This map is part of a series of 19 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations, 1918-1942
After four long years of devastating war, symbol of the decline of Europe’s importance in the world, the victorious Allies – France, United Kingdom, Italy and the United States – negotiated a series of treaties in 1919 and 1920 and, in the process, redrew the continent’s national frontiers.
After their defeat, the authoritarian empires disintegrated. The first to fall was the Russian Empire. In order to end the war, Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 and handed over a large number of territories to the West. The German and Austro-Hungarian Empires in Central Europe were then dismantled. The Treaty of Versailles amputated a number of regions from Germany, and Eastern Prussia was isolated from the rest of the German territory. Meanwhile, the Treaties of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and of Trianon put an end to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many regions were lost and Austria and Hungary, their territory substantially reduced, became two separate nations.
Last, the Ottoman Empire was stripped of much of its territory and only allowed to keep a small foothold in Europe.
Recognizing the right to ‘national self-determination’, as stated in the “Fourteen Points” outlined by President Wilson of the United States, the treaties created independent states for minority populations previously part of the fallen empires. In northern Europe were created Finland and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Poland, which had disappeared at the end of the 18th century, was reconstituted. Then two new multi-national states were created: Czechoslovakia for the Northern Slavs (Czechs and Slovaks); and Yugoslavia for the Southern Slavs (Slovenians, Croats and Serbs).
Among the victors, several countries increased their territory: France regained Alsace and Lorraine. Italy acquired Trentino and Trieste, Romania was given Bess Arabia and Transylvania. Denmark obtained the northern part of Schleswig, while Greece extended its frontiers to cover large territories in Bulgaria and Turkey.
At the end of the war, it appeared that liberal democracy and collective security had triumphed. The new states were founded as parliamentary regimes based on universal suffrage such as the Weimar Republic in Germany. During the peace negotiations, the American President stressed the importance of disarmament and of using diplomacy for the resolution of conflict, thus paving the way for the creation of the League of Nations, as foreseen in the treaties.
Nevertheless, the treaties did not just reshape Europe, but also established a new balance of power in favour of the victors, especially France which was eager to secure its boundaries by weakening Germany. Yet the creation of new nations did not resolve all the difficulties relating to national minorities.