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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Federalism and the decline of the empires

Federation in Central Europe

Milan Hodža

Texte intégral

1Title: Federation in Central Europe. Reflections and reminiscences.

2Originally published: London, Jarrolds Publishers, 1942

3Language: English
The excerpts used are from the original, pp. 3–8.

About the author

4Milan Hodža [1878, Sučany (Hun. Szucsány) near Turčiansky Svätỳ Martin (Hun. Turócszentmárton) – 1944, Clearwater, Florida]: politician and journalist. He was born into the family of a Protestant pastor. After being banished from the gymnasium in Sopron (Hungary) he concluded his secondary education at the German gymnasium in Sibiu (Hun. Nagyszeben, Ger. Hermannstadt, in Transylvania). Between 1896 and 1898 he studied law in Budapest, and, between 1916 and 1918, philosophy in Vienna. Before the First World War, he was active as a journalist and became a member of the Hungarian Parliament, where he closely collaborated with Romanians, Croatians, Serbs and other non-Magyar representatives in an effort to carry through democratizing reforms, a national educational policy, and land reform in Hungary. He became a member of the so-called ‘Belvedere workshop’ formed around the archduke Franz Ferdinand, which was critical of Austro-Hungarian dualism and was forging plans for the transformation of the Empire into a modern federalized state. In inter-war Czechoslovakia, Hodža served in several subsequent governments as the Minister of Law Unification, Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Education respectively. He was an active member and a prominent representative of the powerful Agrarian Party. Besides, he was a co-founder and member of the International Agrarian Bureau. In 1935, he became the Republic’s first Slovak Prime Minister. Unable to reach a deal with the Sudeten-Germ an politicians he resigned and left Czechoslovakia in 1938. He tried to establish a Slovak democratic exile representation that opposed the political conceptions of President Edvard Beneš. Unlike him, Hodža promoted the idea of federation in Central Europe throughout the war and warned against the danger of Sovietization. In 1941, he moved to the USA, where he was briefly active among the American Slovaks. Throughout his life, he remained an active publicist. In the postwar period, Benes’s political camp and later even more effectively the communists tried to marginalize Hodža’s legacy. But it was rediscovered in the late 1980s by the Slovak anti-communist dissidence, and following the 1989 turnover, some of his most important works were re-published. The high esteem that the historical persona of Milan Hodža enjoys in today’s Slovak society was symbolized by the transfer of his remains from Chicago to the National Cemetery in Martin in June 2002.

5Main works: Československý rozkol [The Czechoslovak schism] (1920); Slov-enský rozchod s Mad’armi [The Slovak divorce from the Hungarians] (1928); Články, reči, štúdie 7 vols. [Articles, speeches, studies] (1930–1934); Federation in Central Europe (1942).


6After the collapse of the Versailles system in the late 1930s and the incipient war, many European politicians and political analysts started to reflect upon the previous 20 years and devise alternative political strategies for the post-war settlement. Central Europe, with its weak political safeguards, minority regimes and fragility of borders was among the crucial topics of these discussions. Especially during the earlier years of the Second World War, the idea of a Central European federation, aimed to create a stronger political and economic unit in the region stretching between Germany and Soviet Russia, acquired some prominence. The common experience of German occupation drew closer together the Czechoslovak and Polish exile leaderships represented by President Edvard Beneš on one hand and Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski and his deputy Stanisław Mikołajczyk on the other. They agreed to form a closer political and economic association, which would become the basis of a new order in Central Europe after the war. These efforts found their counterpart in similar initiatives between Greek and Yugoslav exile leaders forging plans for a future Balkan federation. The situation, however, started to change with the growing influence of Soviet politics in the region after 1942. Stalin understood, not without some justification, that any federative or confederative plans for post-war Central Europe would have anti-Soviet and anti-Russian agendas. Due to his pressure and as a result of further disagreements, the Czechoslovak exile government in London let their earlier agreement with the Poles stagnate and then collapse, a development further assured by the new Czechoslovak-Soviet treaty of alliance in December 1943.

7Apart from the central political representatives of the occupied nations, many others came up with their own future federative solutions and Milan Hodža took a prominent place among them. In 1942, he published his Federation in Central Europe in which he crowned his life-long efforts as both a pragmatic politician and political thinker. His own personal history and rich experience in Central European politics enabled him to treat—in contrast to many others of the time—the question from a markedly well-informed, if personally engaged, historical perspective. As he writes in the preface “the Central European deal is not a sequel to any war-time debate. It has, in fact, emerged from history.” Hence, he starts by describing the last attempts of the federative re-composition of the empire from 1905 under the intellectual leadership of Aurel Popovici and the auspices of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This so-called ‘Belvedere workshop,’ in which Hodža took part, represented for him a direct precursor of all sensible future attempts for a federative solution in the region. Nevertheless, the efforts and initiatives of understanding and cooperation between the various ‘nation states’ in Central Europe (understood in a geographically broad sense including the Balkans) in the period between the two wars were based on quite a different logic than the turn-of-the-century federalist concepts. For Hodža the international efforts to build an Agrarian front in Central Europe in the 1930s was the peak of this development. In Hodža’s mind the federation should have consisted of four Slavic and four non-Slavic countries: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece. Consequently, his treatment combines three complex issues that he thought could not be separated: Central European and European geopolitics, the national question in Central Europe, and the development of democracy which was closely connected with the issues of modernization and agrarian reform. Regarding geopolitics, Hodža’s basic argument was that only a settled federation in Central Europe could bring stability and peace to postwar Europe. This federation would form a strong economic and political unit opposing both a new potential German Drang nach Osten as well as the Soviet attempts to control the region. Hodža’s consequent federalist stance and opposition to the emerging ‘geopolitical bloc logic’ was among the main reasons for his disagreements with Edvard Beneš. As to the internal organization of the future federation, Hodža suggested a threefold solution on the basis of the historical factors and the complexity of the region: agrarian democracy accompanied by a democratic economy and steady modernization efforts, moderate nationalism endowing the right to cultural and linguistic autonomy for the individual nations, and, finally, international cooperation based on geopolitical, economic and democratic national interests.

8Hodža’s book was quite positively acclaimed by a number of Central European exile politicians and his plan received attention from British and American intellectuals and officials from the Department of State. Nevertheless, for obvious reasons, such as the emergence of spheres of influence in post-war Europe and the beginning of the Cold War, Hodža’s book remained only a draft plan without any direct political relevance. His book became a point of reference not only for some anti-communist exile politicians but also for the growing West European federalist movement, by which Federation in Central Europe is often mentioned as one of the direct precursors of the European Community as an economic and political project. After 1989, the book was translated into German and Slovak. In a post-communist Slovakia that searched for the roots of its own democratic tradition, Hodža was regarded with high esteem and was clearly perceived as the most prominent Slovak federalist of all times. During the 1990s his last book was regarded as a valuable source of inspiration for debates concerning political and economic cooperation in Central Europe.


Federation in Central Europe


10War events in Central Europe obviously fully vindicate the idea of a solidly organized future co-operation of all those eight states, which are placed in complete geographic coherence between Russia, Germany and Italy. According to pre-war statistics, that means a space of about 582,000 square miles, i.e., not very much at variance with the total of the territory of the United Kingdom plus France plus Germany plus Italy, which is about 620,000 square miles.

11For the overwhelming majority of Central European nations, and at the end indeed for all of them, it is precisely their present condition which provides the evidence that only understanding and co-operation could ever strengthen their security, and that lack of this co-operation has proved to be a critical point with them.

12Some of their neighbours may be less enthusiastic about their federation schemes. Still, one day they will have to realize that the small and middle-sized nations of Central Europe mean about one hundred million people in the aggregate. It certainly would be a futile undertaking to attempt to extinguish the national life of one hundred million people, or to drive them away from their homes.

13As for Soviet Russia, one day she may be interested in an independent and strong bloc established between herself and Germany. For Western Europe and its permanent and indelible forces, Central Europe means for them the indispensable continental pivot of European security. It has to become in fact much more than the object of tactical interest in an extraordinary situation. It is rather in the light of a durable political interest that not merely the one or the other Central European country will contribute to the building of a new Europe, but that it is the united potential of all of them which is to be one of the indispensable supports of the peace to come.

14The Central European Deal is not a sequel to any war-time debate. It has, in fact, emerged from history. It became acute, not for the first time, 136 years ago, after Napoleon’s victory at Slavkov (Austerlitz), when the Emperor of Austria left what we may describe as the great German commonwealth. Habsburg then concentrated upon the old Austria and Hungary. It was thus that the modern Central European problem was being posed.

15Its practical meaning and importance were going to be whether Central European non-Germans should be doomed to be dominated by Germans against their own interests, thus unnaturally multiplying the German economic, geographic and political potential, and overthrowing any reasonable balance of power in Europe.

16It was this problem, which was approached in 1848 and 1849 when revolution had been sweeping across Europe from Paris right up to Vienna, Prague, Zagreb and Buda-Pest. Then, not only non-German and non-Magyar leaders, but some Austro-German leaders also, fought for a federation of all the peoples of the Empire. The Parliament of Kromĕříž (Kremsier) in 1849 presented a programme, which deserved the renown of a Magna Charta of an empire rebuilt upon a basis of autonomous nations. Neither Francis Joseph, the Emperor, however, nor his ministers were men of creative energy. Francis Joseph’s unwillingness to become a constitutional monarch was rivalled only by his incapacity to be a wise and strong leader of an empire of nine races. Besides, his foreign policy in the 1850s took a turn which unavoidably ended in throwing him into the Prussian grip, first by a lost war and then, from 1879 onwards, by an alliance which made him in reality a pure and simple instrument of the Hohenzollern.

17The political significance of Francis Ferdinand, the heir-apparent until 1914, lay in his ambitious effort to have the Habsburg Empire rebuilt on a more reasonable basis. The Empire reform could not be essentially different from that sketched in the years 1848 and 1849, and newly formulated by the young generation of non-Magyar leaders (and a very few Magyar leaders besides) in the period from 1905 onwards. As for the Habsburg, this was the last possible attempt to accept the establishment of a political unit based upon autonomous nations on the territory of old Austria-Hungary. As for these nations, their way was clear. Either a commonwealth of self-governing nations would have been achieved, or their right of self-determination would one day have to be put into effect.

18When at present a trend towards modern federation in Central Europe has to be considered, it may be useful to know also what from 1905 to 1914 was its first and certainly rather primitive stage. Its goal was to make old Austria-Hungary relinquish in a peaceful way her stubborn Magyarizing centralism, to make her safe for a federative reform. Her federalized transformation might have been at that time a point of departure for establishing in peace and by evolution a Central European Commonwealth of Nations. This was the goal very many non-Magyar and non-German and also some German leaders of that period were aiming at.

19It may also be of some interest to know what Francis Ferdinand—in whom a last effort of the old Habsburgian energy seemed to revive—really stood for.

20It is the period of about ten years preceding the First World War that I am dealing with in the opening of this book. It is not history of course; rather, it is reminiscence and report. It is not “Memoires”; just recollections and observations which I strictly wished to confine to events and to suggestions connected with the subject in question.

21Naturally I can relate only what I and my friends saw and did. But what we witnessed and collaborated in covers practically everything that was prepared especially as far as the old Hungary of this period was concerned.

22There were very few men engaged in personal collaboration with the late Austro-Hungarian heir-apparent to prepare a peaceful Danube solution. As I was one of them, I feel it to be my duty to report upon it.

23The efforts of this period were a failure. In June, 1914, Francis Ferdinand was shot dead. Liebknecht junior, the late German Socialist leader, was violent and malicious enough to voice the suspicion that in official Berlin his death was felt to be a God-sent—ein Gottesgeschenk. Anyway, in a few months amidst the battles of the First World War, in the winter of 1914–15, Germany made a particular kind of Central Europe her most important war aim. She obviously wished to establish her domination over a Mittel Europa, which she had made her sphere of interest in 1879 by the German-Austro-Hungarian alliance set up by Bismarck and Andrássy.

24The First World War, however, produced in a revolutionary way a Central European solution to a much higher pitch than that in which a slow and pacific evolution started with Francis Ferdinand could have resulted. On the soil of old Austria-Hungary, and practically of Central Europe, a number of sovereign states were built or rebuilt.

25After lasting for twenty years, from 1918 to 1938, the Central European order as set up by Versailles is partly destroyed, partly altered in its foundations and partly living under the threat of being overthrown as well.

26Does it mean another failure?

27This appearance of double failure, the one in building up a first primitive stage in the period 1904 to 1914, and then that in preserving the Versailles solution does not seem actually to have the meaning of failure. We simply have to face a fact, which no statesman and no historian and no sociologist should deny. This fact is that a definite shape of Central Europe, comprising a federation of its free nations, has to share all the pains of a new Europe which could not succeed in being created in a pacific way by diplomatic channels, and which has to emerge out of blood and toil and suffering like all great achievements and political settlements.

28A federalized Central Europe is one of the absolute necessities of a new post-war order. It is the only organism possible for making use of the national forces which in that region can preserve the principles of national and individual liberty and ordered freedom, and can join a reasonable system of production and consumption and market policy upon which the new Europe will be built. If there is a new Europe to follow, it is neither prepared nor able to renounce a hundred million freedom-loving people and a hundred million possible consumers.

29For the breakdown of the Central European new order of 1918, Versailles is being made responsible. In this country very many political thinkers have been taking this view for years. Now a number of them admit that Versailles may have committed mistakes, but that the main political principle upon which it constructed a new order was the only one possible. It was the principle of the national liberty and independence of the small peoples. Meanwhile, very many national sovereignties already accepted modifications imposed upon them by a new and steadily developing European trend towards tightening collaboration. After a twenty-years’ experience, the position may be clear to all. Versailles’s mistake was certainly not in clothing small peoples with the right of self-determination. The mistake may lie in the fact that these small nations of Central Europe were not authoritatively advised to set up a co-operation which would provide them with the advantages of a great commonwealth able to normalize and stabilize its relations with its neighbours and all concerned and therefore able to be a strong factor of peace and security.

30With reference to my reminiscences, this Commonwealth of Central Europe is the suggestion, which I am putting forward in this book.

31I feel that I belong to those entitled to do so because it is the final goal, which I have aimed at during my whole political career. First, from 1905 onwards in old Austria-Hungary, I had to fight an ambitious foreign domination as a leader of an ethnic minority, as did my Serb, Croat and Transylvanian political friends. Then, as a Minister of a rebuilt state I had to fight very many of my own friends who were too jealous to sacrifice the illusion that small neighbours placed between colossal neighbours would be able to preserve their sovereignties without building up a co-operative solidarity between themselves.

32In the second chapter of this book I relate a story of efforts aimed at this goal. These efforts succeeded in creating in 1936 and 1937 an economic cooperation of my country with the Danubian countries based upon a preferential system. It was the substantial first stage of a Danubian plan associated with my name. Certainly this system was not perfect; yet it was focused upon the aim to achieve one day an economic unit implying a customs union and common currency.

33In the same chapter I also refer to a satisfactory start in tightening economic relations and political friendship between my country and Poland. From the viewpoint of a new Central European order, it is comforting to see her to-day represented by those men who from 1923 to 1926 were prepared to foster far-reaching settlements with Czecho-Slovakia and the Danube valley.

34In order to conceal nothing which could impair the setting up of a future Central European evolution, I am devoting parts of the second chapter of this book to a review of a typical Central European minority problem. As a sequel to old migrations in Central European countries there always will be minorities, which, if not fairly handled, may become a chronic disease also in any kind of future of this part of the Continent. I speak of the Czecho-Slovak Minority Deal as one of those most mentioned in that region.

35Federation, moreover, is conditioned by international understanding, which in its turn requires the democratic spirit as the indispensable atmosphere for international co-operation. So, in speaking of Central European understanding, we have to take a critical look at the assets and liabilities of Central European democracies and their dramatic vicissitudes. One chapter of this book is specially devoted to reports and observations upon this matter. Czecho-Slovak democracy is dealt with at some length—certainly not because of its particular merits, which may be questioned in very many respects as those of any other Central European democracy. Its great merit, however, lies in its having survived up to the time of the Munich breakdown. One other merit is its having reached the capacity of achieving the systematic cooperation of its main elements, and its having succeeded in shaping a constructive democracy enrooted in social security and a particular kind of Central European New Deal.

36When speaking of Central Europe's shouldering any policy, and in particular a policy of international understanding, it appears unavoidable to point out the social structure upon which it may embark.

37No doubt the Central European social structure differs essentially from that of the western democracies. There are, of course, political elements familiar to this country. Poland, Czecho-Slovakia and Austria possess also considerable bourgeoisie and industrial workers. In Hungary, the gentry continue to prevail. But also these nations, and particularly Yugo-Slavia and Roumania and Bulgaria, are not able to rely upon their comparatively weak bourgeoisie and industrial workers. The bulk of their populations are peasantry. On the average it amounts in the whole of the eight Central European states of 1918–1938 to 64 per cent. Is this peasantry able to complete a middle-class and to make it fit for economic and political efficiency and for social security? Or, above all, did it take part in fighting for individual and national liberties, which particularly in Central Europe are continuously to be defended against their foes, however strong they may be? It appeared unavoidable to devote to this crucial matter several pages of two chapters of this book.

38My suggestion concerning a federation of independent countries of Central Europe is just a suggestion. Many detailed schemes certainly have to be discussed, as they already have been by some outstanding authors in this country. They wish to offer material to those responsible for the future of Central Europe. A federation of races is, of course, also a matter of legal rules, but it is substantially a matter of good will and expediency. My suggestion is not made on behalf of any persons or any party, but on my own account — it is for this reason that I declined friendly offers to introduce this book by usual “Forewords”; none the less, this does not mean that it is not shared by anyone else. Dealing in practice with Danubian co-operation, I have for many years past known thoroughly the opinion of my country and that of very many important and numerous quarters in nearly all Central European countries: so I also know that a spontaneous co-operation of all these countries is already strongly enrooted in the minds and feelings of very many, so that it may emerge one day as the principal feature of Central European political aims to come.


© Central European University Press, 2010

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