The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/Congress of Rome

3292965The Bohemian Review, volume 2, no. 6 — Congress of Rome1918

Congress of Rome

Secretary Lansing’s announcement that the government of the United States had followed with great interest the proceedings of the Congress of Opressed Races of Austria-Hungary, held in Rome in April, has called the attention of the American people for the first time to an event of first class importance. Representatives of the Slavs and Latins of Austria-Hungary met in Rome on April 8 under the auspices of the Italian government and agreed up on a common program which has since received the endorsement of all the Great Powers opposed to the Central Empires.

The world has heard a great deal since the outbreak of the war of the aspirations of the Poles, the Czechslovaks and the Jugoslavs for independence. It is well known that Italy and Roumania entered the war pricipally to liberate people of their race from German and Magyar oppression. Each of these peoples has carried on a propaganda within the Allied countries with the aim of gaining the support of the statesmen and the people of the West for their cause, and each of them has waged war against the common enemy in ways ranging from sabotage and parliamentary obstruction to desertion en masse and organization of deserters into complete armies. But up to recently each of these oppressed nations carried on its campaign independently of the others. They had a common enemy and a common aim, but it took nearly four years, before they got together and agreed upon a common campaign. The Congress of Rome, like the February meeting of the Allies at Versailles, marks an important step in co-ordinating the great forces opposed to Central Europe.

For more than a year before the realization of the Congress there have been occasional conferences in Paris between the representatives of the various oppressed nationalities and the inter-allied parliamentary commission. Steps were taken in common to combat the frequent Austro-Magyar intrigues, and the desirability of a league of nations oppressed by the Hapsburgs was assented to by every one. But there were many obstacles in the way. It has always been the ruling principle of the Hapsburg emperors to hold together their various peoples by sowing dissension among them, and so these races were not used to co-operation. The Czechs and the Jugoslavs were ready for close alliance. But the Poles had a different viewpoint; their chief enemy was Germany, while Austria had treated their race rather well so that the Austrophil element among them had always been strong. The most serious obstacle to the union was the quarrel between the Italians and the Jugoslavs about the division of the Adriatic coast among these two races. Austrian influences were all the time at work to keep alive and increase the differences between Italy and the South Slavs.

The failure of the oppressed nationalities of Austria-Hungary to unite was a serious obstacle to their separate campaigns. Their chiefs in Paris and London and Rome were met with the objection: “How can you claim the right of self-determination, when you are unable to agree among yourselves? We do not intend to break up Austria merely to have the liberated nations fall upon each other, as the Balkan nations did after their victory over Turkey.”

Early this year the situation cleared up. The developments in the East—the total collapse of Russia with German occupation of all its western provinces, the loss of the Cholm province to Poland and the complete subordination of Austria to Germany—convinced the Poles that they must take a stand against Austria just as definitely as against Germany. In Italy the searching of hearts after the great defeat of November caused a great change in the tone of public opinion. The jingoes were silenced and a conciliatory attitude was manifested in the press and on the platform towards the claims of the Jugoslavs for the inclusion in their state of Adriatic territories which were mainly Slav in language and sentiment.

During the month of February, 1918, the Italian under-secretary of state Gallenga visited Paris, and the occasion was used by the French friends of the Austrian Slavs to call together a conference of the representatives of these nations at which the decision was taken to hold a congress at an early date either at Paris or Rome. In March Italian deputies returning from the Inter-Allied Labor Congress in London invited in the name of the Italian people the oppressed nations of Austria-Hungary to meet at Rome in order to agree upon common action there against the common oppressor.

The delegations that gathered at Rome on April 8 were composed of the leaders of the various Slav and Latin nationalities engaged in rebellion against the Hapsburgs. The Italians, of course, as one of the subjugated nationalities of Austria, had a strong delegation, composed of a number of senators and deputies. The Czechoslovaks were represented by Col. Štefanik, Dr. Beneš, Gabriš, Hlaváček, Osuský, Papirnik, Sychrava and Lieut. Seba. Professor Masaryk was at the time sailing across the Pacific on his way to. the United States, but the vice-president and secretary of the Czechoslovak National Council of Paris spoke in the name of the revolutionary Bohemian government. The Jugoslav delegation included Mr. Trumbich, president of the Jugoslav Committee of London with several of his co-workers, and a large delegation from the Serbian Skupština (parliament). The Polish delegation spoke in the name of the Polish Council of Paris, which like the Czechoslovak National Council enjoys the recognition of the Allies and disposes of an army. The Roumanian delegation included a senator of the kingdom and several professors. In addition to these spokesmen of the oppressed nationalities there were present for France M. Franklin-Bouillon, former minister and chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the French chamber, M. Albert Thomas, former minister of munitions and the powerful labor leader, and MM. Fournol and de Quirelle. For England there were present Wickham Steed, for eign editor of the London Times, and R. W. Seton-Watson, whose writings on Ausstro-Hungarian problems carry great weight in America as well as in England. Senator Ruffini was selected for president of the Congress.

For a week Rome and all Italy centered their attention on the Congress. The majority of senators and deputies, authors and journalists innumerable and most public men attended the sessions. The labors of the gathering were directed at four points: the construction of a common platform, anti-Austrian propaganda, the question of prisoners of war and civil residents of Allied lands, who are members of the oppressed races of Austro-Hungary, and finally a united organization of all these races and the preparation of the next Congress at Paris.

The platform approved unanimously by all the nationalities participating reads as follows:

“Representatives of nationalities subject completely or partly to the domination of Austria-Hungary, Italians, Poles, Roumanians, Czechoslovaks and Jugoslavs, declare that they agree upon the following principles for their common action.

1. Each of these peoples proclaims its right to the establishment of its nationality and national unity or to its completion, and to the attainment of full political and economic independence.

2. Each of these peoples recognizes in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy an instrument of German domination and a fundamental obstacle to the realization of its aspirations and its rights.

3. The Congress therefore recognizes the necessity of a common struggle against common oppressors in order that each people may attain its complete liberation and its complete national union in its own free state.“

The second part of the resolutions consisted in a statement of principles on the basis of which an agreement was reached between the Italians and the Jugoslavs. Its substance is that both agree to settle their differences by aplication of the principle of nationality and the right of each nation to self-determination and that the rights of racial minorities shall be protected.

It may be added that of all the races represented at the Rome Congress the reception extended to the Czechoslovaks was most flattering. Premier Orlando in his speech referred in terms of highest praise to Col. Štefanik and the eagerness of the Czechoslovak prisoners of war to fight against Austria, and the speech of Dr. Beneš on behalf of the Bohemians was received with storms of applause.

The deliberations of the Congress of Oppressed Austro-Hungarian Nationalities made known the desires of the people most directly interested as to the disposition of the Hapsburg monarchy. The governments of the Allied countries gave their official sanction to the program reached in Rome. Premier Orlando in addressing the Congress assured the delegates of the sympathy of the Italian Goverment and his hope that they would reach complete victory. M. Franklin-Bouillon expressed the full sympathy of the French Government with the aims of the Congress. Since then Lord Robert Cecil, the English minister of blockade, upon the occasion of the third anniversary of the Italian entrance into war, declared that his government left the solution of the Austro-Hungarian problem to the nations and populations concerned. And now Secretary Lansing, speaking expressly for President Wilson, adds the approval of the American government.

This work was published before January 1, 1929 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 95 years or less since publication.

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