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Peace Treaties 1919-23: The Aftermath


The peace treaties of 1919-23 created a new Europe. As the treaties were carried out, many problems emerged. There was political turmoil across central and Eastern Europe.


What was the immediate impact of the treaties?

The Weimar Republic

Defeat and the peace treaty brought chaos to Germany. In 1919 a new government was set up in the town of Weimar, and it became known as the Weimar Republic. The new government was attacked on all sides. Between 1919 and 1923 there were repeated attempts by both left-wing and right-wing militants to overthrow the new Weimar Republic.


In January 1919 communist revolutionaries, called Spartacists, tried to stage a revolution in Berlin. In April communists tried to seize power in Munich. Both of these rebellions were smashed by armed and violent groups of ex-servicemen known as 'Freikorps' (Free Corps).


In 1920 a Freikorps force attempted to seize Berlin. The army sympathized with the Freikorps and refused to fight them. This attempt at a right-wing revolution was eventually stopped by a strike by left-wing workers.


Attempts to pay the reparations bill after 1921 added to Germany's economic problems and helped to cause a huge level of inflation. At the same time a new political crisis created economic problems. The French invaded the Ruhr area in January 1923, on the grounds that the Germans were not paying their reparations. This was the center of German industry. Germans responded with strikes - but this had the effect of doing more damage to Germany than to France.


The economic situation went out of control in 1923; inflation made banknotes virtually worthless. This was known as hyper-inflation. Pensioners lost their life savings. On 20 November 1923 one American dollar was worth 4 billion German marks.


Another right-wing attempt to seize power was launched in November 1923. The leader of this rebellion was a militant nationalist called Adolf Hitler. The rebellion ended in fiasco in Munich after a few of Hitler's followers had been shot. Hitler was dealt with leniently and was imprisoned for a short time. By this time the economy of Germany had begun to recover and it seemed that stability was beginning to return to the country.


Anger in Hungary

The peace treaties created great bitterness and instability in Hungary. As in Germany, left-wing and right-wing militants tried to seize power. In 1919 the communist Bela Kun briefly set up a Soviet-style government. He was overthrown and Admiral Horthy, a right wing military dictator, came to power He remained in charge until the Second World War. Under Horthy there was no democracy in Hungary.


Hungarians were horrified by the terms of the Trianon Treaty. Before the First World War Hungarians had controlled a huge, multi-national empire in Eastern Europe. In 1920 Hungary lost two-thirds of its pre-war territory. The lost land was given to Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. In each of these countries there was a Hungarian minority.


After 1920 Hungarian foreign policy was completely dominated by a wish to 'get back' the lost lands. As a result, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia felt threatened. The governments of these three countries formed an alliance in order to protect themselves from the threat of a Hungarian invasion. This became known as the Little Entente.


Ethnic tension in Czechoslovakia

Czechoslovakia was the only new state in Eastern Europe that allowed free speech and democracy. There was great tension between different ethnic groups. The Czechs of the western part of the country were wealthier than the Slovaks of the east. Slovaks complained that they were treated as second-class citizens. Only 65 per cent of the population were Czechs or Slovaks.


There were over 3 million Germans, known as the Sudeten Germans, and in many border areas the Germans were in a majority. Like the Slovaks, some Sudeten Germans said that they were not treated fairly by the Czechs.


War and revolution in Poland

Poland, with 30 million people, was by far the largest of the states set up by the treaties. The new Polish state was immediately involved in a series of brief wars with most of its neighbors. The Poles were not content with the borders set up in the peace treaties.


Between 1918 and 1921 Poland fought against Germany, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and the Soviet Union. These wars showed how difficult it was to impose the terms of the peace treaties. In 1920 the Poles defied the treaties and took control of the Lithuanian city of Vilna. By 1921 Poland had conquered a huge area of Belarus and Ukraine from the Soviet Union.


Polish politics were chaotic in the early 1920s. It seemed impossible to form a stable government and the country was close to civil war. The chaos came to an end in May 1926 when Marshal Pilsudski seized power and ended democracy in Poland.