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13 November 2020

The Struggle for a Just Peace – Speech Delivered by Count Albert Apponyi, President of the Hungarian Delegation to the Peace Conference in Paris, before the Supreme Council at its Session on 16 Januar

 


Gentlemen,

Allow me to repeat my thanks for the opportunity you have afforded us of expounding our point of view. What I really desired was to have a verbal discussion, because this is in my opinion the only way to an understanding and a clear comprehension of the complicated questions before us. The Supreme Council has, however, already fixed its intentions in this matter, and it is for me to bow to this decision. I accept the position in which I am placed and in order not to take up too much of your time I will straightway proceed to the object of my address.

 

ARE THE PEACE CONDITIONS IN CONFORMITY WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE AND THE LIBERTY OF PEOPLES?

 

In our eyes the difference between yesterday and the present day is the official knowledge of the peace conditions we have gained since then. I am aware of the awful weight of responsibility falling to my share in this moment when the first word is to be pronounced on the part of Hungary as regards these conditions. I do not hesitate, however, to declare openly that the conditions of peace, as you have had the goodness to present them to us, are such as cannot, without essential modifications, be accepted. I see clearly the dangers and difficulties likely to proceed from a refusal to sign the peace. Yet, should Hungary be placed in a position when she must choose between the acceptance or refusal of this peace, then, as a matter of fact, her choice lies in the question: should she commit suicide simply in order to escape a natural death?

Happily we are not yet reduced to this. You have called upon us to make our observations. Some of these we have ventured to propose before receiving the conditions of peace. We feel sure that these observations already made and those to be presented hereafter will be subjected by you to the earnest and conscientious examination demanded by the gravity of the situation. And in this manner we hope to convince you. We hope this the more as it is not our intention either today or in the future to parade our sentiments or to adopt the exclusive standpoint of those interests which it is our task to defend. We seek a common basis on which we may achieve a mutual understanding. And, Gentlemen, this common basis we have already found in the great principle of international justice and the liberty of the peoples, so often proclaimed by the Allied Powers, and in the great common interest of peace, stability and the reconstruction of Europe.

It is from the point of view of these principles and these interests that we will examine the conditions of the peace offered to us.

In the first place we cannot conceal our astonishment at the extreme severity of the conditions of peace. This astonishment can easily be explained.

The conditions of the peace treaties contracted with the other belligerent nations, with Germany, Austria and Bulgaria, were certainly also severe. But not one of these contained such significant territorial changes inevitably affecting the national life, as those we are called upon to accept.


HUNGARY WILL LOSE TWO THIRDS OF HER TERRITORY AND ALMOST TWO THIRDS OF HER POPULATION

 

It is a case of Hungary losing two thirds of her territory and almost two thirds of her population, and of the remaining Hungary being deprived of almost every condition of her economic development. For this unfortunate country, i.e. the centre of the country, severed from her peripheries, would be deprived of the greatest part of her coal, ore and salt mines; of her timber for building, her oil and natural gas springs, a great part of her labour, she would be deprived of her Alpine pastures, which nourished the stock of cattle; this unfortunate centre of the country would be deprived of all the sources and instruments of economic development at the very moment in which she is required to enhance her production. Faced with a position so difficult and so peculiar we inquire, which of the principles and interests quoted above have necessitated this special severity towards Hungary?

It is from the point of view of these great ideas and interests I wish now, as briefly as possible, to examine the question.


HUNGARY DISAPPROVED OF THOSE MEASURES WHICH RESULTED IN THE WAR

 

Can it be meant as a sentence passed against Hungary?

You, Gentlemen, whom victory has placed in the tribunal, have declared your former enemies, the Central Powers, guilty, and have decreed that the burden of the war should be cast upon those responsible for it. So be it; but in that case, I think, in dividing the burden, the measure of guilt should decide the proportion. Hungary is to be punished by the most severe conditions, threatening her very existence, so one would think that of all nations she was the guiltiest. Gentlemen! Not entering into an elaborate discussion of this question – for we shall supply documents concerning these matters I must declare that such a sentence cannot be pronounced on a nation which was, when the war began, not in the full possession of her independence, and was at most capable of exercising some degree of influence on the affairs of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, an influence used, as is proved by documents that lately came to light, to oppose those steps which led to war.

I cannot believe it is a sentence we are confronted by, for the pronouncing of a sentence would imply a preliminary process in which the parties would be given a hearing under equal circumstances and having equal right to assert their arguments. Hungary, however, has until now been granted no hearing. It is therefore impossible that the conditions of peace should have the character of a judgement delivered.

 

THE RACE PRINCIPLE, THE PRINCIPLE OF NATIONAL UNITY, WILL GAIN NOTHING BY THE DISMEMBERMENT OF HUNGARY

 

Or is it a question of administering the principle of international justice in a manner calculated to create, instead of polyglot states such as Hungary was, new States, settling the territorial differences between the different nationalities in a more equitable manner, ensuring their liberty more effectively? On reviewing the facts I am constrained to doubt whether such efforts will ever arrive at a satisfactory solution to these questions.

In the first place, 35 per cent of the 11 million souls to be severed from Hungary are Hungarians, which means three and a half millions, even if we should base our reckoning on those calculations which least accord with our interest. The peace conditions sever, besides, one and a quarter of a million of Germans which, added to the per cent of the Hungarians, means 45 per cent. These will not only not benefit from the new application of the racial principle but will, on the contrary, suffer by it. Even allowing which I am far from acknowledging that this application of the nationality principle creates a situation more advantageous for the remaining 55 per cent than was their portion in historical Hungary, still, this principle could not be applied to what is almost a half of the population to be severed, or, if applied, only in a contrary sense.

According to my view of the case, if a principle be applied at all, it should be applied equally to all those who are affected by the orderings of the treaty.

But let us go on, and examine the states which have expanded on the ruins of Hungary. We can asseverate that from a racial point of view they will be as disunited, and perhaps more so, than Hungary formerly was.

I do not wish, Gentlemen, to fatigue you with an enumeration of facts which will certainly be contained in the documents we shall submit on this matter. Meanwhile, until you should have had time to get acquainted with these documents I beg you to accept my statements, in order to follow the deductions I hope to make before you now.

I cannot see that the racial principle, the principle of national unity, would gain by the process of dismemberment.

 

NATIONAL HEGEMONY WILL BE TRANSFERRED TO RACES OF INFERIOR CULTURE

 

Only one consequence will evidently follow, which I beg leave to mention without meaning offence to anyone. I only wish to point out the fact that the consequence would be the transference of national hegemony to races which at present largely stand upon a lower grade of culture.

To prove the truth of my words I would quote a few figures.

The level of literacy among Hungarians is close to 80 per cent, while among German- speaking Hungarians it is 82 per cent; among Romanians, meanwhile, it is 33 per cent, and among the Serbs it is 59 per cent and a few decimal places, almost 60 per cent.

On turning to the higher grades of society and considering those who have studied at grammar schools and passed the examination corresponding to the “baccalauréat” in France, we shall find that the proportional number of Hungarians among those who have finished these studies or passed an examination equivalent to it is 84 per cent, though the Hungarians form only 54.5 per cent of the total population; the proportion of Romanians among those who completed these studies is four per cent, whereas they comprise 16 per cent of the total population; the Serbs one per cent, whereas their number in proportion to the total population is 25 per cent.

I repeat that my remark is not made with the intention of affronting anyone. The situation is explained by the simple fact that these neighbouring people, owing to their unfortunate history, became members of the family of civilised nations later than we did. The fact, however, is there, and is undeniable. I should imagine that the transference of national hegemony to an inferior grade of civilisation could not be a matter of indifference to the great cultural interests of humanity. We have proofs of this already. Our neighbours desirous of appropriating part of our territories have actually obtained power over them at least a year ago; according to the Armistice Treaty they had the right of military occupation in these territories, but they appropriated the whole apparatus of government. The consequences are already visible. We will demonstrate in special notes what destruction has been inflicted on institutions of cultural value in one year. You will see from these notes, Gentlemen, how our two universities, answering to the highest requirements of modern science, that of Kolozsvár, an ancient stronghold of Hungarian culture, and the University of Pozsony, of recent foundation have both been ruined. The professors have been driven away – and I wish you had means to know who have been put in their places. I call upon you to send committees consisting of scholars and scientists to inquire into the state of things so as to be able to make comparisons. It is impossible that these universities and the faculties, each having a history its of own, could be replaced by anything of the same value. These great intellectual edifices cannot be replaced from one day to the next.

Circumstances are similar in the whole apparatus of administration, and among every grade of teachers.

In Romanian-occupied territory alone, more than two hundred thousands of children are growing up in the streets because of a deficiency of teachers, as the Hungarian teachers have been ejected and the Romanians are not capable of replacing them.

Gentlemen! From the point of view of the great interests of humanity I think the fact of national hegemony falling into the hands of races who, while offering the best hopes for the future, are yet today on a low level of civilisation, can be looked upon neither with indifference nor with satisfaction.
 

HUNGARY’S CHIEF REQUEST TO THE PEACE CONFERENCE IS THAT A PLEBISCITE MAY FIRST BE TAKEN IN THOSE PARTS ABOUT TO BE SEVERED FROM THE COUNTRY

 

We have seen that the severity visited upon Hungary cannot proceed from the fact of judgement. We have seen that the nationality principle would gain nothing from this solution. Perhaps, then, this decision has been arrived at in the name of the liberty of the nations?

The starting point in this case would seem to be the supposition that the allogeneous races of Hungary would rather belong to a state upheld by a kindred race than to Hungary, where the hegemony of the Hungarians asserts itself.

This is, however, only a supposition, and since we have now embraced the path of suppositions, I beg to observe that the same supposition can, in a contrary sense, be applied to the 45 per cent of Hungarians and Germans now about to be attached to a new state, and of whom it is to be supposed that they would prefer to remain members of the Hungarian State. This argument leads to nothing but placing the advantages on the other side. But why should we take mere surmises as the basis of our reasoning? Why should our starting point be a supposition, when there are means at our disposal of ascertaining the truth, a simple means, indeed the only means, the use of which we loudly demand as being the only hope of seeing clearly in this matter. And this means is: a plebiscite.

In the name of the great principle so happily phrased by President Wilson, namely that no group of people, no population, may be transferred from one State to the other without being first consulted – as though they were a herd of cattle with no will of their own – in the name of this great principle, an axiom of good sense and public morals, we request and demand a plebiscite in those parts of Hungary which are now on the point of being severed from us. I declare that we are willing to bow to the decision of a plebiscite, whatever it should be. Of course, we demand that it should be held under conditions ensuring the freedom of the vote.

The plebiscite is all the more necessary as the National Assembly, to whom belongs the final decision in the matter of the Conditions of Peace, will be incomplete. The inhabitants of the occupied territories will not be represented. No Government or National Assembly can be morally or legally authorised to settle the fate of those who are not even represented within that body. The Conditions of Peace themselves contain expressions calculated to raise difficulties. “Hungary renounces, so far as she is concerned” – these are the words of the Treaty of Peace. We should truly not consider ourselves authorised to dispose in matters either morally or legally binding that part of the population which will not be represented at the National Assembly.

I repeat, this is the principal request we have to present to the Peace Conference.

If the arguments we are able to bring up in favour of our former territory, of historical Hungary, should not appear reasonable in your eyes, or not sufficiently conclusive, we would suggest consulting the interested people themselves. We are ready in advance to submit to their verdict.

And if this be our standpoint, and if our enemies should not have the courage to submit their demands and aspirations to the popular verdict, in whose favour, I ask, may the supposition mentioned above incline?

 

WILL THE RIGHTS OF THE NATIONAL MINORITIES BE MORE EFFECTUALLY ASSURED ON THE TERRITORIES OF THE NEW STATES THAN THEY HAVE BEEN IN HUNGARY?

 

There is still another point of view from which the peoples’ right of self- determination should be considered. A statement might be hazarded as to the rights of the minorities being more effectually assured on the territories of the new States than they were in Hungary.

I do not, on this occasion, wish to plead the case brought against Hungary relative to the alleged oppression of the non-Hungarian races. I will confine my words to declaring myself well pleased should our Hungarian brethren on the territories torn from our country enjoy the same rights and advantages as the non-Hungarian citizens of Hungary enjoyed.

We shall have occasion to return to this question. At the present moment I am not in the position to speak of this for one reason: because the necessary documents are not now at my disposal. But I am ready at any time for a comprehensive discussion on the matter. I may, however, already declare that had the nationalist policy of the one-time Hungary been even worse than was asserted by our bitterest enemies, it was undoubtedly more favourable than the situation created by our neighbours and their troops on the occupied territories.

We will, Gentlemen, submit to you a whole series of papers relating to recent events in Transylvania. We have strictly examined all notices coming to us in this matter, and though their authenticity is verified by the leading men of the three Christian churches of Transylvania: the Roman Catholic, the Calvinist and the Unitarian. We do not demand cannot demand that credence be given to our mere assertions, since they run so contrary to those put forward by the other side. We beg of you, however, to examine events on the spot, to send a committee of inquiry to the place of action before the final decision is arrived at, in order to obtain evidence as to the events happening on the aforesaid territory.

 

THE GUARANTEES PROVIDED IN THE TREATY ARE INADEQUATE FOR THE PROTECTION OF MINORITIES

 

We are always the ones, Gentlemen, to demand that the darkness obscuring the state of affairs should be dispelled, we are always the ones who ask for no other decision than what is based on a clear appreciation of the question. And, in the extreme case of territorial changes being forced upon us, we further beg that the rights of minorities should be accorded a more efficacious and more clearly defined protection than are afforded by the Conditions of Peace handed down to us. The projected assurances are, in our conviction, insufficient. We require more powerful assurances which we are quite ready ourselves to accord to the non-Hungarian population left to Hungary. In this matter we have come to a full understanding with their representatives. We believe, however, that it will be difficult to obtain more efficacious guarantees from our neighbours, whose zealous care for the interests of their race is greater than ours. Recent experience compels us to expect tenacious opposition. In the matter of the withdrawal of the Romanian Army of Occupation to the line of demarcation – repeatedly requested by us and made a condition by our Government of sending a peace delegation to Paris – the Allied Powers took such determined steps with the Romanian Government that it seemed impossible their demand should be disregarded. And yet that is precisely what happened. You will then understand, Gentlemen, the anxiety we feel for our brethren, should they be subjected to this alien rule.

 

ARE THE PEACE CONDITIONS INSPIRED BY THE GREAT INTERESTS OF PEACE AND STABILITY AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF EUROPE?

 

Having passed in review the whole series of principles, the principles of international justice, of nationality and of the liberty of the peoples, and having found no application of these principles capable of throwing light on the motives of the Conditions of Peace offered to us, I ask myself, were they then inspired by the great interests which I noted at the commencement of this speech, the interests of peace and stability and the reconstruction of Europe?

Gentlemen, the Hungarian problem is not such an insignificant portion of the general problem as bare statistics would have it seem.

The territory which belonged to Hungary, and which legally still belongs to her, for centuries played an extremely important part in preserving the peace and security of Europe, especially in Central Europe. The centuries preceding the Hungarian Conquest and the conversion of the Hungarians to the Christian faith were a period of trouble and unrest in that part of the world. Central Europe was the battlefield of diverse barbaric peoples. Security was only won after the Hungarian line of defence was formed. For the sake of peace and stability it is most important that the whirlpool of Eastern Europe should not be extended, spreading unrest to the very heart of Europe. Historical evolution was impeded in the Balkans by Turkish conquest, and the balance has not yet been re-established. May the Heavens grant a speedy readjustment. But it is of signal importance that the unrest which so often disturbs the peace of Europe, driving us repeatedly to the very threshold of war, should not be allowed to spread.

Historical Hungary fulfilled the duty of maintaining a state of balance and security, thus ensuring the peace of Europe from imminent danger menacing from the East. This mission she fulfilled for ten centuries, qualified thereto by her organic unity. Allow me to quote the words of the great French geographer, Elisé Reclus, who declared that this country possessed a geographical unity unrivalled in Europe. “Its river and valley system, converging from the peripheries to the centre of the country, forms a unit governable only by a unified power. The economic interdependence of its parts is also perfect, the centre forming a powerful economic concern and the peripheries producing all the material necessary for economic progress.”

Historical Hungary then forms a natural geographic and economic unit such as stands alone in Europe. Within its territories no natural boundaries can be drawn, and not one single part can be severed without the other parts suffering from it. This is the cause of their unity having been preserved by history for the length of ten centuries. You may refuse to recognise history as a principle in the building up of a juridical construction, but you cannot refuse her as a witness when she repeats the same evidence for ten centuries. It is not chance, it is the voice of nature speaking. Hungary was in possession of every condition of organic unity with one exception: racial unity. But the states to be built up on the ruins of Hungary – according to the terms of the Treaty – will also lack racial unity, the one condition of unity missing in Hungary. Nor, I may add, will they possess any other. The new states to be formed would cut through natural geographical boundaries; impede the most useful internal migration impelling the worker towards the more favourable offers of labour; snap the thread of tradition binding in one common mentality those who have lived together for centuries, who have seen the same reverses, the same glory, the same progress and the same sufferings. Is not our fear then justified that instead of this well-tried pillar of stability, new sources of unrest will come into being? For we must not blind ourselves with illusions, these new state formations would be undermined by irredentism of a much more dangerous form than that reported by some to have been rife in Hungary, which did in fact exist in Hungary among certain parts of the educated classes, but never permeated the great masses of the people. The new state formations, however, would be undermined by the irredentism of nations feeling not only the rule of a foreign power but also the hegemony of a nation with a civilisation inferior to their own. Here we must point to an organic impossibility: we may conceive the possibility of a national minority possessing a higher standard of culture wielding a hegemony in the face of a majority of an inferior standard, but that a minority, or very small majority, whose cultural development has only reached a lower level, should be able to establish a hegemony, to attain a voluntary acknowledgement of their supremacy and a moral assimilation of a nationality of a culture superior to their own? This, Gentlemen is organically impossible.

 

HUNGARY EXPECTS THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS TO RECTIFY SUCH ARRANGEMENTS AS ARE BOUND TO JEOPARDISE THE MAINTENANCE OF PEACE

 

We are often accused of seeking to subvert by force any settlement of the question contrary to our desires. All such adventurous projects are far from us, Gentlemen. We put our hopes in justice, and the moral force of those principles on which we rest our arguments and what we may not be able to attain in the present we will expect from the peaceable methods of the League of Nations, one of whose tasks will be to right such parts of the international situation which menace the maintenance of peace. I make this declaration lest my words be construed as childish and redundant threats. But I also declare, Gentlemen, that with such artificial enactments as are contained in the Conditions of Peace, the establishment of a peaceful political situation in this much-suffering part of Europe, so important from the point of view of general peace, is hardly possible. Only the stability of this territory is capable of guarding Central Europe from dangers constantly menacing it from the East.

 

THE DISMEMBERMENT OF HUNGARY WILL FRUSTRATE ECONOMIC RECONSTRUCTION AND AGGRAVATE THE DANGERS MENACING SOCIAL PEACE

 

Europe is in need of economic reconstruction. Economic development will, however, certanily be frustrated by the newly formed states. I have shown how this circumstance will necessarily be brought about in the remaining Hungary. But the situation will be similar in the parts severed, for the simple reason that they will be subjected to a lower standard of administration, to a regime corresponding to a lower standard of culture, and that, severed from the other parts of this organic unit in connection with which they could flourish again, they are doomed to stagnation or, probably, to decay.

Europe has need of social peace. You are better able to judge the dangers menacing this peace. You know better than myself how the consequences of the war have troubled and thrown off balance the popular mind and the conditions of economic life. From past sad experience we know how the success of subversive elements was due to the factors undermining the moral force of society, to everything calculated to enfeeble national feeling and to bring about the misery caused by lack of labour. If in this quarter of Europe, in close proximity to the still-burning fire of Bolshevism, the conditions of labour are made more difficult, and the possibility of recommencing work impeded, the danger which menaces social peace is fed. Barriers are powerless to combat epidemics, especially moral epidemics.

 

THE FUTURE OF EUROPE WILL BE VERY GLOOMY IF THE CONQUERORS’ LAW COERCION IS TO BE THE ONLY BASIS ON WHICH IT IS BUILT

 

Against all these fine theories you may bring up, as a factor clinching the argument, victory, and the rights of the victors. We are realistic enough in political matters to give due consideration to this factor. We are aware of our debt due to victory, and are ready to pay the price of our defeat. But can this be the only principle of reconstruction? Can violence be the sole foundation of the edifice? Can material violence be the single support of this construction, ready to collapse before its building is completed? In this case the future of Europe would be sad indeed. Gentlemen, we cannot believe this to be the mind of the victorious nations. We do not find these principles in those declarations in which you advanced the ideas for whose victory you fought, and in which you defined the objects of the war.

We repeat, we cannot believe this to be the mentality of the great victorious nations. Pardon me if, beyond France, beyond Britain, beyond Italy, to mention only the victorious nations of Europe, I evoke the vision of that other France, always the vanguard of generous endeavour and the mouthpiece of great ideas; and of that other Britain, the mother of every political liberty, of that other Italy, cradle of the Renaissance, of the arts and of intellectual development. And if I acknowledge, without demur, the victor’s right, before this other France, Britain and Italy I bow in gratitude, voluntarily accepting them as our masters and educators. Allow me, Gentlemen, to advise: do not endanger this great moral influence to which you have every right by insisting too much on the note of superior force, which is yours today, but is subject to change; guard in its fullness this, the finest part of your inheritance.

In spite of the difficulties besetting our path, in spite of misunderstanding and every hindrance some seek to pile up in our way, we have broached with confidence the road opened to us at last to enable us to take part in the work of peace, and this we do with absolute singleness of purpose. We believe in the sincerity of the principles which you espouse. We should be doing you an injury should we think otherwise. We believe in the power of the moral factors with which we identify our cause, and I wish you, Gentlemen, that the glory of victorious arms should be surpassed by the glory of creating a peace worthy to be presented by you to the whole of humanity.

I have only a few more words to say, Gentlemen!

You will recognise the impossibility of my discussing in detail the peace offered to us. I have spoken of the question of territory only, this question which encompasses all the rest. I should, however, like to draw your attention to a few other points, the resolving of which I consider especially urgent.

 

THE QUESTION OF PRISONERS OF WAR

 

First of all we are faced by a matter of humanity, the question of prisoners of war.

The Conditions of Peace leave the return of prisoners of war dependent upon the ratification of the Treaty of Peace. I beg you, Gentlemen, not to adhere to a formality which may cause suffering to so many innocent families.

In the cause of the unhappy prisoners of war detained in Siberia we have presented a special plea to the Supreme Council. In settling this matter I would appeal to your feelings of humanity, feelings which even in time of war must stand superior to policy. There is one more remark I wish to make regarding the financial clauses.

I do not think the conditions of peace make sufficient provision for the special position Hungary finds herself in. Hungary has had to live through two revolutions, four months of the ragings of Bolshevism and several months of the Romanian occupation. Under the circumstances it is impossible for us to carry out the financial and economic clauses imposed by the Treaty of Peace. Should the credit allowed us by the citizens of the victorious powers be made payable in the moment of signing the Peace, as is expressed in the conditions, this would involve insolvency, bankruptcy, the effects of which would inevitably be felt by the victorious nations. I admit, we have many creditors in your countries. The debts will be paid if we be granted time, but if immediate reimbursement is demanded, we will find it impossible to cover the payments.

 

THE TREATY DEMANDS OF HUNGARY THOSE RAW MATERIALS WHICH SHE HERSELF NEEDS

 

It is further demanded of us – and this goes to prove how much more expedient it would have been to grant us a previous hearing – that we should supply Austria with iron ore. As we ourselves are dependant on the import of ore, we are incapable of fulfilling this condition.

The situation is the same in the matter of wood for building.

These are details which we would beg you to examine with the good will already promised us by your official representatives.

Before closing my words I express my gratitude to you, Gentlemen, for according me this opportunity of stating my point of view in person, and also for the considerate and persevering attention with which you have honoured me.

 


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