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Excerpts from Count Albert Apponyi’s Memoirs of the So-Called Trianon “Peace Negotiations”

Excerpts from Count Albert Apponyi’s Memoirs

of the So-Called Trianon “Peace Negotiations”

“…The 5th of January (1920) arrived; the Hungarian peace delegation was rather numerous, as it was expected that a written reply would have to be worked out to the so-called ‘peace offer’, which would require, in addition to the main delegates, a group of experts as well as corresponding technical personnel.

“Our party was transported to Paris by a special train, the decent composition of which was a difficult task for the ransacked Hungarian national railways (the Romanian occupying forces had taken away most of Hungary’s rolling stock.  Ed.), which had not even begun the work of reconstruction.  But it was accomplished, and our train looked as if normal conditions existed; all travelers were comfortably provided for, and even a Pullman car was found, which could serve as a conference room even during the trip…

“Following a 48-hour railway trip, we arrived in Paris in the early hours of January 7th.  It had been planned so our separate train would find a deserted railroad station.  A small military commission met us – we called them our prison guard…  Accommodations had been provided for us in Neuilly, in a suburb of Paris in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne, at the Chateau de Madrid, a hotel used to shelter less serious guests during the beautiful part of the year…

“I received an invitation to come to the Quai d’Orsay to accept the peace terms before noon on one of the following days.  Of course we arrived punctually at the designated time, and were led into a spacious waiting room, from which a door opened directly onto the hall where the High Commission was already assembled and the proceedings were to take place…

“Once we all sat down, (French Prime Minister Georges) Clemenceau addressed some words to me, which were nothing more than the announcement that ‘the peace terms suggested for Hungary’ (‘le traité de paix proposé à la Hongrie’) would be handed over.  The handing over followed immediately by a higher official.  I noted with inner bitterness the euphemism used by Clemenceau, when he spoke of a ’suggested peace offer’, while we knew only too well that it was a dictated treaty…

“He said, ‘You have requested to make an oral presentation about the position of Hungary to the High Commission.  The High Commission has unanimously decided to accede to your request.  Of course there can be no discussion…'

“My reply was, ‘I thank you, Mr. President, for the High Commission’s accommodation, but I must remark that there is a misunderstanding here, because what I had wanted was not so much an oral presentation as rather an oral discussion… I ask that at least two days be granted to us so we may learn the provisions of the peace treaty... The other members of the Council agreed with a nod to see us on the third day at the same time...’

“I naturally gave the most careful attention to the preparation of my explanation in which I had to demonstrate the total monstrosity of the peace proposals planned for us.  I strove to build up the many things I had to say in as brief a form as possible, as clearly as possible; but I did not write an outline, either in French or in English (the two languages in which, I presumed, I would have to speak); I could not compose myself either to write or dictate.

“Only the framework of the talk was prepared, the text would have to come during my presentation, based on the inspiration of the moment, fed by the magnetic contact with the audience, should it be possible to win one.

“I also determined the keynote which should permeate the lecture; no sentimentality, no complaining, no appeal to the generosity of the victorious powers, no kind of emotional expression at all; instead, a dry presentation of the facts, as clearly as possible; their own pathos would have to work…

“As I stepped into the hall at the appointed hour, I once again felt very strongly the uniqueness of the situation. I was to speak to an audience among whom there was not the smallest fraction of sympathizing elements, an audience of enemies in the technical sense of the word, mostly hostile with a small sprinkling of indifferent participants…

“The arrangement of the hall robbed me of the possibility of looking into the face of that part of the audience among whom I presumed a less hostile bias, the British, the Italians and the Japanese; I stood face to face with only Clemenceau and his staff, and this portion of the audience could not, or would not, disguise their unfriendly attitude at the beginning of my presentation.  I had before me some serious, malevolent faces, other mocking smiling ones, I could not doubt with what sort of prejudice my words would be received…

“I began without any introduction, with the declaration that the peace terms were totally unacceptable for us and that I would prove this on the major provisions.  I noted immediately that this dry tone, avoiding all sentimentality, surprised at least that part of my listeners whose impression I could observe, and worked favorably on their disposition…

“A large portion of my exposition was devoted to establishing how totally mistaken the territorial provisions of the Trianon Treaty were from the ethnographic point of view; that the provisions in this regard were a punch in the face of the nationality principle, which served as its pretense…

“Clemenceau gave (British Prime Minister David) Lloyd George the floor, and he called on me to go into greater detail about the distribution of the nationalities which I had mentioned in the course of my talk, specifically, of the Magyars in the territories detached from Hungary…  Fortunately, I was prepared for such questions; I had Paul Teleki’s excellent ethnographic map of Hungary with me, and with this, went to Lloyd George’s seat, where all the main representatives hurried, and listened to my explanation with their heads together over the map…

“I heard that, at the end of this session, some rather sharp statements were made by the British, who were brought into the unpleasant situation of being participants in such constructional mistakes.  (Italian Prime Minister Orlando)  Nitti even made a serious attempt to bring about a change of the most absurd provisions; but he too had to give way to the argument that the whole house of cards of the peace treaties would collapse if any change were to be allowed…

“At the end of my French-English exposition, after which, out of courtesy, I addressed a few words to the Italian delegation in their own language, Clemenceau turned to me: ‘You will have noted with what tense attention the entire High Commission followed your exposition; you will certainly not expect us to take a stand immediately with regard to your information... we look forward to the written reply of the Hungarian delegation  and request that you tell us when a counterstatement may be expected.’ I asked for four weeks...”

(The Delegation returned to Budapest with the terms of the “peace treaty”.  Ed.)

“We went to work immediately.  The situation was discussed in detail with the political notables of all parties, and with the collaboration of the best experts in all branches of public life, several volumes of a detailed exposition of the injustices and shortcomings of the projected contract that had been shared with us were worked out.  We started on our second trip to Paris on February 21st and handed over our voluminous Memorandum to the High Commission immediately upon our arrival...”

(But all their work was in vain. Without even reading the Memorandum, the Triple Entente rejected it on May 6th.  – The Hungarian Parliament ratified the treaty on November 15th, 1920, as described by Count Apponyi below.):

“The day of the tragic session of the National Assembly arrived, at which the treaty of Trianon had to be ratified. No one who took part in this ceremony at the Parliament will ever forget it; the businesslike dryness of the proceeding heightened the shocking effect of the event.  A minority protested the ratification and left the hall; the remaining majority remained silent, when the President asked the question whether the Assembly agreed to the ratification.  The President noted that no objection had been raised, and the ratification would have to be regarded as settled.  Driven by an overpowering instinct, the entire Assembly rose and intoned the Hungarian national anthem; the voices in the gallery blended with those of the representatives.  No eye remained dry…”

(translated from the German by Erika Papp Faber)

(Parliament publicized the treaty only on July 26th, 1921, when it was passed as Statute #XXXIII.)


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