What Ukraine Needs to Liberate Crimea
A Credible Military Threat Might Be Enough
CRITICS have pointed to many mistakes in the conduct of our foreign relations since the end of the war, especially at points of friction with the Soviet Union. I believe that if such mistakes were made they resulted largely from the initial assumption that the practice of imperialism would hardly survive in the era of the United Nations. Unhappily, imperialism persists; and Soviet policy is an exact illustration of the meaning of the word.
General recognition of this unwelcome fact by the American people lagged behind the awareness of it by American representatives stationed in the areas of direct friction. This was natural enough. Those of us who were serving in the countries of eastern Europe found that Soviet imperialism presented itself in a series of hard, plain actions. Our countrymen at home inevitably learnt of these actions at second hand. Now Soviet Communist propaganda is based, precisely as was that of the Nazis, on the assumption that people judge things by the name they hear given to them. Hence the current belief of Soviet propagandists that if by endless repetition the invidious name "imperialist" can be attached to the policy of the United States, regardless of fact, then Soviet-Communist actions will perforce be thought to be "anti-imperialist" and praiseworthy, regardless of fact.
Writing some years ago in these pages, an authoritative Soviet spokesman, Karl Radek, said: "The foreign policy of the Soviet Government differs as much from the foreign policy of the other Great Powers as the domestic policy of this first Socialist state differs from the domestic policy of the states belonging to the capitalist system." More recently Soviet propagandists and their Communist echoes in all lands have drawn from this thesis the corollary that the foreign policy of the other Great Powers, and particularly of the United States, differs from Soviet policy chiefly in that it is one of "imperialism." From this, they say, the Soviet Union will save the world.
It was my duty to observe the course of Soviet activity in Hungary from the German armistice in May 1945 until June 1947. In these two years Soviet imperialism began a cycle and completed it. The cycle ranged from the consolidation of the military victory and the establishment of the Soviet military occupation through a process of political and economic infiltration, to the domination of all aspects of Hungarian public life in the interest of the Soviet Union. In the result, the Soviet Union made Hungary a colony. It did not, however, win the allegiance of the Hungarian people.
II. THE GRIP ON HUNGARY'S ECONOMY
At the start, the American conception of the policy to be followed in Hungary assumed the good faith of the signatories of the Crimea Declaration in their stated intention "to concert . . . the policies of their three Governments in assisting . . . the peoples of the former Axis satellite states of Europe to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems." Somewhat later, our action in Hungary was guided by a growing realization that the Soviet Government's intention to honor this engagement was doubtful. Finally, American policy was forced to take into account the certainty that all such agreements were being contemptuously disregarded by the U.S.S.R. in order to fasten upon Hungary for an indefinite period a foreign control as tight as any in the history of imperialism.
Some skepticism as to Soviet methods began to be felt in the first weeks following the establishment of my mission in Budapest, four days after V-E Day. Secret negotiations were then in process for an agreement between the Soviet Government and the Hungarian Provisional Government to carry out the Armistice terms for payment of $200,000,000 to the Soviet Union in reparations. These, in the bland language of the Armistice, were to be paid in goods valued "at 1938 prices with an increase of 15 percent for industrial equipment and 10 percent for other goods." Our economic specialists pointed out how grossly this method of pricing reparations would increase the burden on the Hungarian economy; but information as to the conversations was not easy for us to come by. Orders had been given by the Soviet Chairman of the Allied Control Commission that communications between the representatives of the western allies and the Hungarian authorities must be channeled through himself.
The question of reparations from the Hungarians to the Soviets bore directly upon the solution of Hungary's "pressing economic problems" and was hence a proper topic for concerted inter-Allied policy. More than that, it bore on the right of the other Allied Powers and their nationals to restitution, as provided in the Armistice agreement. Further, though this agreement defined war booty as "German war material located on Hungarian territory," the rights of the other allies were being visibly jeopardized by the practice of the occupation forces in removing from Hungary as war booty factory equipment, personal possessions, money and securities and other supplies not contemplated in the Armistice agreement. No line of distinction was drawn by the Soviet authorities between removals for reparations and for booty. Removals included American-owned property.
The reparations agreement concluded by the Soviet and Hungarian Governments has never been published, so far as I know. Reference to its existence was made by the Soviet authorities with much fanfare when, later, they announced as an important contribution to Hungarian economic rehabilitation the extension of the term for reparations deliveries from six to eight years.
The problem of the rehabilitation of the Hungarian economy loomed large as soon as the fighting stopped. We urged the Hungarians to lose no time in presenting a plan of national reconstruction, worked out in the light of available resources and of all existing obligations including prewar debts, to the three Allied Powers represented on the Control Commission. No matter, we said, that any such Hungarian plan might not meet the views of the Allies as to what Hungary should do and what the Allies, or any of them, might be willing to do to implement the plan. It would offer a starting point for reasoned consideration of an urgent problem in a rapidly deteriorating situation. The Hungarians explained that they did not dare submit such a plan without the prior approval of the Soviet authorities, and none was officially submitted.
The story is true that two Hungarian Cabinet Ministers signed an economic collaboration agreement with the Soviet Government at Moscow in August 1945 without the sanction of the Prime Minister of Hungary and the Cabinet in Budapest. This agreement was not ratified by the Hungarian Government until the end of December of that year, after assurances were given the United States that American rights under the prewar treaty of commerce with Hungary would be respected. It purported to lay down a five-year program of economic collaboration through the establishment of joint Soviet-Hungarian organizations in the fields of bauxite and aluminum, petroleum, coal, power, chemicals, electrical and agricultural machinery, river, land and air transport, and agricultural science. The agreement was implemented the following spring to the extent of forcing upon the unwilling Hungarians four supplementary agreements for the creation of "joint" companies under Soviet control for Danube shipping, commercial aviation, petroleum and bauxite. At this writing no economic reconstruction has resulted from any of them, and none appears likely.
The American Government's view of the economic collaboration agreement, stated in October 1945, was that it was natural and right that the Soviet Union and Hungary should seek to prepare the way for normal economic intercourse, but that the conclusion of any long-term economic agreements of substantial scope during the Armistice period was a matter of "concern and responsibility for all three signatories" of the Armistice agreement and of the Crimea Declaration. The State Department added that the United States would be glad to discuss a program of economic rehabilitation of Hungary with the Soviet and British Governments.
A series of notes followed. The Hungarian pengö was depreciating and was soon to collapse utterly. Obviously, the Soviet requisitions in the name of reparations and occupation costs were undermining the Hungarian economy, though the Soviet Government could not be persuaded that there was any connection between removals and collapse. In a note to the Soviet Government in July 1946, the American Embassy at Moscow pointed out that half of current manufacturing output in Hungary, then operating at an estimated one-third of prewar capacity, was absorbed by Soviet requirements. In certain industries, including coal, iron and machine production, as much as 80 to 90 percent was absorbed. Up to June 30 of the preceding year, the Soviet forces had taken out of Hungary 4,000,000 tons of wheat, rye, barley and corn; the total prewar production of these grains was something over 7,000,000 tons. Of the foodstuffs available for the urban population in the second half of 1945, the Soviet Army had appropriated nearly all the meat, one-sixth of the wheat and rye, one-quarter of legumes, nearly three-quarters of the lard, a tenth of the vegetable oil, and a fifth of the milk and dairy products. The note added that extensive requisitioning of food was going on as late as April 1946.
It likewise noted that of the total war damage to Hungarian industry, estimated at $345,000,000, more than $124,000,000 was a result of Soviet removals. Answering a Soviet charge that up to $3 billion worth of "displaced" Hungarian property was held in the American-occupied zones of Austria and Germany, our note recalled that, according to Hungarian official statistics, all war damage attributed to the Axis forces amounted to $1.25 billion, and that Hungary's total wealth in 1943 apart from land and buildings was estimated at $4.4 billion. Our Embassy advised the Soviet Government that we were returning to Hungary, in time for the circulation of a new gold-backed currency on August 1, 1946, the principal single item of displaced Hungarian property in the American zone, consisting of about $32,000,000 in monetary gold. Finally, the American note repeated the proposal for a discussion among the Allied Powers of an economic program for Hungary, and reminded the Soviet Government that an attempt by the Hungarian authorities to submit to the Soviet Chairman of the Allied Control Commission a request for the assistance of the three Powers had been summarily rejected in the previous December.
The long correspondence regarding economic rehabilitation ended after nearly a year with an American note to the Soviet Government stating that no useful purpose was served by further assertions and denials, but maintaining that economic assistance was unquestionably needed by Hungary. By this time the Paris Peace Conference had been in session for several months. American representatives at the Conference pointed out in October 1946 that in the year since the Armistice the national income of Hungary had dropped to half the prewar level of $1 billion. (It was estimated at only $620,000,000 for the fiscal year ending July 1947.) The total proportion of the national income then being absorbed by the costs of Soviet occupation, requisitions and reparations was about 35 percent.
The United States proposed a reduction in the amount of reparations, and the American delegation voted against the reparations article in the Hungarian Treaty, "not because the United States [was] against reparations but because of unwillingness in the light of knowledge of the Hungarian situation" to approve the article in its existing form, and "to induce the Conference to recommend further consideration by the Council of Foreign Ministers." When the Foreign Ministers met in the United States toward the end of 1946 the article was left unchanged.
The Soviet purpose in resisting American efforts to submit the question of reconstruction to tripartite consideration, in harmony with the purpose of the Crimea Declaration, was to secure an unhindered grip on the Hungarian economy. A plan of rehabilitation might have hampered this process.
The agreement reached by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945 for the transfer to the Soviet Union of "German assets" in eastern European countries greatly facilitated the process. Since there was no agreed definition of the meaning of the phrase "German assets," the Soviet representatives in Hungary construed it to include business enterprises in any way related to German interests during the war. Subsidiaries in Hungary of American-owned German corporations were claimed as subject to transfer. Soviet economic agents further asserted claim to the accumulated obligations of Hungary to Germany, while disregarding the counter-credits of the Hungarian economy in Germany. The result was to extend Soviet control to every sector of Hungarian industry and finance, beyond the hope of redemption by any reasonable effort or sacrifice on the part of the Hungarians.
III. THE METHOD OF POLITICAL ENCROACHMENT
The method of systematic economic obstruction, with deep infiltration into the Hungarian economy, was accompanied by a positive program of political encroachment. The Soviet Government brought a group of Moscow-trained Communists into Hungary as the Soviet Army advanced. This group was headed by Mathias Rakosi. Rakosi had had an adventurous political career, dating back to the short-lived Communist régime of Béla Kun following the First World War. He often spoke to me with sardonic satisfaction of the opportunities he had enjoyed for profitable study and contemplation during the 16 years he spent in Hungarian jails during the Horthy régime. Possessing exceptional physical sturdiness and mental energy, this Communist leader stood out as a dynamic personality and a skilled politician.
Rakosi told me, in one of our early conversations, that he and his Communist colleagues who had been trained in Moscow had a great advantage over the somewhat nondescript aggregation of non-Communist political leaders in Hungary. He said that he and his associates had been part of the working mechanism of government in the Soviet Union. This, he claimed, gave them an understanding of practical problems of government which other Hungarian leaders emerging on the political scene could not match, and made them the only effective leaders available to the Hungarian people. There was some truth in Rakosi's statement. The Communist leaders were energetic and able men; and it was apparent that they intended to fill the administrative vacuum, with or without the backing of the electorate.
From the time the Soviet Army brought him and his fellow organizers into Hungary in 1944 until the completion of the occupation in the spring of 1945, the Communist Party had concentrated on the relatively easy task of gaining control of the provincial, county and municipal administrations, which had been destroyed by the military catastrophe. Extension of this control had been pushed with energy during the months preceding the establishment of the Provisional Hungarian Government and during the period of confusion which followed its establishment. It proved impossible for the Provisional Government, as it did later for the Republic, to reach an interparty agreement for the holding of elections for provincial and municipal offices that might have broken the Communist hold in the areas of administration outside the municipality of Budapest.
In the summer of 1945 neither the Communist Party nor the other political parties represented in the Provisional Government were unmindful of the electoral procedure which would have to be instituted in order to establish a permanent Hungarian Government. The Communists wished to enact an electoral law and hold a national election during the Armistice régime, under the shield of the occupation forces. The Smallholders wished to postpone it. They were well aware that they would be at a great disadvantage in an election campaign, if their Communist opponents were backed by Soviet money and equipment and troops. The representatives of the western allies were frequently sounded out as to how much help they would provide to the non-Communist political groups. When our invariable reply was that American diplomatic practice excluded the possibility of such interference in the internal political affairs of foreign countries, there was bewilderment at what seemed so unrealistic an attitude compared with that of the Russians.
The electoral law was enacted that summer, providing for a municipal election in Budapest to be followed by a national election. The Budapest election was generally expected to show a strong Leftist majority, the more so as the candidates of the Social Democratic Party were to appear on the same list with those of the Communist Party. It was known that these two parties between them controlled the strong industrial workers' unions in the capital. The joint-list procedure had been advocated by the Soviet authorities on the ground that it would minimize electoral agitation and the risk of disturbing the public peace. But when the municipal election in Budapest took place in October 1945, the voters gave the Smallholders Party a majority in the Municipal Assembly and placed the administration of the capital in its hands.
This was a shock not only to Hungarian Communist leaders but to the Soviet Chairman of the Allied Control Commission. Rakosi was summoned to Moscow and asked for an explanation. What could he have said save contritely to admit his mistaken estimate of the public sentiment? His confidence in the gratitude felt by the population of Budapest to the Soviet Union for the national liberation and to the Communist Party for the improved conditions of daily living had been unwarranted.
Now the Social Democrats declined to set up a joint list of candidates with the Communists -- their last act of independence during the two years of my service in Hungary. All the political parties, however, yielded to the Soviet demand that they promise in advance to set up a coalition government, regardless of the outcome of the election. A joint declaration to that effect was issued.
The general election on November 4, 1945, again belied the confidence of the Communist leaders and of the Soviet representatives. The Smallholders won a decisive majority of the total popular vote, which ran to nearly 5,000,000 out of a population of more than 9,000,000, and thus had a controlling majority of the 400 seats in the Assembly. During the campaign and on polling days, the occupation forces made no use of the cruder methods of intimidation that were later applied in other countries in eastern Europe. This restraint was afterward described with some cynicism as an inadvertence. In any event, the Communist Party thereafter changed its methods. The error of relying on popular approval in a free election was not repeated.
The foresight of the Communists in demanding a preëlection promise of a coalition Cabinet was very useful at this juncture. Though the Smallholders had a clear majority of deputies, they were allotted only half the portfolios, the remaining Ministries being divided equally between the Communists and the Social Democrats (except for one given a representative of the minor Peasants Party). A Smallholder took office as Prime Minister, but the distribution of seats in the Cabinet made impossible a government program based on the principle of majority responsibility. Moreover, after bitter dispute settled only by peremptory Soviet orders, the Smallholders yielded the Ministry of the Interior to the Communist Party. As elsewhere in Soviet-controlled areas, this Ministry in Hungary controls the police agencies, and through them the internal security of the state.
IV. THE HOPES FOR THE REPUBLIC
Almost the first order of business of the new government was to determine the permanent form of the state. A law was enacted at the end of January 1946, abolishing the thousand-year-old monarchy under the historic crown of St. Stephen, and establishing the Hungarian Republic. On February 1, Zoltan Tildy took the oath as President of the Republic in a moving ceremony attended by the foreign representatives in the war-scarred Assembly chamber of the Parliament building in Budapest. It seemed natural to my mind to associate with such an occasion, in that replica of Westminster Palace, the hope that the vicissitudes of the Hungarian people were ending and that destiny was bringing them at last to the haven of law, civil rights and representative government. At that time the Hungarians thought that a treaty of peace, ending the alien occupation of their country, could be concluded before Communist infiltration had become fatal to their national independence.
The new Prime Minister, Ferenc Nagy, was a representative of the Hungarian peasantry, in his person as well as politically. He said repeatedly then, as he did later, that it was necessary to maintain solidarity among his followers until the end of the Armistice régime and at the same time to avoid giving the occupation authorities any cause for intervention outside the scope of the Armistice. It was his hope to preserve the national integrity until the Hungarian people were free to set their own course and to carry out the necessary reforms which their history had thus far rendered abortive.
Rakosi and the Communist leaders were no less aware than the Prime Minister of the issues at stake, and of the importance of the time element in view of the possibility that peace would be concluded soon. Delay in attaining the next stage in the Communist program was too hazardous to be permitted. Obviously, their opponents, representing the bulk of the Hungarian people, would play for time. It was decided, therefore, as shown by the rapid succession of events beginning in March 1946, to hasten the execution of the Communist plan, which involved the fragmentation of the majority party and the consolidation of Communist power in the government.
Rakosi and the members of his staff had at their command an instrument of extra-constitutional power. Either directly or through their Social Democratic allies, they controlled the trade unions in critical areas of national economy. The Communist Party directed the transportation workers and the coal miners. Other sectors of the economy could be paralyzed at the behest of the Social Democratic leader, Szakasits, who had gained ascendancy in a period of confusion at the expense of other party leaders less willing than he to follow the Communist line. Control of the unions and the power to call a strike could be used at any time to bring pressure to bear upon the government. The threat was used when it served the purpose. Rakosi revealed his idea of the meaning of trade unionism when he said to me, at a time of serious labor strife in America, that strikes for the improvement of working conditions or higher wages were not permissible in Hungary; they were a luxury which only the American economy could afford.
The Communist offensive began in March 1946, with the demand for the expulsion from the majority Smallholders Party of some 21 members of the National Assembly led by Deszo Sulyok. It was contended that loyalty to the principles of the Coalition Cabinet made expulsion of the group necessary if the government were to merit Soviet confidence -- and support at the Peace Conference.
The meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers at Paris was to be held in May to begin the drafting of the treaty with Hungary. Intimations reached the Hungarian Government about this time that the Soviet Government might consider not only some alleviations of the economic burden on Hungary but also some concessions in the matter of the Transylvanian border. The latter question had not been considered closed because the Armistice Agreement stipulated the incorporation in Rumania of Transylvania "or the greater part thereof," a phrase which the Hungarians (and the United States) construed as leaving the border issue open. These suggestions played their part in the decision of the Smallholders leaders to sacrifice what seemed a small segment of their parliamentary majority on the altar of appeasement, aware as they were that it was a bad precedent. The fact that no such intentions regarding Transylvania received serious consideration at Moscow became evident at the Paris meeting of the Foreign Ministers, where Secretary Byrnes was unable to achieve any rectification of the Transylvanian border in Hungary's favor. The whole territory remained in Rumanian hands in partial compensation for the loss of eastern Rumanian territories to the Soviet Union.
Within Hungary the campaign to disintegrate the Smallholders' majority was suspended during the weeks spent by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers, including Rakosi, in making a round of state visits to the Allied capitals, beginning with Moscow. The cycle of visits was concluded in June 1946 when the official party returned to Budapest from Washington and London.
The game was resumed at the end of June. On the 28th of that month, the Soviet Acting Chairman of the Control Commission sent the Hungarian Prime Minister a letter charging a large number of religious and social organizations in Hungary with activities directed against the security of the occupation forces, and demanding their dissolution. The demand became public knowledge a few days later, causing consternation especially among the Catholic majority of the nation. The government dissolved the organizations complained of, but the incident provoked a serious rebellion within the ranks of the Smallholders against the Prime Minister's policy of compliance. More deputies were expelled from the party.
In the autumn of 1946, information reached a restricted circle that the Political Police under the direction of the Communist Minister of the Interior were investigating the activity of members of the Smallholders Party, in and out of Parliament. The activity in question consisted of conversations about the political situation that would arise when peace was concluded and the occupation forces withdrawn. The purpose was to consider how the disproportionate influence exerted in internal affairs by the Communists could be eliminated, to clear the way for national reconstruction. It was later revealed that, at moments of peculiar stress and moral anguish over the condition of their country, some Smallholders had talked of the possibility of forming a Hungarian Government-in-Exile. They felt that the policy of appeasement of the Communists followed by the existing government was not approved by the people and jeopardized the future independence of the nation.
These tremors were still subterranean but they were reflected periodically in the expulsion of minor Smallholders deputies from their party and in the elimination of individuals from public activity in the press or in politics. The separate events attracted little popular notice as they occurred, but their accumulation served to maintain an atmosphere of tension, besides hampering constructive undertakings in or out of the government.
Meanwhile, the extension of Communist influence in the government was energetically pressed. By the end of 1946 no Hungarian ministry or government agency was fully responsive to any non-Communist directive without prior approval from Communist authority. That authority was generally known to flow from Rakosi, who was in hourly contact with the Soviet representatives in Budapest and sometimes directly with Moscow. So far as the Foreign Office was concerned, I had occasion personally to observe the visit of the Communist Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs for his morning report to Rakosi, not in a government office where the Communist leader and Deputy Prime Minister, as he then was, might have chosen to receive the American Minister, but in his office at the headquarters of the Communist Party. There the Under-Secretary emphasized his naturally polite manner by standing before Rakosi's desk in an obsequious attitude that struck me as incongruous with the status of the two Communists as party comrades.
V. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE MAJORITY PARTY
A signal for speeding up the Communist action was given by the New York meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, which completed the drafting of the Treaty of Peace in December 1946. The events that followed immediately in Hungary made it clear that, from the Communist standpoint, there was still much to do in carrying their program to the stage it was supposed to reach when the Treaty came into force.
Around New Year's Day 1947, reports circulated in Budapest to the effect that an unusual number of arrests had just been made by the Political Police and further arrests were to be expected. The names of members of the National Assembly and even of Cabinet Ministers were mentioned in this connection. Early in January I made informal inquiries as to the truth of these reports. I was told by the Prime Minister that he was not informed of the extent of the arrests, of the charges against those arrested or of the purpose of the police investigation. He said he had given directions to the Communist Minister of the Interior to submit a full report to him.
An official communiqué of the Interior Ministry soon followed. It announced that the police authorities had uncovered a conspiracy against the Republic; a number of arrests had been made and the investigation was proceeding. Later in January the Minister of Information resigned and was promptly arrested. A number of members of the National Assembly were arrested after that legislative body had authorized the waiver of their Parliamentary immunity. They were members of the Smallholders Party. By the end of January it was known that the name of the Secretary General of the Smallholders Party, Béla Kovacs, a powerful and popular politician, had been connected with the alleged conspiracy. He announced that he was taking a leave of absence from that office but he retained his status as a deputy in Parliament.
These developments sharply revived the concern felt by the rank and file of the Smallholders deputies in Parliament which had previously found expression in near revolts against the party leadership for its apparent failure to stand up to the Communists. The bulk of these deputies from the rural areas of Hungary saw less reason than their leaders for appeasement, or for the view that failure to yield to the Hungarian Communists should be considered tantamount to a challenge of the Soviet authority. They were increasingly sensitive to the expulsion of colleagues from the majority party, and saw little virtue in waiving their immunity as deputies in order to facilitate arrest by the Communist police. It had not been easy for the Prime Minister during the preceding months to keep his Smallholders deputies in line for the policy of conciliation while the majority bloc was being steadily whittled away. The shrewd political sense of the rural deputies and their peasant pride were being stultified.
In February the focus of interest centered on a demand of the Leftist bloc, composed of the Communist and most of the Social Democratic deputies, for the waiver of the immunity of Béla Kovacs. His influence and popularity in the majority party were such as to preclude the Smallholders from permitting him to be arrested by the Political Police. His party colleagues were convinced of the falsity of the charges of subversive activity against him. They were prepared at most to set up a Parliamentary Commission to investigate the charges. The Communist deputies, with the support of the Social Democrats, insisted on his immediate surrender. By the middle of February the continued existence of the Coalition Government itself was threatened.
In pursuance of an earlier request from him for American support I saw the Prime Minister on Washington's Birthday. I was able to convey to him only the assurance that the United States remained disposed to extend economic aid to Hungary, as it had been doing for many months through the granting of credits for the purchase of surplus property and extending other facilities. It was evident, however, that the Prime Minister was less interested at that moment in American economic aid than in knowing what political action the United States would take to prevent the collapse of the Hungarian Government, which he considered imminent. While a reconstruction of the government was possible, he said, by excluding the Leftist bloc or alternatively by the withdrawal of the Smallholders from the Cabinet, the Prime Minister was convinced that in either event the resulting government could not be maintained against the opposition. Hence, it was necessary, in his view, as it had been since the beginning of the occupation, to keep the coalition principle in order to prevent direct intervention by the Soviet representatives in Hungary. He did not know whether he would remain in office another day, as his supporters in the party had taken the bit in their teeth and were determined to make an issue of the Communist offensive culminating in the Kovacs case.
The parliamentary situation had reached this impasse when toward the end of February a short announcement was published in the press to the effect that Kovacs had been arrested by the Soviet authorities for activities against the security of the Soviet Army. The United States Government was impelled at this point to its first public expression regarding the Hungarian political situation. On March 6 the Department of State issued a statement declaring "its feeling of concern at the political crisis . . . precipitated in Hungary." It stated that "the pattern of recent political developments in Hungary appears to threaten the right of the people to live under a Government of their own free choosing, for it involves foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Hungary in support of repeated aggressive attempts by Hungarian minority elements to coerce the popularly elected majority." The statement said that the "Soviet High Command in Hungary has now, by direct intervention, brought the situation to a crisis" by arresting Béla Kovacs; that the "Soviet action has been taken unilaterally without prior discussion with the United States and United Kingdom representatives on the Allied Control Commission;" that the charges against Kovacs were believed unwarranted; and that the United States was requesting a joint investigation by representatives of the three Allied Governments, in coöperation with representatives of the Hungarian Government, to examine the facts of the situation and, at the same time, requesting that the Soviet authorities in Hungary take no further action without consulting the United States and British representatives on the Control Commission.
An active exchange of correspondence then began with a note on March 8 to the American Military Representative on the Control Commission from the Soviet Acting Chairman, followed by communications between the three governments represented on the Commission. In a note of March 17 the United States denounced the one-sided Communist investigation of the alleged plot against the Hungarian Republic, the packing of the court which was to try those accused and, with reference to the arrest of Kovacs, said that his detention by the Soviet authorities had not taken place until the Hungarian Communist Party had "without avail, resorted to numerous stratagems to obtain the waiver of Mr. Kovacs' parliamentary immunity and his arrest by the political police." It seemed "clear to the United States Government that minority groups under the leadership of the Hungarian Communist party are attempting to seize power through resort to extraconstitutional tactics." It was imperative, our Government said, that the powers signatory to the Yalta Declaration investigate political conditions in Hungary. The Soviet contention was rejected that such an investigation would impair the rights of the Hungarian Government or infringe the right of the Soviet occupation authorities to take reasonable measures for the security of the occupation force.
VI. "LET THE SPARROWS TWITTER"
There were significant difficulties in securing publicity for the American and British notes and statements. The difficulties were traceable to the orders of the Soviet authorities who, in each exchange of the controversy, declined to permit publication of the position of the western allies until the Soviet answer could be formulated and made available to the Hungarian press.
The Soviet attitude toward the question of joint responsibility for carrying out the obligations of the three Powers signatory to the Crimea Declaration had been pointedly stated more than a year before by no less an authority than Vishinsky himself, and it was now necessary to accept his statement as authoritative. During his visit to Bucharest in January 1946, in company with Ambassador Harriman and the present Lord Inverchapel, on behalf of the Council of Foreign Ministers and ostensibly to obtain assurance from the Rumanian Government to hold a free election in that country, Vishinsky had been told that the political methods he required the Rumanian authorities to use would not be well received in the United States and in Britain. His comment had been brief. He had said, "Let the sparrows twitter."
During the month of April 1947, it was learned that the Prime Minister had requested the Soviet representatives to turn Kovacs over to the Hungarian authorities for investigation. The Soviet answer was that their investigation was not completed. It had previously been contended by the Soviet representatives that the investigation of the alleged plot against the Hungarian Republic was exclusively in the hands of the Hungarian authorities.
In May the Prime Minister left for a vacation in Switzerland with the understanding among the party leaders that no controversial issues would be brought up during his expected absence of three weeks. In the concluding days of May the Hungarian Government suddenly announced that, according to information transmitted by the Soviet authorities, testimony given by Béla Kovacs to the Soviet investigators incriminated the absent Prime Minister in the alleged conspiracy against the Republic. The announcement added that he had been summoned to return to Budapest at once. When this announcement was issued the Prime Minister had been advised not to return from Switzerland and given to understand that, if he should return, the government would not be answerable for his personal safety. Some days later, while passing through Berne on my way to the United States, I saw the Prime Minister. He confirmed in dramatic detail the course of the intrigue.
With the elimination of Mr. Nagy and the appointment as Prime Minister of a member of the Smallholders Party considered acceptable to the Communists and their Soviet masters, the façade of constitutional legality in Hungary had been preserved, though badly marred, in accord with Soviet Communist practice whenever the end can be achieved by this method. In substance, however, the wheel of Hungary's political destiny had again come full circle. Russian masters had replaced German.
The position is summed up in a concluding note of June 11, 1947, from the American Military Representative on the Control Commission to the Soviet Acting Chairman. After referring to previous American proposals for the establishment of a tripartite commission to investigate the situation created by the arrest of Béla Kovacs and by the large-scale apprehension by the Hungarian police of other representatives of the majority party on charges of conspiracy against the Hungarian state, the American note says that the United States considers that these actions threaten the continuance of democratic processes in Hungary. It points out that the Soviets denied that the arrest of Kovacs by the Soviet occupation authorities was intervention in the internal affairs of Hungary (though they insisted that an investigation of the arrest would be such an interference), and makes plain the stratagem which had been employed to bolster this obvious absurdity: Kovacs had simply been charged with a different offense. The plot for which he was in fact arrested "was the same conspiracy which could not be investigated by three powers but which has in fact been investigated by one and which has led to a most flagrant interference in Hungarian affairs."
The American note continues that "information relating to Hungarian political affairs, alleged to have been elicited from Béla Kovacs during his detention incommunicado by the Soviet occupation forces," was furnished by the Soviet authorities to the Communist Deputy Prime Minister (Rakosi) "in such circumstances as to force the resignation of the Hungarian Prime Minister and other important leaders of the majority Smallholders Party and to bring about the reorganization of the Hungarian Government." Incidentally, as the note says, the American and British members of the Allied Control Commission had been kept in ignorance of information on the subject in clear violation of the Commission's own statutes. The United States noted "that this action has resulted in the realignment of political authority in Hungary so that a minority which obtained 17 percent of popular support in the last free election has nullified the expressed will of the majority of the Hungarian people," a situation apparently admitted by Rakosi who boasted publicly of the latest Communist success. This "unilateral action" is protested by the United States as in violation of the Yalta agreements. The Soviet interference in Hungarian political affairs in derogation of continued exercise of democratic rights in Hungary is also protested. The note concludes by saying that the United States would have to consider such further action as might be appropriate in view of its obligations under the Yalta Declaration, as a signatory of the Hungarian Armistice and as a member of the United Nations.
Developments since last June throw little more light on this case history of postwar imperialism. The Hungarian Government was obliged to decline participation in the Paris Conference which resulted in the plan of European reconstruction. Another national election was held in August 1947. It revealed the complete disintegration of the Smallholders Party, bereft of leadership and split into fragments. Soviet forces will be stationed on Hungarian territory to guard the Soviet line of communications so long as Austria remains under military occupation.
In a study of Danubian economic problems after the First World War, Frederick Hertz made a statement which remains apposite to recent events: "The enhancement of power and prestige, territorial expansion, strategic frontiers, the keeping down of an hereditary enemy -- such aims seemed immensely more important than economic coöperation between nations; and the claim of party or class to power, and to the spoils of power, were more alluring than the aim of coöperation between all sections within a nation." Present Soviet-Communist policy seems calculated deliberately to prevent coöperation between all sections of the Hungarian nation.
The Hungarian people believed that democracy was desirable and that they could attain it. Though somewhat bewildered by the different meanings given the word, their leaders maintained that the people had the right to seek the realization of it in their own way. That one interpretation of democracy should have been used to justify the suppression of majority rule in Hungary carries a lesson which will not be lost on such an intelligent people. More and more repression will be required to sweep the national consciousness clear of the hope of future freedom. As the suppression is intensified, the resistance, open or covert, is likely to grow stronger. If, as some say, the Kremlin's real purpose is merely to make sure of having "friendly" governments on the borders of the Soviet Union, then the practice of Soviet imperialism as exemplified in Hungary is not simply brutal but stupid as well. The record here presented does not suggest that Soviet-Communist methods will call forth the popular support on which governments must depend if they are to endure.