Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/26

BC–19

Secretary’s Notes of a Conversation Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on Friday, 31 January, 1919, at 3 p.m.

  • Present
    • America, United States of
      • President Wilson
      • Mr. R. Lansing
      • Mr. Miller
      • Mr. A. H. Frazier
      • Col. U. S. Grant
      • Mr. C. L. Swem
    • British Empire
      • Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George
      • Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour
      • Mr. H. Norman
      • Lt. Col. Sir Maurice Hankey
      • Major A. M. Caccia, M. V. O.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau
      • M. Pichon
      • M. Dutasta
      • M. Berthelot
      • M. de Bearn
      • Capt. Portier
    • Italy
      • M. Orlando
      • Baron Sonnino
      • Count Aldrovandi
      • Major Jones
    • Japan
      • Baron Makino
      • Viscount Chinda
      • H. E. M. Matsui
      • M. Saburi
      • M. Kimura

Present During Discussion of Polish Question

  • America, United States of
    • Major Gen. F. J. Kernan
    • Mr. Lord
    • Capt. Ewell
  • British Empire
    • General Botha
    • Sir Edward [Esme] Howard
    • Captain Brebner
  • France
    • M. Noulens
    • Gen. Niessel
  • Italy
    • M. de Martino

Present During Discussion of Banat Question

  • America, United States of
    • Prof. C. Day
    • M. C. Seymour
  • British Empire
    • Mr. H. Nicolson
    • M. A. Leeper
  • Roumania
    • M. J. Bratiano
    • M. N. Misu
  • Serbia
    • M. Pachitch
    • M. Trumbitch
    • M. Vesnitch

Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.

1.

Poland and Czecho-Slovak Contention M. Clemenceau introduced M. Noulens, the Chairman of the Committee appointed by the Great Powers to proceed to Poland, and called on him to submit to the Council the conclusions which had been reached.

M. Noulens said that the Council was well acquainted with the reasons which had led to the appointment of the Commission on Poland. That Commission had been requested to examine and report on the situation in the Teschen District, which [Page 819]had led to serious conflicts between the Czecho-Slovaks and the Poles. It appeared that the Czecho-Slovaks, contrary to the agreement made by their local authorities with the local authorities of the Polish nation, had entered the territory of Teschen in question and had seized the railroad from Teschen to Jablunkau. As a result of these operations, the Czecho-Slovak troops had occupied the mining region and made prisoners of various Polish citizens: they had even arrested certain Polish delegates, who were on their way to Paris. The Czechoslovak delegates had been asked to explain the reasons which had led to the aggressive operations. The Czecho-Slovak delegates had explained that the Teschen District in reality formed part of Czechoslovakia for ethnological, geographical, historical and economic reasons, but in addition their Government had been forced to occupy this territory to prevent the spread of Bolshevism, which was rampant in the Polish provinces. The commission on Poland had at once set aside historical and ethnological reasons, and had endeavoured to arrive at a provisional solution, which would put a stop to the conflict between the Czecho-Slovaks and the Poles. The Czecho-Slovaks had been asked whether they would consent to the immediate withdrawal of their troops from the railroad, leaving the final settlement of the question to the Peace Conference in accordance with the proclamation recently issued by the Great Powers here and in accordance with the agreement entered into by the local Czech and Polish authorities. The Czech delegates maintained that the authority of Mr. Masaryk and Mr. Kramarcz would be compromised by the acceptance of this proposal, which would be in opposition to the popular will. The Czech delegates had also maintained that the Poles were incapable of maintaining order in the mining districts, and that as a result Bolshevism would spread into Czecho-Slovakia. Therefore, whilst declining to accede to an unconditional withdrawal of their troops, the Czecho-Slovak delegates had expressed their readiness to agree to the withdrawal of both the Polish and Czech troops provided the contested districts were occupied by three Allied battalions. This was considered to be a sufficient force for the maintenance of order.

The commission on Poland had expressed no views on this latter suggestion, feeling that the proposal should be submitted to the Great Powers for discussion.

The Commission had then proposed that the Czecho-Slovak troops should occupy the mining regions and the railroad north of Teschen, while the Poles should occupy the southern part of Teschen, adjoining Galicia. In other particulars, until the final decision was reached by the Peace Conference, the status quo would be maintained, in accordance with the agreement of the local authorities of the 25th [5th?] of November, 1918. These proposals could only be accepted [Page 820]with serious reservations by the Czecho-Slovak delegates. They feared that as a result of the direct contact of the troops of the two nations along the railroad, disturbances were bound to occur, and they made the counter proposal that Teschen should be occupied by one battalion of Inter-Allied troops with a view to separating the two contestants.

Summing up, Mr. Noulens held that if the Allies occupied the contested territory with three battalions, the whole difficulty would be solved; even if only one Allied battalion could be spared for the occupation of Teschen, a satisfactory solution would have been attained. If, on the other hand, neither of these solutions were practicable, he thought perhaps the Czecho-Slovak and Polish delegates might still be brought to agree to the arrangement above proposed for the occupation of defined areas by the Poles and Czechs respectively. There was, however, another solution, which he felt was worthy of consideration, namely, that an Inter-Allied commission be sent to Teschen, to remain there permanently until the final settlement of the question by the Peace Conference. This Commission would be required to supervise the execution of this agreement, and to study the statistics and data which would form the basis of the ultimate decision. This proposal had been suggested by Mr. Piltz of the Polish delegation. This Inter-Allied Commission should also be charged with the duty of controlling the exploitation of the mining region, and of insuring a sufficient supply of mining products to the Polish people. The Czecho-Slovak and Polish delegates had both accepted this proposal, and it was agreed that the Czecho-Slovaks, having control of the mining region, should furnish coal and a proportion of their manufactures, especially munitions and arms for the campaign against the Bolshevists, to Poland. The Czecho-Slovak Government should be requested to allow the free passage by rail to Poland through this territory of arms and munitions.

Finally, the Czecho-Slovak delegates had declared that orders had been issued to stop the further advance of their troops in the Teschen district and for the immediate release of all Polish prisoners recently taken.

(M. Noulens then submitted the text of the recommendations made by the Commission, which read as follows:—

“The undersigned Delegates representing the Great Powers deem it their duty first of all to recall that the nationalities who have undertaken the engagement to submit the territorial questions which concern them to the Peace Conference are, pending its decision, to refrain from taking as a pawn or occupying the territories to which they lay claim.

[Page 821]

“The Delegates take note of the engagement by which the representatives of the Czech Nation have declared that they were definitely stopping their troops on the line of the railway which runs from Oderberg to Teschen-Doblowkas [Jablunkau?]. They similarly note that the representatives of the Czech and Polish Nations have agreed to admit that, pending the decisions of the Peace Conference as to the definite assignment of territory the railway line and mining regions which are at the present moment in the hands of the Czechs shall be handed over to Inter-Allied troops representing a force of three battalions, if the Associated Governments so decide.

“In case this solution be not adopted and always remembering that this is a provisional arrangement, the part of the railway lines to the north of Teschen and the mining region would remain in the occupation of the Czech troops while the southern section of the line starting from and including Teschen down to Jablunkau and Dublowkas [sic] would be entrusted to the military control of the Poles. In this case it would be desirable that the city of Teschen should be occupied by an Inter-Allied battalion.

“The undersigned consider it indispensable that a Commission of Control should be immediately sent to the spot to avoid a conflict between the Czechs and Poles in the region of Teschen. This Commission, apart from the measures that it will have to prescribe, will conduct the investigation on the basis of which the Peace Conference may form its decision in fixing definitely the respective frontiers of the Czechs and Poles in the contested zone.

“In order to seal the Entente between two friendly nations which should follow a policy in full accord with that of the Great Powers, the Delegates register the promise of the Czech representatives that their country will put at the disposition of the Poles all its available resources in war material and will grant to them every facility for the transit of arms and ammunition.

“The exploitation of the mines of the Karwin-Ostrawa district will be carried out in such a way as to avoid all infraction of private property while reserving any police measures which the situation may require. The Commission of Control will be empowered to supervise this and if necessary to secure to the Poles that part of the output which may be equitably claimed by them.

“It is understood that the local administration will continue to function in accordance with the conditions of the pact of the 5th November, 1918, and that the rights of minorities will be strictly respected.

“Pending the decision of the Peace Congress, political elections and military conscription will be suspended in the principality of Teschen.

“No measure implying annexation of all or of a part of the said Principality either to the territory of Poland or of Czecho-Slovakia taken by interested parties shall have binding force.

“The Delegates of the Czech Nation engage to release immediately with their arms and baggage the Polish prisoners taken during the recent conflict.”)

President Wilson enquired whether the Czecho-Slovaks had consented to the furnishing of a proportion of coal and manufactures [Page 822]to Poland, and to the free passage by rail of ammunition and war material for Poland.

M. Noulens replied in the affirmative.

General Botha stated that whilst the Czecho-Slovaks had been producing 1,400 tons a day from their mines, the Poles were only getting 1,200 tons a day. The former claimed that Bolshevism had made such progress among the Polish mining population that it had appreciably raised the price of labour and reduced the output.

M. Clemenceau, after consulting the representatives of the Great Powers, said that the third proposal was accepted. This proposal meant the sending of a commission to Teschen, to maintain order and to control the distribution of coal, etc.

(It was agreed:—

(1)
That the part of the railway lines to the North of Teschen and the mining region would remain in the occupation of the Czech troops, while the southern section of the line starting from and including Teschen down to Jablunkau-Dublowkas [sic] would be entrusted to the military control of the Poles.
(2)
That a Commission of Control should be immediately sent to Teschen for the purposes set forth in the recommendations submitted by the Commission for Poland.)

(The Members of the Commission for Poland then withdrew.)

2.

The Question of Banat M. Clemenceau then introduced the members of the Roumanian and Serbian delegations, who would present their cases in regard to the question of the Banat.

M. Bratiano read the paper presenting the claims of Roumania to the Banat (See Annexure “A”).

M. Vesnitch stated that he had not a written memorandum to present, because he had only been informed of this meeting at eleven o’clock that morning. He had heard, with regret, that the Roumanian delegation based their country’s claim in part on the secret treaty of 1916.1 When this treaty was being negotiated, Serbia was fighting on the side of the Allies, without asking for any assurances, in the firm belief that after the war settlement would be made on the principles of justice, on the principles of the self-determination of nationalities, and in accordance with the promises of the Allies.

As in the past, so at the present, and in the future, Serbia desired to live in amicable relations with her neighbours, the Roumanians. Roumania and Serbia had existed side by side for ten centuries and no serious difficulties had arisen. As regards the Banat the Serbs [Page 823]based their claims solely on the principles recognised and proclaimed by all the Allies, and confirmed by the last nation to enter the war, the great democracy of America.

M. Clemenceau said that he was not aware that the Treaty of 1916 had been secret.

M. Vesnitch replied that not only had the treaty never been published, but that as a representative of a power fighting with the Allies, he had several times asked here in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to know terms of the Treaty. He had been told that the contents of the Treaty could not be divulged.

M. Bratiano stated that the discussion of the claims of Roumania had been begun in London in 1916, and had then been transferred to Petrograd, as a place where the examination of Eastern questions could be more conveniently carried on, especially in regard to Serbia.

M. Pichon then read the last paragraph of the Treaty, which required the maintenance of its secrecy to the end of the war.

M. Vesnitch continuing, said that Serbia had no pretentions to the whole of the Banat. Serbia merely claimed that part to which she had a right on ethnological grounds, where their race had a majority over the Germans and Hungarians, and an absolute majority over the Roumanians. He did not mean to offend his Roumanian friends when he said that Germany and Hungary had always shown greater favour to the Roumanians than to the Serbians, and the Roumanians had been allied to the Central Powers for nearly thirty years.

Under the Hapsburgs this very part of Hungary had occupied a peculiar position. The boundaries of military districts had been arranged according to nationalities. The regiments raised in those districts had been recruited by nationalities, but no exact statistics were available. Moreover, while both Serbians and Roumanians belonged to the Orthodox Church, the Hapsburgs had insisted on their religious administration being carried out by nationality, and though this classification had been made by strangers the results showed the justice of the Serbian contention.

Furthermore, for forty years there had been Parliamentary elections in the Banat. These elections had always led to political contests between the Serbs and the Magyars; but there had never been any contests between the Roumanians and the Magyars.

Mr. Lloyd George enquired whether any Serbian members had ever been returned to Parliament, and for what districts?

M. Vesnitch replied in the affirmative to the first question and mentioned Werschetz, Temesvar, Pancsova, Weisskirchen, Kikinda, Banat Komlos, as electoral districts represented by Serbs at Buda-Pest at [Page 824]the outbreak of the war. He added that in latter years the artificial means used by the Magyars to manipulate the elections had brought about a diminution in the Serbian representation.

Mr. Lansing asked whether the Roumanians had returned any delegates.

M. Bratiano replied that violent political struggles had always occurred during the elections in the Banat in which the Roumanians had been involved, but he lacked any definite records as to the numbers of Roumanian deputies returned. He thought, however, three million Roumanians were represented at Buda-Pest by five Deputies, while the Servians had only three. The violence of the Roumanian political struggles could not be reassured [measured?] by the number of Deputies sent to Buda-Pest, but by the number of Roumanian candidates in the prisons.

M. Vesnitch continuing, said that as regards the violence of the political struggles they were in complete agreement. M. Bratiano’s remarks applied equally to the Serbs and the Roumanians.

Since the Middle Ages the portion of the Banat claimed by Serbia had always been closely connected with the Serbian people. The manners, customs, aspirations, and traditions of the Serbs of the Banat and of the Serbs of Serbia were the same. At critical periods they had helped one another. When, in 1848, the Serbs had endeavoured to free themselves by siding with the Hapsburgs against the Magyars, the Hapsburgs had rewarded the Serbs by declaring the autonomy of a part of the Banat. A Voivoidia had been created with its own elected Voivod. As usual, the promises of the Hapsburgs had not been kept, but the territorial limits of the Voivoidia had been fixed, and the territory then demarcated was exactly the same as that which the Serbs now claimed. Historically, as the Isle of France was to France, and Tuscany to Italy, so was the Banat to Serbia. Serbian Renaissance had taken root in the Banat in the 17th Century; there Serb literature, art, theatre, etc., had reappeared; there the great Serbian ideal had been conceived. He, himself, entered political life there. In 1881 the young Serbians met there to discuss their new aspirations. The Banat had given birth to many Serbian leaders who had rendered service to the Allies, and carried their cause to a happy conclusion. He would merely mention such well known names as Pirdrik, Pashek, the greatest authority on financial questions, Nicholvitch, Porpish [Pupin?] of Columbia University, and the present Rector of the University of Belgrade. As a further proof of the close attachment between the Serbians of Serbia and the Banat, he called attention to the fact that the Royal Family, when exiled, had found an asylum there.

[Page 825]

He submitted in addition two supplementary arguments. In his country, lying on the border land between Christendom and Islam, the monasteries played a prominent part as a civilising agency, all of which were Serbian. Further, all real estates were still to this day in the hands of the Serbians, in spite of the efforts made by the Germans and Hungarians to dispossess them.

So far, he had presented merely the Serbian point of view, and he had not referred to the question of the frontiers. In dealing with this question both the interests of Serbia and the general interest must be considered. He was glad to say that from the Serbian point of view the two questions were identic. During the war the Serbian General Staff had realised that a successful offensive could only be made along the valley of the Morawa. As long as the Austrians had failed to attack along this line, the Serbians were able to resist successfully. But finally when the German General Staff assumed the leadership, and attacked down the Valley of the Morawa, further defence became impossible.

In conclusion he thought that if guarantees for future peace were required the proper protection of this feeble strategic point must be assured. He felt sure the Conference would consider favourably the just claims and aspirations of the Serbs, and coordinate these aspirations with the general interests of the world, and of civilisation, with which he felt confident they would be found to agree.

Mr. Balfour enquired whether the Serbian Representatives were in a position to give any figures. So far, only a general statement had been made but no statistics of populations by nationalities had been given.

M. Vesnitch replied that he was quite ready to supply the figures, but had not brought them with him.

M. Pashitch asked permission to lay on the table an official map dated 1853, prepared at the time when the Banat Voivoidia had been created. This map clearly showed the parts then belonging to Serbia and to Roumania. It would be seen that in the eastern portion, the population was chiefly Roumanian, whereas in the western part the Serbians were predominant. Between the two, the population was very mixed, because it had always been the policy of Austria to prevent the expression of national feeling by the introduction of emigrants. Notwithstanding this, it was extremely easy to find, between these two territories, the just line of demarcation, based on grounds of nationality. In conclusion, he would add that a paper setting forth the Serbian case had been prepared and would be submitted in due course.

M. Bratiano invited attention to the fact that though sentimental reasons, such as the statement that some great men had left one country [Page 826]to settle in another, deserved some recognition, it would, as a rule, be extremely unwise for statesmen to be influenced by such facts. It was with some emotion that he had heard the statement that the Royal Karageorgevitch family had taken refuge in the Temesvar. He thought that that hardly constituted a claim to the acquisition of that territory by Serbia, otherwise the whole of Roumania might as well be claimed by Serbia, since many of the members of the Royal families of Obrenovitch and Karageorgevitch had taken refuge in Roumania, and even M. Pashitch himself, when the situation in Serbia was somewhat dangerous, had made his home in Roumania. Furthermore, the convent question could establish no right, since the fact that many of the convents in the Banat were inhabited by Serbs was due to the religious leanings of the Slavs as a race. Thus, even in Roumania itself, many of the convents would be found to be occupied by more Serbs than Roumanians. Further, he wished to point out that the provisional partition of the Banat in 1848 by the granting of autonomy to the Voivoidia lasted theoretically for a period of ten years only. Moreover, Roumania had also taken part in the struggles for independence, but the tendency of the Hapsburg Government had always been to favour the Yugo-Slavs because they had stood by them in their wars against the Magyars.

Stress had been laid upon the secret character of the treaty of 1916. Though the treaty may have been secret, its consequences were not secret, since that treaty had permitted the maintenance at Salonika of an army of occupation, which had led to the results known by all.

M. Trumbitch asked permission to add a few words to M. Vesnitch’s statement. As regards the secret treaty he wished to declare most emphatically in the name of Serbia, as well as in the name of the Serbo-Croat-Slovene State, that the treaty had been negotiated without Serbia’s knowledge, and consequently Serbia refused to recognise it. Therefore, the problem must be discussed on another basis. In the first place, it was essential to define the objects of the discussion. Obviously there existed a territory which was in dispute between the Roumanians and the Serbo-Croat-Slovenes, namely, the Banat. M. Bratiano had talked about the whole of the Banat which included three comitats:—Torontal, Temesvar, and Krasnow (?) [Krassó-Szörény], Now, the Serbians did not claim all three comitats: they merely claimed Torontal in the West of the Banat, Temesvar in the centre, and a small part of the Krasnow [Krassó-Szörény] comitat. They were prepared to admit that all the Eastern part of the Banat was Roumanian. Therefore, he had nothing to say about that territory. The Serbs recognised Roumania’s claims to that territory, which was inhabited by Roumanians, so that [Page 827]the principle of nationality could be applied. Consequently the question only dealt with two comitats, the claims of which were based on population and territory. As regards the population, everyone would agree that in those two comitats the inhabitants did not all belong to one nationality. There were Magyars, Germans, Serbs and Roumanians. The Magyars and Germans were enemies. The Germans were colonists living far from their own country and consequently they could possess no sovereign claims. Consequently it could positively be stated that the Germans must remain under the Sovereignty of the country that would own that territory. The Magyars who inhabited the Banat were separated from Magyaria, and the Serbs and the Roumanians possessed the same rights and claims to ownership. In addition, he fully admitted that the wishes of all the people should be considered, not only those of the Serbs and Roumanians, but those of others also; because the question of future peace was involved and it was essential to ensure contentment to all the peoples. The Serbs thought that they were justified in claiming the two comitats not only on account of nationality, but also because the population itself would be pleased to form part of their State. The reason for this would also be made apparent by a study of the topographical situation. The Germans and the Magyars would obviously prefer to belong to a State which was situated along the Danube, whose Capital was on the Danube, and towards which river the people gravitated. Their economic and social interests were such that the Germans and the Magyars who were very numerous, would prefer to belong to Serbia, consequently the Serbs rested their claims not only on nationality, but also on the will of the people. Should the Great Powers decide to have a referendum on this question, Serbia would certainly agree.

The two comitats were bounded on the North by the River Maros, on the West by the River Theiss, on the South by the Danube and on the West [East] by a line east of Temesvar and Werschetz. Hungarian statistics, which were never favourable to the Serbs, gave the following figures of population in the two comitats:—

Roumanians 266,000
Germans 328,560
Magyars 251,000
Serbs 272,000

These were official statistics and they showed that the four nationalities were equally represented. The Serbs, however, were in the majority in the South and West, that is to say, in the territories of the Theiss, Danube and Maros. The above figures showed no great preponderance in favour of any nationality. Consequently the problem must be solved on other grounds than those of the principle [Page 828]of nationality. For this purpose he thought in the first place the will and wishes of the people themselves should be considered, because the people were always fully alive to their own interests and were prepared to give them their full value.

The whole of the valley from the Maros to the Danube constituted the natural continuation of Serbia. That would explain why, in history, Serbs, when unhappy in Serbia, especially during the period of Turkish misrule, emigrated to the Banat and there created a new Serb centre of civilisation. When the Serbs began their struggle for independence it was the Serbs of the Banat who first fought for the cause of the first Karageorge; and in 1849, when the Magyars attempted to crush the Serbs in the Banat, the Serbs of Serbia rushed to their rescue and they fought side by side, just as they had done in the last war. Though the Danube divided the territories into two, it did not divide the nationality, the civilisation, or the traditions of the Serbs on either side, and they could not now when victory had been achieved, after a struggle lasting so many centuries, abandon their brothers on the other side of the Danube.

The Serbs were anxious to establish good relations with the Roumanians. With the exception of the Banat problem, for which a solution must be found, the two countries had no differences. If the Roumanians wanted the Danube and the Theiss as their frontiers no agreement could possibly be reached. During this war of liberation Roumania had suffered bitterly, but it must not be forgotten that Serbia in particular and Yugo-Slavia in general, had also suffered heavy losses. And for this reason the Serbs insisted on the recognition of their claims to the two comitats. These claims meant no injustice to Roumania, for the Banat was a continuation of Serbia and Yugo-Slavia, whilst between Roumania and the Banat claimed by Serbia, stretched a chain of mountains the importance of which in the settlement of this question could not be overlooked.

M. Bratiano apologised for having to address the meeting a third time. He was compelled to do so as the Roumanians had only two representatives to pit against the three representatives of Serbia. M. Trumbitch had explained the situation of the population in the Banat, and he had proposed to divide the territory into two parts, giving the mountainous portion with its mines and forests to Roumania, whilst allotting to the Serbs the industrial areas of Temesvar and the agricultural districts of Torontal. As regards the figures relating to the two comitats, given by M. Trumbitch, it would be remembered that the Germans and Magyars were twice as numerous as either the Serbs or Roumanians. The only possibility of applying the ethnical test was to consider the Banat as a whole, because on ethnical grounds it would be impossible to justify the placing of [Page 829]580,000 Germans and Magyars under the control of 272,000 Serbs. Therefore, the Banat could not be divided into two for ethnical reasons. Similarly it would be easy to say that economically it would be unsound to separate the mines and forests from the commercial, industrial and agricultural regions. In the course of history the frontiers of the Banat had never been changed except on the Roumanian side because on that side no real frontier existed between the Banat and Wallachia. On the other frontiers no changes had ever occurred except during the ten years which covered the period of the existence in theory of the Voivoidia. Consequently, politically the Banat formed part of Roumania. Furthermore, the idea of separating the two fertile districts of the Banat from the mountainous one, where the population would be left without food resources, would be impossible, since the population of the latter would thereby be compelled to emigrate.

To sum up, for the populations inhabiting those regions, the work which the Conference was now called upon to carry out could be compared with that of an Inter-Allied Commission (had such a Commission then been possible) appointed in the time of Charlemagne to adjudicate on the question of the Rhine. Had the Commission at that time decided that the Rhine should form the boundary between Germany and France, what untold benefits might have been conferred on the world, what influence such a decision might have had on the events leading up to the present war. That Conference was now in the same way settling the future of Eastern Europe. The use of the Danube was essential for the development of civilisation. The Danube could alone form the only real boundary of everlasting friendship. That being his conviction he would, in conclusion, invite the attention of the Great Powers to the dangerous situation now existing in the Banat which called for immediate action. The Serbian troops occupying the Banat were in open strife with the Roumanian population, and if the real wishes of the peoples must be known, the first step must be the removal of the Serbian troops and their replacement by Allied troops who could hold the scales evenly between the various peoples. This course was urgent, as serious developments might otherwise take place.

M. Clemenceau enquired from M. Bratiano whether he would agree to the general principle of the referendum.

M. Bratiano replied that he considered the question already settled. He had insisted on the Banat being dealt with as a whole, and he could not agree to any partition of the area. If a referendum were insisted on, he would require time for consideration, although at the moment he would not oppose the proposal.

[Page 830]

M. Vesnitch expressed his regret that M. Bratiano had thought it necessary to raise the question of the actual occupation of the Banat by Serbian troops. If the French Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies in the East had ordered the Serbian troops to occupy that territory, the welcome that Army had received was sufficient proof that the decision taken had been a good one. At any rate, Serbia was not to blame if Roumania had not entered the Banat either now or in 1916.

(The Roumanian and Serbian Delegates then withdrew.)

The meeting adjourned until Saturday, 1st February, at 3–0 p.m.

Annexure to IC–129 [BC–19]

[Statement by M. J. Bratiano, of the Roumanian Delegation]

The Question of the Banat

The task of setting forth Roumania’s rights to the Banat is greatly facilitated by the fact that this question was considered by our three great European Allies during the weighty discussions which took place before the Treaty of Alliance of 17th August, 1916, and that this Treaty, which was signed by them, recognises the validity of our claim.

We have complete confidence in the support which the said signatory Powers will grant in demonstrating our just claim to the two great non-European Powers who took no part in the examination of this question in 1916 and who may, therefore, be ignorant of the principles thereof.

These claims are based on the principle of ethnology, and are put forward in virtue of our right to national unity.

This principle should, however, be in accordance with other requirements of national life, which it is impossible to dissociate from the territorial conditions amongst which a nation has evolved.

Those desirous of assuring the future of Eastern Europe must face the problem of uniting these two principles. Our claims with regard to the Banat are based on the solution of this problem.

The Question of the Banat of Temesvar

Nobody can think of denying Roumania the right to claim political union with a territory which has been inhabited for many centuries by Roumanians and where they number 600,000, as against less than 400,000 Germans, who settled in the district in the 18th century, and [Page 831]rather more than 300,000 Serbs, who immigrated in the 15th and especially in the 18th centuries, to mention only the ethnical units of most importance.

But it has been imagined that a distinction might be drawn in the Banat between the districts where the Roumanian population is absolutely in the majority and those in which it constitutes only a relative majority or an important minority; it has been thought that it might be possible to trace a State frontier line across the plain of the Banat between the Roumanians on the East, who would be re-united to the Kingdom of Roumania, and the non-Roumanians on the West, who would become subjects of the Serbian State; the Roumanian Government considers this a dangerous error.

The Banat is not a geographical term, it is a reality, a real geographical region and also a real political province forming at the present day, as it has done throughout the ages, a complete and indivisible whole. It is, in fact, difficult to conceive that any State can claim or accept one portion only of the country, and still more difficult to expect that, once in possession of that portion, it would be able to withstand the necessity of soon claiming the whole country.

The waterways which surround the Banat on three sides (the Maros, Theiss and Danube) form a natural frontier which bounds a region of plains on the West and a mountainous district to the East, which are closely interconnected. It is the plain of the Banat which yields the necessary food supplies for the inhabitants of the mountains; whilst the people of the hill country send the plain dwellers their wealth of timber and minerals. The rich plains, which are comparatively sparsely populated, draw their indispensable supplies of labour and settlers from the mountains; the plain and the mountains cannot exist apart from one another.

All the systems of communication, whether by road, rail, or water, are organised in the Banat for the whole province, and if a State frontier were drawn which would cut them asunder, all efforts made in this region since the 18th century to establish the means of communication indispensable to economic welfare, would be rendered ineffective.

The navigable rivers and canals traversing the plain carry the heavy produce of the mountains on the East to the Theiss and the Danube; a division of the Banat would leave the Roumanians the upper courses of the rivers and give the Serbs the lower reaches and the canals, which would result in ruining the very advantages of the natural situation of the Banat between its three waterways, by cutting off one entire part of the country from free access to the Danube and the Theiss.

[Page 832]

Transylvania itself, where the Maros is the one great waterway intersecting the country and penetrating into the heart of its mountains, would be deprived of one of its most necessary outlets. The produce of its forests and mines normally descends the Maros and Theiss to the Danube and thence to the sea, but a Serbo-Roumanian frontier would stop its course below the Lower Maros.

No useful purpose would be served by solemnly affirming, or even guaranteeing de facto, freedom of navigation on all the waterways, streams, rivers and canals. Navigation requires something more than this—i. e. technical organisation, depôts and warehouses, mechanical, commercial, and industrial installations—in order to preserve, manufacture, distribute, work up or convert the produce at the most suitable points and under the most favourable conditions.

The river trade of Transylvania and the Banat would naturally find all those advantages on the Roumanian banks of the Theiss and Danube; it would be useless to expect them from a foreign State for the products of another State.

But if, notwithstanding everything, the Banat were to be cut in two by a frontier on imaginary ethnographical lines, this would be impossible except by disturbing the necessary balance in every direction.

Even in the region where the Serbs are numerous, large groups of Roumanians are interspersed among them, as well as German colonies which cannot be reunited politically to any other State of the same nationality, but which there is no reason to join to Serbia and which could not, in any event, be annexed to that State because of their distribution throughout the centre of the Banat. These Germans (Suabians), so soon as they are at liberty to give public expression to wishes which are already known, will moreover refuse to allow their national numbers to be diminished by a division between Serbia and Roumania, and they will rally round the latter State.

The intermixture of these various nationalities in the West of the Banat is such that, in order to detach from Roumania the 200,000 Serbians inhabiting such region, it would be necessary, at the same time, to annex to Serbia double the number of non-Serbs, Germans, Magyars and Roumanians. And thus new hotbeds of Irredentism would be created.

In order that at least the south-western portion of the Banat might be wrested from Roumania, it is probable that the necessity for giving Belgrade a protective zone may be brought forward. The lessons of the last year of the war have resulted in an extraordinary diminution in the belief in the utility of such protection, and consequently of the importance of its corresponding argument.

[Page 833]

Furthermore, Roumania replied to this contention in 1916, by inserting in her agreement with the Allied Powers a clause undertaking to leave a zone opposite the present capital of Serbia without military works or garrison.

This is a sufficient guarantee from the defensive point of view. But the creation, on the left bank of the Danube, of a protective zone in the nature of a Serbian political and military possession, would be a veritable bridgehead, or a military organisation less defensive than offensive.

Ever since the Serbian and the Roumanian States have adjoined each other on the Danube, history has furnished proofs of their active intercourse from the point of view of trade and civilisation, but has never had to record disagreements between them. The pacific feeling of both peoples has been greatly assisted by the fact that the Danube formed a well-defined and certain boundary between them, both as regards geography and interests.

The Roumanian Government has always been so persuaded of the Danube’s importance as a peace-maintaining frontier, that it has never cast its eyes beyond this river, nor considered the possibility of uniting to that part of Roumania watered by the Northern Danube the many Roumanians settled in Serbia between the Timok and the Morava valleys.

It is persuaded that once the Danube is crossed, once a bridgehead is established on the further bank, yet wider territorial extensions in this direction will become of ever-increasing political and economic urgency. There would then be no end to the unappeasable disputes connected with more or less conventional frontiers. And these disputes, which Roumania has steadfastly refused to tolerate on the right bank of the Danube, could not fail to arise on its left bank with regard to a frontier line drawn across the plain of the Banat, for no nice adjustment could make it anything but ill-defined and inequitable.

Thus, the only results of allowing Serbia to cross the Danube in order to ensure that State a supposed ethnographical boundary, in the hope of finding in such concessions a guarantee for the organisation of international peace, would be economic disorganisation, arrested development of a whole region, and the certainty of future disputes.

It is hardly necessary to add that Roumania will ensure to all Serbs who may remain within her territory all the rights and guarantees ensured to Roumanian subjects by the Serbian State, in conformity with the principles which may be laid down by the League of Nations in the case of minorities.

Such were the general outlines of the arguments put forward by Roumania before the war, in order to justify the validity of her [Page 834]claims to the Banat. The part played by Roumania in the war cannot fail to confirm such rights.

In order to appreciate what Roumania has done, without even calling to mind the conditions under which she was obliged to begin and continue her military action, one has only to remember the fact that the losses of the Roumanian army alone, not including even greater losses among the civilian population amount to a total of 335,000 men, and to trace on the map appended hereto2 the proofs of the influence of Roumania’s military action on the general conduct of the war.

  1. Treaty of Alliance of August 17, 1916, between the Allies and Roumania; for French text, see Italy, R. Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Trattati e convenzioni fra il regno d’Italia e gli altri stati, vol. 23, p. 412.
  2. Map not filed with the minutes.