Paris Peace Conf. 180.03801/6


Notes of a Meeting Held in M. Pichon’s Room, Quai d’Orsay, Paris, Friday, January 16, 1920, at 4:30 [2:30] p.m.

  • Present
    • America, United States of
      • Hon. Hugh Wallace,
    • Secretaries
      • Mr. Harrison,
      • Mr. Winthrop.
    • Great Britain
      • Mr. Lloyd George,
      • Lord Curzon,
      • Mr. Bonar Law.
    • Secretaries
      • Sir Maurice Hankey
      • Capt. Lothian Small
    • France
      • Mr. Clemenceau.
    • Secretaries
      • Mr. Dutasta,
      • Mr. Berthelot,
      • Mr. Arnavon,
      • Mr. Massigli.
    • Italy
      • Mr. Nitti.
    • Secretaries
      • Don Prospero Colonna,
      • Mr. Zanchi
    • Japan
      • Mr. Matsui,
    • Secretary
      • Mr. Kawai.

Interpreter: Mr. Mantoux

The following were also present for questions in which they were concerned:

  • Great Britain
    • Mr. Wise,
    • Mr. Philip Kerr.
  • France
    • Mr. Cambon.
  • Italy
    • Mr. Delia Torretta,
    • Mr. Vannutelli Rey.

Mr. Clemenceau invited Count Apponyi, the President of the Hungarian Delegation, to address the Council.

Count Apponyi: Monsieur le Président and Gentlemen, I thank you once again for having accorded me the opportunity of addressing you. What I should like essentially is a discussion, which I consider is the only means of arriving at a clear perception and grasp of the complicated matters with which we have to deal. But, since the wish of the Supreme Council in that respect is definite, I can only accept their will; I accept the situation as it is offered to me, and, in order not to encroach too much upon your valuable time, I shall go right to the heart of my subject.

It is only since yesterday that the conditions of Peace have been officially made known to us. I feel how heavy is the immense responsibility that lies upon me at this moment when I must pronounce the first word of Hungary upon those conditions.

[Page 873]

I have no hesitation in telling you with perfect candour that the conditions of peace, as you have been good enough to present them to us, without certain essential modifications, appear unacceptable for my country. I know full well and I see very clearly the dangers and the troubles which would result from a refusal to sign this peace. Nevertheless, if the country were placed in the situation of having to pronounce between acceptance of the conditions as they stand and refusal to sign, it would have to ask itself whether it were well to commit suicide in order not to die.

Happily we are not yet arrived at that point. You have invited us to present our observations. We have had the honor of transmitting to you certain ones, even before the conditions of peace were submitted to us. We are certain that those which already have been, and those which are going to be, presented, will have at your hands that conscientious and serious examination which the gravity of the situation demands. We hope that then we shall convince you. We hope it all the more, since we have not the slightest intention, today or later, of making a useless display of sentiment nor even of taking exclusively the point of view of those special interests which it is our mission to defend. We are looking for common ground upon which mutual understanding is possible; that ground, gentlemen, is already found. It is the ground of the great principles of international justice and of the liberty of peoples which the Allied Powers have so nobly proclaimed; it is that of the great common interests of peace, of stability and of European construction. It is from the point of view of those principles and of those interests that it behoves us to examine the conditions of peace which we are offered.

At the very outset it is impossible not to be struck by the extreme severity of those conditions. Let me explain. Certainly, upon the other belligerent nations, upon Germany, upon Austria and upon Bulgaria, hard enough conditions of peace have been imposed; but none of these have had to submit to a redistribution of territories so essential to the national existence as those imposed upon us.

For Hungary it is a case of losing two-thirds of its territory and almost two-thirds of its population. Besides that, the territory remaining to Hungary would lose all the conditions of economic prosperity, for that poor centre, separated from its surrounding territories, in which are found the best part of its coal, its minerals, its salt, building timber, oil, bituminous gas, its reserves of workers, its alpine pastures which support its reserves of cattle, that poor centre, I repeat, would find taken away from it at the very time when it was being asked to produce in greater quantities, all its resources and means of economic progress. Confronted by so serious and so exceptional [Page 874] a situation, one wonders why, in the light of those principles and those interests alluded to above, this particular severity has been shown to Hungary.

It is from the point of view of those great principles and interests already indicated that I touch, with all possible brevity, upon this question.

Can it be an act of punishment upon Hungary? You, gentlemen whom victory allows to sit in judgment, have declared the culpability of your former enemies [,] of the Central Powers, and you have decided to let the consequences of the war fall upon those who are responsible. Very well, but then it seems to me that retribution ought to be in proportion to the degree of culpability; and since it is upon Hungary that the hardest conditions, the conditions most threatening to its very existence, are inflicted, one would say that Hungary is considered the guiltiest nation of all. Well, gentlemen, without entering into the fundamentals of that question, upon which we are going to submit documents to you, it seems to us at the outset that that verdict cannot be pronounced upon a nation which, at the outbreak of war, did not have complete independence, which had only its own share of influence and which, as documents recently published prove, exercised that influence in opposition to measures tending to involve it in the war. No, I cannot think it possible that there is here any question of a verdict; a verdict implies a procedure in which the parties are heard under the same conditions and have the same facilities for making their arguments prevail. Now, Hungary has not been heard; it is therefore impossible that the conditions of peace are of the nature of a verdict.

Is it then, Gentlemen, an application of the principle of international justice in the sense of trying to create in place of a polyglot combination, such as Hungary presents to your eyes, new organizations sharing those territories more justly and more equitably among different nationalities to assure better the liberty of each? Here again, on a study of the facts, I am obliged to doubt whether that can be the reason for those arrangements.

In the first place, among those 11,000,000 souls to be taken away from Hungary, there are 35% Magyars, i. e. 3½ million souls making the calculation in the way least favorable to the requirements of our argument. There are nearly one million and a quarter Germans, together making 45% of the whole number. Not merely would these benefit nothing from the new application of the racial principle; rather, they would suffer by it. Admitting then—which I am very far from doing—that for the remaining 55% the application of the racial principle did more justice than did historical Hungary, there would still be nearly half of the population to be detached upon whom that [Page 875] principle would have either none or an adverse effect. Now it seems to me that if principle there be, that principle ought to apply equally to all who are affected by the arrangements of the Treaty. But there is more to be said. If we consider the enlarged states formed upon the ruins of the former Hungary, we find, that from the racial point of view, they would be nearly all of them just as much divided as was Hungary itself or even more divided.

I do not wish to weary you with an enumeration of statistics that you will find in the documents we are presenting to you on the subject but, pending your perusal of these, I would ask you to grant my thesis in order to follow the consequences which I shall take the liberty of deducing therefrom.

I do not see, therefore, how the racial principle, the principle of national homogeneity will be justified by this dismemberment. There is but one consequence which, without wishing to be ungracious to anyone at all, I would permit myself to raise. That consequence would be the transfer of national hegemony to races which are today of a lower level of culture in at least the majority of cases. I would merely put before you the following statistics. Of the Magyars, the proportion of those who can read and write is 80%; of the Germans of Hungary, 82%; of the Roumanians, 35%; of the Serbs, between 59% and 60%. If you take the ruling classes, those who have had their education in the high schools, who have passed what the French call the “baccalauréat”, those whose degree of culture corresponds to the “baccalauréat”, it is seen that 84% of those are Magyars, whilst Magyars constitute 34% of the total population. Four percent are Roumanians, who constitute 16% of the total population and 1% or 2% are Serbs, although that race constitutes 25% of the total population.

I repeat that I make the observation without any ungenerous intention towards anyone. This state of affairs is due to the irrefutable fact that these neighboring nations, owing to their unfortunate history, entered the family of civilized nations later than we. It seems to me therefore, that the transfer of national hegemony to an inferior culture is not a matter of indifference to the wider cultural interests of humanity. We have already a proof of this: during the last year, those of our neighbors who coveted part of our territories, have seized them. According to the terms of the armistice, they had the right to have their armies occupy those territories, but they at the same time seized the whole of the machinery of government. We now see the results of that. In a special document, which we will place before you, we will demonstrate all the destruction of cultural values that has already been effected in that one year. You will see that two fine universities, Pressburg, an ancient home of Hungarian culture and [Page 876] the younger university of Kolozsvár, both of them institutions at the very summit of all that modern science can offer, have been destroyed. The professors have been driven away and I wish you could see who have been put in their places. I would entreat you to send commissions of scholars to compare the two regimes and realize what actually exists today. It is impossible that those universities, those Faculties, with all their history, can disappear in this way and be replaced by anything to equal them. It is quite impossible for new arrivals to replace institutions of such deep culture. Is it conceivable that newcomers, with lower standards of culture and without its cherished tradition of patient scholarship, could remove all its members and replace in a day the slow precious growth which is Oxford? Obviously it is not and it is equally impossible for those, who have taken upon themselves the task, to continue the traditions, or replace the culture, of the old universities of Hungary.

What is true in the case of the universities, is no less true of the administration of government and of national education of every grade. Already, in the territories occupied by the Roumanians, more than 200,000 children are running about in the streets receiving no education whatever, through mere lack of teachers, for the Hungarian teachers have been dismissed and it is impossible to replace them. I believe, gentlemen, that from the point of view of the greater humanitarian interests, this transfer of national hegemony to races who, whatever their promise for the future, stand today upon a lower plane of culture, cannot be regarded with indifference or with complacency.

We have seen that the cause of the harsh measures meted out to Hungary cannot be an act of retribution: we have seen that the principle of nationality will gain nothing by it. Can it be then that it has been done in the name of the liberty of nations?

If so, it would appear that a certain presupposition has crept in, the presupposition namely that the non-Magyar races of Hungary prefer being parts of a state belonging to those of their own race to being citizens of the Hungarian state under Magyar hegemony. Very well, but that is a supposition. And if we are to argue by suppositions, I might well observe that the converse supposition is valid for those 45% Magyars and Germans who, in the transfer proposed would go to the new states and who might well be supposed, on those very grounds, to prefer to remain members of the Hungarian state. It is a mere matter of considering one set of preferences or another. But why proceed by the method of presupposition? Why act on that basis, when there is a very simple means, a unique means, a means whose application we all clamour for today, for removing all doubt, I mean the plebiscite. In the name of the great principle so well [Page 877] formulated by President Wilson, the principle that no group of human beings, no population, should be transferred from one state to another without being consulted, as if they were herds of cattle, in the name of that great principle which is also an axiom of good sense and public well-being, for those portions of our country which it is sought to tear from us, we claim only the plebiscite. And I declare that we bow in advance to the result of that plebiscite, whatever it may be. Naturally, we ask that it be carried out in conditions that ensure perfect liberty.

That plebiscite is all the more necessary since the Hungarian national assembly, which is to decide in the last resort, upon the conditions of peace that you offer us, will be incomplete. The inhabitants of those occupied territories will not be represented at all. Now no government, no national assembly, has the right, legal or moral, to decide the fate of populations they do not represent. Besides, under this head, the Treaty of Peace contains expressions which apparently anticipate difficulties. It says: “Hungary renounces, in so far as it lies with it …” Those are approximately the words of the Treaty. We should not have, in fact, the opportunity of taking decisions binding, legally or morally, upon the populations which would not be represented in the national assembly.

That, I repeat, is fundamentally the principal request which we address to the Peace Conference. If the arguments that we can adduce in favor of our ancient territory, in favor of the historical Hungary, do not seem to you sufficiently well founded, if none of them seemed to you conclusive, we say this, ask the populations interested, address yourself to the people in question. We submit in advance to the verdict that will be returned by them. Now, if we take up that position, and our adversaries do not dare to submit their claims and their aspirations to the popular verdict, I ask you, in whose favor do the presuppositions tend?

There is another point of view from which the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination can be considered. It might be said that the liberty and rights of national minorities would be better assured on the territory of the new states than they were in Hungary.

I will not at this time call to your attention the kind of treatment attributed to Hungary in the matter of the alleged oppression of non-Magyar races in our country. All that I can tell you is that we shall be very happy if, in the territories taken away from us, our Magyar brothers shall enjoy all the rights and all the opportunities that our co-citizens of non-Magyar races had in Hungary.

But that question it will be necessary to raise again. It is not my mission to discuss it at this moment; for that matter, I am not [Page 878] able to, not having at my disposal the necessary documents, but I am ready to discuss it completely at any time or place. All I say is that the regime of the nationalities of the former Hungarian State, had it been a thousand times worse than our bitterest enemies themselves say, would be infinitely to be preferred to what is actually going on in the countries occupied by our neighbors and their troops. We shall place before you, gentlemen, a series of documents concerning what is taking place, especially in Transylvania. We have made a searching investigation into all the reports that we have received on this subject: although we have received the testimony of the heads of the three Christian churches in Transylvania—the Catholic, the Calvinist and the Unitarian churches—we have not made the claims—we could not make the claim—to be believed on our word alone, for against our declarations there are others; but what we do ask of you is to go and see what is taking place, to send, before you take your final decision, a commission of experts to the spot, to convince yourselves of what is being done in the region I have talked to you about.

We it is, gentlemen, who are always asking that there be light. It is we who wish always only such decisions as are taken in full cognizance of the facts and what we still ask of you is that in the extreme case where territorial readjustments are being imposed upon us there should be a more effective and detailed arrangement for the protection of minorities than the one contained in the draft treaty that you have presented to us. In our eyes, the guarantees provided are absolutely inadequate. We ask stronger guarantees which we are ourselves willing to apply to all the non-Magyar populations remaining in Hungary. On that matter, we have already reached complete agreement with their representatives but we believe that it will be especially difficult to obtain such a guarantee from our neighbors whose racial zeal undoubtedly exceeds ours. The experiment that we are making now shows us that that will be very difficult; on the question of the withdrawal of the Roumanian troops to the line of demarcation, a withdrawal which we have claimed, a withdrawal of which our Government made the very condition of sending our Peace Delegation to Paris, the Allied Powers spoke to Roumania in terms so energetic that it seemed impossible that their instructions should not be followed. Nevertheless, you know what has happened, you will understand, therefore, the anxieties we entertain for those of our race, for our brothers, if they fall under that foreign yoke.

Having finished the score of principles, the principle of international justice, the principle of nationality and the principle of the liberty of peoples, and having found no single application of these, which would enlighten us upon the justification of those [Page 879] conditions of peace that it is desired to impose upon us, I wonder, then, if they have been inspired by the great interests I mentioned at the beginning of this discourse—the interests of peace, of stability and European reconstruction.

Gentlemen, the Hungarian problem is no such small portion of that general problem as statistics would seem to indicate. For centuries this territory, which was and still no less is, Hungary, has played a role of extraordinary importance for the maintenance of the peace and the security of Europe, especially of Central Europe. In the centuries that have gone before, the conquest of this territory by the Hungarians and its conversion to Christianity, it knew neither repose nor security. It suffered every kind of barbarian invasion. It is only from the moment when the Hungarian rampart was built, that its security has existed. It is important for the general interests of stability and peace that that nest of trouble which Eastern Europe essentially is, grow no larger and that those troubles do not gain the heart of Europe. The historical development having been interrupted in the Balkan peninsula by Turkish occupation, equilibrium has not yet been established there. Heaven grant that it soon may be. It is therefore essential that those troubles which have so often disquieted Europe, which have several times already brought us to within an ace of war, should extend no further.

The Historical State of Hungary has fulfilled the task of maintaining a state of equilibrium, a stability that assured the peace of Europe against the immediate dangers common to the East. That task it has fulfilled for ten centuries. It has been able to do so, thanks to its organic unit. “The country …”, I cite the celebrated French geographer, Élisée Reclus … “that country has the most perfect geographical unity that there is in Europe. The system of its rivers and valleys all converging from the circumference to the centre, form a unity that can be controlled only under a unified regime. The economic interdependence of its parts is no less complete—the centre a vast agricultural plain, the circumference containing everything that can assist the progress of agriculture.”

This historical Hungary has then the most natural geographical and economic unity that exists in Europe. Nowhere can you trace a natural frontier within its territory; you cannot separate one part from it without making all the others suffer. That is why history has preserved that unity for ten centuries. You may quite well ask whether the structure that has existed in history is the structure justified in law; to that I have nothing to say; but you cannot challenge the testimony of history when it tells you the same thing throughout ten long centuries. That is no accident, it is the nature of things speaking through the mouth of history. Hungary had every condition of organic unity, one only excepted, unity of race.

[Page 880]

I have just told you that none of those states you would erect according to the terms of this treaty upon the ruins of Hungary, would have racial unity, which is the only principle of unity lacking in the Hungary of today; I add, they would have no other unity. The states thus created would cut the natural lines of geography, thwart that fruitful interior emigration which brings laborers to where the best opportunities of employment exist, it would break the thread of those traditions which after all create a common mentality amongst those who have lived together for centuries, who have endured the same reverses, shared the same glories, the same victories, the same progress, the same misfortunes. Is it not to be feared then that in the place of a centre of stability, you will create centres of ever-imminent conflagration? For upon this there is no use having illusions. Those new structures would be undermined by irredentisms far different and far more dangerous than those said to exist in Hungary, which indeed did exist in Hungary among a certain number of intellectuals but which hardly penetrated the masses; they would be undermined by the irredentism of nations who felt themselves subject not only to a foreign domination but to the hegemony of a culture lower than our own. The thing proposed is an organic impossibility. It might possibly be conceived, indeed, that even a national minority, enjoying a higher culture, might assume the hegemony over a majority occupying a lower plane; but that a majority [minority] of lower culture, or even a very slight majority of these should assume the hegemony, should obtain the voluntary submission of a majority enjoying a higher degree of culture and assimilate that majority morally, that, gentlemen, is an organic impossibility.

We are freely credited with the design of wishing to upset by force whatever in the arrangements to be concluded, fails to suit us. We are far, gentlemen, from entertaining such mad designs. It is from the moral force of the truths and of the principles by which we are supported that we expect everything; and everything that we are unable to obtain today, we expect to come to us through the pacific action of the League of Nations, one of the very objects of which is to remedy those international arrangements which are calculated to endanger the maintenance of peace. Having said thus much, I would declare, gentlemen, so that my words may not be interpreted in the sense of a threat which would be as puerile as idle, that it is hardly possible, under the artificial arrangement contained in the Treaty of Peace for that part of Europe, so tormented, yet so important for the peace of the world, ever to achieve political tranquility. It is only tranquility in those countries than can preserve Central Europe from the dangers which perpetually menace it from the East.

[Page 881]

Europe is still in need of economic reconstruction. Very well, it is impossible for those newly-manufactured states to do anything but retard economic progress. I have shown you to what extent that will necessarily be true in the territories remaining to Hungary, but it will likewise be true in all those lands detached from it, for the simple reason that they will come under an administration of an inferior kind, under the regime of a lower level of culture and that they will be separated from the other parts of that organic unity in union with which it is possible for them to advance but without which they are reduced to stagnation or will more probably go backward.

Europe is in need of social peace. You know better than I do, the dangers that are threatening that peace, you know better than I that the consequences of the war have disorganized and unsettled men’s minds as well as the conditions of economic life. We have had the sad experience that the progress of revolutionary parties is due especially to everything that disturbs the moral forces of society, to whatever irritates national sentiment, above all, to the miseries of unemployment. If, in that part of Europe which is very near the still smouldering centre of Bolshevism, you aggravate the conditions of labor, if you act so as to render more difficult the resumption of productive toil, then you are aggravating the dangers that menace the social peace. All barriers are without avail against epidemics, especially moral epidemics.

As against all those fine theories, you may very well say that there remains one great fact—victory and the rights of victory. Gentlemen, we know that. We are realists enough in politics to reckon with that factor. We know what we owe to victory and we are ready to pay the ransom of our defeat. But is force the only, is it the best, reconstructive principle? What is based on force alone can be maintained by force alone and force can be transferred from one dominion to another.

Under the dominion of material force alone, the future of Europe would be sad indeed. We cannot believe, gentlemen, that such is the mentality of the victorious nations. We do not find that mentality in the declarations wherein you have defined the principles for the triumph of which you fight and the objects you set before yourselves in waging the war.

I tell you that that does not appear to us the mentality of the great nations who are victorious today. Do not take it ill if beyond the France, the England, the Italy of today—to speak only of the victorious European nations—I discern the outlines of that other France [Page 882] which has ever been the pioneer of generous aspirations, which has ever been the mouthpiece of all grand ideas; of that other England, mother of all political liberties; of that other Italy, cradle of the Renaissance, of the arts and intellectual advance. And if without a murmur I submit to the law of the victor, I willingly bow before that other France, before that other England, before that other Italy, for I recognize them gladly as our masters and teachers. Permit me to say this: do not imperil that grand moral influence to which you are entitled by over-emphasizing that note of force which it is yours to wield today but which is liable to change hands: preserve intact the finest part of your heritage.

In spite of all the difficulties that surround us, in spite of all the misunderstandings, of all the obstacles that some would multiply upon our path, we are setting out with confidence on the way which is at last opened to us of participation in the work of peace and we do it in entire good faith. We have confidence in the sincerity of the principles that you have proclaimed. To think otherwise would be to do you injustice. We have confidence in those moral forces with which we would identify our cause and all that I can wish for you, gentlemen, is that the glory of your arms be surpassed by the glory of the peace that you give to the world.

I have but few more words to say. You will understand that I cannot enter into a detailed examination of the draft treaty which you offer me. I have spoken exclusively of the territorial questions, since, in the last resort, that comprises all the others, but I wish to call your attention to certain matters which seem to me more urgently to require solution. First of all there is a humanitarian question—the question of prisoners of war. According to the terms of the treaty, repatriation of prisoners of war could be undertaken only after the Peace is ratified. I would beg you, gentlemen, to be good enough to depart from a mere formality from which so many innocent families have to suffer. We addressed a special request to the Supreme Council on behalf of the unhappy prisoners who are in Siberia. That is a question for the solution of which I appeal to your goodness and your humanity, and these are feelings that ought to be above politics, even in a time of war.

I wish likewise to make an observation on the financial clauses. I think that sufficient account has not been taken of the exceptional situation of Hungary, which has had to not only suffer two revolutions but also for four months the ravages of Bolshevism and several months of Roumanian occupation. In those circumstances, it is impossible for us to execute the financial and economic clauses contemplated in the Treaty. If, as is there provided, repayment of all [Page 883] the credits made to us by citizens of the victorious powers can be exacted immediately the Peace is signed, that means insolvency, bankruptcy, the effect of which will certainly be felt by the victorious nations. We have indeed numerous creditors in your countries. They will be repaid if time is given us; but they cannot, if repayment is demanded immediately.

We are asked also—which proves how useful it would have been to see us earlier—to supply iron ore to Austria. Considering that we are ourselves obliged to import ore, it will not be possible for us to supply any. The situation is exactly the same in the matter of building-timber. Those are some of the details I would ask you to be good enough to examine with that good will which several of your unofficial representatives have promised us.

Before concluding, I wish very cordially to thank you, gentlemen, for having granted me the opportunity of addressing you and for having given me throughout my exposition, attention so sustained and so full of good will.

At the end of his speech, Count Apponyi made some remarks in Italian to the following effect:

“I would add some words in Italian to demonstrate our profound respect for the Italian nation. Hungarian blood and Italian blood have not always flowed in opposed camps. It has flowed too on battlefields where the two nations have fought for liberty side by side against ancient wrongs. I would seek protection in those memories so as to obtain from Italy, if our observations appear just, all that support for them which the principles of justice and the interests of Europe render desirable.”

Mr. Clemenceau: Plenipotentiaries of the Hungarian State—gentlemen—you have remarked with what attention we have followed the presentation of your case. All the reasonings that have been maintained before us will be carefully examined, but you must understand that we can take no decision based upon a one-sided presentation. It is therefore my duty to remind you that we have sent you in writing the text of the treaty of peace which we offer you. To make our decision we await your reply. We have offered you a period of a fortnight to study the treaty. We hope that that period will suffice for you to collect the documents you wish to put before us and present whatever observations you have to formulate. We should be happy to have your assurance that your reply will be in our hands within a fortnight.

Count Apponyi: I cannot, Sir, give you the assurance, but we shall do our utmost. We shall be obliged to examine the Treaty in all [Page 884] its details and doubtless to go to Budapest. If that is necessary, we will ask you for several days delay; nevertheless, we will make every effort not to make it too long.

The questions that we have most at heart are the plebiscite of those populations it is desired to detach from Hungary and the sending of Interallied Commissions into the occupied countries to convince you of the state of affairs created by an occupation that has lasted one year.

Mr. Clemenceau: Does anyone wish to speak?

No one desiring to do so, the Conference adjourned at 16:10.