The peace treaties of Saint-Germain and Trianon sealed the disintegration of Austria-Hungary. In the end, there were seven successor states: Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Italy. Based on U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of “national self-determination,” all of the former Habsburg nations hoped for decisions to their benefit. However, immediately after the Armistice of Padova on November 3, 1918, the victorious Entente Powers began occupying provinces of the dissolved monarchy, without regard to the national composition. It was an imperialist peace order, willfully imposed, creating ruptures that still have not healed to this day.
The Paris Peace Conference
Convening on January 18, 1919, the Peace Conference was complicated from the start, with five Allied and 24 Associated States represented. The directing Supreme Council, was first a Council of Ten (the heads of state and foreign ministers of France, Great Britain, the
United States, Italy, and Japan), and later a Council of Four (Georges Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and Vittorio Orlando) and a Council of Foreign Ministers.
Even before the Austrian delegation had left for Paris, in mid-May, the Council of Four had already settled the questions of the Bohemian lands, Lower Styria, Southern Carinthia, and South Tyrol.
On February 5, Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš had claimed Bohemia, Moravia, Austrian Silesia, Slovakia, and Lusatia “for ethnographic reasons” – conveniently disregarding the 3.5 million German-speakers in Bohemian lands.
On February 18, the Yugoslav delegation claimed parts of southern Carinthia and Lower Styria, southern Hungary, some Bulgarian cities, the Albanian city of Skutari, and the Austrian Littoral. No fewer than eleven Styrian and thirteen Carinthian judicial districts of 470,000 inhabitants (incl. 229,000 Slovenes and 218,000 German-speakers) were under dispute.
Negotiations on Austria’s boundaries with Yugoslavia followed in March and April, leading the Council to “assign the Marburg Basin to Yugoslavia” but hold a plebiscite on the Klagenfurt Basin, which the Americans wanted for Austria. On May 12, Clemenceau, Wilson, and Lloyd George agreed.
The Italian delegation was interested only in the territories promised in the secret Treaty of London (April 26, 1915), with the addition of the Austro-Hungarian port Fiume/Rijeka. In a passionate defense, Italian Prime Minister Orlando argued that Austria had been Italy’s main enemy during the war. And, anyway, the Poles, Czechs, Romanians, and Yugoslavs were also
breaking the principle of nationality. After intense negotiations, the Council of Four decided in favor of Italy.
The Treaty of Saint-Germain
On May 14, the German-Austrian delegation under the leadership of State Chancellor Karl Renner arrived at the Paris suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. But they had no chance to negotiate: On May 29, Renner was simply informed that the new Republic was now
recognized as “The Republic of Austria,” and that the German-speaking districts of Bohemia were allocated to Czechoslovakia, the South Tyrol to Italy, and Lower Styria to Yugoslavia.
The peace conditions included the plebiscite in the Klagenfurt Basin, ultimately decided in Austria’s favor, and a part of Western Hungary with Ödenburg/Sopron granted to Austria. As one of the two heirs to the dual Monarchy, Austria had to accept a “war guilt” clause (Art. 177), and in Article 207, to concede all state property within their borders to the successor states; this also included “all crown property as well as the private property of the former Austro-Hungarian ruling family.”
Despite this, on 6 September 1919, the Social Democratic and Christian Social deputies voted in favor, albeit under protest, and instructed Renner to sign the Peace Treaty at the Castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 10 September.
The Treaty of Trianon
The fate of Hungary was equally grim: the mood in Paris was anything but Hungary-friendly, as President Károlyi had ceded his power to a Revolutionary Council led by Béla Kun. So as Red Guards terrorized aristocrat, bourgeoisie and peasant, Romanian and Czech units continued to advance towards core Hungary. In return, the Revolutionary Council mobilized the workers of Budapest and provincial towns and began counter-attacks in Slovakia in May 1. But despite Hungarian military successes, the Council of Four accepted the boundaries proposed by the Commission on Romanian and Yugoslav Affairs, and on June 13, 1919, the Allies presented Hungary with its new borders. Kun was unable to resist, and when Romanian troops reached Budapest, on August 1, 1919, he fled with his government on a special train to Vienna and then on to Moscow.
So when the Hungarian delegation arrived in Paris on January 6, 1920, they too met with a done deal: Hungary would lose all of Upper Hungary, the entirety of Transylvania, Crişana, and the Banat, Croatia-Slavonia with Fiume, as well as the greater part of the Bácska. The Hungarians protested vehemently: Shouldn’t the disputed areas be allocated in accordance with the wishes of their peoples? But France still bitter over Hungary’s historical support for Prussia would have none of it, and the treaty was signed on 4 June, in the Grand Trianon Palais at Versailles. It was all a “blatant injustice,” the Hungarian delegation insisted, as hundreds of thousands protested on the streets in Budapest with the slogan: “Nem! Nem!
Soha!” [No! No! Never!]
On July 7, 1919, the US, British, French, and Japanese delegates (but not the Italian!) agreed, to assign Austria a German-speaking territory of 250,000. However, Hungarian protests lead to a plebiscite in mid-December 1921: In the city of Sopron 72.8 percent of the participants voted for Hungary, in the neighboring eight villages 54.6 percent voted in favor
of Austria. According to the Venice Protocol, the two results had to be added together, making a total of 65.1 percent for Hungary. So on New Year’s Day 1922, the Entente Commission officially handed over Sopron and its environs to Hungary.
A century later, some conclusions are inescapable: For one, the Allied Powers treated the new Republic of Austria and Kingdom of Hungary far more harshly and vindictively than Germany. From the former Habsburg Monarchy only 27% of the total area and 28% of the inhabitants remained. Of 10 million German-Austrians only 6.1 million belonged to the new Republic (plus 250,000 Hungarian Germans), and of 10 million Magyars, only 6.8 million remained
Perhaps even more damaging, the two treaties partitioned the Empire’s economic and currency unity, and set up customs barriers. In addition, the Reparations Commissions sequestered all Austrian or Hungarian properties and their income until January 1930.
And many problems were left unresolved, particularly regarding the German (and Magyar) borderland minorities in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Italy. Europe remained divided between winners and losers, between defenders of the treaties
and revisionists, militarists and pacifists, capitalists and communists, right and left, creating lasting and divisive fault lines that, along with the echoes of those
church bells, still reverberate a hundred years on.
The Imperialist Peace Order in Central Europe: Saint-Germain and Trianon, 1919–1920 (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2019).