Commonwealth and Foreign
RIVALRIES IN CENTRAL EUROPE
By HUGH SETON-WATSON
NOTHING strikes a visitor to Central Europe more forcibly than the complete domination of internal politics by external events. It may well be said that the Spanish civil war is anything but a clear conflict between democracy and dictator- ship. It is none the less true that it is considered by large masses in Central Europe as a struggle of the forces of social progress against the expansive foreign policy of the two Fascist States, and is watched with intense hopes and fears as an indication of their own chances in the struggle against National Socialism. Perhaps this is most evident among the Bohemian Germans. The Activist parties, forming a third of the German population, are fighting desperately against the Fascist party of Herr Henlein (what the personal relation is between Henlein and the Reich German authori- ties is a question rather of academic interest than of practical importance). The defeat of the Italian armies at Guadalajara was an immense encouragement for them : the news of the fall of Bilbao cost them all the progress they had made. It has been suggested that the concessions made by the Czechoslovak Government to the Activists will strengthen them as world economic conditions improve and the Bohemian voters see that Henlein's tactics do not help their material position. But the situation is quite exceptional. The success or failure of Henlein's party depends not on the social and political conditions in Bohemia, but on the success or failure of German foreign policy and on the rise or fall of Hider's prestige. Recently a German employer, whose workmen, belonging to a Socialist trade union, declared a strike, called in men of the Henlein party as strike-breakers. Such action would be suicide for any workmen's party in normal times. Henlein actually gained further support in this district. The reason was the continued success of Hitler's intervention in Spain.
The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of Austria. Those Catholic sections of the Government which are determined to resist National Socialism to the end, wish for a reconcilia- tion with the workmen. But they receive no support in the West, and are forced to rely on the help of Italy, which, since Dr. Schuschnigg's interview with Mussolini at Venice, they fear is of little value. At the same time they are regularly betrayed by unavowed National Socialists within the Govern- ment itself. Both for the workmen, who sympathise actively with the Spanish Government, and for the loyal supporters of Dr. Schuschnigg, who welcome any check to Hitler's ambitions, the general international situation is decisive. Its progressive deterioration makes it difficult for them to retain their courage, creates defeatism, and increases the temptation to make their terms, cost what it may, with the National Socialists.
Hungarian politics are dominated by the two questions of electoral and land reform. The Government is still in the hands of a class of great landowners. But there is an increasing feeling in the country that conditions on the land are intoler- able. The fantastic poverty of the peasants has led to drastic attempts at birth-control which menace the whole future of the Hungarian people. A recent series of books describing in detail conditions in certain localities, has had a wide circulation. There is at least a considerable intellectual movement which even openly urges social reform, freedom from the control of German policy, and friendship with France. At times it seems that the Government itself is prepared to face these questions. But German propaganda, exploiting the fear of " Bolshevism," and the successes of German foreign policy, are powerful factors, and there is always a danger that M: Daranyi will capitulate to Fascist Influences. The situation in Jugoslavia shows a' certain resemblance. The great majority of the people are opposed to the existing regime, demand social reforms, and resent the penetration of German and Italian influence. The chances for Prince Paul, whose sympathies for General Franco are well known, to maintain the present form of government, will be determined by the fortunes of Fascist foreign policy.
Much is heard at present of the Hodia plan for economic co-operation. There have been frequent attempts since the World War to restore in the Danube basin the economic unity which the Habsburg Empire formerly provided, but without appreciable success. There can be no question at present of restoring free trade, since national industries have been set up by each of the new States with the help of protective tariffs, and powerful interests created which would oppose any such policy. The Hodia plan aims at ensuring by means of preferential tariffs that such products as have to be imported into each of the Danubian States shall come as far as possible from its neighbours, though allowance is made for the interests of Germany, Poland and Italy. It is hoped to bind the small States together, to check the tendency towards autarky, and in the future to make possible a more normal condition of trade. One of the chief obstacles is the resolute refusal of the British Government to modify its demands for most-favoured-nation treatment. Another difficulty is the insistence of statesmen of Central Europe that economic co-operation is impossible without political understanding. Though somewhat of a cliche, this assertion contains truth. The complete absence of security, which characterises the present atmosphere of Central Europe, is one of the great assets of Fascist foreign policy. It seems in fact that only a resolute policy by Great Britain and France in the face of Germany and Italy, can render possible a common constructive effort of the Danubian peoples to face and solve their problems.
There is anot her difficulty of a more general kind. There is a singular lack in Central Europe of any spiritual co-operation. This is particularly true of the three peoples on whom the success of real co-operation principally depends, the Austrians, Czechs and Hungarians. An obsession with the glories and the injustices of the past makes an understanding in the present very difficult. The Austrians feel, despite their present weakness, that they are on a different cultural level from the other peoples. " Es gibt nur ein Kaiserstadt, es gibt nur ern Wien." This spirit has survived the Habsburgs, and is as strong in the me thrn Socialist workman as it was in the aristocracy of the court. The Hungarians still dream of their old frontiers. But in the youuger generation a new spirit, astonishingly liberal, is growing. It might be expected that the Czechs, the victors of 1918, would be more conciliatory than the vanquished. Unfortunately, this is not always so. An immense amount of eloquence is wasted on recrimina- tions of their past rulers, which might be diverted into more productive channels. The menace of Hitler has strengthened the intransigence of the average Czech, and the statesmanlike policy of Beneg and Hodia towards the Czechoslovak Germans is constantly endangered by the unimaginative chauvinism of local officials. Among the Czechs too a part of the younger generation shows a far more conciliatory spirit. But this psychological obstacle to co-operation exists on all sides, and is of the first importance.
The conclusion would seem to be that though there are hopeful signs, the prospects of Danubian co-operation are small: The forces that inspire hope can hardly make themselves felt within a short time, and the danger is immediate. Yet only co-operation can save Central Europe, and through it Western Europe. The alternative is war, subjection and ruin.