What’s in a Word ? Trianon
Editor’s note: June 4th has a different significance now as compared to previous years. On May 13th, the Romanian Parliament adopted a Social Democratic Party (PSD) -supported bill establishing June 4th as the „Treaty of Trianon Day”. So, it will be an official day for Romania. But the bill, while adopted, has yet to be approved by President Klaus Iohannis. Time is short until the Treaty of Trianon Day and it is not yet clear if it will be marked according to law.
- For the purpose of marking the Treaty of Trianon Day, cultural, educational and scientific events acknowledging the significance and importance of the Treaty of Trianon are organised nationally and locally.
- The Government and central and local public administration authorities will act so that on this day the flag of Romania be displayed according to the provisions of Law no. 75/1994 on ue of state symbols
On the other hand, it is the first time authorities in Bucharest and Budapest are openly acknowledging that the moment has different connotations for the two countries. While it is a day of national mourning for Hungary, as the country lost two thirds of its territory in wake of the treaty, for Romania it is a joyous moment as the 1920 act recognized the 1918 union of Transylvania with Romania.
The Hungarian position was clearly voiced during a visit paid to Bucharest by Hungarian Foreign minister Szijjártó Péter: for his country, he said, Trianon was an upsetting moment as Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, but it should not influence bilateral relations.
But what do facts say? What happened 100 years ago? Reputed British historian Dennis Deletant has shared with G4Media.ro the text of a presentation he has delivered at the Georgetown University in Washington DC.
Note: Dennis Deletant is Ion Ratiu Visiting Professor of Romanian Studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC/ Emeritus Professor, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London.
Nothing is guaranteed to charge Romanian and Hungarian emotions more startlingly than The Treaty of Peace Between the Allied and Associated Powers and Hungary And Protocol and Declaration, signed on 4 June 1920 at the Grand Trianon Palace at Versailles.i The Treaty of Trianon awarded Romania all of Transylvania and part of eastern Hungary, including the cities of Oradea and Arad.
The award was based on the fact that eleven of Transylvania’s fifteen counties had a clear Romanian majority totaling some 2,820,000 persons.ii Thus, a thousand-year Hungarian link with Transylvania was severed, leaving the province with a substantial Hungarian minority of some 1.6 million persons.iii For both Romanians and Hungarians, the province was, and is, regarded as an integral part of their ancestral homeland.
The treaty stated that “the Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Hungary accepts the responsibility of Hungary and her allies for causing the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Austria-Hungary and her allies.”iv
Under the terms of the treaty pre-1914 Hungary as a component of the Austro-Hungarian Empire lost nearly 75% of its territory. This land was redistributed to the enlarged state of Romania, to the newly-created Czechoslovakia, and to what was to become Yugoslavia. Nearly 33% of ethnic Hungarians found that they no longer lived in Hungary, with nearly 1.6 million living in the province of Transylvania, 900,000 in Czechoslovakia, and 420,000 in Serbia.
In this presentation my focus will be on the implications of the treaty for Romania.
The crucial step in the creation of modern Romania, enlarged on the principle of self-determination, was the country’s decision to enter the First World War. At the end of the war, Transylvania and other Romanian-inhabited regions of the Dual Monarchy and the Habsburg Crown, together with Bessarabia from the fragmenting Russian empire, were joined to the Romanian Old Kingdom. This brought into reality, for a generation, the Romanian dream of a Greater Romania.
On 17 August 1916, Ion I.C. Brătianu, Romania’s prime minister, and the diplomatic representatives of France, Britain, Russia, and Italy signed in Bucharest political and military conventions stipulating the conditions of Romania’s entrance into the war. Of immediate importance were the provisions for an attack on Austria-Hungary and the recognition of the right of the Romanians of Austria-Hungary to self-determination and to union with the Kingdom of Romania.
In the event of an Allied victory Romania would acquire Transylvania, up to the River Theiss (Tisza), the province of Bukovina to the River Prut, and the entire Banat region, all territory under Austro-Hungarian control. At 9 pm on 27 August 1916, the Romanian minister in Vienna delivered a declaration of war to the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Ministry. It says much about the strength of character of King Ferdinand (1914-27) that he signed a declaration of war against his country of birth. At the same time, units of three Romanian armies invaded Hungary at several places along the frontier.
The attack ended two years of neutrality on the part of Romania in the First World War, a policy decided by the government led by Brătianu at a meeting of the Crown Council on 3 August 1914. The King of Romania, Carol I of Hohenzollern (1881-1914), had signed a secret treaty with the Triple Alliance in 1883 which stipulated that Romania would be obliged to go to war only in the event that Austria-Hungary was attacked. Romania remained neutral when the war started, arguing that Austria-Hungary itself had started the war and, consequently, Romania was under no formal obligation to join it.
The Romanians’ greatest concerns in negotiations with the Allies were to avoid being left fighting alone on two fronts (one in Dobruja with Bulgaria, and one in Transylvania), and to obtain written guarantees of Romania’s territorial gains after the war. To do this there were to be the following provisions: a no-separate peace clause, equal status at the future peace conference, Russian military assistance against Bulgaria, an Allied offensive in the direction of Bulgaria, and the regular shipment of Allied war supplies.
The situation of the Romanians of Transylvania, ruled by Austria-Hungary, had been uppermost in the minds of most members of the Romanian government, while Italy’s decision to remain neutral also influenced their thinking. Yet the formation of Greater Romania – the addition of neighbouring territories with predominant or significant Romanian populations – was Brătianu’s principal long-term goal.
After some initial successes against the Austro-Hungarian army in Transylvania, the Romanian army was quickly forced onto the defensive. On 11 November, a German army under Erich von Falkenhayn launched a powerful offensive which turned out to be the beginning of a military catastrophe for Romania. The defeat of the Romanian army between the Argeş and Neajlov rivers to the west of Bucharest between 30 November and 3 December led to a general retreat eastward, and on 6 December German troops entered Bucharest.
One of Brătianu’s first acts after the evacuation of King Ferdinand and his ministers from Bucharest to Iaşi in Moldavia was to form a government of national unity on 24 December 1916. In July and August 1917, hostilities resumed on the Moldavian front. But Romania’s fate was sealed by the collapse of morale and discipline in many Russian units following the overthrow of the Russian Provisional Government and seizure of power by the Bolsheviks on 7 November, and by the armistice between Russia and the Central Powers signed on 5 December at Brest-Litovsk.
Field-Marshal August von Mackensen issued an ultimatum to the Romanian government at the beginning of February 1918 to decide on war or peace within four days. A split in the cabinet of the coalition government led to its dissolution by the king who entrusted the formation of a new one to General Alexandru Averescu. The latter, under the pressure of a fresh ultimatum from the Central Power, signed a preliminary peace treaty at Buftea, outside Bucharest, on 5 March.
The failure of the German offensive of July 1918 on the Western front and the subsequent steady Allied advance toward Germany, coupled with a successful Italian offensive against Austro-Hungarian forces in northern Italy, signalled the collapse of the Central Powers. In the Balkans an Allied drive northward from Salonika, which began on 15 September, forced Bulgaria to sign an armistice on 30 September and Turkey on 30 October. On 12 October 1918, leaders of the Romanian National Party in Transylvania declared themselves in favour of self-determination for the ‘Romanian nation of Hungary and Transylvania’ and announced their intention to convoke a national assembly to decide the fate of Transylvania.
King Ferdinand ordered his army to re-enter the war on 10 November. This last-minute action gave the Romanian government an argument that their treaty of 1916 with the Allies, and therefore its promises, remained valid. The National Party convoked a Grand National Assembly, which met at Alba Iulia on 1 December.
Attended by some 100,000 persons from all parts of Transylvania, it overwhelmingly approved union with Romania. The Romanian government recognized the union by decree on 11 December. Iuliu Maniu was elected President of the Directory Council (Consiliul Dirigent) which administered Transylvania from 2 December 1918 until 4 April 1920 when the government of the province was handed over to Bucharest.
For many Romanians 1 December 1918 marked the day when to use the words of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, ‘hope and history rhyme’.v That ‘rhyming’ was an echo of President Woodrow Wilson’s address to the Congress of the United States on January 8, 1918 in which he proposed Fourteen Points as a blueprint for world peace that was to be used for peace negotiations after World War I.
Point Ten of his proposals was that ‘The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.’vi This has generally been interpreted by historians as a call for ‘self-determination’. Point Fourteen called for the establishment of a world organization that would provide a system of collective security for all nations. This later point was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles and the world organization would later be known as the League of Nations.
The enthusiasm with which the union of Transylvania with Romania on 1 December 1918 was greeted is recounted by Nicolae Mărgineanu, a high school student in Blaj at the time, who became an instructor in psychology at Cluj university in 1926 and was the first Romanian holder of a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1932:
Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points were common knowledge.
His conditions for durable peace included the
right to self-determination for all subjugated peoples.
A few weeks later, the revolution broke out, first in Vienna,
then in Budapest. Soldiers were laying down their arms and
returning home. The Hungarian language stopped being
taught, and one evening all of us students gathered in the
cathedral square and burned our Hungarian language
textbooks, linking hands and dancing around the bonfire.
I will never forget the song we sang: ‘Let us join hands /
Whosoever is Romanian of heart . . .’ On December 1, 1918,
the Grand National Assembly gathered in Alba Iulia and
decided that Transylvania would join the motherland.
What glorious times! The new affirmation in enduring fact
of the Union of all Romanians was an unforgettable celebration,
which lasted for months. ‘Awake, Romanians, from deathlike
slumber’ was resounding in all the cities and villages.”vii
That the union of Transylvania with Romania should have evoked such emotion is hardly surprising; the Romanians in the province had been amputated from their parent state, their true identity had been often denied, and attempts had been made to give them a new one in order to disguise their origin. After more than a century of such manipulation it was only natural that the instinctive identity of the Romanians in Transylvania with their brothers and sisters across the Carpathians should have asserted itself in 1918.
And in that assertion, the justice of the Romanians’ right to exercise self-determination in order to correct what they considered to be the injustice of the suppression of their identity was self-evident. But the righting of that wrong ran the risk of creating new injustices against the minorities of the newly-enlarged state created by the Paris Peace Settlement.
The creation of a national state represented the object of the national movements of Europe, both Eastern and Western, during the 19th century. The leaders of these movements in Eastern Europe adopted the principle of the nation-state, the political unit accepted by Rousseau in his later works and adopted by his disciples, since if applied to their homelands, it offered the hope of freedom from imperial domination.
Most of these nations were freed from foreign rule because of the help which they received during the First World War, directly or indirectly, from Britain, France and the United States. The dismemberment of the three empires of the Habsburgs, Ottomans and Romanovs, either through military defeat or internal collapse, was a prerequisite for the establishment of the successor states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
These new states made a significant contribution to the break-up of these empires. Their legitimacy rested, on the one hand, on their part in the overthrow of foreign rule, and on the other, on the ‘right’, admitted by the victorious Western Powers at the Paris Peace Conference to form an independent state on the basis of national self-determination.
Britain, France and the United States, the victorious powers of the First World War, regarded the creation of nation-states as a means of reducing the possibility of further conflict in Europe by satisfying nationalist aspirations. After all, had not the tension within the multi-national Habsburg Empire provided the spark which ignited the War? There was validity in the reasoning that the fewer the national minorities, the greater the chances of assuring peace.
Judged in this numerical context the Paris Peace Treaties can be deemed to have reduced by half the minority problem, for whereas before 1914 approximately one-half of the peoples of Europe were minorities, after 1919 only one-quarter were. But in the process of eliminating old tensions the postwar European territorial settlement introduced new ones, for the imperial territories from which the new nation-states were built were not ethnically homogeneous. Different peoples shared the lands, with the result that the new states incorporated significant ethnic minorities.
The East European states had on average minorities compromising one-quarter of their populations.viii Of the large states, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia had minorities representing respectively an estimated 52% and 57% of their total populations, while Poland and Romania incorporated minority populations of 31% and 29% according to their censuses. Czechoslovakia contained the Germans of the Sudetenland, Poland the Germans of East Prussia and the Ukrainians of Eastern Galicia, and Romania the Hungarians and Germans of Transylvania, the Jews of Moldavia, and the Ukrainians and Russians of Bukovina and Bessarabia.
Herein lies a contradiction, for these states, founded on the concept of national self-determination of the majority, merited as much the description of multi-ethnic as of national. This is not to deny that the Peace Settlement achieved its goal of creating states with majority nationalities. Before 1914, not one of the empires of Central and Eastern Europe could boast of a nationality which constituted a simple majority. In the Russian Empire the Russians numbered 44%, and in the Habsburg Empire the Austrians counted for 37% and the Hungarians 48%.
After 1919 new states were fashioned with simple majority nationalities, the strongest being the Hungarians and Bulgarians (almost 90%), followed by the Poles and Romanians (about 70%), and trailing some way behind the Czechs and the Serbs (about 45%).ix The nation-state of the dominant majority had taken the place of the empire of the dominant minority in the new post-war Europe. But in the redrawing of national frontiers new minorities were created and with them the seeds of new territorial disputes sown.
This potential for upheaval was recognized by the Great Powers who made their guarantee of new national frontiers conditional upon protection for minorities. President Woodrow Wilson made this clear in a speech of 31 May 1919 at the Preliminary Peace Conference in Paris:
We cannot afford to guarantee territorial settlements which
we do not believe to be right and we cannot agree to leave
elements of disturbance unremoved which we believe will
disturb the peace of the world…… If the great powers are to
guarantee the peace of the world in any sense is it unjust
that they should be satisfied that the proper and necessary
guarantee has been given…… Nothing, I venture to say, is
more likely to disturb the peace of the world than the
treatment which might in certain circumstances be meted
out to minorities.x
For the protection of racial, linguistic and religious minorities treaties were signed with Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece guaranteeing certain rights of education and worship and participation in the state bureaucracy. Almost identical provisions were introduced into the Peace Treaties with Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey. However, no means of enforcing the treaties was established and by the early 1930s they were effectively meaningless.
While the treaties stipulated that state legislation should protect minority rights, they established no machinery for monitoring whether such provisions were acted upon at an administrative level. The League of Nations, in supervising the application of the treaties, proceeded from the assumption that governments would act in good faith in honouring their commitments.
For their part the new successor states regarded the treaties as an unwarranted infringement of their sovereignty and resented the fact that the Great Powers should make international recognition of their statehood conditional upon respect for the treaties. Moreover, they felt that they were the victims of double standards for why, the argument went, should the Great Powers and the states of Western Europe not adopt similar minority treaties?
In the absence of any general application of the principle of minority protection, the League came to be looked upon as unjust by the new states with the result that discrimination against minorities was equated by the new states as a reaffirmation of national independence and as a validation of their efforts to create cohesiveness through national integration and majority dominance.
Of course, the minorities’ wish to retain their identity was incompatible with this aim and they were therefore looked upon with suspicion by the majority; they were regarded as a potential threat to the security of the new state since they and the territory which they occupied could be in many cases disputed by covetous neigbours who had been formerly dispossessed, in Poland’s case by Germany and the Soviet Union, in Romania’s by Hungary and the Soviet Union. A feeling of insecurity thus offered an additional reason for the governments of the newly created states to associate the process of consolidation of the nation state with the need for absolute sovereignty in dealing with subject minorities.
The new minorities of the post-1919 period, in their turn, were incensed with the Peace Settlement, for having been deprived of their former privileged status as part of a majority group. The Hungarians in Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and the Germans in Czechoslovakia and Poland both belonged to this category. Portraying themselves as ‘victims of Versailles’, they campaigned against the Peace Settlement and vigorously defended their ethnic identity in the face of pressures to integrate them.
By placing loyalty to their ethnic group above loyalty to the state, they invited discrimination and when this inevitably occurred they appealed to their ‘mother states’ for assistance. In the cases of the German and Hungarian minorities, such assistance was more than readily given since both Germany and Hungary considered themselves to have been grossly maltreated at Versailles and were bent on revision of the Peace Settlement.
Thus, support of their minorities was soon translated by these states into encouragement of irredentism in an effort to destroy the European status quo. Not surprisingly the host states of these minorities suspected them of being ‘fifth columns’ in the service of a hostile power and regarded it as no accident that the largest number of petitions to the League on alleged minority abuses were presented by the Germans in Upper Silesia, followed by the Hungarians in Transylvania.
Wilson discovered during negotiations in Paris that his ideal of freedom of the national group was impossible to translate in an international agreement. “The doctrine of self-determination, expressive of national freedom, Wilson soon discovered to be an untrustworthy guide, incapable of universal application.”xi Conflicting aspirations meant, for example, that the principle of self-determination, if applied in the Sudetenland, would contradict the premise of self-determination upon which the new state of Czechoslovakia had been based.
In addressing this conundrum Wilson invoked the application of the principle of justice. „It must be a justice that seeks no favorites and knows no standards but the equal rights of the several peoples concerned. No special or separate interest of any single nation or any group of nations can be made the basis of any part of the settlement which is not consistent with the common interest of all.”xii Yet, as proved in Paris, governments felt that justice to their own people required “a protection of national security that often could be achieved only at the expense of another.”xiii
It was as Prime Minister once more that Brătianu arrived in Paris on 19 January 1919 to participate in the Paris Peace Conference. He was taken aback by the hostility he encountered from the Western Allies. French and British politicians interpreted Romania’s separate peace with the Central Powers, concluded at Buftea in March 1918, as an abrogation of the treaty of 1916, and thus they considered themselves relieved of any responsibility for fulfilling the promises they had made to gain Romania’s entrance into the war.
Brătianu insisted that the treaty of 1916 with the Entente remained valid and that, consequently, Romania was entitled to receive everything promised and to be treated as a full Allied partner. He adamantly rejected the counterarguments that Romania herself had abrogated the treaty by concluding a separate peace with the enemy. He was also determined to obtain Allied recognition of the acquisition of Bessarabia, which had not figured in the original treaty.
Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Japan had no intention of allowing Romania to take part in the peace-making as an equal. The Supreme Council made its position toward Romania clear by allowing her only two representatives to the peace conference, while granting Serbia, which had never surrendered, three. The great powers gave Romania seats on seven of the many commissions charged with investigating specific issues and preparing reports on them for use by the decision-makers. They excluded Romanian representatives from two commissions, those dealing with territorial boundaries and minorities.
Brătianu’s inflexible and confrontational stance alienated the Allies. On 31 January 1919, he demanded the cession of the entire Banat in accordance with the terms of the treaty of 1916, citing history: the ancestors of the Romanians were the first to settle the region; and ethnic statistics (the Romanians were the largest nationality in the region as a whole) to justify his claim.
The Allies rejected his demand and partitioned the territory between Romania and Yugoslavia. In Transylvania, Brătianu admitted, the Magyars had not voted for union and would not because they were unwilling to accept minority status under a people they had dominated for a thousand years. To assuage their fears, Brătianu promised that the Romanian state would grant the minorities the fullest possible political freedom.
The demarcation line between Hungarian and Romanian forces drawn on 13 November 1918 by General Louis Franchet d’Esperey, the commander-in-chief of Allied forces in South-eastern Europe, along the Mureș River in central Transylvania, did not hold. Romanian troops continued to advance, despite the prohibition issued by the Supreme War Councilxiv on 25 January 1919 against the seizure of territory without its authorization.
By this time, the Romanian army had already advanced along a wide front to positions roughly half-way between Cluj and Oradea. The Supreme Council decided on 1 April to send General Jan Christian Smuts to Budapest to try to reach an understanding with Bela Kun, the head of the new Hungarian government of the self-proclaimed Soviet Republic. Kun rejected the authority of the Supreme Council to enforce its own boundary on Hungary and demanded that the demarcation line along the Mures River of 13 November 1918 be reinstated and that, as a result, the Romanian army be obliged to withdraw to the east of the river.
Smuts had no choice but to return to Paris on 12 April, leaving the Romanian-Hungarian conflict unresolved. By the beginning of May, the Romanian army had advanced well into eastern Hungary, and no serious obstacles lay in the way of a march on Budapest. But now the Allies in Paris intervened firmly to halt the Romanian advance toward the Tisza.
No event affected the frontiers of Hungary more decisively than the Communist revolution which broke out at Budapest in March 1919, and implanted Bela Kun in power. It was both a Communist experiment and a nationalist Hungarian protest against the gradual advance of the Czechoslovak army from the north and of the Romanian from the east. Kun sent forces to attack the Romanians but they were repeatedly defeated.
The Hungarian army launched an attack across the Tisza on 20 July. After an initial advance it was thrown back by a powerful Romanian counter-offensive, which began on the 24th. On the 29th, the Romanians crossed the Tisza and moved rapidly toward Budapest. On 1 August, Kun and his government resigned, and on the 4th the Romanian army entered the capital. The Romanian occupation authorities confiscated large quantities of industrial equipment, locomotives, and other movable goods, action which they justified as reparations for the losses Romania had suffered during the German and Austro-Hungarian occupation of 1917 -18. At the beginning of 1920, Alexandru Vaida, the new Romanian prime minister, went to Paris and reached an agreement with the Allies on the evacuation of Hungary. By the end of March, it had been completed.
What was the view taken by the Allies over the fate of Transylvania?xv Shortly after the Peace Conference met, two Commissions on frontiers were appointed, named respectively the Czechoslovak and the Romanian, and these in fact determined the fate of Hungary. The Czechoslovaks and Romanians presented their case to these two Commissions who included representatives of Britain, France, the United States and Italy.
The frontiers of Hungary were drawn with a view to permanence. That is, they were meant to be final in principle though liable to modification in detail. But there was an important difference between the German and all other enemy frontiers. The German frontiers were based on the avowed legal obligation imposed by the principles of President Wilson. The other frontiers were based on a moral and not a legal obligation to conform to those standards.
The Allies made an offer to Germany to make peace on the basis of the „Fourteen Points” and other speeches and addresses of President Wilson in 1918. Germany accepted this offer by sending delegates to negotiate an Armistice with the Allied Military Advisers, which was intended to be of a purely technical character. In all the other treaties the procedure was different. The other enemy Powers laid down their arms on the basis of unconditional surrender. For instance, the Armistice with Austria-Hungary, which was signed on November 3, 1918, was purely military and had no reference to the „Fourteen Points.”
Austria and Hungary separated from one another and ten days later a military convention was signed between the Allies and Hungary alone. This again was purely military and the line behind which the Hungarian forces were to retire was also purely military. Hungary had indeed become an independent state, but she had collapsed completely before her conquerors and had to accept any terms which they imposed. xvi
The negotiations directly preceding the signature of the Treaty of Trianon had no effect in changing the frontiers. The Hungarian Delegates were confronted with accomplished facts. In the resultant correspondence the Allies carefully avoided committing themselves as to any legal obligation under the „Fourteen Points,” and, so far as possible, avoided discussion on ethnic and national questions. The Hungarians demanded a general plebiscite in the case of all areas which it was proposed to detach from their Old Kingdom.
Hungary, knowing what the frontiers already were, had nothing to lose if the plebiscites confirmed them. A refusal of a plebiscite exposed the Allies to criticism but they categorically refused one. The Romanian delegation contended that the areas in question rightfully belonged to them, that they were largely in possession, and they were not going to vote about them. The Allies had no mechanism to dispute this view. On the other hand, the Allies had not conceded the more ambitious territorial claims of the Romanians.xvii
In the drawing up of the frontier between Hungary and Romania economic necessity was a more compelling force to the Allies than ethnic justice.xviii President Wilson admitted the importance of economic arguments and more particularly the principle of „economic viability.” Without economic self-sufficiency and railway conveniences, the „well-defined national aspirations” of Romania could not have been realized. The cession of the Arad-Szatmar strip to Romania involved the question of economic viability.
To the north in the Carpathians lay a large and undoubtedly Romanian population. Immediately between them was the Arad-Szatmar strip peopled with Magyars. The northern group of Rumanians could only be fed from the rich plains of the south, and their sustenance was carried by the railway through the Arad-Szatmar strip. If the Hungarian retained this railway, it was generally believed that the food supplies to the north would be subject to punishing tariff or customs’ obstruction and that supplies might be actually endangered.
There was no way out of the difficulty except to build another railway line far to the east behind the ethnically Romanian frontier. This would have been a complex and expensive task. It would have run a tortuous way between the foothills of the Carpathians and would not have been built in any reasonable time. xix
Romania signed the Treaty of Trianon on 4 June 1920.
It was not until 28 October 1920 that the Conference of Ambassadors of the Principal and Associated Powersxx, the successor to the Supreme War Council, presented Take Ionescu, foreign minister in a new government headed by General Averescu, with a treaty on the union of Bessarabia with Romania. It recognized Romanian sovereignty over the territory and specified the Dniester River as the boundary between Romania and Russia.
The latter’s refusal to acknowledge Romanian sovereignty over the territory proved a major obstacle to the normalization of relations between the two countries throughout the inter-war period. The peace conference settled the boundaries of Dobrudja between Romania and Bulgaria with comparative ease. The Treaty of Neuilly of 27 November 1919 left intact the frontier established by the Peace of Bucharest in 1913.
Romania’s enlargement with Transylvania, Bukovina, Bessarabia and Dobrudja had momentous consequences for its security, its economic potential, and its social structure. The territorial acquisitions of Romania added 156,000 square kilometres and 8.5 million inhabitants to the pre-war kingdom.
Against this growth in population should be set the human costs to Romania of the First World War. When the number of soldiers killed, approximately 300,000, is added to civilian deaths, Romania is estimated to have lost one-tenth of her pre-war population of 7.7 million. In the process of fulfilling long-cherished national aspirations the Romanians had acquired substantial minorities.
The new Romania included areas formerly ruled by Russia, Hungary and Bulgaria and left it with two neighbours unwilling to accept their losses and bent on revision of the treaties which legalized them, and one, the Soviet Union, refusing to recognize the loss of Bessarabia. The territorial gains brought significant numbers of Hungarians, Jews, Ukrainians and Russians under Romanian rule but the centralizing policies of successive governments in the 1920s and 1930s did little or nothing to reconcile the minorities their new status.xxi In 1920, 29 per cent of the population was non-Romanian, as opposed to 8 per cent before the war, according to the census of 1912.
The most important minorities in the new Romania were Magyars (9.3 per cent of the total population) xxii, Jews (5.3 per cent), Ukrainians (4.7 per cent), and Germans (4.3 per cent).xxiii The Jews, largely concentrated in Moldavia, had arrived before the war, often under duress, from Russia and Ukraine, and were regarded among peasants, as ‘Russians’. Their numbers were swelled by the entry into Bessarabia, between 1918 and 1921, of 22,000 Jews from Soviet Russia. Sephardic immigrants, largely settled in Wallachia, were much more integrated, especially in finance and industry.
The legacy of a different historical experience of the Romanians in the provinces which constituted the newly-enlarged Romania, coupled with the diverse ethnic mix of the large minority Hungarian, German and Jewish populations which they contained, posed major problems of harmonization and consolidation which, in the brief interlude of the inter-war period, the country’s leaders had little time and capacity to address.
The failure to solve them blighted the country’s progress towards modernization and the exercise of genuine democratic rule. In appealing to Woodrow Wilson’s principle of ‘self-determination’ successive Romanian governments sought to transform the multinational România Mare into a national one. Injecting an inexperienced Romanian bureaucracy into provinces that had known a Habsburg or Hungarian administration on the grounds that it was likely to be more loyal to the new state merely served to fuel a sense of alienation to it on the part of those who were replaced whilst at the same time depriving the country of a body of expertise that was sorely needed.
In one respect in particular Hungarian concerns about the fate of their minority in Transylvania attracted international attention. The islands of Hungarians well behind the new frontier with Romania, and enclosed by predominantly Romanian populated regions, were to be protected in the use of their language and religion. Such protection was embodied in Minorities Treaties, signed alike by Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and authorized by the League of Nations.
Credible evidence of persecution of racial and religious minorities in Romania after the First World War was produced. In the words of Harold Temperley, ‘It is quite possible that no good government would reconcile these enclaves of Magyars to alien rule. But it is quite certain that no bad government will…. In the League and in publicity lies their only hope of protection against wrong.’xxiv
Eventually, resentment at what was interpreted as the League’s repeated infringement of her sovereignty drove Poland to repudiate her minority treaty in September 1934. The lack of response from the League, and its inability to impose sanctions of any kind against a member state, were cruelly exposed and sounded its death-knell as an agency for minority protection.
Poland’s action merely confirmed a reality which the international community had been unwilling to recognize, namely that the League was unable to guarantee minority protection. Blame for that failure has been partly laid at the door of the League and its minority committees. Its limited resources, its inability to enforce decisions, its exclusion from membership of the minority committees of delegates from the host or ‘mother’ states, severely hampered the League’s effectiveness.
But the League could only be as strong as its members made it and here the attitude of the Great Powers was crucial. Their unity of purpose in imposing the minority treaties was weakened by the United States’ retreat into isolationism and their commitment to justice undermined by France’s military alliance with the new East European states which made here hostile to minority issues. Britain was left as an unwilling protagonist in the League of minority issues and was reluctant to support measures which she herself would not apply mutatis mutandis.
Essentially, however, minority grievances were regarded as a minor issue by Britain and France and had always to be subordinated to the wider need to maintain the European status quo and preserve peace. Whatever the merits of a particular case it must not be allowed to disturb the Paris Peace Settlement, and yet it was precisely upon claims of infringement of the rights of Germans in Poland that Hitler based his invasion of that country on 1 September 1939.
2. Transylvania, which was completely incorporated with Hungary in 1868, formed since 1876 one of the seven large administrative divisions into which Hungary was divided in that year. It was subdivided into fifteen countries, and contained the following principal towns: Kolozsvár, Brassó, Nagy-Szeben, Maros-Vásárhely, Besztercze, Fogaras, Torda, Segesvár, Gyula-Fehérvár, Dés, Szamos-Ujvár (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911, vol.27, Transylvania, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Transylvania, accessed 16 February 2020.
3. These figures are taken from a statistical note that contains two tables compiled by B.C. Wallis for Harold Temperley’s article,’How the Hungarian Frontiers were Drawn’, Foreign Affairs, vol.6, no.3 (April 1928), 432-47 . The first table gives the area acquired from the former Hungarian Kingdom by the various new states, including Romania, the percent of the total population of the former Hungarian Kingdom which each acquired, and the number of persons acquired. In respect of all three categories, Romania acquired 101,900 square kms, 25 per cent of the Kingdom’s former population, and a total population of 5,210,000. The second table gives a breakdown of the ethnic composition of the total population acquired by Romania from the Hungarian Kingdom as 2,820,000 Romanians, 1,550,000 Hungarians, 520,000 Germans, 138,000 Jews, 50,000 Yugoslavs, 20,000 Ruthenes, 10,000 Slovaks, and 102,000 others. The Hungarian census of 1910, based on primary language use, listed the Hungarian population of the kingdom of Hungary as 10,050,575 persons. By comparison, the Romanians numbered 2,037, 435
5. The Cure at Troy: After Philoctetes by Sophocles (Lawrence Hill, Derry: Field Day, 1990), 77.
6. https://kr.usembassy.gov/education-culture/infopedia-usa/living-documents-american-history-democracy/woodrow-wilson-fourteen-points-speech-1918/ accessed 20 January 2020.
7. Nicolae Mărgineanu, Witnessing Romania’s Century of Turmoil. Memoires of a Political Prisoner. Edited by Dennis Deletant. Translated by Călin Coțoiu (New York: University of Rochester Press, 2017, 19-20. The original Romanian text was published as Nicolae Mărgineanu, Mărturii asupra unui veac zbuciumat (Bucharest: Editura Fundației Culturale Române, 2002.
8. Raymond Pearson, National Minorities in Eastern Europe, 1848-1945 (London: Macmillan, 1983, 148.
9. Ibid, 149.
10. Preliminary Peace Conference, Protocol No.8. Plenary Session of May 31, 1919. Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol.III. Paris Peace Conference 180.021/8. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1919Parisv03/d10. Accessed 5 February 2018.
11. Charles Seymour, ‘Woodrow Wilson in Perspective’, Foreign Affairs, January 1956. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1956-01-01/woodrow-wilson-perspective. Accessed 5 February 2018.
14. The Supreme War Council was the central command based in Versailles that coordinated the military strategy of the principal Entente Powers of the First World War, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and the US.
15. Harold Temperley,’How the Hungarian Frontiers were Drawn’, Foreign Affairs, vol.6, no.3 (April 1928), 432-47.
16. Temperley, ‘How the Hungarian Frontiers were Drawn’, 433.
17. Temperley, ‘How the Hungarian Frontiers were Drawn’, 435.
18. Temperley, ‘How the Hungarian Frontiers were Drawn’, 440.
19. Temperley descends into polemical mode: ‘But while the ardor of Hungarians to recover their lost territory is great, their discretion is not so apparent. On the face of it the campaign is merely for an adjustment of frontiers on more closely ethnic lines. It is to be recalled that the Magyars never stood for any such frontiers before 1914. They always insisted on ruling something like fifty percent of aliens. What reason have we to suppose that they will not wish to do this again?’ (441).
20. The Conference of Ambassadors of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers was an inter-allied organization of the Entente. Formed in Paris in January 1920, the Conference consisted of the ambassadors of Great Britain, Italy, and Japan accredited in Paris and the French minister of foreign affairs. The ambassador of the United States attended as an observer since the United States failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, signed by the other Entente Powers, on 28 June 1919. The US Senate rejected the treaty on Nov. 19, 1919, the Senate rejected the Treaty, a rejection based primarily on objections to the establishment of the League of Nations.
21. See Irina Livezeanu, Cultural Politics in Greater Romania: Regionalism, Nation Buildings, and Ethnic Struggle, 1918-1930 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995).
22. An outstanding study of one of the Hungarian minority groups, the Csangos, is that by R. Chris Davis, Hungarian Religion, Romanian Blood. A Minority’s Struggle for National Belonging, 1920-1945 (Madison: Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2019).
23. The population breakdown by ethnicity in 1930 was Romanians, 12,981,324 (71.9 per cent), Magyars, 1,425,507 (7.9 per cent), Germans, 745,421 (4.1 per cent), Jews, 728,115 (4 per cent), Ruthenians and Ukrainians, 582,115 (3.2 per cent), Russians, 409,150 (2.3 per cent), Bulgarians, 366,384 (2 per cent), Roma, 262,501 (1.5 per cent). See Anuarul Statistic al României, 1939 şi 1940 (Bucureşti: Institutul de statistică, 1940), 24.
24. Temperley, ‘How the Hungarian Frontiers were Drawn’, 444.
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