The New Concert of Powers
How to Prevent Catastrophe and Promote Stability in a Multipolar World
IN PRESENTING the historical documents from which I am about to quote, my intention is not to throw fresh light on the interesting period following the collapse of the Hungarian Revolution in 1848, but to refute an opinion held by many statesmen and politicians concerning the present international situation of Hungary and her neighbors. Faced with the social and economic difficulties of the post-war era, these persons assert more and more emphatically that the Treaty of Trianon was simply a blunder, part of a vae victis peace unscrupulously imposed on the defeated nations, a work of sheer stupidity and incompetence which had no foundations in historical antecedents or the social and ethnological framework of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This judgment is supported by the fact that every war is a brutal and incomplete solution of the conflict of blind and selfish interests. Furthermore, it cannot be denied that the new equilibrium created in the Danube valley by the World War has imposed unnecessary injustices upon the vanquished or that, by splitting up large territories which formerly enjoyed the advantages of unified economic life, it has led to disastrous conditions even in the victorious countries themselves. Yet the question remains, whether the outcome of the World War should be regarded as purely arbitrary and capricious or whether it had a natural logic which was stronger than the calculations of the diplomatic game.
The answer given to this question is of the highest practical importance. If we affirm the first alternative a new world war is inevitable, for no international equilibrium can be maintained except on the foundation of the necessities of the peoples involved, and as the new states emphatically refuse a change of this equilibrium, the ultima ratio can only be war. Whereas if the second alternative be true it may be hoped that a better mutual understanding and a more enlightened statesmanship will be able to correct in a peaceful way the errors of the peace treaty and restore that economic unity without which the new states created or substantially modified by the last war cannot exist and progress.
In this controversy, so obscured and poisoned by the unscrupulous propaganda of all factions, we find valuable light in certain letters between Louis Kossuth, the leader and idol of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the most intransigent exponent of the national Magyar cause, and another Hungarian patriot, not less enthusiastic than his leader, Count Ladislas Teleki, who during the revolution was on an important diplomatic mission to Paris. These letters, buried until now in the archives of the National Museum of Budapest, reflect the ideas and plans of the leaders of the Hungarian emigration after the catastrophe of Világos. All the documents in question are from the year 1850, when Kossuth, having fled from Hungary, was living at Kutahya under the protection of the Sultan, while Count Teleki was at Montmorency, trying to influence his Paris and London friends to favor Hungary's liberation from the Hapsburg yoke which had been reimposed by the Tsar's army in the previous year.
The central theme of the whole correspondence is a discussion of how and by what means Austria could be defeated and the liberty of Hungary restored. Count Teleki, close to the liberal and revolutionary public opinion of Paris, in constant touch with Rumanian, Slav, and Polish emissaries, and especially influenced by Prince Adam George Czartoryski, became convinced that nothing serious could be done before the attitude of the Hungarian revolutionaries toward the claims of the other races in Hungary had been clarified, especially those of the Slavs and Rumanians. All the clear-sighted elements of the Hungarian emigration had come to realize more and more clearly that the Hungarian cause had been lost principally because of the opposition of the non-Magyar races, whose claims for equality had been repudiated by the revolutionary Magyar nobility and whose dissatisfaction was shrewdly fomented by the Viennese camarilla. It was true that three weeks before the final collapse at Világos, a very liberal nationality law had been introduced by Bartholemew Szemere, Minister of Interior of the revolution, who cautioned the still recalcitrant elements of the national assembly that "the aristocratic conception against the claims of the other nationalities, if the nation did not abandon it at the last moment, would destroy Hungary." But the spirit of reconciliation had come too late, and now the Hungarian emigration stood in the shadow of a bloody civil war. Teleki, in the name of the western emigration, urged Kossuth to make a declaration concerning the claims of the non-Magyar nationalities. Certain passages of the letters indicate that western public opinion accused Kossuth and his friends of continuing the old aristocratic policy against the national minorities and of maintaining the reactionary conceptions of the antiquated jurisprudence of the Codex Werböczyanum, that palladium of feudal Hungary. Teleki expressed the opinion that only a broad-minded federalism of Hungarians with Serbs and Rumanians in Hungary could create a new atmosphere and unite all the races, in Hungary and outside, in a combined effort against Hapsburg absolutism.
Kossuth, in his rejoinder to these suggestions, emphasized the fact that though he favored federation with the Serbs and Rumanians, other circumstances must be carefully weighed also. The French would never, out of pure sympathy, give material help to the Hungarian cause. Even a new revolution in France would not make French sympathies more real. Furthermore, no successful war against Austria could be imagined as long as Russia was not engaged in a vital war of her own with Turkey. The consent of England to this whole scheme would be absolutely necessary. Again, since Serbia and Moldavia-Wallachia (the Rumanian homeland) were provinces under Turkish suzerainty, it was evident that no plan of confederation would be possible until the Porte explicitly favored such an alliance of the Serbs and Rumanians with the Hungarians. Consequently, the planned confederation could only be a political alliance under the hegemony of the Sultan. Kossuth took this plan so seriously that he made an informal proposal to the Porte along this line, saying that if Turkey would engage Russia in war, and if Austria should help Russia, and if, further, the Sultan would give him fifty thousand soldiers with which to enter Hungary and would sanction the uprising of Serbia and Moldavia-Wallachia, he -- Kossuth -- "would recognize on a federal basis his suzerainty," and would "guarantee with his head that his action would be ratified by the Hungarian people." The Porte did not answer this proposal; but Kossuth regarded it as an eventuality to which he could later return.
Today this appears highly strange and adventurous; but from the point of view of Kossuth, in 1850, it was perfectly logical. The crushing of Austria at that time would have meant either a Turkish or a Russian overlordship of Central Europe. "If there were no other choice than between a Russian prince as king of Hungary and a confederation with a nominal Turkish suzerainty," wrote Kossuth to Teleki on June 15, 1850, "I would without doubt choose the latter. It would not absorb us; the other would. In the future it would bring freedom; the other, servitude." There could be no other possibility of defeating Austria: "History is based not on sympathies but on interests. We can only be helped by a European or at least by a Turko-Russian war. Nor will either be undertaken out of sympathy for us; either we shall be called to action when it is in their interest, or we shall have to use circumstances which have not arisen out of sympathy for us."
Here Kossuth turns to the other aspect of Teleki's thesis, namely that no federation between Hungary, Serbia, and the Rumanian provinces would be possible as long as Hungary did not conclude an internal federation with her own Serbian and Rumanian subjects. Kossuth was deeply aroused by this assertion and scrutinized it very sharply. He says: "Count Teleki should be kind enough to write me clearly what he understands by 'internal federation' . . . The Rumanians[i] know very well what they understand by it: they mean that we should detach Transylvania and the counties of Krassó, three-fourths of Bihar, Szathmár, and Mármaros from Hungary and make of them a Rumania which would kindly promise to confederate with us, preserving the right to coalesce with Wallachia and Moldavia, their natural relatives . . . Thank you! This I could never, never accept, because the natural consequence of this action would be that in the north we should give fifteen counties to the Slovaks, in the south the counties of Torontal, Bács, Baranya, and half of Zala to the Serbs, a northern strip to the Russians, a western to the Germans . . . that is, we should kill the Magyars. Even Austria does not do more than this. Never, for such a result, shall I spill my nation's blood."
Kossuth was sure that the Rumanian leaders would not be satisfied with less of a concession than this. "I spoke with them in Broussa. I told them that with a good territorial division, which above all would take into account the background of nationality, I wish to guarantee the departmental and communal autonomy of every race, its national life -- all, that is, which reasonableness, equality, and brotherhood can claim. Yet they were not satisfied; they even found fault with our not having erased the name of Hungary as the title of our Fatherland; for it is inhabited by several nations -- that is, they wish me to consent, following the principle of brotherhood and equality, to Translyvania's becoming Rumania; and since I, a man of liberty, cannot wish the Hungarian language to rule the Rumanians, therefore I should agree that the Rumanian tongue should rule the Magyars, Seculi, and Saxons of Transylvania." In a very embittered mood, Kossuth complains that his Paris friends use the idea of federation in a very vague sense, whereas -- he repeats -- it has a very definite meaning for the Rumanians and the Serbians, "who openly asserted what they have in mind, the annexation of the Vojvodina (Bács, Bánát, Baranya, Szerém) to Serbia, and the annexation of Transylvania, a part of Bánát, and the counties of Arad, Bihar, Szathmár, and Mármaros to Wallachia -- against which I shall fight as eternally as I have fought and shall fight against the plans of Austria, which are not a bit more deadly than these."
At the end of this memorandum, he urges his friends to put two questions to those in Paris who "under the pretext of equality incite them to the annihilation of the Hungarian nation: 1. Ask the Rumanians what they think concerning those 125,000 Hungarian families who are living in Moldavia, which are more of the total Moldavian population than the Hungarian-Rumanians are of the total population of Hungary. 2. There are three million Jews living in Polish territories. I beg to ask Prince Czartoryski whether they will allow free use of the Jewish tongue in the parliament of the Polish nation when it has been liberated, and whether they are inclined to govern the Jews in their Jewish tongue. It seems to me that such questions will suffice to demonstrate the absurdity of certain insinuations."
To this criticism of Kossuth, Count Teleki answered in a rather nervous tone, accusing Kossuth of taking an arbitrary attitude about problems which only the future could determine. Nevertheless he continued his argument, saying that his standpoint with regard to the nationality problem was not very remote from that of Kossuth, the only difference being that "beyond those concessions in the village, county, judicial, ecclesiastical, and scholastic fields [which Kossuth had in mind] I would also grant to the Rumanians and Serbs a provincial assembly to settle their affairs within the limit of the law. For it is exactly this collective national existence for which the Serbs and the Rumanians are longing. Yet their ties to the common legislation and government would continue with the necessary caution concerning the delimitation of the Vojvodina and the Rumanian district, that other nationals, as far as possible, should not come under Serb and Rumanian rule. To obtain this would not be so difficult as many persons imagine, for here is no question of the delineation of countries independent of each other, and therefore a complete rearrangement of the territories is not necessary." In a later letter, the Count emphasized that there was no need for them, exiles as they were, to draw up a detailed future constitution; only the general principles of a new nationality program should be laid down. For the present, it would be enough to declare that "as soon as we can act against tyranny, and when we are in a position to do so, we shall immediately convoke a constitutional assembly to which every nationality, without exception, according to its numerical strength . . . shall send representatives; and then we shall leave to this assembly the settling of all problems, even the determination of the language which will be spoken in the assembly." The prime aim of this assembly would, according to Teleki, be to elect a committee of the various nationalities to elaborate a federal constitution in the spirit of equity and brotherhood.
In his reply, Kossuth subjected Teleki's new suggestions to sharp criticism. He especially attacked the idea of a provincial, territorial autonomy for the Serbs and the Rumanians inside of the Hungarian territory. "You have surely not forgotten that what you give to these nations you must also give to the Slovaks, to the Ruthenians, and to the Germans. Would you please, with the population statistics of Fényes[ii] in your hand, look at the map of our country and try to realize what your idea concerning the provincial delineation of our nationalities would mean. However we may beautify this plan, it would mean the dismemberment of Hungary into six parts,[iii] and this again would mean the political
death of the Magyar nation, for the simple reason that the Hungarian province would be an isolated nationality (from which, in addition, several scattered fractions would be detached) [iv] which could not join with a greater unit; whereas the Serb, Rumanian, Slovak, Ruthenian, and German provinces would inevitably yield sooner or later to the force of attraction exercised by the neighboring nations. In this way, the Hungarian province would remain nicely alone. I don't feel that we are entitled to gamble so with the destiny of our nation and to sacrifice its whole future to the ephemeral calm of tomorrow."
Kossuth further sharpens his argument by saying that even the catastrophe of Hungary's becoming part of an imperial unity under Hapsburg rule would be a lesser misfortune than the dismemberment involved in Count Teleki's plan. "Even your idea would give only a provincial life to the Magyar people; and Austria itself, even in the worst circumstances, is compelled to give that much. Yet with the difference that under the Austrian system we should get a far larger territory and a lesser degree of dismemberment, and no dispersed Magyar elements would be absorbed [v] . . . And there is another difference, that an aggregation with such varied elements would preserve us better from absorption and leave some hope for the future; whereas your idea not only gives us no hope for an improved situation, but reduces immediately to a minimum the life of the Magyar nation as a state . . ."
The idea that a Hungary which had been separated from Austria and which did not have the support of a Great Power would be immediately dismembered into six parts obsessed the Hungarian statesman so much that he burst out passionately: "And is it for this aim that we should begin a revolution? For this should we again cover our Fatherland with blood? No, my friend! To do that we need a greater aim, an aim which is worthy of the price!"
Kossuth then proceeds to show, using Croatia as example, that provincial autonomy must inevitably lead either to conflict or to federation. In 1841, he had already favored the idea of a confederation between Hungary and Croatia; but the Estates, refusing this move, had hastened toward the annihilation of even Croatia's provincial existence, and the result had been faction, riot, and revolution.[vi] "That is what would happen if your idea were put into execution; the common legislation would always conflict with provincial independence and would aim to subordinate the provinces, whereas the provinces would strive toward federation and coördination. Hence, eternal struggle. And the end of this fight? As a result of the geographical circumstances and the operation of natural laws, neither federation nor subordination -- that is, neither federation nor provincial independence -- but secession. Secession of the Vojvodina to Serbia; of the Rumanian province of Transylvania, of the Bánát, and of the counties Arad, Bihar, Szathmár, Mármaros, K. Szolnok, Zaránd-Kraszna-Kövár to Wallachia; of the Slovak territory (a colossal province) to the Czechs; of the Ruthenians, with the Galicians, to Russia; of the Germans (Vas, Sopron, Moson) to Austria. And the Magyars to whom? To death."
Kossuth regarded these tendencies as inevitable. Therefore, he opposed a federation of the various nationalities of Hungary: "I wish to see Hungary federated with Serbia, Croatia, Moldavia-Wallachia, with Poland, and other countries; but I do not wish to see a Hungary divided into federated provinces. This I shall never accept . . . It would be an error to think of the example of North America. The federation there is what I wish and not what you intend. They did not divide their country into provinces along lines of nationality, but they made a federation of independent states. This is exactly what I wish. They federated territories and not nationalities, and therefore they need have no fear of dissolution from a nationality point of view. Furthermore, the German colony of New York or similar groups have no co-national bodies in their neighborhood toward which to gravitate."
Again and again Kossuth emphasizes that he wishes to maintain the territorial integrity of Hungary, granting every nationality perfect equality within the state. And this undivided territory he would be willing to federate with the adjacent states. A dismembered Hungary would be "even more terrible than the Austrian curse." And his final conclusion is this: "I am convinced that to achieve such a purpose, to achieve the dismemberment of the thousand-year-old Hungary into six distinct states, the Magyar will never take up arms; and if he would, he could not be victorious because there would be no enthusiasm in his breast for such a struggle. And if he should, in spite of all this, vanquish Austria . . . after his victory would begin the most terrible civil war, a war to the hilt, the end of which would be the fate of Poland[vii]. . . You will perhaps say that with my plan the Rumanians and the Serbs and the other nationalities would not be satisfied. That is true of those who wish us to commit suicide out of courtesy to them; but the reasonable part, the masses, would be satisfied. And even were they not, I am sorry to say I cannot help them. I cannot commit my hand to an action the result of which would be worse than anything which we might otherwise lose."
The correspondence from which I have been quoting reflects in a striking way the leading ideas of the Hungarian revolutionists. It shows, first, the paramount importance which they attributed to the nationality problem of Hungary, without the solution of which the whole international status of the country would remain uncertain; second, Kossuth's realization that the defeat of Austria would not be by itself a good thing for Hungary, and that she would have to find support from one of the Great Powers (perhaps Turkish suzerainty, with English consent); third, his conviction that otherwise Hungary would inevitably be dismembered by her own centrifugal forces[viii]; fourth, his belief that (lacking foreign support) even the continuance of the Hapsburg supremacy, which could not last very long, would be better; fifth, his hope that Hungary, though repudiating federation internally, might by means of a liberal system of cultural autonomy satisfy the reasonable wishes of the masses of the various nationalities, even if not of the intellectuals.[ix]
The final conclusion of Kossuth was that a liberated Hungary, separated from Austria, without the support of a Great Power, would inevitably fall into six parts and the alien nationality groups, as dissatisfied irredenta, would join their relatives beyond the frontiers and form independent national states. Kossuth described the main features of this process of dissolution. Following the geographical delimitations given by him, we obtain a map which shows his pessimistic vision of the future (Fig. 1). This map resembles closely that which actually resulted seventy years later from the Treaty of Trianon (Fig. 2).
None of the conditions which Kossuth pointed out as necessary to secure Hungarian independence and to avoid the country's dismemberment were fulfilled. Turkey ceased to be a decisive factor in European policy; and Hungary, after the compromise with the Hapsburgs in 1867, took a course diametrically opposed to the suggestions of Kossuth and to his later plans for confederation with the adjacent national groups. Instead of choosing a Slav and Rumanian orientation under the leadership of the Western Powers, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy threw in its lot more and more intimately with the German Empire. And instead of trying to satisfy the national cultural needs of her alien races, Hungary adopted a stronger and stronger policy of forcible assimilation, hoping in this way to produce moral and political unity. Further, she whole-heartedly supported the imperialist expansion of Austria over the Balkan peninsula, and coöperated in the creation of that fatally hostile irredenta in Bosnia-Herzegovina which later was to become the point of explosion of the whole 1914 crisis. When Germany was defeated, the preservation of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy became an impossibility; and in both parts of the Empire, in Austria and in Hungary, the various national units took their natural course, as do the waters of a river that has been artificially dammed after the obstruction has been suddenly removed.
This analysis is by no means to be taken as a complete justification of the Treaty of Trianon. In the first place, the frontiers accepted as natural by Kossuth in 1850 were not still the real ethnological frontiers of Hungary in 1919. The intervening seventy years had changed considerably the racial constitution of the various territories. The system of artificial assimilation had proved practically useless; but the growth of the capitalistic system, under Hungarian leadership, had created large new urban centers which were predominantly Hungarian, notably along and beyond the old ethnographic frontiers. The disregard of this gradual expansion of the Magyar element, and the adoption of the old ethnographic lines, were serious errors of those who drew the Treaty of Trianon. Large Hungarian towns were detached from the mother country. In addition, without any ethnographic justification, territories were in several cases detached for purely strategic reasons. But the gravest mistake of the victors was that they consented to the economic dismemberment of a territory the separate parts of which are in many respects incapable of independent healthy economic life.
At the same time, the facts and considerations brought out in the Kossuth-Teleki correspondence seem to indicate that ever since Hungary's nationality problem had become acute she had been threatened with dismemberment along lines not dissimilar from those laid down in the Trianon settlement, unless her statesmen pursued a wise and judicious policy of conciliation and fair play toward the subject nationalities. This necessity was clearly recognized by Francis Deák and Baron Eötvös immediately after the compromise of 1867, but was disregarded by subsequent generations. It is also plain, I believe, that the solution of the Danubian problem today can be found neither in the maintenance of the present situation nor in the restoration of the old frontiers of Hungary. It must be found in two things -- in a reasonable readjustment of boundaries, and in a tariff union between Hungary and adjacent countries which would restore the economic advantages possessed by the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, without the Hapsburgs and without domination by any one race.
[i] Kossuth always used the term "Wallachians" (Oláhok), which was then in general use but which later became derogatory.
[ii] The leading statistical authority of the period.
[iii] My italics.
[iv] Kossuth manifestly is thinking here of the scattered Hungarians living among compact masses of the various nationality groups.
[v] Kossuth's idea here is that, under a unified imperial system, the composite parts could not carry on a policy of assimilation.
[vi] Kossuth alludes here to the vehement controversy between Hungary and her partes annexae, Croatia, which became the greatest centrifugal force of the former Monarchy. (For details see my book, "The Dissolution of the Hapsburg Monarchy," Chicago, 1929, p. 366 ff.)
[vii] My italics.
[viii] This conviction had already been clearly expressed by the first deeper analyzer of the nationality problem of Hungary, the fiery patriot Baron Nicolas Wesselényi, who published "An Appeal in the Cause of the Magyar and the Slav Nationality" in 1843. He stated that only the unification of the national minorities in common interests and rights with the Magyars could solve this dangerous problem.
[ix] As a matter of fact, a few years later he elaborated a daring and far-reaching plan for the solution of the nationality problem according to which each nationality could organize itself for the satisfaction of its national cultural needs exactly in the same way in which religious groups organize for the satisfaction of their religious needs. (For details of this plan, see my "The Dissolution of the Hapsburg Monarchy," pp. 311-313.)