Thursday, February 5, 2009

Borders in the Paris Peace, Primer, Part II

Slowly, slowly...
wait for it!

OK. A bit more, but just a bit, about borders. There are several distinct sets of issues about borders that we have to discuss, so this Primer may need to be a regular item in the blog. The peacemakers ninety years ago were just setting up the committees of experts to deal with each borders, the teams of experts brought by the various powers to the conference were just swapping maps and suggesting boundaries.

Of the Central Powers (again: Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria), let us concentrate on Germany for the moment.

Germany was a country that had existed only since 1871. I know that this is surprising to many folks who have not read much about European history, but it is true. The German world has had many state-forms in its long history in Central Europe, but it was never a single country called Germany until 1871. The creation was the product of a war between several German states (all backing up the large German state of Prussia) and France. The princes of those states agreed in 1871 to recognized the Prussian king as emperor (Kaiser) of an entity called, simply, Germany. And naturally, the Prussian capital Berlin became the German capital—though we will examine that aspect a bit more later.

I should make it clear that the country emerging as Germany in 1871 was not the only country with Germans in it. A majority of individuals in the Austrian part of the Habsburg or Austro-Hungarian Empire spoke German at home (and of course today German is the primary language of Austria). A substantial percentage of the inhabitants of Switzerland were ethnically and linguistically German. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was largely peopled by German-speakers. Then there were enclaves of Germans elsewhere, primarily in the Baltic region, which had become part of the Russian Empire in the eighteenth century, and scattered in settlements across the vast spaces of the rest of Russia. So there were actually quite a few millions of Germans who did not live within the borders of the German empire.

Nor did that empire contain only ethnic Germans. In the north, the Germany of 1871 contained a substantial minority of Danes. In the east, there was a substantial minority (reaching majority status regionally) of Poles, Masurians, Warmians, and other Slavic speakers, as well as Lithuanians, who spoke a language quite different from their Slavic and German neighbors. In the west, some French-speakers lived within the German Reich. Some French-speaking Belgians did too. And there were undoubtedly some Dutch-speaking families east of Maastricht who were citizens of Germany.

In general, the victors tend to take territory from the vanquished, as we have already mentioned. The question for Germany at the Paris Peace was: what territory will taken, and to whom will it go?

I have to say that even though some optimistic German officials early on had illusions that the ethnic German region of Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) could be saved for Germany, there was never a chance. The French had taken the region from the German world in the seventeenth century, so that when the German Reich took it in the nineteenth (after beating France in the Franco-Prussian War), the French smoldered over this issue more than perhaps any single international issue at stake. So presiding over the victors at the peacemaking, France was unlikely to do more than simply assert its authority, and take back Alsace-Lorraine, which it did.

But there were many other regions inhabited by non-German speakers, in particular the north of Germany, the province of Schleswig, and in the German east, where the chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil war led to a vacuum of power in the last months of World War I. It is those regions we will turn to in the next installment of the Primer. But first we have to move from Germany's peripheries to her center and travel to the city of classical German culture, Weimar.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.