István Burián (1851-1922) (wikipedia)

The peace of Bucharest – A temporary illusion about the calm dream of Székely people

The separate peace treaty between the central powers and Romania was signed in Bucharest on May 7, 1918. The agreement was not in force for a long time, it only had one (more) lasting result: the unification of Romania and Bessarabia was recognized by Germany and its three allies, including the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Pesti Napló wrote in vein after the execution: “today we shall be glad that the people of the Hungarian border could go to sleep in peace in Székelyföld and Saxon towns”.

“Today’s event was the execution of the Romanian peace treaty, which ended the diplomacy negotiations in Bucharest. Burián Báró foreign minister already left to Vienna from Bucharest with the members of the Austrian-Hungarian delegation at two o’clock this afternoon. Delegates of the central powers held the last meaningful meeting with the Romanian delegates last evening”, wrote the next day issue of Világ about the Romanian separate treaty concluded on May 7, 1918 as well as István Burián, who returned to lead the Austrian-Hungarian diplomacy (after the fall of foreign minister Czernin, who had a dispute with Clemenceau). It was known about the German-friend Burián that he had strong relations with István Tisza, the Hungarian Prime Minister who had fallen the previous year. So, in this period, Tisza’s positions started to strengthen not only in Hungary, with the reformation of the Wekerle government, but also in Vienna – through the common foreign minister.

At that moment, the separate peace concluded with the central powers, i.e. Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey seemed to be the only realistic possibility of the Romanian politics, which has become trapped by the spring of 1918. Since Soviet Russia, led by the Bolsheviks, emerged from the Eastern front of the Entente, and agreed with the central powers about the separate peace in Brest-Litovsk in March, Romania would have remained alone from the Entente in the East.

The position of Romanians was worsened by the fact that there were armed clashes between the Bolsheviks and the Romanian forces at the beginning of 1918 (in a conflict that is mostly forgotten today. Romania – or more precisely, what was left of it, since most, about two-thirds of the country was in the hands of central powers from the end of 1916 anyway – was practically between wind and fire. It was threatened by the Soviet Russians in the East and the central powers (Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Bulgarians) in the West and South.

On January 25, 1918, Az Est reported on a three-day Romanian-Russian battle along the river of Siret. The next day’s issue of the newspaper reported that Romanian Foreign Minister Take Ionescu assured the ambassadors of the Entente that the Romanian government and army would “remain faithful to the Entente alliance” and that they will not conclude separate peace upon the exit of Russians from the war either.

The Romanians did not – and could not – keep Ionescu’s promise: the Entente-supporting head of government, Brătianu soon resigned, just like his successor, General Averescu, and then Romania concluded preliminary peace with the central powers on May 5 – two days after the Russian separate peace at Brest-Litvosk. The “true” separate peace concluded in Bucharest in May finalized this preliminary agreement, at least according to the hopes of central powers – which later turned out to be vain hopes.

The Világ wrote about the new situation in May 1918 as if the Romanian elite that entered the war on the side of the Entente was ultimately doomed and the German-friendly politicians had a solid base in Bucharest. “Being another sign of new life, starting with the peace treaty, according to the report from Bucharest, pursuant to the statement of Take Ionescu, the head of the conservative democratic party, before his friends, he will completely resign from political life, and leave Romania and move to London as soon as possible after the peace treaty. The majority of his party will return to the conservative party led by Marghiloman”, wrote the Hungarian paper.

Alexandru Marghiloman temporarily became a key player: the statesman who was known as a German-friendly politician became a prime minister for a few months, while Romania’s autonomy was highly questionable both before and after the peace treaty with the central powers on May 7. Before it, the Austrian-Hungarian forces practically invaded most of the country, while after it, in accordance with the provisions of the treaty, forces of the central powers remained stationed in its territory. (The separate peace in May wrote about six “quasi-invading” divisions.) The German economic influence in Romania continued to exist regardless of the separate peace until central powers held their positions in the Balkans in 1918.

But smart Romanian politics is proven by the fact that Marghiloman could achieve the lasting (or more precisely, more lasting) territorial expansion of his country even in this hopeless situation. We are speaking about Bessarabia: Hungarian press wrote about the annexation of Bessarabia by the Romanians already in January 1918. The territory formed the Eastern part of Great Romania between the two world wars. (However, in 1945, the Soviet Union got hold of the area, which now mainly belongs to Moldavia, but some parts of the former Bessarabia went to today’s Ukraine as well.)

The unification of Bessarabia and Romania was practically a completed fact by April 1918. The Romanian army entered the territory of Bessarabia already in January 1918. The National Council of Bessarabia proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Moldova in December 1917, and in the spring of 1918, the body proclaimed the unification with Romania.

In the spring of 1918, Bessarabia was a kind of “compensation” for Romanians to swallow border adjustments for the benefit of the central powers – and mainly Bulgaria. It was primarily about the acquisition of the Southern part of Dobruja, and the final settlement of the Northern part of the area was left open by the preliminary and “real” separate peace treaties in 1918, although the central powers recognized the rightfulness of the Bulgarian demands for this territory as well. In the separate peace of May 7, Romania should have, in principle, passed on to the Kingdom of Hungary a 2-10 km band that was toward Romania from the backbone of the Carpathians.

However, it never actually happened, since the determination of this new border would have been started after the Romanian ratification of the separate peace of Bucharest. Though the Romanian Parliament voted for the ratification itself – after the former legislature was dissolved –, but the Romanian king prevented the finalization of the separate peace. Catherine Durandin writes about this confusing period and the separate peace in May in her work entitled The history of Romanians: “But this peace does not create order in the political turmoil. Brătianu and the Liberals are left out of the re-elected House of Representatives, which ratifies the peace treaty on June 28, but King Ferdinand is not willing to sign it.” Thus, the new borders between Romania and Hungary – i.e. between Romania and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy – could never be designated, and the central powers militarily collapsed while the Romanians stalled for time.

As if the official propaganda of the Monarchy also felt after signing the separate peace that the thin strip of land in the Carpathians should not be over-emphasized. Instead, official and unofficial forums highlighted the increasing importance of the Danube as a transport route from the perspective of Hungary and the Monarchy. From diplomacy sources, the reporter of Világ learnt that “in addition to the border adjustments required from a military perspective, the most important part of the peace treaty from our perspective is the one that regulates the issue of the Danube”. Before the war, the European Danube Commission guarded over the navigation on the river, and “Romania’s harassing policy placed serious obstacles to the development of our foreign trade”, wrote the paper. However, according to the Világ, the peace in Bucharest “dissolves the old European Danube Commission and creates a new one, where only those states are represented that lie along the Danube or on the European coast of the Black Sea”. That is, they left out England, France and Italy from the agreement of May 7, which are “not interested directly in the issue of the Danube”. Bucharest will from this time ensure “free traffic and the free use of ports in the Romanian part of the Danube” for the central powers, wrote the paper.

Writing about the peace in Bucharest, Pesti Napló also emphasized the moderation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy: “The regulation of border adjustments put the Monarchy in an embarrassing dilemma. The security of Transylvania’s border was on one end of the scales, while the principle of annex-free peace was on the other one. Transylvania’s safety was extremely important for Hungary, but significant aspects emphasized that we shall not depart from annex-free peace.” The paper adds: “But today we shall be glad that the people of the Hungarian border could go to sleep in peace in Székelyföld and Saxon towns and let’s not think yet about what tomorrow will bring.”

However, tomorrow did not bring anything good either for the Monarchy, or the Kingdom of Hungary: Being a loser of the world war, in 1918, the former ceased to exist, and the latter suffered enormous loss of territory and population. The separate peace of Bucharest in May was hardly mentioned at the end of the year, and the 2-10 km band in the Carpathians that has been “won” in theory was not mentioned at all, since Transylvania, as well as most of the Partium, Banat and Maramures soon came under Romanian authority.

A román kormány és a hadsereg inkább Szibériába megy, de nem köt különbékét = Az Est, 1918. január 24.
Az oroszok és románok nagy csatája a Szeret mellett = Az Est, 1918. január 25.
A románok meg akarják szállni Besszarábiát = Az Est, 1918. január 27.
Románia harca Besszarábiáért = Az Est, január 30.
Megkötötték a román békét = Világ, 1918. május 8.
A román béke = Pesti Napló, 1918. május 9.
A bolsevikiek és a románok konfliktusa = Az Est, 1918. január 9.
Catherine Durandin: A román nép története. Budapest, 1998.
Köpeczi Béla (főszerk.): Erdély rövid története. Budapest, 1989.

Created by: Iván Miklós Szegő