Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920)

Delice Bette | May 16, 2023


The Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) was an international conference convened by the victorious powers of World War I to draw up and sign peace treaties with the defeated states. It had several phases from January 18, 1919 to January 21, 1920 and was attended by 27 states. The peace treaties with Germany (Versailles Treaty), Austria (Saint-Germain Treaty), Bulgaria (Treaty of Neuilly), Hungary (Trianon Treaty) and the Ottoman Empire (Sèvres Peace Treaty) were prepared during the conference. The main problems of the post-war world order at the conference were solved by the so-called “Big Four” of the leaders of the Great Powers, which included U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando; they held 145 informal meetings during the conference and adopted all the key decisions that were subsequently approved by the other participants.

None of the governments claiming at the time to be the legitimate all-Russian government were invited to the conference. Germany and its former allies were admitted to the conference only after drafting peace treaties with them. The conference approved the charter of the League of Nations.

War and Armistice

As a result of World War I, the “recently proud, confident, rich” Europe found itself “torn apart”: the war, the occasion of which was the events in the Balkans in 1914, gradually drew in all the Great Powers of the time – only Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries managed to stay away. In addition to the main (almost continuous line of trenches and trenches stretched from Belgium in the north to the Alps in the south, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, crossing the Balkan Peninsula. Soldiers from all over the world could be found on the European theater: Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians, and Newfoundlanders fought for the British Empire; the Vietnamese, Moroccans, Algerians, and Senegalese fought for France; by the end of the war an American contingent had also arrived in the Old World.

In contrast to the situation at the end of World War II, far from the battlefields, Europe looked almost as it had before: major cities remained almost intact, railroads were not destroyed, and ports continued to function. However, human losses were quite comparable in number, although qualitatively different in structure: World War I claimed millions of lives of “combatants” (soldiers and officers), while the time of mass killing of civilians would come only three decades later. At the same time, counting deaths in the Great War bypasses those who became disabled, who were poisoned by “poison gas” – as well as those whose nervous system later did not recover from their experiences. The approximate equality of forces between the sides, observed for most of the war, changed only in the summer of 1918, when the arrival of American troops shifted the balance in favor of the Entente countries, despite the withdrawal from the war of the former Russian Empire (see the Brest Treaty).

In addition, in 1919, unlike May-August 1945, there were no so-called superpowers in the world: neither the Soviet Union, whose army of millions of people occupied the whole of Central Europe, nor the United States with its huge economy and monopoly on atomic weapons. In 1919, the states hostile to the Entente were not defeated utterly and were not occupied by the victors.

When large-scale hostilities were interrupted by the armistice of November 11, Europeans “tiredly hoped that things would be better from now on. However, the way the armistice was concluded left room for interpretation of the terms of the future peace treaty. Because the German government appealed directly to the United States and explicitly appealed to Wilson’s Fourteen Points, it was then justified in arguing that any additional demands on Germany were illegal because they went beyond the previous agreements. European governments, however, who had never fully accepted the Points as a blueprint for action, believed that they had the right to impose additional conditions because they had suffered far greater losses in the war than the United States. At the same time, Woodrow Wilson himself and his supporters could accuse the “wily Europeans” of rejecting the American president’s desire for a “better world” and a “new diplomacy.

Europe. States and Nations

Four years of unprecedented “massacres” shook Europe’s centuries-old confidence in itself and in its “right” to world domination (see Eurocentrism) – after the events on the Western Front, including the first-ever use of chemical weapons, Europeans had difficulty convincing themselves of their “civilization mission” again.

The world war led to the overthrow of many governments, setting the stage for sweeping social changes: in Russia, two revolutions in 1917 replaced monarchy with a fundamentally new system; the collapse of Austria-Hungary left vast areas in the center of the European continent outside any state control; the Ottoman Empire with its vast holdings in the Middle East was on the verge of collapse; the German Empire became a republic. A number of former states-such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia-regained their independence; just before and during the conference, “new nations” such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia began to form.

Even before the “silence of the guns” in 1918, the voices of people who put forward ideas for the future reorganization of the world became louder and louder: “China for the Chinese!”, “Land to the peasants, factories to the workers!”, “Kurdistan must be free!”, “Poland must rebirth!” and many other slogans were gaining popularity in different parts of the globe. People made many demands: “The U.S. should become the world’s policeman” – or, conversely, “Americans should go home”; “Russia needs help” – or, conversely, “let the Russians sort it out themselves”; and so on. The newspapers were full of complaints: the Slovaks complained about the Czechs, the Croats about the Serbs, the Arabs about the Jews, the Chinese about the Japanese. In the West, they spoke of dangerous ideas coming from the East, while in the East they pondered the dangers of Western materialism; in Africa, they feared that the world would forget them; in Asia, many believed that the future belonged to the peoples of that part of the world.

People and ideas

Statesmen, politicians, diplomats, bankers, military officers, economists and lawyers gathered in Paris from all over the world to try to solve the myriad of large-scale problems involved in the postwar world. Among them were U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of State Robert Lansing, French Prime Ministers Georges Clemenceau and Italian Vittorio Orlando, the “mysterious” Lawrence of Arabia, Greek nationalist Eleftherios Venizelos and Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski, turned politician. Many of those who arrived in Paris without being known to the public have left their mark on history: among them two future U.S. Secretaries of State, the future Prime Minister of Japan and the first President of Israel. Aristocrats, such as Queen Maria of Romania, worked alongside people of ordinary backgrounds, such as British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The concentration of persons of power drew the attention of many world reporters, publicists, and businessmen:

More than a thousand delegates attended the conference, accompanied by a large number of experts in various fields of knowledge, interpreters, secretaries, stenographers, typists, etc. The number of staff serving the U.S. delegation was 1,300. Their maintenance cost 1.5 million dollars. There were more than a hundred and fifty accredited journalists alone, not counting the multitude of reporters and interviewers who chased members of delegations.

Organizations advocating women’s suffrage, rights for blacks, defense of labor, freedom for Ireland, world disarmament, and so on sent representatives and petitions to Paris. Paris was filled with plans for a “Jewish homeland,” the restoration of Poland, the creation of independent Ukraine, Kurdistan and Armenia. While some figures (such as the Zionists) spoke on behalf of millions, others (some arrived too late – for example, representatives of Korea had only crossed the Siberian expanse by the summer of 1919 and arrived in Arkhangelsk when the main part of the conference was already over.

In an attempt to draw on the experience of the only precedent for such a large-scale conference in European history – the Congress of Vienna in 1815 – the British Foreign Office even financed the writing of a book on the history of the pan-European conference that ended the Napoleonic Wars. At the same time, participants at the Paris Conference had to respond to the challenges of modernity – numerous strikes, coups d’état, and simple outbreaks of violence, which some perceived as isolated events and others as the first signs of an impending world revolution. And, of course, what was expected from the conference was the actual new peace treaties and the answers to the burning questions: Should Germany be punished for starting a world war (or, as many believed, rather for defeating it)? What should be the new borders in Europe and the Middle East? Expectations of the peace conference were great; so were the risks of disappointment at the outcome: Clemenceau complained that “waging war is much easier than making peace.

Moreover, the leaders of the victorious countries brought with them to Paris not only the national interests of their countries, but also their personal characteristics: personality traits, fatigue, illness, personal sympathies and antipathies – many of which played a role in the future fate of humanity.

France was represented at the conference by Georges Clemenceau, a man of great experience and ruthless in political struggle, who over the years managed to topple several French governments. For his toughness and intransigence to political opponents he was nicknamed “le Tigre.

Positions of the Great Powers

The positions of the great powers (warring powers “having interests of a general nature”) regarding the post-war arrangement of the world were already determined during hostilities, although they were subject to constant change as the balance of power shifted.

As for France, its politico-military leadership was eager to weaken and dismember Germany, pushing it back to the position it occupied before the Peace of Frankfurt, which ended the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. The most aggressive elements in France demanded even more – a return to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the dismemberment of Germany into separate principalities.

Thus, according to a secret agreement between France and Tsarist Russia (February 1917), published by the government of Soviet Russia after the victory of the October Revolution, France laid claim to Alsace, Lorraine and the entire Saar valley coal basin. The German territories on the left bank of the Rhine were to be separated from Germany and transformed into autonomous and neutral states, which France intended to occupy until Germany finally fulfilled all the conditions of a future peace treaty. In return, France undertook to support the tsarist Russia’s claims to Constantinople and the straits and to recognize Russia’s complete freedom to establish its western borders.

The border along the Rhine was primarily insisted upon by French generals. On April 19, 1919, Marshal Foch, in an interview with the Times, categorically stressed that France needed “natural barriers” to defend itself against an attack by Germany – so the frontier must run along the Rhine.

Almost twice the population of Germany, France hoped to create on the eastern borders of Germany a bloc of countries to replace its former ally, the Russian Empire. According to the plan of the French leadership, this block was to consist of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. They were also to be a barrier between Germany and Soviet Russia.

France was going to undermine Germany’s economic power at the expense of German colonies in Africa. It also wanted to get rich in the Middle East, at the expense of the former Ottoman Empire. The full implementation of these plans as a result of the peace conference would allow France to become the hegemon of Europe.

Great Britain, having succeeded in crushing Germany as a maritime power (a large part of the German navy was interned at Scapa Flow harbor in England during this period), intended to consolidate its superiority in the world’s oceans. These claims were reinforced by the alliance with Japan, through which Britain could confront the United States. Britain, like France, claimed parts of the German colonies as well as Mesopotamia, Arabia, and Palestine, which had belonged to the Ottoman Empire before the war. On the continent of Europe, by contrast, Britain was uniting with the United States against the exorbitant ambitions of France. Both Anglo-Saxon states objected to the dismemberment of Germany (Britain intended to use Germany against Soviet Russia in the future, and for this purpose it was necessary to preserve Germany’s military power). In the Balkans, Britain tried to neutralize French penetration by acting jointly with Italy and by luring the authorities of the Balkan states to its side.

During the war, the U.S. turned from a debtor country to a creditor country. To ensure the repayment of debts (about 10 billion dollars) was possible only by abandoning the previous position of non-interference and active participation in European affairs. This was what forced the U.S. president to leave America for the first time in the country’s history and go to the Old World. In addition, the U.S. was intent on countering Britain’s growing naval power by seeking to dissolve the Anglo-Japanese alliance and, at the same time, to take care of the superiority of its own navy. In Europe, the U.S., like Britain, sought to prevent the complete defeat of Germany in order to use it against Britain and Soviet Russia.

Italy was listed in the group of great powers at the conference, but after the defeat at the Battle of Caporetto, where the British and French had to save their allies, no one took its interests into account. Italy made every effort to recall its colonial claims to the territories of the former Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, referring to the 1915 Treaty of London but its claims to Dalmatia and Fiume were rejected, and when the Italian leaders left the conference in protest, the Council of Three, in the absence of Orlando, allowed the Greeks to take Smyrna, which under the London Treaty was reserved for Italy.

The members of the Japanese delegation did not assert their own claims in the disputed issues of Europe and Africa, but supported England and the United States, counting on appropriate compensation where issues of the Asia-Pacific region were concerned. Under the noise of the general discussion, Japanese diplomats pushed for the seizure of Asian territories.

In the capitals of the 27 countries involved in the struggle against Germany, including those that emerged after the defeat of the Central Powers, intense preparations were underway for the Paris Conference, which was to lead to a restructuring of the world. Government officials drafted memos, commissioned historians and economists to look for justifications for this or that claim in old treaties and other diplomatic documents. Romania tried to form a unified line of conduct with Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Greece. Couriers scurried between Paris and London, providing a constant flow of diplomatic correspondence. A meeting was held in London between the heads of government and foreign ministers of France and Italy: many points of the forthcoming peace treaty caused serious disagreements, it was necessary to take into account secret agreements made during the war, which required agreement and amendments to the proposed treaty.

Wilson’s Arrival in Europe

On December 4, 1918, the liner George Washington left New York with an American delegation on board for a peace conference: a crowd lined the waterfront to see off President Woodrow Wilson, the first sitting American leader to leave his country to visit the Old World. Wilson himself, addressing Congress, motivated his move by his “debt” to the American soldiers who had died on the battlefields of Europe; the British ambassador “cynically” believed that the president was attracted to Paris “as a debutante is charmed by the prospect of her first ball.” Secretary of State Robert Lansing released homing pigeons from the ship, which carried letters to his relatives about the prospect of “soon to be peace.”

In addition to political leaders, on board the ship, which was in a convoy of several warships, were experts who had been selected from American universities and government agencies, as well as numerous boxes of reference materials and special studies on the subject of war and peace. The French and Italian ambassadors to the United States, who were also on their way to Europe, were also here. At the time of departure, the passengers believed they were going to a preliminary conference, the purpose of which was merely to form the principles of the postwar world order; the preliminary conference, however, was also the final conference–Wilson remained in Paris for most of the crucial half-year, from January to June 1919.

Although Wilson campaigned in 1916 under the slogan of maintaining U.S. neutrality in the world war, it was he who in April 1917 signed the decree to enter the war on the side of the Entente. The career of the future Nobel laureate in general was a “succession of triumphs”, but there were defeats accompanied by bouts of depression and sudden exacerbations of not quite understandable diseases. Moreover, the road to the presidency brought Wilson a host of enemies, many of them former friends: Wilson was called “a madman and a liar” by the leader of the New Jersey Democrats; his stubborn adherence to once-and-for-all decisions was admired by his supporters and rejected by his opponents; the French ambassador to Washington saw him as “a man who, had he lived a couple of centuries ago, would have been the greatest tyrant on earth – because he does not seem to have the slightest idea that he is capable of making mistakes”; Lloyd George described Wilson as “kind, sincere, direct” and at the same time “tactless, obstinate and vain”. Wilson’s relationship with Secretary of State Lansing deteriorated markedly by 1919, and the president’s decision, even before he sailed, not to take any of the Republican Party with him – many of whom had supported him on the question of U.S. entry into the war, and the party itself by this time had a majority in Congress – had long-lasting consequences for the fate of the League of Nations.

Talking with American experts on the principles of U.S. policy at the peace conference while traveling to Europe, Wilson declared that the Americans would be “the only disinterested people at the peace conference” (he later regularly reminded his colleagues that the United States had not formally joined the Entente) and that “the people with whom we are about to deal do not represent their people. Throughout the conference, the president “clung to the belief” that it was he who spoke for the masses of the people and that if only he could get their attention-whether French, Italians, or Russians-they would agree with his views. The president also regularly used examples and analogies from South America, an area of foreign policy more familiar to him. For example, in his view, the introduction of American troops into Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic was aimed at maintaining order and helping democracy: “I’m going to teach the citizens of South American republics how to elect good people!” He rarely mentioned, however, that the entry of troops also helped protect the Panama Canal and U.S. investment in the region. Wilson was also “puzzled” when the citizens of Mexico did not share his view that the landing of American troops was to ensure that “the processes of self-government were not interrupted or delayed.

Wilson’s ability to “ignore facts” also regularly manifested itself: during the peace conference, he said that he had never seen the secret agreements concluded by the Entente countries during the war – although the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour introduced him to the 1915 Treaty of London as early as 1917.

The U.S. itself was by the end of the war far more powerful than it had been in 1914: more than a million U.S. troops were stationed in Europe alone, and the U.S. navy was beginning to rival the size of the British navy. U.S. citizens were inclined to believe that they were the ones who won the war for their European allies, and their country became the banker for the Europeans: European nations owed the U.S. government more than $7 billion, and American banks about twice that amount. According to the president’s legal adviser, David Hunter Miller, “Europe is financially bankrupt and its governments morally bankrupt. A mere hint of American withdrawal (…) will lead to the downfall of all governments in Europe without exception and to a revolution in all European countries-except with one exception.”

Of all the ideas Wilson brought to Europe, the concept of “self-determination of peoples” (see Wilson’s Fourteen Points) was one of the most controversial and vague. For example, during the peace conference, the head of the American mission in Vienna repeatedly asked Paris and Washington to elaborate on the term–he never received a response. Numerous general formulations born in the White House – “autonomous development,” “the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in government,” “the rights and freedoms of small nations,” “peace-loving nations who, like ours, wish to live their lives and determine their own institutions” – did not add to the clarity. Even Lansing wondered whether Wilson really intended for any people who called themselves nations to have their own separate state.

The analogy with the U.S. polity also raised questions, since many of the conference participants remembered the bloody Civil War between the North and the South that had ended only half a century earlier. The fate of national “subgroups” like Catholic Ukrainians or Protestant Poles was also unclear, as the possibility of dividing peoples into “nations” seemed endless, especially in Central Europe, where thousands of years of history had formed a rich mix of religions, languages and cultures.

One solution was to leave the question of “self-determination” to the experts, charging them with studying history and statistics and consulting with the locals. Another, more obvious and clearly democratic solution, which has been spreading in international relations since the French Revolution, was to let the locals choose the path of development – through a plebiscite with a secret vote under the control of one or another international body. But here, too, a number of questions arose: Who had the right to vote? Only men or also women? Only actual residents, or only those born in the disputed area? And what if the locals were unfamiliar with the concept of a “nation”? Of course, Wilson himself was not responsible for the proliferation of national movements that began in the late eighteenth century, but according to Italian Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino, “the war undoubtedly caused an excessive increase in the ‘sense of nationality,’ and perhaps America contributed to it by bringing the principle to the fore.”

Wilson, skillfully and persistently exploiting the strong U.S. position, achieved some serious successes at the conference, despite the fact that he faced very experienced diplomatic rivals in Clemenceau and Lloyd George. They could not forgive him for his failures; so they retaliated by characterizing him as a man completely untrained in diplomacy and who naively imagined that he was really called upon to save the world. “I think,” Lloyd George wrote of Wilson, “that the idealistic president really looked upon himself as a missionary whose vocation was to save the poor heathens of Europe….

While en route to Europe, Wilson spent much of his time in meetings with experts, where he discussed the issue that most concerned him: the need to find a new way to manage international relations. In the “Fourteen Points” of January 1918 and in subsequent speeches, he had already formulated the outlines of his ideas. “The balance of power,” he said in his “Four Principles” speech to Congress in February 1918, “is forever discredited as a way of preserving peace (cf. Causes of World War I): there should be no more of that clandestine diplomacy that led Europe to political deals, hasty promises, and confused alliances that eventually ended in world war; peace treaties should not open the way for future wars; there should be no retaliation, no territorial claims, and no enormous counterattributions paid by the losing side to the victors (there should be arms control – preferably general disarmament; ships should be free to sail the world’s seas; trade barriers should be lowered so that the peoples of the world become more economically interdependent.”

At the heart of the future world order, according to Wilson, was to be the League of Nations, a body for collective security, supported “in a well-managed civil society” by government, laws, courts, and police: “If it failed, the criminal nation would be outlawed–and criminals are now unpopular.” Wilson thus questioned the assumption that the best way to keep the peace was to balance states against each other, including through a system of alliances; that force, not collective security, was the way to deter attack. At the same time, he offered an alternative to the project advanced by Marxists and Bolsheviks, confident that a world revolution would bring a universal peace where conflicts would no longer exist as such. Wilson also believed that governments elected by the people were not inclined to go to war with each other. Calling these principles “American,” Wilson also saw them as “universal,” and he saw himself as speaking on behalf of humanity. In this was also the tendency of the citizens of the New World at the time to regard their values as universal, and their structure of social life as a model for all others.

In general, the American delegation’s attitude toward its European partners was complex: it mixed admiration for Europe’s past achievements, conviction that the Entente would have been defeated without U.S. assistance, and suspicion that “treacherous Europeans” were preparing their own traps. Thus, even before arriving in Paris, the delegates speculated about what the French and the British could offer them to win their side: African colonies, as well as a protectorate over Armenia or Palestine, were among the options offered.

The son of a pastor, Wilson arrived at the conference as a missionary, in the words of Lloyd George, to “save the souls of heathen Europeans” by the power of preaching. Yet in 1919, before disillusionment gradually began to set in, the world was more than willing to listen to the sermon in question–and to believe in the dream of a better world in which nations would live in harmony. Wilson’s position resonated not only among European liberals and pacifists, but also among political and diplomatic elites. For example, Sir Maurice Hankey, secretary of the British War Cabinet (1st Baron Hankey), always carried a copy of the Fourteen Points in a separate case among his most important reference materials; in Hankey’s own words, they were “the moral basis” for him. Throughout Europe, squares, streets, train stations, and parks were renamed in honor of Woodrow Wilson; in Italy, soldiers knelt before his image; in France, the leftist newspaper L’Humanité published a special issue in which French socialist leaders “competed with one another in praising” the American president.

The eyes of the world were fixed on Wilson, author of the “Fourteen Points,” on which the peace treaty was expected to be built. In Europe, Wilson was given dizzying appointments. He was more enthusiastically received in Paris than Marshal Foch, who was considered a national hero here. The entire pacifist press supported the belief in the president’s redemptive mission, contrasting his “new diplomacy” with the old school.

“The George Washington reached the French port of Brest on December 13, 1918, a month after the armistice was signed. The American convoy was greeted by a huge “alley” of British, French, and American naval warships, and the streets of the city were hung with laurel wreaths and flags. A huge crowd covered almost every inch of sidewalk, every roof, every tree, and every lamppost; shouts of “Vive l’Amerique! Vive Wilson!” Stéphane Pichon, the French foreign minister, greeted the U.S. president at the gangway, after which the American delegation boarded the night train bound for Paris; when the president’s doctor happened to look out his compartment window at three in the morning, he “saw not only men and women but small children standing with uncovered heads to greet our passing train.”

Wilson’s reception in Paris was even more triumphant. Prime Minister Clemenceau arrived at the train station with his government and his longtime political opponent, President Poincaré. The American president and his wife then rode to their new residence in an open carriage through the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysées; Wilson himself was very pleased with the reception.

First meetings

When Colonel House and President Wilson first met in Paris on the afternoon of December 14, the peace conference was not supposed to officially begin until a few weeks later-but the “political maneuvers” had already begun. Thus, Clemenceau had already proposed to the British the general principles of a peace agreement, and the Europeans, including the Italians, had already met in London earlier that month. To be on the safe side, Clemenceau visited House beforehand and assured him that the London meeting was of no particular importance: Clemenceau tried to convince House that he himself was going to the British capital only to help Lloyd George win the upcoming general election.

The meeting was indeed unsuccessful: as it turned out, substantial disagreement over Italy’s territorial claims in the Adriatic and differences in British and French views on the fate of the Ottoman Empire hampered the formation of a common European approach. In addition, the leaders of the three powers hesitated and did not take definite positions, not wanting to give the American president the impression that they were trying to negotiate behind his back.

Colonel House shared Wilson’s view of the United States’ role as arbiter of the conference and, without much reason, believed that Clemenceau would be a more comfortable partner than Lloyd George. So Wilson met with Clemenceau first: during this conversation, the French politician only listened, intervening in the American leader’s monologue only once, to express his approval of the League of Nations concept. Wilson was pleased with the meeting, and House, who had hoped that France and the United States would create a “common front” against Britain, was delighted. The Wilson family then spent Christmas at American headquarters near Paris, together with General John Pershing, before leaving for London.

In Britain, Wilson was again greeted by huge crowds actively expressing their support, but his personal negotiations with British leaders were unsuccessful – in particular, the president remained unhappy that Lloyd George and other British ministers had not come to France to greet him; he was also irritated that the start of the peace conference would have to be delayed because of the general election in Britain. The complicated relationship between the U.S. and its former metropolis had an impact on the attitude of many Americans, including Wilson, toward Britain and its leaders: aware of the role of the British in shaping the American liberal tradition, he was still inclined to be wary of the “Lord of the Seas:

At a reception at Buckingham Palace, Wilson stated directly to a British official (who immediately relayed these remarks to his superiors): “You must not speak of us as cousins, much less as brothers; we are neither.” Commenting on the reception, Lloyd George noted that “there was no display of friendship or joy in meeting people who were partners in a common enterprise – and narrowly escaped common danger.

Lloyd George, who recognized the paramount importance of good relations with the United States, decided to charm Wilson: and their first private conversation had already “melted the ice. Lloyd George was relieved to inform his colleagues that the president seemed willing to make concessions on the issues that the British considered most important to them: freedom of navigation and the fate of the German colonies. As with Clemenceau, Wilson was more preoccupied with the League of Nations project. The leaders of the Anglo-Saxon world also agreed to follow customary practice and sit down with Germany and the other defeated states to draw up peace treaties. Both Clemenceau and Lloyd George pointed to the need for the Allies to work out a common position before meeting with the German delegation: while formally refusing to hold such a conference, Wilson agreed to “preliminary informal consultations” over a “couple of weeks.

The president then continued on his way to Italy, where he received an even more enthusiastic reception. At the same time, he began to wonder whether the delay in starting negotiations was deliberate. Thus, when the French government tried to arrange for him to tour the battlefields, he refused: “They tried to make me visit the devastated regions so that I would see the blood and begin to play along with the governments of England, France and Italy. Believing that a new peace must be built without emotion, Wilson went on to say that “even if all of France were covered with shell craters, it would not change the principles of the final settlement.” The French delegation was angered by his refusal and was not entirely satisfied even after he did make a brief visit in March.

Gradually Wilson began to conclude that he and the French delegation were not as close-minded as House had tried to convince him. Thus, the French government drew up a detailed agenda for a future conference, with the League of Nations at the bottom of the list of questions. The French ambassador to London, Paul Cambon, openly told the British diplomat that “the task of the peace conference was to end the war with Germany,” and that the establishment of the League might well be postponed. At the same time, many in the French ruling elite perceived the League as a mere extension of the wartime alliance – whose main role would be to oversee compliance with the terms of peace.

Clemenceau showed his skepticism publicly: the day after Wilson’s speech in London, the French premier addressed the House of Deputies, declaring that “there is an old system of alliances called ‘balance of power’ – this system of alliances which I have no intention of abandoning; it will be my guiding principle at the peace conference. With regard to Wilson himself, Clemenceau used the term candeur, which can be translated as both “frankness” and “naivety” (the official report of the speech transformed the term into grandeur. The American delegation took Clemenceau’s speech as a direct challenge.

As a result, the seeds were sown that gradually grew into a simplified and sustained picture of the conference – especially for the general public in the United States. Within it, an “ugly French troll” filled with anger and dreaming only of revenge stood in the way of a “pure in thought and deed” American leader leading humanity toward a “bright future. According to Professor Margaret MacMillan, the reality was far from this dichotomy: Rather, the French and American leaders shared temperament and life experience. If Wilson believed that people were naturally “good,” Clemenceau doubted this – he had experienced too much during the war years. “Please don’t misunderstand me, we too came into the world with noble intentions and high aspirations, which you express so often and so eloquently. We became who we are because we were shaped by the ‘hard hand’ of the reality in which we had to live, and we only survived in it because we are the ‘hard guys’ ourselves.” – Clemenceau once said to Wilson. If the American president was born in a world where it was safe to call oneself a “Democrat,” “I lived in a world where it was customary to shoot a Democrat,” Clemenceau continued, “I came to the conclusion that the truth was on the side of the strong. Clemenceau himself was not against the League – he just did not fully trust it; he would have liked to see more international cooperation, but the history of recent years has clearly shown the importance of “keeping the powder dry. And in this, the Prime Minister reflected a broad stratum of French public opinion – the opinion of a society that had lost a quarter of its men between the ages of eighteen and thirty in the past four years and which was overwhelmingly suspicious of Germany and the Germans.

By the second week of January, Wilson was back in Paris, where the “preliminary” conference of the victorious powers was about to begin; he was staying at the prestigious Hotel Murat, paid for by the French government, and joked that in this way Americans were indirectly, but still beginning to get back their war credits. The building has retained its “imperial” ambience: a British journalist who came to interview the democratically elected leader was surprised to find Wilson sitting at a majestic Napoleon I table – behind him, above the president’s head, was a huge bronze eagle.

The rest of the American delegation was accommodated at the Hotel Crillon, also a luxury hotel: the Americans were delighted by the French cuisine, impressed by the attentiveness of the staff, and surprised by the slowness of the old hydraulic elevators that regularly hovered between floors. Because the hotel itself was small, the delegates’ offices were scattered in buildings in the neighborhood. During the months they spent in Paris, the Americans changed the hotel somewhat: they opened a barbershop, there was a network of internal telephone lines and a “dense” American breakfast – instead of a “light” French one. Guards and sentries were stationed both at the door and on the flat roof: “the whole thing looked like an American battleship, and it smelled strange,” wrote the young British diplomat Harold Nicolson. The British visitors were also surprised by the seriousness with which the Americans followed the chain of command: unlike the British delegation, the senior U.S. delegates never sat down to lunch with the junior delegates.

Lansing and his colleagues, Representatives White and Bliss, were seated in rooms on the second floor, but the “true bearer of power” – Colonel House – was seated on the third floor (in the most expansive, as he himself noted, and separately guarded room). Wilson and House spoke daily, either in person or by direct line, which was arranged for them by Army engineers. Sometimes Wilson himself came to the Hotel Crillon: he never stayed on the second floor and always went straight up to the floor above.

Paris in the Winter of 1918

Neither British nor American diplomats wanted the peace conference to take place in Paris: Colonel Howes wrote in his diary that “even at best a just peace would be difficult to achieve, but it would be almost impossible to achieve in the atmosphere of the capital of a warring country. Wilson expected to gather his colleagues in Geneva-until “panic” reports from Switzerland convinced him that the Alpine republic was on the brink of revolution and was infiltrated by a network of German spies. Clemenceau was unwavering in his demand to meet in Paris; in a moment of irritation, Lloyd George said that he himself “never wanted a conference in that damned capital … but the old man shouted and protested so loudly that we .

Upon arrival, the delegates noted the elegance of the Parisian women, as if they had “come from the pages of La Vie Parisienne or Vogue,” an elegance that had survived the long years of war. Restaurants, if they could get their hands on the ingredients, were as “fabulous” as they had been in pre-war times, and couples continued to dance the foxtrot and the tango in the city’s nightclubs. In the winter of 1918

But the signs of the war just ended were everywhere: refugees continued to arrive in the city from the ruined regions in northern France that had once been the country’s industrial center; captured German guns stood in Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysées; piles of rubble remained where German bombs and shells had hit – one crater marked the spot where the Tuileries Garden rose garden was. There were “gaps” in the rows of chestnuts on the rue des Grands Boulevards – some of the trees had been wasted for firewood. The cathedral of Notre Dame was missing stained-glass windows, removed for security purposes. The city was desperately short of coal, milk, and bread, and demobilized soldiers in worn-out military uniforms begged for alms on the corners; nearly half the women wore mourning clothes. The political situation was also difficult: while the leftist press called for revolution, the rightist press demanded repression. Strikes and mass protests followed one after another: the streets were filled with both workers and the middle class who came out to counter-demonstrate.

In Paris, as throughout France, U.S. officers repeatedly clashed with their French counterparts, and regular soldiers regularly fought in the streets and cafes:

At the same time, many delegates were “having a wonderful time” in the French capital. Thus Canadian delegate Oliver Mowat Biggar wrote to his wife, who remained in Canada, how on Saturdays he went to dances and the opera – where some performances featured half-naked performers – and how beautiful the French prostitutes were. Mrs. Biggar’s offer to visit him immediately raised serious doubts in the delegate’s mind about, he said, the high cost of living in Paris, the shortage of food and fuel in the city, and the impending revolution that was soon to engulf Europe; as a result, Mrs. Biggar remained in Canada.

Clemenceau and the French delegation

During the peace conference, Clemenceau personally followed all important topics and issues: although the delegation formally included many officials and experts who could be found, the delegation itself did not meet once during the first four months of the conference. Clemenceau also rarely addressed the experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located on the Quai d’Orsay, which irritated them. Nor did he pay much attention to the results of the experts from French universities who reported to him on economic and territorial issues: “… receives fifty people a day and goes into a thousand details that he should have left to his subordinates.

Foreign Minister Pichon received instructions from Clemenceau every morning and obeyed them. One day, Clemenceau – legend has it that he demanded to be buried standing up, facing Germany – simply kicked all the members of the French delegation out of the meeting, saying, “Go away! I don’t need any of you!” If Clemenceau occasionally discussed the problems of the conference with anyone, it was in the evening at his home, in the presence of a small group of people “close” to him, including his permanent assistant General Henri Mordac, future Prime Minister André Tardieu and entrepreneur Louis Loucheur. Clemenceau also ordered the police to watch each of them and gave them the opportunity in the morning to review a dossier containing details of their movements of the previous day. Clemenceau “studiously ignored” President Raymond Poincaré, whose relationship with him verged on mutual “hatred”: “There are only two completely useless things in the world: the first is the appendix, the second is Poincaré!” – said Clemenceau, trained as a doctor.

Never socially active, the young French leader, unlike his G-4 colleagues, rarely participated in the luncheons and other informal events held during the conference: this was regretted by the other participants; Clemenceau only occasionally came to Lloyd George’s tea party. On December 29, 1918, Clemenceau asked for a vote of confidence from Parliament, not agreeing to share his plans and alleged demands for Germany with the deputies: the vote was 398 to 93 in his favor.

Lloyd George and the British delegation

On January 11, 1919, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George crossed the English Channel in a British destroyer: with his arrival in Paris, all three key peacemakers were finally in one place. Although Liberal Lloyd George had just won the general election, his government was a coalition government composed mainly of Conservatives, making the prime minister’s own political position precarious and giving his predecessor, Henry Asquith, a chance to return. In addition, Alfred Harmsworth, founder of Britain’s first mainstream business newspaper, the Daily Mail – whose bouts of megalomania were regularly followed by bouts of paranoia, amid the first signs of tertiary syphilis – believed he had “created” Lloyd George by his support in the press; by counting on a seat in the delegation and not getting one, Harmsworth believed himself cheated. Nor did the Irish problem disappear with the end of hostilities on the Continent.

The end of the war raised “enormous and irrational” expectations in British society: people believed en masse that their wages and benefits would rise and taxes would fall in the very near future. Professor MacMillan thought it typical that the most popular book of 1919 in Britain was the comic novel Young Visitors, written by a child. Lloyd George, who had come a long way from his native village in north Wales to the Prime Minister’s chair, and who along the way had repeatedly engaged in dubious financial transactions and affairs with married women, had to deal with all these problems.

Noted by foes and supporters alike, Lloyd George’s “vigor” combined with his charm and ignorance, and his flamboyant oratory skills (amid Clemenceau’s sarcastic speeches and Wilson’s “sermons”). One day during a peace conference, Keynes and his colleague realized that they had made a mistake in relaying the Adriatic data to the prime minister. They hastily set out their revised position on a piece of paper and hurried into the conference room – where they discovered that Lloyd George had already begun his address on the subject. The prime minister took a quick glance at the sheet and, without pause, gradually changed the arguments in his speech – resulting in a position opposite to the one with which he had begun his address.

In Paris, Lloyd George tried to ignore the British Foreign Office as much as possible, relying on his own staff of “talented” young men of non-aristocratic background. London bureaucrats were particularly angered by the Prime Minister’s private secretary, Philip Kerr, who took on the “hated” of Lloyd George’s memoranda and official correspondence. Nor were the professional diplomats happy that Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon was not part of the Paris delegation.

At the same time, Lloyd George and the British peacemakers understood that the Empire’s problems were great – and new ones were regularly emerging, such as India and Egypt. The burden of power over a vast territory was weighing heavily on the economic situation of the metropolis, especially after the world’s financial center moved to the United States. The optimistic prime minister believed that good relations with the United States would help compensate for current British weakness; and perhaps the Americans would assume some responsibility for certain strategically important parts of the world, such as the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.

As early as 1916 – shortly after he became prime minister – Lloyd George told the House of Commons that the time had come to formally consult with the Dominion and Indian authorities on how best to win the war: he created the Imperial War Cabinet (IWC). The gesture gained support both in the colonies, which sent millions of soldiers to Europe, and in the metropolis, where the “indulgent disdain” for the brutality of the colonials was replaced by enthusiasm for their courage and energy on the battlefield. The Dominion authorities now waited to be consulted about the future of the world.

Lloyd George’s original plan to include the prime minister of one of the Dominions as a member of a British delegation of only five people failed to find support due to “mutual jealousy” among the Dominion leaders themselves. Thus, Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden threatened to “pack his bags” and go home to call an emergency parliamentary session if Canada was not given full representation. As a result, as early as January 12, one of the first questions Lloyd George posed to his American and French colleagues was full representation of each of the British possessions (apart from one “all-dominion” delegate among the five British representatives). Clemenceau and Wilson, seeing the representatives of the dominions only as “London puppets” and perceiving such a proposal as Britain’s desire to take the majority of votes, were cold to the idea; an attempt to find a compromise by giving each dominion one vote (instead of five) – on a par with Siam and Portugal – caused a “storm of indignation” already from the dominion leaders. The final decision was to include two plenipotentiaries from Canada, Australia, South Africa and India, and one from New Zealand. Changing the name of the delegation from “British” to “Delegation of the British Empire” was another small “victory” for the Dominions.

Lloyd George – who was in principle in favor of “self-government” of imperial territories – found that reality could be “somewhat awkward”: particularly when Hughes openly stated at a Council meeting that Australia might not enter the next war the British Empire would enter. (An attempt to redact this remark in the final minutes resulted in the now South African representative making a similar statement.) The French representatives suddenly saw that they could use the Dominion representatives to their advantage. Howes went further and contemplated the possibility of hastening “the final disintegration of the British Empire.” “Britain would go back to where it began – accommodating itself only in its own islands.”

With more than four hundred people – officials, advisors, clerks and typists – the British delegation occupied five Parisian hotels near the Arc de Triomphe. The largest of these – and the de facto center – was the Hotel Majestic, popular in pre-war days with wealthy Brazilian women on their European shopping tours. To protect against spies (French, of course, not German), the British authorities replaced the entire hotel staff – including the cooks – with Englishmen from the Midlands region. The price of such a replacement was high: the delegates’ meals began to meet the standards of a respectable railway hotel in the center of England – porridge with eggs and bacon in the morning, lots of meat and vegetables for lunch and dinner, and – bad coffee all day. The sacrifice was also pointless, as the delegates themselves believed – since all their offices, filled with confidential papers, were in the Astoria Hotel, where the staff remained French.

Security and confidentiality had reached a level of obsession among the delegates: their letters to London were sent by the secret service – bypassing the French post office – and Scotland Yard detectives guarding the entrance to the Majestic demanded that peacekeepers carry photo passes with them. Delegates were insistently encouraged to tear up the papers they had thrown into waste baskets into small pieces, for it was known that Talleyrand’s success at the Congress of Vienna was due in large part to his agents’ diligence in collecting the notes thrown away by representatives of other delegations. The wives of the delegates were allowed to eat at the hotel, but not to stay there-another legacy of the Congress of Vienna, where, according to the official version of the time, women were responsible for the leakage of many secrets.

On arrival at the Majestic each guest was given a pamphlet with the rules of accommodation: meals were allowed only during fixed hours and drinks had to be paid for out of pocket – the government only paid for them if the guest was a Dominion or Indian resident; such a system caused much comment among the British. A doctor – according to Nicolson’s recollection, a midwife – and three nurses were on duty in the hospital room. A billiard room and a “winter garden” were located in the basement as recreational facilities. Several cars were assigned to the hotel, which should have been booked in advance. There was also a warning in the brochure that “telephone conversations will be monitored by unauthorized persons.

Lloyd George himself stayed in a luxurious apartment on Rue Nitot (today the Rue de l’Amiral-d’Estaing): the apartment was lent to him by a wealthy Englishwoman, decorated with works of 18th-century English artists. His daughters, Philippe Kerr and Frances Stevenson, his youngest daughter’s teacher and, at the same time, the premier’s longtime mistress, moved in with him. The floor above was occupied by Arthur Balfour, who in the evenings was forced to enjoy Lloyd George’s favorite Welsh hymns.

The Canadian delegation and its Minister of Commerce, who had food for sale under his control, succeeded in concluding a series of agreements with the countries of hungry Europe: France, Belgium, Greece, and Romania. The incessant discussion of new frontiers in Europe influenced New World representatives as well: Canadian representatives discussed informally with their American counterparts the possibility of exchanging Alaska for “something in the West Indies” or for British Honduras. Borden discussed with Lloyd George the possibility of giving Canada control of the West Indies.

But the main concern of Canadian peacemakers was to maintain good relations with the United States – to bring the U.S. and Britain closer together: Ottawa’s “nightmare” was the potential for Canada to side with Britain in the latter’s military conflict with the U.S. Germany’s African colonies were a topic of contemplation for South Africa: Ian Smuts advocated the incorporation of both East and Southwest Africa into the British Empire. The Australian delegates wanted to annex the Pacific islands seized from Germany and retain the “White Australia” policy of allowing only white immigrants into the continent; Prime Minister Hughes openly mocked the idea of the League of Nations and the principles of President Wilson. New Zealand’s representatives shared the skepticism of their Australian counterparts toward the League, though less explicitly, and also wanted to annex some of the German islands.

India was included in the Imperial War Cabinet along with the self-governing possessions because of its role in the war, but its delegation was not like that of an independent nation. India was represented by Secretary Edwin Montagu, and two Hindus, Lord Satyendra Sinha and Maharaja Bikanera, were given seats for their devotion to the Empire. The discussions on how to “bring India to self-government” were rather “academic” – as they unfolded against the backdrop of the Indian National Congress, in no way represented in Paris, actually becoming a mass political movement.

The presence of such a large delegation had both advantages and disadvantages for the British: while the leaders of Canada and Australia were quite successful in defending British interests in commissions dealing with Greece, Albania and Czechoslovakia, the situation became very complicated when it came to matters in which Canadians, New Zealanders or Australians had their own interests. Lloyd George, on the other hand, showed little enthusiasm for defending dominion interests to his European partners.

On the part of the victorious countries of World War I, 27 states participated in the conference: the main ones-the United States, the British Empire, France, Italy, and the Empire of Japan-and Belgium, China, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hijaz, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Siam, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay; five British dominions (Newfoundland, Canada, the Union of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand) and the equivalent of India had their own delegations.

Council of Four

On January 12, Lloyd George met with Clemenceau, Wilson, and Orlando on the Quai d’Orsay, at the French Foreign Office. Each leader was accompanied by his foreign minister and several advisers; the next day, agreeing with the British wishes, two Japanese representatives joined the group. Thus the “Council of Ten” was formed, although most contemporaries continued to refer to it as the “Supreme Council” – by analogy with the wartime Supreme Council of the Entente (SCA). Representatives of small allied states and neutral countries were not invited. At the end of March, during the decisive diplomatic negotiations of the conference, the Supreme Council discarded both foreign ministers and Japanese delegates, becoming the “Council of Four” (Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Wilson and Orlando).

The complex of grand buildings on the Quai d’Orsay survived World War II and the Nazi occupation almost intact – the architectural ensemble retained its original structure created in the mid-19th century. The Supreme Council met in the office of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs (green silk curtains and electric lighting complemented the interior. Clemenceau, as host, presided in an armchair in front of a huge wood-burning fireplace; his colleagues were each given a small table for papers. Wilson, as the only formal head of state, had a chair a few inches higher than the others.

The Supreme Council rather quickly developed a procedure for its own activities: it mainly met once a day, although sometimes it met twice or three times a day. An agenda was drawn up before the meetings, but the Council also decided issues as they arose. The room was usually very hot, as the French were “horrified” by suggestions to open the windows. According to the recollections of numerous petitioners and members of delegations, Clemenceau sat with a bored expression, often staring at the ceiling; Wilson fidgeted in his chair, getting up from time to time to stretch his legs; a bored Lansing drew cartoons; Lloyd George talked, joked, and commented extensively and loudly. The official interpreter, Paul Joseph Mantoux, translated from French to English and back again: his translations of other people’s requests and demands were so emotional that sometimes it seemed to the Council that he was asking something for himself. Because Clemenceau spoke English and Italian Foreign Minister Sonnino was also quite fluent, conversations between the Quartet often took place in English. Every day the servants brought tea and almond cookies to the hall.

Speed of decision-making was an important factor: Supreme Council members were aware that as the Entente armed forces were demobilized, their power was diminishing – for example, General Pershing believed that by August 15 all American soldiers would have returned from Europe to the United States. Two months had passed since the end of the war, and citizens uninvolved in the complexities of organizing the conference wondered why so little had been done. The suddenness of the armistice meant that the allies – who thought the war would drag on for at least another year – were not really ready for peace talks. A psychological component – the difficulty of moving away from the slogan “Everything for Victory! – also played a role.

Some attempts to think about peace did take place during the war years: the British special inquiry created in 1917, the French Comité d’études formed the same year, and the most ambitious group, The Inquiry, created under House in September 1917, developed plans and put forward ideas. To the displeasure of professional diplomats, the American Inquiry included experts external to the FCO, from historians to missionaries. It was they who prepared detailed studies and numerous maps that made up sixty separate reports on the Far East and Pacific alone; the reports mostly contained useful information, but there was also information, for example, that in India “the overwhelming majority of unmarried people are children.” As the conference proceeded, Allied leaders paid little attention to any of the studies prepared.

Discussion of procedures took a considerable amount of time during the first week of the Conference. The British Foreign Office prepared a “bright and colorful” diagram resembling a model of the solar system, with the Supreme Council at its center: Lloyd George laughed out loud when he first saw it. The French delegates drew up and circulated a detailed agenda with lists of problems to be solved, ranked in order of importance. Because resolving the problem of peace with Germany was at the top of the agenda, and the League of Nations was barely mentioned, Wilson, supported by Lloyd George, rejected it. The author of the summons, Tardieu, saw in it “an instinctive aversion of the Anglo-Saxons to the systematized constructions of the Latin mind. The High Council succeeded in electing as secretary of the Council the French junior delegate Paul Dutasta, rumored to be Clemenceau’s illegitimate son. A British official, Hankey, who became Dutasta’s deputy, soon took over most of the secretarial duties.

As early as December 1918, the French Foreign Ministry sent out invitations to participate in the conference to virtually every country in the world, from Liberia to Siam. By January, representatives of 29 countries had gathered in Paris – all expected to take part in the negotiations. Clemenceau was ready to hand over “harmless” questions – such as those about international waterways – to the delegates from the “minor powers. Wilson, still believing that he was at a “preliminary” and unofficial conference, would prefer not to create any formal structures, “but only to have private conversations. Appealing to public opinion, unprepared for a protracted process, Clemenceau believed that those “who are already assembled in Paris must do something. Lloyd George proposed a compromise (the first of many on his part): there would be a plenary meeting of all the member countries at the end of each week; only the Supreme Council would meet during the week.

Smaller countries also made their own demands. Portugal, for example, which sent 60,000 soldiers to the Western Front, found it outrageous that it should have only one official delegate, while Brazil, which sent one medical unit and several airmen to the front, had three. Britain supported Portugal’s demand, while the U.S. sided with Brazil. Recognition in Paris, the center of world political power in 1919, was important to many nations – but it was vital to what peacekeepers called “states in the process of being formed.” With the almost simultaneous collapse of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, there were many such.

The Supreme Council immediately faced the scrutiny of the public and the media, with hundreds of journalists arriving in Paris weeks before the conference. The French government provided them with a luxurious press club in the home of a Parisian millionaire. The press – mostly men, although a few women were accredited – were ungrateful: Journalists ridiculed the “vulgarity of the decor” and complained about the secrecy surrounding the talks, which they felt was not in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Fourteen Points. Many journalists and their readers wanted public scrutiny of the negotiations themselves, not just the absence of final secret agreements. Members of the press demanded the right to attend meetings of the Supreme Soviet or at least to receive daily summaries of their deliberations.

Clemenceau told General Mordac that he himself, an active publicist, has always fought for freedom of the press, but there must also be limits to such freedom. It would be “true suicide” to allow the press to cover debates in the Supreme Council. If that were to happen, Lloyd George commented, the conference would go on forever: the British prime minister suggested that the members of the Council issue a joint press statement saying that the decision-making process between the powers would be long and delicate – and that they did not want to inflame unnecessary passions by publicizing their differences. Wilson agreed – and American journalists began to complain that Lloyd George and Clemenceau, away from public scrutiny, would “drag the president of the United States into their entanglements.” Some journalists even threatened to leave Paris, but few did so.

Commitment and the unknown

Already at the first meeting of January 18, outside observers noted the absence of several participants: for example, Greek Prime Minister Venizelos did not arrive because he was unhappy that Serbia had more delegates; the Canadian Prime Minister was offended that the Prime Minister of small Newfoundland was given seniority; the Japanese representatives simply had not yet arrived. But none of this, according to contemporaries, was comparable to the absence of representatives from the former Russian Empire, which had suffered enormous losses during the war and had contributed – as many believed at the time – decisively to stopping the German offensive in France at the beginning of the war.

In 1917, the Allies sent troops into Russia in an attempt to support their disintegrating ally (but in March 1918, the new Bolshevik government in Petrograd made a separate peace with the Fourth Union. The direction of further action was unclear to the Allied leaders: Should the Entente soldiers be left on the territory of the former Russian Empire? Should the Bolsheviks be overthrown directly? Or was it simply possible to support their diverse opponents: monarchists, liberals, anarchists, socialists, and nationalists?

Getting information was also a problem: rumors about the situation in the RSFSR (“the murder of officers,” “the execution of the Tsar,” “the mass murder of landlords,” “armed teenagers in the streets of cities,” etc.) were spreading in Paris, but they were not easy to confirm or deny. The new regime was under a de facto blockade: the authorities of most states had ceased trade with the Bolsheviks and by the summer of 1918 had withdrawn their diplomats; by early 1919 almost all foreign newspaper correspondents had left Soviet territory; land routes were cut off by fighting, and telegrams traveled days or weeks – if they reached their destination at all. By the time the conference convened, the only reliable channel of communication with Petrograd and Moscow was Stockholm, where the Bolsheviks had a representative. As a result, during the conference, the peacemakers knew “about as much about Russia as they knew about the dark side of the moon”: for example, the British government published an official report, based on “eyewitness accounts,” claiming that the Bolsheviks had “nationalized women” and placed them in “commissariats of free love” and that churches in Russia had been turned into brothels.

Legally – as Clemenceau believed, for example – the Allies had no obligation to invite Russian representatives because the new government had “betrayed the cause of the Allies, leaving France at the mercy of the Germans. Vladimir Lenin, by agreeing to a separatist peace in Brest-Litovsk, gave enormous resources to Germany and its allies, Germany also got the opportunity to transfer hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the Western Front. Such actions, according to Clemenceau, freed the Allies from all obligations to Russia, including the previously made promises to transfer to her control of the Black Sea straits. On the other hand, the Russian Empire technically remained an ally and was still at war with the Fourth Union countries – and in November 1918, as part of the armistice conditions, the Germans were forced to abandon all terms of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty; and Lloyd George advocated inviting representatives of Soviet Russia into the peacemakers – he reasoned among other things that “the British government had already committed this mistake after the French Revolution – when it supported the emigrant nobility.”

As a result of the lack of a common solution, conference participants faced a number of difficulties, and their discussions often became “recursive”: when discussing one or another issue, everyone agreed that it could not be finally resolved until a common policy toward Russia was adopted – after which, instead of solving the “Russian question,” participants moved on to another topic. Thus, representatives of Finland, the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Turkey, and Persia arrived at the conference, but the borders of their states could not be finally established until the status of the new Russia was understood.


As the question of Russia came up repeatedly during the peace conference, Baker later argued that it was this – along with the fear of the spread of Bolshevism – that shaped the terms of peace:

Contemporary scholars have not been inclined to agree with such an unquestioning interpretation: although the Russian Revolution often provided emotional support for uprisings in Europe – and the Bolsheviks themselves participated in financing them – the removal of Lenin’s supporters from power in Russia could not “magically” eliminate the causes of conflict and unrest. German workers and soldiers eliminated the monarchy in the German Empire because their Kaiser’s regime was discredited and financially bankrupt; Austria-Hungary collapsed because its authorities could no longer contain nationalist sentiment. The terms “Bolshevism” and “Communism” in 1919 were often just convenient shorthand to describe revolutionary sentiments and mass discontent with the existing political system. The general spread of violence – the assassination of the Portuguese president, the assassination attempt on Clemenceau, the Communist governments in Munich and Budapest – really worried the politicians gathered in Paris.

“Bolshevism” also had its practical application at the conference: when Romania demanded that Bessarabia and Poland demanded that Ukraine be given to it, it was motivated by the need to “stop Bolshevism. The Italian delegates warned of an imminent “Bolshevik” revolution in their country if they did not get most of the Dalmatian coast. Prominent peacemakers used the threat of “Bolshevism” in their speeches: Germany, Lloyd George and Wilson said, would go the way of Bolshevism if the terms of peace with it were too harsh.

Winston Churchill was at the time one of the few who saw in Lenin’s Bolshevism something new on the political scene: in his view, underneath the Marxist rhetoric was a highly disciplined and centralized party that held every lever of power in its hands. Churchill – who saw in the Bolshevik system a new form of tyranny, previously unknown in its scale – was not supported by Lloyd George, who suggested that the Marlborough family member was driven by personal motives: “His ducal blood rebelled against the mass destruction of the grand dukes in Russia.

The execution of the Czarist family and the refusal to pay foreign debts acquired by many members of the French middle class shocked public opinion in Europe. At the same time–understanding that both the United States and the French Republic emerged from revolutions–the conference leaders were ambivalent about events in Russia. Wilson initially believed that the essence of Bolshevism was to curb the power of big business and reduce government interference – to ensure greater individual freedom; the U.S. president approved of much in the Bolshevik program: “…their campaign of mass murder, confiscation, and complete disregard for the law deserves the strongest condemnation. Nevertheless, some of their doctrines were developed solely under pressure from capitalists who ignored workers’ rights…”. Lloyd George, like Wilson, believed that the old world order was “stupid, profligate and tyrannical”; Curzon complained to Balfour that there was “something Bolshevik” in the British prime minister himself, who actively opposed government during the Anglo-Boer War – that Lloyd George “sees Trotsky as his only kindred figure on the international stage. Wilson and Lloyd George believed that peasants without land and workers without work were becoming the base for “dreamers promising them the promised land.” U.S. and British leaders claimed they could defeat Bolshevism by building a new world order.

Clemenceau, who broke with the extreme left after the Paris Commune and was forced to listen to French public opinion, did not agree. If the Bolsheviks sent their representatives to Paris, the radical left would take it as encouragement and the middle class as cause for panic; there would be riots in the streets, which his government would have to suppress by force. In the end, this would be an altogether unfortunate backdrop for a peace conference. Clemenceau also warned that if his allies insisted on inviting the Communists, he himself would be forced to resign.

Russian Political Meeting

Nor was it clear who was to be considered Russian representatives: by early 1919, the Bolsheviks in control of Petrograd and Moscow were facing competing governments-primarily led by General Anton Denikin and the Siberian government of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. In Paris, Russian émigrés, from conservatives to radicals, formed the Russian Political Caucus, attempting to speak for all anti-Bolshevik forces; it included people with very different backgrounds: Sergei Sazonov had been the tsarist foreign minister and Boris Savinkov was a terrorist. Speaking of Savinkov, Lloyd George – who loved efficiency in both associates and partners – noted that “his assassinations were always skillfully orchestrated and were a complete success. The Russian Political Caucus received only limited support from the Kolchak and Denikin governments.

The memoirs of Tsarist Prime Minister Vladimir Kokovtsov contain information that the Russian ambassador in Paris sought the participation of a Russian delegation in the conference:

Attempted solution

On January 16, Lloyd George brought the “Russian question” to the Supreme Council, offering his colleagues three options: (or (3) invite “Russians,” including the Bolsheviks, to meet with peacekeepers. The premier believed that the Entente had in fact already taken steps in the first two directions, but did not see much success in them. Therefore, he himself would have preferred the latter option. By convincing the different political forces to talk to each other in Paris, peacemakers could change the situation in the former empire. In private conversation, he noted that this is what the Romans did, inviting barbarian leaders and telling them how to behave with dignity.

The Paris delegates objected to each of the courses presented: direct military intervention was risky and costly; isolation harmed a population not involved in political conflicts; inviting Bolshevik representatives to Paris gave them a rostrum for spreading revolutionary ideas in the West. Wilson supported Lloyd George’s negotiating path; the French and Italian foreign ministers abstained. Pichon offered to hear from the French and Danish ambassadors who had just returned from Russia. The ambassadors gave a detailed account of the Red Terror – their account Lloyd George found to be a clear exaggeration. In the end, the Supreme Council was unable to make any decision.

Actual Intervention

The situation did not change thereafter: Allied policy toward Russia remained inconsistent throughout the peace conference: not rigid enough to overthrow the new regime by force, but hostile enough to convince the Bolsheviks that the leaders of the Western powers were their implacable enemies. Churchill, who repeatedly requested a clear policy line from his government, later recalled the indecisiveness of the Allies: “Were they at war with Soviet Russia? Certainly not; but they shot at those Soviet citizens who came within their sight. They stood as occupiers on Russian soil. They armed the enemies of the Soviet government. They blockaded Soviet ports and sank ships. They sincerely wished and planned for the fall of the Soviet system. But: war – never! interference – disgraceful!”

Drawing on the experience of the Mexican Revolution, Wilson advocated “non-interference and nonrecognition”: when Russia figures out who will govern it, the United States will recognize this “self-determination” (he hoped it would not be the Bolsheviks). And, unlike the British delegates, the U.S. president was in favor of preserving the territorial integrity of the former Russian Empire – with the only exception, the creation of Poland. He did not support Ukrainian nationalism and staunchly resisted recognizing the independence of the Baltic states.

Political theory, however, collided with the reality that the Allies had in fact already intervened in the Russian Civil War. And gradually the operation, which began as a confrontation with the German threat, turned into something more: thus, by the end of 1918 there were more than 180,000 Entente soldiers on the territory of the former Russian Empire and several White armies received money and weapons from the Allies. The image of a “crusade against Bolshevism” began to appear in public opinion – at the same time the leftist slogan “Hands off Russia!” was gaining popularity. Lloyd George told his cabinet that if they were not careful, they would start spreading Bolshevism, trying to suppress it: thus, the prospect of being sent to Russia was extremely unpopular with both British and American soldiers, increasing the danger of insubordination. The mutiny of the French Black Sea Fleet showed the prospects of further war with the Bolsheviks. A whole series of unrealistic plans for a march on Russia, devised by Marshal Foch – and involving the use of Poles, Finns, Czechoslovaks, Romanians, Greeks, and even Russian prisoners of war in Germany to overthrow the Bolsheviks – faced both strong opposition from the British and Americans and the reluctance of “actors” to participate in such adventurous schemes.

The prospect of spending more and more millions of dollars – with no clear objectives – meant that the Entente’s tactics were effectively reduced to the second of Lloyd George’s options: a “cordon sanitaire” of several relatively small states to prevent the further spread of the “Bolshevik contagion.

Inefficiency, corruption, and trivial theft contributed to the lack of success: petty officials behind the lines wore uniforms meant for soldiers in the line of fire, while their wives and daughters wore British nurses’ skirts; while Denikin’s trucks and tanks could not move in the cold, anti-freeze was sold in neighboring bars. Although the Bolsheviks were subsequently able to paint a propaganda picture in which the entire force of world capitalism was aimed at strangling the October Revolution, there was little actual Allied assistance to the anti-Bolshevik forces.

Attempting to resolve the “Russian question” has always involved both different understandings of purpose and mutual suspicion among the Allies themselves. The Americans, officially opposed to intervention, kept their troops in Siberia – to counter Japanese plans. If in 1919 the French government would have preferred to see a restored Russia (for a new containment of Germany), British authorities were quite happy with the prospect of a communist but weak Russia. Thus, Curzon expressed satisfaction that the central government had lost control of the Caucasus; at the same time, British leaders were suspicious of French motives, believing that the key one was loan repayment.

The Princes’ Islands: Failed Negotiations

The option of negotiations was also not definitively discarded: on 21 January 1919 Wilson and Lloyd George proposed a compromise to the High Council, according to which the Russian representatives should gather outside Paris (and Europe) – the Allies had stopped at the Prince’s Islands near Constantinople. The invitation was sent by radio: the reply from Moscow was ambiguous but did not contain a direct refusal; representatives of the anti-Bolshevik forces sent their refusal on February 16.

Kingdom of Yugoslavia

A delegation of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes had been in Paris since the beginning of January 1919, staying at the Hotel de Beau-Site near the Place du Zvezda. The delegation of almost a hundred people consisted of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosniaks and Montenegrins; among them were university professors, professional soldiers, former members of the Vienna parliament, diplomats from Belgrade, lawyers from Dalmatia, radical nationalists, monarchists, Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims. Many of the delegates had never seen each other before, and – as subjects of Serbia or Austria-Hungary – they were often on opposite sides during the war. Delegates from the Adriatic coast, mostly Slovenes and Croats, were concerned about the security of their borders with Italy and the control of the ports and railroads of the region, recently owned by Austria-Hungary, but were indifferent to border changes to the east. The Serbs, on the other hand, were willing to exchange both Dalmatia and Istria for territories to the north and east of the newly created country.

Such different delegates were together in Paris because of the idea, popular in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe, that a common language created a common nationality. By the 1860s, the concept of “Yugoslavism” had swept the region: educational institutions, newspapers, and magazines became Yugoslavian, actively promoting the idea of the “unity of the southern Slavs. The idea of a “Yugoslavia” was strongest among the Southern Slavs, especially the Croats living inside Austria-Hungary; in Serbia, its rival was the idea of a “national Serbian state. Seventy-year-old Nikola Pašić, educated in Zurich and for many years prime minister of Serbia, led a delegation to Paris that survived death sentences, exile, several plots, assassination attempts, and car crashes.

Many in Paris considered the whole situation in the Balkans, which was the occasion for the outbreak of the Great War, extremely confusing – public opinion was focused on the “danger” of the Balkans. In addition to large language groups, Jewish merchants in Sarajevo, Italian colonies on the Dalmatian coast, descendants of German settlers in the north, and Turks in the south were also part of the Balkan reality of the early 20th century.

The state of the Southern Slavs, which absorbed Serbia and the southern parts of the collapsed Austria-Hungary, emerged in 1919 – before the Paris peace conference. But it was Paris that was to determine the territory for the new state – and possibly to destroy it. Concerns about the “ambitious” and “turbulent” peoples of the Balkans were common among the Great Powers’ leaders: Wilson believed, for example, that it would be a mistake to give a southern Slavic state a navy. The Italian government in general would have preferred to “strangle the new state in its cradle”; Italian nationalists were already quick to call Yugoslavia their new main enemy, a role that had been vacant since the disappearance of Austria-Hungary. Britain and France, albeit reluctantly, followed Italy’s lead and refused to recognize the new kingdom; the United States, where Italian ambitions in the Balkans were feared by many, recognized Yugoslavia in February – Britain and France did the same in June. At the same time, Pašić’s own desire to comply with the Corfu Declaration by renouncing a unitary state under his control in favor of a federation was questioned by many.

The legacy of the war – the promises “that were so freely made during the war years” – limited the freedom of action of the peacemakers. In 1915, in the secret London Treaty, Great Britain, France, and Russia promised Italy a large part of Slovenia and the northern part of the Dalmatian coast – in exchange for entering the war on the Entente side. In vague terms, Serbia was promised the rest of Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and possibly part of Croatia.

Already at its first meeting, the Supreme Council faced the consequences of the sudden appearance of Yugoslavia: the delegates had to decide whether Montenegro, only recently “united” with Serbia, should continue to be considered a separate state. Sonnino objected to separate representation; Lloyd George and Wilson were in favor of hearing both sides – the problem, however, was who could be considered a delegate from Montenegro (the idea of inviting the former King Nikola I did not find support from the U.S. President). Since during the discussion of Montenegro it became clear that nobody in Paris had the slightest idea of the state of affairs in that region, it was decided to postpone the question. It remained formally open even by the end of the peace conference – despite all the efforts of Nikola I to draw attention both to his own person and to the fate of two hundred thousand Montenegrins.

On January 31, the leaders of the Yugoslav delegation addressed the Council for the first time to oppose Romanian claims to the entire Banat border region; on February 17, they were again summoned to a meeting scheduled for the next day. This time the delegates made a number of territorial demands: in an attempt to satisfy all the members of the heterogeneous collective, they requested a change in six of the seven borders of the new state – only the border with Greece suited the Yugoslav representatives. In the west, the Slovenian leaders insisted on giving them German-speaking Klagenfurt, citing defensive reasons – as a necessary defense against Austria; alternatively, they proposed fixing the old borders between Austria-Hungary and Italy. Pašić promoted the interests of the Serbs, 120,000 of whom (of the country’s 4.5 million population) had died during the war: he proposed pushing the border eastward – into Bulgaria – and north of the Danube, taking a “strip” from Hungarian territory. Among other things, this allowed to protect the capital Belgrade, which was separated from hostile Austria-Hungary only by the width of the river.

On February 18, in the afternoon, Serb Milenko Vesnic, whose wealthy and attractive wife was friends with Mrs. Wilson, continued the list: it included the Italian city of Trieste, the Hungarian provinces of Bačka and Baranja north of Croatia’s traditional borders, and the Romanian-speaking parts of Banat. The delegates denied that they had asked for non-Slavic areas to be transferred to Yugoslavia, arguing that the prewar censuses were unreliable because the Austrians and Hungarians had deliberately undercounted the Slavic population and suppressed Slavic culture and education.

The Yugoslav government already controlled much of what it demanded – Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Slovenian territories of the Krajina region, most of Dalmatia and, of course, Croatia; but it wanted more. The delegation asked for the regions of Medjimurska and Prekmurje. Because Hungary had few supporters in Paris, and because a revolution was brewing in the country itself, Medjimurska and Prekmurje, populated primarily by Croats and Slovenes, were, after a short discussion, transferred to Yugoslavia. The fate of Baranja and Bačka was decided in a dispute with Romania – as a consequence, it took much longer to settle the borders.

According to MacMillan, underneath the “noble words” about saving civilization, right and honor, there were often calculations inherent in “real politics”: Balkan statesmen repeatedly and loudly how they “admired Wilson”; they began speaking the language of self-determination, justice and international cooperation; they submitted petitions that represented, as they said, “the voice of the people” – all in order to capture more territory, as before. The lack of accurate and verified information about the population of the Balkan Peninsula allowed the use of false data. The “beautiful” maps used throughout the conference often contained fictitious information – but it was in the partition of the Balkans that their use “reached its apogee”. In the case of the Balkans, Wilson’s “general words” were difficult to apply to reality: when he said that Serbia should have access to the sea, the U.S. president did not specify how this should happen.


A few days before the official opening of the peace conference in Romania, it was rumored that only Belgium and Serbia would be invited to the small powers. “Furious” Romanian Prime Minister Ionel Bratianu summoned the Entente ambassadors and complained to them that “Romania is being treated as a beggar deserving pity. He also instructed the ambassadors to transmit to their governments a statement which contained (2) criticism of Serbia for having entered the war only because it had been subjected to military aggression; (3) vague statements about “persons who had lost touch with their own country”; (4) a warning, bordering on threatening, about the possibility for the Allies “to lose all influence in Romania”; and (5) a direct threat to “leave,” though without specifying what. The ambassadors conveyed a “curious” statement to their governments, adding a warning from themselves that alienating Romania was dangerous in terms of combating “Russian Bolshevism. Since the Great Powers intended to invite Romania and never discussed its boycott, the whole story took on a comical tone.

Romanian politicians had high hopes for the peace conference: On January 8, Harold Nicolson had a brief meeting with two Romanian delegates who, in their own words, were “ashamed” to talk about the internal political situation in Romania, but, as Nicolson put it, “had no shame” in demanding most of Hungary (see Transylvania). The Romanian government also wanted part of the territory of the former Russian Empire, Bessarabia, which it had already successfully occupied, as well as Bukovina, previously controlled by Austria-Hungary. Although such extensive demands could be considered “exorbitant,” in reality there was no one to displace the Romanian troops: neither Russia, nor Austria, nor Hungary had military forces capable of occupying the disputed regions. The Romanian delegation was confronted with a greater challenge with respect to its claim to Banat, since the region was also on the Yugoslav list. The fertile region, though with little or no industry, was a valuable “prize” for both states.

On January 31, 1919, the Romanian and Yugoslav representatives addressed the Supreme Council. By that time, similar conversations with the Chinese, Czech and Polish delegations had already been held and Lloyd George felt they were “a waste of time,” but Wilson’s position led the British prime minister to accept Balfour’s suggestion that the Council should still listen to the Romanians and Serbs in order to “please” them. In the afternoon, Bratianu “theatrically,” according to Nicolson, addressed the Council, demanding that all of Banat be handed over to Romania. He argued this demand both from a “legalistic” standpoint (according to the secret provisions of the Bucharest Treaty of 1916, the region had been promised to Romania) and by appealing to the “Fourteen Points” (all Romanians should be united in a single state). Data on the ethnology, history and geography of the region were used by the Romanian leader along with information on his country’s losses during the war.

The Serbian delegates demanded only the western part of Banat, using the same arguments – except for the reference to the secret agreement. When Wilson said that the U.S. wanted to approve the question on the basis of facts, Balfour asked directly: Did the delegates have any figures regarding the ethnic structure of the region? The Yugoslav representatives reported that the western part was predominantly Serbian and that the local German- and Hungarian-speakers, of whom there were many, were more willing to become Serbian citizens than Romanian citizens. Brătianu did not agree to divide Banat into parts and suggested that Yugoslavia already had enough minorities to add more.

On February 1, Bratianu had already presented a complete list of Romanian demands; the Allies agreed to leave Bessarabia and Bukovina as part of Romania: the return of these territories to the Bolshevik governments was not in their plans. The problem of Transylvania was more complicated, and it was decided to postpone it until a peace treaty with Hungary was drawn up. The Romanian prime minister warned that the Great Powers should hurry before things got completely out of hand in his country:

The “Bolshevik” argument, popular in Paris, was quite effective in the case of Romania, caught between Bolshevik Russia and revolutionary Hungary, as were Bratian’s threats to resign and allow the Bolsheviks to take over Romania if Banat was not handed over to him.

The Supreme Council found the demands of the Romanian representatives excessive and their arguments with their Yugoslav colleagues tiresome. For example, Bratianu complained that some of the council members were asleep while he was speaking. In the end, the peacekeepers actively supported Lloyd George’s recommendation to refer the issue to a subcommittee of experts – for a “fair settlement. The British prime minister “optimistically” added that once the “truth” was established, it would not be difficult for the council to make a final decision. Wilson agreed with the caveat that the experts themselves should not consider the case in political terms – without specifying what he meant by the term “political. Clemenceau was hardly involved in the discussion, and only Orlando tried to insist on immediate boundary-setting.

Thus, the future of Banat – along with other territories in southern Europe – was given to a special territorial commission; it was the first of six of its kind and was eventually given the mandate to review all the disputed borders of Yugoslavia – except the Italian one, which, at Italy’s urgent requests, was left to the Supreme Council itself.

Since the Supreme Soviet did not explain what a “just settlement” was, the experts had different opinions on this question. Did it mean securing state borders that could easily be defended in case of aggression? Was it necessary to maintain railroad networks and trade routes within the same territorial entity? In the end the experts reached a consensus that they would try to build borders along national lines. At the same time, the interests of their own countries were not definitively dismissed by the experts: for example, Italian representatives used every formal pretext to block Yugoslav demands and then “shocked” their American colleagues by hinting that they might agree to some of the points in exchange for accepting Italian claims in the Adriatic.

Already during the work of the commission, Romanian troops continued to advance into Hungary and Bulgaria, beyond the line established at the armistice; army units were also piling up on the northern border of Banat; at the same time, the authorities in Bucharest were making accusations that Serbs were killing Romanian civilians. In early March, the Romanian delegation was reinforced by the arrival in Paris of the “bright and powerful” Queen of Romania, Maria of Edinburgh, one of whose lovers was Bretianu’s son-in-law. Maria immediately began to actively lobby for her country, meeting with the most influential leaders – she managed to impress most of them. Maria’s greatest failure was Wilson: she shocked him at their first meeting with her detailed narrative “about love” – Grayson’s doctor later wrote that he “had never heard a woman talk about such things. Frankly, I didn’t know where to go from embarrassment.” Late for lunch with the president, Queen Mary only reinforced the first impression: “Every moment we waited … cut off a piece of Romania.”

On March 18, the Romanian commission made recommendations on Banat: the western third should be given to Yugoslavia and the rest to Romania. U.S. experts, concerned about ethnic issues, insisted that the predominantly Hungarian territory near Szeged remain with Hungary. On June 21, despite the “passionate” protests of the Romanian representatives, the Supreme Council accepted all the recommendations. Yugoslavian troops, refusing to evacuate from one of the islands on the Danube, created tension between the states in the fall of 1919 – only in 1923 did the two countries finally agree to respect the new border.

Romania doubled both its size and its population. However, the new line on the map could not solve all ethnic problems: almost 60,000 Serbs remained in Romania and 74,000 Romanians and almost 400,000 Hungarians in Yugoslavia (see Vojvodina). The situation of minorities was not easy – they were often treated as “migrants,” even though their ancestors had lived in the area for centuries. Both the Romanian and Yugoslav governments pursued assimilationist policies.

Bulgaria. The Treaty of Neuilly

Bulgaria, which entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers in 1915, was mentioned when the question of Banat was still being considered: American diplomats proposed making it part of a complex chain of territorial deals. If Romania got most of Banat, but gave Bulgaria back some of the territory seized in 1913 – and Bulgaria, in turn, gave some of its territory to Yugoslavia, it would be easier for the latter to give up its claims to Banat. The idea went nowhere because none of its potential participants was in the mood for compromise.

The principle of self-determination worked in favor of Bulgarian diplomacy, since there were a majority of Bulgarian-speakers in at least two areas outside Bulgaria itself – in southern Dobrudja, along the western Black Sea coast, and in western Thrace, on the Aegean coast. There was evidence that Bulgarians were also in the majority in many parts of Macedonia controlled by Yugoslavia, but it was extremely difficult to establish this conclusively: the presence of both Orthodox and Muslim Bulgarians only further complicated the picture.

Whereas in the 1870s-when Bulgarians living under Ottoman rule since the 14th century finally rebelled-the massive repression of them by Istanbul provided them with the support of European public opinion, by 1919 Bulgarians in Western Europe were perceived not so much as victims as unreliable allies and simply bandits. The two Balkan wars only reinforced this sentiment, although in Bulgaria itself the return of territorial losses was perceived by many as a “national idea” (along with the dream of a “golden X century” when Bulgaria stretched from the Adriatic in the west to the Black Sea in the east). Possession of Macedonia would also give the Bulgarian government control of the railroads linking southern Central Europe with the Middle East.

Bulgaria was the first of the Central Powers to agree to an armistice with the Entente. As the British military representative noted in the summer of 1919, “the Allies had no troops, and if an uprising had begun, it would have been impossible to stop it. The American representative in Sofia found the attitude of the Bulgarian authorities “peculiar”: after the armistice they for some reason began to regard themselves as one of the allies of London and Paris. Thus, the Bulgarian prime minister – while publicly admitting that his country had made a huge mistake by fighting on the same side as Germany and Austria – claimed that such an alliance had been imposed on his country by “a small group of unscrupulous politicians who had sold out to Germany” and that the allies were in fact indebted to Bulgaria, whose request for an armistice launched the process that ended the war.

Meanwhile, already during the conference, the Greek government began assembling troops on Bulgaria’s southern border – the Greek authorities complained about Bulgarian crimes, including the theft of cows; when in the same year Serbs and Greeks began talking about starting a war against Bulgaria, only Clemenceau firmly vetoed the project.


During the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a republic was proclaimed in Hungary, which had seceded from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The new democratic government of Count Mihály Károly concluded an armistice with the Entente on behalf of the Hungarian Republic on November 13, 1918. The young republic found itself under economic blockade and military-political pressure, which the Entente promised to lift only after the signing of the peace treaty. During the winter of 1918-1919 the troops of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia were conducting military operations against Hungary, expanding its territory at its expense. On March 21 the Hungarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed. The Entente powers established a complete blockade of Hungary, and later began military intervention, arming and supplying their military personnel army of Romania and Czechoslovakia. After the Hungarian Soviet forces defeated Czechoslovakian troops, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was forced to send the Hungarian government an invitation to Paris for negotiations to establish Hungary’s borders. French Prime Minister Clemenceau demanded that the Hungarian Red Army withdraw from Slovakia and take it beyond the 1918 armistice line, in return promising to stop Romanian intervention. Although the socialist leadership of Hungary accepted these terms, the Entente countries did not allow Hungary to participate in the Paris Conference and continued the armed offensive against the Soviet Union, which ended in the fall of the Soviet regime. Only after that did the Entente agree to begin formal negotiations in Versailles to conclude a peace treaty.

The terms of peace for Hungary, however, remained as harsh as ever. Among the authors of the peace treaty with Hungary was the Czech politician and diplomat Edvard Beneš, who insisted on tough demands on Budapest. And France was interested in strengthening the states surrounding Hungary to contain it and prevent the reestablishment of the Habsburg monarchy – this resulted in the creation of an anti-Hungarian alliance of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia, known as the “Lesser Entente.

On June 4, 1920, in the Grand Trianon Palace of Versailles, the Treaty of Trianon was signed with Hungary (as one of the successor countries to Austria-Hungary). The treaty entered into force on July 26, 1921.

The treaty legally formalized the de facto situation in the Danube basin after the war. Hungary lost significant territories:

Hungary recognized the independence of the new states of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Hungary also pledged to respect “the independence of all territories that were part of the former Russian Empire by August 1, 1914,” and to recognize the abolition of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty of 1918.

The Hungarian army was limited to 35,000 men, without aviation, tanks or heavy artillery. The Hungarian navy, since the country was deprived of access to the sea, was abolished; the former Austro-Hungarian navy was to be transferred to the Allies or destroyed.


Japan sent a large delegation led by former Prime Minister Marquis Sayonji Kimmochi. It was originally part of the Big Five, but gave up that role because of its little interest in European affairs. Instead, it focused on two demands: the inclusion of its Race Equality Proposal in the League Pact and Japan’s territorial claims to the former German colonies: Shandong (including Kiaochow) and the Pacific Islands north of the Equator (Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mariana Islands and the Caroline Islands). Former Foreign Minister Baron Makino Nobuaki was the de facto head, as Sayonji’s role was symbolic and limited because of his ill health. The Japanese delegation was unhappy that it received only half of Germany’s rights, and then withdrew from the conference.

Japan proposed the inclusion of a “racial equality clause” in the Covenant of the League of Nations on February 13 as an amendment to Article 21.

Since equality of nations is a fundamental principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all foreign nationals of the States making up the League equal and equitable treatment in all respects, making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.

Wilson knew that Great Britain was critical of the decision, and as chairman of the Conference decided that a unanimous vote was required. On April 11, 1919, the commission held its final meeting, and the Racial Equality Proposal received a majority vote, but Great Britain and Australia did not support it. The Australians lobbied British policy in defense of White Australia. Wilson also knew that domestically he needed the support of the West, which feared Japanese and Chinese immigration, and the South, which feared the rise of its black citizens. The defeat of this proposal had the effect of turning Japan away from cooperation with the Western world toward more nationalistic and militaristic policies and approaches.

The Japanese claim to Shandong was severely challenged by the Chinese patriotic student group. In 1914, at the outbreak of war, Japan seized territory that had been granted to Germany in 1897 and also seized German islands in the Pacific north of the equator. In 1917, Japan made secret agreements with England, France, and Italy guaranteeing the annexation of these territories. An agreement was made with England to support British annexation of the Pacific Islands south of the Equator Despite the generally pro-Chinese viewpoint of the American delegation, Article 156 of the Treaty of Versailles transferred German concessions in Jiaozhou Bay, China, to Japan, rather than returning sovereign power to China . The head of the Chinese delegation, Lu Zeng-Qiang, demanded that a reservation be made before signing the treaty. After the reservation was rejected, the treaty was signed by all delegations except the Chinese delegation. Chinese indignation at this provision led to demonstrations known as the May Fourth Movement The Pacific Islands north of the equator became a Class C Mandatory administered by Japan.

The China Question

The Chinese delegation was led by Lu Zeng Jiangsu, accompanied by Wellington Ku and Cao Rulin. Ku demanded that the German concessions on Shandong be returned to China. He also called for an end to imperialist institutions such as extraterritoriality, diplomatic protection, and foreign leases. Despite American support and the supposed spirit of self-determination, the Western powers abandoned his claim and instead handed over German concessions to Japan. This sparked massive student protests in China on May 4, later known as the May 4 Movement, which ultimately forced the government to refuse to sign the Versailles Peace Treaty. Thus, the Chinese delegation at the conference was the only one who did not sign the treaty at the signing ceremony.

The Korean Question

After an unsuccessful attempt by the Korean National Association to send a three-person delegation to Paris, a delegation of Koreans from China and Hawaii arrived there. It included Kim Gyusik, a representative of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai. They were aided by the Chinese, who were eager for an opportunity to embarrass Japan in an international forum. Several leading Chinese leaders of the time, including Sun Yat-sen, told American diplomats that the conference should address the issue of Korean independence. But the Chinese, already busy fighting the Japanese, could do little for Korea. Apart from China, no nation took the Koreans seriously at the conference because it already had the status of a Japanese colony. The Korean nationalists’ inability to gain support from the conference ended their hopes for foreign support.


Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos attended the conference as the chief representative of Greece. Wilson was said to have ranked Venizelos first in personal ability among all the delegates in Paris.

Venizelos proposed Greek expansion in Thrace and Asia Minor, which were part of the defeated kingdom of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire; Northern Epirus, Imvrosi Tenedos to realize the idea of Megali. He also reached a Venizelos-Tittoni agreement with the Italians to cede the Dodecanese (except Rhodes) to Greece. For the Pontic Greeks he proposed a common Pontic-Armenian state.

A liberal politician, Venizelos was an ardent supporter of the Fourteen Points and the League of Nations.

The end of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey


Following the conference’s decision to separate the former Arab provinces from the Ottoman Empire and to apply the new mandate system to them, the World Zionist Organization submitted its draft resolutions to the conference on February 3, 1919.

This statement included five main points:

However, despite these attempts to influence the conference, the Zionists were instead restricted by Article 7 of the resulting Palestinian Mandate to a mere right to acquire Palestinian citizenship: “The Palestinian Authority is responsible for passing a citizenship law. This law must include provisions formulated in such a way as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who are permanent residents of Palestine.

Referring to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Zionists suggested that this meant that the British had already recognized the historical right of the Jews to Palestine. The preamble to the British Mandate of 1922, which included the Balfour Declaration, states: “While thereby recognizing the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the basis for the restoration of their national home in that country …”

Ataturk and the End of the Peace of Sèvres

A woman’s question

An unprecedented aspect of the conference was the concerted pressure on delegates by a women’s committee that sought to establish and enshrine basic social, economic, and political rights for women, such as suffrage, within the peace. Although they were denied seats at the Paris conference, the leadership of Marguerite de Witt-Schlumberger, president of the French Union for Women’s suffrage, called for an Inter-Allied Women’s Conference (IAWC) to be convened from February 10 to April 10, 1919. The IAWC lobbied Wilson and then other delegates to the Paris conference to admit women to their committees, and it succeeded in obtaining hearings before the Conference Commissions on International Labor Law and then before the League of Nations Commission. One of the key and concrete results of the IAWC was Article 7 of the Covenant of the League of Nations: “All positions in or connected with the League, including the Secretariat, shall be open equally to men and women.” More generally, the IAWC placed the question of women’s rights at the center of the new world order that was established in Paris.

Formal results

The conference in Paris drafted peace treaties with

The conference approved the charter of the League of Nations. These treaties, together with the agreements made at the Washington Conference (1921-1922), laid the foundations for the Versailles-Washington system of international relations.

Yugoslavia, which had three times the territory of pre-war Serbia and only one friendly border state (Greece), paid “dearly” for its successes at the conference during World War II: its neighbors, with considerable support from the Third Reich, seized the disputed regions, and a civil war broke out inside the country.

Romania, which lost Bessarabia, about half of Bukovina and part of the disputed Dobrudzha region as a result of World War II, still controls its main 1919 acquisition, Transylvania.


  1. Парижская мирная конференция
  2. Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920)
  3. В среднем, каждый час боевых действий уносил жизни 250 человек[4].
  4. Ряд сторонников президента Вильсона полагали подобный шаг неразумным; политические противники же обвинили его в нарушении Конституции[12].
  5. «Это страшная вещь, вести великий мирный народ в войну; в самую ужасную и катастрофическую из всех войн; в войну, которая, похоже, поставила на кон само существование цивилизации» 10
  6. К 1919 году около половины людей, проживавших в регионе, могли считаться членами того или иного «национального меньшинства»[15].
  7. ^ a b Rene Albrecht-Carrie, Diplomatic History of Europe Since the Congress of Vienna (1958) p. 363
  8. ^ Neiberg, Michael S. (2017). The Treaty of Versailles: A Concise History. Oxford University Press. p. ix. ISBN 978-0-19-065918-9.
  9. ^ a b Erik Goldstein The First World War Peace Settlements, 1919–1925 p49 Routledge (2013)
  10. ^ Nelsson, compiled by Richard (9 January 2019). “The Paris peace conference begins – archive, January 1919”. The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  11. ^ Goldstein, Erik (11 October 2013). The First World War Peace Settlements, 1919-1925. Routledge. ISBN 9781317883678.
  12. ^ Successivamente rivisto dal trattato di Losanna, 24 luglio 1923
  13. ^ Gilbert, p. 609.
  14. ^ Gilbert, p. 610.
  15. Die britischen Dominions setzten sich mit ihren Forderungen durch, durch eigene bevollmächtigte Vertreter vertreten zu sein, ebenso wurde Britisch-Indien eine eigene Vertretung zugestanden.
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