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4. Views on Hungary's Postwar Government

Interwar American opinion on Hungary was typically divided.There were scores of diplomatic reports, travelogues, press reports and memoirs that spoke of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon as an outrage, and pointed with approval at the modernization the country had achieved in spite of the crippling blow the treaty had dealt the Hungarian economy.

On the alternative, no less schematic view, the postwar disintegra- tion was no more and no less than the inevitable catching up with multinational Hungary: the country's difficulties were rooted not in the terms of the peace settlement, but in the selfish and narrow-minded policies of the still ruling "feudal" aristocracy, which clung to the system of great estates, had suspended the secret ballot, in short, lorded it over a county that enjoyed not even a modicum of social and political democracy. Which of these two pictures someone presented depended as much on his or her political predilections and prejudices, as on who had been his or her guide to discovering Hungary.

Classic examples of how far this was true are the two United States ambassadors to Hungary in the 1930's: Nicholas Roosevelt, who served from 1930 to 1933, and John F. Montgomery whose tenure lasted from 1933 to 1941. Reading their memoranda, one has the feeling that they are speaking of two different countries. As Roosevelt saw it, the "survival of feudalism" was the country's salient feature. "Most of the Hungarian peasants were living under conditions but little removed from those of the serfs in Russia of the nineteenth century.[80]

In Montgomery's view, on the other hand, the "stories about feudal Hungary" were stories and no more, told "in order to calm the world's conscience, which was a little troubled by the fact that in the name of national self-determination, more than three million Magyars had been put under Czech, Rumanian and Serbian rule." In reality, Hungary was well on the way to modernization, and though the conditions of the agricultural workers fell somewhat short, the condition of the industrial working class was on a par with that of American workers.[81]

Each one of the two pictures had its appeal to certain groups within the American business, political and scholarly communities. Among ''official'' Hungary's known supporters were a number of prominent Americans. This included Professor Archibald Coolidge, the founder of Foreign Affairs, whose sympathy for the "Hungarian cause" dated back to his 1919 travels in Central Europe. At that time, he had been a decided opponent of the new border arrangements being planned for Hungary[82]

Another was General Harry H. Bandholtz, the American member of the Allied mission to Budapest in 1919-1920, the man who had protected the Hungarian National Museum's collection from the plundering Romanian armies, and who was on friendly terms with Count Albert Apponyi, among others[83]

Jeremiah Smith, the Boston lawyer was stationed in Budapest between 1924 and 1927 as the commercial representative of the League of Nations. Senator William E. Borah, Wilson's opponent and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee to 1940, was perhaps the most influential of all the Americans urging the revision of the Treaty of Trianon.[84]

There is some indication that President Roosevelt, too, was pro- Hungarian in sentiment. His personal sympathy was said to be based partly on his having bicycled through certain parts of the Monarchy during his student years, Transylvania being one of these parts. The experience, so the story goes, had a positive and lasting impact on him. The second impression was just as personal, and dated back to his years in the navy during the First World War. While in Rome on one occasion, he found that the Italians spoke with great admiration of a "daring" Hungarian admiral of the Austro-Hungarian navy, Miklós Horthy, the man who was elected Regent of Hungary in 1920. That this episode was something Roosevelt was fond of recalling is indicated by the message he had Montgomery convey to Horthy in 1937, which made reference to their shared naval past. In September of 1943, the President is reputed to have told Zita, Otto von Habsburg's mother, that "he liked Hungary... more than any other country in Europe," and that "he wanted to save the country."

Be that as it may, Roosevelt's sympathy was certainly not uncondi- tional, and did not keep him from being critical of many aspects of Hungarian policy. For instance, he believed the system of land tenure to be quite obsolete, and we know from a letter of Montgomery's that when they spoke in the summer of 1937, he "expressed considerable interest in the subject of dividing up estates in Hungary."[86]

The other picture, that of a deplorably feudal Hungary, was most effectively kept in the limelight by Hamilton Fish Armstrong. While recognizing the superior moral qualities of conservatives like Counts Bethlen and Teleki, Armstrong essentially subscribed to the views of Mihály Károlyi, Oscar Jászi, Rusztem Vámbéry and Robert W. Seton- Watson, and criticized Hungary's interwar political status quo from their democratic point of view[87]

Like Armstrong and Nicholas Roosevelt, Sumner Welles, too, was highly critical of the Hungarian domestic political scene, relying over and above the official sources, primarily on Bene for his information.

In Hungary, the regent and the Hungarian governments attempted the impossible task of trying to solve Hungary's basic problems through a policy that retained the essentials of medieval feudalism. It is true that concessions were made to the twentieth century in the form of a thin veneer of political reform. But of concessions to the demands of modern economy there were none. None of the real social or economic ills of the country were squarely faced. The great estates of the Hungarian landlords were left precisely as they had been for many centuries. The system of taxation (...) was not reformed in any fundamental way. No effective effort was made to further industrialization. In short, the economy of the country remained largely static.

Armstrong and Welles,however,dffered on one essential point when it came to Hungary. Armstrong considered the Trianon borders to be basically acceptable, and thought the problem to lie only in the successor states' ungenerous treatment of the minority nationalities; Welles, on the other hand, believed that readjustment of Hungary's borders was a sine qua non of a just peace in the Danube region, and wanted particularly to find a satisfactory solution to the problem of Transylvania.[88]

Though Eastern Europe, let alone Hungary in itself, can hardly be said to have been a major focus of American diplomatic interest in the interwar years, still there were occasions when these two diametrically opposing interpretations collided directly. One such occurred in the early 1920's, when Armstrong's journal published an unusually harsh critique of Hungarian affairs by Oscar Jászi. Bowing to the protests made by the Hungarian ambassador, by William R. Castle of the Department of State, and especially by Professor Coolidge, not much later Armstrong published an indirect refutation written by István Bethlen, which was, in fact, an apology for the newly consolidated system.[89]

Much the same sequence of events took place in the early 1940's, except in reverse order. At President Roosevelt's request, the Foreign Affairs published Otto von Habsburg's article on the "reconstruction" of the Danube Basin. By way of counterweight, Armstrong also simultaneously published an article by Bene, as well as one expressly written by Rusztem Vámbéry at Armstrong's request.[90]

The Advisory Committee, as well as the numbers of the research staff dealing with the future of postwar Hungary, Mosely, Howard, Power and Bradshaw, were as critical of interwar Hungary as Arm- strong and Welles. Textual analysis as well as personal contacts point to the influence of Rusztem Vámbéry on their thinking. It followed that they saw absolutely no chance of the Horthy regime's surviving the war, and expected that defeat would bring in its wake Hungary's radical democratization.

Land reform was the issue that they gave most attention to. In late 1943 and early 1944, thoroughgoing studies examined the state of Hungarian agriculture, and the history of post-1918 reform legisla- tion[91]

Two further studies in the spring of 1944 contained concrete proposals for postwar land reform. The radical redistribution of holdings was specified in both documents as "a prerequisite for the establishment of a more democratic Hungary." Thoroughgoing land reform, argued the author, probably Power, basing his reasoning on Vámbéry's 1942 Foreign Affairs article,

...would open the way for peaceful development of social and political democracy and would eliminate the control of a reaction-ary minority which has monopolized political power at home and threatened the peace and security of the Danubian region through its cooperation with an aggressive Germany.

For all that, though he did not rule out the possibility of an indiscriminate and wholesale land grab, the social discontent among the peasantry being as pervasive as it was, this was not something that he would have liked to see. What he would have preferred was "a rationally planned reform" of the kind contained in the People's Law promulgated during the democratic revolution of 1918-19, and reiterated by Mihály Károlyi and Arnold Dániel in the program they submitted in 1942. It was land reform "under the guidance of competent agronomists and with proper physical and financial implementation." In concrete terms, this would have meant nationalizing estates of over fifty-eight acres (a hundred holds), and parcelling them out as farrns of between eight to fifty acres in size. The five thousand landowners thus deprived of their lands were to receive no compensation, but would have been given some form of financial aid to help them set up a new livelihood. Those who wanted to stay in agriculture would have been allowed to keep "peasant-sized farms." The entire process was envisioned as requiring about ten years.[92]

The other problem studied in depth was the matter of the postwar political system, and the desirable composition of the future govern- ment. The studies prepared in early 1944 distinguished and reviewed the possibilities of five different kinds of political organization: authoritarian, soviet, centralized democratic republican and decentral- ized democratic republican (the distinction is Vámbéry's), as well as the constitutional monarchic system. The preferred possibility was "a democratic government in either a monarchical or republican form." The studies expressed strong reservations in connection with both the authoritarian and the soviet systems, and thought it highly unlikely that the Hungarian people would opt for either of these.

For the leaders of any democratic government, they looked to a popular-front-type coalition of Social Democrats, Smallholders and Liberals, to Károlyi and the democratic emigrs he headed, as well as to certain intellectual groupings within Hungary. Of the latter, specific reference was made to the populist writers, as well as the younger generation grouped around journals such as the bourgeois radical Századunk, the Catholic Jelenkor, and the Ország Útja.[94]

The research staff thought it impossible for the political elite of the Horthy government to remain in power, and particularly for the Regent himself to do so. "The Russians have expressed their objection to the retention of the Regency and of the regime of the landlords. "What was more, the old guard's remaining in power" would mean the continuation of an authoritarian regime. In all probability Hungary would again be a factor of instability in the Balkan-Danubian region." Their objection went beyond the person of Horthy himself, and extended, naturally enough, to the far rightist Arrow Cross Party and the government party, and even to "conservative-liberal" opposition figures such as István Bethlen, and to "pseudo-Smallholders" of the likes of Tibor Eckhardt, who spent the last years of the war in the United States.

The research team noted that"Count Bethlen...is considered in some

English and American circles as a Hungarian of great possibilities, despite his somewhat advanced age," and conceded that in the 1920s, "he restored order and to a certain extent economic stability in Hungary." But they agreed with the leftist critics of the Horthy regime in considering his dyed-in-the-wool anti-democratic stand as a consider- ation of even greater weight, to say nothing of his restrictions of the franchise, and his having been the one to obstruct any real land reform. Thus, he was not someone they wanted to count on in the future.[95]

As regards Eckhardt, they knew that he favored land reform, but also that he opposed completely doing away with the latifundia and the medium-sized estates. This, his anti-Semitic past and his ties to Horthy made him suspect in the eyes of the research staff, who wrote of him as follows:

There is a good evidence to believe that Eckhardt has been sent abroad by Horthy to establish a Free Hungarian movement so that Hungary will have a foot in each camp at the conclusion of the war. Eckhardt is an opportunist and no leadership can be expected from him for a far reaching land reform program.[96]

The most that the Department of State could envision for the anti- German elements of the old ruling elite was a role in the immediate postwar period of transition. But even this they considered a less than desirable solution. In the transition period already, the Inter-Divisional Balkan and Danube Region Committee would have preferred a popular front government, one including the liberal democrat Károly Rassay, the radical nationalist, Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, the Social Democrat Károly Peyer, the Sma1lholder Zoltán Tildy, and the historian Gyula Szekfû. In the event that Hungary did not turn against the Germans, and the Allies had to take it by military force, they counted on a temporary postwar period of martial law.[97]

The research staff did not rule out the possibility that the new democratic Hungary would be a monarchy. This, however, was by no means tantamount to their supporting Otto von Habsburg's claim to power. There is no denying, of course, that Otto's name came up frequently in their discussions. But only as a possible option, never as the solution recommended, or desirable from the American point of view. This was so in spite of the fact that Otto had confidentially reassured the Department of State that he would assume the Hungarian throne only subsequent to being confirmed in his claim by a plebiscite[98]

In general, there were two weighty reasons given against Otto's kingship. One was that there was no trace in his writings of his favoring land reform, and that his ties to the aristocracy were too strong. In short, he was not enough of a democrat. The other reason was that the putative postwar leaders of the neighboring successor states would not have him. In the light of this, on January 27, 1944, the Inter-Divisional Balkan and Danube Region Committee, like the preliminary studies and committees, rejected the notion of "the restoration of the Habsburgs to the throne of Hungary."[99]

The conclusions of the research staff and of the Committee, thus, were completely in keeping with how the Department of State saw matters. How far this was so is indicated by the fact that when in early April, 1944, Archduke Otto asked President Roosevelt to endorse the creation of a Hungarian Resistance Committee, Cordell Hull was adamant against it. His reasoning coincided with that of the Foreign Office, namely, that "the future of Hungary is primarily in the hands of the Hungarians within Hungary," and that emigre groups were not to be used to foment resistance. Hull was opposed to Otto's brother's activities in Lisbon as well, and did all what he could to frustrate it. His memorandum to Roosevelt of May 25, 1944, sums up his stand very well:

I think you will agree that the involvement of this Govern- ment in questions concerned with the Archduke Otto's political aspirations is something very carefully to be avoided because of the political implications, both in this country and abroad.[100]

To the end of 1943, while he was still a member of the government, Sumner Welles, too, warned Roosevelt to avoid giving the impression that he supported a Habsburg restoration[10]

l Finally, we might quote Adolf A. Berle's diary entry for late December of 1942:

My understanding is that the policy of the United States is very definitely opposed to any Habsburg restoration.... There may be difference in some quarters as to why the war is being fought. But there is no difference on the proposition that it is not being fought to restore the Habsburg monarchy....[102]

Emil Csonka, Archduke Otto's biographer, might, nevertheless be perfectly right in stating that Roosevelt not only sympathized with Otto's claim to the Hungarian throne, but also considered it "the most constitutional solution.[103]

There was, however, not much that the President could do in the face of opposition from the Allies (England), his Secretary of State and most of his advisers, to say nothing of American public opinion. Consequently, unlike Bene, the Polish government-in-exile, and other Eastern European emigre politicians, Otto never got the kind of support, either as a Hungarian or as an Austrian, which would have enabled him to play a leading role in postwar developments in either of his two countries.[104]

The above set of recommendations for Hungary's political reorganiza- tion were incorporated in "The Treatment of Enemy States: Hungary" summary of May 1, 1944, which the Cornmittee on Post-War Programs passed, without significant modifications, on May 26. The only points at all disputed had to do with the degree of support to be given the democratic forces within the country, and the degree to which the Habsburg restoration should be opposed. The resolution approved in the second matter reads as follows: "The United States should not look with favor on the restoration of the Habsburgs to the throne of Hungary." Some members would have preferred the more categorical "should oppose" wording, but the suggestion was rejected on the grounds that that "would commit us to positive resistance and might lead to difficulties." To save time, they left it to Mosely to come up with a term stronger than "should not look with favor" and weaker than "should oppose." Mosely's solution was "should disapprove," and that is the term found in all subsequent references to the Habsburg restoration.[105]

Unlike the Advisory Committee's suggestions for a Mid-European Union and for border readjustments, the above program for Hungary's postwar political reform appeared to be realistic even in the last phases of the war. This, in spite of the growing fears in the course of 1943-44 that the Soviet Union would not be content to interpret the notion of sphere of influence in the limited sense of the Monroe Doctrine, but would aim at the Sovietization of East Central Europe. The "Declara- tion on Liberated Europe," however, signed at the Yalta Conference, which reiterated the right of all peoples to free and democratic self- determination, laid these concerns to rest.

The only cause for anxiety subsequently was Roosevelt's compromise, probably made in the interest of having the Soviet Union join in the war on Japan. This did not insist on a high-level four-power commis- sion, whose job it would have been to make sure that the terms of the Yalta Declaration were observed. Significantly, the Department of State had ascribed as much importance to such a commission as to the Declaration itself[106]

Those who, like Charles E. Bohlen, knew something of the Soviet mentality, saw this as an omen. He opined that "the Soviet leaders attached less weight to general principles than did the leaders of the western powers.''107 In 1945, however, they formed a minority. The rest of those in the Department of State thought with their own heads, and naively believed that people were bound by their written and spoken word.

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