On the 10th September 1989, the Hungarian government announced the opening of the border with Austria to allow thousands of East Germans to leave the Communist Bloc. Met with incredible anger from the East German government, Hungary’s decision was a major step on the road to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Hungary had been inundated with East Germans since the government began removing the border fence in May that year. Inspired by the Hungarian government’s moves towards a more democratic political system, East Germans had travelled to Hungary as tourists but then sought refuge in the West German embassy. A ‘friendship picnic’ held on the Austrian-Hungarian border on the 19th August had already seen East Germans using the border as a way to escape and, before long, thousands of East Germans refugees were living in Hungary.
Unwilling to “become a country of refugee camps”, Hungarian Foreign Ministrer Gyula Horn made the announcement that the East Germans would be permitted to enter Austria. As well as allowing the refugees to cross the border, the announcement led to an exodus of an estimated 70,000 more East Germans who made their way to Hungary.
The first of what were to become weekly ‘Monday demonstrations’ had started in the East German city of Leipzig earlier that week, and the Hungarian announcement encouraged others to begin protesting in favour of democracy. Within a month up to 70,000 people a week were making their way to the Leipzig protest, and by the end of October over 300,000 were taking part. The Berlin Wall fell on the 9th November.
The ‘Final Act’ of the Congress of Vienna was signed on the 9th June 1815, nine days before Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The purpose of the Congress was to review and reorganise Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, in an attempt to achieve a lasting peace.
Having first met after the defeat and surrender of Napoleonic France in 1814, the Congress continued in spite of the renewal of hostilities following the period known as the Hundred Days in which Napoleon returned from exile and took back control of France. Chaired by Metternich, the Austrian principal minister, the Congress was led by the so-called Four Great Powers of Austria, Russia, Britain, and Prussia alongside France. In total over 200 states were represented in some way at the Congress, making it the largest diplomatic event of its time. However, the key terms were discussed and decided by the Great Powers in informal meetings.
The Final Act of the Congress set in place a map of Europe that remained largely unchanged for the next forty years, and – some may argue – set the scene for the First World War. Indeed the delegates were often criticised in the later nineteenth century for focusing more on achieving a balance of power than on maintaining peace. Nationalism, for example, was largely ignored in the final settlement. Although this was a key factor in the disputes and conflicts that emerged later, it’s important to remember that the Congress did succeed in its primary aim of securing wider European peace for the best part of a century.
The Treaty of Trianon was signed between Hungary and most of the Allies of the First World War.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire had begun to collapse by the autumn of 1918, and the Hungarian Prime Minister declared the termination of the joint state on 31 October. Austria signed the Treaty of St. Germain on 10 September 1919 in which it recognised Hungary’s independence.
The Treaty of Trianon went on to strip Hungary of nearly three-quarters of its territory. Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia received the vast majority of this land and population. The border changes meant that over 3 million ethnic Hungarians found themselves living in a different country. Furthermore, the Treaty specified that one year after the date of signing these people would also lose their Hungarian nationality.
The territorial changes had a dramatic effect on Hungary’s economy. Large parts of the country’s former infrastructure and industry lay outside the new borders, while the loss of the coastline meant that it was both difficult and expensive to engage in international trade. Unemployment skyrocketed, while industrial output declined.
The treaty also placed severe limits on Hungary’s military which was forbidden from possessing an air force, tanks, and heavy artillery. The army was limited to 35,000 soldiers and conscription was banned, exacerbating the already mounting unemployment.
The social, economic and political effects of the treaty later led the historian and former British Ambassador to Hungary, Bryan Cartledge, to describe it as ‘the greatest catastrophe to have befallen Hungary since the Battle of Mohacs in 1526’.
The Treaty of London was signed, which recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium.
In 1813 Napoleon’s rule of the Netherlands was ended by the combined armies of Russia and Prussia, and control was given to William Frederik of Orange-Nassau. Two years later, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, modern Belgium became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
These southern provinces were predominantly Catholic, and a sizeable number of the inhabitants spoke French. However, William clearly favoured Protestantism and had tried to impose Dutch as the official language. This led to tensions which were exacerbated by economic problems that included high unemployment and arguments over the effect of free trade on the less developed south. A revolution erupted in 1830 that led to the states declaring independence on 4 October, although William refused to recognise the independent Belgium for over nine years.
In signing the treaty that formally recognised the existence of the independent Kingdom of Belgium, the Netherlands were joined by Britain, Austria, France, Russia, and the German Confederation. Furthermore, Britain insisted that the signatories also recognise Belgium’s perpetual neutrality.
The neutrality clause was of central importance in the outbreak of the First World War, since Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality when its forces crossed the border in the Schlieffen Plan. Britain thus claimed to be upholding the Treaty of London when it declared war on 4 August 1914 – much to the anger of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg who couldn’t believe Britain would go to war over a ‘mere a scrap of paper’.