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Chapter 18

International Relations
between the Wars

In the wake of the First World War, it was evident that the Great Powers -- responsible for the territorial restructuring of eastern Europe -- had no intention of remaining out of eastern European affairs.

Immediately after the war, the three victorious European powers of France, Great Britain, and Italy made political and economic inroads into the eastern European arena, each taking advantage of Soviet isolation and the temporary eclipse of Germany. For western Europe, the eastern countries provided an excellent buffer zone between Germany and the Soviet Union. As the war ended, the West feared an eventual rapprochement between Moscow and the defeated countries, Germany in particular. The communist Spartacist agitation in Germany during the winter of 1918-1919 and the attempted bolshevizing of Hungary under the Bela Kun government of 1919 only increased their fears, and they took little comfort in the Russian overtures to the Weimar Republic which led to the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo on April 16, 1922. To counter the possible alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Allies adopted the cordon sanitaire policy, intended to separate the two countries with a block of countries aligned and integrated into the Western defense system. France was the most enthusiastic supporter of this program and strove to win the support of the other Allies, while the English were most reluctant to accept it.

The second attraction eastern Europe held for the Western powers was purely economic. With their economies in ruins from the war, and with a

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wealth of mineral and agricultural resources, the eastern countries presented definite economic opportunities. As technological innovation and economic growth lagged behind the western nations, it was evident that most of these countries could serve as exceptionally important markets for English, French, and Italian investment and manufactured goods. Great Britain made the most use of this sort of economic cooperation, as did France and Italy though to a lesser extent. The French were enjoying a period of prestige in Europe due to their recent military victories, and the eastern European countries they had backed in the peace negotiations constituted a major zone of interest.

The British initially proceeded with caution. To London, the idea of a cordon sanitaire seemed vague at best, and in the name of realism the English were the first to open trade relations with the new Soviet state. A considerable amount of British capital was invested in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Rumania. By 1920, British businessmen in Prague, Budapest, and Bucharest were already laying the groundwork for commercial and financial agreements. The agreements were quickly accepted and signed, and chambers of commerce founded for Anglo-Czech, Anglo-Hungarian and Anglo-Rumanian interests.

France played only a secondary role in economics and finance, due partly to its limited funds. However, France played a major role in political and military affairs. Those in charge at the Quai d' Orsay, Philippe Berthelot in particular, gave full support to the young states who owed their independence or their expanded territories to the French. With these states, a politico-military alliance system was quickly ratified. The treaties signed aimed to establish a security system for France on Germany's eastern borders from 1920 to 1925 dependent on military alliances between France and each of the friendly eastern European states, and were intended to be protection against both Germany and the Soviet Union. The system was first put to the test in the short war of 1919-1920 between the Soviet Union and Poland, which led to French support of Poland. Paris viewed a sufficiently large and powerful Poland as a doubly stabilizing factor in northeastern Europe, countering both the Germans and the Soviets. Franco-Polish military cooperation was a keystone of French foreign policy until the final crisis of August-September, 1939. This did not, however, prevent Colonel Beck, the Polish foreign minister from 1932 to 1939, from complementing what he considered a dubious treaty with France with the signing of non-aggression pacts with the Soviet Union and with fascist Germany.

French policy toward the Danubian countries was hesitant after the war, as leaders were undecided between supporting all of the young states, demands unconditionally, or pushing for a Danubian federation led by Hungary. A Danubian federation would require changing several

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inappropriate clauses of the Treaty of Trianon, and Alexandre Millerand's letter as president of the Peace Conference to the Hungarian delegation left the door open for a possible revision of the treaty's harsh terms. During the year of 1920, the anti-Soviet former ambassador to Russia, Maurice Paleologue, now the new secretary general of the Quai d'Orsay, seemed to favor a policy of rapprochement with Hungary. The Teleki government in Budapest received this news with pleasure. The new secretary general had little sympathy for Czechoslovakia, which he felt was initiating a policy of flirtation with the USSR, and which had consistently refused French convoys the right to cross Czech territory to aid Poland when it was about to fall to the Red Army. Czechoslovakia was also the first eastern European country to establish diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia. Paleologue therefore favored a pro-Hungarian orientation, and a Franco-Hungarian treaty was negotiated and signed between May and June, 1920. The treaty stated that in exchange for certain economic advantages extended to French financial and industrial groups, France would press for the revision of certain provisions in the Treaty of Trianon. The policy's confirmation came in the summer of 1920, when Hungary volunteered to join France in aiding Poland.

In September of 1920, Paleologue was replaced as secretary general by Philippe Berthelot, a personal friend of Masaryk and Benes. From then on, the pro-Hungarian policy was abandoned, and Paris returned to abiding strictly by the terms of the treaties of 1919-1920 and of cooperating with the successor states to Austria-Hungary. This did not prevent Aristide Briand, prime minister in 1921, from entertaining the idea of restoring the Habsburgs in Hungary, and perhaps in Austria as well. With his control of foreign policy, Berthelot forestalled this policy, and it was definitively abandoned in November, 1921, for a closer alliance between France and its Danubian "clients" of Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. These three nations formed the Little Entente, agreeing in 1921 to hinder attempts to restore the Habsburgs in Hungary, and to oppose Hungarian revisionism. France gave its full support to the Little Entente and soon signed military treaties with each of the member countries. French generals took over in Prague, Bucharest, and Belgrade in order to reorganize the armed forces of the Entente nations. The Little Entente remained the pillar of French policy in the Danubian countries until 1938.

Italy was also active in eastern Europe, and disapproved of the attempted Franco-Hungarian rapprochement of 1920 as well as of the treaties between France and the Little Entente. The Italian government was involved in a major dispute with Yugoslavia over Fiume (Rijeka), and as a result turned its attention to Yugoslavia's rival neighbor, Albania. Having failed to annex this state during the peace conference of November, 1921, Italy managed to gain recognition from the powers as a protector of Albania

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in case of Greek or Yugoslavian aggression. Italo-Albanian relations grew even closer with Mussolini's rise to power, particularly when Achmed Zogu became king. Mussolini was the first to recognize Zogu after his successful takeover. In exchange, Italy gained certain privileges in Albania. The Banca Nazionale d'Albania established in Rome, in September, 1925, was created with the heavy financial support of the Italian Society for the Economic Development of Albania, and was given the task of issuing Albanian currency. Such financial inroads paved the way for an Italian takeover of Albania. The Tirana Pact signed on November 26, 1926, was the first step, and the following year a new treaty not only strengthened the "links of friendship and security" between the two countries, but also gave Italy control of the Albanian armed forces. Economic problems tied to the depression of 1929 tightened Mussolini's grip on Albania. Ahmed Zogu, ruling as King Zog I, wanted to be free of the Italians, but Mussolini ordered an invasion on April 7, 1939. Albania was then annexed as part of the Italian Empire.

Albania was not the only object of Italian ambitions. While France depended on the eastern European countries who had benefited from the treaties, Italy courted the treaties' victims: Hungary and Bulgaria, both of which had suffered heavy losses under the treaties, terms, and who had been quarantined by their neighbors. By 1921, Italian support won Hungary the right to hold a plebiscite at Sopron, which turned in Hungary's favor. Budapest was very responsive to Italy, as Hungarian leaders had made revision of the treaties a cornerstone of their foreign policy, they played along readily with Mussolini. In 1925, the two countries signed a trade agreement as a prelude to political entente. Count Bethlen, head of the Hungarian government, signed a friendship pact with Italy in Rome on April 5, 1927. While the Hungarians sincerely believed that Italy would support their demands for revision of the Treaty of Trianon, Mussolini was only trying to counterbalance French influence with the Little Entente. Italy did aid a secret, though very limited, rearmament of Hungary, but Mussolini had no intention of upsetting the balance of power in this region.

Mussolini pursued a related policy with Bulgaria, which was also involved in territorial disputes with the Little Entente. Bulgaria had bickered with Rumania over the Dobrudja, with Yugoslavia over Macedonia, and with Greece over Thrace. Yugoslavia and Greece were also on bad terms with Italy, a fact which should have facilitated Italo-Bulgarian rapprochement; but the only concrete result of Italian overtures was the marriage of the king of Italy's daughter with King Boris III of Bulgaria. Sofia was hesitant of becoming involved with Italy, and sought instead to improve relations with its neighbors. Treaties drawn up in 1927 with Yugoslavia and in 1938 with the countries of the Balkan Pact allowed Bulgaria to regain equal rights in

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military matters.

The worldwide depression of 1929 combined with Hitler's rise to power on January 30, 1933, profoundly altered the balance of power in eastern Europe. The German economy was involved in most of the east-central nations. For Hitler, this part of Europe was both a market for German manufactured goods and a source of raw materials and foodstuffs. By 1933, a number of treaties had been drawn up between the German government and the various eastern European states. Despite their close political ties to France, the countries of the Little Entente responded to Hitler's advances. Benes himself was among the first to send his congratulations when Hitler was named Chancellor of the Reich. Hitler's primary objective in this part of Europe was to establish German hegemony by means of the Anschluss, joining Austria to the Third Reich. Mussolini feared this, sensing that a powerful Germany at Italy's northern border was far more dangerous than a small, practically unarmed Austria, particularly since Italy had annexed the German-speaking southern Tyrol in 1919. Mussolini wanted to consolidate Austria and Hungary in order to prevent the Anschluss. The Roman Protocols were signed on March 17, 1934, with the intention of maintaining Austrian independence against Germany's expansionist inclinations. Shortly thereafter, on July 25, 1934, Chancellor Dollfuss of Austria was assassinated, and Austrian Nazis pressed for the Anschluss. The French minister of foreign affairs, Louis Barthou, reinforced the anti-German treaties with the countries of the Little Entente and Poland, and even attempted to incorporate the USSR and Italy. Italy hoped that Hungary would join as well, but Barthou ignored this possibility in order to please the Little Entente, thereby facilitating a Berlin-Budapest rapprochement.

The October, 1934, assassination in Marseille of Barthou and King Alexander of Yugoslavia -- who had come to France to reconfirm his opposition to Hitler -- had serious consequences. Hungary was immediately accused of organizing the assassination, although it was quite clear that it was an internal Yugoslavian affair. As a result, Hungary moved a little closer to Germany politically. Paradoxically, the new leaders of Yugoslavia under the pro-German regent Prince Paul began to seek entente with Germany. Rumania simultaneously began a similar policy, albeit for economic reasons. Czechoslovakia remained the only country in the Little Entente determined to stand in the way of German imperialism in the Danubian region, although it lay geographically in the direct path of the German threat. Italy opposed the Anschluss in 1934, but by 1936 began to change its attitude since Hitler had given Italy full diplomatic support during the conquest of Ethiopia, and the two states then cooperated in the Spanish civil war. Little by little, the Rome-Berlin axis was created, the existence of which allowed Hitler to carry out the Anschluss in March of 1938.

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Czechoslovakia was in a delicate position. While Hitler was preparing to make his claims on behalf of the German minority in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia was almost unanimously deserted by its allies of only a few years before. Hitler believed he could count on Hungarian support in this matter because of the existence of a Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia. But Budapest, despite strained relations with the countries of the Little Entente, preferred to pursue the issue through negotiation with diplomatic support from Italy and hopefully, Great Britain, than through military action.

By 1938, Germany and Italy had become the major powers in eastern Europe. France--the nation that had dominated the area since 1920 through the Little Entente--was gradually ousted. France was displaced partly as a result of the depression, but more importantly because of diplomatic failures beginning in 1935. France's inability to prevent the return of compulsory military service in Germany and the rearmament of the Rhineland in 1936 hurt its credibility in the eyes of the countries of the Little Entente and of Poland. At the same time the countries of the Little Entente were distancing themselves from France, the Entente itself was degenerating into nothing more than a formal alliance between states united only by their hostility for Hungary. Their disunity showed in their contrasting responses to the confrontation by Hitler according to the dictates of differing national interests. The revisionist states of Hungary and Bulgaria believed that the rise of the Axis would favor their own territorial ambitions, while in fact they were only being used as tools for German and Italian interests.

By 1939, hope for peace and prosperity in eastern Europe had turned sour. Frustrated nationalism fed by injustice and bitterness reigned; the hour of reckoning was soon to come.

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