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5. The Game is Up

The idealistic plans formulated between 1942 and 1944 behind the padded doors of the Department of State disintegrated during the last year of the war, and in the course of 1946-1947. That they did so was due not to some conceptual void in American diplomacy, as some have suggested, nor to Roosevelt's illness, but to the Soviets establishing their dominance in the region, and to the Americans having no material interest in challenging this predominance.

Basically, Washington had no objections to the new Hungarian regime that took shape in 1944-45. While it was obvious that both the interim government and the National Assembly came into being under Soviet tutelage, the Department of State acknowledged that Béla Dálnoki Miklós's cabinet was "a well-balanced group representing the significant pro-Allied political forces," and that "it is a group of responsible personalities.[108]

As opposed to the governments of Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, which it justly considered Soviet "puppet governments," Washington accepted the Hungarian leadership as representative, and made no demand for its reorganization. Consequent- ly, Hungary's internal affairs were not among the controversial issues at either Yalta or Potsdam, and the Hungarian government was the first of all the East European governments to be recognized by the United States, as early as September 1945, prior even to the election of the National Assembly. This decision, made by James F. Byrnes, Secretary of State in the new American cabinet formed after the death of President Roosevelt in 1945, was meant to underline that the United States would encourage democracies, and reject communist dictator- ships.l[09]

In these early days, there were two crucial points on which Soviet- American discord focused in the matter of Hungary: the amount of reparation the country was to pay, and the make-up and operation of the Allied Control Commission. The Soviet Union demanded 400 million US dollars from Hungary, payable within five years, of which 80 million dollars were to go to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The Americans thought this was too much, and, along with the British, wanted the amount reduced. The compromise was 300 million dollars, payable in six years, with the Soviet Union to receive 200 million dollars.[110]

The debate over the make-up and operational procedures of the Allied Control Commission also ended in compromise. Accepting that the Soviets would chair the Commission, Washington was able to insist that the representatives of all three great powers be given equal rights, that the missions receive their orders from their respective govern- ments, and that the Commission, as such, not be subordinated to the Soviet High Command[111]

"The United States Government recognizes that the Soviet Union's interest in Hungary is more direct than are ours... We do not, however, consider that the Soviet Union has any special privileges or dominant position in Hungary."[112]

During the year and a half following the election of the National Assembly in November of 1945, Washington took exception to two significant events on the Hungarian domestic scene: nationalization-- particularly the nationalization of the oil industry, in which American investment reached 59 million US dollars, and the gradual elimination of political pluralism and of political liberty, a dictatorial tendency subsequently referred to as "salami-tactics" (i.e. the gradual whittling away of political and personal freedoms). The White House and the Department of State voiced their objections regularly at the meetings of the Committee, as well as at other bilateral and international forums. Still, as long as the Smallholders' Party held the majority of the seats in parliament, and Ferenc Nagy was the head of the coalition govern- ment, they considered the regime democratic and representative, and did not relinquish their support. There was, however, a permanent qualifier attached to this support. In the jargon of the Department of State, it was "limited encouragement." This meant that unlike the Mediterranean and other economically or strategically important regions, Hungary was a place where Washington was determined to confine itself strictly to economic and political measures to maintain its influence in the country.[113]

That the United States would not go beyond "limited encourage- ment" was amply manifest in its loans and economic aid to Hungary between 1945 and 1947,114 as well as in the discussions preliminary to, and during the negotiations at, the 1946 Paris Peace Conference. American support for Hungary's foreign policy objectives against Romania and the Soviet Union in the matter of Transylvania was strong, but, contrary to what one might have expected in the light of the work done by the Advisory Committee, was much weaker against Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The Potsdam Conference of July, 1945, was the last time that American foreign policy objectives included an ethnically-based solution to the Czechoslovak-Hungarian and Yugoslav-Hungarian border disputes[115]

By the time the Allied foreign ministers met in London in September, the issue had received a new formulation. There, and from there on, the Allies were in agreement that "the frontier with Hungary should be, in general, the frontier existing in 1938," and that the only subject still in dispute was Transylvania, and the Romanian-Hungarian border.[116]

Several factors contributed to the Americans' abandoning the principle of ethnic fairness, which they had considered so important at the time of the peace preparations. The most significant was that contrary to Washington's expectations, the governments in Belgrade and Prague were most adamant against any kind of frontier adjustment. The same politicians who, in 1942-43, and even in early 1944, had considered the redrawing of the Hungarian-Slovak border a distinct possibility, believed, from the summer of 1944, that the only way to resolve the border dispute between the countries was to remove the Hungarian population from Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak govern- ment-in-exile first expressed this view to the American government on November 23, 1944, and then reiterated its position from time to time after its return to Prague, at which time it also registered its claim on five Hungarian villages in the Bratislava (Pozsony) area.[117]

Similar tendencies could be observed in Yugoslavia as well. The government in Belgrade asked for Allied permission to "exchange" forty thousand ethnic Hungarians, over and above those who had already fled to escape retaliation at the hands of the Yugoslav partisans; it registered an official claim to a fifty square mile area of the Austro- Hungarian border region north of the river Drava. and emphasized in its propaganda the legitimacy of annexing other border-region Hungari- an territories (mainly in the province of Baranja), and the necessity of preserving the "South Slav character" of northeastern Yugoslavia.[118]

It is due primarily to the firmness of the United States Government that the Yugoslav claims were not satisfied, and the Czechoslovak demands were only partially met. The Department of State took exception to unilateral mass relocations even in the case of the German population. As far as the Hungarian and other East European populations were concerned, Washington strongly objected to solving territorial differences by punishing entire ethnic groups for the sufferings of the war. It took a particularly firm stand against the government in Prague, which, nevertheless, managed to get three of the five villages it had asked for, in exchange for giving up its notion of unilaterally relocating 200,000 ethnic Hungarians.[119]

The Truman administration, however, would not go so far as to follow the recommendations of the Advisory Committee in order to eliminate the possibility of future territorial disputes between Hungary and its neighbors. The fact that these issues did not even come up at the various rounds of the peace talks had very little, to do with the roles played by these various countries in the course of the war. In the case of the Italian-Yugoslav dispute over Istria, for instance, Washington was quite capable on the grounds of ethnic fairness of siding with the ex- enemy, Italy, thereby moderating somewhat the excessive Yugoslav- Soviet demands.

It is probable that if Hungary had been more important strategically and if Washington had had a military presence at hand to give weight to its proposals, as indeed it did in the case of Istria, the Advisory Committee's recommendations would not have been so soon forgotten. There is yet another reason why the matter of the Czechoslovak- Hungarian and Yugoslav-Hungarian borders never came up in the course of the postwar negotiations: Britain's attitude. The British government had decided to support the restoration of the 1938 borders even before the Potsdam Conference[120]

All the above being as it was, it would have been a Quixotic gesture indeed for the United States to insist on trying to implement the Advisory Committee's suggestions. Unlike the Csallóköz and the Baranja-Baka-Banat issue6, the status of Transylvania remained uncertain until May of 1946, with the status quo ante bellum being finalized only in August. Washington had been irked by the Soviet-approved restoration of Romanian local government in northern Transylvania on March 9, 1945, and questioned the government's legitimacy. Accordingly, the American delegation in Potsdam recommended that

the three principal Allies proceed in the near future with preliminary talks concerning the establishment of a definite boundary between Hungary and Rumania, and that favorable consideration be given to revision of the pre-war frontier in favor of Hungary on ethnic grounds.[121]

When the preliminary talks were held at the September, 1945 meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Soviet delegation made no secret of the fact that it wanted to see "the whole of Transylvania" go to Romania. The joint British-American stand, however, was for "examining the respective claims of the two States." Secretary of State Byrnes noted in the course of the debate that "the change which he had in mind would not affect more than 3,000 square miles." This was about five hundred square miles less than the minimum area recom- mended by the Advisory Committee in 1943-44, and there is no knowing how exactly Byrnes arrived at the figure. It is possible that he simply rounded down the original figure of 3,457 square miles. No decision was taken on the matter at the London session, and the Council agreed to adjourn the debate. The next time Transylvania was discussed was at the April, 1946 meeting of the deputy foreign ministers, likewise held in London. The Soviet government--which a few days earlier had had the high-level Hungarian delegation visiting Moscow believed that Hungary's raising the matter of its territorial claims against Romania was something the Soviets considered to be justified123 -- insisted in London that the Trianon borders be restored. With Britain and France refusing to support it, the United States was not in a position to press its own revisionist plans, but did suggest that "provision be made to leave the way open for direct negotiations between the Governments of Rumania and Hungary with a view to adjusting the frontier so as to reduce the number of persons living under alien rule." The Russians, however refused to agree to even this watered down wording.[124]

With no consensus forthcoming, the deputy foreign ministers submitted a Soviet, and an American recommendation to the May session of the Council of Foreign Ministers. Had he had British and French support, and Roosevelt to back him, it is possible that Byrnes would have insisted on at least a token compromise. Alone as he was, however, he judged the matter to be a lost cause, and did not want to further test Soviet-American relations, which were strained enough as it was, with insistence on having his way in a "third-rate" issue of this sort. In return for a trivial Soviet concession. he thus withdrew the American motion, and accepted the Soviet plan[125]

Subsequently, John C. Campbell, secretary to the peace delegation, justified Byrnes's move as follows: "With so many clauses in the four treaties in dispute between the United States and the Soviet Union, this one did not seem worth arguing about any longer.''126 In 1946, when Ferenc Nagy was in Washington, Byrnes felt a need to exonerate himself: "We were reluctantly forced to the view that the population in Transylvania was so intermingled that without an exchange of populations no adjustment of the frontier would provide a solution to the ethnic problem."[127]

Byrnes came in for a great deal of criticism for his permissiveness not only in this, but in other matters as well. Sumner Welles, a number of the senior members of the Department of State, and later even President Truman expressed dissatisfaction with his conduct of affairs. This gave some credibility to the American efforts to reassure the dejected Smallholder Government, which had been misled in Moscow and now felt itself abandoned by Washington. The Hungarians were told that the game was not yet up, that what the Americans had agreed on was only a draft of the peace treaty, and that the conference itself would be the place to effect changes in it. This was the gist of what Philip Mosely told the Hungarian delegates to Paris on May 17, 1946, and this was the assumption that guided the activities of Arthur Schoenfeld, the American ambassador to Budapest.[128]

Byrnes himself was more honest and more realistic. All he would promise Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy was that if the Soviet Union undertook to raise the question again, the United States would gladly support Hungary's claims[129]

To anyone who knew the Soviet Union's stand on the matter, this meant that Washington had closed the Transylvania file; the borders between Hungary and Romania would be the same as the ones set at Trianon.

Trusting that Mosely and Schoenfeld would turn out to be right, at the August 14 session of the peace conference the Hungarian foreign minister, János Gyöngyösi, asked that Romania surrender to Hungary an area of 22,000 square kilometers, and a population of two mi1lion people. A few days later, on American advice, he modified his demand to 4,000 square kilometers, with a population of less than half a million.[130]

The American support he had counted on, however, was not forthcoming. At the September 5 session of the Romanian territorial and political committee, where Hungary's demand was reviewed again for the last time, the United States delegate, William Averell Harriman, made the following statement about the draft peace treaty: "The United States had not been a strong supporter of the proposed text but wished to make it clear that he would vote for it since it had been agreed by the Council.''131 With this, the issue of Transylvania, which Sumner Welles had called one of Europe's most pressing problems in his book published in 1945, was taken off the agenda, much to the dismay of the circle of American experts. They realized that ignoring the problem would by no means make it disappear. "How can it be imagined," asked Welles, "that the cession of this entire region ... to either Rumania or Hungary can ever result in anything but new conflicts, new complaints, new oppressions and a festering sore in the body politic of Europe?''[132]

John C. Campbell, secretary to the American delegation, and the Advisory Committee's Transylvanian expert, concluded his article on the territorial settlement agreed at the peace conference by noting that the compromises born "did not conform to American hopes and American principles." This being so, "it should be possible for the world's statesmen to look again at the map of Europe and to make changes which are called for by the interests of the European peoples themselves."[133]

The defeat suffered by American diplomacy at the hands of the Soviets had its repercussions in Hungary, where, in June of 1947, Ferenc Nagy was forced to leave the country, and the systematic liquidation of the Smallholder Party got under way. The United States was outraged by the Hungarian Prime Minister's exile. President Truman called it a disgrace, and the Department of State spoke of it as a coup d'état. Once again, however, Washington's vehemence was soon spent. Some junior members of the Department of State did suggest that the Nagy case be brought before the United Nations, but the idea was rejected by the head of the European Department, H. Freeman Matthews, who did not want the matter to distract the Security Council's attention from the problem of Greece[134]

As Americans saw it, in the summer of 1947, Hungary became one of the communist states of Eastern Europe. The country's short-lived democracy was commemo- rated by John F. Montgomery in a book published in 1947, probably with the State Department's approval. "For a second time within a decade, a small European country, Hungary, is being turned into a satellite of an overwhelmingly strong neighbor.''[135]

Interestingly enough, American diplomacy never quite gave up on Hungary, nor on the rest of Eastern Europe. For over forty years, with but slight shifts of emphasis, it had on its agenda a goal first formulated in 1948: "The gradual retraction of undue Russian power and influence from the present satellite area and the emergence of the respective eastern-European countries as independent factors on the international scene."[136]

Far from being up, perhaps the game is just starting.

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