September 10, 1919 is the date when that once great and rich empire of Central Europe recognizes its defeat in the First World War. Two years after the Russian Empire and four years before the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, leaving behind it a plurality of independent national states.
In the palace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, a delegation made up of representatives of Austria and the Entente signed the treaty that led to the birth of the republics of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In addition, the treaty recognized Bukovina’s unification with the Kingdom of Romania as well as Italy’s claim on South Tyrol. The signing of the treaty was a consequence of the surrender of Austro-Hungary on November 3, 1918 following its defeat in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. As such, the treaty merely formalized what had already happened: the end of Austrian domination in Central Europe.
How did the breakup of Austria come to fruition?
For the Europe of 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire seemed to be a state strong enough to withstand a war against the Serb rebels who assassinated the prince Franz Ferdinand. Unlike the Ottoman Empire, a state with an outdated ideology whose collapse seemed inevitable from the eighteenth century, the empire of Central Europe was a modern one with a strong industry and a fairly efficient administration. Paradoxically, the Ottoman Empire survived four another four years, until the declaration of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.
The dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in national states after the First World War
The extent of the war considerably weakened the forces of the Triple Alliance. Austria became an increasingly vulnerable state, the war years triggering disorder among its constituent nations. They militated for national rights, autonomy or even for the creation of their own states in the event that Austria would be defeated by the Entente.
The Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was part of a series of acts signed with each state that made up the Triple Alliance. President Woodrow Wilson arbitrated the surrender of territories following the principle of self-determination, with the hope it was a sufficient guarantee to ensure the peace for the newly created states. However, the mixture of populations in the former empires, as well as the ignorance in some cases of the will of the population, created the premises of the Second World War, the most devastating war in the twentieth century.
One of the main problems of the treaty was the concession of South Tyrol to Italy, against the will of the 250.000 German-speaking inhabitants of the region who expressed themselves in a plebiscite. Also, the borders of Czechoslovakia and Poland decided upon at Saint Germain contained regions that were populated mainly by Germans, with more than three million of them becoming citizens of national Slav states. So, the recovery of these regions by the Germany was one of the main arguments Adolf Hitler used to start the war.
On the other hand, for the Kingdom of Romania, the Saint Germain treaty had happy resolution, as it was the first international act that ratified the entry of a former Habsburg territory in its composition. Thus, the Union of Bukovina with Romania, previously signed in Cernăuţi on 15/28 November 1918, was recognized.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa