|Hungary - The Unwilling Satellite|
IT WAS not long after my arrival in Budapest that the first glare of lightning broke from the clouds which had gathered around Hungary when Adolf Hitler had seized the helm in Germany. On July 25,1934, Engelbert Dollfuss, the federal chancellor of Austria, was assassinated, and the tremor emanating from that political earthquake was felt distinctly in the Hungarian capital, where everybody realized what it would mean if the German army appeared on the Hungarian frontiers.
There had already been considerable alarm, in February 1934, when the Dollfuss government fought its street battles with the party militia of the social democrats. For a while no one seemed to know just what was happening. For that reason I went to Vienna, but I had a hard time finding the scene of action, as it was out in the suburbs. It was quite interesting later to read dispatches in the American papers describing the fighting in ''downtown Vienna" and attributing it to anti- Semitism - - dispatches which resulted in an Austrian trade delegation which was about to land in New York having to be landed in New Jersey. Actually, these reports were made out of whole cloth. There was no anti- Semitism connected with the affair, and the material damage was insignificant. Later I read an article in Collier's Weekly which pictured Prince Starhemberg, leader of the Heimwehren, as standing in the ruins of an apartment house which he had just leveled with his artillery.
The facts were that the previous socialist regime had built apartment houses at strategic positions covering every bridge across the Danube. These apartment houses were well stocked with guns and ammunition. Therefore, when the revolution - - for that is what it was - - started in the suburbs, the police reinforcements attempting to cross the bridges were shot down. Prince Schoenburg- Hartenstein, Dollfuss' minister of war, took charge. He ordered the fuses removed from the shells and, using only the smallest caliber at his disposal, opened up with the artillery. Since the revolutionists believed it to be a real bombardment, they surrendered almost at once. I did not see any apartment house that was damaged to such an extent that the tenants could not return to their homes.
Dollfuss was a striking personality, carrying in a dwarfish body a giant's energy. He has been accused of being responsible for the episode of February 1934, because in March 1933, he had suspended parliament and had taken democracy into "protective custody." He did this, apparently, to avoid Nazi- Germany's "legal" conquest of Austria, through interference by blackmail, intimidation and bribery in her elections. Even among those who approved of Dollfuss' decision, some asserted that the suspension of parliament would have been excusable only if he, as leader of the Catholic Party, had chosen as his partners in government the social democrats instead of the Heimwehren, who were supported by Italy. This was a strong argument; but those who could look at that complex situation from every angle remember that the social democrats themselves were far from being angelic. Their armed party guard was dependent on Czech funds and military supplies. They had available a man born to be a leader, the genuine statesman Dr. Karl Renner - at this writing president of the re- established republic. But after the short period from 1918 to 1920 when he acted as chancellor, he had been permanently pushed against the wall by radicals like Ottoauer1">OttoBauer and Julius Deutsch. These two never ceased flirting with the Soviets, with the idea of ruling the country from outside parliament by strong- arm methods. It would have been difficult for Dollfuss to find a common platform with people of this kind. As a matter of fact, the events of February 1934 showed that these men were completely discredited by their own followers. The workers simply disregarded their order to stage a general strike. Deserted by the left wing socialists, among whom Bauer and Deutsch fled to Czechoslovakia, the party guard could not be a match for the regular forces.
Hitler's forecast that, because of these February events the Austrian workers would join the National Socialist Party was a mistake; but one of the results was that the socialist workers watched as neutral onlookers the ensuing struggle between Dollfuss and the national socialists. This aggravated considerably the hard task of the Austrian police and facilitated the conspiracy that resulted in the cruel death of Dollfuss on that July day in 1934. Hungarians held their breath as they watched the dramatic development which followed. Hitler was just about to order his troops into Austria, under pretext of having to quell a civil war, when Mussolini ordered a troop concentration on the Brenner Pass and declared that he would not tolerate any infringement of Austria's independence. At that moment, certainly, no one enjoyed greater popularity in Hungary than the Italian capo del governo. There was also another event which captured Hungarian attention. In some Austrian provinces, national socialist storm troopers, equipped and trained by Germany, attempted an armed upheaval upon learning of Dollfuss' death. The Austrian army, although very weak as a result of the peace treaty of 1919, found it easy to subdue them in a few days. One strong group, however, succeeded in retreating to the Yugoslav frontier. The storm troopers entrenched themselves so close to the border that Austrian bullets would have fallen on Yugoslav territory, if the army had kept on firing. Across the frontier, Yugoslav army detachments held a solid watch and by doing so protected the national socialists. Finally the Yugoslavs declared their willingness to accept the storm troopers as guests and to send them by ship to Germany. The Brown Shirtswere feted in Yugoslavia as if they were friends and visitors. In Budapest this was interpreted as a gesture which meant that Yugoslavia, threatened by Italian revisionism, was prepared to throw in her lot with Hitler. Mussolini's bold action in defiance of Hitler had thoroughly alarmed the Yugoslavs and this episode, I think, is worth remembering. In November 1934, King Alexander the royal dictator of Yugoslavia, together with M. Barthou foreign minister of France, was assassinated at Marseille by Croatia terrorists. On November 22nd, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Rumania charged Hungary with complicity in that crime in notes to the League of Nations. They spoke of a 'crime perpetrated by members of a terrorist gang settled in Hungary" and of the "responsibility of the Hungarian authorities for the aid and support granted to Yugoslav subjects." "Professional criminals," they alleged, "were trained in the territory of a foreign state." A Yugoslav memorandum on November 28th pointed to the existence of camps of Yugoslav emigrants in Hungary, particularly at Yanka Puszta, where it was charged that the Croatia terrorists who assassinated King Alexanderhad been trained. The memorandum charged the Hungarian government with ' criminal negligence,' and practically accused the government of having inspired terrorist activities against Yugoslavia, and specifically with having trained the assassin of Alexander Two days later, a Hungarian note to the League requested that the Council of the League of Nations deal without delay with Yugoslavia's accusations, calling them fantastic.
Great Britain was represented in Belgrade by Neville Henderson, afterward her last ambassador to national socialist Germany. In Yugoslavia he was just as fond of dictatorship as he later proved to be in Berlin. The Croats always maintained that he had encouraged King Alexanderto set up a dictatorship instead of granting autonomy to Croatia which had been promised her by the Serbsduring the first World War. Mr. Henderson had reported to his government that Belgrade was much disturbed by the existence of the farm near the frontier in Yanka Puszta which was owned by a Croatia exile and used as a shelter for Croats who were hostile to the regime. Sir Patrick Ramsay, the gifted and colorful minister of His Britannic Majesty to Budapest, on reading copies of Henderson's dispatches, decided to investigate. He discovered nothing suspicious. In order to get Mr. de Kanyas reaction, I asked if he would have any objection - - to my sending someone down to Yanka Puszta. I thought he would try to keep me from doing so, but he said at once that he was perfectly willing. The Hungarian police, he added, kept an eye on the farm and had reported that the Croatia owner had received visitors there, but none of them had stayed with him and there was not the slightest sign of terrorist preparations.
Premier Gombos chose Dr. Tibor Eckhardt, a member of parliament and leader of the Smallholders Party, to defend Hungary at Geneva. I know Dr. Eckhardt very well and have always found him a competent authority on foreign and domestic affairs. He is interesting and thought provoking because he has the rare gift of seeing things realistically and of shedding light on them from the most unexpected angles.
While Mr. de Kanyaand Dr. Eckhardt were in Geneva, the Foreign Office was taken over by the undersecretary for foreign affairs, Mr. de Hory, who proved to be the Hungarian version of Mr. Caspar Milquetoast. We were having a concert at the legation when the Greek minister came in and said there was a rumor that the Yugoslav authorities had put a lot of Hungarian men, women and children on a train and dumped them over the border. This was very interesting. I at once tried to check on it, but could not get in touch with anybody who would confirm it, or who seemed to know anything about it. The Foreign Office worked until late into the night and I saw several people there, but they knew nothing of it, so it seemed to be just a rumor. The next day was St. Nicholas Day, the Regent's name day, and the Foreign Office was closed. Although we tried all day long, since there were many rumors, we couldn't find any official who seemed to know anything about it. That night I attended the gala opera performance and ran into Mr. de Hory. He denied emphatically that Hungarians were being dumped into Hungary from Yugoslavia. The situation was puzzling. If the Yugoslavs were conducting a mass deportation of Hungarians, it certainly would not help them in the League of Nations trial. Therefore, it seemed certain that the Hungarian authorities would not deny it, but would rather proclaim it. I discussed the matter with my secretaries and we came to the conclusion that it must be a hoax.
In the meantime, a lot of wild stories were being sent to America. One correspondent in Vienna, whose point of view was his favorite cafe there, gave a very realistic description of Yugoslav troops invading Hungary. He described the death's- head on their uniforms and told all the "details." This story occupied the first column of the front page of the New York Times. Naturally the State Department was much exercised and telegraphed for information.
Actually, as I found out later, there were a thousand or more deportees, men, women and children. Their expulsion during the crisis was a result of internal strife brewing in Yugoslavia. The militarist group tried to exploit the death of the king for its factional purposes. Prime Minister Jefticwas following a moderate course of policy, but was fiercely opposed by General Zifkovic who besides being the commander of the Royal Guards was also chief of the Serb secret military organization which in many instances imposed its will on Yugoslav policies.
Together with his militarist clique, General Zifkovichoped that by provoking border incidents and eventual military clashes with Hungary, he would be able to increase the political influence of the militarists, eventually oust Jefticand become himself prime minister and possibly dictator of Yugoslavia. The mass expulsion of Hungarians by Chetniks (irregular Serbian troops) of whom some forty thousand were mobilized at the orders of Zifkovicin the vicinity of the Hungarian border, was aimed at provoking incidents which might upset Jeftics more moderate policy.
The Hungarian government forestalled this new danger by withdrawing all its frontier guards and troops about ten miles deep into Hungary, leaving the borderline completely unprotected rather than risk frontier clashes which might have set the spark to the keg of powder. Dr. Eckhardt informed Mr. Eden verbally of these portentous happenings. Mr. Eden took a serious view of the question, and fortunately, having been a schoolmate of Prince Paulof Yugoslavia at Eton, could make use of his private contact with him to advise moderation and avoidance of violence.
The entire Marseille case gradually developed into a dangerous game of power politics where the minor powers were simply used as pawns by the great powers. Dr. Eckhardt told me that when Mr. Lavalarrived in Geneva, he presented himself, not having met him previously. Mr. Lavalat first assured him that he felt no animosity toward Hungary, and then said: "I have not read your paper on the Marseille case; nevertheless, I can assure you that France will remain true to her alliances." This simply meant that whatever the merits of the case might be, Mr. Lavalwould give full support to the Little Entente.
In 1934, the relations between Hungary and the Little Entente were tense. Yugoslavia appeared to be the weakest link of the chain, with King Alexanderunable to reconcile the Croats and the equally suppressed political parties of Serbia. If anyone had told me that Hungarians were conspiring with the Yugoslav opposition in order to break out one of the fangs of the Little Entente, I should not have put it beyond them. The temptation was great. However, everybody, including the Yugoslav government, knew that the murder of King Alexanderand French Foreign Minister Barthouwas carried out by the "Ustashi" organization of the Croat leader Pavelich(later the Croat quisling), under the auspices of Mussolini.
Tibor Eckhardt told me afterward that the Yugoslavs had produced photographs at Geneva to "prove" Hungary's guilt. Among them was a picture which purported to show Croatia terrorists training with hand grenades at Yanka Puszta. This farm actually lay in a vast plain, but Eckhardt discovered in the back- ground of the photograph the range of the Alps as they appear to those who look at them from northern Italy. Yugoslavia was showing the world that while the big powers were calling the tune, she knew, and thus slyly acknowledged, the facts.
The background of the Marseille case was most revealing of the state of European affairs and the "wisdom" with which they were conducted at a time when Hitler had already risen to power and had started his clandestine rearmament. Mr. Lavalhad made up his mind that he would come to terms with Mussolini - - which in itself was not a bad idea, if his plan had worked, he might have prevented the formation of the Axis. But, in order to win Mussolini's favor and to avoid antagonizing him, the accusations in the Marseille murder case could not be directed against the real culprits, Mussolini and Pavelich Italy had to be left out of the case completely, and Hungary, where nobody was implicated and where only small irregularities had been committed in connection with issuance of passports and control of Croat refugees, was slated for the role of the defendant instead of Mussolini.
The League of Nations was at its best in baring the explosive affair. The Council chose Mr. Anthony Eden as its rapporteur. Mr. Jefticmade his accusations: Hungary had not collaborated in the investigation after having recognized the presence of terrorists within her boundaries. Eckhardt, who in his defense of Hungary showed his mettle as a skilled diplomat, stated that Hungary's treatment of those Yugoslav exiles had not gone beyond the legitimate toleration due political refugees as long as their conduct did not surpass legal limits. He had already called the Yugoslav memorandum a calculated misrepresentation, and proved that the murderer of King Alexanderhad never been in Hungary. But this exchange was followed on December 10, 1934, by a resolution of the Council of the League: "Certain Hungarian authorities, at least by neglect, have assumed responsibilities and Hungary is expected to carry out an inquiry and to report to the Council in proper time the penalties imposed on guilty officials." This did not mean very much. Belgrade had the day before contributed to a peaceful solution by revoking the expulsion of Hungarians, three thousand of whom had been put over the border by this time and were in a desolate condition. Five months later, in May 1935, Mr. Eden reported to the Council of the League of Nations that Yugoslavia had agreed to regard the question as closed and in the meantime, all of the Hungarians deported from Yugoslavia had been permitted to return.
In Appendix IV to this book, I am publishing an excerpt of a file, the possession of which I owe to an Italian whom I met in Belgrade and with whom I afterward became very intimate. So far as I know, he is no longer among the living. After Alexanders death he told me that he had been carrying messages between Alexanderand Mussolini. He said that he had put everything down in writing and he would be glad to show it to me. Later in the day he brought it over.
He explained that his father had been a great friend of King, then Prince, Alexanders tutor and that he himself had become friendly with Alexanderand the friendship had continued. Once, before making one of his business trips to Belgrade, he had been invited to Rome to see Mussolini, who apparently knew all about him and who asked him to probe into King Alexanders feelings toward Italy. After that, he had acted as a frequent and regular go- between, in most cases with the knowledge of the Italian minister to Belgrade.
The documents show King Alexanderextremely keen on concluding an over- all agreement with Italy and they show Mussolini extremely reluctant. It is possible that the Duce did not want to make promises which would have hampered his expansionist designs in the Balkans, but since he was not a scrupulous observer of pledges, I am rather inclined to think that he hoped for the Yugoslavs, early disintegration and did not want to strengthen the regime of a man who must have appeared to him as endowed with unusual energy and skill. Probably the fact that Alexanderwas so insistent gave additional force to Mussolini's expectation that Yugoslavia's days were numbered.
Judging from these documents Alexanderwas much cleverer than Mussolini. If the latter did connive in the assassination of Alexander it would seem to have been one of the most stupid moves possible. Mussolini's Albanian policy and his Greek adventure revealed that it was his aim to make Italy the paramount power in the Balkans. It would be interesting to find out when he began to be more afraid of Germany in the Balkans than of France. It seems to be established that he defied Hitler when attacking the Greeks. I do not think he was farsighted enough to visualize a Yugoslav- Bulgarian bloc ruled by Soviet agents, rendering the Balkans a real threat to Italy's vital interest. It is certain, however, that Italian predominance in the Balkans today would be better for Britain - - and for the world - - than Russian domination.
The fact that Yugoslavia survived Alexanders death apparently made the Duce a little more amenable. Also, he wanted to organize resistance to Hitler's Austrian plans by the co- operation of his country with England and France, and this necessitated the improvement of his relations with Yugoslavia. Not before March 1937 did Count Ciano sign a non-aggression and friendship pact at Belgrade, but as early as March 1935, Count Viola de Campo Alto, the Italian minister to the Yugoslav capital, made a friendly speech and went so far as to emphasize Italy's sympathy for Yugoslavia's territorial integrity. This was a heavy blow to Hungarian revisionists. Mussolini exerted a twofold pressure upon Yugoslavia: On the one hand, he could fan the fires of separatist ambitions - for since the Serbian race represented only 34 percent of the population- - there was constant agitation on the part of the other nationalities represented in the remaining 66 percent, particularly Croatia for independence. On the other hand, he could put pressure upon Yugoslavia by favoring Hungary's claim on territories handed over to Yugoslavia by the Treaty of Trianon. Had the Italian minister spoken of Yugoslav "unity," the revisionists would have felt better: for then it could have been inferred that Mussolini was relying upon revision rather than separatism for pressure upon Yugoslavia.
|Hungary - The Unwilling Satellite|