led to Munich. She is therefore considering the transfer [of national minorities]. . . .

Ideas have not stood still. Our people participated in Europe's first religious and social revolution in the fifteenth century and always have been in the forefront of progressive European developments. . . . I am convinced that Czechoslovakia will overcome her initial difficulties in short order, solve her internal problems without severe disturbance, and take her place once more, strengthened and consolidated, in the van of European nations, a democratic and popular state in the truest sense of those all-important words. . . .

Postwar Czechoslovakia (1946)**

(**Excerpted from Edvard Benes, "Postwar Czechoslovakia," Foreign Affairs 24, no 3 (April 1946): 400-1, 404.)

The choice is between the concept of a national state and the formally recognized Wilsonian concept of a state of nationalities, with all that involves. In a national state there is no room for minority problems. The rule applies just as much to the Germans as to the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia; and it concerns not only Czechoslovakia, but also Hungary, Jugoslavia, Rumania, and Poland. Even the Great Powers have recognized that in the interest of peace in Europe there remains no other solution but the removal of the Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia. . . . The minority problem . . . must be solved finally and irrevocably on a purely national basis. . . .

Members of minorities who refuse to return to their national state


(for example, Slovaks who stay in Hungary and Hungarians who stay in Czechoslovakia) will be definitely sacrificed and given up to national assimilation in the other state. . . .

Since it is impossible to return either to the Munich territorial dictate or to accept a territorial revision in favor of the defeated countries, there is only one solution of the problem and that is the transfer.

Annex III

A Postscript: "Progressimn " or "Retrogression"?


Apart from granting President Benes an international forum for publicizing his ideas, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, editor of Foreign Affairs, also sympathized with these ideas. In the 1950s, in the course of my conversation with him in his New York office, Armstrong defended the Benes policy of the ethnically homogeneous nation state achieved by population transfer as a "progression" from T. G. Masaryk's statemaking, contrary to my contention that it was, rather, a "retrogression." Armstrong also expressed these views in a letter of September 3, 1953. My point in this debate was that, in 1918, Czechoslovakia was founded with the promise of becoming "a sort of Switzerland." Therefore, the restoration of Czechoslovakia as a homogeneous nation state is a repudiation of one of the fundamental principles of its creation.

In the world emerging from the cataclysm of World War II, voices opposing the elimination of national minorities as a means of achieving homogeneous nation states were few and far between. An eloquent statement on behalf of a democratic concept of nations and states was that of P. de Azcarate, the Spanish-born former Director of the Minorities Question Section of the League of Nations (in League of Nations and National Minorities: An Experiment [Washington, D.C., 1945], 16-17):

I am not ignorant of the fact that the transfer or interchange of population may be a practical means of readjustment between nationalities and frontiers in certain specific and clearly defined cases. But to consider it as an expedient applicable to all minorities seems to me outrageous. Such a

The Benes Thesis 243

measure would necessitate the uprooting, of great masses of peasant population from lands which their ancestors have cultivated perhaps for centuries, and the transfer of other no less considerable groups of urban population from towns and cities where they and their forebears have lived for generations. But serious as this uprooting would be, there is, in my opinion, an even worse aspect of the forced transfer of populations. What forces me categoncally to reject this interchange as a general prescription for the political ills caused by the existence of national minorities, is a more lofty consideration. If human society were to accept the general application of this method, it would admit, in the first place, its inability to organize itself in a form in which peoples of different race, language or nationality may live peaceably together and collaborate in an ordered manner. Besides this, however, a precedent would be established which, if generalized, would prove, ad absurdum, its own inconsistency. For after all, these differences of race, language or nationality are only some of the many differences inherent in every human society. And if we acknowledge ourselves defeated by them, and have recourse to the barbarous and cruel method of separating men, as though they were herds of sheep, into homogeneous national groups, in what way shall we solve other differences? Would it not be tempting to eliminate political and social distinctions by grouping men in such a way that all those with similar ideas or doctrines should live together? Homogeneity never has been, nor ever can be, an ideal for the organization of human societies. On the contrary, diversity of mentalities, temperaments, aptitudes, ideas, beliefs, has always been rightly considered as a source of material and moral prosperity and strength in nations and states - provided, of cours,e, that in these social groups the rational principles of solidarity prevail over the primitive instincts of struggle and destruction.

Among the most outspoken critics of Benes's policy of expulsion was Oscar Jaszi. He denied "the right of any state to experiment in uprooting national minorities, which for centuries have lived and worked on a territory which they regard as their beloved home." And he deplored that "the successors of Masaryk" had adopted "the philosophy of Hitler and Stalin." (See his "Postwar Pacification in Europe," in Federation: The Coming Structure of World Government, Howard O. Eaton, ed. [Norman, Oklahoma, 1944], 147-48; and his "Danubia: Old and New," in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, XCIII, 1 [Philadelphia, 1949], 14.)

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