The New Europe/Volume 4/Kühlmann and Czernin as Converts
|The New Europe|
|Vol. IV, No. 52.||[registered for transmission at]
the inland newspaper rate
|11 October 1917|
Kühlmann and Czernin as Converts
“The devil was ill, the devil a monk would be,” is the true diagnosis of the German state of mind to-day. The motive which prompts every manœuvre in Berlin and Vienna is the desire to escape the doom which now hangs over the Central Empires in the last stage of the war. Through every argument in the German Press and every official speech in the Reichstag, there runs a thread woven of the two strands of anxiety and cunning: anxiety for the future which daily grows darker, and cunning fruitlessly exercised on the task of casting dissension into the ranks of the enemy. Despite the transparency of German motive we cannot afford to be taken off our guard. It would be unnecessary to lay emphasis on this truism were it not that the strategy of the new German “peace offensive” is designed to create the impression in Western minds that the enemy is prepared to subscribe to the principles laid down by Entente statesmen. Two sentences from the diary of “Wayfarer” in the Nation show that the process is already at work. “Czernin,” says “Wayfarer,” “has accepted the Liberal solution of the war in language which European Liberalism can recognise as its own. And that is a great fact.” We do not minimise the importance of Count Czernin’s Budapest speech, but we enter a caveat by finishing the quotation with which this argument opens: “The devil got well, the devil a monk was he!”
We shall best understand the intentions of Count Czernin and Herr von Kühlmann by comparing their utterances with the real “Liberal solution” of the war which is implied in the words “reparation, restitution, and guarantees.” The belated conversion of Central European statesmen to the policy of “placing Europe on a new basis of right ” by means of disarmament, arbitration, and a league of nations, only serves to throw into bolder relief their refusal to take the first steps towards a new European order by acknowledging national rights. All professions of faith in internationalism are meaningless and insincere unless they are preceded by tangible proofs that the oppressors of nationalities have forsworn their former doctrines. Herr von Kühlmann speaks of Europe as “the small peninsula attached to the Asiatic continent, which had previously the domination of the world in its hands.” He declares it to be the common interest of all the Great Powers that Europe shall not perish: but he forgets that the old Europe—“that word which sounds to us to-day like a tale of far-off times”—did perish at his master’s hands in that summer night three years ago when Germany went to war. And he is so far from understanding the hopes which men now cherish that he can proclaim his desire for a restoration without offering the only pledge which any good European can accept. He is free to speak of Europe when all Europe thinks of Belgium: he declares that the opportunity to restore peace is presented by the Pope, but speaks no word of the restoration of partitioned Poland, nor any hint of reparation for the wrongs of 1871 and 1914. In a word, there is safety in generalities, and nowhere else, for the rulers of Germany. They have raised up against them not only a world in arms, but a people whom they cannot lead. Junker and Socialist alike regard the Chancellor, now as an enemy and now as a friend, and his reputation for personal strength has not lived long. Having utterly forsaken the sound Bismarckian maxim that he who pursues Realpolitik must know clearly his objects and limit them strictly to what is possible, the German Government is now at a loss which way to turn. The mistakes of the political strategy of the past twenty years are now coming home to roost beside the colossal blunders of military strategy of the last three years, and there is no man in Germany big enough to find a safe way out of the threatening danger. A war on two fronts was always a gamble for Germany, for in it the objectives could not be limited solely by the will of the German High Command: but a war on three fronts—the third being the naval front to Great Britain, which bears the increasing pressure of the blockade and is therefore, in the long run, the most vulnerable—is not a gamble, it is the sure road to German defeat. Germany’s feet first trod that road when German policy was expanded from a European to a universal policy, from the constructive defence of German unity and interests in Europe to the unlimited megalomania of modern German Imperialism to which there could be but one issue. The world does not long tolerate a restless, powerful, covetous, braggart without combining to keep him in order. The imminent success of the combination against Germany is now compelling her rulers to take stock of their position and to decide whether their chief endeavours should be made in the East or in the West to save what can be saved of their conquests from the general impending ruin. The coal-fields of Briey and the control of Antwerp are being weighed in the balance against Poland and the resources of Asia Minor: though the German High Command itself would still appear to cherish the illusion that German conquests at both ends of Europe can be retained to pay her gigantic war debt.
That is the German position stated in general terms. Regarding it as the setting in which Herr von Kühlmann—we shall soon learn to attach more importance to him than to the Chancellor—must act and speak, we can read his real meaning like an open book. Similarly in listening to Count Czernin we must place him in his environment, bearing in mind what his German colleague has emphasised with candour and truth, that it is the atmosphere, the “circumambient air,” that gives all utterances their true significance. Now let us analyse the “circumambient air” in which Count Czernin spoke at Budapest. A Magyar banquet was the scene: the Hungarian Premier his host: and the audience a solid phalanx of that headstrong oligarchy which is one of the most sinister forces in modern Europe. And beyond the walls of the banquet chamber right to the farthest frontiers of the Dual Monarchy the landscape which provided a background to Count Czernin’s figure was scarred with wounds and want, dotted here and there with the gallows, the fit emblem of Habsburg ingratitude to its subject peoples. Standing in Budapest, the Austro-Hungarian Minister was surrounded by reminders of the great Habsburg sin against Europe: to the south, Croatia, the scene of the famous treason trials; to the east, Transylvania, the great theatre of Magyar tyranny; to the north, Poland, Slovakia, Bohemia, each telling its well-known story; and to the west? Westwards lay Vienna, the seat of the dynasty, whence Count Czernin came to the banquet as to a feast spread by his masters. The weakness of Vienna against the strong spirit of Budapest explains many things, but none more luminously than Count Czernin’s careful avoidance of any words which could convey the slightest hint of sympathy with the Habsburg subject races. Budapest is the citadel of racial domination, and he who speaks within its walls must forswear the self-determination of peoples. He may speak, like Czernin, of international goodwill, but not of the neighbourly duty of the Magyar to the Croat; he may paint the picture of a new Europe under the rule of Right, but it must be a Europe in which the ruling race of Hungary shall enjoy for ever their “right” to exploit all the others. That is why the touchstone of Austro-Hungarian sincerity is not “peace” but “nationality.” And until Vienna and Budapest can say “self-determination” we shall listen to no professions of internationalism from their spokesmen. They must be ready to lay the foundations of Europe anew in freedom and justice to all peoples, before they can hope to build any enduring structure of Public Right. And Germany must speak the word “restitution,” before we pay any heed to her exposition of the new internationalism. It is strange to see how some who call themselves “Liberals” are prepared to accept Count Czernin as a friend and to forget the historic task of the Western World in seeing justice done to the little nations rightly struggling to be free. We must remind them that not so long ago “liberal” meant Mazzini, Garibaldi, Lincoln; that the union of democratic control, in our father’s day, wore red shirts and died at Calatafimi; that the people that chose “peace” before “justice” was a people in decay; and that to-day the powerful (but sophisticated) peoples of the West may end in selling other men’s birthright of freedom because they are too faint-hearted to carry this great struggle to the end, or too simple to read the malign motive behind fair speeches.
There are some who believe that the modern British supporters of national rights in Eastern Europe are merely diverting themselves with exotic toys, and that the question of nationality has received unmerited importance. They misread history who plead thus. “The diplomats of 1815,” says M. Debidour, “spent a year in providing Europe with bad laws. It was to take Europe a century to repair the evil which they wrought upon her.” And not in 1815 only: but in 1856, in 1871, 1878 and in 1912–13, European diplomacy prepared a great war by misreading the will and thwarting the destiny of a dozen small peoples throughout Europe. In each case the innate power of race burst the bonds of an unjust settlement; and to-day we should be blind indeed if we did not see that inherent justice and high European expediency alike impose an equitable settlement of nationality as indispensable to the future peace of Europe.