|The New Central Europe|
The capitulation of the Western Powers at the Munich Conference in 1938 started the avalanche of events which almost a decade later, following the Second World War, ended in Soviet Russia's tyranny over half of Europe. Munich enabled Hitler to seize Czechoslovakia and to deliver the decisive blow against the Middle Zone of small nations which separated Germany from Soviet Russia. During the period of Nazi- Soviet cooperation which followed (1939- 1941), two concurrent movements took place: the expansion and consolidation of German hegemony in the Middle Zone continued, and the Russian advance began. The Russian expansion westward was disrupted when Nazi Germany attacked Soviet Russia in 1941, forcing a great eastward retreat; but the tide of the war turned, and the Russian advance extended in final victory well beyond the confines fixed for Soviet rule by the Nazi- Soviet pact of 1939.
The secret protocol to the Nazi- Soviet non- aggression pact, which was signed on August 23, 1939, by the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, divided the territories between Russia and Germany into spheres of interest. Finland, Latvia, Estonia, eastern Poland and, eventually, Bessarabia were to pass into the Soviet sphere, while western Poland and Lithuania were to go into the German sphere. After the defeat of Poland, the secret protocol to a new treaty, signed on September 28, 1939, transferred Lithuania to the Soviet sphere and enlarged somewhat the German sphere in Poland.
While ruthless power politics was the essence of these arrangements, Russia's territorial claims against Poland and Romania were based also on ethnic principles. The frontiers of the Soviet sphere in East Poland, called the Molotov- Ribbentrop Line, ran slightly to the west of the so- called Curzon Line, which had been proposed as the Polish- Russian ethnic frontier after the First World War, but was rejected by Poland. There were about four million Poles living in this area, but the majority of the population was Ukrainian and Russian. Bessarabia, too, had a slight Ukrainian majority. In these instances the Soviet Union acted as Mother Russia, anxious to recover her lost territories. Her claims were not unlike those of the other revisionist countries, Hungary Bulgaria, or, for that matter, Poland. The Poles, only a year before, in October 1938, had utilized the ethnic principle, stretching it to doubtful capacity, in their seizure of Teschen from Czechoslovakia. What was novel in Russia's claims was that the Russians should employ revisionist slogans in the same vein as the Hitlerite propaganda, demanding the liberation of "blood brethren from Polish yoke." On the other hand, there was nothing novel in the fact that Soviet Russia's aspirations based on ethnic principles went far beyond ethnic limits. The ethnic principle in the age of nationalism was always a convenient pretext for imperialistic expansion, no matter whether the government which invoked "the right of national self- determination" was democratic, reactionary, Fascist, or Communist.
In the war against Poland, in September 1939, Germany gained control of her sphere of interest immediately. In the closing phase of the war Russia invaded East Poland and annexed it, but moved into the rest of her sphere only gradually. In fact, Finland never passed under her control. Although Russia attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, the "winter war" ended in a compromise, with Stalin satisfied by frontier rectifications. The Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was completed in June 1940. At the same time Romania, under German pressure, ceded to Russia not only Bessarabia but, as an addition to the Soviet sphere, North Bukovina, too.
During the winter of 1939-40 there was some hope that Mussolini might stay out of the war, despite the "pact of steel" he had signed with Hitler in the spring of 1939. There was vague talk about a neutral bloc in the Danube Valley and the Balkans under Italy's leadership. Italy's "powerful, non- belligerent influence" as a counterpart of the United States' "great neutral influence" was discussed by Sumner Welles, Under- Secretary of State, during his mission to Europe in early 1940. Mussolini told Sumner Welles in March 1940: "You may wish to remember that, while the German- Italian Pact exists, I nevertheless retain complete liberty of action." Hitler's stupendous successes in his war against the West, however, soon dispelled Mussolini's desire for independent action. Instead, eager to share in the spoils of what not a few considered Hitler's final victory, Mussolini hurried, in June 1940, to declare war on France and Britain. France's defeat and Italy's entrance Into the war dashed the hope for neutrality in the Danube Valley. German continental hegemony seemed overwhelming. German pressure in southeastern Europe increased rapidly. Governments, including those of Yugoslavia and Romania, which not long before had been friends of France, vied with each other for the friendship of the Hitlerite Third Reich. Hungaryand Bulgaria, the two old revisionist partners of Germany meanwhile waited impatiently for the fulfillment of their territorial claims.
The old feud between Romania and Hungaryover Transylvania had developed to the verge of war when the Nazi and Fascist Foreign Ministers, Ribbentrop and Ciano, met ln Vienna on August 30, 1940, to continue the revision of the Trianon treaty which had been started, in principle at least, by the Western Powers at Munich. The two Axis ministers attempted to draw an ethnic frontier between Hungaryand Romania. They bisected Transylvania and gave the northern part of it, with a population of two and a half million, to Hungary This so-called Second Vienna Award left about half a million Hungarians still in Romania, while it transferred to Hungaryroughly as many Romanians as Hungarians--altogether, two and a half million people. The massive Hungarian island of the Szekelys in eastern Transylvania was returned to Hungarybut only with a Romanian-settled corridor lying between Transylvania and Hungary This solution was not satisfactory. But as long as it was between Romanian and Hungarian national states that Transylvania remained a bone of contention, no true solution was possible. A federated Transylvania within a Danubian union could have solved the problem. Such a solution, however, was as remote from fulfillment at the time of the Second Vienna Award as at any time before or since.
As a matter of fact, the Vienna frontier favored the Hungarians less than the Trianon frontier had favored the Romanians. The deputies of the Nazi and Fascist dictators committed no worse crimes against the principle of national self-determination than did the democratic peacemakers of Paris twenty years earlier: nor did Hungaryand Romania become worse neighbors after the Second Vienna Award than they had been after the peace settlement of 1919-20. The gain for Hitler, however, was significant.
In Hungary gratitude for the revision of the Trianon Treaty strengthened pro-German sentiment and made nationalist public opinion insensible to the Nazi danger. The Hungarian government also signed an agreement in Vienna with the Reich, granting to the German minority in Hungaryspecial privileges which were actually incompatible with Hungarian sovereignty. But the people of Hungary overjoyed at recovering more of the territory of their thousand- years- old country, hardly took notice of Nazi encroachments on their national sovereignty. Meanwhile in Romania, after proud possession for twenty years, the loss of the greater part of Transylvania was viewed as a catastrophe. In the wave of national indignation that followed, King Carol II was swept from his throne. But the Romanian upheaval, though precipitated by indignation against the Nazi- sponsored Vienna Award, in fact helped the pro- Nazi elements to power. Romania came within the German sphere of influence, and it was now the Romanian Fascists' turn to claim that, on the strength of their friendship and loyalty to Nazi Germany, they were the saviors of their fatherland. Thus, while young Prince Michaelbecame king, the pro- Nazi General Ion Antonescu established himself as virtual dictator of Romania.
In this ominous autumn of 1940, the amputation of Romania's minority population was completed. On September 7, under German pressure, she ceded Southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria. This process was similar to what had happened to Czechoslovakia in 1938- 39, with the difference however that the remainder of Romania was still a good- sized country, and militarily she became a substantial ally of Hitler. In October 1940 a German "instructor corps," in fact an entire panzer division, arrived by way of Hungary Before long, Romania became the principal operational base of the Nazi war machine in southeastern Europe.
The transformation of southeastern Europe into a German sphere of interest, a prospect which had not been envisaged in the Nazi- Soviet secret protocols, proceeded rapidly. Meanwhile Mussolini, anxious to expand the Italian sphere of interest in the Balkans, invaded Greece on October 28 from Albania, which the Fascists had occupied over a year before. This cumulative Axis activity in the Balkans greatly disturbed Russia, herself a power with long- standing interests there. The changes in the status of Romania prompted the Soviet government to lodge protests in Berlin. At the end of October, Russo- German rivalry over the Danube delta came into the open at a conference held in Bucharest, when the Axis Powers rejected the Soviet demand for a Soviet- Romanian control authority.
While Nazi- Soviet tension was mounting, Soviet Foreign Commissar Molotov arrived in Berlin on November 12, 1940, to discuss broader Nazi proposals for a worldwide cooperation on the basis of spheres of interest. Plans to partition the world between Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union were laid before Molotov. The Soviet sphere, in addition to what had been previously agreed upon, was to lie south of the U.S.S.R. in the direction of the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the status of the Straits was to be revised, by bringing joint pressure on Turkey; in the future only Black Sea powers were to have the right to send warships through the Straits to or from the Mediterranean. Molotov, however, demanded also a Soviet base in the Straits and the inclusion of Bulgaria in the Soviet "security zone," and over these demands the Berlin negotiations broke down.
The Axis thereafter, in defiance of Russia, tightened its control over southeastern Europe. In November, between the 20th and 25th, Hungary Romania and Slovakiaadhered to the German- Italian- Japanese Tripartite Pact. German pressure on Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, too, was increased during this period, as Italian military setbacks in Greece gave Hitler special concern lest Greece, allied with Britain, become a British bridgehead in the Balkans. The German position vis- a- vis both Britain and Russia was strengthened when on March 1, 1941, Bulgaria joined the Tripartite Pact. Thereafter German "instructor corps" entered Bulgaria to make it a German bridgehead against Greece, and to defy Russia's claim that it fell within the Soviet "security zone." The only Danubian country not a member of the Tripartite Pact was now Yugoslavia. Its regent, Prince Paul, was maintaining an uneasy balance between the Axis and the Western Powers. A treaty of friend- ship, signed in December 1940 with Hungary a member of the Tripartite Pact, was one of the friendly moves Yugoslavia made toward the Axis, although the Budapest and Belgrade governments, rather naively, conceived the treaty as a means of strengthening their neutrality. When Berlin continued to press Belgrade for adherence to the Tripartite Pact, Prince Paul submitted, and Yugoslavia signed the pact on March 25, 1941. The next day, however, an of officers' coup overthrew Paul's regime, elevating the minor, Prince Peter, to the throne.
The motivations for this coup were rather obscure. British and American diplomatic encouragement to resist German pressure probably had little effect. The coup, almost exclusively a Serbian affair, was mainly a spontaneous protest against the threat of German encroachment on Yugoslav national sovereignty. But it represented a violent outburst of Serbian nationalism in more than one direction. Hugh Seton- Watson seems to be right in observing that "there is some ground for the suspicion that they were more interested in undoing the concessions made to the Croats by Prince Paul in 1939 than in resisting the Axis."
The new government of General Dusan Simovic assured the Axis of Yugoslavia's loyalty to the Tripartite Pact, but Hitler was filled with distrust. It will never be known whether Yugoslavia, under the new regime, would have cooperated with the Axis as the German satellites, willingly or unwillingly, did. Nor is it clear what Russia's true intentions were. On April 4, 1941, a Soviet-
Yugoslav treaty of non- aggression and friendship was signed in Moscow, but at the same time Molotov assured Count Schulenburg, the German Ambassador, that Yugoslavia intended to adhere to the Tripartite Pact. Molotov's friendly assurance to Germany with regard to the Soviet- Yugoslav treaty probably was not a single piece of deception. It was, rather, a reminder that on the terms of the Berlin negotiations, if Soviet interests in the Balkans were recognized, Russo- German cooperation might still have a future.
According to subsequent Soviet official interpretation, every move during the period of cooperation with Nazi Germany served the purpose of "probing the German position" and building up an "eastern front" against the Germans. As an official Soviet document expressed it, "the point was to build up a barrier against the advance of the German troops in all areas where that was possible, to organize a strong defense and then to launch a counteroffensive, smash Hitler's armies and thereby create the conditions for the free development of . . . [the Eastern European] countries."
If the Soviet- Yugoslav treaty was intended to build up a "barrier" against Hitler, then the treaty failed to attain its purpose. It succeeded, however, in "probing the German position." On April 6, Germany invaded Yugoslavia. And when Hitler ruthlessly attacked the country with which, two days before, the Soviet Union had signed a treaty of friendship, he also intimated what he thought of the friendship treaties which Germany had signed two years before with the Soviet Union.
Hitler had several springboards (Austria, Romania, Bulgaria) for launching his attack against Yugoslavia, but to speed up victory he needed Hungarytoo. The pro- Nazi Hungarian General Staff, without the knowledge of the government, agreed to the passage of German troops. Premier Count Paul Teleki, realizing the fait accompli, committed suicide while the German troops were beginning their march across Hungarytoward Yugoslavia. Teleki's tragedy was symbolic of the impasse in which Hungaryfound herself and of the hopeless situation of the Danubian nations in general, which one by one had submitted to the Nazi will.
With the ring around Yugoslavia closed, Hitler launched his attack from the four small countries of the Danube Valley: Austria, Hungary Romania and Bulgaria. If united, these four countries, together with Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland, could have stopped Hitler from destroying any one of them. Within a few years Hitler conquered them all, without once meeting even two of them deliberately united. There were individual acts of solidarity, like Hungarys refusal in 1939 to let German troops cross Hungaryagainst Poland. And refugees from one invaded country were received as friends in another country not invaded. But it never happened that any two of the countries intention-
ally formed a united front of resistance. Only by coincidence, and for a very short time, did such a bond of union materialize: when Hitler launched his attack against Yugoslavia, Greece was at war with Italy; Hitler's attack was aimed therefore against Greece as well as Yugoslavia, and also against the British, who were rushing aid to the hard- pressed Greeks. But this united resistance of Yugoslavia, Greece and Britain in the Balkans was too little and came too late. Hitler's war, on the other hand, was greatly aided by dissensions inside multinational Yugoslavia, which collapsed after a brief struggle. With the victory in the Balkans, Hitler completed his destruction of the Paris peacemakers' work in the belt of small nations between Germany and Russia.
Hungary the principal revisionist country of the area, concluded her revisionist career by annexing from defeated Yugoslavia approximately one million people, less than half of whom were Hungarians. However, the suicide of Count Teleki, one of the leaders of the revisionist policy, had been a dramatic confession of what he, like many other Hungarians, thought of the actual value of the territorial gains which Hungaryachieved with Hitler's aid. Statistically, the ethnic composition of the enlarged Hungarian national state after this last revision of the Trianon Treaty compared not unfavorably with that of the states favored by the Paris peacemakers after the First World War. In 1941 the Hungarians held an 80 percent majority in their enlarged country, whereas the majorities in the victor states after the First World War, according to official figures, were as follows: the Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenes made only 69 percent in Czechoslovakia; the Poles 69 percent in Poland; the Romanians 72 percent in Romania; the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes 83 percent in Yugoslavia. In other words, the ratio of ethnic majority and minority in enlarged Hungarywas not worse, but rather better, than in most of the Central and Eastern European countries which after the First World War were beneficiaries of the Paris peace settlement. This comparison is significant only because it shows that Hungarys territorial gains, decried as outrageous violations of justice by the former beneficiaries of the Paris peace settlement, were not, comparatively, outrageous at all. The real significance of the new situation lay elsewhere.
After Yugoslavia's dismemberment, when the last phase of the "revision" of the Paris peace settlement was concluded, the peoples of the once- independent Middle Zone were all in the grasp of Nazi Germany; and Nazi Germany herself now felt it safe, from her bases in Eastern Europe, to launch the invasion of Soviet Russia which followed in June 1941. The citadel of democracy, as Czechoslovakia was called, had fallen first. Poland and Yugoslavia had been crushed by military force, suffering more than any other countries during the Hitler era. Satellite governments of different shades continued to function in the conquered lands--except in Poland, where the Germans did not care even to maintain the semblance of self- government--but the forces of freedom had been brutally suppressed or paralyzed everywhere. Horrors of Nazi inhumanity, especially against the Jews, marked the reign of terror.
A strange island of relative freedom survived in Hungary at least until the German occupation of the country in March 1944. The revisionist bond of union with Germany enabled Hungaryto adjust to the Hitler era without revolutionary changes in her regime. Thus Horthy's Hungary-the most reactionary country in post- war Central Europe--was, with its limited freedom, after Nazi rule had engulfed Europe, the freest Danubian country of the Hitler era, an asylum for many refugees from all over Europe. The same reactionary forces which for so long had resisted the democratization of Hungarybecame the forces of national resistance against Hitler. This was the last achievement of the old Hungarian ruling class which called itself Conservative-Liberal. Their reliable representative at the head of the government was Nicholas Kállay, a member of the gentry class; he took over the premiership in March 1942, when Regent Horthy dismissed Ladislas Bárdossy, an advocate of unequivocal alliance with Nazi Germany in the war against Soviet Russia. It was Kállay's job to keep both Hungarys war effort and her further adaptation to Nazi norms in domestic affairs at a minimum. Kállay was well fitted for this task. For two years, with great dexterity, he kept the Hungarywhich had been enlarged with Nazi Germany's help safe from Nazi domination. Hungarywas allowed temporarily to enjoy the fruits of her revisionist policy. Revisionist Bulgaria, too, benefitted from the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. She annexed Macedonia on the basis of a controversial claim that Macedonians were more Bulgarian than Serbian. In addition, Bulgaria regained access to the Aegean Sea by taking western Thrace from Greece. Although less an "island of freedom" than Hungary Bulgaria nevertheless succeeded in preserving her full freedom of action (or rather inaction) in at least one respect: she was the only country among Germany's satellites that did not declare war on Soviet Russia.
Nazi Germany's victory in the Balkans enabled Fascist Italy victoriously to conclude her two years of war against Greece, and Italy shared also in the spoils of German victory over Yugoslavia. She annexed the greater part of Sloveniaand all of Dalmatia. Montenegro was proclaimed "independent" under Italian protection. Germany annexed the rest of Sloveniaand occupied Serbia. Neither Germany nor Italy, how- ever, controlled the inaccessible mountains from which, four years later, Josip Broz Tito was to emerge as the victor, not only over Hitler and Mussolini, but also over Draza Mihailovic leader of the Serbian partisans even before Tito had gone to the mountains to organize resistance to the Axis invaders. (Incidentally, other Communists, who were to become stars in the post- war Soviet era, did not take to the mountains but found refuge in Moscow through the good offices of the Nazis. The future Communist boss of Hungary Mátyás Rákosi and the Romanian Ana Pauker, belonged to this latter category; they were released from jail and extradited to Russia by the two Axis satellites, Hungaryand Romania, under the aegis of Nazi- Soviet cooperation.) Out of the Balkan chaos the medieval kingdom of the Croats was resuscitated as an Axis satellite. She even got a king in the person of the Italian Duke of Spoleto; but the duke never cared to assume his throne. The Croats had longed for national autonomy while they were a member- nation of Serbian- dominated Yugoslavia, but "independent Croatia," headed by the Fascist fanatic Ante Pavelic, was anything but the fulfillment of their national aspirations. Satellite Croatia was an even less solid creation of the Hitler era than its northern counterpart, the National Socialist Slovak state. Pavelic's Croatia lacked the quite considerable popular support which Tiso's Slovakiaenjoyed, and Croatia was torn by partisan war, which Slovakiawas spared until the uprising in the summer of 1944. Hitler's "new order" in the Danube Valley did nothing at all to advance reconciliation among the rival nations there. Although all the Danubian states were Hitler's allies, among themselves they continued their old hostilities by nurturing revisionist aspirations of one kind or another. Romania was anxious to recapture the lost half of Transylvania; Slovakiatoo was desirous of recovering territories from Hungary while Hungarywas eager to restore her rule over the whole of Transylvania, or for that matter over the whole of the Carpathian basin. Sympathies and antipathies among the Danubian states remained pretty much the same as they were before. Hungaryand Bulgaria, traditional allies of the revisionist era, remained friends, while Romania, Slovakiaand Croatia were mutually attracted by their hostility toward Hungary thus tending to continue the tradition of the defunct Little Entente. And those who believed in the permanence of Hitler's mastery over Central Europe were hopeful also that they might eventually, if loyal to Nazi Germany, be rewarded at the expense of their rival neighbors. All this of course suited Hitler well, to keep his satellites in line, and to extort from them whatever he needed to further Germany's war effort.
Russia's westward advance as a result of the Nazi- Soviet pact was relatively minor in comparison with Germany's eastward expansion between September 1939 and April 1941. From Poland to Greece the Germans were in the saddle. This was a development Stalin certainly had not foreseen and could not have approved, yet he seemed ready to cooperate in maintaining the status quo. But Hitler felt that all advantages he could derive from "peaceful coexistence" with Soviet Russiahad been exhausted. He left unnoticed such Soviet gestures of amity as the expulsion of Belgian, Norwegian and Yugoslav diplomatic representatives from Moscow in the spring of 1941, or proposals for further German- Russian economic cooperation. Much as Hitler tried to avoid the dangers of a two- front war, he nevertheless came to the same conclusion as Napoleon fighting the same enemies had reached before him, that the road to London led through Moscow. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
Shortly after--on July 12--the British- Soviet mutual aid pact was signed. Thus Churchill, Prime Minister since May 1940, was able to conclude the Grand Alliance for which he had been pleading relentlessly as leader of the opposition to Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Tsar or Commissar, Kaiser or Hitler: the laws of geography and power politics asserted themselves to restore the East- West alliance of the First World War. But many other circumstances were different. Now, France had already been knocked out of the war and Churchill was Lloyd George and Clemenceau in one person. Hitler, on the other hand, ruled over more territory and people than the former realms of the Hohenzollerns and Habsburgs combined.
Had the East- West alliance functioned sooner, there could not have been a Munich and Hitler could have been knocked out, probably without a second world war. And had a democratic federation of the Danubian nations been formed when the realm of the Habsburgs collapsed after the First World War, Hitler could hardly have conquered Central Europe, if indeed he could have arisen at all from obscurity in a Europe capable of creating a Danubian federation. And above all: had France, Britain and the United States remained united, the entire course of European history would have been different. Had the United States not left Europe to a separate destiny after the First World War, she would not have been called back less than a quarter of a century later to fight in the Second World War, and there would have been no need for calling in Soviet Russiato rescue the crumbling defenses of the West.
The Grand Alliance of East and West, urged originally by Churchill for the purpose of stopping Hitler's aggression, was entrusted now with an even greater task: the liberation of Europe from Hitler's tyranny.
|The New Central Europe|