When the First World War formally ended in November 1918 with an Allied victory, three vast and centuries-old land empires – the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires – vanished from the map. A fourth, the Hohenzollern Empire, which had become a major land empire in the last year of the war when it occupied enormous territories in East-Central Europe, was significantly reduced in size, stripped of its overseas colonies, and transformed into a parliamentary democracy with what Germans across the political spectrum referred to as a “bleeding frontier” towards the East.
As a consequence of imperial collapse and the rise and clash of nationalist as well as Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik movements, an extensive arc of postwar violence stretched from Finland and the Baltic States through Russia and Ukraine, Poland, the borderlands of Austria, Hungary, and Germany, all the way through the Balkans into Anatolia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. This lecture will explore the effects of “1918” on the defeated states of Europe, drawing on comparisons between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. It will also seek to argue that the political agenda of the following three decades was very much set in the years between 1917 (Russian Revolutions) and 1923 (Lausanne Treaty). It was in this period, rather than in the Great War itself, that the ground was laid for the even more terrible conflict that began in 1939 / 41.