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Mitteleuropa and Paneuropa as ideas and networks during the interwar period (1922-1938) – an interview with Vibeke Sørensen Grant holder Gabriel Godeffroy

Posted on 19 November 2020

Gabriel Godeffroy, PhD candidate in History of International Relations at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University Paris 1, spent one month on a research stay at the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU) as a Vibeke Sørensen grant holder. His PhD project, supervised by Catherine Horel, Research Director at the French CNRS, studies the ideas and the network of the Hungarian economist Elemér Hantos (1880-1942). In this interview, Gabriel Godeffroy tells us more about his PhD project and his research stay at the HAEU.

How did you come up with this research topic?

Initially, I wanted to study the Pan-European movement of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi. I had been taught that the history of European integration started in 1945 and I was curious about the pre-History. When I met with Professor Éric Bussière, he told me that I should look into Central European integration and regional approaches to Pan-European integration, since various monographs had already been published on Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and his Pan-European movement. In this context, he introduced me to Elemér Hantos, Richard Riedl and Gustav Gratz. Because Elemér Hantos was also involved in the Pan-European movement, I decided to look into his life, even though I had never been to Hungary before and did not know the language. Basically, this is how I came up with my current research topic. I started working on the life and ideas of Elemér Hantos during my master’s studies at the Sorbonne University Paris 4. Later, as part of my master’s studies in European Affairs at Sciences Po Paris, I compared the Pan-European ideas of Elemér Hantos to those of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and Jean Monnet. Now, I am writing my PhD thesis on the Central European and Pan-European ideas and networks of Elemér Hantos during the interwar period.

What did you expect to find at the HAEU to conduct your research?

I applied to the Vibeke Sørensen Grant because I wanted to consult a series of photocopies of the Pan-European archives available at the HAEU. The original documents of the Pan-European archives are currently stored at the Russian State Military Archives in Moscow. Only a few researchers have studied the Pan-European archives at the Russian State Military Archives. I am planning on going to Moscow, but my research trip is on stand-by because of the current sanitary crisis.

The story behind the archives of the Pan-European Union is quite interesting. The headquarters of the Pan-European movement were in Vienna and, when Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany in 1938, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi had to flee and left almost everything behind. The Pan-European archives were then stolen by Nazi Germany officials and brought to Berlin, where they were kept at the headquarters of the Gestapo. When Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi died in 1972, he believed that these archives had been destroyed after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. But actually, when the Red Army liberated Berlin in 1945, the Pan-European archives were transferred to Moscow. The archives of the Pan-European movement were however rediscovered at the end of the 1980s when the Soviet Union started opening up to the West.

After reading the inventory, I knew that I would find a correspondence between Elemér Hantos and Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, but I was not expecting to find much more. Since the Pan-European archives are composed of approximately 1830 folders and considering that you can only consult 100 folders in a month of work at the Russian State Military Archives, I wanted to go through the photocopies of the Pan-European archives available at the HAEU in order to prepare my research stay at the Russian State Military Archives. Similarly, I will also visit the Cantonal Archives of the Swiss Canton of Vaud, which also has a series of photocopies of the Pan-European archives.

What did you actually find at the HAEU?

I have found more interesting documents than I expected. Specifically, I found approximately 20 letters of correspondence between Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and different Central European personalities, such as Elemér Hantos, Pál Auer, the head of the Hungarian section of the Pan-European Union, and Friedrich Nelböck, a board member of the Brno local section of the Pan-European Union. These letters are very important to understand the relationship between the Central European movement of Elemér Hantos and the Pan-European movement of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi.

Why is it relevant, socially and academically, to study regional approaches to Pan-European integration?

The aim of my PhD thesis on Elemér Hantos as the connection between the Central European and Pan-European ideas and networks during the interwar period is to fill a research gap. Elemér Hantos has not yet been the subject of an exhaustive scientific study. And the relationship between Mitteleuropa and Paneuropa has only been marginally addressed in the monographs on the Pan-European movement, mostly through the prism of the foreign policy of the Weimar Republic and of the economic and political expansionism of the Third Reich, and not from the perspective of the Successor States of Austria-Hungary.

However, my research project is also interesting because it resonates with current challenges of the European Union (EU). The study of the Central European and Pan-European ideas of Elemér Hantos could be helpful to better understand the specificity and the role of the Central European countries (especially the member states of the Visegrád Group, but also Austria) within the EU. Moreover, the growing number of EU member states and their different views have strengthened the path towards a “multi-speed Europe”. In this context, the regional approach to Pan-European integration of Elemér Hantos could bring up new ideas on the future development of the EU.

Furthermore, the EU has been going through an existential crisis since the early 1990s (with the end of the “permissive consensus” and the collapse of the Soviet Union) which is culminating with the never-ending Brexit negotiations. Exploring the origins of the European integration process (including the Pan-European unification efforts in the interwar period) could help the EU member states to redefine their place in international relations.

Gabriel Godeffroy will present the results of his research at the HAEU as Vibeke Sørensen grant holder at the next ADGRC seminar, on 9 December 2020, from 15:00 to 16:30, on Zoom.

Click here to register.