THE pages which follow appeared in The New Times & Ethiopia News (3, Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex), the first part on September 20th, as a reply to Professor A. Berriedale Keith's suggestions for the Post-War World, published in the same Weekly, on August 30th, and the second part as a reply to his answer of October 18th, 1941.
THE POST-WAR WORLD
A REPLY TO PROFESSOR A. BERRIEDALE KEITH'S SUGGESTIONS
IN attempting to challenge some of Professor A. Berriedale Keith's suggestions for the terms of peace, which might set this world of ours on a better foundation, I am handicapped by a sense of great humility.
The Professor writes with the authority of scholastic eminence. His biographical notes in "Who's Who" fill almost two columns and reveal him as an expert on many subjects. That he has the interests of the British Empire at heart is proved, not only by the books he has written, but also by his suggestions, which include the proposal that Britain alone should assume "in perpetuity" the control of the Suez Canal.
I do not hold this suggestion against Professor Berriedale Keith; on the contrary, I will use it as the cue to my reply.
Being a very humble Roumanian with no great achievements to my credit, I can offer but one excuse for my temerity: an inborn sense of duty to fight for my nation's right to live within its just, national boundaries. Like any other Roumanian, I have in my blood the atavistic memory of centuries of struggle to survive. That is why I cannot let pass unchallenged Professor Berriedale Keith's suggestions concerning my unfortunate country.
I may be wrong, but the prima facie evidence (and this appears also from his book, "The Causes of the War") would lead one to believe that South Eastern Europe has not been an object of Professor Keith's scholarly scrutiny. Otherwise he would not have written that "Roumania must surrender Bessarabia, and her boundaries with Hungary and Bulgaria be re-adjusted." I prefer to believe that theProfessor has fallen victim to the insidious propaganda with which England has been flooded for the last twenty years, than that he has come to this conclusion after a careful study of an ethnographical map of Central and South Eastern Europe.
On what grounds are Professor Berriedale Keith's suggestions concerning Roumania based?
I have not been able to find in his peace aims fixed basic principles. He appears to have likes and dislikes. He is generous and understanding with some nations, ruthless with others. When it comes to the life-line of the British Empire, the Suez Canal, he has a special "perpetuity" yardstick. He complains of the "dangerous wideness of phraseology" of the Atlantic Charter, yet his own suggestions are ambiguous and inconsistent. He rightly advocates the return of Czechoslovakia's "essential boundaries," but denies such boundaries to Roumania. Referring to Germany's satellite States, he suggests the resignation of their respective puppet governments, but does not say how they should be replaced in the countries which have no alternative governments abroad. For France he would allow free elections, as a special favour, though he considers the spirit of the French Nation "unsound." For the Russo-Polish border, he offers a choice of friendly consultation, arbitration, or a plebiscite. To Italy he grants an ethnic adjustment of her boundary with Jugoslavia. He further suggests that Russia should be given in Finland a military protective boundary, and in Manchuria a frontier adjustment which will safeguard her from "dishonourable attack."
I have ventured into the proposals concerning other countries solely in search of an explanation of Professor Berriedale Keith's suggestions regarding Roumania. For what special reasons are we Roumanians denied an "essential" boundary which is recognized as a necessity for other countries? "Why should not we also be permitted a military protective boundary, such as that suggested for Russia's frontier with Finland? Why should not we be privileged, like Italy, by an ethnic boundary? Why are we not offered at least the possibility of friendly consultations, arbitration (Hitler's Vienna Diktat still wounds Roumania's heart) or even a plebiscite?
Professor Berriedale Keith, who at one time complained of the British Government's decision to withhold from publication the papers on the negotations with Russia, would have done well to read Mr. Hugh Dalton's very valuable book, "Hitler's War." He would there have discovered that Russia, in good pace, once offered to guarantee Roumania's frontiers, including Bessarabia.
Has Professor Berriedale Keith read the Handbook on Transylvania issued in 1919 by the Historical Section of the Foreign Office?
Has he read "The History of the Roumanians," by that great Scotsman, Professor R. W. Seton-Watson?
Has Professor Berriedale Keith read at least that modest booklet, "The Eastern Question Revived," by Robert Machray, dealing with the Bulgar claims on Roumania? If he has not read any of these works, he should do so. Peace aims cannot be based on information collected from the casual reports of the daily Press, or from books in which the author gives as the source of information his own previous publications.
Professor Berriedale Keith should not contribute to the already existing confusion by making hastily drawn suggestions. Public opinion has already been much misled by amateur statesmen, and should not now be further bewildered by men of the Professor's high standing.
My own nation owes its present terrible plight to men who played with our fate from an easy chair. Through no fault of ours, we are to-day considered as jackals, when we are in fact only the victims of those who have sacrificed us, in order to appease an insatiable pack of wolves.
Since 1938, we have offered ourselves as potential allies to those whom we thought might have been willing to withstand Hitler's lust for world conquest. Unfortunately our offers were treated with little consideration. I remember, in 1939, going myself from door to door with an article which appeared in the "Deutscher Volksvirt," boasting that if the Germans were once to set foot in Roumania it would be an easy matter for them to get hold of the Suez Canal, and then master Asia and Africa.
We Roumanians were then saying to certain people, here in England, "You have foolishly allowed the Czechoslovak stronghold to fall into German hands. Let us be now your advance bastion of the Suez Canal. We have a good army of some two million men. Let us buy from you, with our oil and wheat, the tools we need to do the job of fighting for our own liberty and independence. We will also fight indirectly for that Suez, which is the life-line of your Empire. By no means do not on any consideration allow the Germans to come and take from us the wheat and the oil which you will some day need."
Unfortunately those who were then in a position to accept our offer spoke a different language from ours: they were interested in unpaid commercial debts, clearing arrangements, higher exchange rates for the pound sterling, and especially in the rates of interest on a prospective loan. They told us that oil could be bought cheaper across the Atlantic, and that our wheat was of a lower grade than that available elsewhere. (The Germans never raised such objections.)
Those men who spoke for Britain could not see the coming storm. They thought that Hitler could be appeased by being given a free hand in the Danubian lebensraum, or that eventually his Drang nach Osten might be stopped by a Balkan Union, which was to be bought at the price of a few Dobrudja villages given by the Roumanians to the Bulgars.
We obtained the British guarantees, thanks to the efforts of the leaders of the Labour Party. On this subject again one should read the book of Mr. Hugh Dalton.
How much better it would have been for us, and for the rest of the world, if the Russian proposals of March, 1939—for a Six Power conference in Bucarest had been accepted! Why were the Russian proposals for a Triple Alliance and a guarantee to all States from the Baltic to the Black Sea turned down?
It is so easy now, disregarding the recent past, to speak of the Roumanian Nation as a people who have taken the wrong path. Did we go to Hitler, or were we thrown into his lap? Those who resisted him, even for a short while, could at least lean their backs on some neutral country. Others had an open sea, through which they might have hoped to get vital war supplies. But we Roumanians were never able to secure such a bridge to an outside world. The Montreux agreement closed our life-line through the Turkish straits.
And when last year—that fatal 1940—the blows fell upon us, in rapid succession, and from all directions, the only word of sympathy we got in this part of the world was a cartoon by David Low in the "Evening Standard."
I wish at that time Professor Berriedale Keith had been impressed by the necessity of providing the Roumania of to-morrow with a frontier which would safeguard her from "dishonourable attacks." Even to-day he prefers to take the part of those who make a habit of "dishonourably attacking" their neighbours. Has he forgotten the Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia in 1914? Or Bulgaria's treacherous attack on her former allies, the Greeks and the Serbs, in 1913?
I agree with Professor Berriedale Keith's admission that his suggestions are imperfect—indeed, very imperfect. He is not generous to the Roumanians, or even just. This attitude seems to be a logical sequel to the fact that his book, "The Causes of the War," contains inaccurate references to certain important Roumanian events. For instance, he states that Transylvania was given to us by the Peace Conference, when the historical fact is that, in 1918, the people of that province themselves voted their union with the mother country.
The tragedy is that the majority of people in England believe, like Professor Berriedale Keith, that Greater Roumania was a State artificially created at the expense of our neighbours. They consider that this error should not be repeated in the future if we wish to have peace, at least in Central and South Eastern Europe.
* * *
Last year, when a dastardly quisling turned my country over to the Germans—without the knowledge, and therefore without the consent of the Roumanian people—a few of us living in England came out openly against that traitor. We at once asked British official permission to group ourselves into an organisation, the aim of which would be to help Britain in her war effort, and thus indirectly serve the cause of our own nation. We were confident then, as we are now, that if we were allowed to do so, we might have called on our country to resist the German rule.
We were counselled however to remain inactive, in order not to handicap the diplomatic relations of Great Britain with the Roumanian quislings of the so-called Iron Guard State.
When, last February, those diplomatic relations were severed, we thought that at last we should be allowed to make ourselves useful to this country. But again we were advised to be patient. We had to watch with great distress how Hitler massed his troops on Roumanian soil for the Balkan campaign; how he poisoned the minds of our people into the belief that it was Roumania's duty to join a crusade against the enemies of European Civilization and of Christianity; and how finally the Roumanian Army was sent beyond the Dniester, under the deceitful banners of the self-styled "Humanity's Saviour," thus handicapping our future relations with our neighbours, the Russians.
On June 26th, 1941, encouraged by the Prime Minister's broadcast declaring that "any man or State who fights against Nazism will have Great Britain's aid," some of us wrote a joint letter to the Editors of "The Times," "The Manchester Guardian," and "The Scotsman," again expressing our hope that we might be given the opportunity to be useful.
Time was, and still is, being lost in search of "formulas." We are told that we have no following at home, that we are not united here (individualism is a strong characteristic of the Roumanian race) and that anyhow it is better to wait and see.
All this may appear a digression from my reply to Professor Berriedale Keith's suggestions. In fact it is not a digression, but an argument in favour of his idea for a British "perpetuity control" of the Suez Canal.
We Roumanians living in England still stubbornly believe that Roumania was one of the bastions of the British Empire's life line. Victory will not be won, and peace will not be secured, unless such bastions as Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, Poland and Roumania are snatched back from the hands of the enemy. The native garrisons of those bastions must work from within, as some of them are already working, to undermine the foundations of German rule.
Speaking for our people, one cannot appeal to the Roumanian Nation to rise in revolt against Hitler on the prospect that, at the end of the war, our country will be further dismembered on Professor Berriedale Keith's advice.
It would be disheartening for our brothers at home to learn that some of us—who have given up everything we had in this world, and who have jeopardised our own families and children, so that we might have the privilege of fighting on the side of Britain against Hitler and his Germany—are treated in England as unprivileged enemy aliens, and that even the words FREE ROUMANIAN MOVEMENT only with difficulty obtain publication in the daily Press.
With this I present my case, and pray Professor A. Berriedale Keith to have mercy on me.
[The second reply follows on the next page]
Errare humanum est, but to persevere is an error—that's a different matter.
Professor Berriedale Keith answers my reply to his suggestions for a post-war world in so peremptory a manner that he makes almost impossible any further discussion. I leave it to the readers of the "N.T. & E.N." to judge whether his ruthless attitude towards the Roumanian nation is fair or not.
I am obliged to reply at least this:
(1) The Union of Bessarabia with Roumania was acknowledged and ratified by Great Britain in a solemn Treaty, signed on October 28th, 1920, in Paris. Yet when U.S.S.R. occupied that province in 1940 Great Britain kept silent.
(2) Roumania renounced the British guarantees only after they had proved to be an empty word.
(3) Professor Berriedale Keith should be grateful to those Roumanians who accepted the onus of renouncing the guarantees, instead of calling on the British Government to carry them out. We deliberately saved the face of Britain at a time—shortly after the withdrawal from Dunkerque—when she could not afford any further loss of prestige on the Continent.
(4) The cruel treatment of some British citizens by the Iron Guards, the surrender of the Polish refugees by the Quisling Antonescu, as well as the massacre of our own Roumanians, were acts which the Roumanian nation deplored and disapproved more than anyone else. Those regrettable actions cannot be charged against the Roumanian people who were powerless to prevent them. The first move of the Germans upon taking control of Roumania, through their Quisling Ion Antonescu, was to throw into prison or assassinate all Roumanians who might have opposed their orders. The actions for which Professor Berriedale Keith now holds the Roumanian nation responsible were Hitler's orders carried out by his agents. Political murder and maltreatment of innocent people were unknown to us until Hitler poisoned the minds of a few of our young men, whom he turned into gangsters. Those who know us well can testify that we are not, as individuals, or as a nation, a cruel race, but, on the contrary, a friendly, peace-loving people.
(5) In our estimation, the British Government protested too mildly against the maltreatment of certain British subjects by the German inspired Iron Guardists. Why no more severe retaliatory measures were taken by Britain is a question which we Roumanians cannot answer, just as we are at a loss to understand why the British Government accepted diplomatic relations with General Antonescu and his gang of murderers from September, 1940, to February, 1941.
I must say to Professor Berriedale Keith: The Roumanian people will not allow any more a third party to barter our ethnic boundaries, or permit our national territory to be given away, either right or left, at the pleasure of this or that European Power. Should such an attempt be made, we will rise in revolt ready to accept death at the hands of any who may falsely claim to speak in the name of liberty and independence while committing such crimes.
Fortunately we know that the Atlantic Charter guarantees us a better future.
The fact that twelve Roumanian generals have been executed for refusing to fight beyond the Dniester, and that more than 200 political leaders and patriots have been sent to prison or concentration camps, shows the temper of the Roumanian people.
When the day comes we Roumanians will join the other European nations in a general revolt against the German oppressors. Now, though we do our share of sabotage and passive resistance, we are just biding our time and waiting for the green light, the switch of which is in the hands of Mr. Churchill. The Roumanian nation has an unshakable faith in him.
To the offensive remark of Professor Berriedale Keith that my country is a "semi-civilised Balkan State," I oppose the following quotation from the chapter on Roumania by Florence Farmborough, F.R.G.S., in "Peoples of all Nations" (edited by J. A. Hammerton and published by Fleetway House):
"At a time when the ancient Britons were running wild and half-naked in the forests, their bodies stained with woad, their minds a prey to most degrading superstitions, the country of Roumania was civilised, possessing institutions, conveniences, and even luxuries of a cultivated and well-ordered community."
We Balkan people have a peasant civilisation of our own which cannot be compared with the type of civilisation brought about in Western Europe by the Industrial Revolution of last century. Our peasant civilisation has made it possible for us to survive more than a millennium, in spite of Barbarian Invasions, Imperialist Wars and Western Power-politics. The squalor of tenement houses, the strife of labour versus employer, unemployment and the dole are unknown to us. We were satisfied with our lot until others, under the pretence of selling us Western industrial goods, tried to rob us of the products of our soil at usurer's prices. We are proud of our simple, frugal and unsophisticated peasant civilisation, and we pray God that we may be able to preserve its healthy basic principles for centuries to come.