Conferences for the creation of a "Federation of Balkan People" in the interwar years and the role of Greek masonry (1930-1934)

The signing of Balkan Pact February 8, 1934

author: Filistor I.B.D

After the end of World War I there was a vigorous political movement to create broader international institutions that would lead people in closer consultation and cooperation, but mainly would remove the possibility of new wars, through a transnational arbitration. One such organization was the League of Nations (forerunner of the UN), under the auspices of the victors of the First World War (USA, UK, France). In the Balkans a similar initiative was developed in the late 1930s to create a Balkan federation of all Nations of the peninsula including Turkey. The first formal discussions took place in early October 1929 in Athens and Delphi which met the 27th World Congress of Peace.


Each Balkan country came to debate with a different approach, which was a mirror of its national aspirations. Yugoslavia aimed for a Balkan consultation in the economic field with an international character aiming in a commercial outlet to the Aegean via Thessaloniki (there was the signing of an agreement with the dictatorship of Pangalos that Venizelos refused to ratify). Romania gave more importance to a cultural approach of the Balkan peoples. The representatives of Bulgaria had as priority the respect of the rights of Bulgarian minorities in Dobrudja and in Western Thrace. The Greek side had as a leader and visionary Alexandros Papanastasiou, who advocated a federation of independent nations that will solidify peace between them and organize their cooperation in all levels (economic, cultural, etc.). Because Bulgaria's representatives made it as a condition for participation in a future conference the respect of minorities, concealing an intimate aspiration in Macedonia, Papanastasiou accepted the first conference to discuss this principle. Greek prime minister Venizelos was cautious towards the idea, although he admitted that independent personalities could open the way for a Balkan agreement.

Alexandros Papanastasiou
After some time, followed the conference in Athens (October 1930), Konstantinople (October 1931) and Bucharest (October 1932). The results of these conferences were insignificant mainly due to the different goals of the participating delegates. It was clear that at least Bulgaria clearly aimed to achieve a revision of the Balkans territorial status qvo and to ensure an outlet to the Aegean. The remaining representatives simply tried to promote the aspirations of their governments which also were involved in the selection of representatives in these conferences. At these conferences committees were organized to examine the Balkan interstate relations by category, but the outcomes of their work were expressed in general terms and they were not unanimous. On the other hand their work could not commit their governments. It is also significant that even in the issues that were unanimously approved (Postal Union, legal equality of the sexes, the right of married women to choose their nationality, establishing Balkan rural Chamber) no agreement could be signed and nothing could be applied  because the participants could not represent their governments as the character of the conference was unofficial.

The leader and main animator of the whole activity from Greek side was undoubtedly Papanastasiou, who believed in international solidarity, but also in the possibility that multinational regional organizations could increase transnational understanding. On the other hand, a significant promoter of union of Balkan peoples was the Greek masonry, which always supported transnational cooperation ideas since the time of Rigas Velestinlis, and later with ideas for a Greek-Turkish cooperation on the basis of recognition of political rights of minorities inside the Ottoman Empire. According to the researcher of Greek masonry Mr. John Loukas, the Greek tectonism in the context of 1930 mainly represented the commercial and urban big bourgeoisie that was trying to find a way for economical activity in the Balkans, and may be an indirect return to Asia Minor and Constantinople, where Greek capital interests were destroyed in 1922. The processes were initiated in "Gallery of Great East" in 1929 before the Conference of peace, with participation Yugoslavs and European politicians, such as C. Pagialovits Great Teacher and Deputy Senate Lafontaine Grand Master of the Grand Orient. Their contacts were made in Athens and Thessaloniki and were organized by Papanastasiou.

Papanastasiou himself was a senior officer of the "Grand Lodge of the East", and as an Anglophile, believed that Freemasonry leads every society to republic and he also appreciated tectonism in its universal dimension. When he took over as Prime Minister in 1932 for only a few daws, he tried to make the next Balkan Conference a tectonic hypothesis as he thought this would help its success. On May 5, 1932 at a high level Masonic conference with the presence of members of the Athenian tectonic galleries "Ypsilanti", "Acropolis" and "Korais" on the steps of Greek Freemasonry to promote peace and cooperation in the Balkans, Papanastasiou was the keynote speaker. He developed his views on the kind of Balkan cooperation that would ensure peace in the region, described the Union of Balkan people as the new "big idea" of Hellenism which should be supported publicly by the Greek tectonism.
Signs of freemasonry

The fourth conference was held in Thessaloniki in 1933 and was primarily devoted to discussions for a customs union of the Balkan countries and a contract for a mutual economic understanding. At the end of the conference, Papanastasiou spoke about a "political approach reached" and about "steps made forward" but nothing substantial has been done as all agreements were ignored by the governments of the Balkan countries. Finally all efforts of the conferences were exploited partially by only four Balkan states with the signing of a Balkan Pact on February 8, 1934 in Athens. The Balkan Pact mainly concerned the effort of States favored the retention of the existing territorial arrangement (Greece, Turkey, Romania, Yugoslavia), abstained Bulgaria, and Albania who had joined the realm of influence of Italy. The first article of the agreement tried to secure the borders between the Parties and the second provided a series of "soft" obligations of the parties to avoid military engagement in the Balkans. It is obvious that the conferences that preceded had not contributed one word to the formation of the Pact which was merely a luce defensive alliance against possible military developments not seemed so distant.

The pact was signed by Greek Prime Panagis Tsaldaris, but from the beginning found many opponents inside and outside Greece. Abroad, Italy and Germany as revisionist forces denounced the agreement, while England had reservations as the pact apparently degrade the TRC who had already lost a lot of ground in diplomatic and political developments of the time. The reception of the Covenant in Greece was particularly negative by Venizelos and the opposition, as was suspected that this defense agreement did not influence only the Balkans as Italy of Mousolini, at that time emerged as a superpower in the region. At the same time the view of the Greek "Liberals" was important, because they were able to block the ratification of the agreement as they had a majority in the Senate. The undermine of the pact came through the statement of the Greek Foreign Minister Maximos, who said that the defense pact concerned only the Balkan countries between each other and the statement of Turkish Foreign Minister who said that the pact does not bind Turkey in case of Romanian-Hungary War. These statements immediately reduced the power of the pact, while the negative attitude of the Romanian Prime Titouleskou further reduced expectations of the Pact.

Resources

John Luke, History of Greek masonry, Papazisis editions

Areti - Tounta - Fergadi, Topics of Greek diplomatic history (1912-1934), Paratiritis editions

Constantine Svolopoulos, The Greek Foreign Policy 1900-1945 (Volume One) versions "bookshop of Estia"

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