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10-08-2015, 16:59

Authoritarian States in Europe

Nowhere had the map of Europe been more drastically altered by World War I than in eastern Europe. The new states of Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia adopted parliamentary systems, and the preexisting kingdoms of Romania and Bulgaria gained new parliamentary constitutions in 1920. Greece became a republic in 1924. Hungary’s government was parliamentary in form but controlled by its landed aristocrats. Thus at the beginning of the 1920s, political democracy seemed well established. Yet almost everywhere in eastern Europe, parliamentary governments soon gave way to authoritarian regimes. Several problems helped create this situation. Eastern European states had little tradition of liberalism or parliamentary politics and no substantial middle class to support them. Then, too, these states were largely rural and agrarian. Many of the peasants were largely illiterate, and much of the land was still dominated by large landowners who feared the growth of agrarian peasant parties with their schemes for land redistribution. Ethnic conflicts also threatened to tear these countries apart. Fearful of land reform, Communist agrarian upheaval, and ethnic conflict, powerful landowners, the churches, and even some members of the small middle class looked to authoritarian governments to maintain the old system. Only Czechoslovakia, with its substantial middle class, liberal tradition, and strong industrial base, maintained its political democracy. In Spain, democracy also failed to survive. Fearful of the rising influence of left-wing elements in the government, Spanish military forces led by General Francisco Franco (1892–1995) launched a brutal and bloody civil war that lasted three years. Foreign intervention complicated the situation. Franco’s forces were aided by arms, money, and men from Italy and Germany, while the government was assisted by forty thousand foreign volunteers and trucks, planes, tanks, and military advisers from the Soviet Union. After Franco’s forces captured Madrid on March 28, 1939, the Spanish Civil War finally came to an end. General Franco soon established a dictatorship that favored large landowners, businessmen, and the Catholic clergy.