Eastern Europe Between the Wars

Anita Prazmowska unwinds the tangled skeins of grievance and interest that left the newly-emergent states east of Vienna unsure of who were friends or foes in the years following Versailles.

The Versailles powers created the new states of Eastern Europe' is a comment that just slips off the tongues of most experienced historians. The phrase is incorrect, but nevertheless it is a widely acceptable generalisation that does not challenge the prejudices of our audience. It is easy to imagine the great statesmen at Versailles pondering, deciding, and adjudicating, in between taking puffs at their cigars or tapping out their pipes. A caricature perhaps, but one that is almost a cliché.

The real problem is that while it is difficult to overlook the influence, direct and indirect of the great powers on the affairs of the small states, the precise degree of that influence is not always easy to discern. Once we come to deal with the causes of the Second World War the European big powers seem to come into their own. We study, teach and therefore view the problem almost exclusively from the perspective of the European balance of power, the contest between Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain and occasionally the Soviet Union. The small states figure as objects of policy, victims and at times a nuisance necessitating one of the big powers to take action.

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