|A Case Study on Trianon|
Thomas L. Sakmyster
Great Britain's role in the making of the peace treaty with Hungary after World War I presents a perplexing anomaly. In early 1920, when the text of the Treaty of Trianon had been made public but the treaty had not yet been signed by Hungary, strong and influential voices were raised in Britain calling for a reexamination of what seemed to be unduly severe and unfair peace terms. In its preparation for the peace conference, the British Foreign Office in late 1918 had established a fundamental principle: the peace settlement should be just and permanent so that all concerned parties, including the Germans and the Hungarians, would feel "that on the part of the British nation there has been an honest attempt to carry through a disinterested policy which has sought the best interest of all."1 In early 1920, however, many members of Parliament and British representatives in East Central Europe questioned whether the Treaty of Trianon, which left some 2 1/2 million Hungarians outside a Hungary greatly reduced in size, was indeed a just treaty. Most significant was the attitude of the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Warning that the creation of large Hungarian irredentas constituted an apparent injustice that could create a very unstable situation in Danubian Europe, he urged his counterparts on the Allied Supreme Council to study the peace terms with a view to making possible concessions to Hungary.2
Yet despite this surge of sympathy for Hungary from several quarters of British opinion, the Treaty of Trianon remained unaltered. An examination of Britain's role in the making of the treaty with Hungary provides an explanation of this curious circumstance and demonstrates the great influence which a handful of East European specialists in the British Foreign Office had on the shaping of policy in Danubian Europe after the Great War. It should be noted that neither Britain nor her allies was primarily responsible for the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the dismemberment of
Hungary.3 Yet British policy certainly gave impetus to this process, and the Foreign Office played a critical role in determining the precise frontiers of the new Hungarian state.
Despite the harsh terms of the Treaty of Trianon, which was signed on June 14, 1920, the dismemberment of Hungary had by no means been a British war aim at the start of the Great War. Indeed, Britain had gone to war against Austria-Hungary somewhat reluctantly, and almost to the very last months of the conflict the idea of luring the Dual Monarchy away from the true enemy, Germany, by negotiations for a separate peace was never completely abandoned.4
At the outbreak of the war the image of Hungary in Great Britain was on the whole quite favorable. For some time the Hungarians had been the best known and most admired of the ethnic groups in the Habsburg lands.5 From about 1905, however, the image had become slightly tarnished, and during the war years many politically conscious Britons came to the conclusion that Hungary's intolerant policies toward her minorities had been a major cause of the war. Hungary's stature in British wartime public opinion seemed to decline in direct proportion to the rise of acceptance of the principle of national self-determination. Moreover, whereas during the war few Britons were willing to stand up and speak in defense of Hungary, an enemy state, proponents of what has been called "liberal nationalism" were increasingly bold in propagating their political theories.
A major tenet of the "liberal nationalists" was that thwarted nationalism in Eastern Europe had been, even more than Prussian militarism, the fundamental cause of the Great War.6 The principal spokesmen for these views, Henry Wickham Steed and Robert Seton-Watson, thus emerged early in the war as the most important and persistent critics of the Habsburg Empire in general and of Hungary in particular.
In the decade before the war, Henry Wickham Steed, the political correspondent for The Times who dealt with the affairs of East Central Europe, had come to the conclusion that the Hungarians (or "Judaeo-Magyars" as he often called them) were at the heart of the problems of the Habsburg Empire. By persisting in their oppressive policies toward the minority groups who represented more than 50 percent of the population of Hungary, the Hungarian ruling class was creating conditions that would lead to disaster. Once the war
broke out, Steed, now head of the foreign department of The Times, worked assiduously to enlighten British public opinion about the necessity of breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In this crusade Steed found Robert Seton-Watson to be a most congenial collaborator. A scholar of independent means and an accomplished linguist, Seton-Watson had earlier in his career been something of a Hungarophile. A trip to Hungary in 1905, however, had caused him great disillusionment. Feeling that he had been deceived by the Hungarians, who had tried to conceal from him the true nature of their oppressive rule, he embarked on a career of scholarship and polemics aimed at exposing the "racial problems in Hungary" and championing the South Slavs, Romanians, Czechs, and Slovaks.7 As early as December, 1914, he published a pamphlet calling for the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary and the liberation of the subject nationalities. To bolster his arguments Seton-Watson strove in particular to inform the British public about Hungary's "systematic oppression" of the Slovaks, "one of the greatest infamies of the last fifty years."8
As a forum for his ideas, Seton-Watson founded and edited a journal appropriately called The New Europe. In addition to condemnations of the Germans and Hungarians, the articles of The New Europe were designed to acquaint intellectual circles in Britain and North America with the leaders, culture, and political ideals of the small Slavic nations and the Romanians. Readers were assured that the "Successor States" that would arise from the ruins of the Habsburg Empire would be stable, democratic, and mature. In contrast to the Hungarian and German ruling classes, the new leaders would be tolerant toward any remaining minority groups. Moreover, the new states would represent a formidable barrier to any future German Drang nach Osten, and would be natural allies of Britain.9
There is no doubt that The New Europe and the articles in The Times inspired by Steed had a profound impact on politically conscious Britons, particularly in the academic world and in the lower and middle echelons of the Foreign Office. However, the key leaders of the British government in the last years of the war, Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, were not easy converts to the banner of national self-determination. Aside from the dangerous implications that that principle might have for
Ireland and British possessions overseas, the British leadership preferred to base its policy toward Austria-Hungary on strategic needs. If sponsoring the cause of the Slavs and Romanians was essential to winning the war, that policy would be undertaken and few would mourn the demise of the Habsburg Empire. But if prospects for victory could be enhanced by a separate peace which left Austria-Hungary intact, that policy would be pursued.
The first major initiative taken on the basis of this pragmatic policy occurred in 1915 and 1916, when Italy and Romania were persuaded to enter the war on the side of the Entente. In the secret Treaty of Bucharest an extravagant offer of territory was made to Romania, including all of Transylvania and eastern Hungary up to the river Tisza. The implications of this treaty were quickly seen by Henry Wickham Steed, who privately declared that the treaty "signs the death warrant of Hungary" and "foreshadows the reconstruction of Europe on the basis of ethnically complete states."10
Yet there were some in the British Foreign Office who felt uneasy about the willingness of the government to commit itself to such radical changes in the map of East Central Europe. One of the Balkan experts in the Foreign Office, Harold Nicolson, who at the peace conference was to be a stalwart and enthusiastic supporter of the Successor States, warned in 1915 of the danger of promising to grant exorbitant claims. "We cannot," he asserted, "blot Austria and Hungary out of the map and convert them into larger Switzerlands with no sea access. Promises hastily made now for an immediate object will be most embarrassing to realize when peace terms come to be discussed."11 Referring specifically to Hungary, Nicolson later declared that if, after a prolonged war, Hungary was "so crushed as to submit to any terms, we should be sowing the seeds of future conflicts.''12
The precedent set by the Treaty of Bucharest nonetheless made an impression on those officials of the Foreign Office entrusted with framing British policy in East Central Europe. In the fall of 1916, William Tyrrell and Robert Paget composed a memorandum in which they suggested that if at war's end the Allies were in a position to determine the future of Eastern Europe, Austria-Hungary would have to be destroyed. in accordance with "the principle of giving free play to nationalities." Hungary. the authors believed, would be formed of the purely Magyar portions of the country, though it was acknowledged that if an independent Hungary was to be viable. it
would be unwise to "deprive it of territory beyond that which is necessary in order to conform to the principle of nationality." Tyrrell and Paget envisioned a Hungary shorn of Croatia and the Romanian portions of Transylvania. However, Baranya, Bacska, and the Banat would remain with Hungary, as would Slovakia and Ruthenia.13 Implicit in this important tentative statement of British war aims was support for an enlarged Romania, an enlarged Serbia (or new South Slav state), and a reduced Hungary that still retained a large number of non-Hungarians. The idea of creating a Czechoslovak state had clearly not yet taken strong roots in the Foreign Office.
In 1917, however, British policy toward Austria-Hungary seemed to take an abrupt turn. Prospects for an Entente victory were dimmed by the failure of the Romanian offensive and the outbreak of revolution in Russia. In these circumstances the British government endeavored to find some accommodation with the Dual Monarchy. There seems little doubt that if Vienna and Budapest had been amenable to a separate peace, the British would have abandoned any plans for a major diminution of Austria or Hungary. Significantly, British leaders no longer felt bound by the Treaty of Bucharest.14
By early 1918, however, it was clear that Austria-Hungary was not interested in, or was incapable of, negotiating a separate peace. Once this was realized, London hesitantly adopted the strategy of undermining the Habsburg Empire by exploiting national discontent. Although no firm decision to destroy Austria-Hungary was subsequently made by the Cabinet or Prime Minister, an inexorable step-by-step process was initiated that led to this result.
An important milestone was the creation in the spring of 1918 of the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (P.I.D.). Its director, William Tyrrell, recruited a staff that read like a roster of contributors to The New Europe, including Allen Leeper, Lewis Namier, and Arnold Toynbee. Seton-Watson, however, had been appointed as co-director of the Austro-Hungarian section of the newly established Department of Enemy Propaganda (Crewe House), the government agency responsible for propaganda aimed at enemy states.
The result was the creation of a powerful government lobby in support of a strong British commitment to national self-determination in Eastern Europe. Throughout 1918 the Political
Intelligence Department circulated reports and recommendations concerning Austria-Hungary. Whenever questions about Eastern Europe arose in the Foreign Office, the experts in P.I.D. or Seton-Watson at Crewe House were consulted. By the autumn of 1918, as one historian has suggested, Crewe House and the Political Intelligence Department were really in charge of British policy in East Central Europe.15 The culmination of the efforts of these advocates of a "New Europe" came in August, 1918, when the British government granted recognition of the Czechoslovaks as an allied nation. From this point there could be no turning back: the imminent collapse of the Habsburg Empire had already been sanctioned by Great Britain.
The unexpectedly rapid collapse of the Central Powers on both the eastern and western fronts in November, 1918, required that the British government move quickly to articulate the policy it would pursue at the peace conference. Since no detailed sketch of war aims in Eastern Europe had been made since the now outdated 1916 memorandum of Tyrrell and Paget, and since no directives on the subject were now issued by the War Cabinet, British policy was set out in a series of new position papers produced by the Foreign Office in November and December. In the major memoranda devoted to British aims in Europe, it was now firmly stated that national self-determination would be the guideline for the peace settlement:
Our object is to establish national States. This is a great gain, for there is every reason to hope that States based on the conscious existence of a common nationality will be more durable and afford a firmer support against aggression than the older form of State, which was often a merely accidental congeries of territories without internal cohesion, necessary economic unity, or clearly defined geographical frontiers.16
Yet even as the Habsburg Empire was in the process of dissolution, there were still those in the British government who warned of the possible pitfalls of too rigid an application of national self-determination. Several authoritative figures in the Foreign Office thought that some sort of federation in East Central Europe would be a better arrangement than independent states. Lord Curzon reflected this sentiment when he asserted that "unless we can induce the small states we are setting up to federate with one another, the last state of Europe may well be worse than the first."17 Some had their doubts about the nature of the new states that were appearing. Robert Cecil,
Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, even ventured to ask whether "a new Europe with two or three additional Slav states will really be more peaceful than the old Europe."18
As an expression of the concern of those skeptical of the magical powers of national self-determination and of the virtues of the Successor States, the point was clearly made in the position papers of the Foreign Office that the peace would have to be a just one that left "no avoidable cause for future friction." Germans and Hungarians would have to be treated "on exactly the same principles as the Czechs and the Roumanians."19 The traditional British sense of fair play was to be honored as well: "Our object should be that when the whole transaction is concluded, all these nations, Czecho-Slovaks, Yugoslavs, Poles-we may perhaps add even Bulgarians, Magyars, and Germans-will feel that on the part of the British nation there has been an honest attempt to carry through a disinterested policy which has sought the best interests of all."20
These noble principles were consciously modeled on the words of Woodrow Wilson, who suggested that "we should be just towards those to whom we should wish not to be just." Yet an examination of British policy toward Hungary at the Paris peace conference suggests that to a great extent the Hungarians were not treated "by the same principles as the Czechs and Roumanians," and that the Foreign Office was far from disinterested in its contribution to the making of the Treaty of Trianon. Two circumstances help explain this development. In the general confusion prevailing in the time between the armistice and the opening of the peace conference, no clearly defined British policy toward East Central Europe was articulated by the prime minister or Cabinet. At the same time those individuals in the Foreign Office least infatuated with the prospect of a reconstruction of East Central Europe based on the principle of nationality were turning their attention to other pressing matters, thus leaving both the formulation of British policy and the actual drawing of the new frontiers in the hands of a small group of East European specialists, including Allen Leeper, Harold Nicolson, and Sir Eyre Crowe (with Robert Seton-Watson in an advisory capacity). These men had already demonstrated their warm sympathy for and emotional ties to the Czechoslovaks, Romanians, and South Slavs. None of them could be said to have been neutral in his attitude toward Hungary; indeed, several of them were strongly hostile to and mistrustful of the Hungarians.
The anti-Hungarian sentiments of Seton-Watson have already been described. Allen Leeper, who had been honorary secretary of the Anglo-Romanian Society during the war, harbored a deep distrust of all Hungarians and a corresponding admiration for and confidence in the Romanians. During 1919 and 1920 he emerged as the staunchest defender of the Trianon Treaty against its British critics. The sentiments of Harold Nicolson were candidly recorded in his memoir of the peace conference:
My feelings toward Hungary were less detached. I confess that I regarded, and still regard, that Turanian tribe with acute distaste. Like their cousins the Turks, they had destroyed much and created nothing. ... For centuries the Magyars had oppressed their subject nationalities. The hour of liberation and retribution was at hand.21
"Bias and prejudice there was," Nicolson later admitted of the British peace conference delegation.22 As they embarked on this exciting venture, Nicolson and his colleagues preferred to dwell not on how the Kingdom of Hungary should be dismantled, but on how the promising new states should be constructed. For Nicolson it was "the thought of the new Serbia, the new Greece, the new Bohemia, the new Poland which made our hearts sing hymns at heaven's gate."23 In determining the borders of the Successor States, these Foreign Office officials felt obliged to give the new states "unity, independence, and strength."24 What this meant in practice was a British willingness to ignore ethnic frontiers in cases where economic, strategic, or geographical factors were deemed to be paramount. In theory, given the Foreign Office commitment to a policy of disinterested mediation, this would have meant that the economic and strategic needs of Hungary as well as the Successor States would be taken into account. But for active partisans like Crowe, Leeper, Nicolson, and Seton-Watson such a level of impartiality was not easy to attain.
In the Foreign Office the task of drafting the key position paper on Hungary's frontiers for use by the British delegation was entrusted to Robert Seton-Watson. Not surprisingly, Seton-Watson suggested that the Hungary that should emerge in the peace settlement was "roughly, that portion of the former kingdom of Hungary which is inhabited by compact Magyar minorities."25 In light of later developments, however, Seton-Watson's advice on how this goal
should be achieved was relatively moderate in tone and prescient in pointing out the problems to be confronted.
Seton-Watson divided the Kingdom of Hungary into three categories: a) areas incontestably Slovak, Romanian, or South Slav in character, which would be automatically assigned to the appropriate Successor State; b) areas incontestably Magyar, which would go to the new Hungary; and c) "grey zones," areas in which both Hungary and her neighbors might have legitimate claims. Pointing out that it was precisely in these "grey zones" that national fervor might lead to exaggerated propaganda, intrigue, and incidents, Seton-Watson suggested that these areas be placed under international control until boundary commissions of the peace conference could make on-the-spot investigations.26
Since Seton-Watson was skeptical of the validity of the Hungarian census of 1910, he regarded certain regions and cities that the Hungarians were to claim (such as Nyitra, Kassa, and Temesvar) as incontestably non-Hungarian. Yet he placed into the "grey zones many areas which the new Yugoslav, Czechoslovak, and Romanian governments regarded as vital to the well being of their countries. In the north of the old Hungary, this included the Grosse Schutt27 and several areas along the frontier that stretched northeastward. The grey zone between Romania and Hungary extended along the whole frontier and included the counties of Szatmar, Bihar, and Arad. On the Hungarian-Yugoslav frontier the "grey zone" included Bacska and portions of the Baranya and Banat.
On the basis of Seton-Watson's memorandum the suggested frontiers of Hungary and her neighbors were sketched on a map of Southeastern Europe,28 the frontiers drawn so as to divide the "grey zones" equally among Hungary and the Successor States. In this way several important areas claimed by Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia were tentatively assigned to Hungary.
As the Foreign Office labored to prepare for the peace conference, a decision that would have enormous importance for Danubian Europe was taken by the War Cabinet. At the time of the signing of the armistice with Austria-Hungary, French units in the Balkans were the only Entente troops that could quickly be assigned to occupation duty in Hungary. However, when the French suggested that Britain join France in sending troops to occupy Budapest and Vienna, the British rejected the idea. Not only did Arthur Balfour,
the Foreign Secretary, see no reason for British troops to act as police in the Austrian capitals," but the military leadership thought the commitment of troops had already reached "appalling dimensions," what with units in Baku, Batum, Archangel, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere.29
This decision meant that a highly unstable situation would prevail in East Central Europe for many months thereafter. Seton-Watson's idea of internationally supervised " grey zones" could not easily be implemented. Moreover, because of France's desire to serve as patron of the Successor States, who were regarded as valuable future allies, the French army in Danubian Europe, far from maintaining strict order, actually facilitated occupation of Hungarian territory by the Successor States.30 In addition, the absence of British and American forces and the delay in opening the peace conference were exploited by the new states, who, as one historian has described it, were hurriedly and avidly endeavoring to fill in the white spots on the political map of Europe."31 Thus, when the peace conference finally assembled in Paris in January, 1919, it was faced with a fait accompli in the form of a Hungary already severely dismembered.
These events seriously undermined the new government of Hungary, a republic under Mihaly Karolyi. Repeated attempts were made by Karolyi to enlist British support for an end to the military advances of the Romanians, Czechs, and Yugoslavs.32 But the Foreign Office regarded Karolyi, who hoped by an enlightened minorities policy to maintain the territorial integrity of most of historic Hungary, with contempt.33 A positive response to Hungary's call for assistance, Lewis Namier argued, would be tantamount to preventing the "natural disintegration of Hungary."34 Thus, all of the numerous Hungarian approaches to the British government in late 1918 and into 1919 were rebuffed, and the arguments of all individuals (both Hungarian and non-Hungarian) who pleaded for a fairer treatment of Hungary were abruptly dismissed as "pure propaganda." As a result of this attitude and the generally chaotic state of communication in Europe, the Hungarian viewpoint rarely penetrated the phalanx of Leeper, Namier, and Nicolson to other segments of the British government.
When the peace conference finally convened in Paris in January, 1919, it was recognized by the Allied heads of state that swift action had to be taken to determine the new political frontiers of East Central Europe. The obvious complexity of the issues, however, led to
the decision to seek the guidance of East Central European specialists on two commissions, one dealing with Czechoslovak affairs, the other with Romanian and Yugoslav affairs. Before the territorial commissions began their work, the British experts (Crowe, Leeper, and Nicolson) consulted with their American counterparts, and were delighted to discover, in the words of Nicolson, "a remarkable unanimity" with respect to "the whole frontiers of Jugo-Slavia, Czecho-Slovakia, Rumania, Austria and Hungary."35 In broad terms this was doubtless an accurate assessment of the situation. Both delegations were prepared to reject the more extreme demands and proposals of the Successor States, such as Romanian claims based on the Treaty of Bucharest and Benes's proposal for a "Slav Corridor" separating Hungary and Austria. Moreover, an American map of proposed borders for Hungary was remarkably similar to the British map based on Seton-Watson's memorandum. On both maps, for example, the Grosse Schutt is assigned to Hungary and the Romanian-Hungarian frontier is further to the east than the final Trianon frontier.36
In the workings of the territorial commissions, however, the "remarkable unanimity" between the American and British positions proved to be an illusion. The American delegation did not deviate from the principle that in drawing the new frontiers greater consideration should be given to the ethnic composition of an area than to economic or strategic factors. The French delegates, of course, stressing the need to make the new states "viable," supported Czechoslovak, Romanian, and South Slav claims unreservedly and quite adeptly.37 On most points in which the French and American positions differed, however, the French point prevailed, largely because of British support.
In addition to Sir Eyre Crowe, who sat on both territorial commissions, the British delegation on the Czechoslovak Commission consisted of Harold Nicolson and Sir Joseph Cook, the Australian Minister of the Navy. This was an unhappy choice, Nicolson was perplexed to find himself selected, for he had not prepared to work on Czechoslovak affairs and did not consider himself an expert on that area. Cook spoke no French and was ignorant of East Central European affairs, yet this did not prevent his taking an active role in the proceedings. It seems unlikely that he had read the position papers prepared for the British delegation, for he inexplicably supported the French position on almost all issues, including the award
of the Grosse Schutt to Czechoslovakia. Cook's attitude, as explained to an American delegate, was to let "our friends the Czechs have what they want."38 Since Crowe apparently shared this sentiment, and Nicolson did not choose to take a firm stand in support of the previous British position,39 the Commission adopted frontiers between Czechoslovakia and Hungary that left to Czechoslovakia virtually all of the "grey zones" Seton-Watson had identified.
|A Case Study on Trianon|