The creators of the peace structure

Brief summary

The victors invoked the principle of “national self-determination”, but their decisions bore no trace of this.

In chateaus and palaces around Paris, the victorious powers were quick to set about redrawing the maps of Europe and the world. The slogan chosen to feature as the peace structure’s most important principle in sonorous pronouncements was “national self-determination”. This promised the nations of Europe and the rest of the world that they could decide their own destinies. That promise remained unfulfilled. At the peace talks the principle of national self-determination was only adhered to when it coincided with the interest of the victors; but it did not apply in relation to the empires and countries declared to have lost, or to national minorities under the rule of the victorious allies – or indeed to the native peoples of their colonies. Unlike peace treaties agreed after earlier European wars, the interests of the defeated countries were ignored – indeed the true aim was to break and humiliate them. Another unparallelled approach was the blanket stigmatisation of the vanquished as war criminals, while efforts were made to break down their national pride in every way possible.



„The Versailles peace system is the key to World War II.”
Lucian Boia


„Wilhelm II lost the war. Clemenceau lost the peace.”
Ferdinand Foch


„This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”
Ferdinand Foch


„This peace did more damage to the world than the war had.”
Count Pál Teleki


„But injustice, arrogance, displayed in the hour of triumph will never be forgotten or forgiven.”
David Lloyd George


„Force is right.”
Georges Clemenceau


„There will be never be peace in South-Eastern Europe if every little state now coming into being is to have a large Magyar population within its borders.”
David Lloyd George


„The old order must be abolished and the new one erected in its place.”
Woodrow Wilson


„Italy will not give up Fiume without a fight.”
Vittorio Emanuele Orlando


I can see the hubris and folly of the victors.
Thomas Mann



Title page of Act XXXIII/1921, ratifying the Treaty of Trianon,
signed by Miklós Horthy and István Bethlen

(Hungarian National Archives, authorised facsimile)


Writing set, with lidded inkstand

(Ministry of Defence, Military History Institute and Museum)


Repatriation certificate
Passport of the Kingdom of Hungary

(László Makai, authorised facsimiles) 



Further rooms

An entire era is lowered into the grave

Franz Joseph’s death was felt as a tragedy by his contemporaries.

Back from the front

The military casualties of the war numbered 10 million dead and 21 million wounded.

The creators of the peace structure

The victors invoked the principle of “national self-determination”, but their decisions bore no trace of this.

The dawn of the American century

After World War I the United States took over the leading role in world politics from Europe.

Europe in tumult

The continent’s victors and vanquished alike faced similar problems: everyday life was overshadowed by social unrest and economic hopelessness.

The Spanish flu pandemic

In three devastating waves, the pandemic killed over twenty million people: more than twice the number of soldiers killed in the war.

The league of nations

The organisation founded at President Wilson’s initiative was the first attempt at peaceful resolution of the world’s conflicts.

Red terror

Violence and intimidation were from the very start the essence of communist dictatorships.

The Leninist model

Attempts at transforming European societies and the threat of a communist world revolution posed a serious challenge to European states.

Changes – 1914–1922

“Divide and rule!” The victors redrew the world map in a way that would possibly perpetuate ethnic and religious conflicts.

In the shadow of Trianon

The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy plunged the Kingdom of Hungary into its deepest crisis since the Ottoman occupation.