Anton Korošec (1872–1940) (Digital Library of Slovenia, wikipedia)

From Danzig to Trieste! – Plans of the Slavic Central Europe at the Congress of Laibach in 1918

When it comes to the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in our region, among the main initiators, usually the activities of two Czech politicians, Masaryk and Beneš are pointed out. In Hungarian historical consciousness, the names of some Serbian, Romanian, Slovakian or Croatian contemporary politicians (Trumbić, Pašić, Štefánik, Braţianu) may also be recalled. However, the role of Slovenes is almost completely forgotten.  Thus, for example, the Zagreb National Council was founded in the autumn of 1918 under the leadership of a Slovene Catholic priest, i.e. the disintegration of the historic Hungary was also influenced by the Slovenian political elite of the time. There is even less memory of a Central European cooperation based on economic freedom, which was discussed in Laibach (today: Ljubljana) by the Czech, Polish and South Slav politicians of the region in August 1918. This democratic idea was quickly swept away from the table by the Western Great Powers.

 “Regarding the meeting of the South Slavs, Czechs and Poles in Laibach, the following are reported in Vienna: the Slav delegates gathered in Hotel Union for a feast. Here Count Skorbek made the following statement: – If Germans can have the program »From the Baltic Sea to Baghdad«, the Slavs can have the following one: »From Danzig to Trieste!«”. Pesti Hírlap wrote about this on August 23, 1918. (The correct name of the Galician Polish politician in the report is Count Aleksander Skarbek.)

So in the August of 1918, the bolder ones imagined the borders of the Slavic cooperation to stretch from today’s Polish port city, Gdańsk (Danzig) to today’s Italian port city, Trieste. This cooperation was discussed in Lainach, the contemporary capital city of the province of Krajina, Austria, by Slavic politicians. Regarding this cooperation, the Czech Václav Klofáč later wrote that in Laibach, the Poles, Czechs and South Slavs were negotiating an economic cooperation closer to free trade. Klofáč was one of the most radical Czech nationalist politicians: In 1915 he was sentenced to death for treason – at this time the ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was still Franz Joseph –, but he was released from prison in 1917, when the Austrian emperor and the Hungarian king was already Charles. Among the Serbs, the Banatians came to the meeting, the Slavic politicians of the Monarchy gathered in the present-day Slovenian capital in the middle of August 1918.

Although Austrians, Hungarians and Romanians did not attend this congress, Klofáč said the participants did not refuse them either. However, the Western Great Powers swept away these more democratic, open and non-obstructive Slavic ideas later during peace negotiations. The leaders of the Monarchy, of course, made quite different plans than the Slavic nationalists dreaming from Danzig to Trieste. Although Poland’s replacement on the map was on the agenda in Vienna and Budapest too, the leading circles of the Monarchy participating in the South Slav settlement were unable to reach an agreement: Hungary opposed the concept of “Great Croatia”, which would have united the southern Slav territories of the Monarchy under Croatian aegis and would have transformed the dualistic – i.e. Austrian and Hungarian – monarchy into a tripartite system. Austria’s leaders would not have supported the Slovaks leaving the Austrian provinces, even if it had been about the creation of a South-Slavic state within the Monarchy. The fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina was completely disordered: politicians active in the Western part of the Empire would have rather included it in “Greater Croatia”, while in Budapest they wanted to integrate this area into the Kingdom of Hungary.

However, Slavic politicians negotiating and agreeing in August 1918 in Laibach would have respected the national sovereignty of the new, Slavic-dominated States they had planned – this was Klofáč’s subsequent interpretation, but they would have placed greater emphasis on the economic rapprochement of the thereby established successor states of the Monarchy. (The South Slavs outlined some kind of Yugoslav concept at that time; since it was still not entirely clear what bonds the Slovenians, Croatians and Serbs of the Monarchy would have with the royal Serbia. The Czechs were working on the establishment of the Czechoslovak state and the Poles were working on the re-establishment of Poland.)

According to the Czech nationalist politician, Klofáč, the Western Great Powers did not understand at the time of the peace conference how sensitive issues there were in Central Europe, so the decisions in Laibach remained on paper. The Western-Balkan State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, established in October under Western pressure upon the dissolution of the Monarchy in the southern Slav territories owned by the dualist state, which formed the western part of the later Yugoslavia, was forced by Great Powers to unite with Serbia in December. The president of the State was a Slovenian Catholic priest and Austrian Imperial Assembly Representative Anton Korošec, and a publication from 1994 referred back to this state upon the establishment of Croatian Independence. According to this publication by Milovan Baletić, the Croatian Sabor (Parliament) decided only on entering the State in October 1918. Thereby the Croatian legislature did not vote in 1918 on the State’s merger into the Serbian kingdom and the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (it is worth to note that Slovenes are already at the end of the name of the state here and the name of the kingdom starts with the Serbs). Of course, the State did not only unite with the Serbs on the first of December 1918 due to the pressure of the Great Powers. This process, which took a few weeks, was also strengthened by the fact that this short-lived Western-Balkan state would probably have been the victim of the Adriatic Italian invasion at the end of 1918 if they had not been united with the militarily strong Serbs. Thus, however, Serbian military arrived in Laibach after the foundation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in December 1918.

However, regarding the “Southern Slavic Congress of Laibach” held in August 1918, the Hungarian Catholic Lexikon writes the following: the meeting was organized under the chairmanship of the head of the South Slav Club, Anton Korošec, with the majority of Serbian delegates. “The participants accepted the Corfu Declaration and called on the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs to implement the unity. The speakers scourged the disintegrating Monarchy, and especially harshly Hungary. The Orthodox Serbian majority silenced the worrying Roman Catholic Slovene minority who wished to settle the religious issues in advance. ” According to the lexicon, the Corfu Declaration was signed on July 20, 1917: Serbian Prime Minister Pašić and Ante Trumbić, the leader of the South Slav Committee had an agreement to form the Serbian-Croatian state. The declaration stated the unity of the Serbian-Croatian-Slovenian state under the rule of the House of Karađorđević. (At the same time, other similar or different South Slavic agreements were also made before December 1918, so this was only one of the possible versions of the region’s future.)

It also appears that the Slovene cleric politicians participated in the leadership of the Slovenian National Council, which was formed simultaneously with the congress in Laibach. The chairman of this body was also Anton Korošec, then on October 6, 1918, he became the head of the Zagreb National Council, i.e. the leader of the Croatian-Slovenian cooperation, and finally, as we have already mentioned, the head of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs as well.  The program og the Zagreb Council (also known as the Slovenian-Croatian National Council) was the following according to Imre Szilágyi: “The unification of all Slovenes, Croats and Serbs in the national, free and independent State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs based on democratic principles”. Regarding clerical politicians, Anton Bonaventura Jeglič, the Prince Bishop of Laibach, also supported the Slovenian movement. Nevertheless, the opposition between the Slovene and Croatian Catholic politicians and the Orthodox Serbs did not yet become a tensile test, but became apparent only after the establishment of the Yugoslav state.

The biggest opponent of the Southern Slav aspirations was Hungary within the Monarchy, the Hungarian elite refused the tripartite ideas the most firmly. That is, the South Slav unit would not have meant the disintegration of the Monarchy in itself, but the (more) federal transformation would have undoubtedly weakened Hungary.

It is no coincidence that Pesti Hírlap, in support of the nationalistic (formerly and later rather liberal) trends of the Hungarian political elite, wrote on July 28, 1918 in the editorial entitled Kettős háború (i.e. Dual War): “The Entente is pursuing two wars at the same time. One with the killing weapons and another with the insidious instigation of the peoples of the monarchy.” Debates in the Croatian Sabor particularly exasperated the Hungarian newspaper. (At that time Croatian legislature already openly discussed the possibilities of a Serbian-Croatian cooperation.) Pesti Hírlap also disapproved the events in the Austrian Imperial Assembly, since there: “Stanek Czech representative wants to divide up Hungary, and Korosec Slovenian representative wants to set up the new South-Slavic state with the common public law violation of Hungary and Austria. In order to have a comprehensive view of the ambitions of our disjointing, we shall add the meeting of the Serbian and Southern Slavic military committee, where Balfour proclaimed the establishment of an independent national Southern Slavic state as the official target of the Entente.” (At that time, Balfour was a British Foreign Minister, and František Stanek Czech politician was the representative of the Austrian Imperial Assembly, who accompanied the Slovenian Korošec in February 1918 to visit Charles IV to detail their standpoint. This was reported on by 8 Órai Újság on March 1, 1918.)

At that moment, at the end of July 1918, Pesti Hírlap did not believe in the tripartite transformation of the Monarchy in a South Slav state formation under the Habsburg House: “Stanek, Korosec and Balfour want the same. Northern and Slouthern Slavs keep promising in vain that they plan to have their separate own Slavic states under the Habsburg dynasty; their allies and proponents, our enemies, from Wilson to Balfour, honestly tell the ultimate goal: they want to organize independent and Slavic states, independent from the Habsburgs, after the peace treaty. It would be cowardice and recklessness in any state of the Monarchy to tolerate this external-internal incitement to force our disjointing until the peace treaty.”

Pesti Hírlap wrote at this time fiercely, while in a couple of weeks it turned out that no independent Hungarian army existed. Meanwhile, in the Southern regions, the incorporation of Bosnia and Herzegovina into Hungary was proclaimed: “As regards the Czechs’ graceless claim for the Hungarian counties, this is an issue that can only be settled with us with weapons. The Czechs are trying to take it away. However, the dreams of the South Slavs shall be simply finished, and there is only one way for this: the final public law settlement, through which Bosnia and Herzegovina shall be placed during the war to join the empires of the Hungarian Holy Crown, i.e. the line of so-called »linked parts« with gradual autonomy!” Then, giving evidence of a spectacular lack of information and knowledge, Pesti Hírlap dreamed that Bosnia and Herzegovina joining the Hungarian Crown and then its increased autonomy could increase the sympathy between the Hungarians and the Bosnians. Who exactly the paper referred to in Bosnia – the Croatians, the Serbians or the Bosnians – is a mystery. On the other hand, it was actually the Hungarian “treatment” of the Croatian aspirations after 1868 that showed that the Croats developed at that time many of the human feelings, but much less the “sympathy” for Hungarians. One can imagine how the Hungarian government,  restricting nationality rights, would have “treated” the Bosnian ethnic and religious dividedness if this plan came true. István Tisza’s arrogant, condescending and impatient behaviour in the autumn of 1918 with the South Slav delegation in Sarajevo was only oil on fire, though the ruler allegedly sent the fallen Hungarian Prime Minister (who, however, still controlled the Hungarian parliamentary majority) to the Southern region to get closer to the compromise between the South Slav and the Hungarian political elite.

Pesti Hírlap finished the editorial reflecting the opinion of the nationalist political elite as follows: “The Habsburg dynasty’s secure property in all circumstances: the empire of the Hungarian Holy Crown. This property shall be preserved and strengthened. What is attached to the Hungarian Holy Crown will be kept for the king by the Hungarian nation with blood. It cannot be taken by either Korosec or Balfour. Austria’s government and constitution are also weak, the agitation in for the internal fragmentation of the monarchy is going on uncontrollably. Thus, it is a dynastic and monarchical interest to stop the aspirations for a South Slavic state for ever by finalizing the Hungarian public law relationship.”

Illusions were fed not only by the Hungarian elite, but also by the Croatian and Slovenian clerical elites at that time. They practically believed, according to an article of Világ on August 24, 1918 after the meeting in Lainach, that they can “convert” the orthodox Serbs.  The Hungarian newspaper wrote as follows: “”Clericalism and liberalism are not only a bearer of ideological but also of important political aspirations in Croatia”. Croatian clericalism means Viennese and Austrian orientation and is accompanied by “Hungarianophobia”. The congress in Lainach was classified by Világ as a “pseudo South Slav assembly” and quoted the report of a Croatian newspaper, Hrvatsko Rijec, about the event (Jeglič was mistakenly classified as Prince Archbishop, while the Slovenian high priest was “only” a Prince Bishop in Laibach): “The leader of the action and the president of the meeting, Jeglics Prince Archbishop, is one of the most eager and most fanatic soldiers of the ecclesia militans. The other South Slav leader who played a huge role, Antal Mahnics, Bishop of Zeng, who, after the acceptance of the national unity with the Serbs, immediately stated that he would convert the »faithless« Serbs to »the true Catholic faith«. Needless to say, such an ambition would be a failure and would only be able to ignite the flame of the denominational fights in the South Slav world.” Mahnič of course was not really worried about this: according to Világ, he wrote an article to the Novine paper. In his article, he wrote as follows: “Croatian people are destined to the Catholic reaping of the Eastern field. Regarding Croatian people, he writes, the Providence of the Lord has determined to carry out the mission of unifying its language and blood brothers, who have been separated through unfortunate coincidences.”

According to Világ, the saddest is the fact that masters take this seriously and Jeglič has already held a meeting to discuss “the missionary tasks of Croatians and Serbians” among nations of the Balkan. The Hungarian newspaper, having a look at Yugoslav history in the 20th century, was right in the following: “this concept is abortive and inexecutable”. At the meeting in Laibach on August 1918, however, the unreality of this plan was not yet apparent: on August 23 Pesti Hírlap cited Stanek’s description of the prince bishop: “a real South Slav high priest” and the politician “finds it regrettable that the Czechs do not have such an apostle“.

References:
Osztrák politikusok a királynál = 8 Órai Újság, 1918. március 1.
Kettős háború = Pesti Hírlap, 1918. július 28.
A laibachi hercegérsek a délszláv törekvések mellett = Pesti Hírlap, 1918. augusztus 23.
Zagrebi levél = Világ, 1918. augusztus 24.
Laibachi délszláv kongresszus = Katolikus Lexikon
Elemer Hantos: Der Weg Zum Neuen Mitteleuropa. [Nachdruck des Originals von 1933.] 2013.
Milovan Baletić (szerk.): Kroatien 1994. Zagreb, 1994.
Szilágyi Imre: A szlovénok története = ELTE Szláv Intézet
Egry Gábor: Az emigráns politikus – a Cseh Külföldi Bizottság példája = Elsovh.hu.

Created by: Iván Miklós Szegő