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Review of: The Unifinished Peace: The Council of Foreign Ministers and the Hungarian Peace Treaty of 1947 by Mihály Fülöp
Jesse Richman, 11/11/2019

Published by Social Science Monographs, Center for Hungarian Studies and Publications. 

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of what in Hungary is sometimes referred to as the "annus mirabilis" or year of miracles -- the fall of the iron curtain which was rapidly succeeded by the end of the cold war.  In that year a series of events, some planned from above and others organized from below, brought about the dissolution of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe and the freeing of nations which had been held in bondage and coercion in the Soviet orbit for more than four decades.  One of the joys of my Fulbright in Budapest this year has been the opportunity to take part in many commemorations of the events that unfolded 30 years ago.  

But the world is now 30 years beyond that era.  And as tensions rachet, institutions are tested, and power balances shift in the current moment, it is worthwhile to reflect upon another set of lessons: lessons from the tumultious years that marked the transition point from World War II to the Cold War.  And to understand those events, there are perhaps few more intriguing vantage points than the Hungarian experience.  During WW II Hungary had fought the Soviets, attempted shifting sides, been occupied by the Germans, and been liberated by the Red Army.  In the aftermath of the war, it was the only country in what would become the Soviet block to hold nearly free elections, a late 1945 ballot in which communists won less than 20 percent, even under Red Army occupation. 

Fülöp's book introduces the reader to the complicated interplay of understandings and and actions that shaped the policies and reactions of both the great powers and the small powers. On vivid display are the misunderstandings on all sides, as illuminated by comprehensive archival research in multiple languages.  As the war in Europe ended and the great powers who had won the war groped their way towards a plan for peace, they ultimately found their way to an "unfinished peace" and the beginnings of four and a half decades of the Cold War.  

The Yalta Conference in February 1945 and the Pottsdam Conference in July-August of 1945 had brought together the leaders of Britiain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.  At these conferences the leaders belatedly turned to the task of arranging plans for the post-war settlement of Europe.  And in the face of an inability to shape the details, they delegated the task of drafting the peace treaties with the defeated powers to the Council of Foreign Ministers who were to shape the treaties.

In Eastern Europe many changes were afoot in the mid 1940s.  Millions of people were forced to depart their homes.  Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians were expelled from Czechoslovakia, for instance, and to make room, the an unwilling Hungarian government was coerced to accept the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Germans from Hungary.  The ethno-linguistic map of central Europe was redrawn, even as, in the case of Hungary, repeated efforts to seek revision of the borders imposed by the Treaty of Trianon at the end of World War I failed.  

Beyond these broad strokes, Fülöp's book is remarkable for the breadth of detail it provides concerning the strategies and tactics of the powers involved.  

As negotiations went on, Fülöp traces the repeated challenges and failures faced by the Hungarian government has it sought to achieve a set of national goals that were unattainable, and then to avoid a series of national catastrophies that were perhaps avoidable including the imposition of major reparations requirements payable to the Soviets, and the take-over of the Hungarian government by the communists.  

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