VOL. 173 No. 5165

LONDON, MAY 6th, 1939




A Leading Article on the Polish Tension


Compulsory Military Service in England RELIGION IN MEXICO TODAY

Further Impressions by Evelyn Waugh RUMANIA’S CHOICE By Our Central European Correspondent

Full List o f Contents on page 572.


The Axis of 1936 in 1939

When Herr von Ribbentrop arrives in Italy for discussions with Count Ciano, the points of view to be reconciled cover a wide field. The Italians find themselves in a difficult position over Poland, a country with which they have had very friendly relations. Hungary is their common link, for both want to see Hungary enjoying a genuine independence.

The Germans, in their conversations with Count Teleki, the Hungarian Prime Minister, have been encouraging Hungarian hopes for the return of Slovakia, taken from Hungary by the Peace Treaties. But the Italians were more encouraging, and the Hungarians remember that they did succeed, after Munich, in getting their common frontier with Poland. Why should they not now obtain Slovakia, with Polish and Italian goodwill and German acquiescence ? Slovakia, at present loosely attached to the Reich, must belong, sooner or later, to the Reich or to some other considerable political unit. It is thought that the Germans may agree, as they agreed to the common frontier, from the calculation that the basic fact about Central European life, that the Magyars of the Danubian plain must find their national existence in full cooperation with the Germans, is as true now as through the past centuries, and that, whatever the Hungarians are allowed to acquire, the Carpathian Ukraine or Slovakia, will not be thereby removed from German influence.

The Italian dilemma about Poland is this, that the Italians are equally unwilling either to see Germany checked to the diminution of the standing of the Axis with the smaller Powers, or to see Poland reduced to dependent status. The Italian Press, in marked contrast with the German, writes moderately about Poland, blames Britain a good deal, and is not very violent about France, with whom fruitful negotiations in the Mediterranean are envisaged.

The underlying truth, behind all the assertions that the Axis is as solid as ever, is that conditions have changed enormously since the Axis was first made. It was made in the autumn of 1936, when Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Eden were in charge of British foreign policy, and there seemed little prospect of any improved relations, since the British political opposition were yet more markedly hostile. M. Blum and the French Popular Front had just come into power, and the Franco-Soviet Pact was at the height of its popularity. Neither Britain nor France were properly armed, and it was a reasonable, if a sanguine and, in the event, most fallacious calculation that the weaknesses of their political systems and increasing internal friction would prevent them from establishing effective national unity. In the lurid light cast by the civil war in Spain, the internal weakness of France was greatly exaggerated in Fascist Italy, since men everywhere too easily believe that regimes of which they disapprove must ruin the people who adopt them. When the Axis was formed, Germany had successfully reoccupied the Rhineland, had guaranteed Austria, and was prepared to give useful backing to the Italians in Spain, backing which was perhaps decisive in preventing the Blum Government from intervening openly on the other side. Today all this is changed. Any hopes of easy acquisitions in Africa because of democratic weakness have had to be written off. The Spanish uncertainty has been removed, but Germany has become Italy’s immediate neighbour, and increasingly preponderant in the Axis. A very different alternative policy presents i ts e lf ; if the Italians occupied more of a middle position, they would be very happily placed as the essential middle link between Britain and France and the Balkan countries. While the Italians, as their leader clearly said, believe in peace and need it at this time, the worst foreign policy they could conduct would be one which would weaken the only friendship they enjoy, without securing them anything as firm in