|Regicide at Marseille|
The French-Little Entente campaign against Hungary came to an end two months after it had been started, essentially for two purposes:
to provide a scapegoat for the justified wrath of the Yugoslavs incensed by the murder of their King; and to destroy the growing prestige and international standing of Hungary and silence thereby her demand for the revision of the unjust Peace Treaty of Trianon. But, as the plot promoted by Laval and Benes unfolded, it produced several unforeseen hazards and pitfalls, which in December, at the climax of the crisis, had to be handled cautiously.
The immediate menace was the invasion of Hungary by irregular Serbian troops which might provoke war even among the Great Powers. On December 10, the day the compromise was reached in Geneva, the Belgrade Radio was still making false accusations against Hungary.
General Zhifkovitch was continuing preparation of his coup in Belgrade, but in Geneva only Benes rattled the Serbian General's sword. Hungary, however, had remained unimpressed; she sidestepped provocations, refrained from reprisals, but did not yield. Yeftitch, the Yugoslav Foreign Minister, supported by Prince Paul and by Britain's Mr. Eden, had always opposed Zhifkovitch's hazardous aims. So it became possible to work out a solution in Geneva before irreparable mischief was committed in Belgrade.
Another scheme on which Laval at first seemed to have agreed with the Little Entente, was to force Hungary to accept international control of her policy, allegedly as a measure against terrorism; in fact, to check thereby her revisionist policy. No government guilty of such submissiveness could have survived in Hungary a single day. I left no doubt in Geneva about Hungary's decision to rather face armed invasion than to surrender voluntarily to blackmail. Consideration for Italy and Poland prevented the French-Little Entente Alliance from resorting to the use of force in trying to impose such control on Hungary.
The advocated minimum demand of the hostile coalition was to have the Hungarian nation, or at least her Government, condemned by the League of Nations as guilty of international terrorism. This
verdict would have ruined Hungary's political and moral standing and would have served as justification for keeping Hungary dismembered by the immutable Treaty of Trianon. Hungarian revisionism was to be equated by the Council with international terrorism. The protagonists of this shabby policy had learned nothing from the wild German reaction to the war-guilt clause in the Versailles Treaty. Sooner or later, they might have pushed the Hungarian people into a mood of despair.
It was Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Captain Eden, the Chief Delegate of Britain, whose efforts in the last 24 hours steered Europe away from the brink of war and set the contestants on a course of conciliation. Upon his return from London, Prince Paul explained in strong terms to the aggressive Uzunovitch and his Cabinet what bad effect the expulsion of Hungarians and the Serbian border provocations have had on public opinion in London and even in Paris, although formerly their Allies had been disposed to go along wtih the campaign against Hungary. Mr. Eden confirmed Prince Paul's judgement. While trying to keep Yugoslavia out of mischief, he also mitigated the Hungarian objections to the text of the resolution which we finally accepted at his insistence. 1934 was a year of great uncertainty in British foreign relations and this had helped Mr. Eden in staying aloof from both parties in the Geneva contest. He certainly had not been a friend of Hungary; he proved this during the second World War by the unmotivated British declaration of war against Hungary on December 6, 1941, one day belore Pearl Harbor1 and again in October, 1956, at the time of the Hungarian Revolution. But he won friends in Hungary - including myself - by championing human rights in Geneva. I regret deeply that the League's successor, the United Nations, has veered away from one of its basic duties, the protection of human rights as expressed in its Charter, and that it overlooks the beastly amorality of the jungle in granting membership and aid to a number of people unfit to establish orderly governments.
Much relaxed, I studied next morning the press reviews with all their contradictions. The British praised the League and Mr. Eden for having saved the peace by using civilized methods instead of war. The
1 when after Pearl Harbor Hungary was forced by Hitler to declare War against the United States, President Roosevelt withheld for six months the American declaration of war against Hungary. Eden also was the first one to agree in 1942 - as stated previously - to the expulsion of the Hungarian minority from Czechoslovakia, although they had lived in that land for over one thousand years.
French papers commended their Pierre Laval for having dispelled the storm clouds from the European horizon, but also expressed doubts about the eventual reactions of Belgrade; the Yugoslavs seemed at first hurt by the news of the compromise concluded in Geneva. It gave me satisfaction, therefore, to read in Vreme, the official organ of the Belgrade Government, that Yugoslavia gained a brilliant victory in the League and that Hungary had capitulated. Obviously, the Belgrade Government decided to appease Yugoslav public opinion, for the paper commented - contrary to fact - that "Italy has abandoned Budapest, which was placed under the control of the League, suffering thereby the greatest defeat ever registered by an independent country." With a sigh of relief I decided that I could return now to Budapest. The Yugoslav Minister to France had greeted Laval with a big kiss upon his return to Paris. If the Belgrade Government felt pleased with the Council's resolution, our conflict with Yugoslavia had come to a happy end.
Inevitably, the Italian press expressed a different opinion from that of the Yugoslavs. Their best known paper, the Corriere delta Sera, wrote about "the compromise which is most satisfactory to Hungary" since instead of an international committee, Hungary alone was entrusted with the investigation, which her Government bad started anyway, immediately after the Marseille drama had occurred. The Cazetta del Popolo paid tribute to Hungary who came out of the debate intact and honored, as she had well deserved.
The New York Times expressed the unfounded opinion that "the Little Entente and France got the long end of the compromise and Hungary and Italy the short end."
I still feel that the best informed, objective opinion on League affairs was published in those days in the Journal de Geneve. Its editorial2 commented truthfufly that the resolution arrived at unanimously in the Council conferred on Hungary the duty to investigate whether Hungarian authorities, at least through their negligence, may have assumed responsibility for the Marseille crime. The League thereby also expressed its confidence in the Budapest Government. Yugoslavia, on the other hand (wrote the paper), had obtained full satisfaction in her fight against terrorism. The improvement of her security meant a legitimate success for Mr. Yeftitch. The merit of the
2 December 11, 1934.
Council was great, although it was facilitated by the interested parties. Yugoslavia had resisted the temptation to impose justice by arbitrary means, while Hungary gave evidence of praiseworthy moderation and raised thereby her moral prestige. According to the paper, the role played by Great Britain deserved admiration. Some may have been disappointed by Mr. Eden's neutrality, but this allowed him in the decisive moment to exercise a salutary influence on Hungary in the brilliant tradition of British diplomacy.
Upon my arrival in Budapest, I was warmly greeted at the Central Station by a huge crowd. Nobody wanted war in Hungary, and least of all against Yugoslavia. The next day, Regent Horthy conferred upon me the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, the highest decoration existing at that time in Hungary, and the House of Deputies gave me a standing ovation. Hungary's good name had been brought home stainless and the Little Entente attack to discredit the Hungarian policy of treaty revision had not received any support by the League. In fact, revisionism was given a boost, its lawfulness having been tacitly admitted.
As promised, the Hungarian Government reopened its investigation without delay to determine whether any officials could be charged with neglect of duty in connection with the Marseille plot. The Yugoslav Government was requested to communicate to Hungary its findings on any guilt on the part of Hungarian officials. Obviously for lack of such findings, no communication was received and Mr. de Kanya complained that this was retarding the completion of the Hungarian inquiry. So, we proceeded to clear up the situation: essentially, the issue of Hungarian passports to Croat refugees. Since all these passports had not been recovered, we decided to invalidate them by changing the form of our passports. The Police Captain in charge of the Budapest Passport office was transferred to a post of minor responsibility. With a full report I returned to Geneva and submitted it on January 12, 1935, to the Council of the League. There arose no disagreement thereafter in the course of the League's routine procedure, and on May 25 the formal settlement of the Hungarian-Yugoslav controversy was perfected. By that time, as the leader of the Small Holders Party, I had become involved in a bitter electoral campaign fighting for overdue reforms in Hungary and had withdrawn from the representation of my country in the League of Nations.
The solution arrived at in the League was unquestionably the result of a compromise, but it did not smell of appeasement. Compromise consists of mutually acceptable concessions, in order to solve a conflict: whereas appeasement, in Mr. Eden's interpretation is to "perpetrate an injustice in order to get a little present ease."3 Laval had tried appeasement when he offered Hungary as a victim to the Little Entente. Had his cynical scheme been allowed to succeed, evil reactions would certainly have been unleashed. The opposite result was achieved, however, by the fair compromse painfully worked out in Geneva, at least as far as the two primarily affected countries, Yugoslavia and Hungary were concerned, whose relations thereafter became increasingly more friendly. Sir John Simon revealed to the British public the day after the solution was reached in Geneva that the Yugoslav Government saw to it that the expulsion of the Hungarians was immediately stopped. The New York Times reported from Belgrade that General Zhifkovitch was now courting the Democratic Party leaders since the deportations, for which he was responsible, had backfired. One week later, the Government of Uzunovitch was forced to resign for having sabotaged Yeftitch and his reasonable policy.
After years of erring, a constructive trend was at last developing in Yugoslavia and it lasted until 1941, when Hitler abruptly put an end to all peaceful evolution. Because of Serbian centralization of the State, two policies had been clashing in Belgrade: one, determined to oppress all opposition by the various nationalities; the other, concerned with rallying them within a liberalized system. Uzunovitch was dedicated to Serbian totalitarian dictatorship; he demanded that in the grave times following the murder of the King, the opposition support the Government unconditionally. But Prince Paul threw his wholehearted support to the side of Yeftitch, who believed that in order to gain the loyalty of the embittered national groups the Government had to grant them concessions.
Shortly after the murder of the King, Prince Paul admitted in an interview, that "Yugoslavia was composed of elements whose traditions and mentalities were different," but that their unification would be continued and must become successful. He asked Yeftitch to consult the leaders of the dissolved political parties. Yeftitch succeeded shortly
3 Mernoirs, p. viiii.
4 Journal de Geneve, October 15, 1934
in forming a Cabinet of personalities5 who would attempt to achieve more unity in Yugoslavia than had existed theretofore. The Croat leader, Dr. Matchek, and Father Koroshetz, the political Chief of the Slovenes, were released from jail and, although General Zhifkovitch was appointed Minister of War, the consolidation of the Yugoslav regime under the intelligent guidance of Prince Paul was in the offing. The air had been cleared in Geneva. A few months later, the opposition candidates were no longer banned from the elections, and at the end of June, 1935, Milan Stojadinovitch was charged with the liquidation of the dictatorship. That month Laval again became Prime Minister. It was the fourth Ministry in France he was able to form in this period of decadence after having concluded (in January, 1935,) his much coveted but utterly futile Rome Agreement with Mussolini.
Following the verdict of Geneva, Hungary considered more hopefully her relations with Yugoslavia. The respected former Prime Minister, Count Stephen Bethlen stated in retrospect with a sigh of relief that in the past "nothing has been more dangerous to peace than the attempt to place one state under the arbitrary authority of another state."6 Mr. de Kanya, then Foreign Minister of Hungary, looking forward to a better future, told the Reichspost in Vienna:7 "We have buried the Hungarian-Yugoslav conflict and the psychological moment has arrived to examine on both sides what means would make possible a rapprochement and the harmonization of our mutual conceptions." Someone in Prague must have noticed that Mr. Benes had gone too far in Geneva in publicizing his hostility towards Hungary; for Mr. Milos Kobr, the Czechoslovak Minister to Hungary, a diplomat with no personal opinion, told a press conference in Budapest that "there was no antipathy between our two countries. We do not demand that Hungary renounce her political objectives." The Minister of Czechoslovakia then proposed that we follow the example of Germany (!) which had concluded a pact of non-aggression with Poland - faraway cry from Benes' threat to lead Hungary to hell unless she renounced her policy of treaty revision.
Faint lights of hope were flickering at Christmas, 1934, on the entire European horizon. France, England and Italy were conducting friendly negotiations which paved the way to the Stresa Conference (April,
5 Decernber 21, 1934.
6 December 25, 1934.
7 December 25, 1934.
1935) and to a temporary relaxation of tensions. Yet, there was one country among the Powers of Geneva, the latest arrival, which did not feel the necessity of any change. Following Litvinov's oration in Geneva against terrorism, the Soviets continued unabated the extermination of the internal enemies of Stalin. Before performing the traditional burial ceremony at the Wall of the Kremlin for the remains of the murdered Kirov, sixty-six Bolshevik opponents of Stalin were put to death in Moscow and in Leningrad, while thousands were arrested all over the Soviets. The Law of the Jungle had descended over Red Russia: yet, she was soon to be granted the role of the "guardian of peace" in Europe.
From 1933 on, when Hitler became Chancellor of the German Reich, Stalin reversed step by step his foreign policy of isolation from the capitalist world. He joined the League of Nations of which he had been speaking with so much hatred and contempt; he began striving for a leading role in the direction of affairs in Europe, and even in other parts of the world. Most astonishingly, he professed cooperation and solidarity with the capitalist states provided they were opposed to Nazi Germany. He reckoned realistically with the complacency of the West and up to the present day, the Soviets are cashing dividends paid on that policy, now continued on a grand scale by Khrushchev.
In the thirties, there developed a rift in Europe caused by fear of Nazi Germany, but there existed no balance of power in the sense of the Nineteenth Century, based on mutual consideration among the Great Powers. Anxious to keep Europe divided, the British at first blocked France; then, after the murder of Dollfuss, they unsuccessfully tried their negative approach to Germany. Lacking in devotion to principle, the "Appeasers" landed at first in Munich, and later in Moscow, while seeking an alliance with the Soviets (1939). Meanwhile, the Continent was writhing without a policy and without leadership, once to the Right and then to the Left, equally unwilling, as were the British, to make the needed effort, or to accept the indispensable economic sacrifices. No wonder that the two dynamic revolutionary forces, the Nazis and the Soviets, exploited the chaos of the Continent; they organized their respective groups and formed two aggressive poles whose conflict would lastingly destroy peace and the harmony of Europe. The question facing the non-committed nations in Europe - among them Hungary - was this: which totalitarian Great Power,
the Nazis or the Soviets, would force them to enter into its orbit, and how long could they manage to keep away from both of them?
The European tragedy was deepened by the division of the Middle Danube Valley, the one-time cornerstone of European equilibrium. In this sideshow, Benes of Czechoslovakia had been playing the leading role, and after Geneva, he still gained in importance, since the aged President Masaryk was to resign within a year, leaving behind Benes as his successor. So the thaw generated in Geneva did not last long. On May 2,1935, Laval signed the Franco-Russian military alliance as the first link in the contemplated new European system, and on May 16, Czechoslovakia followed suit by signing a treaty of her own with Moscow. This was a long step backward from the better standard set by the League of Nations. This Treaty was identical to the pre - War military alliances of mutual defense and offense for it bound the contracting parties to immediate mutual assistance, to be rendered irrespective of whether the League pronounced a decision or not. The same day, a Czechoslovak-Russian Air Pact was also concluded which, in a fit of Czech over-zeal, agreed to establish and equip airfields in the very heart of Europe, and to place them and Czecho-Russian air traffic under the management of a joint central administration. The agreement guaranteed unconditionally that Soviet airplanes would be able to enter and communicate in Czechoslovakia without let or hindrance. Prague was 800 miles nearer to Western Europe than Kiev, the westernmost Soviet air base at that time. Benes had agreed to transform his homeland into a Soviet air base, to be used eventually for attack against the West.
These pacts caused a strong outburst of resentment, not only in Germany, but in most of the endangered European countries, even in some allied to Czechoslovakia. The Czech assertion that Moscow was the guardian of the European peace was countered with the accusation that the real purpose of the pacts was to assure the Soviets easy access to Central Europe and the possibility of appearing there in times of conflict to prevent peaceful solutions, provoke military actions, create confusion, and to drag, at a time chosen by the Soviets, Central Europe and the West into war. General Kort, the Military Commander of Moscow, was widely quoted in Budapest. In the month of June, 1935, after the resented pacts were conduded, he indicated their real purpose with old-time Bolshevik arrogance: "We shall throw the Red Army into
the scales to hasten war and revolution. If the proletarian masses of Western Europe do not rise voluntarily to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Red Army will force that dictatorship on them."8 Had this not been the meaning of the pacts, they would have had no significance at all for the Soviets. They were given now a chance to subvert the Free World from bases established in its very midst. As a result of the pacts, Hitler declared:9 "Military factors have been introduced into Central Europe that have upset the European balance of power." Czechoslovakia chose thereby to become the number one enemy not only of the Nazis, but of every German - three and a half million of whom were living within Czechoslovakia's own borders.
By placing all his eggs in the Soviet basket, Benes also alienated his friends in the Little Entente. Actually, that Alliance existed thereafter in name only. Rumania, shy of the idea of being defended by Russia, refused to follow Czechoslovakia on the path to suicide. Titulescu had tried to push his country in that direction. He argued that for the sake of her French Ally, Rumania must ensure the Soviets the right of marching through Rumanian territory. His policy threatened to completely separate Poland from Rumania and impelled Stoyadinovitch, the realistic Yugoslav Premier, to absent himself from the Little Entente Conference. So Titulescu was dismissed by King Carol and Rumania reverted to her defensive alliance with Poland. The proper evaluation of Soviet policies drove Yugoslavia away from her almost exclusively Francophile policy and her relations with Hungary grew increasingly more friendly. So, the Czecho-Soviet alliance was left hanging in the air, the tattered remnant of the abortive French concept of "collective security" which, however, made of the Soviets an indispensable pillar of the Western security system.
It was the official thesis of Dr. Benes that the maintenance of peace in the Danube Valley concerned Europe as a whole. In the Hungarian Parliament and its Foreign Affairs Committee, I agreed with this thesis in general. But I raised the question. might not Czechoslovakia also be expected to do something in the interest of peace by eliminating rather than by adding dangers of war, then artificially fostered by Prague? By means of the Czecho-Russian treaty, a grave organic defect had crept into the political structure of the Danube Valley. A
8 Danubian Review, Vol. VI, No. 10 (Budapest: March 1937), p. 8.
9 Pester Lloyd, (Budapest: March 7, 1936).
country's security, I argued, depends on the wisdom of its policies as much as on its self-defense. While allying his country with the Soviets, Benes expected to be defended by Europe. This was a basic mistake which was soon to deprive the minor powers in the Danubian Valley of their independence and of their freedom of choice. Yet, wedged in between the Nazi and the Soviet Great Powers, the small states in the Valley of the Danube did not wish to be tied to either of them. "Czechoslovakia," I concluded, "can fulfill her mission well if she fits into her natural setting and instead of seeking remote and risky friendships, creates a fair and tolerable situation for her immediate neighbors."10
10 Danubian Review, Vol. IV, No. 10 (Budapest: March 1937), p.10.
|Regicide at Marseille|