AMERICA is just now experiencing a wave of disillusionment about what was accomplished by the war. Among the objects we had set before us was the‘liberation of subject peoples’ in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Now the dual Empire is no more. Its territories are shared by six ‘national states’ — not counting what has gone to Italy. But Central Europe is in the throes of great distress. Some people are beginning to question whether, after all, our enthusiasm for the right of its peoples to independence was well-placed. A clearer analysis will show, however, that the breaking-up of the old Empire was inevitable, and that the ultimate result will probably make for good.
Throughout a great part of Central Europe there is a terrible shortage of food. Everywhere clothing and fuel are desperately scarce. Transportation is demoralized to the last degree. Manufacturing industries are largely at a standstill. By means of the strenuous efforts of American and inter-Allied commissions, coal-production has been restored in some degree, but is far below the pre-war level. The governments are fgreed to make huge expenditures; they have almost no revenues. To cover the deficits, they pour out floods of paper money. These countries having for the time being almost nothing to export, the value of their currency has fallen in international exchange far below even its depreciated internal value. Marks and crowns and leu and rubles and dinars count in the world-markets at ten or five or three or two per cent of their pre-war value. The governments and individuals find it almost impossible to obtain credit from private sources abroad; they have had to appeal to our government for loans to pay for food. Without outside credits they cannot buy the raw materials and the equipment failing which their industries must remain half-paralyzed. Hundreds of thousands of people are thus forced into idleness.
The economic recovery which is already manifest in Western Europe, even in Germany, finds little counterpart in Central Europe. One must not, however, jump to the conclusion that the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is the chief explanation of the greater severity of the economic depression in Central Europe. In any case, the close of the war would have left this region in worse plight than its western neighbors. Greatly as Western Europe suffered from the war, Central Europe, in proportion to its ability, suffered more. It had always been poorer. It was primarily agricultural, and its lands were overpopulated. Its people lacked education. The friction of the different nationalities had militated against economic progress. The standard of production and subsistence was low. There was little margin of safety to resist the shock of war. The destruction and derangement of the long years of conflict inevitably brought the people to that sub-maintenance level which tends toward a vicious circle. Inability to produce enough tends to perpetuate inability to produce more.
There is one encouraging feature in the economic situation of Central Europe as compared with that of Western Europe. Its principal industry is agriculture, and agriculture is of all industries the surest ultimately to recover from the shock of war. Even to-day, for the most part, only the city population of Central Europe is suffering for lack of food, and the city population forms a much smaller proportion of the total in this section than in the Western countries. It will not be long before all the states which have inherited Austrian or Hungarian territory — except, alas, German-Austria herself — can at least feed themselves. Moreover, a primarily agricultural country is not so dependent on imports as a primarily manufacturing country, and thus suffers less from demoralization of exchange.
It is, of course, true that the sudden breaking up of Austria-Hungary caused a shock which added to that of war. It meant a great overturn of the established order of business.
Within each of the states of the Dual Empire industry had been in large measure an organized unity, and between the two there were many economic and business ties. In each, railroad, banking, and insurance enterprise very generally overstepped the lines of province or nationality. Manufacturing, mining, and commercial enterprises often did the same. Vienna was as much the financial centre of Austria, and Budapest of Hungary, as New York is of the United States. Austria and Hungary had a common currency. Goods flowed freely between them. Hungary was the granary; western Austria and Bohemia the seat of manufactures and mining. Not infrequently a single business organization extended its operations throughout both states. To split into seven or eight fragments two kingdoms so organized individually and so linked together as a duality could not but mean a great disturbance of economic and business life.
The blow was the more severe because of the accompanying outburst of nationalistic separatism, not to say antagonism. The long repression had made inevitable more or less explosion of that spirit when the bonds were removed. Antagonisms had been embittered by the war. Some, at least, of the peoples had been forced to fight for the Central Powers against their will; that was galling indeed. The flame of national spirit had been fanned too by the exaggerated war-time pronouncements of the Allies regarding the wickedness of the tyranny of the Empire over subject peoples. It was inevitable under these conditions that the new national states should seek to sever as completely as possible old business relations with Germans and Magyars, with Vienna and Budapest. It was natural, too, that the spirit of separatism should appear in considerable measure between former fellows in ‘slavery’ as well, and that business ties between them should very commonly be broken off.
The usual flow of commerce, capital, credit, and people from one section to another of Central Europe has, temporarily, been reduced almost to the vanishing point. By reaction, each of the new boundaries is far more of a Chinese wall than it would be if it had always existed, if the Austro-Hungarian Empire had never been.
The difficulty with which intercourse is to-day carried on may be illustrated most vividly by the case of passenger travel. Suppose, for example, that one wishes to journey from Warsaw to Paris. There is, for those who can afford to pay the fare, — very high in terms of most European currencies, — a comfortable through train three times weekly, though it takes sixty hours instead of the thirty of the old days. Before he can start, the would-be traveler must make the round of seven consulates for visés. If he has ‘pull,’ he may escape the long waiting-lines at these offices; otherwise he must take his weary turn. If his life-history is clear, he may get through this process in three or four days. If some official holds him the least bit suspect, he may have to wait weeks while inquiries are made all around the world.
Duly documented, the traveler at last boards the train. But passage can be paid only to the first border. At each of the four frontiers crossed, a ticket must be purchased. If one has not provided himself with local currency, the train porters or the local Shylocks are likely to fleece him outrageously on exchange. The money difficulty is the greater because there are all sorts of restrictions on the carrying of currency. Certain kinds may not be taken into this or that country at all; others may be taken out, or through, only in limited amounts. At each frontier too there are long hours of customs and passport inspection. Trunks and hand-luggage are turned topsy-turvy. Just the other day the train from Paris to Warsaw happened to arrive at a certain border at an inconvenient hour. The officials would not get out of bed to make their inspections promptly. The conductor of the train would not wait for them to finish the process. Half the passengers had to leave their trunks behind and trust to fate that they might some day see them again.
The chances are slight that the passenger will know about all these border restrictions in advance. He is likely to be subjected to delay, or loss, or fine; or he may have to bribe heavily to get through. It seems sometimes as if the officials take a pride in displaying the new-born right of their country to hamper transit. The difficulty of language multiplies the confusion and irritation. Every frontier station is a bedlam. Passengers, worn and weary, storm and swear and weep in many tongues.
This statement is not fanciful. It is a faithful description of what happens daily, even with this great international express. The conditions of travel between countries by local trains, the only ones which carry third-class passengers, are manyfold more trying still.
More serious far, though less easy to describe and less picturesque, are the hindrances to the interchange of goods among the countries of Central Europe. The low ebb of production in all this region makes it most important that what is produced shall be used to the best advantage; that every surplus product of a given country shall be promptly exchanged for the surplus of some neighbor. Yet international trade is almost completely dammed. Of purely private commerce there is virtually none. ‘Compensation contracts’ must be made between governments. The return to the primitive method of barter of goods for goods is largely attributable to the unwillingness of each country to accept the fluctuating currency of the other. These compensation contracts give rise to constant recriminations. It sometimes seems that, instead of serving as stepping-stones to the resumption of normal commercial relations, they are tending toward greater estrangement.
Serious, too, is the interruption of mail and telegraphic communication, partly due to physical difficulties, but partly to the multiplication of boundaries. Letters, and even dispatches, often take weeks to go from one country to another. Not infrequently they go astray entirely. This difficulty of communication adds to the handicaps under which commerce in goods suffers.
The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire has not merely disorganized business. It has called forth new military activity which adds to the economic burdens of the people. Each of the new states has created a large army. One sees tens of thousands of troops drilling, marching, patrolling borders, digging trenches. Troopmovements require a large fraction of the utterly inadequate transportation facilities. A large part of the government expenditures goes for the army.
This creation of armies by the new national states was rendered necessary by the fact that peace had not yet been finally assured with Germany, German Austria, and Hungary. In part, too, it was necessitated by attack or risk of attack from Bolshevist Russia. To some extent, however, the former subject peoples have directed their military preparations against one another. There has been sharp fighting between the Czechs and the Poles over Teschen. A good many hot-heads in Jugo-Slavia and Roumania are ready to go to war over the possession of the Banat; neither country is satisfied with the division of that rich district of old Hungary as made by the Peace Conference. The question of Fiume and Dalmatia has been one motive of the Serbs in building up their army.
There is no small measure of imperialistic spirit in the new states of Central Europe. When it was a question of freeing themselves from the old masters, each people was strong in proclaiming the rights of all peoples. Now there is a tendency of each to claim rights for itself, regardless of those of others. Some form of argument is always put forward, but what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. A people will lay claim to this or that territory, on the ground that they must have it for safe defense, or for economic efficiency, or because their kings once in some distant past ruled over it, or because the great estates are owned by their compatriots, or because the civilization of the district is of their creation. Every one of these arguments will be rejected when put forward by some other people in regard to territory to which the first laid claim on the ground of nationality of the inhabitants. Some of the propagandist literature is absolutely ludicrous in its inconsistency. However, the greater states of the world are in no position to throw stones at the countries of Central Europe for their imperialistic ambitions or for lack of consistency in supporting them.
This outflaming of militaristic zeal among the new states is not necessarily a sign of permanent antagonism. It is the natural accompaniment of the new independence of the peoples and of the unsettled conditions. One could not expect to scatter new boundary lines all about without calling forth much jealousy. The normal tendency will be gradually to settle down. Meanwhile, however, the military activity in Central Europe is one of the serious immediate hindrances to economic recovery.
Greatly as the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary has disturbed the economic life of Central Europe, it by no means follows that it was a mistake to dismember it. Some have suggested that all that was necessary was to depose the Hapsburgs and convert the Empire into a republic, thus avoiding all this tearing-up of established relations.
Such a suggestion can arise only from complete misunderstanding of the psychology of Central Europe. It overlooks the force of nationalistic sentiment. A new republic could rise when the Hohenzollerns fell, because the Hohenzollerns had not been the fundamental tie which held Germany together. One could not rise in Austria-Hungary because the Hapsburgs had been almost the only cohesive force. The Germans are one people. They speak one language. They have common traditions and institutions. They not only possess, but fully recognize, community of interests. Austria-Hungary was polyglot. Its many peoples scarcely recognized that measure of common interest which did exist. Each of the ‘subject’ nationalities had for centuries dreamed of liberation. They could have been forced to remain together only by substituting for the Hapsburg yoke the yoke of some Allied dictator, backed by a powerful army. You could have called the government a republic, but it would have lacked every essential of democracy.
The force of the spirit of ‘nationality’ in Central Europe is not easy for an American to understand. The word itself must be given an extraordinary meaning when used here. ‘Nation’ is usually synonymous with ‘state’ or ‘country,’ and ‘nationality’ with citizenship in a nation. But for want of any other specialized term, ‘nationality’ has come also to be used to connote a group of people whose oneness consists, not in citizenship in a common country, but in identity of ‘race, language or religion.’ These three criteria, it may be noted, are those used in the treaty to distinguish those minorities in the new states whose rights are specially to be protected.
The strength of nationalism in Central Europe is the more remarkable because, as a matter of fact, the only important distinguishing feature of most nationalities in the region is language. For the most part they cannot be grouped on the basis of race or religion. Several of the peoples are divided in religious faith, yet they recognize their unity just the same. The word ‘race’ implies community of ancestry, carrying with it similarity in physical and mental characteristics. Of such community and similarity there is but little in most of the nationalities of Central Europe. Through the complex migrations and conquests of prehistoric times and of the middle and early modern ages, blood has become inextricably mixed. Historical research proves this, and anthropological observation and measurement confirm it. Among almost any one of the nationalities you may choose, you will find long heads and round heads, light complexions and dark, facial angles and brain weights of widest variety. For example, a group of Poles taken at random will present as great differences among themselves as exist between them and a group of Germans or Magyars.
Language may seem a mere trick of the tongue. One can learn a new language indifferently well in a year or so. Yet, after all, it is natural enough that difference of speech should constitute a profound barrier between people. It shuts out comprehension of one another’s merits, of one another’s similarities. It may be illogical, but it is natural, that a person should feel resentment at his neighbor whose speech he cannot understand. One attributes to him a certain inferiority or a certain hostility; it is all his fault. Language too carries with it history and literature and drama and folk-song. It binds a people to their past. It ministers to their group-pride.
The fixity of language demarcations in Central and Eastern Europe is the more surprising to the American because of the comparatively rapid manner in which our own country usually absorbs foreign elements. Even in the case of emigration from this very region, the second generation ordinarily drops the mother-tongue altogether and becomes pretty thoroughly Americanized. Why was Austria-Hungary not able likewise to assimilate its mixed people?
The answer is threefold — reaction against attempts at compulsory assimilation, immobility of the population, and low standard of education.
Emigrants come to America, usually, eager to learn English and to become part and parcel of the national life; where it is not so, even America finds it hard to absorb them. The efforts of Germany, Russia, and Austria to suppress the national languages and institutions had precisely the opposite effect from that intended. Every child was the more earnestly taught to use the language of his ancestors because that language was excluded from schools, newspapers, and official use.
A large proportion of the emigrants in America are widely scattered among the older American stock. Sometimes they form colonies, which delay assimilation, but even in that case they, and more especially their children, usually come into daily contact with Englishspeaking folk. In Central Europe there has been far less of such contact among peoples. This was partly because of their antagonistic attitude toward one another — cause and effect interacting. It was largely, however, due to that geographic immobility which is characteristic of old anti dense populations. The inhabitants of all this region are predominantly agricultural. It is ages since any new lands have lain open for settlement. The peasant family tills the same soil for generations. Centuries long the small community has lived and married and begot children within itself. When people migrated, it was more apt to be to America than to the next county. What wonder that language and habits and even costume have become deeply fixed. There are villages within an hour’s train-ride of Budapest where scarcely a soul can speak Magyar, and where but a handful have ever visited the metropolis.
Most important of all is the matter of education. America offers to every child, whether of native or of foreign stock, a reasonable education at public expense. Higher education is not difficult to obtain. Central Europe did not afford comparable facilities; it scarcely could, with its poverty. An efficient educational system would have served in large measure to break down the barriers of nationality. It is not merely a question of learning the tongues of neighbor peoples. A high standard of education enables people to think more clearly, to know better the merits and the characteristics of peoples whose speech even they cannot understand, and to exercise greater self-control. Switzerland is a demonstration of the possibility of harmonious coöperation among peoples who continue to speak different languages, but among whom there is a high degree of general intelligence and education.
Whatever its origin or explanation, the spirit of nationality in Central Europe is a force to be reckoned with. We may call it illogical, we may contrast it unfavorably with love of country, but we may not disregard it. To have tried to hold Austria-Hungary together in face of it would have been the height of folly.
No doubt the exaggerated feeling of nationality will complicate the future of the new states of Central Europe. It will make more difficult that coöperation among them which would add so greatly to their prosperity. No doubt the aim should be gradually to lessen the force of the nationalistic spirit. For the time being, however, that spirit is a powerful force for progress. Given its existence, its strength, the breakingup of the Empire into national states should mean a forward step. Small states may be weak, but a big state which lacks coherence is weaker and more inefficient. Austria-Hungary was once a necessary phenomenon. Without its compelling force Central Europe might have remained indefinitely a chaos. But it had outlived its usefulness. Beneath its enforced calm seethed a constant opposition of forces that meant loss of energy. Incentive to effort on the part of the subject peoples was dampened. They took no pride in the country’s economic or social development. Competition with the dominant races was checked by the feeling that the dice were loaded. Indeed the Germans and Magyars, mistaking their own interest, often directly repressed economic and social progress among the other peoples. In considerable measure they denied them opportunity for education, lest it might strengthen the nationalistic spirit. Development of resources in large sections of the Empire was artificially hampered, in order that they might not compete with the resources of regions occupied by the dominant races.
All this should now change for the better. The national states find in their new freedom a powerful stimulus. They are eager to make the most of themselves. Broad new schemes of popular education are being hatched. Exploitation of latent resources is planned on a colossal scale. Each capital thinks to become a great centre of art and literature and science. Many of these dreams will be slow to materialize. But the new nationalistic enthusiasm for life will not be wholly wasted. The reach must exceed the grasp. Ultimately Central Europe will need to be cured of excess of nationalism. For the time being nationalism must be the foundation on which progress builds.
The prospects for the future of Central Europe, however, would be brighter if there could be instituted at the outset some form of coöperative action among the new states. This is needed to protect them against one another — against an overplus of nationalism. It is needed, too, because the national boundaries have been drawn — necessarily so for the most part — in such a way that individually the states possess serious elements of weakness.
From the economic standpoint the need of coöperation grows especially out of the lack of self-sufficiency on the part of most of the states individually. They are not capable of supporting themselves. Each lacks, partly or wholly, one or more of those fundamental resources without which it must remain dependent for its very existence on the outside world. Of course, no country of the world is able to produce everything its people would like to have. Many, however, are better equipped to supply what their people must have than are these new states of Central Europe. A small country naturally tends to have less varied resources than a large. That is why Poland, the largest of the new states, is the most nearly self-contained, and why German Austria is the worst off in this respect. Moreover, the lines of nationality in Central Europe, which now become approximately boundary lines of states, bear little relation to the geographical distribution of economic resources. When these peoples settled in that region, agricultural land was the only important factor in production.
German Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, and Hungary, as the map now stands, have no access to the sea. Poland gains that access only by an awkward device which, at least for some time, will hardly work smoothly. Jugo-Slavia’s effective outlet to the sea is still in doubt. German Austria, Hungary, Roumania, and Jugo-Slavia will all lack sufficient coal for their requirements. All of these, except perhaps Austria, will be inadequately supplied with iron ore. Austria has not sufficient agricultural land to supply her food-needs. Hungary is lacking in water-power. Akin to these weaknesses is the fact that the navigation of the Danube and of other rivers, always hampered by national boundaries, will tend now to be still more handicapped in this respect.
The Peace Conference could not have drawn the boundaries in Central Europe in widely different fashion without departing materially from the principle of nationality, and without incurring violent opposition from the peoples concerned. The Conference might, however, justly and safely have given somewhat more weight to economic considerations, especially in those cases where the lines of population cleavage were not sharp. A better distribution of resources would have counted more for future peace, than a too slavish insistence that every particular locality should be thrown with the country of the majority of its people.
Take the case of the great Silesian coalfield, the second most important on the Continent, and far the most important in Central Europe. Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, and Germany are the claimants. Their whole economic future depends in no small degree upon how big a slice they get. The population of different parts of the coalfield varies widely, but almost everywhere it is much mixed. The mine-workers are largely of different speech from the agricultural population. The owners of the mines are for the most part of different nationality from the employees. It was clearly a case where economic considerations should be given equal weight with those of nationality, if not more.
But the Peace Conference decided to resort to plebiscites in Upper Silesia and in Teschen. The League of Nations, which is finally to fix the boundaries, is not bound by the result of the plebiscites, but, the question having been once stirred up along national lines, the League will scarcely be able to determine it except on those lines. Even if a plebiscite were sure to represent correctly the will of the majority of the people, it is a pity that it should determine the political control of so vastly important a resource as this coalfield. If Poland, for example, wins all the plebiscite territory, she will have a huge surplus of coal for export; if Poland loses all, she will have to import a large share of her coal-supply. The sound thing would have been for the Peace Conference itself to divide up this great coalfield, giving to each claimant a share roughly corresponding to its economic needs, and at the same time drawing the lines of demarcation with a certain amount of regard to nationality.
The folly of the Upper Silesian and Teschen plebiscites is the greater because there will always remain grave doubt whether they will record the reasoned and permanent wish of the majority. They are likely to prove a travesty. It is hard to exaggerate the turmoil into which the prospective elections have thrown the rival elements. Poland and Czecho-Slovakia came to clash of arms months ago over Teschen. In Upper Silesia there was a violent uprising. All sorts of misleading propaganda are being carried on. All sorts of illegitimate pressure are being exercised. Meetings are broken up by mobs. Vituperation counts far more than argument. Political strikes are of frequent occurrence. The elections by which Western states used to determine the locations of their capitals were tame affairs compared with these. The plebiscite commissions which have lately assumed control of these territorities will not find it possible to stop these abuses altogether. It is quite certain that the defeated party will never accept the result in good spirit, and future conflict is much more likely than would have been the case if the boundaries had been fixed out and out by the Peace Conference.
The deficiency of the new states individually as regards natural resources demands that in considerable measure they should pool their forces.
The Austro-Hungarian plain, with its surrounding hills and mountains, together with the coastal strip along the Adriatic, constitutes in its geography and geology a natural economic unit.
Its various regions complement one another. If, by reason of the diversity of its peoples, it must be divided, then the trade among the several states ought, for their prosperity, to be unusually free from artificial restraints. Barriers to international commerce are ordinarily injurious enough, at best; they are peculiarly so in a territory like Central Europe.
Apart from any question of deficiency in resources, the comparatively small size of the Central European states in itself makes industrial coöperation among them important. They need the benefit of large-scale enterprise. Many kinds of business require for the most efficient operation a larger area than any one of these states affords. If they desire the advantages of modern methods, these countries must choose between business affiliation with some larger state, such as Germany or France or England, and affiliation among themselves. The latter is geographically more normal and politically safer. There needs to be a large measure of freedom for citizens of each state to invest capital and to conduct business in the others.
From the political standpoint there are a number of factors in the make-up of the Central European states which will tend to imperil their relations with one another, and which render particularly desirable some organization for conciliating disputes among them. Enough has already been said regarding the disposition to exaggerate the feeling of nationality. For some time to come, at any rate, there is likely to be a tendency on the part of each nation to claim more than its right, and to regard every molehill of friction with its neighbor as a mountain. This spirit may the more readily find occasion for breaking the peace by reason of the peculiar conditions within the individual states.
For one thing, that very lack of economic self-sufficiency to which attention has been called involves danger to international peace. The absence of some important natural resource within its borders may cause one of the states to cast envious eyes on the territory of its neighbor.
Again, there is the fact that in most of these Central European countries are found important minorities of population which differ from the majority in race, language, or religion. The minority of one state is often the majority in a neighbor country, and the two may plot together against the peace. The Peace Conference, in fixing boundaries, followed the geographical distribution of nationalities conscientiously, — too much so in certain cases, as already suggested, — but it could not accomplish the impossible. While there are large ‘closed ’ areas, the line of demarcation between them is often not sharp; the population may be mixed indiscriminately over a considerable belt. Cities are often prevailingly different in nationality from the agricultural territory surrounding them. Even in agricultural districts there are often islets of one nationality in a surrounding sea of some other people. To have carried the principle of nationality to its utmost limits in fixing boundaries would have spotted the map with enclaves. It would have been a reductio ad absurdum.
The Peace Conference has sought to protect the rights of minorities by treaty provisions. It is by no means certain that this was wise. The protection of minorities tends to perpetuate their separatism. It might have been better to permit the population of each country gradually to become unified, either by the absorption of the minorities or by their emigration. Despite treaty provisions, there is bound to be considerable friction, with consequent internal loss of efficiency and external risk of intervention.
Most of the new states of Central Europe are composite geographically: that is, they comprise sections which formerly belonged to two, or even three, separate countries. The people of the sections thus brought together may be identical or closely related in nationality, but it does not necessarily follow that they will live in perfect concord. Brothers who have long lived apart may make poor business partners.
Take the case of the union of the Croats and the Slovenes with the Serbs. The three groups have to some extent a common ancestry. Their languages are similar, though by no means identical. Under the old régime Croats and Slovenes were eager enough to unite with the Serbs. But now that the new toy is got, it looks less enticing. All the time they lived under Hungary or Austria the Croats and the Slovenes were growing more different from their relatives across the Save. One must perhaps give Austria and Hungary some credit for the fact that they are better educated, more efficient, and richer than the Serbs. There has been a good deal of friction already, and there may be a good deal more. Agram is jealous of Belgrade, which is perhaps too much inclined to dictate.
The case of Transylvania is similar. The people there speak the Roumanian language, but scarcely since mediæval times had they ever lived under the same government with the Roumanians across the mountains. Over against the racial unity stands a large measure of difference in economic and cultural status. The case of the Czechs and the Slovaks is partly one of difference in nationality and partly one of difference in past geographical affiliation, the Czechs having been under Austria and the Slovaks under Hungary. The two have never had many interests in common. There have been violent conflicts between them since their union in the new state. Many of the Slovaks want to reunite with Hungary; others to form a state of their own. Poland is much more a unit state than any of the three countries just mentioned; but even in Poland there is some temporary economic friction between the former Prussian, Russian, and Austrian sections.
The lack of harmony between formerly separate sections of the new states should normally tend to disappear gradually. The different groups should be expected to grow more alike in habits of thought. Common interests will multiply. But meanwhile for some years there will be considerable loss of internal efficiency, there will be some risk of further disintegration, and some risk that war between neighbor states may arise out of this absence of perfect cohesion among sections.
The sum of the whole matter is simply that Central Europe furnishes a complex such that no boundary lines can be satisfactory. The creation of new states on the nationality principle was essential at this stage of development, but it could not be so carried out as to please everybody. Centuries of history have made of Central Europe an intricate mass of conflicting groups, whose entire harmonization can be achieved only through centuries more. All that can be done is to hold the conflicts in check in some degree by artificial measures, until, with the slow progress of education, they are outgrown. A special feature of the situation should always be borne in mind, namely, the very general absence of natural borders in the military sense. The state which may wish to attack will need no great superiority of forces to enable it to invade its neighbor. The great plain of Central Europe, which formerly, as a single state, was almost surrounded by defending mountain-barriers, is now traversed by the boundary lines of five nations.
It is not merely, moreover, as a means of preserving the peace among themselves that the states of Central Europe need to coöperate. They need to do so also as a defense against possible aggression from greater powers outside. Germany may temporarily have abandoned her dream of a Teutonic Mitteleuropa; but she may easily dream again. A lot of weak little states would appear an easy and tempting prey. The future of Russia is a closed book; but the countries of Central Europe cannot disregard the possibility of invasion from that quarter.
Space will not permit discussion of the proper geographical scope of a Central European federation, or of the question whether there would better be two federations than one. It may be noted, however, that there is little force in the idea that racial lines need be an important factor in determining the make-up of the confederation or confederations. Geographical considerations should dominate. There is neither enough similarity nor enough mutual affection among the Slavic groups of Central Europe to make a purely Slavic union appear especially attractive to them. For instance, the Russians and the Poles have always loved one another quite as little as either loved the Germans. Russia’s former championship of the Serbs was a matter of pure self-interest, not of racial feeling. Moreover, the Slavic peoples are not so distributed geographically that a combination, to the exclusion of other peoples, would be feasible. It may be suggested further that the primary criterion of the proper scope of federation should be the interest of the people of Central Europe themselves, and not the interest of outside powers. Obviously the federation should not be formed under the influence of Germany, with a view to the ultimate political domination of Central Europe; but quite as little should it be looked upon as a device of any other great power or powers for excluding Germany from trade and investment in this region. Finally, it may be observed that if, for any reason, German Austria cannot be included in some Central European federation, she must, in all decency, be allowed to unite with Germany. She must not be left an orphan, with huge head and puny body, to be classed with Armenia as an object of public charity.
Is it possible to bring about in the near future any form of coöperation, of federation, among the states of Central Europe? Hardly, without guidance and pressure from the outside. There have been movements in the direction of federation among certain political leaders in the new countries, but the animosities are just now too sharp. Doubtless in time a closer rapprochement could be worked out without outside intervention. It might come as the result of wars, but that is too expensive a method. It might come through the gradual progress of education among the masses, but that is too slow. Central Europe is suffering too much from disorganization every day.
It is most unfortunate that the Peace Conference did not do more at the outset to hold these peoples together. On the contrary, its slowness and indecision is in no small part responsible for the present spirit of antagonism. It took too long to fix boundaries. It left too many to be determined by strifecompelling plebiscites. It failed to insist with sufficient firmness on obedience to its decrees. It allowed various peoples to use armed force in overstepping temporary lines of demarcation that had been prescribed. All this stirred up bitterness. Various Allied commissions have done something to restore commerce among these states, but not much.
The League of Nations should now take up this matter seriously. It will be much harder now than it would have been immediately after the Armistice to bring the countries of Central and Eastern Europe together. It is not, however, impossible at least to make a beginning. The tremendous interest which the Great Powers have in the peace and prosperity of this region, and the sacrifices which they made in order to set its peoples free, give them some right to insist that their desires in this matter be given due consideration by the new states. Of course, they could not, and they should not if they could, force peoples into coöperation if the spirit of coöperation were wholly lacking. A machine cannot move without motive power. Among many of the political leaders of the several countries, however, there is already sufficient comprehension of the advantages of coöperation to make it possible to bring them together in some fashion, by the exercise of due tact and reasonable pressure.
It will not do to attempt too close a union at the outset. It would break of its own weight. Anything resembling the centralization of our own United States is out of the question for decades to come. Central Europe must grow together gradually. There must be no attempt to crush out the nationalistic spirit. For the time being that spirit is a real asset.
The present effort should be chiefly along two lines. First, to free commerce in large measure from restriction. A thoroughgoing customs union, involving entire freedom of trade among the states composing it, may scarcely be practicable at first; but these countries should at least give one another preference as against other countries, and the commerce among them in the most essential articles, as coal and grain, should be free from both import and export duties. In the second place, there should be a special organization for preserving peace among the Central European states — a minor league within the World League of Nations. While the greater League must always keep a watchful eye on the countries of this region, it should not be the court of first instance for discussing relations among them. They know their local problems better than the outside powers. They need the education of constant mutual contact. They should therefore be induced by the League of Nations to establish a special organization of their own for conciliating and arbitrating disputes and discussing their mutual interests. When these initial steps have been taken and have proved their worth, other measures of coöperation may gradually be introduced — a monetary union, freedom for citizens of each state to conduct business and invest capital in the others, a central railway management, and the like. Cooperation will breed more coöperation.
The plight of Central Europe is one of the many arguments in favor of the immediate adherence of the United States to the League of Nations. It is unfortunate that so much attention has been given in the discussions to the ultimate objects and the ultimate obligations of the League, and so little to its immediate tasks. The form of covenant makes far less difference than that there should be some covenant. The League will in any case be a growth, not a once-for-all creation. Meanwhile there is immediate need for constant consultation and coöperation among the nations of Europe and America, in order that the terrific aftermath of war may be outlived as soon as possible. It is profoundly to the interest of America, as well as of Europe, that she should take an active part in the solution of these immediate problems. Our position would enable us to exercise peculiarly great influence just at this time. In the particular case of Central Europe, the recognized disinterestedness of the United States would enable her, as a member of the League of Nations, to exercise more influence than any European power. The fact, too, that within our population we have enormous numbers of emigrants from this region would increase our weight in the councils affecting it. These emigrants have learned among us the advantages of unity of economic life and of political sentiment over a huge area. They could do much to sway their former compatriots in favor of coöperation among the new states.
Many Americans fancy that the problems of Central Europe are too farremoved to interest us. But the peace of Central Europe is vital to the peace of all Europe, and the peace of Europe is vital to our interests as well as to our deepest sentiments. We shall come to rue it if we think of any part of Europe as henceforth outside the sphere of our concern.
Central Europe is full of paradoxes. It is essentially a unit, yet astoundingly disunited. What is good there to-day is bad to-morrow. The Hapsburg Empire had to be, but it had to perish; and now something akin to it, but still widely different, must slowly be built up again. The spirit of nationality was a force for disruption; Central Europe must now build upon that spirit; but at the same time must begin to dig it away and substitute a broader foundation. Only as other powers recognize this paradoxical character of Central Europe, can they adopt a rational policy toward it. The League of Nations can influence greatly the political development of that region, but it cannot determine that development. The League must work with the forces that exist.