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Europe in the 1920s

This map is part of a series of 19 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations, 1918-1942.

After the war, all parties hoped for a period of peace and democracy in Europe but these hopes were soon to be disappointed.

The destruction caused by the war left many European countries having to cope with serious difficulties. Many found themselves facing an economic and financial crisis which led to unemployment, reduced living conditions and a general situation of vulnerability.

In Russia, Lenin’s Bolsheviks had taken power and founded the COM intern (the Third International) in 1919 with the aim of exporting Communism to the rest of Europe. First they encouraged insurrections in Germany and Hungary and strikes in other countries, such as Italy. Although these revolutionary actions failed, the general public recognized the threat that these events represented; the fear that they generated led to the rise of extreme right-wing parties.

In the new European countries, many people were dissatisfied with the imposed frontiers and resentment further undermined the new democratic regimes and Europe’s security.

The countries defeated during the war had difficulty accepting the terms of the peace treaties, particularly in Austria and Hungary whose territory had been drastically reduced. In Germany, where the population rejected the “diktat” of Versailles, the Weimar Republic was challenged by extreme right-wing movements, monarchists and National Socialists, who saw democracy as a symbol of defeat and wanted to revise the treaties.

Despite being in the group of Allied victors, Italy was also dissatisfied. When it entered the war, Italy had received certain promises, but had to renounce its claims to part of the Dalmatian coast and to a number of islands in the Adriatic Sea which had been included in the new state of Yugoslavia.  As a result, Italian nationalists began to talk of a ‘mutilated victory’. Taking advantage of this frustration, Mussolini created the Fascist movement in Milan in 1919 and became prime minister in 1922.

Redrawing the frontiers had not resolved the problems relating to national minorities, such as German-speaking inhabitants living in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Hungarians a third of whom were no longer living within the borders of their country, and Croats who objected to being dominated by Serbs in the new Yugoslavia.

Further problems over minority populations and contested regions created tensions between others countries: Poland and Germany over Upper Silesia, Germany and Lithuania over the city of Memel, while Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey squabbled over the region of Thrace.

All these problems further undermined the new democracies created by the war and led to a wave of authoritarian regimes, beginning in Hungary and Italy, and spreading to Central and Southern European states during the 1920s. Within a very short period, the rule of liberal democracy was substantially reduced.

Between 1924 and 1929, the continent experienced a new period of relative stability, thanks to better economic conditions and fresh attempts to establish international detente by the League of Nations, particularly after Germany became a member in 1926. But before long, Europe became victim to the Great Depression, following the Wall Street Crash in October 1929.