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21: The Peoples of East Central Europe between the Wars

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The liberation of the East Central European nations, which started in the Balkans in the nineteenth century, was not completed before 1918. It was challenged twenty years later. And since in the northern section the defense against Soviet Russia required two more years of hard struggle, while in the south the final peace with Turkey was only signed in 1923, not even a full score of years was granted to these nations to enjoy their independence in undisturbed constructive activities. Furthermore, during the last five years they were exposed to totalitarian pressure from both the west and the east. Without taking all this into consideration, the achievements of the liberated peoples during so short a period of independence are usually underestimated and their almost unavoidable failures and mistakes are overemphasized.

    An additional difficulty which that group of nations had to face resulted from the fact that some of them had been treated in the peace settlement as former enemies so that their basic community of vital interests with the others was hard to realize for either side. Nevertheless, it seems most appropriate to review the internal development of all of them in a strictly geographical order.

    (A) Finland. The Western world showed the most sympathetic understanding to Finland, and it was not only because of the reliability of that country in paying all foreign debts that such a sympathy was well deserved. In the peace treaty with Soviet Russia the Finns received access to the Arctic Ocean at Petsamo but gave up their claims to Eastern Karelia although the promised autonomy of that region had no likelihood of being respected under the Communist regime. After the settlement of a dispute with Sweden over the Aland Islands the following year, Finland concentrated on her internal problems.

    A particularly urgent one was the historic antagonism between the Finnish and the Swedish populations. The Aland Islands were entirely Swedish-speaking, and though the decision of the League of Nations left them to Finland, that country had to grant them an autonomy which proved fully satisfactory. In the main part of the republic the Swedes were a small minority which, however, had occupied in the past, not only in the long centuries of Swedish rule, a position of cultural and economic supremacy which was resented by modern Finnish nationalism. Implementing the constitution of 1919, the language law of 1922 decided that all districts with a linguistic minority of more than 10 per cent would be considered bilingual in administration and education. That fair compromise worked very well. And when, in addition to the University of Helsinki, which now became completely Finnish, two new free universities were founded in the old capital, Abo (Turku), one of them was Swedish. Both ethnic groups shared not only in the cultural but also in the equally remarkable economic and financial progress of the country which, while primarily agricultural, also successfully developed its industries, particularly timber, paper, and pulp.

    Finland’s deep-rooted democracy found expression in a sound constitution which was based upon her traditional institutions. It tried to combine the western European and American systems, and has remained basically unchanged since 1919. The only real difficulty came from a small Communist party which was so obviously under Russian influence that it was twice disbanded, first after the civil war and again in 1923, but only to reappear under other names, winning from eighteen to twenty-three seats in the Diet. When in 1929 the Communist youth movement started a violent propaganda campaign, a rightist reaction appeared among the rural population in the Lapua province. The repressive measures which the Lapua movement wanted to enforce were, however, rejected by the Social Democratic party, and though after the elections of 1930 the right had a small majority in the Diet and its leader, Peter Svinhufvud, was elected president (1931 1937), the Finnish people as a whole remained opposed to violence from either side. An abortive revolt of the Lapua movement ended, therefore, in its disappearance from Finnish politics; Communism, too, once more outlawed in 1930, lost all chances when the economic crisis, affecting Finland in connection with the world depression, was overcome in 1934.

    Trade agreements were concluded with Britain and other western countries. The defense of the country was well insured under the Conscription Act of 1932. In close cooperation with the whole Scandinavian group of northern peoples, Finland enjoyed an undisturbed prosperity until the outbreak of World War II. In the last elections, held in 1939 before the war, the Patriotic People’s party, the only one to show some anti-democratic inclinations, obtained only 4 per cent of the seats in the Diet, where the Socialist Democratic labor party held 42.5 per cent, and the Agrarians or small farmers, cooperating with the former after 1936, held 28 per cent.

    Particularly remarkable was the development of the cooperative movement which by 1939 handled some 30 per cent of the total retail trade and almost one half of the internal grain trade. An agrarian reform which started at the very beginning of Finland’s independence helped the renters of land to become independent landowners, and over a hundred thousand new holdings were established by 1935. The almost four millions of Finnish people were certainly among the happiest in Europe, where their country of more than 132,000 square miles was one of the largest. Though still sparsely populated, it had great possibilities for further progress.

    (B) Estonia. Closest kin of the Finns, the Estonians, living on the other side of the Gulf of Finland, less than 1,200,000 in number, constituted one of the smallest European countries. Estonia is even smaller with its little more than 18,000 square miles than the other two Baltic republics with which it had so much in common. Like Latvia, where the analogies are particularly striking, Estonia really was a new state, but both proved equally successful in that first experience of independent national government.

    Estonia, too, had her minorities problem, almost 10 per cent of the total population being German, Russian, or Jewish. But it was in that country that in 1925 an unusually liberal law of cultural autonomy granted to any minority group of more than 3,000 people the right to set up its own council for educational, cultural, and charitable matters. The Estonian majority, which in the past had never enjoyed full opportunity even in the cultural sphere, rapidly developed its whole intellectual life. The city of Tartu (formerly Dorpat), where the old German-Russian university now became a center of native culture, proved to be equally as important as the capital Tallin (Reval) with its old port. The numerically small but culturally prominent German minority suffered only from a radical land reform which, however, was long overdue, since 58 per cent of the land had been in the hands of landowners, mostly of German origin, whose average holding exceeded 5,300 acres.

    In spite of the difficulties which resulted from the distribution of those large estates to peasant landholders and tenants, and in spite of reduced trade relations with the Russian hinterland, which were replaced by intensified trade with Germany and Britain, Estonia, with her well-balanced budget and careful management was showing persistent progress in agriculture, commerce, and industry, thanks also to her valuable oil shales. A foreign loan authorized by the League of Nations made it possible to stabilize the currency on a sound basis with all terms of the agreement strictly fulfilled.

    The political life of the country started under a constitution of June 15, 1920, as thoroughly democratic and inspired by Western models as in all the other liberated countries. The same critics who blame some of these countries, including Estonia, for having later revised their constitutions in an authoritarian sense have serious doubts whether the Western party system was suited to local conditions. In Estonia, where from the beginning the executive was strengthened by making the prime minister at the same time president of the republic, democracy, based upon a long list of guaranteed rights of all citizens, could have worked very well. But in December, 1924, a small though troublesome Communist group, which was inspired by Moscow, organized an open revolt that had to be suppressed by the army.

    It was under the impression of that danger that a movement for constitutional reform started. A group of ex-servicemen called “liberators” tried to enforce a change in the electoral system, a reduction of the powers of Parliament and an extension of those of the president. After being defeated in two earlier referendums, these rightists won the elections of 1933 and under a new constitution Constantine Päts assumed the presidency. But in March, 1934, Päts himself, alarmed by the extreme trends among the “liberators,” arrested many of their leaders and soon proclaimed a cooperative system with a single government party.

    The reforms of the following years resulted eventually, in 1938, in a constitution which was at least a partial return to democracy, with a bicameral assembly, as approved by the referendum of 1936. The first chamber was to be freely elected, the other nominated by the president, the corporations, and the churches. In April, 1938, Päts was re-elected president by a very large majority, and if more time had been granted to free Estonia, her latest constitutional experiment could have been truly instructive. Even so, when the new world crisis started, conditions seemed fairly settled, with the extremists of both right and left under control.

    (C) Latvia. Similar were the developments in Latvia, from which Estonia was separated by a frontier that strictly followed the ethnographic boundary and was fixed by common agreement. In that southern, somewhat larger republic of 25,409 square miles, the majority of the population of more than a million and a half was of the Baltic race. But in addition to these Latvians, there were about 25 per cent of minorities which, in addition to Germans, Russians, and Jews, as in Estonia, also included White Ruthenian natives and Polish landowners in the province of Letgale, former Polish Livonia. In Latvia, too, the policy toward these minorities was in general tolerant, as also in the religious sphere where the Catholics of that predominantly Lutheran country had their archbishop in Riga.

    That historic capital of Livonia now became a flourishing center of Latvian culture which, like the Estonian, had its first chance for free development. The old Institute of Technology was transformed into a large Latvian university. But the Germans who lost their social predominance through a radical land reform, just as in Estonia, could develop their cultural organizations, including the Herder Institute, which was practically a free university. Through the large attendance at schools of all grades illiteracy was greatly reduced, art and literature were encouraged on the basis of the old interest in native folklore and archaeology, and great efforts were made to promote intellectual relations with the Western countries. The same can be said about the economic development, though Soviet Russia made little use of the privileges granted to her in the great port of Riga. The Latvian merchant marine of some two hundred thousand tons contributed to trade relations with the West, especially Germany and Britain, as in Estonia, to which agricultural as well as the growing industrial products were exported.

    In internal politics Latvia, too, went through a constitutional crisis similar to that in Estonia. The original constitution of 1922 went even further in assuring the supremacy of the legislature. This was a one-chamber parliament (Seima) in which, through a very liberal system of proportional elections, about twenty different parties were represented. Particularly strong was the opposition between the Nationalists, who wanted to check any possible Communist danger in advance, and who were supported by a strong military society of “civil guards,” and the Social Democrats, who had their own armed organization under the name of “Workers  Sporting Club.”

    In order to avoid a violent clash between these two opposed camps, Prime Minister K. Ulmanis, the leader of the Peasant Party, dissolved parliament on May 15, 1934, forbade party activities, and with the support of the civil guards established some kind of dictatorship until in 1936 he was elected president and could proceed to a reform of the constitution. This was completed two years later through a “Law of Defense of the State.” Just as in Estonia, the power of the executive, and especially that of the president, was greatly increased, and in addition to the Seima, a state council, based upon the conception of a corporate state, came into existence. That new body was composed of an economic council, with all professions organized in national chambers similar to the old guilds, and of a cultural council, with special representation for art and literature. Education and cooperative enterprises were to be systematically encouraged. That far-reaching reform had, however, no more time to prove its efficiency or to revive Latvian democracy than did the revised Estonian constitution of the same year.

    (D) Lithuania. There are also some analogies between the two sister republics into which old Livonia was divided and the third of the three Baltic states, Lithuania. This country was somewhat smaller than Latvia, 21,553 square miles, but with a larger population of more than two million. These figures do not include the Wilno region which the Lithuanians continued to claim from Poland, but they do include the territory of Memel (Klaipeda in Lithuanian), the corner of East Prussia which the Versailles Treaty separated from Germany because of the predominantly Lithuanian population of the countryside but did not finally attribute to any other state. Even after the formal recognition of the new Lithuanian Republic by the Allies in January, 1921, that territory, with the city and port of Memel, Lithuania’s only possible outlet to the sea, remained for two more years under Allied control with a French garrison and administration. The Germans of the city wanted the whole region to be made a free state similar to Danzig, but local Lithuanian organizations worked for a union with Lithuania, and with the assistance of volunteers from the neighboring republic, seized the whole area between January 10 and 15, 1923, making it an autonomous unit within the Lithuanian state.

    It was not before the eighth of May of the following year, however, that the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris, after an investigation on the spot by a commission of the League of Nations, finally recognized Lithuania’s sovereignty over the Memel territory and in a special convention guaranteed its local autonomy. The solution was more favorable to Lithuania than was that of the similar Danzig problem to Poland, but even so it resulted in a permanent tension between the Lithuanian authorities and German parties and organizations in the city. After 1933 this tension was encouraged by the Nazi regime in Germany and soon resulted in a conspiracy and the trial of more than a hundred Nazi leaders in 1935.

    The Memel problem, vital for Lithuania’s trade relations, and the unsettled relations with Poland, both of which were to lead to serious crises on the eve of World War II, absorbed the attention of the Lithuanian government throughout the whole period of independence, but nevertheless the constructive achievements of these less than twenty years were as remarkable as in the other Baltic states. In spite of all that Lithuania had in common with both of them, and particularly with the Latvian neighbors of common race and similar language, conditions were different in at least two respects. Geographically, the new Lithuania had no common frontier with the Soviet Union, from which it was separated by Polish territory. Therefore there was less danger of Communist penetration than in Estonia and Latvia. Historically, Lithuania, though limited to her ethnic area, had a medieval tradition of independence in the large and powerful grand duchy, which the other two did not possess. Furthermore, the long centuries of union between that grand duchy and Poland had left lasting traces which were affected but not eliminated by the conflict between the two restored nations.

    Instead of the German minority, so important in Estonia and Latvia but non-existent in Lithuania in spite of her common frontier with Germany, there was a Polish minority of similar importance in the cultural and social field. Exact figures are hardly available, however, since that minority, more numerous than the Russian or Jewish, was mostly composed of Polonized Lithuanians who were not recognized by official statistics as a separate group. Like the German Balts, these Polish or Polonized landowners suffered from the agrarian reform. Eager to eliminate the Polish cultural supremacy of the past, the new Lithuania based her culture on ethnic and linguistic grounds.

    In that respect the independent republic proved eminently successful. In Kaunas, the de facto capital though the constitution continued to claim Vilnius (the Polish Wilno) as the historic capital, an entirely new Lithuanian university was founded at once. This developed into an outstanding cultural center. A number of other educational and scholarly institutions in the same flourishing city and in a few other places were also established. Literature and art, particularly painting and music, were making excellent progress, and a purely Lithuanian culture, prepared by the national revival in the preceding century, was at last definitely created. Equally remarkable was the economic progress which was facilitated by the establishment of the Bank of Lithuania and of a stabilized currency in 1922. Within ten years the volume of production had doubled, and though the country remained predominantly agrarian, there was a promising beginning of industrialization (textiles and timber) and foreign trade increased, particularly with Britain.

    In cultural and economic development Lithuania could well compare with Estonia and Latvia, but the constitutional crisis was even more protracted. When the provisional constitution of October, 1918, was replaced by that of August 6, 1922, no basic changes were made in its strictly democratic character and the supremacy of the parliament (Seimas) was confirmed. There followed the usual controversies among the numerous parties, however, particularly between the nationalist Christian Democrats and the liberal and Socialist Left. In reaction against the liberal policy of Prime Minister Slezevicius, supported by the minorities, and alarmed by Communist propaganda, a group of officers dispersed the Seimas during the night of December 16 17, 1926. There followed the authoritarian regime of Anthony Smetona with increased powers as president of the republic. The dictatorial trend represented by Prime Minister Valdemaras with the aid of the “Iron Wolf” organization lasted, however, only until 1929 when that ambitious politician was finally driven out. But the new constitution of May 15, 1928, which made the president, chosen for a term of seven years by an electoral college, practically independent of the legislature, restricted the number of deputies, and created a state council as advisory organ, remained in force and served as the basis of the final constitution of May 12, 1938.

    Without introducing the idea of the corporate state, as was done in Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania was also looking for some form of government intermediary between the full adoption of Western democracy and a stronger executive authority which seemed badly needed in the difficult conditions of East Central Europe. Therefore it is no wonder that the same issue also appeared simultaneously in the much larger but even more exposed Republic of Poland.

    (E) Poland. Though much smaller than before the partitions, with her 150,000 square miles and a rapidly growing population which in 1939 reached 35 million, the new Poland was not only much larger than the Baltic States but was also in general by far the largest country in the restored East Central European region and the sixth largest state in Europe. It was one of those countries which without being among the great powers can hardly be called a small nation. As in the past, even more significant was her geographical position in the very center of the whole region where she was the only country having a common frontier with both Germany and the Soviet Union.

    In 1918 the liberation found the nation in an extremely difficult situation not only because of the terrible devastation of almost the whole territory during the war but also because the three sections, which from the partitions had been under different foreign rulers and completely separated from one another, had first to be reintegrated. Even in the formerly Russian part, the largest, there was a great difference between the once autonomous largely industrialized Congress kingdom and the fragment of the eastern provinces of the ancient commonwealth which through the Riga Treaty came back to Poland in a very backward condition.

    Although most of these eastern provinces remained outside the new Poland, she included a rather high percentage—more than 31 per cent - of non-Polish minorities. This proved a much more delicate problem than the reunification of Prussian, Austrian, and Russian Poland, which was achieved very rapidly. Among the minorities, the Jews, about 10 per cent, constituted a special question, as in some other countries of East Central Europe. Nowhere were they so numerous as in Poland. Partly religious, partly racial, the Jewish question in Poland was primarily economic because in some professions, especially in commerce, the Jews were of a much higher percentage than in the population at large. Anti-Semitism, which first appeared in the critical years of Poland’s struggle for her frontiers, again increased toward the end of the independence period but never led to any legal discrimination. And since the number of the Lithuanian and Russian minorities was insignificant, the real issues were the German and the Ruthenian problem.

    The German minority, less than one million and smaller than the Polish minority left in Germany and which was mostly scattered in the formerly Prussian section, was a serious danger, being highly developed culturally and economically and strongly influenced in its anti-Polish attitude by the neighboring Reich. The appeasement of that tension after the nonaggression treaty with Hitler proved completely fallacious. Much larger, about 13 per cent of the whole population, was the Ukrainian minority, which along with the White Ruthenians in the northeast (about 5 per cent, including those which at the census designated themselves merely as “local” peoples) inhabited the eastern provinces and in many districts constituted a majority. The Ukrainians were disappointed because not even in Galicia, where their nationalism was most highly developed, did they obtain the expected local autonomy or a university of their own. Especially around 1931 the terrorist action of some of their leaders created troubles which had to be severely repressed. In spite of that situation, which seemed to improve in the following years, the Ukrainians and to a lesser extent the White Ruthenians also shared in the cultural progress which was one of the distinctive features of the restored Polish Republic.

    After a long interruption, Polish culture was again promoted by a national government. While the arts, letters, and sciences had succeeded in developing remarkably even under foreign rule, education now found entirely new possibilities which had been unknown before except in Austrian Galicia. To the two universities which existed there in Cracow and Lwow, were now added the re-Polonized University of Warsaw, soon to become the largest in the country, the reopened University of Wilno, and entirely new ones in Poznan and Lublin (Catholic). A whole Polish school system had to be created in the formerly Prussian and Russian sections, and illiteracy had to be eliminated in the latter. The progress made in that field was extraordinary. So also were some of the achievements in economic life, particularly the creation of a great Polish port in what had been the small fishing village of Gdynia. Such a port was badly needed since that of Danzig proved insufficient and was handicapped by persistent friction with the administration of the Free City. Though Danzig also developed economically much more than before, when it had been one of the secondary ports of Prussia, Gdynia rapidly grew into the largest port of the whole Baltic region. The new Polish merchant fleet appeared on all the seas and also contributed to ever-closer relations with America.

    Poland remained predominantly an agricultural country, the peasants making up 68 per cent of the population. Much attention was therefore given to land reform. The law of 1920, confirmed in 1925, limited the area to be held by any individual landowner to 180 hectares (to 300 in the eastern borderlands). In the application of that law, 734,000 new farms and holdings were created by 1938 so that only one-seventh of all arable land was still left to holders of more than 50 hectares (about 120 acres). Since, however, not even the complete carrying out of that reform could solve the problem of the landless rural population, great effort was made to create jobs and to increase production by the progress of industrialization. On the eve of World War II a central industrial district was being created in what seemed to be the safest part of the country in addition to the industrial centers of Warsaw and Lodz, the mining districts in Upper Silesia, and the oil fields in eastern Galicia. Financially, that whole development had been made possible by the stabilization of the currency in 1924 - 1925 under Prime Minister (and Minister of Finance) Wladyslaw Grabski.

    Grabski’s cabinet was one of the most successful among those which followed one another, in frequent changes, during the first period of Poland’s independence. This era was characterized by the supremacy of the Diet, the bicameral Sejm, and by the limitation of presidential power. For just like the other liberated countries, Poland started with a fully democratic form of government on the French model which was also influenced by her own historic tradition. As soon as peace was secured, these principles, already embodied in the provisional “little” constitution of 1919, were worked out in the constitution of March 17, 1921. In Poland too, however, there appeared a great number of parties which made it difficult to form a stable majority in the Diet. Therefore Pilsudski, made first marshal of Poland after the victory of 1920, first resigned from his position as head of the state in 1922, and later, in May, 1926, decided to interfere with a situation which in his opinion was also to affect the army and the security of the country. He forced the president, Stanislaw Wojciechowski, and the cabinet of the peasant leader, Wincenty Witos, to resign, and until his death on May 12, 1935, he exercised full control of public affairs.

    He had his coup legalized by the Diet, however, refused the presidency, to which at his suggestion Professor Ignacy Moscicki was elected (re-elected for another seven-year term in 1933), and was for most of the time formally in charge of military affairs only. But he insisted upon a constitutional reform which was prepared during the first years of the Pilsudski regime by a moderate group of his partisans and then carried out under strong pressure against the opposition in the Diet. In the absence of that opposition, the draft of the new constitution was approved in the session of January 26, 1934, and formally proclaimed on the twenty-third of April of the following year.

    That second constitution of the new Poland concentrated the supreme power in the hands of the president of the republic who was supposed to coordinate the activities of the various branches of the government, including the legislature. The Diet and the Senate retained their legislative power, the right to control the cabinet and fix the budget, but the president, free to appoint and dismiss the ministers, was also given the right to convoke and dissolve Parliament. As in the past, the Diet was to be elected through universal, secret, equal, and direct suffrage, but an electoral law that supplemented the constitution limited the free selection of candidates and the influence of political parties. The “Non-Partisan Bloc of Cooperation with the Government” (BB), which had an absolute majority in the Diet, was dissolved and a “Camp of National Unity” (OZN) was created. But this failed to coordinate the political life of the country.

    More important was the law which made Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly, Pilsudski’s successor as head of the army, “the second person in the state.” As a matter of fact, neither he nor President Moscicki had any dictatorial ambitions and they were eager to promote the cooperation of all constructive forces in the country. The Communist movement, outlawed as a party, was very weak, and Fascist trends among youth organizations, both of supporters and of opponents of the regime, had very little political influence. But in view of Poland’s increasingly dangerous situation between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, it was of vital and urgent importance to give all democratic parties, both of the nationalist right and of the left peasant parties and Socialist an opportunity to share in the responsibilities of government. The participation in the last prewar elections in 1939 was indeed much larger than in those of 1936, the first under the new constitution, and there was general agreement that at least the unsatisfactory electoral law ought to be revised. A return to a truly democratic form of government, though probably retaining an authority of the president greater than before 1926, was therefore a perspective of the nearest future when the international crisis interrupted free Poland’s normal development.

    (F) Czechoslovakia. Smaller than Poland but with her 54,207 square miles and more than fourteen million people also one of the medium-sized countries, Czechoslovakia was on the one hand a continuation of the once powerful kingdom of Bohemia, and on the other a new creation so far as the union of Czechs and Slovaks in one state was concerned. That union gave to the new republic the control of the whole northern part of the Danubian region and, through the autonomous Carpatho-Ruthenian territory, a common frontier with Rumania. But that same extension created intricate nationalities problems in Czechoslovakia, in addition to those which had existed in the land of the crown of St. Václav from the Middle Ages.

    If Czechs and Slovaks are considered as one nation, then they indeed constituted a majority of two-thirds of the total population. Even so, the percentage of minorities was slightly larger than in Poland, chiefly because of the large number of Germans, almost three million and a half and nearly one-fourth of the total. These lived in compact groups in the Sudetenland along the northern and western frontier, and they were also scattered over most of the country, particularly in the cities. Also considerable was the number of Magyars, more than 720,000, and of Ukrainians, more than 570,000, and quite important was the number of Poles in Silesia though the statistics are very controversial. But the problem of the Germans who for centuries had occupied a leading position was the biggest issue. Their treatment, as well as that of the other minorities, was certainly not so ideal as T. G. Masaryk, the real founder and first president of the republic, wanted it to be. His collaborator and successor, Edward Benes, for many years foreign minister, at the Peace Conference described his country as another Switzerland. Critics pointed out that this successor state of the Habsburg monarchy had inherited all its difficulties and shortcomings in the matter of nationalities. But though the Germans received no territorial autonomy, in general they had little to complain of after the initial troubles of readjustment to an entirely changed situation. Until the interference of Nazi propaganda from Germany, relations were improving to such an extent that German ministers participated in the government.

    Both Czechs and Slovaks were now at last free from foreign rule. But the latter, who were opposed to any unification of the two closely related yet different peoples, hoped that the structure of their common state would be based upon the agreement signed on June 30, 1918, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That agreement promised Slovakia “her own administrative system, her own diet, and her own courts,” with Slovak as the official language. Strictly carried out it would have made the republic a Czecho-Slovak (the hyphen also proved an object of controversy) federation, while in practice, since no Slovak Diet was created, there was only some kind of local self-government for the Slovaks in the state as a whole. But those who had met in Pittsburgh in the presence of Masaryk were Americans of Czech and Slovak descent who could not determine conditions in the liberated European country. The issue was never completely settled because the centralizing practices of the administration were strongly opposed by the Slovak Populist Party led by Father Andrej Hlinka. On the other hand, prominent statesmen of Slovak origin held high positions in the government: for instance, Dr. Milan Hodza who was prime minister during the critical years 1935 - 1938.

    In spite of their serious reasons for dissatisfaction, the Slovaks for the first time enjoyed full freedom of national development. Their capital, Bratislava (the Pozsony of the Hungarian era), where a Slovak university was organized, became a cultural center second only to Prague itself and equal to Moravian Brno where another new university was founded after the liberation. In Prague the German university now occupied a secondary position, the Czech one being considered the real heir of the old foundation of Charles IV. Based upon a solid tradition, cultural progress in all fields was remarkable throughout the whole republic, including regions which, like Carpatho-Ruthenia, required a special effort in view of their backward conditions.

    Much more industrialized than any other country of East Central Europe, Czechoslovakia had a basically sound economy, particularly after the currency reforms which were carefully planned in the years after the depression (1934 - 1936). With her intensive foreign trade she tried to play the role of a bridge between the West and the agricultural countries in the East. And in spite of an agrarian crisis which preceded the general depression, the redistribution of land through an agrarian reform which started right after the liberation proved to be a remarkable achievement from the social point of view. But it was not so much because of her social legislation, a field in which Poland was equally prominent, that Czechoslovakia was always considered a stronghold of democracy in East Central Europe. Decisive in that respect was the fact that during her twenty years of independence she did not make any constitutional changes similar to those which occurred in almost all the other countries of that region except Finland.

    The Czechoslovak constitution, voted by the National Assembly on February 29, 1920, and based upon the principles of the provisional constitution of 1918, was strongly influenced by Masaryk’s devotion to the American ideals of democracy but in its details it came nearer to the French model as in the other countries of East Central Europe. This is particularly evident in the limitation of the power of the president who was elected by both houses of Parliament for a term of seven years. Only two terms were permitted, but an exception was made for Masaryk who served until his resignation in 1935, with Benes as foreign minister during that whole period of seventeen years. Their personal prestige was a safeguard against the rivalries of the political parties which were also very numerous in Czechoslovakia and which benefitted from the principle of proportional representation.

    The Social Democratic Party, which in the first elections of April, 1920, proved to be by far the strongest both among the Czechoslovak and the German parties, lost considerably in the elections of 1925. From that date the Agrarian Party was in the lead under Antonin Svehla who twice served as prime minister. But a majority could never be formed except through the cooperation of a group of parties, therefore the country always had a coalition government with a council of party leaders who tried to agree on a working compromise.

    This system also worked fairly well under the presidency of Benes who had, however, to face much more opposition, particularly among the Slovak Catholics who formed a party, the strongest in Slovakia and separate from the Czech Catholics. Fascist influence which appeared among the Slovak autonomists was quite negligible among the Czechs, only six Fascists being elected in 1935. Much more numerous were the Communists who after splitting off from the Social Democrats in 1921 got forty-one seats in the elections of 1925 and kept thirty in those of 1929 and 1935. The greatest danger came, however, from the German Nazis who in 1935, the last elections in independent Czechoslovakia, appeared as a new party called “Sudeten German.” At once they got 56 per cent of all German votes and forty-four seats in Parliament, while all the other German parties either vanished entirely or became insignificant. The representation of the other national minorities was very small. But the Sudeten movement, under its local “Führer,” Conrad Henlein, which later also attracted what remained of the other German parties, was to prove strong enough to create an internal crisis which served Hitler as a pretext for destroying Czechoslovakia.

    (G) Austria. The origins of German nationalism in Czechoslovakia can be traced back to the Pan-German movement in the former Habsburg monarchy, after the fall of which the Germans of the “Sudetenland” wanted to join the new republic of “German Austria” and with her the German Reich. But this is by no means the only reason for including the new Austria in the survey of East Central European countries. The long and intimate association of the German-speaking part of the monarchy with the other lands of the Danubian region had left deeper traces than Austria’s past participation in the Holy Roman Empire and in the German Confederation up to 1866. And since the peace treaties prohibited any union with the new Germany, continued cooperation with the other successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have been the best solution of the problem of Austria’s survival. That survival of a small country, limited to 32,369 square miles and with a population of six and a half million, a third of which lived in the city of Vienna, was mainly an economic issue. In addition to the former imperial capital, now much too big for the new republic, the country chiefly consisted of Alpine mountain lands cut off from the provinces which in the past had been Austria’s food reservoir and the consumers of her industrial products. Yet the restoration of even the economic unity of the Danubian region proved impossible in the tense conditions of the postwar years. Under the threat of the reparation clauses of the Saint-Germain Treaty, the financial situation of Austria, where inflation was making rapid progress, seemed desperate.

    This was the main cause of the continuing movement in favor of union with Germany, particularly among the Social Democrats whose party was leading in the Weimar Republic and who at the outset were also the strongest party in Austria. But the Christian Social (Catholic) Party succeeded in giving the democratic constitution of October 1, 1920, a federal character, similar to that of the Swiss. This made Vienna, which was dominated by the Socialists, only one of the nine parts of the Bund. In the first elections held under that constitution the Socialists lost their majority. The Catholic Party, though not much stronger, with the small group of German nationalists who were sometimes in a key position, now assumed the direction of Austria’s policy. Their prominent leader, Monsignor Ignaz Seipel, as federal chancellor from 1922, obtained the support of the League of Nations for the financial reform which through foreign loans saved the existence of the new republic and gave it a workable economic basis. Nevertheless he was violently opposed by the Socialists. He resigned in 1924 after being wounded in an attempt on his life. When he returned to power two years later, the political situation was even more critical and soon led to Socialist riots in Vienna in 1927. Seipel s successor, Chancellor Schober, wanted to conclude at least a customs union with Germany in 1930, but the other powers, considering this a first step to political unification, made such a solution impossible. There continued to be an internal struggle between the two leading Austrian parties, each of which had an armed organization at its disposal.

    Under these conditions Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, a Catholic peasant leader who came to power in 1932, the following year decided to dissolve Parliament in which the exactly equal representation of Catholics and Socialists made any decision impossible. With the support of President Miklas he proceeded to a basic constitutional reform. The new Austrian constitution of May 1, 1934, had this in common with all the revised constitutions of the East Central European states, that it strengthened the executive at the expense of the legislature. More than any other constitution, it based the whole structure of the state, and of the various councils which were supposed to replace the former bicameral parliament, on the idea of corporations. Emphasizing the Christian character of the federal state, as the republic was now called, an effort was made to apply the solutions recommended in the papal encyclicals on social matters. And though the German character of the state was also stressed, this was merely a recognition of Austria’s German culture. At the same time, developing the specifically Austrian features of that culture, attempts were made through the creation of a nonpartisan “Fatherland’s Front” to promote some kind of Austrian nationalism that would be clearly distinct from the German.

    Such a reinterpretation of Austria’s historic mission would have facilitated cooperation with the other new states of the Danubian region, relations with which were indeed improving. But internally the Dollfuss administration had to fight on two different fronts. A few months before the proclamation of the new constitution, in February 1934, the chancellor, not without the influence of the Austro-Fascist leader Prince Starhemberg, had crushed through violence what he suspected to be a Socialist conspiracy. Thus the whole Left was alienated at the very moment when the Austrian Nazis, a vociferous minority systematically encouraged by the Hitler regime in Germany intensified their struggle against the new Austria.

    In the revolution which they started in July of the same year, Dollfuss was murdered, but the brief civil war ended in a victory of the government which was supported by a mobilization of Italian forces at the border. The new chancellor, Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg, a distinguished intellectual who was determined to defend Dollfuss’ achievements, had to face even greater difficulties. Serious progress was made in developing Austria as an independent nation, and the economic situation was also improved through the tourist movement which continued to be notable. But without Dollfuss  great popularity, and unable to gain the confidence of the Left for a regime with a distinctly authoritarian character, Schuschnigg remained under the persistent attack of the Nazi partisans. Fully aware that their whole attitude was dictated by Hitler, and unable to get international assistance, the Austrian chancellor, after almost four years of courageous resistance, made a desperate attempt to appease the Führer by a visit to  Berchtesgaden in February, 1938. Their dramatic meeting was to be not only the end of Austria’s independence but also the beginning of a series of events that led directly to World War II.

    German Austria, with its ambiguous character, was indeed the weakest element in the whole structure of East Central Europe between the two wars, although under her Catholic leaders she made a serious effort to integrate herself in the new state system of the Danubian region, breaking with any tradition of nationalistic German imperialism. In spite of ultimate failure, her existence as a small but independent country, ready to make valuable cultural contributions as in her imperial past, proved fully justified. It is highly significant that Austria’s internal problems, particularly in the constitutional field, were so similar to those of the other East Central European peoples. She was also the only defeated country which seemed to become reconciled to the peace settlement after World War I.

    (H) Hungary. Different in that respect was the policy of Austria’s former partner in the Dual Monarchy. And strangely enough, while the Habsburgs, in spite of the genuine sympathy among the Catholics of Austria and their leaders, never had any chance for restoration in the country where their power originated, legitimism seemed so strong in the kingdom of Hungary that the last Habsburg emperor, Charles I, as king of Hungary Charles IV, made two disastrous attempts to regain at least the Hungarian part of his heritage, only to be exiled to Madeira where he died as early as 1921.

    He and his partisans particularly resented the successful resistance of the former Austro-Hungarian admiral, Horthy, who ruled Hungary as regent pending the restoration of royal power. He reached that position, which he was to keep until the last phase of World War II, after the exceptionally painful internal crisis which Hungary alone among all the “new” states had to pass through immediately after World War I. The government of Count Michael Károlyi, the first government of a Hungary at last fully independent again after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian union, opened the door to a Communist revolution which exposed the country to the terror of the dictator Béla Kun and which ended with the humiliating occupation of Budapest by the Rumanians.

    Under the impression of these events, there followed a violent Rightist reaction. After a short democratic interlude, Admiral Horthy, who had led the anti-Communist forces, was on March 1. 1920, made regent for life. His powers were increased in 1933 at the expense of Parliament which, however, never lost its traditional place in the life of the country. But this was no real guaranty of democratic government because the universal suffrage observed in the elections of 1920 (boycotted nevertheless by the Socialists) was replaced in 1922 by a new electoral law which not only reduced and restricted the electorate but in the countryside also returned to the open ballot. Only in the cities did the voting remain secret. This was done through decree of Count Stephen Bethlen who was prime minister from 1921 to 1931. During this period of ten years he restored stability and legality to Hungary, but on a strictly conservative basis, after uniting  the Christian National Party and the small Landowners’ Party into strong government bloc. The latter favored the project of land reform, and as a matter of fact 1,785,000 acres were taken from great landowners and used for the establishment of family dwellings and small holdings.

    Hungary’s frontiers, so drastically changed by the Trianon Treaty, created serious difficulties both in the cultural and in the economic fields. Along with the Magyar minorities in the successor states, Hungary lost important cultural centers, including two universities which had to be transferred to the cities of Pécs and Szeged in what was left of her prewar territory. Even on that reduced territory Hungary had about 10 per cent of minorities, but with the exception of more than half a million Germans, these were rather insignificant groups in what was now definitely a national state. On the contrary, the financial situation was alarming after the loss of the former sources of raw material and the main markets for Hungarian industry. But as in case of Austria, the assistance of the League of Nations, which started in 1923, proved very helpful, and through a loan and reconstruction scheme the inflation was stopped and industrial production was progress during the later twenties.

    However, Hungary too was affected by the following world depression, and since the secret ballot in the cities went against Bethlen in the elections of 1931, he resigned. A year later the war minister, General Julius Gömbös was made prime minister, to remain in office until 1936. The new regime, less aristocratic, favorable to land reform, and even more opposed to Habsburg legitimism than Bethlen had been, was at the same time, however, more authoritarian an openly favored Fascist conceptions. Particularly alarming was the appearance of nationalist groups influenced by German Naziism, which made progress under Gömbös  successors and in 1938 united in the “Arrow Cross” Party. And as in Austria, though opposed to those dangerous extremists of the Right, the government failed to cooperate even with moderate elements of the Left which were divided into the reorganized peasant party of the Small Landowners and the Social Democrats.

    At the last moment before World War II, however, a notable improvement came about in Hungary’s internal situation. The elections of May, 1939, were held under a new electoral law which granted wider franchises and also the secret ballot in the villages. Yet the government obtained a fair majority, although forty-three Nazis appeared in Parliament. The new prime minister, Count Paul Teleki, a distinguished scholar and statesman who had occupied that office for a short time before Bethlen, would have been well qualified to find a solution for the internal crisis if the international crisis which created a particularly hopeless situation for Hungary had not already set in. Hungary’s case is typical of the close connection between the domestic problems of the East Central European nations and foreign politics, and for defeated Hungary it was harder than for any other country to combine her efforts toward reconstruction with a well-balanced conduct of external affairs.

    (I) Rumania. Hungary’s revisionism was chiefly directed against the three victorious states which, in addition to Austria, had gained territorially by the Trianon Treaty. Greatest were the gains of Rumania, and this therefore resulted in a violent antagonism between the two nations which the intricate problem of Transylvania had divided for so many centuries. But the “Greater Rumania” which emerged from World War I, with its area of 122,282 square miles which was more than twice as large as in 1914, and with a population three times larger, of almost eighteen million, also had to face Bulgarian revisionism. Furthermore, it was the only country in the Danubian and Balkan region which had a common frontier with the Soviet Union. This was another source of tension because of the dispute over Bessarabia.

    But also from the internal point of view, the great extension of the prewar kingdom created very serious problems. Unification of old Moldavia and Wallachia with the new acquisitions was no easy task even with regard to the Rumanian population, which, in the former Hungarian and Austrian lands, had a different background and had been from time immemorial under Western influence. All Rumanians were indeed anxious to develop their relations with the West and proud of their Latin origin. But in the part of their country which from the later Middle Ages had been under the impact of the Ottoman Empire, the consequences of that suzerainty could not be completely obliterated in the first decades of full independence. This delicate problem explains various shortcomings of the new Rumania, although between the two world wars much progress was made in the direction of national unity. This was particularly true in the cultural field where the new Rumanian universities of Cluj, the capital of Transylvania, and Cernauti, the capital of the Bucovina, replacing the Hungarian and German institutions of the same cities, closely cooperated with the large University of Bucharest and that of Jassy in Moldavia. The great historian N. lorga, at the same time a leading statesman, was the living symbol of that cultural revival which was uniting all Rumanians.

    Much more intricate was the problem of minorities in the various territories that had been added to Rumania proper. Within its enlarged frontiers, the kingdom, formerly quite homogeneous, included almost 30 per cent (28.1, according to the official statistics) of minorities, divided into many different groups. Some of the groups were rather insignificant, but five of them presented difficult issues. By far the most numerous, and strongest in their opposition, were the Magyars, almost one and a half million, including the Szeklers in the southeastern corner of Transylvania which was now at the very center of the enlarged kingdom. Quite large—half a million—was also the Ukrainian minority along the eastern border, but this group was scarcely attracted by the Soviet Union. The Bulgarians, of whom there were about 350,000 in the mixed Dobrudja region, constituted a rather dangerous irredenta. The Jewish problem was also important, since the Jews numbered almost 5 per cent of the population. Anti-Semitism on cultural and even more so on economic grounds was increasing in connection with the political developments of the later inter-war period.

    In Rumania, the internal policy after World War I also started on an apparently democratic basis. Universal suffrage had already been introduced in 1918, land reform in favor of the numerous peasant population was inaugurated in 1920 - 1921, and the constitution was finally voted in 1923. The general opinion that Rumanian “royal parliamentarism” was particularly inadequate is not without exaggeration, but it is also true that much depended on the personality of the king. In spite of great economic difficulties and serious social tension between the rural and the urban population, conditions were rather satisfactory until the death of King Ferdinand I in 1927. Together with his British-born wife, Queen Mary, he had gained much popularity during and after the war. A few months later, the death of his closest collaborator, Prime Minister Ionel Bratianu, also ended the leading role of the Liberal Party, because in the following year his (Bratianu’s) brother Vintila was replaced by the Transylvanian peasant leader, Juliu Maniu.

    A few years before, his party had been united with the Peasant Party of the prewar kingdom into a National Peasant Party which was an important step toward closer cooperation of the various sections of the country. Although the peasant government did not fulfil the high hopes for a complete solution of the agrarian problem, democratic principles and minority rights were respected and foreign loans eased the economic situation. The change for the worse came not only with the consequences of the world-wide depression, but also with the return of Prince Carol, the exiled son of King Ferdinand, who in 1930 took the place of his own minor son, King Michael. Maniu, who facilitated this return in opposition to the Liberal Party which was hostile to Carol, lost his premiership before the end of the year. King Carol II, as he was called, disregarding his promises, governed for ten years with the ambitious aim of some kind of royal dictatorship.

    In the midst of frequent cabinet crises and the disintegration of both the Peasant and the Liberal parties through court intrigues, there appeared an anti-democratic organization of extreme nationalists, the “Iron Guard.” This group was first encouraged by the authorities, but soon it so alarmed the king himself that after the government defeat in the elections of December, 1937, he first chose as prime minister the leader of another rather small nationalistic group, and then the patriarch of the Rumanian Orthodox Church. In 1938 a plebiscite approved the new constitution which concentrated the power in the hands of the king and limited the role of parliament, which was elected on a corporative basis. Although Carol II thus finally alienated all democratic forces, at the same time he continued to repress the Fascist Iron Guard movement whose leaders were shot in November, 1938, under shocking circumstances. But in spite of a “Front of National Rebirth” organized by the king, the Iron Guard continued its subversive activity. By assassinating another premier, it created general confusion at the very moment when the outbreak of World War II made Rumania fully aware of her exposed situation between Naziism, advancing from the West, and Russian communism. In the Rumanian case as in so many others, the desire to escape from both these dangers explains the desperate attempts to establish a really strong national government even by the most doubtful means.

    (J) Yugoslavia. Less exposed seemed to be the situation of the other state which through the peace settlement after World War I developed from a small Balkan country into a medium-sized power that reached far into the Danubian region. The state, or kingdom - as it later used to be called - of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, officially named Yugoslavia in connection with the basic reforms of 1929, was not as large as the new Rumania but its area of 96,134 square miles, inhabited by more than twelve million people, presented even more serious problems of national unity.

    As in the case of Czechoslovakia, a clear distinction must be made between the question of national minorities, unavoidable in that part of Europe, and the issues raised by the relationship among the leading peoples which had joined one another to create a new common state. The total of real minorities was not particularly high, about 17 per cent, and there was among them such a variety, Magyars, Germans, Albanians, and others, scattered in various frontier regions, that none of these groups was really important. Certainly they were much less important than the Yugoslav minorities left under foreign rule, especially in Italy. But the Yugoslavs themselves consisted of three different peoples which in connection with the disintegration of the Habsburg monarchy decided to realize their old dream of uniting in an independent state of their own, but without all having the same conception of such a Yugoslavia.

    For the Serbs, who by themselves constituted the larger half of all Yugoslavs, that state was to be, as a matter of fact, an enlarged Serbia. It was to have as a nucleus the kingdom which through its efforts and final victory in the Balkan wars and in World War I had made the unification possible, and which at the time of the peace settlement had already annexed Montenegro, the other formerly independent state created by the Serb people. Even there, in spite of the common ethnic and religious background, at least at the beginning, an opposition appeared against such an absorption. Confused, as always, was the situation in Macedonia, officially considered purely Serbian but with an autonomy movement influenced by partisans of Bulgaria. And the Serbs of Bosnia also felt themselves to be different from the others, not only for historical reasons but chiefly because 750,000 among them were Moslems. But the religious difference between the Orthodox majority of the Serbs and the exclusively Catholic Croats had even deeper consequences in spite of their common Christian heritage and almost identical languages. What separated them, however, was not only religion. Nowhere else in East Central Europe did the antagonism between Western and Eastern cultural trends prove stronger, even in the twentieth century. Furthermore, the idea of Croatia’s state rights, preserved through more than eight centuries of union with Hungary, was now an equally effective obstacle to the centralization which the Serbs wanted to enforce.

    If the position of the Slovenes, Catholics of Western culture just like the Croats, is considered, the importance of that last factor becomes apparent. That third and smallest branch of the Yugoslavs, less than one and a half million, which never had formed a separate body politic, resented Serb predominance much less. Furthermore, these two peoples, separated by the Croats, were not immediate neighbors. It was also important that the Slovenes, the least favorably treated of the nationalities of prewar Austria, now for the first time enjoyed full opportunity for cultural development, with their national university at last founded in Ljubljana. The Croats, who even under Hungarian supremacy had had their university and national academy in Zagreb, had nothing to gain in that respect. The cultural progress of all Serb populations which were formerly separated by political boundaries was of course greatly accelerated in the enlarged state. A university, though incomplete, was founded even in Skoplje, the capital of backward Macedonia.

    From the economic point of view it was also Serbia which gained most, because after being refused any access to the sea for such a long time, she could now take advantage of the ports of the Dalmatian coast. The fact that one of them, Zadar (Zara), had been given to Italy at the peace table, and the fact that the even more important Croatian port of Rjeka (Fiume) was finally annexed by that power after years of irritating controversy, indeed affected but did not basically change the possibilities of new development which opened before the whole country. And since Serbs and Slovenes were both peasant peoples, while in Croatia the peasants, organized in a strong party, were now after a rather drastic land reform the main representation of the national movement, there was in the tripartite kingdom less social tension than in most of the other countries of East Central Europe.

    The Karageorgevich dynasty, also of native peasant stock, was supposed to be a unifying force. But it was indeed much more popular in Serbia, where the family originated and which old King Peter I and his son Alexander, who succeeded him in 1921, had so bravely defended during the war. The real difficulties set in, however, when after a provisional administration in which Croat and Sloven leaders held key positions alongside Serb statesmen, a constituent assembly was elected in 1921. The fifty-four Communists, who won seats in connection with the postwar depression, were deprived of their mandates after the assassination of the minister of the interior by a Communist. The whole party, which was declared illegal, soon lost any influence it may have had. But there was a dangerous antagonism between Serb centralism, represented by the Radical Party under Nicholas Pashich, and the federalist trend, defended by the Croatian Peasant Party which got an overwhelming majority in Croatia - and was ably directed by Stephen Radich. Under the influence of the former, the Constitution of St. Vitus Day (Vidovdan) established a centralized administration, which was therefore opposed by the Croats from the outset, notwithstanding the democratic freedoms and the proportional representation in parliament which as elsewhere favored. the coexistence of numerous parties.

    The situation became critical when Radich, once in prison, once in the government, allied in 1927 with federalist elements among the Serbs, was shot with two of his followers by a deputy from Montenegro when speaking in Parliament on June 20, 1928. When the new leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, Dr. Vladko Machek, requested the division of the country into federal units with full self-government, the king reacted by establishing his own dictatorship on January 9, 1929. He hoped to save the unity of the kingdom by a centralism that would no longer be Serb but truly Yugoslav. It was then that the state was officially called “Yugoslavia,” with a division into nine provinces (banovinas) under royal governors, which corresponded to geographical rather than to historic or ethnic units. The new constitution of 1931 seemed to be a return to democracy, but the system of elections greatly reduced the role of all opposition parties.

    When Alexander I was assassinated in Marseilles on October 9, 1934, his brother, Prince Paul, became chief regent because of the young age of his son, Peter II. There was no change in the system of government, though there was less systematic leadership. The antagonism between Serbs and Croats seemed to continue indefinitely, and Machek was twice arrested. But the elections of 1938, where the Croats and the Serb opposition jointly got a majority, forced the new prime minister, D. Cvetkovich, to enter into negotiations with Dr. Machek. In spite of great difficulties from both sides, this resulted in the agreement (sporazum) of August 26, 1939, which created an autonomous Croatia, comprising more than one-fourth of the whole kingdom, a first step in the direction of federalization and also of really restoring democratic freedoms with secret ballot and free party activities. Dr. Machek entered the government as vice-premier, and Yugoslavia seemed to have solved her main problems at last, when only a few days later the outbreak of World War II created entirely new dangers.

    (K) Bulgaria. Strictly speaking, the unity of all Yugoslavs, that is Southern Slavs, also ought to include the Bulgarians. But after the Second Balkan War and because of Bulgaria’s position in World War I, the antagonism between Serbs and Bulgarians was deeper than ever. Bulgaria, one of the defeated countries, was in an entirely different situation. Reduced to less than 40,000 square miles and to a population of about six million which included almost no minorities except about 800,000 Moslems, most of them of Turkish race, Bulgaria had no problems of unification to face, being rather absorbed by her revisionistic tendencies. The social structure of that predominantly peasant nation was also quite homogeneous so that the main difficulty of its internal life resulted from the readjustment after two successive defeats and from the tension between revolutionary nationalism, inspired by the Macedonians who were particularly opposed to the peace settlement, and those who wanted to make a serious effort at reconstruction.

    The start seemed rather favorable. Young King Boris III, who immediately after the armistice succeeded his badly discredited father, Ferdinand, who was forced to abdicate, did his best to promote a truly democratic government in agreement with the real interests of the country. In the elections of August, 1919, the Agrarian Party received such a huge majority that its leader, Alexander Stambolisky, a violent opponent of the wartime regime, could rule as prime minister for almost four years. His policy was so exclusively in favor of the peasant class, however, both in internal and foreign affairs where he planned the cooperation of Eastern European countries governed by peasant parties, that his persistent struggle with the opposition ended on June 9, 1923, with his assassination by a Macedonian revolutionary.

    There followed a reaction which failed to put an end to political murders and Communist plots. The crisis reached its climax in April, 1925, when after several attempts on the king’s life, a bomb exploded at the funeral of an assassinated general in the Cathedral of Sofia, killing and wounding several hundred people. The Communist Party was now outlawed, but there remained the endless troubles created by the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and its nationalist sympathizers in Bulgaria. These persisted until in an effort to improve relations with the neighbors and to restore order in the country, military leaders and a new political group which tried to unite urban and rural elements succeeded in establishing a barely disguised dictatorship under Prime Minister Georgiev in May, 1934.

    It was the king who tried to return to parliamentary government after replacing the military by civilian leaders. He issued a new electoral law which was supposed to eliminate the influence of the rivaling parties but which made possible the representation of the opposition. Parliament met again in 1938, though as a merely consultative body. Another coup prepared by the Macedonian terrorists failed, and the few Communist members were expelled from Parliament, so that on the eve of World War II there was an apparent stabilization in Bulgaria under a regime which tried to curb all extremists.

    If, nevertheless, the situation was worse in Bulgaria than in almost all the other countries of East Central Europe, it was to a large extent the consequence of a foreign policy which had left her isolated in the Balkans. In spite of efforts at reconciliation with Yugoslavia and at developing the nation culturally and economically, Bulgaria had not yet succeeded in a complete reorientation of her external and internal politics when a new European crisis once more confronted her with a hard decision.

    (L) Albania. The position of Albania, the smallest and least developed Balkan nation, was also unusually difficult. She had been restored after World War I in boundaries that were established after long troubles, which left her a territory of little more than 10,000 square miles and a population of less than one million. Even so, there was among the Albanians an entirely isolated racial and linguistic group, a great religious diversity which included both Orthodox and Catholic Christians and Moslems.

    It was a Moslem leader who in that country, proud of a long tradition of fighting the Turks, played the most important role after the meeting of the National Assembly at the end of 1918 and the withdrawal of the Italian occupation forces in August, 1920. Ahmed Bey Zogu was first minister of the interior, then, in 1922, prime minister. Though expelled two years later when an Orthodox bishop, Fan Noli, exercised a decisive influence, he returned at Christmas, 1924, and one month later was elected president of the republic. He was, however, convinced that Albania was hardly prepared for a democratic form of government, and on September 1, 1928, was proclaimed King Zogu I.

    The services which he rendered to his country were very real and under his leadership much progress was achieved. Albania was pacified and modernized, not only in the material field, by improving communications, developing the cities—the capital, Tirana, and the ports of Valona and Durazzo - and creating an important oil industry, but also by a codification of law in a progressive spirit and by educational and literary activities which contributed to the rise of national consciousness. Occasional uprisings of an undisciplined population which objected to some badly needed reforms had to be crushed, but gradually the opposition was reduced and conditions seemed to stabilize.

    There remained, however, the danger of Italian influence which the king first hoped to use in order to get much needed financial assistance. In the treaty of 1926 he even admitted Italy’s right to intervene in Albanian affairs if requested. Later, Zogu tried to check that interference, rejecting the project of a customs union and closing Italian schools. A compromise seemed to be possible in the later thirties. In 1938 the king married a Hungarian lady whose mother was an American, and an heir was born to him. But the next year, in the midst of rather promising developments, Albania quite unexpectedly became one of the first victims of unprovoked aggression which reintroduced foreign rule into the Balkans and at the same time made her a threat to her Greek neighbor.

    (M) Greece. In spite of her undecided attitude which continued almost to the end of World War I, and thanks to the skill of the liberal leader Eleutherios Venizelos who represented her at the Peace Conference, Greece was treated as an allied power and greatly enlarged by the Sèvres Treaty. But in order to secure all her gains, Greece had to enter another war against the new Turkey of Mustafa Kemal, which ended in her defeat and in the disappointments of the Treaty of Lausanne. Even when peace was at last restored, almost five years later than in the West, exhausted Greece had to face the tremendous problem of an exchange of population. As a matter of fact, this mitigated the strained relations with Turkey, but mainly at the expense of the Greeks who had to resettle about 1,400,000 refugees. The dream of imperial expansion in the direction of Constantinople and Asia Minor came to an end, and Greece’s position was so weakened even in the Aegean Sea that Italy could refuse the promised cession of the Dodecanese Islands. Far from restoring the power of Byzantium, the new Greece remained one of the smaller Balkan states with less than 50,000 square miles and a population of around seven million.

    Furthermore, after the war an internal conflict remained between the Liberals, who favored a republican form of government, and the Royalists, who in 1920 restored King Constantine to power. He had been expelled by the Allies during World War I and in spite of his failure in the war with Turkey and his abdication in 1922, the Royalists gave him his son George II as successor. But early the following year the young king had to leave Greece, where a republic was proclaimed in March, 1924. A new constitution, drafted after the French model, which left to the president much less power than was formerly held by the king, was ratified in 1927. The twelve years of republican government were not unsuccessful. The big refugee problem was largely solved, economic conditions were improved with the assistance of Greek immigrants in the United States, industrialization and irrigation works made progress, and intellectual life flourished both in Athens and in the new university center at Salonika.

    As elsewhere, the main trouble was political rivalry between the parties, especially the Liberals and the Populists, as the Royalists were now called. The latter were so strong that the republicans themselves occasionally had to resort to dictatorial methods against the coalition of their opponents led by Panagis Tsaldaris. In such a situation even the small and insignificant Communist Party could play a dangerous part. When the Populists received a majority in the elections of 1933, and the Liberals reacted by staging another military revolt, a plebiscite decided for a restoration of the monarchy and George II returned in 1935.

    In spite of a general trend toward reconciliation and the king’s desire to maintain a parliamentary government, the equal strength of the two main parties, with fifteen Communists keeping the balance in a house of three hundred, led to the appointment in 1936 of a nonparty government under General Joannes Metaxas who suspended the constitution and dissolved Parliament. Even his dictatorial regime, with which the king identified himself, was not without constructive achievements. Taking advantage of the general improvement of the economic situation, both agricultural and industrial production were increased, foreign trade was developed, and a program of social reforms inaugurated. But lacking popular support, Metaxas had to disregard the proud tradition of Greek democracy and meet with at least passive opposition, particularly among the intellectuals. Therefore Greece, too, was in a difficult internal situation when the growing external danger required the unity of all national forces.

    The mere fact that in spite of these internal divisions Greek resistance proved particularly heroic - though practically hopeless - when her freedom and independence were challenged, is an eloquent answer to all exaggerated criticisms which are being made with regard to the general records not only of Greece but also of all the countries of East Central Europe in the period between the two world wars.

    The analogies in the records of these countries, so different in many respects, are indeed striking. In all of them, including the smallest and weakest and even those who suffered from recent defeats, truly astonishing progress was made in the economic and, what is frequently entirely overlooked, in the cultural field. Even quite recently liberated nationalities, which never before had been fully independent and self-governing, developed very rapidly and under the most difficult circumstances into real nations, thus giving ample evidence that for them, too, independence was the normal condition of life. In spite of the controversies between some of the new or enlarged and reorganized states, which were almost unavoidable in view of the involved frontier problems, in the whole period when they were left alone by the big powers there was not a single war in the whole region and the individual nations were busy with their internal problems, with social and constitutional reforms.

    Social reforms were progressing everywhere in the right direction. If their goal was fully achieved in exceptional cases only, and if improvement was seemingly too slow in many cases, the shortness of time must be taken into consideration in order to evaluate the results of such a promising evolution, which in any case was much more desirable than violent revolutionary upheavals. In that field as in all others, the greatest difficulty came from the constitutional crises which developed almost simultaneously in practically all East Central European countries and which are usually pointed to as evidence of their failure in establishing truly democratic forms of government. In that respect the analogies in their parallel development are indeed highly significant.

    Immediately after the peace settlement, all countries of East Central Europe wanted to start their restored or reorganized life on a democratic basis, following the pattern of Western Europe, particularly of the French Republic. Such a desire was natural not only as a reaction against the forms of government which had been forced upon most of them in the preceding period of history but also as a return to the earlier democratic traditions of many of them and as the best possible way of joining what seemed to be the general trend in the postwar world.

    This being so, it is of course legitimate to ask why, with only two exceptions, these same nations found it necessary to change their constitutions after a few years and to look for forms of government characterized by a strong executive, sometimes definitely authoritarian, influenced by the conception of the corporate state, although in no case really Fascist in the usual sense.

    It is misleading to say that democracy did not work in East Central Europe. In addition to the old parliamentary tradition of some countries in that region, the achievements of the democratic regimes in the first years after the war would contradict such an interpretation. It is also inaccurate to consider the turn of the following years as something exceptional which happened only in the East Central European countries. On the contrary, it was precisely the constitutional development in neighboring states which influenced them decisively. That happened, not because of any appeal which the totalitarian regimes, apparently so successful in other parts of Europe, could possibly have among the freedom-loving peoples which found themselves surrounded by communism, fascism, and Naziism, but because of the danger threatening them in their exposed geographical positions, a danger so often experienced in the past in the time of despotic, aggressive empires which preceded the contemporary totalitarian systems. It proved an illusion that a form of government intermediary between those systems and plain democracy would be a guaranty of security. But it is difficult to blame the statesmen who tried such a solution for having been alarmed by shortcomings of the democratic system which raised similar apprehensions even in safer parts of the world.

    It certainly was a mistake to choose at the beginning what seemed to be the most liberal and progressive among the various forms of democratic government, with presidential power extremely limited and intricate proportional systems of elections. When extremists from either Right or Left tried to take advantage of such situations, a limitation of democracy would seem to be the only chance for saving its basic elements from completely anti-democratic pressures. But it is remarkable that there usually followed a trend toward gradually restoring the curtailed democratic freedoms, a trend which, however, was drastically interrupted by the totalitarian aggression which it was impossible to avoid.

    That this really was impossible is evidenced by the two countries of East Central Europe which are rightly praised for never changing their democratic institutions and yet were among the first to be attacked: Czechoslovakia by Naziism, Finland by communism. Neither in their case nor in the others where democracy went through more or less acute crises in the brief independence period can the general record of that period be questioned merely because all these countries, whatever their constitutional development had been, were not strong enough to defend their freedom against overwhelming forces. What all of them needed for continuing their peaceful activities was a more favorable international situation which their foreign policy tried in vain to improve, frequently in joint efforts which are therefore best examined from a general point of view. But before doing so, the entirely different position of two more individual nations must be explained.


In contradistinction to the thirteen free and independent countries which freely developed between Sweden, Germany, and Italy on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other hand, two nations of the same region, which also hoped to gain their independence as democratic national states, were included in the U.S.S.R. and again placed under Russian supremacy. These were the Ukrainians and the White Ruthenians or Byelorussians.

    Parts of both nations were included in the frontiers of Poland, some of the Ukrainians in Czechoslovakia and Rumania also, and a few of the White Ruthenians in Latvia. But after the final peace settlement the great majority of both found themselves in Soviet republics which at first were supposed to be independent but under Communist regimes strictly controlled by Moscow. This control was easy to establish in the comparatively small Byelorussian Republic where national consciousness was less developed and where, after the overthrow of a short-lived democratic government, a local Soviet regime had already been proclaimed on February 10, 1919. This regime at once declared in favor of federation with Russia and less than one year later, on January 16, 1920, it concluded a close military and economic alliance with Moscow. But in the much larger Ukraine too, the Ukrainian Communist Party, under leaders such as Manuilsky and Rakovsky who were not Ukrainians at all, completely subordinated the “independent” republic, whose first capital was Kharkov, near the Russian border, to Soviet Russia. On December 28, 1920, during the peace negotiations with Poland in Riga, a treaty of alliance was signed between the Ukrainian and the Russian Soviet republics. This treaty provided for joint People’s Commissariats within the framework of the Russian government which was now enlarged by the inclusion of Ukrainian representatives.

    After the Peace of Riga the idea of a real federal union of all Soviet republics, already prepared on June 1, 1919, by the establishment of a preparatory commission, made rapid progress under Russian pressure and in connection with the almost complete exhaustion of the Ukraine by war, revolution, drought, and typhus. The R.S.F.S.R. (Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic), overwhelmingly larger in area and population than all the other Communist republics including those in Transcaucasia and Central Asia, was of course the nucleus of the union. It was to this government that more and more power was gradually transferred by the allied republics, including the right to represent them in foreign relations, as happened in the Ukraine at the Genoa Conference in April, 1922. Finally, on the thirtieth of December of that same year, a “treaty of amalgamation” united the R.S.F.S.R., the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the Transcaucasian Soviet Federation (already established on March 12, 1922, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) “into a single federal state.”

    As first conceived and ratified in 1923, the union was so strongly centralized that in the final text of the first constitution of the U.S.S.R., of January 30, 1924, some apparent concessions had to be made to the susceptibilities of the non-Russian nationalities. The “right of secession” granted to all union republics in Article 4 was, however, a mere fiction, subordinated to the right of the working class to consolidate its power. And though the sovereignty of the individual republics was restricted by Article 3, “only in respect of matters referred to the competence of the Union,” the constitution transferred so much real power to the central “All Union Commissariats” in Moscow that very little was left to the local administration. In addition to the Soviet of the union, in which delegates of the Russian Republic had of course a tremendous majority, the Soviet of Nationalities was established as a second chamber. There the union republics, and even the autonomous units within these republics (mainly within the R.S.F.S.R.), had equal representation but that chamber had to deal chiefly with the settlement of nationalities problems.

    As to these problems, the basic principle, repeatedly stressed by Lenin and Stalin (the official specialist in that matter) was freedom in form but identity in content, a formula which recognized the right of each nationality to the use of its language and its folk customs, but on condition that the whole political, economic, and cultural development of all of them would strictly follow the Communist pattern. And since it was the Communist Party, one for the whole union and dominated by the Russian majority, which really governed the federation, any constitutional guaranties based on a division of power between the union and the individual republics was to remain merely formal.

    The predominance of the R.S.F.S.R. remained overwhelming even after the creation of additional union republics in Central Asia. One of these, the Kazakh S.S.R. which was established in 1936, received a territory of more than one million square miles but which was very sparsely populated (about six million inhabitants). The two Soviet republics at the western border of the union were the largest in population, but even the Ukraine with its thirty-five million people was in that respect only one-third of the Russian republic. Its area, although consisting of almost 200,000 square miles was insignificant in comparison with the six and a half million square miles of Russia. Furthermore, there was a considerable Russian minority among the inhabitants of the Ukrainian Republic.

    Yet it was Ukrainian nationalism which constituted the most serious difficulty for the nationalities policy of the Soviet Union, and it was in the Ukraine that this policy showed the most amazing fluctuations. During the first years of the Communist regime, Ukrainian language and culture were officially promoted. Kiev, again made the capital of the republic, developed into an important intellectual center with its Ukrainian academy and university. But when, in spite of these formal concessions, communism did not make sufficient progress, as an antithesis there came a policy of standardization and unification under Moscow which was even more ruthless than that under the czars. The first Five Year Plan, which was set afoot in 1928, was an opportunity to bring to the old and new industrial centers of the Ukraine a large number of workers from Russia. Russian was re introduced as a second language in all schools, and repressions were organized against both intellectual leaders accused of reactionary nationalism and peasants opposed to the collectivization of agriculture.

    Arrests, trials, and deportations, including that of old Professor Michael Hrushevsky who died in exile a broken man, were disorganizing the national life of the Ukrainian people, while the so-called political famine of 1932 - 1933 threatened its very existence. It is impossible to strictly evaluate the number of those who, in addition to the millions transferred to remote areas of the Soviet Union, died of starvation because of the economic policy of the government which tried to conceal that artificial famine from the outside world and did not permit any foreign relief action. The victims were replaced by non-Ukrainians, mostly Russians, who to a large extent changed the national structure of the republic.

    No such violent measures were needed in the much smaller Byelorussian S.S.R., with only about 60,000 square miles and eight million people. Here, too, native language and culture were encouraged, at least at the outset, and an intellectual center was created in the capital, Minsk, with its Byelorussian university. But since national consciousness was less developed here than in the Ukraine, and since organized resistance against communism was even more difficult, the essence of that new, formally Byelorussian culture could be decisively influenced by Moscow. Like the Ukrainians, the White Ruthenians also had less real liberty in their Soviet republics than in neighboring Poland where even as minorities they could organize politically without any imposed ideology.

    In the Soviet Union the trend toward centralization, growing in connection with the progress of economic planning, was evidenced in the new constitution of 1936 through a novel distribution of power which transferred even more matters to the Union Commissariats or placed local activities under federal direction. It was no real compensation that a change in the composition of the Soviet of Nationalities deprived the R.S F.S.R. of its majority in that body, whose role became more and more reduced to that of a platform of discussion for the non-Russian nationalities. Even that change favored the non-Slavic peoples rather than the Ukrainians and White Ruthenians. These in general, despite their comparatively large number and higher level of development, were regarded as only two of the countless ethnic groups (sometimes figures of about 180 are given) which are officially distinguished in what is really a new Russian Empire with a Communist regime. The protection of all their Union Republics, Autonomous Republics, Regions, and Districts by the 1936 constitution is a fiction similar to that which gave to some articles of that constitution appearances of a return to democracy, while the purges which started about the same time made Stalin’s dictatorship even more absolute.

    Under that dictatorship and under a new system of Russification, more efficient and more subtle than the czar’s, the Ukrainians and White Ruthenians, tied up with all the nationalities of the Eurasian subcontinent, were cut off from East Central Europe and from the Western community of nations. Left within the boundaries of the U.S.S.R., they were, in spite of their situation at the western fringe of the Soviet Union, practically forgotten by the Western world which continued to call the whole federation Russia as in the past. East Central Europe was once more reduced to the territories which Russia had not succeeded in attaching to her empire or to its new ideology.

    No more than the federal conceptions of the Pan-Slavists did the new Soviet federalism guarantee to the non-Russians of that empire a normal, free development which in Stalinist terminology was called national mysticism.

    That terminology, however, did not fail to produce a certain impression in the Western world which was left under the illusion that the Soviet Union alone had solved the problem of the coexistence of numerous racial and linguistic groups in one body politic and had created an unusually successful form of federalism. In both respects the Russian-controlled, Communist Eastern Europe seemed to be in advance of East Central Europe, where in spite of a large-scale application of self-determination, each of the “new” independent nation-states had its own more or less acute minorities problems and where no federalism facilitated economic cooperation at least. It is therefore. important to remember that the free nations of East Central Europe, as members of the League of Nations which the U.S.S.R. violently opposed for many years and joined only in 1934, had opportunities for solving their difficulties and especially for entering into regional agreements. Again only lack of time and totalitarian pressure from both sides prevented these prospects from developing fully.

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