British Role in Assigning Csallóköz
British Role in Assigning Csallóköz
(Zitny Ostrov, Grosse Schütt) to Czechoslovakia*
[Megjelent: László Péter and Martyn Rady (eds.): British-Hungarian Relations Since
1848. pp. 123-138. London: Hungarian Cultural Centre and School of Slavonic and
East European Studies, University College London, 2004.]
Where the River Danube leaves Austria and enters the so-called “Little Plains” at
Bratislava/Pozsony/Pressburg (the town where the kings of Hungary were crowned
between 1563 and 1830), there is a large island called Csallóköz (Grosse Schütt in
German, Velky Zitny Ostrov in Slovak), between the main branch or Old Danube and
the Little Danube, formerly called Csalló River. It has remarkably fertile soil,
frequently inundated, that is why it was also know as Aranykert, Golden Garden. Its
population has been Hungarian since the Settlement or Conquest of Hungary, when
the clan Csurla settled in what was called terra Chalov in the Middle Ages. Protected
by the waters and the marshes, most of the villages survived the wars fought against
the invading Ottoman Turks.1 The census of 1910 found 121.500 Hungarians, 3000
Germans and 500 Slovaks in 140 settlements there. The Peace Treaty of Trianon, in
contradiction to the principle of self-determination, assigned it to the newly created
Czechoslovakia. (“A palpable injustice,” as a British member of the team which
negotiated the peace treaty had put it.) The Vienna Award of 1938 returned it to
Hungary, only to be ceded back by the 1947 Peace Treaty signed in Paris, together
with three more Hungarian villages on the right bank of the river. Between 1945 and
1948 a considerable portion of the Hungarians were expelled and Slovak settlers
* This paper grew out of an old article of mine, „A csallóközi magyar-szlovák határ története,” [The history of
the Hungarian-Slovak border in the Csallóköz], História, 1988/6., 28-30.
1 Csallóköz. Magyar Nagylexikon [Great Hungarian Encyclopedia], vol. V. (Budapest, 1997), 720-721. An
excellent monograph on the island: A Csallóköz szívében. Dunaszerdahelyi járás.[In the heart of the
Csallóköz. The district of Dunaszerdahely] Dunaszerdahely: Nap Kiadó, 2002. 365 pp. An informative
local newspaper is available on the web: http://www.csallokoz.sk/
moved in, mainly into the towns of Dunajska Streda/Dunaszerdahely,
Samorin/Somorja, Velky Meder/Nagymegyer and Kolárovo/Guta. The cession of
Dunacsún in the 1947 peace treaty enabled Czechoslovakia in 1992 to divert the
Danube into a 40 km long concrete canal ending in the hydroelectric power plant at
Gabcikovo/Bős, disregarding the protests of Hungary and of the population of the
island, and taking away most of the water from the main branch of the river, leaving
the area dangerously dry. That unilateral act led to a lasting controversy between the
two countries. In order to resolve it peacefully, at the initiative of Hungary, in 1993
they turned to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for a decision. After
long and costly deliberations a verdict was reached in 1997, which instead of ending
only extended the dispute, without any mutually acceptable settlement in view.2 That
issue added to the tensions that exist between the two countries due to the treatment
of the 600,000 strong Hungarian community of Slovakia. The construction of the
canal and the “damned dam” led also to further influx of Slovaks to the Csallóköz
region, and inevitably to more tension between the Slovaks and the Hungarians. The
recent redrawing of the administrative regions of Slovakia cut the island into two,
eliminating the last district in Slovakia which had an absolute majority of Hungarians.
The above overview adds additional significance to the question how and why
Csallóköz was assigned to Czechoslovakia in 1919/20.
The fait accompli
On the verge of economic, military and psychological collapse, on October 4, 1918,
Austria-Hungary asked for an armistice, based on President Wilson’s Fourteen
Points. Neither those, nor the peace terms set forth by the British Prime Minister,
David Llyod George on January 5, 1918, envisaged the dismemberment of the
Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Both programmes called for “autonomous
2 Adding to hundreds of publications a compromise solution to the controversial Gabcikovo-Nagymaros
hydroelectric project by Béla Lipták is put forward at http://duna.org/danube/hung/terv.htm
development,” self-government for its many peoples. But by October 18, when the
U.S. Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, sent an answer, he already insisted on the
recognition of the independence of Czechoslovakia and a Southern Slav State. That
was conceded in a note sent by Gyula Andrássy, Jr., the common foreign minister of
the Austria-Hungary for the last few days. A gathering of Slovak politicians at
Turócszentmárton/Turciansky Svety Martin on October 30 decided in joining the
Czechs in a common state, while at Kassa (later Kosice) Slovaks not eager to join
the Czechs were organizing themselves and proclaimed an Eastern Slovak Republic
on December 11.3 The armistice signed on November at Padova did not refer to the
issue of the borders. It allowed free movement for the troops of the victorious allies
on the territory of the by then defunct Monarchy. Count Károlyi, the new Hungarian
Prime Minister appointed by King Charles, tried to consolidate his position by a
military convention signed with General Franchet d’Esperey on November 13. That
drew a demarcation line, allowing the military occupation of the southern and eastern
regions of Hungary, but made no mention of the North, the claims of the Czechs.
“Possession is nine tenth of the law,” say the English, and Hungary’s neighbours
acted accordingly. Romania re-entered the war on November 5 (two days after the
armistice was signed) and its troops entered Transylvania even before the Belgrade
Convention. On November 8 the first Czech units tried to take the northern areas of
Hungary, only to be repelled with the modest Hungarian forces dispatched. Eduard
Benes, the by now really influential spokesman of the Czechs in Paris, sent a note to
the French on November 3, claiming the territories north of the Pozsony-Komárom-
Esztergom-Vác-Rimaszombat-Kassa-Csap-Máramarossziget line.4 That included the
Csallóköz, in accordance with the various plans and maps put forward by Masaryk
and Benes in their campaign conducted during the war in France, Britain, Russia and
3 Romsics, Ignác: The Dismantling of Historic Hungary: the Peace Treaty of Trianon, 1920. New York:
Columbia University Press, 2002. 69.
4 Ormos Mária: Padovától Trianonig [From Padova to Trianon], Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1993. 56-57.
finally in the United States.5 Disappointed with the military convention and fearing
that Hungary may win over too many Slovaks with the proposed autonomy, Benes
turned to Pichon, the French foreign minister, and succeeded in convincing him that
the Belgrade Convention must be overruled and the newly formed Czechoslovak
state and its army should be authorized to occupy the territories it claimed from
Hungary. Lt.-Colonel Vix, the representative of the Allies in Budapest, passed on this
information to Károlyi on December 3.6 Uncertain about the intention of the victorious
Great Powers, and aware of the weakness of the armed forces of the new state,
Milan Hodza, formerly a Slovak member of the Hungarian Parliament, now the
representative of the new Czechoslovakia in Budapest, wanted to guarantee the
peaceful transfer of the administration of Northern Hungary to Slovak hands, so he
concluded an agreement with the Hungarian government (not incidentally with the
Minister of Defense, Albert Bartha) on December 6 on a line which reflected the
actual ethnic border between the Slovaks and the Hungarians. It ran north of the
Pozsony [Pressburg, Prezburok in Slovak - the name Bratislava was just being
invented and introduced] - Bazin - Érsekújvár - Losonc - Kassa - Tőketerebes line.
The Hungarian government recognized an autonomous Slovak administration north
of it, in the predominantly Slovak-inhabited regions.7 The Csallóköz was naturally left
Benes and the Prague government was aghast: what they wanted was not the
territorial separation of the Slovaks from the Hungarians and the creation of a
5 Dagmar Perman: The Shaping of the Czechoslovak State. (Leyden, 1962). V.ö. Arday Lajos: Térkép, csata után.
Magyarország a brit külpolitikában (1918-1919). (Budapest: Magvető, 1919), 120-124. It is worth noting that in the first
proposal set forth by Masaryk in October 1914 the north-western border of Hungary was the Little Danube (Kis-Duna), so it
left the Csallóköz with Hungary. Arday, 120.
6 Ibid, 78., 103-104.; Zsuzsa L. Nagy: Peacemaking after World War I: The Western Democracies and the
Hungarian Question. In Stephen Borsody (ed.): The Hungarians: a Divided Nation. New Haven: Yale Center
for International and Area Studies, 1988. 35-36.; Herczegh Géza: A szarajevoi merénylettől a potsdami
konferenciáig. Magyarország a világháborús Európában. Budapest: Magyar Szemle Könyvek, 1999. 92.
7 Gratz Gusztáv: A forradalmak kora. Budapest: Magyar Szemle Társaság, 1935.56-57.; Hajdu Tibor: Az
1918-as magyarországi polgári demokratikus forradalom. Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1968. 159.; Ormos,
106-109.; Vígh Károly: A szlovákiai magyarság sorsa. Budapest: Bereményi, , 22-23. Romsics, 67-68.
genuinely national state, they wanted to acquire a “corridor” through Hungarian
territory to Yugoslavia, the Danube as the border to Vác, and also the Börzsöny,
Mátra and Bükk Mountains, with Subcarpathia added, up to Máramarossziget. In the
following days the newly formed Czechoslovak Army occupied the territory assigned
to it in the Bartha-Hodza agreement, but they were determined to push further.
Benes, using strategic arguments with Marshal Foch, the Supreme Commander of
the Allied forces, and political ones with the Quai d’Orsay, managed to get a line
half-way between the Czech demands and the Bartha-Hodza line, which was sent by
Prime Minister Clemenceau to Franchet d’Esperey on December 19. “The southern
border of Czechoslovakia is the Danube, then the River Ipoly up to the town of
Rimaszombat, from there straight eastward to the River Ung, and follows the latter
until it reaches the old border.” The unsuspecting Vix first learned about the new line
from Hodza on December 22, and on the following day he received instructions to
convey it to Károlyi.8 The Hungarian government, weakened by internal strife
between the radical left and the disillusioned right, protested but acquiesced and
ordered the evacuation of the territory demanded. Isolated resistance occurred, but
Budapest categorically banned any armed action, so the rising planned in the
Csallóköz was abandoned and by January 20 the territories north of the new
demarcation line were evacuated.9
The British position on the borders of Hungary
For centuries England was a supporter, often an ally of the Habsburg Monarchy.
This was dictated by the assumption that the balance of power demanded the
existence of a Great Power in Central Europe. That attitude explains that in 1848/49
the British government did not support the cause of Hungary’s independence,
despite the enthusiastic endorsement of that by the overwhelming majority of the
8 Ormos, 109-111.
9 Hajdu, 160. Romsics, 69.
public. The Compromise reached between Hungary and the Habsburgs in 1867 was
warmly welcomed as a guarantee for the continued existence and increased strength
of the Monarchy. Later on both friendly and unfriendly policies towards Germany
involved Austria-Hungary in the calculations. That is why the British public took a
strong interest in the affairs of Austria-Hungary, as demonstrated by the large
number of books and newspaper articles which covered various aspects of the
Monarchy.10 Despite the many changes in the international scene, despite
sympathies and antipathies felt by individual Britons toward the Habsburgs and their
peoples, the preservation and strength of the Habsburg Monarchy remained one of
the cornerstones of British foreign policy and public thinking right up to the British
declaration of war on Austria-Hungary on August 12, 1914.
During the Great War all the imaginary and real shortcomings of Austria and
Hungary were highlighted in the British press, but the blackened reputation was not
the cause of the volte-face of British foreign policy, only facilitated it, and later served
as justification for the unfair borders drawn by the peace conference in 1919.
Nevertheless it took great efforts for the British friends of the Czech and Croat
politicians who went into exile in the hope of making the independence of their
respective nations one of the war aims of the Allies (primarily Wickham Steed of The
Times and the political writer R.W. Seton-Watson), to convince their government
about the need to accept the idea of breaking up the Monarchy into national units.
From August 1914 Seton-Watson was working with the utmost exertion, not sparing
his health and his wealth, for the destruction of Austria-Hungary and for the creation
of a New Europe. He did that in the belief that it would lead to the quick defeat of
Germany and at the same time it would ensure a better future for all the peoples of
Central and Eastern Europe. His articles, the weekly journal The New Europe started
10 See my Az elveszett presztízs. Magyarország megítélésének megváltozása Nagy-Britanniában (1894-1918)
[Prestige Lost. The Changing Image of Hungary in Great Britain, 1894-1918]. Budapest: Magvető Könyvkiadó,
1986. 2nd ed. Budapest: Magyar Szemle Kiadó, 1994.
in October 1916, and finally Steed and Seton-Watson as co-directors of the Austro-
Hungarian section of the Department of Propaganda in Enemy Countries under Lord
Northcliffe (incidentally the brother of Lord Rothermere, who later became a strong
advocate of revising the borders of Hungary in a more fair way) provided intellectual
munitions for the decision-makers to abandon not only the territorial integrity but
even of the very existence of Austria-Hungary.11 Such a course was not adopted
until the Spring, 1918, and then only as a last, desperate measure to foment dissent
and rebellion inside the Monarchy, in the name of liberating the "oppressed" Slavic
and other nationalities. The aim was to prevent Germany from winning the war with
the troops freshly released from the Eastern war theatre after the Peace Treaty of
In 1918 the British Government recognized the Czechoslovak National Council "as
the supreme organ of the Czechoslovak movement in Allied countries", and its
military force "as an organized unit operating in the Allied cause" (May 27), followed
by the Supreme War Council's expression of "earnest sympathy for the nationalistic
aspirations towards freedom of the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav peoples" (June 3),
and finally the British Government officially accepting "the Czechoslovak National
Council as the supreme organ of the Czechoslovak national interests and as the
present trustee of the future Czechoslovak Government" (August 9).
Before the proposals and plans of Seton-Watson’s “New Europe” group were turned
into reality by the armies of the victors and by the peace conference, Leo Amery, a
trusted adviser to the Prime Minister, made an appeal to Balfour, the Foreign
Secretary, against the creation of what he thought would be unviable, weak states. In
11 H. and C. Seton-Watson, The Making of a New Europe: R.W. Seton-Watson and the Last Years of Austria-Hungary
(London, 1981) is the most authoritative account of the campaign.
12 The story of this fundamental change can be followed in a number of well-researched books: Z. A. B.
Zeman: The Gentlemen Negotiators. A Diplomatic History of the First World War (New York 1971); W.H.
Rothwell, British War Aims and Peace Diplomacy 1914-1918 (Oxford, 197l); K.J. Calder, Britain and the Origins of the
New Europe 1914-1918 (Cambridge, 1976); W. Fest, Peace or Partition. The Habsburg Monarchy and British Policy 1914-
1918 (London, 1981); and Lajos Arday, "Economics Versus Nationality. British plans for Re-shaping East-Central Europe in
1917-1919," Hungarian Studies in English, XI, 165-172. In my Elveszett presztízs Chapter VII gives a summary of this
process, mainly from a Hungarian angle. V.ö. Arday, Chapters I and III.
his opinion the Austro-Hungarian problem can not be settled "on the principle of
simply using our victory to satisfy the ambitions of our friends," since it "will inevitably
create a state of unrest and instability which will sooner or later lead up to another
war." Amery had a different proposal. "Permanent stability and prosperity could best
be secured by a new Danubian Confederation comprising German Austria, Bohemia,
Hungary, Yugoslavia, Rumania and probably also Bulgaria. [...] To attempt to create
artificial sovereignties, especially on the basis of 'spoils to the victor,' is only to create
a new and more troubled Balkan Peninsula. The wisest course is to aim at securing
the fairest and most workable rearrangement on national lines, but at the same time
actively to encourage the idea of a new union, preferably one which would include
the whole of the present Austro-Hungarian Empire (excepting Galicia and Bukovina),
and Rumania, Serbia and Bulgaria as well. In such a union the different nationalities
would find the solution of their nationalist rivalries and an ample field for prosperous
development. [...] In any case the various nationalities of Central Europe are so
interlocked, and their racial frontiers are so unsuitable as the frontiers of really
independent sovereign states, that the only satisfactory and permanent working
policy for them lies in their incorporation in a non-national superstate. We can delay,
but we cannot prevent the eventual coming of that superstate. […] A League of
Nations based on the principle of nationalism might soon find itself as much of an
anomaly and an obstacle to progress as the Holy Alliance in its day. [...] For the
purposes of the war we have rightly backed up Czecho-Slovaks, Yugoslavs and
every anti-German and anti-Austrian movement we could find. But for the purposes
of a lasting settlement we must regulate the satisfaction of these national aspirations
by the need of creating, or recreating, a larger super-national unity in Central and
The paper raised considerable interest in the Foreign Office, but the "experts"
succeeded in neutralizing Amery´s effect. Harold Nicolson thought it was useless for
the British to make confederation plans for other peoples. He raised two important
issues, however: whether Britain ought to play the role of an impartial judge between
friends and foes, and whether the new frontiers should be based on traditional
strategic and economic considerations or in the new Europe of the League of
Nations such things would become superfluous and outdated. Namier brushed the
worries of Amery aside by stating that the number of states would not change, only
Serbia and Romania would receive "more sensible" borders. The minutes calmed
Cecil, now the Assistant Secretary of State, the highest official who saw the
13 "The Austro-Hungarian Problem," Memorandum by L.S. Amery, Oct.20, 1918. Public Record Office,
London. FO, 371/3136/17223.
memorandum, who at first had shown "considerable sympathy" towards Amery´s
views.14 The opinion of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace, the Inquiry,
was not very different. By the end of the war they accepted the division of Central
Europe into national states, but in the final report on Austria-Hungary Charles
Seymour expressed serious reservations. „The Commission is forced to the
conclusion that the frontiers proposed are unsatisfactory as the international
boundaries of sovereign states. It has been found impossible to discover such lines,
which would be at the same time just and practical. An example of the injustice that
would result may be instanced in the fact that a third of the area and population of
the Czecho-Slovak state would be alien to that nationality. Another lies in placing a
quarter of the Magyars under foreign domination. But any attempt to make the
frontier conform more closely to the national line destroys their practicability as
international boundaries. Obviously many of these difficulties would disappear if the
boundaries were to be drawn with the purpose of separating not independent
nations, but component portions of a federalized state. A reconsideration of the data
from this aspect is desirable."15
In the last days of October the Habsburg Monarchy fell to pieces, its peoples
becoming hostile neighbours and rivals. The armistice was signed with an already
non-existing legal entity, and when Benes protested against that, the British Foreign
Office apologized and from November 4 the Czech leader was invited to the
meetings of the heads of the Allied governments.16 Seton-Watson’s two memoranda
composed in late November, which were included in the official documentation of the
British Peace Delegation, pointed out that henceforward the Allies were obliged to
deal with six successor governments, and the only question left was the delimitation
of the new frontiers.17 The memorandum on “The Future Frontiers of Hungary” said
“it will be necessary to constitute boundary commissions, consisting of
representatives of the two countries directly concerned and delegates appointed by
15 Charles Seymour, "Epitome of Reports on Just and Practical Boundaries Within Austria-Hungary for Czecho-
Slovaks, Jugo-Slavs, Rumanians, Poles, Ruthenians, Magyars," undated [around the end of 1918], National
Archives, Washington, RG 256. Inquiry Doc. 514.
16 H. Hanak, "The Government, the Foreign Office and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918." The Slavonic and East
European Review, (1969), No. 108. p. 197.
17 H. and C. Seton-Watson: op. cit., p. 324.
the Peace Conference or by the League of Nations if already constituted. With a
view to allaying inter-racial friction in the meantime, it may be helpful to establish
certain gray zones […] which should be administered under international control until
the Boundary Commission should have completed their enquiries.” The large island
of the Csallóköz was listed as a gray zone, despite the fact that its population was
practically purely Hungarian.
The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, like the American President,
committed himself to a fair and just peace. On Novermber 12, the day after the
armistice was signed, he addressed representatives of his Liberal Party. “No
settlement which contravenes the principles of eternal justice will be a permanent
one. Let us be warned by the example of 1871. We must not allow any sense of
revenge, any spirit of greed, any grasping desire, to over-ride the fundamental
principles of righteousness. Vigorous attempts will be made to hector and bully the
Government in the endeavour to make them depart from the strict principles of right
and to satisfy some base, sordid, squalid ideas of vengeance and of avarice.”18
The official British proposal on the new borders of Hungary was drawn up by
February 8. From Pozsony to Komárom it followed the northern branch of the
Danube (Kis-Duna), so left the Csallóköz with Hungary. Czechoslovakia’s access to
the Danube was envisaged by assigning the (purely Hungarian) territory between
Komárom and the confluence of the River Ipoly.19
The Peace Conference
The conference that started its deliberations on January 18 in Paris was in fact only
the “preliminary conference,” a gathering of the victors aiming to arrive at a common
platform vis-à-vis the vanquished. The claims of Czechoslovakia were presented to
18 Quoted by Harold Nicolson: Peacemaking 1919 (London: Constable, 1933), 21.
19 PRO FO 608. vol. 5, No. 1645. 490-501.
the Council of Ten (the heads of government and the foreign ministers of the five
Great Powers: the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan and United States) on
February 5 by E. Benes, now Foreign Minister. Having presented a rather distorted
history of “the Czechoslovak nation,” he claimed the western strip of Hungary as a
territorial link with Yugoslavia, the Danube as “natural border” down to the town of
Vác, and from there a line to Miskolc (including the town) and most of the Tokaj wine
growing region. He announced that the Ruthenians (Rusyns) yearned for escaping
Hungarian jurisdiction and autonomy in Czechoslovakia, and although that would
place a burden on the new republic, Czechoslovakia was “willing to assume such a
burden.”20 Lloyd George inquired about the ethnic composition of the territories
claimed, and specifically about the Csallóköz.21 Although Benes used totally false
ethnic data in his presentation (including the absurd figure of 450,000 Slovaks being
left in Hungary), he admitted that the claim to the Csallóköz was based on economic
arguments: Czechoslovakia needed agricultural areas so as to be self-sufficient in
food production.22 But he also asserted that the rural population north of the Danube
was “Slovak in its deepest layer.”
The consideration of the Czechoslovak claims was assigned to a sub-committee
composed of the representatives of the Great Powers. It was headed by the French
Jules Cambon, and the Italian S. Raggi as Vice-Chairman, Harold Nicolson was the
British representative, joined by the Australian Minister for the Navy, Sir John Cook.
The U.S. nominated Allen Dulles and Charles Seymour. Nicolson was filled with
enthusiasm for the emerging “New Europe.” “It was the thought of the new Serbia,
the new Greece, the new Bohemia, the new Poland which made our hearts sing
hymns at heaven’s gate.” He gave credit to Seton-Watson and his weekly, The New
Europe, for this feeling. “Bias there was, and prejudice. But they proceeded, not from
20 Romsics, 78.
21 Ibid., 80.
22 Ormos, 156.
any revengeful desire to subjugate and penalise our late enemies, but from a fervent
aspiration to create and fortify the new nations whom we regarded, with maternal
instinct, as the justification of our sufferings and of our victory.”23 Having revealed his
sympathy mixed with distrust towards Germany and Austria he went on: “My feelings
toward Hungary were less detached. I confess that I regarded, and still regard, that
Turanian tribe with acute distaste. Like their cousins the Turks, they had destroyed
much and created nothing. Buda pest was a false city devoid of any autochthonous
reality. For centuries the Magyars had oppressed their subject nationalities. The hour
of liberation and of retribution was at hand.”24 But the other British members of the
Territorial Committee (Allen Leeper, J. Headlam Morley) as well as their superior,
Eyre Crowe, all showed a strong dislike towards Germany and Hungary.25 Cook
admitted that his knowledge of the issues at stake was that in case of doubt he
should support the friend against the enemy. As we saw, the attitude of the foremost
American expert, Charles Seymour, was different. In fact Seton-Watson, the idealist
advocate of justice, too, tried to be more fair than the officials, but his criticism of the
excessive demands of the Serbs and Romanians did not apply to the Czechs.26 He
was not a member of the British delegations, but at the end of December he moved
to Paris, where he shared an apartment with Steed close to the Arc de Triomphe and
the hotels where the British Peace Delegations were staying.27 His influence,
however, was more on the principles than on the details. He thought that “The main
intertest of the Czecho-Slovaks, as of every State under the new dispensation, is to
be saddled with as few, not as many, alien subjects as possible; and it will be an
unmixed blessing for Prague if it can find safe devices for paring down certain
sections of the frontier and so reducing the number of German and Magyar
23 Nicolson, 33.
24 Ibid., 34. Such singular antipathy must have been rooted in the period when Nicolson’s father was Consul-
General in Budapest in the 1880s. Arday’s explanation about an affair as the cause (p. 318, n. 60) is plausible.
25 Arday, 140-141. Cf. C. and H. Seton-Watson, 340.
26 C. and H. Seton-Watson, 341-342., 349.
27 Ibid, 335.
subjects.28 He, as usual, proved naïve in his assessment of his Central European
The Czechoslovak Committee drew up its proposals between February 27 and
March 14. At the meeting of February 28 it appeared that it was only the French who
wanted the Csallóköz to be given to Czechoslovakia. A sub-committee was charged
to work out the details of the Slovak-Hungarian border. Despite his strong anti-
Hungarian feelings Nicolson’s diary shows that he tried to be fair. “We begin with
Pressburg and reach agreement.” That meant that the town, where only 15 % of the
inhabitants were Slovak, would pass to Czechoslovakia. “Then we get to the Grosse
Schütt. French want to give it to the Czechs. The U.S. want to give it to the Magyars.
I reserve judgement, saying it depends on whether German Hungary [the future
Burgenland] is given to Austria.” Then he described the wrangling over the rest of the
border, where the Americans “want to go north along the ethnical line, thus cutting all
the railways.29 On March 4 Benes was summoned to explain his demands. Nicolson
was not impressed: “Never have I known so voluble a man.”30 In the following days
the debate continued about Sátoraljaújhely and the Csallóköz. The higher-ranking
Brits turned around on the latter. For March 7 Nicolson wrote in his diary: “Crowe
and Sir Joseph Cook insist upon giving the Grosse Schütt to the Czechs. I cannot
persuade them out of it. I am sure [Nicolson’s italics] they are wrong and it is heartbreaking
to have to support a claim with which I disagree. I am anxious about the
future political complexion of the Czech State if they have to digest solid enemy
electorates, plus an Irish Party in Slovakia, plus a Red party in Ruthenia, to say
nothing of their own extreme socialists. However, as I am tied one end by the Grosse
Schütt and the other end by Satoralja [sic], the only concessions I can make are on
the Satoralja-Komarom sector. In the afternoon meeting at the Quai d’Orsay I and
28 Ibid., 355-356.
29 Nicolson, 275.
30 Ibid., 277.
Lerond give way on this sector and accept the American line.”31 On March 8 the
Czechoslovak Committee accepted the proposal of the sub-committee that
Csallóköz and the Sátoraljaújhely--Csap railway line would go to Czechoslovakia,
but left most the town of Sátoraljaújhely with Hungary, and turned down the corridor
between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.32 On March 14 all the borders of
Czechoslovakia were accepted to be presented to the Council of Four.33
The full extent of the mutilations Hungary was to suffer was first realized by the
British Prime Minister. In his Fontainebleau Memorandum (March 25) Lloyd George
warned that “There will never be peace in South-Eastern Europe if every little state
now coming into being is to have a large Magyar irredenta within its borders. I would
therefore take as a guiding principle of the peace that as far as humanly possible,
the different races should be allocated to their motherlands, and that this human
criterion should have precedence over considerations of strategy or economic, or
transportation consideration, which are usually economics or communications, which
can usually be adjusted by other means.”34 Unfortunately the British delegates did
not stand up to these sensible principles with sufficient vigour. As it was shown,
Llyod George held such views already well before Bolshevism captured Hungary, but
now he reinforced his position with the comment: “one Russia is enough.”35
Cambon presented the recommendations of the Czechoslovak Committee to the four
foreign ministers on April 1. He explained the departure from the ethnic principle with
the very economic and strategic considerations denounced by Lloyd George. When
Lansing, the U.S. Secretary of State objected, Cambon argued that without generous
31 Ibid, 279-280.
32 The debates are summarized by Romsics, 83-85. He shows that the French were the most partisan, and the
Americans were „intent on avoiding any injustice with regard to the Hungarians,” to the dismay of the French.
33 Ormos, 197-200; Arday 158-159.
34 Francis Deák: Hungary at the Paris Peace Conference (New York, 1942), 52. Quoted by Romsics, 94-95.
35 Herczegh, 112-113.; Margaret Macmillan: Paris 1919 (New York, 2003), 263.
borders it would be difficult to defend the new country. Laroche added that referenda
cannot be allowed because they would lead to a very narrow and poor state.36
There was still a small chance for a change over the Csallóköz. Under the impact of
the shock caused by the proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the
Supreme Council, on the initiative of Lloyd George, sent the South African Boer
General, J.C. Smuts, the member of the British War Cabinet, to Budapest, with the
task of finding out how best to handle the Bolshevik danger. Béla Kun failed to
accept a modified version of a neutral zone between the Romanian and Hungarian
troops, so Smuts left Budapest immediately.37 On his way back, instructed by Llyod
George, he visited Prague and during his conversation with President Masaryk on
April 7 he expressed the British concern about Czechoslovakia annexing the large,
purely Hungarian territory north of the Danube. According to Smuts Masaryk was
ready to forego the claim provided Czechoslovakia was given a little strip on the right
bank of the Danube, facing Pozsony.38 In Paris Smuts emphatically urged the
Conference, and on May 3 specifically the Council of the Foreign Ministers, to accept
such a deal. Four to five hundred thousand Hungarians in the southern strip of the
new state “would cause a serious problem” in the future, he said.39 No avail.
Nicolson gave the following account in his diary entry of May 3: “Masaryk had agreed
that if they could obtain a bridgehead across the river at Pressburg they would
abandon the Grosse Schütt. I begged Hardinge [the Permanent Under-Secretary of
the Foreign Office] to bring this offer up before the [Supreme] Council. He did so, in
an admirable manner. I had even drafted a specific resolution (I have learnt the value
36 Arday, 160-161.
37 Ormos, 227-230.; Romsics, 95-96.; Lojkó Miklós: „Brit békemissziók Közép-Európában. Smuts tábornok és
Sir George Clerk tárgyalásai 1919-ben.” In Frank Tibor (szerk.) Angliától Nagy-Britanniáig. Magyar kutatók
tanulmányai a brit történelemről. Budapest: Gondolat, 2004.327-332.
38 Ormos, 230.; Arday, 161-162.; Romsics, 96.
39 Romsics, 100, based on Deák, 433.
of ‘resolutions’) to that effect.40 To my dismay, however, Pichon put up Laroche to
say that he had heard from Benes that Smuts had ‘completely misunderstood’ old
Masaryk. All the latter had said was ‘that some [Nicolson’s italics] people in
Czechoslovakia thought this would be a good arrangement, but that the Czech
Government thought it would be a very bad arrangement…’
This, I fear, is untrue. It increases my dislike of Kramarsh, who is behind everything
nasty that Benes does. They are in the pocket of the French. The French will now tell
them that they have ‘déjoué’ an anti-Czech intrigue on my part. Yet it wasn’t an
intrigue. It was an eleventh-hour attempt to right a palpable injustice.”41 Nicolson did
not mention that at that point Lansing interposed that the ministers should not put
pressure on the experts of the Committee. The following day (or on May 5) the
Czech Committee once more argued over the Csallóköz. “Laroche backs up his
argument by producing a written note from Benes. We are forced to give way. The
Czechs will have their Magyars and their Island. I do not feel this to be a wise
decision: but I have done my best. Evidently Masaryk committed a gaffe and has
been forced to deny it by his Government.”42
The Foreign Ministers discussed the recommendations on the borders of
Czechoslovakia on May 8. This time Lansing woke up to say that “in every instance
the decision was to the detriment of Hungary; some two million Hungarians end up
under Rumanian and Czechoslovak sovereignty!” Pichon and his associates,
Tardieu and Laroche, gave strong support to the recommendations of the
Committee, while Balfour and Sonnino remained silent.43 The British Secretary, a
former Conservative Prime Minister, was apparently not interested in such minor
matters, and he was not inclined to fight for the principles enunciated by his Liberal
40 His text was the following: „This committee should proceed from the assumption that the island of Grosse
Schütt shall be excluded from Czeco-Slovak territory provided that in return a small enclave opposite Pressburg
is ceded to the new Republic.” Ibid.
41 Nicolson, 324.
42 Ibid, 325. ; Herczegh, 114-115.
43 Romsics, 101.
successor, Llyod George, so the Ministers endorsed the borders proposed by the
Committee without any change.
The Council of Four gave its own approval on May 12, without any debate. Thus the
fate of the Csallóköz was already practically settled when on May 6 Seton-Watson
left Paris for Prague, to see the fruits of his exertions. In letters sent to his wife and to
Headlam-Morley, one of the British delegates in Paris dealing mainly with Germany,
he said that conditions in the new state, including in Bratislava, were better than he
had expected. He had conversations with Masaryk and several Czech and Slovak
leading politicians. In his reports he gave a somewhat rosy picture of how the
German and Hungarian minority accepted the new situation.44 On May 26, in a long
letter sent to Headlam, he expressed a view, based on his false belief that a large
number of the Hungarians assigned to Czechoslovakia were “Magyarized” Slovaks,
that soon most of the Hungarians would “return” to their Slovak nationality. While
admitting that the population of the Csallóköz was Hungarian, Seton swallowed the
Slovak propaganda that they, due to their economic interests, preferred to belong to
the new state. “Tell Nicolson that in the question of the Schütt I made up my mind.”
When finally the Hungarians we allowed to present their case at the Conference in
early 1920 Czechoslovakia already held the Csallóköz and other Hungarian areas
firmly in its hands. To the consternation of the French and the Czechs Llyod George
took strong objections to the unfairness of the proposed treaty with Hungary. At the
London meeting of the Heads of Delegations on March 3, 1920 he pointed out that
“one-third of the total Magyar population” would find itself under foreign rule. There
will be no peace in Central Europe “if it were discovered afterwards that the claims of
Hungary were sound and that a whole community of Magyars had been handed over
44 H. and C. Seton-Watson, 365-371.
like cattle to Czecho-Slovakia and to Transylvania [sic], simply because the
Conference had refused to examine the Hungarian case.” Nitti, the new Italian Prime
Minister, agreed with him, while Berthelot, representing Millerand, the new French
Prime Minsiter, stubbornly opposed any re-examination of the border issue. The
British expert, Allen Leeper, took a position contrary to his Prime Minister on March
8. For example he said that without the Csallóköz the nearby population, including
Pozsony and Komárom, would be condemned to starvation, and in the East the
railroad lines precluded following the ethnic line. Since a year earlier Lloyd George,
too, accepted the Czechoslovak borders, Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary,
did not press the issue further,45 and the Csallóköz, together with the one million
Hungarians assigned to the new country, remained part of Czechoslovakia, at least
until 1938, and ever since 1945.
Czechoslovakia, and since 1993 Slovakia, has not proved to be a good host to its
Hungarians. It failed to get rid all of them after the Second World War, but the
colonization efforts bore bitter fruits. Since any border change is being ruled out by
the international community, the only hope for improving the lot of the Hungarians of
Slovakia and also of the relationship between Slovakia and Hungary (now allies in
NATO and very soon fellow members of the European Union) lies in genuine local
self-government, one of the cornerstones of democracy. That, however, will not be
accepted by the majority of the Slovaks without strong outside pressure. The powers
who drew up a bad peace treaty in 1919/20 should feel obliged to remedy it by
applying such a pressure.
45 Romsics, 135-137.