Courtesy Reuters

Eastern Europe: Vassal or Free?

IN a celebrated article in The New Europe in 1917 Masaryk called the broad belt of Europe stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic "the zone of the small peoples." Today that zone contains no less than 14 separate nations -- Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Jugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Turkey. It is enough to recall how and where the World War began to realize what a direct bearing the situation of those peoples must always have on the question of European war or European peace. Today it holds the key also to the question: Are Britain and France to remain Great Powers?

The reason this part of Europe is so split up, so atomized, is not purely or even mainly ethnological. Here in the East the dominant empires did not fulfill the task of unification which France, England and Spain accomplished in the West. The German Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns, the Romanovs and the Turkish Sultans stirred up the diverse ethnic groups under their rule, used them against each other, and took away from them whatever independent governmental and political structures they had previously developed. At the same time -- either because they did not wish to or did not know how to -- they failed to make the concessions which might gradually have led their subject peoples to forget their individualism, their particularism. Bohemia and Poland are cases in point. One finally lost its independence in the seventeenth century, the other in the eighteenth. From then on, their German and Russian rulers were free to do what they liked, even to send in German and Russian colonists. Yet when the World War broke out the souls of the Bohemian and Polish nations were found to be not merely intact but in some respects even more vigorous than ever.

Will Germany be able to do in the twentieth century what she failed to do in preceding centuries? That question is now to be settled. Drang nach Osten is really to be resumed and pressed regardless of consequences, then I fear Europe is condemned to know again the horrors of war. For in spite of the weaknesses shown by so many French and British ministries, in spite of fluctuations in the public opinion on which they depend, it seems doubtful whether the French and British Governments will in the last analysis resign themselves to giving Germany a really free hand in Central and Eastern Europe. To do so would be to turn over to her such a preponderance of resources that in the end France and Britain would themselves become her victims. I do not predict whether they will be farsighted and determined enough to resist this development effectively. I merely say that if they do not they will cease to exist as Great Powers.

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