Interwar Eastern Europe An Overview
THE ESTABLISHMENT of the independent states of interwar Eastern Europe was possible only because all of the great powers bordering on the area were defeated in the same war. In the hindsight of more than half a century this seems an unremarkable fact. But for the peoples living at that time and in those places, it was more than remarkable--it was miraculous. If one considers that all of the neighboring empires were engaged against each other in a bitter struggle, then only one outcome of the war would seem possible: victory for one side or another, followed by sharply increased control by that power (or powers). It would stand to reason, in fact, that at least one empire would emerge far stronger than before and in the absence of rivals would be extremely intolerant of minority nationalities. Even those who pinned their hopes on a reorganization of the Habsburg realm could not be overly sanguine: a victorious empire would have less, not more, incentive to reform.
The early years of the struggle dashed most of the hopes that remained. Two independent states, Serbia and Romania, were quickly crushed; Albania simply ceased to exist. No one spoke of the revival of Poland with any serious expectations. Calls for the autonomy of the Czech lands were now labeled as treasonous in both Vienna and Budapest. Those close to diplomatic circles in the west knew or sensed that the desperate Allies were willing to make concessions affecting the national aspirations of any East European people. Thus the defeat of one group of oppressors would only cause them to be exchanged for a new set. To residents of Eastern Europe, the nature of the postwar world was uncertain, but the possibilities all seemed grim.
The outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution and Russia's subsequent impotence and defeat were the darkest hours of the war for the Allies. It was feared that enormous German reinforcements from the east would