THE PRESENT SITUATION IN THE BALKANS
AN ADDRESS BY DR. RICHARD A. R. MARESCH
Chairman: The President, Dr. F. A. Gaby.
Thursday, January 25, 1940
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and Gentlemen: Before introducing our guest-speaker today, I would welcome to our head table, among the other distinguished guests, two ladies. First, Mrs. W. P. M. Kennedy, President of the Women's Canadian Club, who is on my left, and on my right we have Mrs. John F. Davidson, prominent cultural lecturer on world affairs.
Our guest of honour today is Dr. Maresch, and we are fortunate to have this opportunity of hearing one who is familiar with the European viewpoint through his intimate acquaintance with men of note, both in Austria, Germany and Russia. Dr. Maresch was born in Vienna, of distinguished parents. His mother was lady-in-waiting to Empress Elizabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Josef. During his youth he lived in Russia, his family moving to Germany during the first revolution of 1904 and 1905. Dr. Maresch was again in Russia during the Revolution of 1916 and 1917, not from choice, but due to his captivity, being a prisoner of war during this particular period. He escaped in 1919 to return to a business career and the completion of his university education, graduating as Doctor of jurisprudence from the universities at Berlin and Erlangen.
With such a background as this, Dr. Maresch is well qualified to tell Canadian audiences something of the European scene, and I take great pleasure in introducing Dr. Maresch, whose subject is "The Present Situation in the Balkans". (Applause)
DR. RICHARD A. R. MARESCH: Mr. President, Ladies And Gentlemen: I am very grateful for the privilege extended to me to speak to you here. I think I have to stress, in any case, that I express here only my personal point of view, but I think I have had so much insight into affairs on the Continent that I can tell you what is going on behind these many moves that you are all so eager and keen to know about.
The stalemate on the Western Front has, I think, left everybody guessing as to what will be the next move by Hitler and the Nazis. I have found that many people think that he will threaten, as well as Scandinavia, Switzerland and also the Netherlands and Belgium. I, personally, am not so much of this opinion. We must not forget that Hitler is hindered in doing so by just the thing he needs most. Hitler and the Nazis need gasoline and they need oil. Any move on Scandinavia or Switzerland would give them not one drop of oil, but would cost them a great deal that would have to be expended on planes, tanks and submarines. Besides that, if they could get Scandinavia, we could easily see that Russia would immediately extend pressure on Hitler to help finish the Finns, and Germany would have to do so because Russia would immediately stop sending the few things she is getting over. I know Russia cannot send much, for any little amount sent over is extremely important for the Germans, so they will have to help the Russians jockey themselves into a position in Scandinavia. The Nazis would have got no further and they would still have to occupy that territory to keep it down. They would have the difficulty of a new front in the north without more oil.
The same with Switzerland. It would be very difficult to take Switzerland and if they take it, it will mean many losses and they will have gained no gasoline.
Belgium and the Netherlands are maybe a little more important to the Nazis and Hitler, because if he can get the Netherlands he has moved his lines nearer to England. It will be easier for him to send over his bombing squadrons. But will he have the gasoline to send them over? What is the use of shortening the mileage if they have no oil? I beg you to remember the war in Poland. Hitler wanted to show that he could go over Poland in the shortest time. They spent gasoline in enormous amounts and it
is my private opinion that one of the reasons Hitler has not moved until now is that he is already feeling the lack of oil enormously.
If Hitler takes the Netherlands, and I say it is possible, what will happen when he has expended the last of his oil? Then the counter attack will be launched and they will be thrown out as quickly as they have entered. There is no chance of taking the Netherlands and of holding them if they have not oil, and there is no chance of a real attack against France, or against the Maginot Line if they run out of oil. They need enormous supplies and these supplies are not there. Germany needed in peacetime, about 7,000,000 metric tons of oil, and produced only about 500,000 herself. She has not got Polish oil.
Now, after Stalin made the terrible blunder with Finland, they used their pressure to get Polish oil, but Poland could not supply them. The only country that could supply oil is Rumania, and therefore I think it is rather certain that the next move of Hitler and the Nazis will be to get hold of this Rumanian oil. They must have oil or they will give in very soon. We know, that is to say, the organizations that are under Hitler know, perfectly well that they had no provisions, no supplies stored up, of oil in Austria and Czechoslovakia. We know, because they could get very little oil from Poland, that the Germans must have run out almost by now. If they do not get this oil in the quickest time they have no chance to win the war. Even if they get Rumanian oil, it is very questionable whether they will win, because, I beg you to remember, in the Great War the Polish oil fields were then in Austrian possession, and the Rumanian oil fields were taken also when the Central Powers occupied Rumania, nevertheless it did not help to win the last war. It will not help then, if they get Rumania, to win this war, but it might give Hitler some victories, and he might try on the basis of his victories to come to a better peace and to keep out of the hole he has manoeuvred himself into. Rumania is the country that Germany must get. The Balkans are only an addition, a rather disagreeable addition, for Hitler. He has to calculate that a move into Rumania will set the Balkans on fire. Before the Great War there were two countries that tried to get the Hegemony in the Balkans. That was Austria-Hungary and Russia. After the Great War, Austria-Hungary was dissolved and Russia, through her Bolshevist experiment, got so weak that she dropped out entirely from the Balkans. Instead of these two former rivals there came two new countries looking for the supremacy in the Balkans-Germany and Italy. For Italy, the Balkans are absolutely necessary. Italy is a country situated in the Mediterranean and her sole interest is the Mediterranean and the markets of the Mediterranean. If they cannot get the Balkans as a market, Italy will perish in the long run, and Mussolini 'knows it perfectly well. Nevertheless, duped by Hitler, and weakened through the Abyssinian conflict, he had to see y; Germany march in. He had to give in when Austria was taken.
I am not quite certain and especially I cannot prove it at the moment, but all our information indicated formerly that Mr. Mussolini had been promised by Mr. Hitler that Austria would never be incorporated into the German Reich. Nevertheless, Hitler incorporated Austria and the German forces were then moved up, and Mussolini got through this absolutely dependent on Hitler, and he had to dance as Mr. Hitler piped. But I know the Italians resented it very much. The first time they began to move openly against Hitler and German supremacy in the Balkans was when they took Albania. There they showed clearly that they were not willing to leave the Balkans to Germany, but they were still too weak and in too great a danger to do it quite openly.
Now, Hitler has committed this absolutely frightful blunder of calling Soviet Russia in, and with that Hitler eliminated with one stroke any aspirations of the Germans for the Balkans and he made Italy opposed and still more strongly opposed to the Germans. For Russia came in as a new competitor. Mighty Russia, as it was believed. People who knew Russia from the inside knew that it was only propaganda, that Russia was very, very weak. Nevertheless, Russia was a very dangerous enemy, and even more dangerous than Germany, because you have in the Balkans a lot of Slav nations who would be far more willing to join to a Slav Russia than to a Prussian Germany.
Now, Mr. Stalin proved that he can be just as good a blunderer as Mr. Hitler. He started war with Finland, and he showed how weak Russia really is, with the result that Mussolini, and he is a very clever player, has now something in his grasp that he had lost formerly. That is the Balkans and the supremacy in the Balkans. Germany cannot dare to move now against Italy into the Balkans. Russia has shown how weak she is, and Italy can now get that supremacy that she wants.
Maybe, people will say that the Axis will hold strong again and that Mussolini will try to give to Hitler again a chance in the Balkans. I beg you to remember that Italy is not going to jockey Germany back into a position where she could be a rival in the Balkans. What Mussolini gained so easily he will not lose without a heavy fight and you see him already preparing. Italy is trying to do the following: Since 1936 Italy, Hungary and Jugoslavia have been trying to get into an alliance to stop German influence in the Balkans. The disagreeable thing for these three countries was that they had to keep their plans very secret because as soon as the Germans would know that there was coming a new alliance, a new power bloc, they would rush in and they would gulp up one country after another. So the Italian, Hungarian and Jugoslavian diplomacy was managed unofficially, and not officially, and the great difficulty again was that no one trusted the other. Every one was afraid that the other would betray the state of affairs to Mr. Hitler, and so their moves were very, very slow.
That was, of course, at a time when Germany was enormously strong. Now, Germany is very weak, so weak that it could not start a war against these three countries at the centre. Therefore, you have seen Mr. Mussolini move immediately and try to get this Neutrality Bloc together, with Hungary and Jugoslavia. I am not able to tell you whether this Neutrality Bloc is already safe. The only thing which I can tell you is that in my opinion all the diplomats from all the countries do overtime work--on the one hand, to make this new Bloc exist, and on the other, to destroy it before it comes into existence. The Germans will do everything to destroy this Neutrality Bloc, because if this Bloc is there Germany can as good as say "Goodbye" to any drop of Rumanian oil, and with that, too, the smallest chance of victory. I doubt if Germany could last longer than April with the stock of oil she has. If she doesn't get Rumanian oil she is finished, so she must go at this Neutrality Bloc before it becomes existent.
Germany can play her hand as she has done until now, by using the minorities. In the Balkans we have dozens of small peoples, all of whom are dissatisfied with the present regime. They would be dissatisfied with any regime, so it is always very easy to send money down there to bribe this man or that man and to start some sort of revolution, and all the governments, with the smallest exceptions, are not certain how long they will last. They have to rely on one party or the other, on one nation or the other, and even this is not quite certain, because there is quite a lot of propaganda going on there.
I read not so long ago in the press that King Carol was given the firm oath of allegiance by the people of Bessarabia as well as the Hungarians, and I am awfully sorry, but I don't think this is to be relied on. I know the Hungarians, and the people in Bessarabia and how the people there opposed to the present regime try to drag Rumania into a war, hoping to get rid of Rumania this way. I know, on the other hand, that King Carol is a very clever politician, and he knows that he cannot rely on the promises of the Nazis. Nobody can rely on them--you know that perfectly well. I have heard that also from the Hungarians. The Hungarians are just as opposed to joining Germany as the Rumanians are. It is just the same with the people of Jugoslavia. They know perfectly well if Germany should win they would lose every trace of their freedom, a freedom which is very dear to them. They may be dissatisfied with their regime or any regime, but they prize their freedom very highly. All these countries will fight if their freedom is endangered, and it would be endangered if the Germans moved into Rumania.
Can this move be stopped? Germany wishes, now that Russian weakness is shown in Finland, to push troops at the Rumanian frontier, and it is a grave danger that the Germans will enter Rumania from the north. But it would not help very much. They have only one railway there and the Germans couldn't get very much out from Rumania this way. The only possible way to get Rumanian oil is to go through Hungary, and that means at present dragging Italy into a war, because we know Italy will not stand Germany getting hold of Rumanian oil and of the supremacy in the Balkans at the same time.
Italy has already deceived Germany in one great hope. The Germans never thought that the Italians would help them in the war, but they thought the Italians might stop the shipments of oil from Mesopotamia and the Irak. That has not been done. The Allies are receiving oil in great quantities and if you remember the saying that the last war was won on a sea of oil, you will know how important that is. Italy has not hindered these shipments until now, but Italy is going to hinder Germany from getting the Rumanian oil. For Italy needs this oil herself and she is not going to give to Germany these several millions of metric tons that Rumania is able to produce. And just as Germany needed it in peace time, it is absolutely certain that Rumania and Hungary need oil also. It is absolutely certain that the Balkans need this oil as well as Germany, so, even at the worst, if the Germans get hold of Rumania they would never get as much oil as they really need, even for peace time. To get hold of Rumanian oil they have to get Hungary. To move from the north into Rumania would not help.
How does Hungary stand? I know one of the gentlemen in the Cabinet over there. I spoke to him before I left Austria and I questioned him regarding the stand of the Hungarians in the coming war, because it was quite certain for us that the war would come. I was very much intrigued to see this gentleman wearing the badge of the Swastika, showing thereby that he was pro-Nazi. I know the man very well and we had saved our lives when we fled and escaped from Siberia, so I could rely absolutely on him. I said, "What does the swastika flag mean?" He said, "Well, do you think we are going to suffer the same fate as Austria? Do you know what possibilities there are for a man who lives next to an elephant? There are only two possibilities for him. Either he angers the elephant, in which case he will be trampled to death, or he tickles -his belly. Well, we are tickling the belly of that elephant."
The Germans think they have the Hungarians in their pocket. The Hungarian is, first of all, a Hungarian. He may be in some ways subscribed to some of the doctrines of Naziism. In Hungary we have a peasantry that is so poor and so wanting to have a redistribution of ground, and that is promised by the Nazis, but even the poorest ', peasant is at heart a Hungarian, and as soon as Hungary is attacked he will stand up and fight, and they are wonderful fighters. You may remember the time after Munich when Slovakia was dealt out, with the Hungarians trying to get hold of part of Slovakia. They got hold of it and later on the Germans began to provoke riots. You read in your newspapers that Hungarian planes had bombed Slovakia. You did not hear the story, I presume that was behind it. First, the Germans tried to get hold of Slovakia, .at least the part that Hungary wanted, and they marched Slovakian soldiers over to Hungary, and planes. They were piloted by German pilots and they were all shot down in the shortest time. Germany stopped it because she saw that the Hungarians were superior-not in masses but in fighting spirit. I know that as soon as the Germans attack, the Hungarians will fight. They are only seven millions, but they are staunch fighters. I rate them at least as high as the Finns, to whom they are related. They are as staunch fighters and, just as the Finns, they are not given to bragging. They will prefer to die rather than give in.
Certainly Hungary is far more difficult to defend than Finland. Hungary is a vast plain, but in order to get hold of this vast plain, the Germans will need hundreds of thousands and they will have severe losses, Then when they have got the country, and I doubt if Hungary could withstand very long-I know from the Hungarian Army Officers how long they, themselves, think Hungary could fight -when they have got Hungary they will need a huge army of occupation to keep the Hungarians down, and that is the problem the Germans will have to face when they attempt to send oil from Rumania. This oil will have to go through Hungary. It will have to go through Austria. It will have to go through Czechoslovakia. And I think you know how inflammable oil is. The Germans have a very difficult question to get hold of Rumania without war--it seems impossible.
The other question is to get hold of Rumania, in spite of a war. The Rumanians are very clever politicians, and I have noted that after Russia had shown her weakness in Finland that King Carol immediately used the opportunity to show to Russia that he is not willing to concede Bessarabia.
I beg you to remember that Rumania has always managed to find the winning side. Even when she lost the war she was always on the side of the victor in the end. The straight opposition now to Stalin shows that Rumania knows perfectly well how things are going to go. At the moment the Rumanians are in a wonderful position. The Germans will do everything to get oil in a peaceful way. I think very soon we shall have the rather unique thing that Rumania will be guaranteed by the Allies, as well as by Germany. I can tell you that the Rumanians don't put any faith in a Nazi guarantee, but they will use it to gain their Marks. They are a rich country but they need, nevertheless, a lot of money and they can get very much from Germany. Whether this money in the end will be any good is another question but for the moment it will be of great use for political work in the Balkans and the Rumanians have a lot to spend it on. They must keep the Bulgarians quiet, and they must use the money as well to pacify Hungary, as well as to pacify Greece and Serbia.
Remember, please, that all these countries are mistrusting each other. All these countries wait for the moment that the other one falls and they have to have inside information and money is the best key for that. The Germans are providing this money. The Germans are providing as well, war materials. This could be used only against Russia, because Rumania is in the unhappy position not to be able to fight strongly against Germany because Rumania is cut up in two parts through the Carpathian Mountains, and the Germans could move very quickly if they once got Hungary.
Turkey plays quite another game. Turkey is not so vitally interested in the Balkans as formerly. Turkey needs two things: a free hand in Asia Minor, and that was formerly threatened by Italy, and the certainty that her country will not be attacked by Soviet Russia. Turkey has "had one great chance again. The Turks are the fathers "of diplomacy and they have used it very cleverly. They have got into close union with the Allies, knowing perfectly " well that this is sufficient to guarantee for them Asia Minor, and knowing perfectly well that Russia will never be a great danger. Russia could press on Turkey only through the Caucasian Mountains. The Russians have got one railway only, and then they are faced with as wild a 'country as in Finland.
Now, I know my Russians very well and I don't want to disparage them. I only want to tell that the Russians are perfect geniuses for disorganization. If they are going to start a war against Turkey in the Caucasian Mountains, they will have even less success than with Finland, so there is no danger that the Turks might be taken away from the Allies through being afraid of Russia. On the other hand the Turks cannot and will not allow the Germans to arrive in the Black Sea.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Rumanian oil is very important. I told you Rumania's output of oil is 7,000,000 metric tons. That is just as much as Germany needs in peace time. Germany needs far more oil than that and she can only get that oil from Rumania through Hungary. With the Caucasian Mountains as a barrier she can never get oil from Russia through Rumania. She can get it only over the Black Sea after having got Rumania, and there she clashes with the Turks. Therefore you will see that when Germany enters Rumania that the Turks will be fighting. We have again the situation that the Balkans, as soon as touched by anyone, would explode like a powder keg. All these little countries will fight. They fight first of all for their freedom. Second, they fight to gain a little bit more territory, because these people still live in the belief that they can take a country from someone else and run it and use the people there as slaves. It is an idea that is still running wild with the Prussians and still running wild in the Balkans. The people there will fight strongly and it looks as if the best fighters would be on the Allied side. The Jugoslavs remember very well the German occupation in the last great war. The Jugoslavs are wonderful fighters. We learned about them in the last war, we admired them then and we admire them now.
We know the feeling in Jugoslavia, because one of our organization was in Jugoslavia at a time when a British Squadron had come in and was in one of their ports. The whole town was beflagged. Everywhere you saw the Jugoslavian flag and the flag of the Allies waving. The Squadron left after a stay of three days and scarcely had it left when in came an Italian Squadron. Inside of half an hour all the flags had disappeared because the Jugoslavs dislike the Italians. Later on when the Germans had taken Austria they sent to Belgrade to impress them, a division of their fighting and bombing planes. At the same time Prince Paul left Belgrade to inspect another part of his province, so the reception had to be given by the Lord Mayor of Belgrade. He received them very nicely and the Commander of the German Air Squadron asked the Lord Mayor to give his permission that the Germans might have a concert in the street. They had brought a band along. The Lord Mayor declined very politely, saying that he was afraid that this band would be beaten up in the first five minutes, so he would ask them to desist from playing.
This is the difficulty in Jugoslavia. They don't like the Italians and they hate the Germans. One part of Jugoslavia, Croatia, is playing and has played always a proGerman game, and the Germans will use this minority to hinder Jugoslavia from getting into close touch with Italy. Hungary may be relied upon if Italy will send troops. I know the general opinion of the Italian fighting qualities. I know that the Italians are not rated extremely high, but in the present war it is very important to get the Italian air power on the side of Hungary, because that would stop Germany.
Germany cannot go through--I repeat it again and again because it is so important--before she has got hold of Hungary, and that can only be done by a flash war, by a "blitzkreig", though it will cost Germany a lot before she can get oil.
Will these gamblers try and play this one card? I know Hitler is very highly estimated outside. It is likely he is taken at his own valuation, and he values himself very high. The Germans will rush into Hungary when they know that a flash war will bring them victory. Will it bring in Italy? This is the question, I think, which is now behind the whole game. If it brings Italy against the Germans then a flash war and a success in Hungary does not help any, because with Italy in war comes the possibility to enter Austria and that would present no difficulties because Austria would be only too glad to see the Allies march in.
Will their gamble start a war, bringing Italy against them, with the faint chance that they will get Rumanian oil, just sufficient to go along, with the possibility of getting later on oil from the Caucasian Mountains?
I beg you to remember, Ladies and Gentlemen, that to ship all these things you must calculate with about four to five months. It takes four to five months to send oil from the Caucasian Mountains to Berlin. Will it help? =I think not. But I think just as well that these inveterate gamblers will try everything before they give up because they know when they crash they will crash entirely. There will come a terrible revolution that will sweep them all away. There is no chance for them so they play for their own lives. They will try every move possible and the move that gives them the best possibility of success is in the Balkans, but they must move very quickly. The Danube is frozen up until the end of April. If they want to get oil up the Danube they can get it only after April and they need to start with their new offensive in the west about this time. They may keep the Allies stalemated over there but every day there is no decision in the west is a day won. Every day more and more planes are put out by the Allies. Every day they get stronger, and even if the Nazis get oil they will be then inferior with their planes.
You see, Hitler is in a terrible hole, and I think they already realize it inside of Germany. I had information the last time that the feeling in Germany is getting very bad. They expect results and that is another thing that will push Hitler to do something.
I wish to express once more that this is only my personal opinion, but I think before Easter time we shall see the development in the Balkans, because Hitler must get oil and he must get hold of the railways and of the trucks, and it won't be delivered to him without force.
I repeat that I do not think that Hitler, when he gets the oil, will be victorious, because Germany will crumble from the inside, but I think they will try everything before they absolutely crash. I thank you. (Applause)
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and Gentlemen, we are very much indebted to Dr. Maresch for the excellent review that he has given us of the probable trend of events in the Balkans, and the obstacles to be overcome, and the necessity of Germany obtaining those vital sources of oil to further her aims. We can quite well appreciate this fact in view of the high state of mechanization of the armies of today. Coming so shortly after the excellent address of Mr. Hanson Baldwin, with his keen observation from the outside, of possible European movements, the Club is fortunate in having the views of one who knows from the inside the mental outlook of the peoples of Europe, and his forecast of the possible trend of events in the Balkans.
Dr. Maresch, I take much pleasure in extending to you, on behalf of the Members of the Empire Club, our hearty thanks and appreciation for your splendid address. (Applause)
Before closing I would like to read to you a letter recently received from Sir William Mulock, acknowledging a message sent on the occasion of Sir William's 95th birthday from the Empire Club. Sir William replied, as follows:
"Your kind telegram on behalf of the Empire Club has deeply touched me. I would like you to make known to the Club how grateful I am for their good wishes.
(Signed) William Mulock."