The inter-war period of Europe was not one of burgeoning democracies formed from the ashes of the First World War, but rather, central and Europe were countries that were overwhelmingly far-right dictatorship.
These are just some examples:
HUNGARY: In the interwar years, Hungary was ruled by an ultra-reactionary government most prominently by Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös.
LATVIA: Latvian dictator Kārlis Ulmanis ruled with an iron far-right fist throughout the interwar years.
LITHUANIA: Interwar Lithuanian leader Antanas Smetona helped push the country further and further to the proto-fascist right.
ESTONIA: Konstantin Päts was something of a softer but still strongly nationalist dictator who effectively killed off democracy
CZECHOSLOVAKIA: Edvard Beneš was the most influential Czech politician of the inter-war years and while less radical than many of his neighbours, he also left an ambiguous legacy of largely authoritarian rule.
And then there was Poland, a country who under the strongman military rule of Józef Piłsudski was the first European power to sign a bilateral non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler, four years prior to the unification of Hitler’s Germany with Austria in the Anschluss.
Here is a list of all the European powers that signed non-aggression pacts with Nazi Germany prior to August of 1939.
The Second Polish Republic was dominated by two political rivals, Józef Piłsudski and Roman Dmowski. Although both figures are venerated in contemporary Poland, each man had a radically different idea about what Poland ought to be.
Józef Piłsudski called for a ‘greater Poland’ which would encompass much of the territory of the once vast Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which once dominated central and Eastern Europe.
Piłsudski was stridently anti-Russian whilst he totally underestimated and even discounted the coming German threat.
He sought to build a right-wing European federation which would rival and dominate the neighbouring Soviet Union. It was this policy which allowed his country to sleepwalk into the Polish-Soviet War which lasted from 1919-1921. It was Europe’s most protracted conflict of the inter-world war period….
…By contrast, Roman Dmowski favoured the settled post-First World War Polish borders and sought an ethnically and culturally homogenous state that would resist German nationalist ambitions whilst not antagonising the large Soviet state to the East.
Ultimately, Piłsudski’s brand of ‘Greater Polish’ expansionism won the day, leaving Poland dangerously exposed to German aggression which cost Poland dearly during the 1940s
What’s more is that Piłsudski’s ambitions were a proximate cause of the Second World War, a war in which Poland suffered greatly.
Piłsudski’s obsession with Russia led him to dismiss threats of German expansionism as well as anti-Polish rhetoric from the fascist regime of Adolf Hitler.
In 1934, Piłsudski’s Foreign Minister Józef Beck helped cement a German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact, years before the British engineered Munich Agreement of 1938, let alone the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939.
Although Poland’s attempts to create a new central/eastern European bloc never succeeded, it did accomplish two deeply unhelpful things.
First of all, because Roman Dmowski’s warnings about Germany were ignored, Poland actually sleep-walked into allowing German aggression against Polish lands which by September of 1939 erupted into the proximate cause of the Second World War in Europe.
Secondly, Piłsudski’s ambitions which he continued to promote long after the USSR adopted the anti-imperialist policy of ‘Socialism in One State’, actually helped to drum up support for militant far-right regimes throughout Europe.
Poland was blinded by mutual aggression against Czechoslovakia and mutual loathing of the USSR, that it got in bed with the country that would invade it in 1939, thus formally beginning the Second World War.
2. Britain–1935 and 1938
In 1935, London and Berlin signed the Anglo-German Naval Pact which guaranteed that the tonnage of the Kriegsmarine (Germany Navy) would never exceed 35% percent of that of the Royal Navy (British Navy).
In 1938, Britain and Germany again signed a pact, this time the Munich Agreement in which Britain allowed Hitler to invade and occupy part of Czechoslovakia. Britain of course had no right to to speak on Czechoslovakia’s behalf, giving away the territory of what was the least dictatorial country in central Europe at the time, but this is exactly what Britain did.
The German–Romanian Economic Treaty of 1939 effectively gave Germany control over the entire Romanian economy and consequently the entire Romanian state. Only the Anschluss was a more encompassing treaty.
In May of 1939 Denmark became the only Scandinavian country to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany. By contrast Sweden and Finland remained legally neutral, although Finland fought the Winter War with the Soviet Union prior to the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War but after the Anglo-French declaration of war on Germany.
In the spring of 1939, Italy signed the so-called ‘Pact of Steel’ with Germany, thus cementing the war time allience of two major fascist powers.
Norway contended itself with a German puppet government run by the infamous Vidkun Quisling
On the 7th of June 1939 the Estonian regime of Konstantin Päts, the man who suspended the country’s democracy, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Germany.
On the same day as Estonia, Latvia which was then ruled by the proto-fascist dictator Kārlis Ulmanis, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Reich.
By August of 1939, in addition to the aforementioned countries, Hungary, Latvia and Bulgaria were also firmly in the grip of pro-Nazi governments. By that time all of central and eastern Europe had fascist or far-right governments, with the arguable exception of Czechoslovakia. In Southern Europe, the resistance to fascism was led by Hellenic resistance fighters and Yugoslav Partisans led by Tito, the future President of Yugoslavia.
It was only after all of this that the Soviet-Union signed a non-aggression pact with Berlin in August of 1939.
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet-Union, thus beginning the Great Patriotic War.
After losing over 27 million people, on the 9th of May 1945, the USSR could rightly say it helped defeated fascism.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.