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League of Nations 101: Hungarian Diplomats next to the League during the 1920s


The League of Nations 101 is a series that historically analyze the work of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was the first international organization that has aimed to control international affairs and, in order to achieve that, it launched its own international bureaucracy. Through its main organs (the Secretariat, the Assembly and the Council) it was able to form a new, multilateral system by the end of the 1920s.

The League of Nations 101 series' aim is to examine the system-level operations, the possible strategies used by state representations and the activities of the people that were operating the system or intended to prevail in it, as well as to find the place of the League of Nations in the history of diplomacy and international institutions.

The series are divided into the following chapters:

5. Hungarian Diplomats Next to the League in the 1920s

6. The League's Specialized Agencies

7. Biggest Successes of the League of Nations

8. Biggest Failures of the League of Nations

9. The League of Nations VS the United Nations

10. The League of Nations' Place in the History of International Institutions and Bureaucracy

As stated in the previous article, national representations next to the League were usually based on multiple grounds. Regarding the Hungarian representation, its two strongest points were the Hungarian office in Geneva, and the state delegation arriving to the meetings of the Assembly and the Council.

The Hungarian foreign office intended to establish a Hungarian representation alongside the League of Nations as soon as possible. This became the Geneva Secretariat, established under the auspices of the Hungarian Embassy in Bern in February 1921. The Hungarian Foreign Minister Gusztáv Gratz appointed Mihály Réz to set up and lead the representation to be established. At his request, Zoltán Baranyai became his deputy. (Réz, 1921) The name of the office became "Royal Hungarian Secretariat Next to the League of Nations" (Baranyai, 1921) Its task was to mediate between the League of Nations and the Hungarian government and other Hungarian organizations, to carry out initiatives, and to obtain and disseminate information on the League.

The portrait of Mihály Réz.éz_Mihály#/media/Fájl:Réz_Mihály.png

Mihály Réz was a well-know ideologist and a confident of the late Prime Minister, István Tisza, (Szabó) and the Geneva office was established due to the plans of Mihály Réz. (Réz) After his death, the office was led by his deputy, Zoltán Baranyai, a talented university professor familiar with minority issues as well. (5) With Baranyai, an intellectual was appointed next to the League of Nations who did not study to be a diplomat, and neither his family background nor his private capital could rival that of most diplomats of the era. He owed his career to his expertise, his self-created networks, his knowledge of the League of Nations’ system, and his attitude to Hungarian affairs, especially to the minority issue. Clear success can be found in these and in the fact that he was able to assess very quickly how the Hungarian goals could be enforced in the forum of the League of Nations. By contrast Pál Hevesy, who took over the leadership of the secretariat in 1926, (Baranyai, 1923) was a professional diplomat from a wealthy family – although he worked with great enthusiasm he also built a good working relationship with Baranyai, who also remained in his seat and continued his work.

During the 1920s, the Secretariat became an important office due to the central role of the League of Nations and Geneva and the fact that the Secretariat’s leaders were well acquainted with the operation of the system, understood, and spoke the language used by the League of Nations, and had a constantly growing network of personal contacts. They were also able to interpret the League’s operation towards the leaders of the Hungarian foreign policy. While, on the other hand, the staff of the office also ‘translated’ the Hungarian foreign policy’s goals into the language and methods used by the League of Nations.

Mihály Réz and Zoltán Baranyai were the ones who managed to be able to comment on all the documents submitted to the League of Nations in advance and, if necessary, to improve them in accordance with the requirements of the League. (Baranyai, 1923) Hungarian diplomacy therefore had to accept that the materials it produced were sometimes formulated according to a different system of arguments in line with the ideas of the League, as well as that there were issues such as e.g., the territorial revision, which could not be brought before the League of Nations in any form. In this way, the League of Nations was able to function as a means of achieving Hungarian goals – this was successful in many cases in the 1920s, while often it was not.

Regarding the state delegations arriving to the sessions of the League, the most important Hungarian figure was the veteran politician and acknowledged rhetorician, Albert Apponyi, (Britannica, 2021) its permanent leader.

Count Albert Apponyi.

Examining the personnel composition of the representation - professional diplomats, experts from various sectors (minority affairs, military, law, etc.) and politicians also took an active part and helped each other's work. They followed a coordinated strategy, which was largely due to the strong action of the Geneva office in this regard.

In September 1923, only numbered seven people were members of the Hungarian delegation to the Assembly, (Actes, 1923) in the September 1930 Assembly the Hungarian government was represented by 21 people. As the number of delegates was limited to three, the other outgoing persons appeared in deputy, secretary and technical advisory positions. (Actes, 1930) This increasing number enabled the delegates to participate in the work of specialized committees in a more differentiated way – this ‘specialization’ allowed them to be more prepared having more detailed knowledge, to be more efficient and to develop a better and wider targeted network in order to achieve the Hungarian goals.

The members of the delegations varied on a case-by-case basis, depending on what topic came up and how important the topic or the particular trial was. However, the selection of the members of the delegation was, of course, not ad hoc and, for practical reasons, it also had permanent members. Such as the head of the delegation, the internationally recognised and highly respected Albert Apponyi, and the members of the Geneva Secretariat, Hevesy and Baranyai.

Thus, the cases, the procedures followed by the League and the negotiation methods and tactics used were as well known for them as the representatives of other states acting in similar cases, and as other international actors who were receptive to the issue, supported or opposed to the Hungarian cause. (Vladár, 1930)

Over the years, the Hungarian government has recognised this operation, therefore, it sought to send semi-permanent members to the meetings and, precisely because of the above, increased the number of outgoing delegations, quasi-specialising the participants. Thus, the delegates arriving in each case were able to follow the resolutions published on the given topic, current issues of debate, their status, potential supporters of Hungarian goals, and so forth.

In the 1920s key members of the Hungarian delegation to the League were Albert Apponyi permanent head of the delegation; his wife, Klotild Mensdorff-Pouilly; Gábor Tánczos, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Lajos Walko, the Minister of Foreign Affairs; from the diplomats Frigyes Korányi Jr., László Gajzágó, Antal Ullein-Reviczky and György Barcza; János Bud, the Minister of Finance; József Szterényi, former Minister of Trade, Colonel Géza Siegler, and the lawyer Ervin Vladár. (MTI, 1920-1944)

György Barcza.

In conclusion from the above list, it can be affirmed that the delegates were prepared and trained politicians, diplomats and professionals (the latter mainly from financial and military fields), familiar with the issues in question. Amongst them there is present both employees of a Hungarian Ministry and officials in foreign service. Many of these diplomats, rejecting an exclusive German orientation, took an active part in Prime Minister Miklós Kállay's search for a way out during World War II, and resigned one after the other following the appointment of Döme Sztójay’s puppet government in late 1944. (Antal, 1994) After 1945, during the communist regime, almost all of them were forced to emigrate and settled in different parts of the world. (Kozák)


1. Mihály Réz’s letter to Eric Drummond. Geneva, 26th February, 1921. League of Nations Archives R 574 (Communications with the Hungarian Government) 11/8609x/5742.

2. Zoltán Baranyai’s letter to Parcher Félix. Geneva, 19th September, 1921. Hungarian National Archives – State Archive (MNL OL) K 107 1. cs. 2. t. 41.

3. Szabó, Miklós: Réz Mihály. Múltunk.

4. The instruction of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rescript to Mihály Réz. MNL OL K 107 1.cs. 2. t. 55.

5. Zoltán Baranyai’s datasheet. Geneva, 14th May, 1923. MNL OL K 107 1. cs. 2. t. 154–155.

6. The letter of Zoltán Baranyai to Eric Drummond. Geneva, 1st May, 1926. League of Nations Archives R 574 (Communications with the Hungarian Government) 11/8609x/5742.

7. The letter of Zoltán Baranyai to Béla Török. Geneva, 23rd May, 1923. MNL OL K 107 1. cs. 2. t. 296.

8. Albert, Count Apponyi. Britannica.

9. Actes de la Quatrième Assemblée (1923). Séances Plenieres. Genève.

10. Actes de la Onzième Session Ordinaire de l’Assamblée (1930). Séances Plenieres. Compte Rendu des Débats Genève.

11. Vladár, Ervin (1930): Mi is az a Népszövetség? Magyar Külügyi Társaság, Budapest, Gergely R. Könyvkereskedése.

12. The reports of the Hungarian Telegraphic Agency (MTI).

13. See e.g.: The letter of György Bakách-Bessenyey (former Ambassador to Switzerland) to Miklós Kállay (former Prime Minister). From the inheritance of György Barcza. In: Antal, László (1994): Barcza György: Diplomataemlékeim. 1911–1945. Európa–História, Budapest, Vol. II. pp. 356–365.

14. See e.g.: Kozák, Péter: Baranyai Zoltán. Névpont.


3. The portrait of György Barcza. In: K.Z.: Barcza György a hírekben. Pusztazámor Online.


Author Photo

Lujza Varga

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