Bled agreement (1938)
The Bled agreement of 22 August 1938 revoked some of the restrictions placed on Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon for its involvement on the losing side in World War I. Representatives of Hungary and three of its neighbours—the so-called "Little Entente" of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia—first met at Bled in Yugoslavia on 21 August. The next day they announced a joint renunciation of the use of force in their mutual relations, and the Little Entente recognised Hungary as having an equal right to armaments. This gave Hungary legal cover for the re-creation of its air force, already begun in secret, and the increase of its army in manpower, guns, and munitions.
There had been efforts at rapprochement between Hungary and Czechoslovakia in February and June 1937, in which the latter had asked for a mutual non-aggression pact as part of any deal recognising Hungary's right to re-arm itself. As this re-armament was already occurring on a limited scale without protest from Czechoslovakia or her allies, Hungary rejected her overtures. Two events convinced the Hungarians to pursue an accord with the Little Entente. The first was the Salonika Agreement of 31 July, whereby Bulgaria had obtained permission to re-arm from the members of the Balkan Pact (including Yugoslavia and Romania). The second was Romania's enactment in early August of minority protection statute that was more liberal than Hungary had expected. Thus, although Hungary was willing to negotiate non-aggression and re-armament with the Entente as a unit, she reserved the question of minorities to individual agreements with the member states.
The timing of the agreement was related to the scheduled launching of the German cruiser Prinz Eugen by the Hungarian first lady, Magdolna Purgly, on 22 August. The Hungarian government believed that their position vis-à-vis Germany would be strengthened if they had a pact with the Little Entente completed when officials from both countries met in Kiel for the launch.
The accord was the biggest piece of international news in the evening papers in London the night of 22 August. It was also praised in the press in France and the Little Entente. It was met with anger by the German government. The actual agreement was complicated and incomplete. Although the question of the Hungarian minority in Romania had been resolved earlier in the month, the same question with Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia was still open. On three points of dispute regarding, the Hungarians and Yugoslavs came to an understanding separate accords (appended to the general accord) were each initialed (but not signed). A final agreement between Hungary and Czechoslovakia on the minority question remained uninitialed because the latter could not satisfy the former's stronger demands against her. The Czechoslovak foreign minister, Kamil Krofta, informed the Yugoslavs, before the conference, that although it was "a case of discrimination [against us] ... we wish to contribute to an agreement."
The result was that Hungary could come to a general agreement with all three of its neighbours, while holding up implementation with respect to only one, the one also neighbouring Germany, Czechoslovakia. Only Italy saw the Bled pact for what it was. The Italian foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, remarked that it "marked a new phase in the crumbling of the Little Entente. Czechoslovakia is isolated. The French system of friendships is completely upset." The Bled conference itself was held without consulting either Italy or Austria, and was thus in violation of the Rome Protocols agreed to by the three powers in 1934, or of their supplementary agreements made during conferences at Rome (20–23 March 1936) and Vienna (11–12 November 1936). (At the latter, Hungary had received recognition that the Little Entente states had an interest in her rearmament.)
On 23 August, the Hungarian prime minister, Béla Imrédy, and foreign minister, Kálmán Kánya, met their German counterparts, Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop, at the naval review in Kiel. The Germans, especially Ribbentrop, were incensed at the recently published Bled agreement, since at the time Germany was contemplating war with Czechoslovakia. When on 25 August in Berlin Ribbentrop further pressured Kánya about Hungary's reaction to a German invasion of Czechoslovakia, the latter suggested that the Bled agreement could perhaps be invalidated by making demands on the Entente and that Hungary's armed forces would be sufficiently prepared to partake in a Czechoslovak conflict as early as 1 October. Hitler told Kánya directly that if Hungary wanted to benefit from the partition of Czechoslovakia, they must work towards making it happen, saying, "He who wants to sit at the table must at least help in the kitchen." Hungary's military would certainly not be ready to participate in any conflict by October 1, as both governments must have known.
The method proposed by Kánya to the Germans for invalidating the Bled agreement was to "make excessive demands on the matter of the [Hungarian] minorities in the Little Entente states". On 1 September 1938, in Budapest, Imrédy gave an interview to a diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, in which (the Telegraph reported the next morning) he downplayed the significance of the agreement (as it had been reported by the London papers), because its full implementation would come about only when the question of Hungarian minorities had been settled.
The Bled agreement contains an early indication of the ebb of the League of Nations' prestige. The Permanent Council of the Little Entente recognised that "in existing circumstances the League of Nations cannot completely carry out the tasks entrusted to it by the authors of the Covenant." A communiqué of the Yugoslav government, dated 31 August, clarified that Yugoslavia "had not renounced her prior obligations" by signing the Bled agreement, but Hermann Göring told the Hungarian government on 9 September that the Yugoslav regent, Prince Paul, had assured him that he would "in no circumstances intervene against Hungary, not even if the latter got involved in a conflict with Czechoslovakia."
Almost from its signing, the Treaty of Trianon had been contravened by "secret" re-armament under tight budgetary constraints. This was in fact general knowledge, and Hungary's neighbours and the great powers looked the other way. The official Hungarian position was that she had a right to re-arm, but with the Bled agreement she obtained legal cover and the re-armament programme could shed its nominal secrecy.
Even before Trianon, Hungary had begun to plan its secret air force and lay the administrative groundwork. In the 1920s, however, the victorious powers' Aviation Supervisory Committee quashed every effort to circumvent disarmament. In 1932, a plan for a future air force of forty-eight squadrons was approved. In March 1935, the Director of the Aviation Office, who was de facto commander of the secret air force, urged "set[ting] the goal that we become a serious opponent towards at least one of the surrounding Little Entente states." By 1 October 1937, the secret air force reached a strength of 192 planes.
Although, as expected, Hungary was not prepared for war by 1 October, on 6 October all air force units (except for two short-range reconnaissance squadrons) were ordered to ready for deployment, but none were ready on time. In the end, the air force was not needed, as the Italo-German mediated First Vienna Award solved Hungary's revisionist claims on Czechoslovakia without war. There was conflict within the government over command of the air force until, on 1 January 1939, it finally came in from the cold and proclaimed a separate branch of the armed forces. It received its baptism of fire in the brief war with Slovakia from 23 March until 4 April.
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