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Chapter 15

Eastern Europe in the
Aftermath of the War

The peoples in eastern Europe were trying to reorganize as national states with varying degrees of success. The victorious countries were sending representatives to Paris to work on the peace settlements beginning January 18, 1919, but Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire were not invited to take part. Representatives did come, however, from the new countries born of the disintegration of the central empires and from Russia, Poland, Finland, the Baltic republics, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Rumania and the smaller states in southeastern Europe that had fought with the Allies. And some of these countries' representatives made themselves heard, in particular the Czech delegates, Eduard Benes and his assistant, Stephan Osuky.


At the outset of the war, the Allied leaders had no plan for postwar territorial modifications in the Danubian and southeastern areas of Europe. No one seriously thought of destroying the Austro-Hungarian Empire; many French and British diplomats considered it a stabilizing element in the heart of Europe. At the most, they considered making a few border alterations in order to give Serbia access to the Adriatic. No one had a precise idea of what to do about Poland. Some felt the Prussian Poles and the Poles of Galicia should be brought into an enlarged and autonomous Poland within the

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Russian empire, something the Czar had suggested in August, 1914, and the Allies were still discussing during a conference held in December, 1916. As for the future of the Ottoman Empire, however, Russia had sharply defined ideas, making known its intention to occupy Constantinople. This did not appear to offend the British.

Gradually, as the conflict evolved, the shape of future peace terms emerged. In the Treaty of London, signed on April 26, 1915, by France, Great Britain, Russia and Italy--by which Italy became a co-belligerent-- the Powers agreed to give Italy the provinces of Trent and southern Tyrol, Trieste and Istria as well as part of the Dalmatian coast with several islands. Moreover, Italy was promised a zone of influence in Albania and Asia Minor. This treaty apparently bore little resemblance to the "theory of nationalities" that was constantly invoked by French and English politicians to justify their traditional support for the "oppressed" nationalities of Austria-Hungary. The Treaty of London actually offered to liberate far fewer Italians than it promised to deliver into Italian hands non-Italians, Austrians in south Tyrol, Slovenes in Istria, Serbs and Croatians in Dalmatia, and Albanians. The following year, diplomatic arrangements preceding Rumania's entry into the war led to an agreement on August 17, 1916, in which victory would assure Rumania Transylvania and the Banat of Temesvar. The question of Austrian Bukovina was left unsettled due to Russia's opposition.

Beside the official preparation for future settlements, Czech emigrants who had left Austria-Hungary at the beginning of the war, such as Thomas Masaryk and Eduard Benes, persuasively and effectively lobbied French and British leaders behind the scenes. The same kind of activity was practiced by Serbian diplomats assigned to Paris and by Serbian and Croatian emigrants. They all worked to convince the Entente powers that Austria-Hungary had to be destroyed and replaced with nation states. These ideas began to attract the attention of a number of politicians and diplomats responsive to the real or assumed Francophilia of these refugees. In 1916, Benes published a pamphlet entitled Destroy Austria-Hungary! clearly stating the author's goal. Benes' ideas were generally shared by many well known French academics such as the historians Ernest Denis, Ernest Lavisse and Louis Eisenman (the latter on military duty in the information service of the ministry of war), the geographer Emmanuel de Martonne, and the philosophers Emile Durkheim and Celestin Bougle. Also in agreement were influential journalists like Andre Tardieu, Charles Loiseau, Jules Sauerwein and Paul Louis, leftist or center-leftist politicians like Albert Thomas, Franklin-Bouillon, and influential pressure groups like the League of Human Rights and the Freemasons. Masaryk and Benes reinforced their circle of Parisian friends through valuable diplomatic contacts made socially in the salon of the parents of Madame Louise Weiss. Through them, Benes

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met people who introduced him to influential diplomats of the Quai d'Orsay, Philippe Berthelot, Jules Laroche and Pierre de Margerie--the very men who, among other tasks, were drawing up the future peace settlements. While Benes lobbied in Paris, Masaryk worked to turn Anglo-Saxon policy in their favor. He was in frequent contact with English journalists, in particular with Henry Wickham-Steed, editor-in-chief of the Times, and with well known academics such as Professor Seton-Watson. With their support he launched the magazine, New Europe, on October 19, 1916, "meeting ground for all those who see the restructuring of Europe on the basis of nationalities, the rights of minorities, and geographic and economic realities, as the only guarantee against another repetition of the horrors of war." In addition, Masaryk was in contact with numerous influential groups of Czech, Slovak and Ruthenian emigrants in the United States.

Concerted pressure in influential places began to bear fruit. The concept of dismembering Austria-Hungary went from mere hypothesis to being one of the objectives of the Allies. When President Wilson asked the Allies to define their goals in his memorandum of December 20, 1916, Philippe Berthelot, Benes' friend, drew up the French reply dated January 10, 1917, and included a paragraph concerning the liberation of peoples under the rule of Austria-Hungary and the restoration of a Polish state. He left Poland's future status vague enough to avoid displeasing the Russians. The 1917 revolutions of February and October resulted in the Russian exit from the war, and the armistice signed by the Bolsheviks gave the Allies free rein in Poland. In the spring of 1917, France and Great Britain began to make contact with Poles living in western Europe and the United States, asking them to join the Allied armies. When the United States entered the war in April, 1917, as an associate power, further discussion of projected settlement terms was necessary. The American point of view was set out in President Wilson's Fourteen Points, announced in an address to the U.S. Senate on January 8, 1918. Points X, XI, and XIII recommended "autonomous development" for the peoples of Austria-Hungary, restoration of the Serbian state with access to the sea, establishment of new relations between the Balkan states, and the creation of an independent Polish state which would include indisputable Polish territories and access to the sea. The American conditions for peace were not quite in alignment with the views of France, Britain or Italy. However, Wilson's message caused no more anxiety among those who wanted the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire than the offers for separate peace made by the Austro-Hungarian emperor from March to May, 1917, or the memorandum from Pope Benoit XV dated August 9, 1917; they knew they had the strong support of the European Allies, even if London seemed hesitant. This was clearly apparent at the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities held in Rome on April 8-10,1918,

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sponsored by France and Italy. The Pact of Rome signed at this meeting reaffirmed the rights of nationalities to their political and economic independence and restated the incompatibility of these rights with continued existence of the Habsburg Monarchy. It was then, in April-May, 1918, that the Allies definitively decided in favor of the policy extolled by proponents of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's destruction and recognized the Czechoslo- vakian National Committee of Paris as the official government. On June 5, the Allies also recognized Polish independence in advance.

When the Peace Conference began, all the Great Powers had to do was recognize the nation states created in the last days of the war and keep the promises made in the individual treaties and to emigrant committees. While major decisions regarding the peace settlements were made by the Council of Four (colloquially known as "The Big Four"), France, Italy, Great Britain and the United States, the particular problems of each state and the exact details of the new borders were worked out in special committees. As soon as the treaties were finalized, the defeated nations were asked to sign. In this way, the Treaty of Versailles was signed with the Germans on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye with Austria on September 10, 1919, the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria on November 27 of the same year, and the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary on June 4, 1920.


Once again, it is important to stress that the peace terms made between the allied and associated powers and the defeated countries were imposed, not negotiated. Consequently, while the states forced to sign the treaties submitted to the terms, they never accepted them. This fact significantly influenced the development of relations between the ex-antagonists in the war.

The Fate of the Defeated Countries

--Germany's New Borders

In the west, Germany was required to hand over Alsace-Lorraine to France and several bordering areas to Belgium, while Denmark took territory north of Sleswig, the latter case following a plebiscite. But it was in the east that German losses were most acute. The Treaty of Versailles was supposed to settle the border between Germany and the new Polish state, taking into account both Polish access to the Baltic and the alleged will of the populations involved. Germany had to relinquish to Poland the province of Posnania which had a Polish majority dominating in the countryside, as well as a piece of western Prussia with the predominantly Polish city of Thorn; the

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area was to form a corridor 25 to 55 miles wide to give Poland access to the coast. But since the coastline at the end of the corridor had no port, the Peace Conference decided to make the city of Danzig (Gdansk) and its immediate surroundings a free city under control of the League of Nations. The Poles were to have free access to this port. In this way, the primarily German population of Danzig and the area around it was separated from the Reich without being annexed by Poland. It was obvious that the division of eastern Prussia and the rest of Germany by the corridor presented ample invitation for incidents and conflicts. The Poles also wanted southeastern Prussia with the city of Allenstein, but were thwarted when the plebescite required by the treaty polled a majority in favor of Germany. In compensation for retaining Allenstein, the Germans had to give up the Memel territory with its rural population of Lithuanians and urban Germans on the far eastern side of Prussia. Memel was governed first by an International Commission under the auspices of the League of Nations, but in 1923, the Lithuanians took over by force and the League of Nations acquiesced before the accomplished fact. The last disputed territory, Upper Silesia, was rich in ferrous and non-ferrous minerals, and was claimed by both Poland and Germany. The required plebiscite took place on March 20, 1921, in an extremely tense environment. Germany won with 70 percent of the vote, but Poland challenged the results under the pretext that nearly 200,000 of the voters who had taken part in the election, though born in Upper Silesia, were now living in other regions. On May 2, a former Polish deputy to the Reichstag, Korfanty, instigated a Polish uprising in Upper Silesia and the Germans retaliated by creating the armed militia, "Corps-Francs", Finally, the League of Nations stepped in and divided the territory, giving two-thirds of it back to Germany and the rest, including the city of Kattowitz, to Poland. In all, Germany lost nearly four million people, counting the population of the free zone, to Lithuania and Poland.

--Austria and Hungary

The Austrian republic had shrunk to a territory of 32,300 square miles with a population of 6,500,000 inhabitants. The new Austria had to relinquish the old Habsburg acquisitions Bohemia-Moravia, Bukovina, Galicia, Slovenia, etc. These regions were accordingly Slavic, Rumanian or Italian but also contained nearly four million Germans living in fairly dense settlements. Austria was forced to give Italy the southern part of Tyrol south of the Branner Pass. Even though German inhabitants were in a majority in this region, it had been promised to Italy by the Treaty of London for essentially strategic reasons and without regard to the wishes of the populations concerned. Carinthia was claimed by the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and a plebiscite was set up for October 10, 1920. The

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Klagenfurt area polled a majority for Austria, but the results were challenged by Yugoslavia. The Treaty of St. Germain, however, gave Austria a slice of western Hungary, its former partner in the Dual Monarchy. This territory under Austrian authority was the province of Burgenland, and had an 80 percent German majority with the remaining 20 percent divided about equally between Hungarians and Croats. At the Peace Conference, the Czech delegates had hoped to see this territory divided up between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in order to make the two Slavic states contiguous, but the Allies resisted. The treaty finally awarded the territory to Austria, thus creating a bone of contention between the two former allies. The Hungarians were unwilling to cede the Sopron region with its Hungarian majority to their neighbors and sent groups of armed men to prevent the Austrians from moving in. Italy offered to mediate, and set up a plebiscite on December 14-15, 1921, at Sopron and the surrounding area. Two-thirds of the votes were cast for Hungary. Thus the Sopron region remained Hungarian, but the rest of Burgenland, including the city of Eisenstadt, became Austrian.

Hungary fared badly by the Treaty of Trianon which deprived it of two-thirds of its thousand-year-old territory. The country was reduced to 35,900 square miles from its previous size of a respectable 125,660 square miles, and contained a population of 7,600,000 inhabitants, over 90 percent of them Magyar. Through this action, Hungary became a nation state with a homogeneous population. There were only two minority groups of any consequence: 400,000 Germans and about 100,000 Slovaks. But over three million Hungarians outside the new borders found themselves absorbed into neighboring states.

And so, the two pillars of the former Austria-Hungary were hard hit by the treaties, giving the advantage to their neighboring "succession states" who now had authority over four million Germans and three million Hungarians. The problem of nationalities was merely replaced with the problem of national minorities.


In the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria lost the meager territorial advantages it had gained in the Balkan wars. Bulgaria emerged from the peace settlements with a territory of 42,800 square miles and about 5,500,000 inhabitants, all of them Bulgarian. Bulgaria had to give Serbia the Macedonian districts which it still holds, but even more painful was losing the Aegean coast to Greece. Bulgaria thus lost its only access to the sea; the Bulgarian port of Dadeagatch became Greek under the name of Alexandropolis. In all of these lost territories, Bulgarians constituted the majority of the population, just as they had in Dobrudja previously. Here

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again, the terms imposed on the defeated country were far from founded on the principle of self-determination.

The Beneficiaries of the Treaties

--Poland Restored

While the treaties of Versailles and Saint-Germain quickly established the southern and western borders of Poland, it was not until March, 1921, that the Polish-Soviet border was settled. Poland, as restored in 1921, covered a territory of 149,922 square miles--smaller than the old Poland of the Jagiellons, since Lithuania was not included, but more extensive than the Poland of today. With 27 million inhabitants, the Polish state was the most populous country of central-eastern Europe. Its territory included Posnania, the "Polish corridor" and Upper Silesia taken from Germany, Galicia which had been under Austrian rule since the end of the 18th century, the former Congress Kingdom governed by Russia since 1815 along with a few more districts taken from the USSR in 1921. In this new state, the Poles accounted for about 65 percent of the total population. Inversely, according to Polish sources, nearly 200,000 Poles were still living inside the new borders of

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Germany, and over 100,000 of them were also in the Teschen region of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs had occupied the Teschen at the time when Poland was fighting off the Red Army which created a climate of mistrust, even hostility, between Prague and Warsaw throughout the interwar period.

The Population of Poland in 1930


Jews (mainlyPolish)
White Russians
Other (Lithuanians, Russians, etc.)
(from Les Slaws by R. Portal)


Unlike Poland, which had been a homogeneous state for seven centuries and whose restoration put an end to 130 years of unjust foreign domination, Czechoslovakia was an entirely artificial creation, made up of three distinct regions. In the west were the kingdom of Bohemia and the principality of Moravia ruled by the Habsburgs since 1526. Here the population was two-thirds Czech, and one-third German. Concentrated along the borders with Germany and Austria, the German populations tried to secede in 1919. At the Peace Conference, however, Benes called up the historic unity of Bohemia to justify incorporating this sizable German population into Czechoslovakia. The second region within the Czech state was Slovakia, which had been a part of the kingdom of Hungary since the 10th century when the Hungarians had conquered the Slav ancestors of the Slovaks. Benes laid claim to a territory that far exceeded the area inhabited by the Slovaks, not for historical reasons this time--the Slovaks had never been part of the kingdom of Bohemia--but for economic and strategic reasons. The new state needed access to the Danube and Marshal Foch regarded the Danube as an easily defensible border. With Foch's support, Benes, reasoning succeeded, and Czechoslovakia annexed the city of Pozsony despite its Germano- Hungarian population and the entire left bank of the Danube populated solely by Hungarians. The third region of Czechoslovakia was Carpathian Ruthenia which had been Hungarian since 895-896, and whose Ruthenian majority dated from the 13th century. The Treaty of Trianon had provided for the autonomy of this region, but nothing was done until 1938.

Czechoslovakia thus became a multinational state, covering 54,190 square miles and inhabited by a population of nearly 14 million, 40 percent of whom were neither Czech nor Slovak.

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Czechoslovakia Between the World Wars

Area: 54,190 square miles (140,397 km2)

Population: 13,613,000 as of February 15, 1921




Religions as of 1930



--"Greater" Rumania

The treaties of Saint Germain and Trianon also benefited Rumania, whose territory grew from 50,000 square miles in 1913 to 113,450 square miles in 1920, and whose population expanded from seven to over 15.5 million. The following territories were annexed by the former Rumania: Bessarabia from the Russians, Bukovina from the former Habsburg Austrian Empire (Cisleithania), Transylvania and most of the Banat from Hungary. The new borderline between Hungary and Rumania became the object of lively debate in which economic and strategic motives carried far more weight than ethnic composition. A strip of land about 13 miles wide was assigned to Rumania despite its predominantly Hungarian population simply to give the Rumanian state control of a strategically important railroad. For the same kinds of reasons, the Hungarian cities of Szatmar-Nemeti, Nagyvarad and Arad became Rumanian along with their immediate surroundings. Drawing the border just 13 miles to the east would have avoided such a situation. The division of the Banat, claimed by both the Rumanians and the Serbs, opened up confused negotiating among the Allies. The total population of Rumanians and Serbs in the area was clearly less than the German and Hungarian majority. The former Regat (Rumania before World War I),

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populated exclusively by Rumanians and a small sprinkling of Bulgarians of Dobrudja, expanded into a "Greater" Rumania in which foreigners made up over a third of the population.

Rumania as of December, 1930

Area: 113,870 Square Miles (295,000 km2)

Population: 18,057,000



TOTAL Rumanians

TOTAL National Minorities





--The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes: Yugoslavia

The old kingdom of Serbia also gained from the peace settlements. First under the name of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, then as Yugoslavia in 1931, the state extended over a large territory of 95,400 square miles. The population of 12 million was composed largely of South Slavs, though national minorities accounted for 15 percent of the total population. Yugoslavia was made up of the old Serbian territory enlarged at the expense of Bulgaria, Montenegro and the former Hungarian Vojvodina (Bacska) and further expanded by the addition of the ex-Austrian Slovenia and Dalmatia, Hungary's Croatia-Slavonia, and the former Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Yugoslavia Between the World Wars

Area: 95,980 Square Miles (248,665 km2)

Population: 11,245,000 as of January 21,1921







In summing up the political and territorial restructuring of central and eastern Europe that followed in the wake of World War I, the following facts emerge:

First, the peoples never had the right of self-determination. Their fate was decided in Paris, London or Rome according to the economic and political interests of the Great Powers, though often with the complicity of certain national leaders. Some countries were able to benefit somewhat because their representatives were effective in lobbying the Great Powers and talked them into maximizing economic advantages or military agreements for their respective nations, even though these countries may have played only a very minor role on the Allied side in the war. The defeated countries were harshly treated, though paradoxically Germany fared better than the rest.

Second, it must be noted that the principle of self-determination used by the Allies to legitimize the war in the eyes of the various populations was applied in a highly arbitrary manner. The new political borders only rarely coincided with the ethnic ones, and linguistically homogeneous populations were frequently cut in half by an arbitrary line. Except for a few limited

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cases, the populations concerned were never consulted. In the few plebiscites that were organized, the treaties, beneficiaries came out behind, leading these states to oppose any new requests for plebiscites. The consequence of this policy was that after the signing of the treaties, the victim states worked to have the terms revised, with outside help if necessary, while the beneficiary states appeared ready to sacrifice almost anything to hold onto their advantages. In addition, the beneficiary states contained large numbers of national minorities determined to rid themselves eventually of their new masters, thus setting the stage for future problems in the new states.

Finally, nothing was done to facilitate a minimum of economic agreement and cooperation among the states that had long formed an economically coherent group.

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