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Modern History Sourcebook:
Eduard Beneš:
The Rationale for The Little Entente, 1924

It is evident from what has been said that our foreign policy has from the beginning endeavored to take into account the realities and to work accordingly, But it has never dropped from its high moral ideals; it wanted to be and, I think it really and truly was, idealistic and founded entirely upon moral principles. It is from this point of view that one should judge all that has been accomplished by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since September 1919. On leaving the Peace Conference and having in December 1919 the opportunity once more of returning to Paris, I made in company with the representatives of Yugoslavia the first preparations for the formal treaty between Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The arguments were not merely of a sentimental character and dictated by the traditional policy held in common by the two countries: they resulted also from the European disorder owing to the reasons which I have already mentioned. Against the universal alarm in our neighborhood, the monarchistic plots, the threatened trouble from the East, and the reproaches levelled at our heads by Western Europe to the effect that we had "balkanized" Central Europe, we had to give a clear proof that we knew how to build up and maintain our States. This was the origin of the Little Entente. The Kapp "putsch" and the Karl Habsburg affair were the external cause, but the real causes lay deeper; they are and were more lasting and will not cease to be so, as long as these two States exist. Hence right from the beginning everything that has been said on the dissensions within the Little Entente has been ridiculous, and this is truer today than ever. Such reports are a proof either of naiveté and ignorance of the actual conditions, or else of an absence of good-will. The signing of the first treaty of alliance on August 14, 1920 and of the second on August 31, 1922 was merely the external and formal side of a policy which was based on the logic of events; this conclusion of treaties happened at a time when external events made it psychologically possible and politically opportune. Formally and essentially it was a pre-eminently peaceful action; it confirmed the Peace Treaties and guaranteed, both externally and in accordance with the deep needs of the two nations, the security of the people who needed peace in the highest degree and desired to stabilize conditions and follow the aims of the League of Nations. In connection with this act I went to Bukarest in August 1920 where, as is well-known, I negotiated the protocol of our aggreement with M. Take Ionescu, whereby Romania adhered in principle to that alliance, reserving to herself the right to give her formal signature on the earliest occasion. On April 23, 1921 the treaty was formally signed because of the impression produced by the first affair in connection with Karl of Hapsburg, and last year the alliance was renewed with the same aims and the same ideas. Thus the Little Entente was formally created. You know yourselves that this policy was criticized, belittled, and distorted from its true meaning. At first it was not welcomed in Western Europe. We quietly went on, and later events have proved that we were acting on the right lines. One section of the Opposition at home said that the Little Entente was imperialistic and militaristic; another section saw in it a weapon for European reac tion against Soviet Russia; some considered it to be hostile to Italy, others said that it meant discord with France, declaring nevertheless, when it was convenient to say so, that the Little Entente was in vassalage to France; finally, others thought that it was merely out for self-advertisement and was no more than a piece of bluff. This is what was said to me here on one occasion even in the Czechoslovak Cornmission for Foreign Affairs.Today after three years the group of these three States has shown great vitality; it has shown an example of close cooperation, loyalty and genuine f riendship and has achieved considerable results in its policy; it has preserved the peace of Central Europe in the most critical moments, acted as a moderating influence in a series of conflicts, and brought about such a degree of consolidation in itsneighborhood and within its own States that there is no important international statesman today who would not openly recognize its value. I do not want to give to this group a greater or different significance than it really has and I do not wish to exaggerate its merits, but I am only stating facts and I appeal to the objectivity and sense of justice of all those who possess good-will.If I speak of these matters I only do so in order that those who today will criticize the treaty with France may recall to mind that they were unjust in regard to our policy when I was strivlng to reach an agreement with Austria and signed it, also when I signed the treaties with Yugoslavia and Romania, and also when I made three attempts to reach an aggreement with Hungary or Poland. Our policy was at last understood in the West, especially in England, then in Germany, and finally today in Russia. Without all these explanations and these references to criticisms on the one hand and to the results of our policy on the other, it is impossible to form a correct judgment on the whole of our treaty policy.As early as in January 1920 I invited Dr. Renner, the Austrian Chancellor, to come to Prague; we spoke together on the common interests of the two countries and on the question of mutual help and we agreed upon a policy of political and economic cooperation. We have followed the same policy with all the successors of Dr. Renner and I declare today that all the successive representatives of the foreign policy of Austria have accepted without any reservations the principles adopted in January 1920 as the basis for their future policy in regard to us. When Herr Schober was Chancellor this basis was made still wider; we arrived at still closer cooperation in the economic sphere and we concluded a friendly political treaty between the two repubIics. These ideas were deepened by collaboration at the Genoa Conference and in consequence of the visits exchanged by the two Presidents in Austria and in Czechoslovakia (at Lany). The friendly treaty with Austria, which was concluded and signed on December 16, 1921, is a manifestation of our political ideas: peace with our neighbours, economic cooperation, the recognition of the legal status quo in Central Europe, friendship in the future and the obligatory settlement before a Court of Arbitration of any disputes which might occur. For us the idea of a Court of Arbitration is important: it is the idea of the League of Nations and by its gradual extension there will be established permanent peace in accordance with the ideas of modern democracy. I draw attention to the fact that we appealed to this principle on the first occasion, that of the first treaty with a State which was formerly unfriendly and with which conflicts might have occurred. In our further political actions we followed this principle and shall continue to follow it. Our further actions regarding Austrian affairs are well known; our loan to Austria at a time when nobody wished to help, our decisive intervention in the League of Nations on behalf of the protection and the financial sanitation of Austria, our financial guarantees and the signing of the Geneva protocols all that can be criticized, but one thing cannot be denied, namely that we showed good will to our neighbor and applied the ideas of peace and the policy of reconstruction. I know the criticisms which have been made in connection with this action: those who voted against it are the very same people who reproached us for years with being unfriendly towards Austria; I mean our German Opposition and those who wished to see in our policy a support for reaction. Today this already belongs to history and history will speak in another way about the matter. Moreover the Czechoslovak Government received from the Austrian Government, and from European public opinion without exception, nothing but expressions of thanks and justified gratitude. You are well aware, Gentlemen, that we have not ceased our efforts in following this policy of conducting agreements with all our neighbours, our Allies in the War, and our former enemies. Ever since the time of the creation of the Little Entente---formally directed against Magyar irredentism and nationalism, in reality against post-War disorder, attempted "putsches", unrest, uncertainty and all the excesses from the Right and the Left---we have not ceased to negotiate with Hungary precisely on the basis of these piinciples. I have attempted three times by direct negotiations with the Hungarian Governments to arrive at an aggreement both on disputed points and also on the whole of our political relations in general so as to have peace and quiet for the future. The memory is still fresh of our meeting with the Ministers, MM. Teleki and Gratz at Brück on the Leitha on March 14, 1921. The first attempt of Karl von Habsburg at a coup d'etat destroyed the results of our negotiations. A few months later, on June 24, 1921, we had a meeting at Marianske Lazne with Minister Banffy and made a little more progress than on the former occasion. The results of the negotiations were threatened once again by the insurrection in the Burgenland, yet even at that critical moment I maintained the peaceful line of our policy. I warned the Allies and entered into negotiations with Austria and Hungary in order that the matter might be settled satisfactorily and without recourse being had to war which was then much nearer than many people realized. Perhaps I can safely say today that on the occasion of this third attempt I endeavored at the meeting at Brno on September 26,1921 to settle with Minister Banffy, once and for all and in a friendly fashion, the question of the Habsburgs. What I feared soon happened: war with Hungary on account of the Habsburg question. Before our negotiations were concluded---we had already arrived at an agreement in principle---Karl von Habsburg came for the second time. The events of November 1921---the mobilization and the well-known diplomatic conflict---are still fresh in the memory. In spite of this grave conflict we did not swerve from our policy. In the question of the Habsburgs we did not yield to the Magyars just as we could not yield to the insistant demands of our Western Allies. Our struggle---and it was a struggle for future tranquility and peace---ended on the whole successfully. Our democratic policy, having for its object the consolidation and peace of Central Europe, but also our policy of treaty-making, has entirely justified itself. And Europe has at last recognized this. Those who were irritated with us during the time of the conflict have also recognized it. Meanwhile during the years 1922-1923 we did not cease to negotiate with Hungary: in spite of great difficulties we solved one after the other the questions arising from the Peace Treaties, we got rid of the disputed points one by one, >till finally last summer managed to clear away almost all the obstacles and to establish between the two countries almost normal relations. There still remain, however, certain disputed points, but I firmly hope that they will not cause any harm to our present normal relations. The question of the reconstruction and the financial sanitation of Hungary then came to the front. We immediately adopted in this respect the same point of view as in the Austrian problem. At the last meeting of the League of Nations in September 1923 we agreed in principle with Count Bethlen, the Hungarian Prime Minister, on the course of action to be taken, and we ourselves together with the two other representatives of the Little Entente sent in a request on our own initiative to the League of Nations, asking this body to begin negotiations for the financial sanitation of Hungary. And again we were criticized from both sides. Some considered it to be too much, whilst others thought it to be too little; as far as we were concerned, it was merely a continuation of our policy from which we shall not diverge even an inch. It is precisely this policy that gained us international significance and respect in the world. We cannot renounce any of our rights and claims in regard to the Magyars, nor any of our democratic principles. We cannot give up the general line of thls policy even in the Hungarian question. I have mentioned on various occasions that all of the members of the Little Entente are anxious to see a change in the relations with Hungary and that the moment is approaching when a reasonable agreement can be concluded with this country too and when the Little Entente will no longer be directed against Hungary, just as it has ceased to be directed against Austria. Thus will be realized the organization of Central Europe upon which we have so often insisted, an organization consisting in the creation of a new political and economic system in which all the countries of Central Europe would preserve their full sovereignty; it is an organization, in which, let us hope, all the present divergences of opinion will disappear in order to make room for collaboration. There is no reason why the present solidarity of the members of the Little Entente should not remain unchanged. Our conception of the policy of agreements in Central Europe has not stopped also in face of another difficult question, that of our relations with Poland. The whole of 1919 and six months of 1920 were occupied with the dispute about the Tesin district; the Conference at Spa and the decision of the Conference of Ambassadors of July 28, 1920 formally put an end to the dispute, but the consequences of the conflict continue to a certain degree to this day. However, since 1920 and 1921 we have again attempted in accordance with our policy to arrive at political and economic cooperation. We have concluded a series of conventions and on the basis of the Peace Treaties we began to negotiate a political convention which was signed in November 1921. Its contents are well-known and it again incorporates all our political principles which have been applied on other occasions: the recognition of the Peace Treaties, their loyal application, neutrality in the case of a conflict with a third party, and the obligatory arbitration of the League of Nations in the case of a conflict between us. It is impossible to express more clearly the policy contained in the Pact of the League of Nations. You all know that this treaty has not been put into operation. I regret this and meanwhile it remains merely as a document of our foreign policy. There was not enough understanding either amongst ourselves or in Poland. The last echoes of the whole of this political action were recently heard at the Hague on the occasion of the Javorina dispute and again in Paris before the Council of the League of Nations at its session of December 1928. Both these institutions declared in our favor of our legal standpoint in the whole dispute. I will today say openly why I regret that we have not been able to arrive at a Czechoslovak-Polish treaty earlier. People have spoken, and from time to time they still speak, of the entrance of Poland into the Little Entente. That is not correct. That is the way to hurt the sensibilities of Poland and it does not have any material bearing upon the situation either. Between the Little Entente and Poland there has several times been close cooperation in questions common to both, and especially at the Genoa Conference. This collaboration is desirable and good and it will certainly be put again strongly into practice. I wish it sincerely. But that has meant and will always mean the formula: Poland and the Little Entente. This is in a way an obstacle to an agreement on mutual interests being arrived at by each group---Czechoslovakia and Poland, etc. separately, and then, on this basis, each adjusting for the future their relations with the others. But if one takes into account the general line of policy followed so far by Poland and the members of the Little Entente, one can see that no negotiations have ever been undertaken concerning the creation of a great territorial combination and allied block, but only of a limited understanding based on real interests and following concrete aims This has always been expressed by the provisional formula: "Poland and the Little Entente". I have always considered this formula as just and realizable in spite of various difficulties. I do not doubt that finally we shall come to an agreement with Poland regarding a formula of pacific collaboration, I only regret, as I have already said, that this agreement has not yet been realized; my aim has always been to come to an understanding with Poland before the entrance of the new Russia into European politics. The situation is such that an understanding will be so much more difficult when Russia intervenes more actively in European politics and it will be more difficult for all of us, for ourselves, for Poland and for Russia. It seems that this has not been understood in time and sufficiently, either in Czechoslovakia or in Poland. Hence we have the intention today to resume as soon as possible the interrupted work and finally to come to an agreement. If this agreement is formulated once and for all in a convention---and I do not see why this could not be done---there will be contained in it once more only the principles of our policy as incorporated in the Pact of the League of Nations.

Source:From: Eduard Beneš, Five Years of Czechoslovak Foreign Policy,(Prague: Orbis Publishing Co., 1924 [Copyright Expired]), pp. 12-19, reprinted in Alfred J. Bannan and Achilles Edelenyi, eds., Documentary History of Eastern Europe, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970), pp. 283-291. Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
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