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20: The Consequences of World War I

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In the study of contemporary history, beginning with World War I, East Central Europe is indeed no longer neglected but on the contrary it frequently receives special attention because the new Europe which emerged from the turmoil seemed particularly “new” in the East Central region. The facts are therefore sufficiently known but the interpretation usually suffers from a few misconceptions. The first of these results from insufficient knowledge of the earlier history of the whole area. Most of the so-called “new” states which reappeared after the European war had a long tradition going back to the Middle Ages and were divided among the neighboring empires only at later dates. Hence the idea of granting these nations the rights of self-determination was no artificial innovation at all but naturally developed in the course of the war as the only fair basis for a just peace.

    It will, however, remain President Wilson’s lasting merit that he gave clear expression to that idea which had been rather vaguely in the air, and that he requested, at least in principle, its universal application, whereas before it had been dependent on mere political expediency. At the beginning, each side, particularly among the empires in the eastern part of Europe, promised “liberation” only to those nationalities which were under the rule of an opponent. They continued, however, to consider the problems of the nationalities in their own countries a purely internal question where few if any concessions were envisaged.

    The whole issue passed from the sphere of propaganda warfare to that of concrete realization as soon as foreign territories were occupied by one of the empires. When Russia invaded Austrian Galicia in the fall of 1914 and held most of it until the spring offensive of the Central Powers in the following year, she declared at least the eastern part of that province to be an old “Russian” land, ignoring, as usual, the very existence of a separate Ukrainian nation and limiting the Polish question to promises of self-government under the czar for what the Russians considered ethnographically purely Polish territories. When the Russians had to evacuate not only their temporary conquest but also precisely the purely Polish territories which they had possessed before the war, Germany and Austria-Hungary had in turn to decide how their equally undetermined promises were to be honored. After dividing the former kingdom of Poland, as it was created by the Congress of Vienna, into a German zone of occupation, which was badly exploited, and an Austro-Hungarian one where mostly Polish officials were used, the two emperors at last, on November 5, 1916, issued a proclamation announcing the re-establishment of an “independent” Polish state.

    However, that new kingdom without a king was to be limited in its real independence by rather undefined military and economic ties with the “liberating” empires, and the whole problem of its frontiers was left in suspense. Germany never thought of giving up even the smallest part of Prussian Poland, but rather of a revision of the prewar frontier in her favor. Simultaneously Austria granted a larger degree of autonomy to Galicia, but that promise had the obvious implication that this province would remain outside the restored kingdom. The so-called Austro-Polish solution, that is, the connection of a Polish kingdom including Galicia with a reorganized, truly federalized Habsburg monarchy, was never seriously supported by Austria, hardly favored by an otherwise friendly Hungary which feared for the principle of dualism, and always opposed by Germany. The latter had no clear program as to the future of the Russian provinces east of Congress Poland, which were also occupied in the later part of 1915, approximately to the line of historic Poland’s second partition. When they entered it, the Germans would call Wilno a Polish city, but they would also play off against the Poles those Lithuanians who were permitted to organize a national council in that same city. At the same time they would consider the possibility of uniting with the Hohenzollern Empire, under the appearance of autonomy, all the Baltic lands, including Lithuania.

    So far as the planned kingdom of Poland was concerned, the Germans were disappointed that the mobilization which they announced there had no success at all, and that even the Polish legions which played a remarkable part in the offensive against Russia refused to serve under German control. The crisis which in July, 1917 led to the imprisonment of Pilsudski, whose partisans went underground in a “Polish Military Organization” (POW), was softened through the gradual formation of a Polish administration in the kingdom but it was not before October, 1917, that a Council of Regency, composed of three prominent Poles, was placed at the helm. This and other concessions of the occupying powers were, however, already influenced by a great change in the approach to the Polish problem which meantime had taken place in the allied camp.

    Russia had, of course, immediately protested against the proclamation of an independent Poland by the German invaders, and the Western Allies, including France, in spite of her traditional sympathies for Poland, continued to recognize the Russian point of view that the Polish question was an internal problem of the empire of the czars where, however, even the discussions regarding Poland’s autonomy after her re-conquest were making no progress. On the contrary, the Allies became more and more interested in the nationalities of the Habsburg Empire. They were particularly interested in the Czechs, whose exiled leaders, Thomas G. Masaryk and Edward Benes, were making very successful propaganda in the West in favor of a total disruption of that empire. The other peoples of the monarchy were also in a state of unrest, evidenced both at home in political trials, and in the Parliament when it was reopened in May, 1917, and abroad where representatives of these peoples participated in various congresses of “oppressed nationalities.” The participation of Italy in the war (from May, 1915) and Rumania (from August, 1916), both of which claimed Austro-Hungarian territories on ethnic grounds, contributed to the decision to make the liberation of the various nationalities of the Dual Monarchy one of the allied war aims.

    That point was therefore included in the peace conditions formulated by the Allies in January, 1917, in reply to President Wilson’s appeal for peace negotiations. Insisting on a breakup not only of the Ottoman but also of the Habsburg Empire, the Coalition demanded the liberation of “Italians, Slavs, Rumanians, and Czechoslovaks from foreign domination,” in addition to their initial claim for a restoration of the invaded countries, Belgium in the west, and Serbia and Montenegro in the east. The general reference to “Slavs” in the enumeration of the nationalities of Austria-Hungary was rather confusing, since the Slavic Czechoslovaks were mentioned separately. It allowed the omission of those Slavs whose “liberation” Russia considered her exclusive business, and it avoided the name of Yugoslavs to which the Italians objected, opposed as they were to the union of the Croats and Slovenes with Serbia.

    They were also opposed to a separate peace with Austria-Hungary which would have saved the monarchy and which was therefore the objective of the new emperor, Charles I. Soon after succeeding Francis Joseph I, who died on November 21, 1916, he started secret negotiations which continued through the first half of the following year but which had little chance of success because of the intimate connection of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces with the Germans in a close alliance which had many supporters among the military and political leaders of the monarchy. The internal nationality problems were hardly touched upon in these negotiations, both sides being more interested in the solution of the western issues. In the meantime, however, peace programs inspired by a real concern with the aspirations of the peoples, whether in the West where comparatively minor territorial changes regarding Alsace-Lorraine and the Italo-Austrian border were involved, or in the East where a basic political reconstruction was needed, were being prepared by President Wilson and Pope Benedict XV.

    It is significant that in both these programs the first concrete application of the right of self-determination was recommended in the case of Poland. Already on January 22, 1917, when the President of the United States, still neutral, stressed the points on which in his opinion there was a general agreement, he declared that Poland should be both united, as promised by the Russians, and independent as proclaimed by the Central empires. And in his message of the first of August of the same year, the Pope was particularly specific with regard to the restoration of the historic Polish Kingdom.

    The Pope’s suggestions were disregarded and he had no occasion to enter into further details. Wilson’s position, however, was of paramount importance since it had become obvious that America’s interference would decide the European War which was now turning into a real world war. Wilson’s peace plan was concretely defined in his famous Fourteen Points of January 8, 1918. The general principles on which these points were based were explained in his address of the eleventh of February, and in some other speeches of the same year. Demanding that “the utmost satisfaction” should be given to “all well-defined national aspirations,” he made it quite clear that in his opinion self-determination was not to be an absolute rule and ought to be applied “without introducing new or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism.” Therefore the changes which he requested in the points dealing with individual countries or regions were rather moderate. Again it was only in the case of Poland that the erection of an independent state which had not existed in the prewar period was recommended with even more details. With regard to Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations he wished to see “safeguarded and assured,” Wilson’s original program was limited to “the freest opportunity of autonomous development” for all her peoples, and similar words were used with reference to the non-Turkish nationalities still under Ottoman rule. The Balkan states already liberated in the preceding century were of course to be restored, like the occupied territories in Western Europe, and their relations were to be based upon both history and nationality.

    As far as the eastern part of Europe was concerned, the questions affecting Russia were decisive. But except for the Polish question, which was dealt with separately, the longest of the Fourteen Points, dedicated to Russia, did not at all touch upon the problems of her nationalities. Instead, it stressed her right to the evacuation of all Russian territories and to “the independent determination of her own political development and national policy.” In order to understand the careful restraint in suggesting the treatment of Russia, it must be remembered that the President’s address was made in the midst of the Russian Revolution when the negotiations for a separate peace between the Soviets and the Central powers had just started.

    Under such conditions, the fate of the various peoples which had been under czarist rule could hardly be determined by the Western Allies. In the Danubian monarchy a revolution much less violent and radical than the Russian broke out only at the very end of the war. But the disintegration of the Habsburg Empire was another internal process which created accomplished facts before the peace conference had met.


In spite of the basic difference between the Russian and the Austro-Hungarian revolutions, they have at least one thing in common: they were made possible and to a large extent provoked by the failures of the two respective governments in the conduct of a war for which these governments were at least partly responsible. In Russia the realization of these failures came much earlier and therefore the fall of Czardom came as early as March, 1917.

    That change of regime was, however, not yet necessarily a disintegration of the empire. It is true that the overthrow of the government had been preceded by the loss of large territories, occupied by the enemy and unwilling ever to come back under Russian rule. But the very fact that a substantial part of the empire’s non-Russian population was thus already separated from its main body, made the revolution of 1917, similar in this respect to that of 1905, primarily a struggle for constitutional reform and social change rather than an insurrection of oppressed nationalities.

    Therefore the first of the two revolutions, which must be clearly distinguished in the Russian crisis of 1917, after establishing a truly democratic provisional government did not give sufficient attention to the nationalities problem. Only with regard to Poland did the new regime almost at once, on the thirtieth of March, make a formal declaration recognizing the right of the Polish people to the creation of an independent state. But at that moment the territory where the Poles “constitute a majority of the population, “ was already beyond Russia’s control, and even then the new Poland was invited to join Russia in a “free military union.” The Poles were no longer prepared, however, to accept any limitations of their independence. Complete independence was now the goal of the Finns, too. They were exasperated by the severe repressions that had taken place before 1917, while the provisional Russian government was merely prepared to restore Finland’s autonomy. In July it rejected the bill of the Finnish Diet defining the terms under which the country should receive complete freedom.

    At the same time serious difficulties arose from the unexpected development of a separatist movement among the Ukrainians who were by far the most numerous nationality which in its great majority still remained in the unoccupied part of the empire. Immediately after the outbreak of the March Revolution, the prominent historian Michael Hrushevsky, who already as a professor in Lwow, Galicia, had greatly contributed to the rise of Ukrainian nationalism, was elected president of the Central Council (Rada) which the parties working for the Ukraine’s independence set up as a provisional administrative body. At the beginning of April when a national convention was convoked in Kiev, that council at first claimed only the autonomy of the Ukraine which was formally proclaimed in the Rada’s first “Universal” of the twenty-third of June. Although a general secretariat was created at the same time to serve as an executive organ, with Volodymir Vynnychenko as prime minister, the new state still seemed ready to enter into some kind of federation with Russia.

    But the Russian provisional government was not prepared to accept such a federalization of the former empire, and it resented the fact that the Ukrainians, declaring their autonomy, had not waited for the approval of the central authorities. Even when those members of the government who were opposed to negotiations with the Rada resigned and Alexander Kerensky replaced Prince Lvov as prime minister, the agreement announced in the second “Universal” of the sixteenth of July did not work satisfactorily. Even the Kerensky regime confirmed the statute of Ukrainian self-government only with reservations, and mutual relations were still confused when on the fateful day of the sixth of November the Bolsheviks seized power and started the second Russian revolution of 1917.

    The very next day the third “Universal” of the Rada declared the Ukraine a “Ukrainian People’s Republic.” And although only the fourth “Universal” of January 22, 1918, made it quite clear that this republic was to be a completely “independent, free, sovereign state,” the idea of full independence not only for the Ukrainians but also for all nationalities of the former empire had already been officially approved by the Soviet regime on the fifteenth of November. It was then, soon after issuing their first decrees which gave all land to the peasants and promised the immediate conclusion of peace, that the Bolsheviks proclaimed the right of all nationalities to full self-determination, including the right of separating themselves from Russia. And in rapid sequence, one nation after the other took advantage of that right. The autonomous bodies which had been created after the first revolution in Estonia and Latvia declared these countries independent of Russia on the fifteenth and seventeenth of November, respectively, and so did the Finnish Diet on the sixth of December. Even the White Ruthenians or Byelorussians were ready for a similar decision.

    One of the reasons why all these peoples were no longer satisfied with autonomy only but had decided upon complete independence was, in addition to the rapid progress of their national movements, the desire to avoid any connection with the Soviet form of government which after a brief democratic interlude was now established in Russia, enforcing its power through ruthless terror. But on the other hand, in spite of the apparent willingness of the Bolsheviks to recognize all these secessions, their policy was from the outset a serious threat to the real freedom of the new states. For they made their astonishing concession to non-Russian nationalism only in the hope that in each liberated nation the Communists would seize control, as they had done in Russia. If necessary, this was to be done with or disguised Russian support and with a view to joining a future Soviet federation, thus replacing the democratic federation which the first revolution had tried to establish.

    There was also, however, another danger which the barely organized new states along Russia’s western border had to face. That danger, too, manifested itself in the form of an insincere recognition of their right of self-determination which was granted by Germany. It was under German occupation that the “independent” Kingdom Poland continued to be organized and that the Lithuanian National Council (Taryba) could issue, on December 11, 1917, a first declaration of independence. But at the same time, Lithuania felt herself obliged to request Germany’s “protection and assistance” for the restored state. The southern part of Latvia was also under German occupation and the German minorities of the remaining part and Estonia were eager to establish ties with the German Empire. Even distant Finland German help seemed necessary to check Russian penetration which was now in Communist form. Most important, how  ever, was the fact that after accepting the Soviet peace proposal on the twenty-seventh of November and concluding an armistice on the fifth of December, representatives of the Central powers opened negotiations with the Soviet Delegation at Brest-Litovsk on the twenty second of the same month. There both sides played the part of defender of the rights of self-determination with a view to bringing under their exclusive control the nationalities to which that right was to be granted.

    None of these nationalities, not even the Poles who under the Council of Regency had formed a regular government with Jan Kucharzewski as prime minister, were admitted to the conference. The Ukrainians, whom the Germans wanted to play off against the Russians, were the only exception. A separate peace treaty was indeed signed with the Ukraine on February 9, 1918, the very day on which Kiev was taken by the Bolsheviks. In spite of that success and of Trotsky’s attempt to end the war without concluding any formal peace, another German advance forced the Russians to accept German terms on the third of March. In addition to the Ukraine, Russia had to give up all territories east of a line running from a place north of Riga to the northwestern corner of the Ukraine, whose frontier was fixed only in the West. Thus not only Poland but also Lithuania and a part of Latvia were definitely lost, while the other part, as well as Estonia, was to be evacuated by the Russians, though they renounced their sovereignty there only in a supplementary treaty signed in Berlin on August 27, 1918. In the meantime the Germans, having been asked for assistance by the Rada, had occupied the Ukraine and established a puppet government under Hetman Paul Skoropadsky by the end of April. They also prepared the disguised annexation of the “liberated” Baltic lands. Even Lithuania, which on February 16, 1918, issued another, now unrestricted, declaration of independence, a few months later had to invite a German prince to become king, a similar invitation being addressed to a brother-in-law of Wilhelm II by the Finns. Russia also had to recognize the full independence of the Finns. Even earlier she had lost Bessarabia in the south, where at first an autonomous Moldavian republic had been formed. In January, 1918, this government invited Rumanian troops in and voted for union with that kingdom.

    Though Rumania was also forced on May 7, 1918, to sign a separate peace with the Central powers which controlled the whole Balkan Peninsula except Greece, and was compelled to make territorial cessions to Austria-Hungary, the internal situation of the Habsburg monarchy was rapidly deteriorating. The last military successes made under German leadership interested the various nationalities much less than the increasing hardships of the long war and the aspirations toward a federalization of the empire which the government failed to satisfy. Already in May, 1917, not only Czech and Yugoslav but also Polish deputies presented a program in the Vienna Parliament which involved a basic reorganization of the empire. Even the most loyal among the Poles were alienated when at Brest-Litovsk a section of Congress Poland was attributed to the Ukraine. The Russian revolutions, especially the second, had little if any repercussions in Austria-Hungary, where even the Marxist Social Democrats were hostile to the Soviet system and where conditions were so much better than they had been in the czarist empire. Much greater was the influence of the activities of Slavic leaders working in exile among the Western powers, which in the course of 1918 granted recognition to Polish and Czechoslovakian national committees. The influence of President Wilson’s peace program was also notable.

    But since that program originally requested only autonomy for the nationalities of the Danubian monarchy, its existence could have been saved if Charles I had not waited until October 16, 1918, with the announcement that he would transform his empire into a federation, even then reserving the integrity of the kingdom of Hungary. This was only two days before Wilson’s answer to the Austro-Hungarian armistice proposal in which he stressed the recognition of independent Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. In the course of the second half of October, in view of the complete military collapse of the Central Powers, in all non-German and non-Magyar parts of the monarchy national councils could take over without bloodshed or violence and proceed to the organization of the so-called successor states into which the Habsburg Empire was divided. Furthermore, even the vague promise of federalization had sufficed to make Hungary sever all her ties with Austria except for the personal union, which also ceased to exist when even the German part of Austria declared itself a republic.


When World War I ended on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the empires of the Romanovs, Habsburgs, and Hohenzollerns, which before the war dominated Central and Eastern Europe, with even the free Balkan states in their respective spheres of influence, no longer existed. This was deeply to affect the deliberations of the peace conference which opened in Paris on January 18, 1919. But there was a great difference between the complete disintegration of Russia and Austria-Hungary which followed the fall of their dynasties, and the position of Germany, the main enemy. Here, too, a last-minute revolution had replaced the emperor and all the other monarchs of the minor German states by a republican form of government. But that German Republic, more unified than the empire had been, continued to call itself a Reich, which, far from disintegrating, hoped to reduce as much as possible the territorial losses along its borders, the unavoidable consequence of the acceptance of Wilson’s peace program.

    It was obvious that in addition to Alsace-Lorraine, these cessions would have to include at least part of that large section of East Central Europe which had been attached to German West Central Europe through the partitions of Poland. Since, however, Wilson’s thirteenth point demanded a Polish state, not in the historic boundaries before the partitions but on the territories “inhabited by indisputably Polish populations,” the drafting of the new German-Polish frontier required long discussion. The Polish claims were presented to the five big powers, which alone made the decisions in territorial matters, by Roman Dmowski, the chairman of the delegation of Poland which was recognized as an allied power. The other delegate of Poland, the famous pianist, I. J. Paderewski, now prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, had shortly before the conference succeeded in establishing an agreement between the Polish National Committee presided over by Dmowski, the wartime representative of the Poles in the West, and Joseph Pilsudski, the first head of the Polish state, to whom the council of regency had handed over the power in Warsaw after Germany’s collapse.

    In addition to the Prussian share in the partitions, that is, the provinces of Poznania and West Prussia, the Polish claims also included those territories which came under Prussian domination before the partitions but had remained ethnically and linguistically Polish. These were Upper Silesia and the southern part of East Prussia. Drafting the treaty with Germany, the Big Five decided that plebiscites should be held in two sections of East Prussia. And revising their draft to meet the objections of the German delegation, they replaced their first decision to attribute Upper Silesia to Poland by that of holding another plebiscite there. This was done at the request of the British prime minister, Lloyd George, who also opposed the inclusion into Poland of the predominantly German city of Danzig. Therefore, already in the first draft of the treaty, not only minor frontier areas of Poznania and West Prussia were left to Germany in order to reduce the German minority in the new Poland, but also Danzig, Poland’s historic port, which was indispensable for “a free and secure access to the sea” promised to Poland in the thirteenth point, was refused to her and declared a free city under the control of the League of Nations. Special rights were guaranteed to Poland, particularly in the port of Danzig, but that solution was to be a source of permanent friction. Serious troubles also resulted from the plebiscite in Upper Silesia, which was delayed until March, 1921. Since the big powers could not agree on the details of the division of that territory which proved necessary in view of the votes in the individual communes, the problem had to be settled by the League of Nations, which in the Geneva Convention of May 15, 1922, almost three years after the signing of the Versailles Treaty on July 28, 1919, carried out that division in the most objective and careful fashion.

    Since the plebiscites in East Prussia, held in July, 1920, at the very moment of Poland’s invasion by the Soviets, were in favor of Germany, that whole province, except the Memel region in the northeastern corner, which later went to Lithuania, remained part of the Reich. Such a German enclave east of the Polish province of Pomerania—called by German propaganda a “corridor”—was indeed a permanent threat to Poland’s security. Doubtful from the economic and military point of view, the whole settlement of the Polish-German frontier problem—the only part of the Versailles Treaty which concerned East Central Europe—was made with the genuine desire to apply the principle of national self-determination as objectively as possible.

    The other treaties prepared and signed at the Paris Peace Conference dealt almost exclusively with problems of East Central Europe. This was true of all of them except for the Treaty of Sèvres which was concluded with Turkey on August 10, 1920, but which was never ratified or enforced, and which was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923. Only the determination of new Turkey’s boundaries in Europe, which remained almost unchanged, and the demilitarization of both shores of the Straits, which with Constantinople remained in Turkey’s possession in spite of the transfer of her capital to Asiatic Ankara, were of direct interest to East Central Europe. Comparatively small were the territorial changes made in the Treaty of Neuilly, signed on November 27, 1919, with Bulgaria, but that country deeply resented the loss of her access to the Aegean Sea by the cession of Western Thrace to Greece, besides minor cessions to Yugoslavia. Bulgaria had joined the Central powers with a view to regaining her losses of 1913, and now, after another defeat, she suffered an even greater disappointment.

    With Albania also restored as an independent country, the situation in the Balkans underwent no basic changes. Fundamental were, on the contrary, the changes in the Danubian region made in the treaties with Austria, on September 10, 1919, at Saint-Germain, and with Hungary, on June 4, 1920, at Trianon, the delay of the latter being largely caused by the Communist seizure of Hungary which lasted from March to August, 1919. Both treaties were much more severe than that of Versailles, but it must be remembered that the most striking change, the replacement of the Habsburg monarchy by a group of completely independent states, had already taken place before any intervention of the peacemakers who therefore had only to fix the boundaries among these states.

    Two of them, the new Austria and the new Hungary, were, however, considered a continuation of the former realm of an enemy state which had its share in the responsibilities for the war. Therefore they had to suffer from reparation and disarmament clauses which were to a large extent copied from the Versailles Treaty, as in the case of Bulgaria. In adjusting the principle of national self-determination to military, economic, or any other considerations, the peace conference was inclined to favor those successor states which were considered allies: Italy; the state of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which after the unification of all the Yugoslavs replaced Serbia and which was also enlarged by the incorporation of Montenegro; Rumania, which had re-entered the war on the allied side in the fall of 1918; and Czechoslovakia, exclusively created out of parts of prewar Austria and Hungary, but whose exiled leaders had succeeded in making her a co-belligerent. Poland was also partly a successor state of the Habsburg monarchy, but since her claims nowhere reached the prospective new boundaries of either Austria or Hungary, she was not interested in the treaties with these countries but only in the controversial problem of dividing among various successor states the territories which in these treaties were formally ceded to the big powers.

    A special feature of the Saint-Germain settlement was the interdiction against the new Austria’s joining Germany. That interdiction, included in both the Versailles and the Saint-Germain treaties, might seem a violation of the right to self-determination, since “German Austria,” as the new republic wanted to call itself, declared in the original draft of its constitution that it was part of the new federated Germany. But it is doubtful whether the Anschluss, as the inclusion of Austria in a greater Germany used to be called, which was favored by many Austrians under the first shock of the breakup of the old Austrian Empire, really was a lasting desire of the majority. Self-determination, the indisputable right to freedom from foreign rule, must not necessarily mean the union of all peoples of similar origin in one state. Finally, such an enlargement of German-controlled West Central Europe would have been some kind of German victory in defeat, dangerous not only for Western, but also particularly for East Central Europe which had just been restored to full freedom.

    More questionable from the point of view of self-determination was the inclusion of more than three million Austrian Germans of the Sudeten region in the new Czechoslovakia, although geographically most of that region could hardly have been united with the Austrian republic. Smaller, but more difficult to justify, was the loss of part of German-speaking Tyrol to Italy. On the other hand, the frontier between Austria and the Serb-Croat-Sloven state was at least partly determined by a plebiscite which left to Austria even that southern part of Carinthia where the population was predominantly Sloven. A plebiscite was also eventually held in the Burgenland, the western part of Hungary, which because of its largely German-speaking population was transferred in the treaties from that country to Austria—a compensation for so many losses which was welcomed by the Austrians. Part of the contested region remained with Hungary as a result of the plebiscite.

    It was only in the case of that controversy with her former associate that Hungary’s new frontiers were determined by a plebiscite. The Hungarian delegation, when presenting its objections against the Trianon Treaty in an eloquent speech by Count Albert Apponyi, vainly requested such plebiscites in all cases where the historic boundaries of Hungary, at the same time a geographical unit, were sometimes pushed back far into the Hungarian Plain. As a matter of fact, the kingdom, as Hungary continued to call herself though now without a king, lost 71.4 per cent of its territory and about 60 per cent of its population, including three and one-half million Magyars, of whom about 1,800,000 lived in areas contiguous to what remained Hungarian.

    Not only did the former autonomous kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia become part of the new Yugoslav state—a change which Hungary was ready to admit though by doing so she lost her access to the sea—but minor frontier regions of Hungary proper were also assigned to that state. The ethnically mixed Banat in southern Hungary was divided between Yugoslavia and Rumania, which in addition to the whole of Transylvania, with its Rumanian majority, also received a few purely Magyar districts, though not all that had been secretly promised to her before she entered the war. Another Rumanian gain, the Bucovina, had formerly been an Austrian province.

    Hungary also lost the whole northern part of the kingdom, not only the land inhabited by the Slovaks, who were now united in one state with their near kin, the Czechs, but also the territory between Slovakia and Transylvania where the majority of the population was Ruthenian. For geographical reasons and because the fate of the Ruthenians or Ukrainians on the northern side of the Carpathians still seemed uncertain, this non-Magyar and Slavic part of Hungary was also attached to Czechoslovakia as an autonomous territory, the only case in the peace treaties where the idea of regional autonomy was formally introduced. The southern boundary of the Carpathian region included in the Czechoslovak state was partly extended as far as the upper Danube, another reason why the Treaty of Trianon created among the Hungarians a “revisionism” second only to that of the Germans.


In spite of five peace treaties signed at various places in the Paris region, the conference of 1919—1920 left much business unfinished. Among the controversies regarding the repartition of formerly Austro-Hungarian territories, the Italo-Yugoslav dispute about the port of Fiume (Rjeka) caused the most serious crisis during the conference, and was not finally settled before 1924 when Italy annexed the city. The situation in East Central Europe was even more affected by the Polish-Czechoslovak dispute over Cieszyn (Tesin) in Austrian Silesia and three small frontier districts in former Hungary. The decision of the great powers on July 28, 1920, which rather favored Czechoslovakia, left much resentment in Poland, especially since it was made at the most critical moment of the Russian advance.

    In general, however, it was the Russian problem which, being beyond the possibility of action at the Paris Conference, made the whole peace settlement incomplete. As a matter of fact the war lasted in Eastern Europe for two more years after the armistice in the West and it was not concluded before the series of peace treaties which the border states, liberated from Russian rule, signed with the Soviet government in 1920 and 1921.

    On November 13, 1918, immediately after Germany’s collapse, the Bolsheviks, denouncing the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, invited all peoples of Central Europe to join a union of Soviet republics. Trying to enforce such a solution, the Russians advanced in the footsteps of the withdrawing and disintegrating German occupation forces. In spite of the civil war raging in Russia and of limited and hesitating intervention by the Western Allies, the Red Army already proved strong enough to seriously threaten all smaller neighbors. These extended from Finland and the Baltic states in the north, where Communist penetration created internal troubles that were exploited by the remaining German forces, to Rumania in the south, whose re-annexation of Bessarabia was never recognized by the Russians and was sanctioned by the Allies only on October 28, 1920. The main drive of Soviet Russia was, however, directed against Poland, the gateway to the center of the Continent, which had already been invaded at the very beginning of 1919 when the Paris Conference was going to meet.

    Since all attempts of the Western Allies to negotiate simultaneously with both the Bolsheviks and the counterrevolutionary forces in Russia, or with either of them, ultimately failed, the Conference felt unable to make any decision regarding the territories of the former Russian Empire. Even in the case of Poland, whose independence had been recognized by the last legitimate allied Russian government, it did not seem possible to fix her eastern frontier whose determination the Versailles Treaty left to a later decision of the great powers. At the Paris Conference only a provisional line was indicated on December 8, 1919, up to which Poland was authorized to establish her regular administration at once, her rights to territories east of that line, which corresponded to Russia’s frontier after the third partition of Poland, being expressly reserved.

    In these territories the fight against the Red Army was continuing. Pushing it gradually back, the Poles had on April 19, 1919, already liberated Wilno, which the Lithuanian government, withdrawing to Kaunas, had left under Soviet pressure at the end of 1918. Three days later Pilsudski, who favored a federal solution of Poland’s relations with Lithuania, White Ruthenia, and the Ukraine, promised all peoples of the former grand duchy of Lithuania full self-determination through a vote which, however, had to be postponed until the end of the war. Particularly confused was the situation among the Ukrainians. In the formerly Russian territories, the national Ukrainian government which had retaken power after the defeat of the Germans was in a desperate struggle against Communist forces, while in Eastern Galicia the struggle between Ukrainians and Poles which had started after the fall of the Habsburg monarchy ended in June, 1919, with a Polish victory, but without any final decision of the Peace Conference as to the future of that territory.

    A decisive turn in the Polish-Russian war seemed to come in the spring of 1920 after the failure of armistice negotiations. In the north where Estonia and Latvia had at last succeeded in liberating themselves from both Russian and German invaders, the Poles helped their Latvian neighbors to regain the region of Dünaburg (Daugavpils), and with the Ukrainian government of Petlyura on the twenty-first of April they concluded an agreement which left Eastern Galicia and Western Volhynia to Poland. Poland was to assist in liberating the Ukraine proper from Soviet rule and in creating an independent allied state there. On the eighth of May Polish and Ukrainian forces entered Kiev.

    The Russians, however, reacted with two counteroffensives. One of these was on the northern, White Ruthenian sector of the front which, after being first stopped by the Poles, advanced in July under Tukhachevsky in the direction of Wilno. Another was in the south under Budenny. After retaking Kiev, this thrust soon entered Eastern Galicia but without reaching Lwow. On the twelfth of July the Soviets signed a peace treaty with the Lithuanians granting them the possession of Wilno, but with the reservation that the Red Army could use that region as a basis for its further advance toward Warsaw.

    The day before, the British foreign secretary, Lord Curzon, sent a note to the Soviet government suggesting an armistice on conditions which the Polish prime minister, Wladyslaw Grabski, after asking for Allied help at the Spa Conference, had accepted under Lloyd George’s pressure. Both Polish and Russian forces would stop thirty miles west and east of the line drafted in Paris in December of the preceding year, and peace negotiations conducted in London would settle all controversial problems. Through an error, the armistice line, which in Galicia was to follow the actual front, was described in the note as leaving all of Eastern Galicia on the Russian side. But the so-called Curzon line, thus extended as far as the Carpathians, never came into force even as an armistice demarcation line since the Soviets rejected the British proposal.

    Nevertheless the Poles did not receive the Allied help promised to them in that case, and only a few French officers under General Weygand came to Warsaw to assist the Polish general staff in organizing the defense of the country. At the very moment when the Bolsheviks were already at the gates of the capital, which was protected only by a small army of volunteers under General Stanislaw Hailer, and when a Communist puppet government was already prepared to take over, a bold strategic plan of Pilsudski turned the tide on the fifteenth of August. Through an attack from the south Pilsudski encircled the Russian forces which General Wladyslaw Sikorski was pushing back north of Warsaw, and soon the Poles were again advancing on the whole front. Western Europe, which Tukhachevsky had hoped to reach by pushing through Poland, was saved. After another defeat in the Niemen region near Lida, a Soviet delegation came to Riga where first, on the twelfth of October, an armistice, and then, on March 18, 1921, a peace treaty, was signed.

    It was signed by three independent Soviet republics: the Russian, White Ruthenian, and Ukrainian, thus creating the fiction that the latter two nations had reached their self-determination under native Communist regimes. This was a blow to their real national movements whose leaders now had to go into exile. Some White Ruthenian and Ukrainian minorities were left on the Polish side of the new border, a line of compromise which in the south corresponded to the agreement with Petlyura and in general followed the line of the second partition of Poland.

    In the north the controversial problem of Wilno was left to an agreement between Poland and Lithuania, which unfortunately was never reached. After clashes between the armies of these two countries during the Polish advance, their conflict was brought before the League of Nations and an armistice was signed at Suwalki on October 7, 1920, leaving Wilno on the Lithuanian side of a line which was supposed to end the fighting on part of the front. Fearing that this would prejudice the fate of the city and her predominantly Polish population, Polish forces of local origin under General Zeligowski, advancing on another sector of the front, occupied Wilno two days later. Various solutions suggested by the League, which returned to the idea of a Polish-Lithuanian federation, were not accepted, a plebiscite proved too difficult to organize, and finally a diet assembled in Wilno in February, 1922, after elections held with the participation of 64 per cent of the population, voted almost unanimously in favor of an incorporation of the whole region with Poland. It was, however, only on March 15, 1923, that the conference of ambassadors of the great powers, recognizing the eastern frontier of Poland which was fixed at Riga, at the same time accepted a provisional demarcation line, which had left the Wilno region to Poland, as her boundary with Lithuania.

    The protest of Lithuania which continued to consider herself in a state of war with Poland created serious tension between two liberated countries with so many common interests. But, in general, conditions in East Central Europe seemed at last settled, not only in the western and southern sector where the Paris Conference had planned the peace but also in the northeast where the non-Russian successor states of the former czarist empire had to defend themselves, almost exclusively by their own forces, against the Soviet form of Russian imperialism. Most of them succeeded in doing so, because after the Polish victory, of 1920, the independence of the three small Baltic republics was also assured, as well as that of Finland which at last got her peace treaty with the Soviets in October of that year, almost simultaneously with the Riga armistice. Only White Ruthenia, now called Byelorussia, and the Ukraine were sovietized at the same time, and they soon had to experience that Communist control meant reunion with Russia in the U.S.S.R. which was created two years later. They were therefore left outside the new East Central Europe, the belt of free nations between that Communist federation under Russian leadership and a reduced but still powerful Germany.

    In Eastern Europe, ruled from Moscow where the capital of Russia was re-transferred from St. Petersburg (Petrograd, now called Leningrad), peace was also established in the fall of 1920. What remained of the non-Communist Russian forces, which never were in any real cooperation with those of the non-Russian nationalities, lost their last chance in the civil war when the Soviets made peace with the border states. These forces were evacuated from the Crimea, as the interventionist forces of the Western Allies in various parts of Russia had also been much earlier. The issue now was whether the new Russia would reconcile herself with her territorial losses and whether communism would give up its idea of westward expansion, or whether the U.S.S.R. would come to an understanding with Germany, directed against East Central Europe.

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