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Baltic and the mouth of the Memel; here there was no local unity, and who was going to supply the troops to preserve order in this great area for many months? Moreover, a plebiscite would inevitably have intensified to the highest degree national animosities just at a time when the future of Europe seemed to depend on appeasing them. As recent events in Upper Silesia have shown, a plebiscite on the Polish frontier would have been an invitation to civil war.
It will help us to understand this problem if we make a comparison between the Italian plebiscites in the middle of the 19th century and those under recent treaties. There is between them a fundamental difference, a difference which, as it arose from a completely different conception of the object to be attained, affected every detail of the procedure. In the earlier plebiscites the population of a defined area, which had for long existed as a unit of government, were asked as an existing community to decide in their corporate capacity what their future allegiance should be. In the more modern instances, the object was not to preserve but to divide existing units of government. When the Kingdom of Italy was formed, the question addressed to the people of Tuscany and Parma, of Sicily and of Naples, was whether the State to which they belonged should henceforward be incorporated in the new kingdom. The same principle was followed as regards Nice and Savoy. The case of Savoy is particularly instructive. After all, it was quite conceivable that the inhabitants of different parts of this ancient Duchy might have voted differently. The valleys on the south and east of the Alps might have preferred to continue the connexion with Piedmont; those on the north and west union with France. And in some parts there was a third alternative; there were districts of Savoy which geographically were closely connected with, and since 1815 had been commercially-even to some extent politicallyattached to Switzerland. Had, then, the object been simply to ascertain the wishes of the population, it would have been necessary to arrange the voting in such a way as to make possible a division of the Duchy; each village or town would have had separately to vote whether it wished to belong to Italy, to France, or to Switzerland. This course was not adopted. All had to vote as Savoyards, and as members of a political community to take their part in determining the future of the whole.
In no case under the recent treaties was this principle adopted. It might well have been applied to the Duchy of Teschen, a community which has had a continued existence for some 700 or 800 years, and with frontiers unchanged for at least 400 years. Owing to the collapse of the Austrian Empire, its political associations had to be revised. Should it continue, as it so long had been, attached to the contiguous and cognate territories of Bohemia and Moravia ? There was, however, a large population of Polish speech inhabiting the eastern part, which was actually on the borders of the reconstituted Poland. What, then, was done was not to ask the people of Teschen, as the people of Savoy were asked, whether, retaining their own unity, they would join CzechoSlovakia or Poland. It was assumed from the beginning that there should be a division in accordance with nationality; and the only question which was seriously considered was the method by which the new line of frontier should be determined. The possibility of maintaining the historic union was only put forward to be at once rejected. Had the principle of self-determination been thoroughly applied, the population themselves would first have been consulted as to the previous questions, and, before the line of partition was debated, would have considered whether there should be a partition, there is reason for believing that, at any rate, a large number of them would have preferred to keep their own individuality.
We have, indeed, had plebiscites of this kind, though not under the Treaty. In the autumn of 1919 the people of Luxemburg were asked to vote whether they would maintain the existing dynasty or have a Republic, and in addition, whether they would prefer economic attachment to Belgium or to France; and it might well have been, though events were ruled differently, that they had to give their decision as to whether they should continue to enjoy full independence or accept a political union with Belgium. Of this nature was the plebiscite taken in Vorarlberg in 1919 on the question of union with Switzerland, and the irregular and unofficial plebiscites which during recent weeks have been taken in Tyrol, Salzburg, and other territories of Austria, in favour of union with Germany.
In a plebiscite of this kind, though the method is new, the principle is really very old. In earlier days, the decision of the people was given not by a direct vote, but through an elected and representative assembly. The difference of method is, however, of comparatively small importance; the principle is the same--the people decide on their own allegiance. When the American colonies revolted from the mother-country, the final step was taken by assemblies, which owed their authority to the popular election from whence they had issued. There are, indeed, great advantages in the older system by which a comparatively small deliberating body is interposed before or after the popular vote has been taken, for it is only such a body that can conveniently deal with all the possible alternatives; not only can it vote for adhesion to some other State, but it can ask for conditions. The popular plebiscite may easily become a crude and wooden instrument. It has no flexibility, it does not allow scope for modalities. This is illustrated by Alsace-Lorraine. Had the war ended with an agreed peace, had the Germans never accepted the Fourteen Points, there would have been many possible alternatives which could have been submitted to an assembly of local estates. Should the provinces be established as a separate state in the German Confederation? Should they be reattached to France ? Or again, should they be established as an independent and neutralised European State like Switzerland ? Or, perhaps, should there be a partition, Alsace to go to Germany, Lorraine to France, some parts even passing to Switzerland? The direct consultation of the people, if it had ever taken place, would have had to be one short, clear, and definite issue ; but the issue on which the vote was taken would have been prepared and put before them by the representative assembly,
This, then, is one of the reasons why plebiscites were not more frequently used. There was no existing administration or government to which the control could be handed over, and the Allies were not in a position
themselves to undertake the very arduous task of occupation and management. In other cases there were additional reasons, as, for instance, in Bohemia. Vigorous protests have been made not merely in Germany, but in this country, against what has been described as the injustice of assigning to Bohemia the German-speaking fringe on the northern frontiers. Here, again, there was no use. in having a plebiscite if the object was only to discover the wishes of the population. Roughly speaking, this could easily have been determined. Every one knew that there were considerable districts which were German in speech and sympathy. The real question was quite a different one. Was it possible to take their wishes into consideration in determining the frontier ? The reasons against doing so were overwhelming. The Allies were bound by their pledges to re-establish the independent state of Bohemia. To do this, however, they must give it territory and frontiers of such a kind as would justify the hope of a prosperous and independent existence. If the whole of the Germanspeaking fringe had been taken away and incorporated with Germany, this condition could not have been fulfilled. A glance at a map will be sufficient to show that a Czecho-Slovakia of this kind might as well not have been created at all. And there was another reason.
As has already been pointed out, the permanent peace of Europe requires above all that its frontiers should be stable. But the chief elements in the stability of frontiers are, first, use and custom; secondly, the natural lines of mountains and rivers. If the historic frontier between two great nations coincides with the natural features of the country and has existed unchanged for many generations, surely it would be great unwisdom to tamper with it, except for some overwhelming reason. Such a frontier is that between Bohemia on the one side and Saxony and Bavaria on the other. For most of its length-the whole line from the extreme south to where it crosses the Elbe—this frontier has remained unchanged for over 500 years. It has survived the Reformation and the wars of religion; it existed before Bohemia became a part of the Hapsburg Monarchy; it was unaffected by the Revolution and passed untouched through the Napoleonic Wars. It is, moreover, a
natural frontier. The mountain range of the Boehmerwald and the Erzgebirge is a barrier to intercourse. The traveller who, coming from the German side, reaches the summit of the ridge, looks down on a new country, the whole political and economic connexions of which gravitate to a different centre. To change this frontier, and by doing so to draw a new and highly artificial line between the villages and towns on the eastern and southern slope, would have been not to give permanence, but to introduce among the population a new element of discord. For who supposes that a line drawn to-day would have satisfied either side to-morrow ?
We have recently had an interesting analogy of the treatment of the Bohemian question. The League of Nations has refused the request that there should be a plebiscite to decide whether the inhabitants of the Aaland Islands should remain Finnish or should become Swedish. Informal plebiscites which had already been held showed that there would have been an overwhelming vote for Sweden. One justification for this decision seems to be that a large part of the population of Finland is Swedish in race and speech; the fact, therefore, that the Aalanders are Swedish is no reason why they should cease politically to belong to Finland; they are Swedes indeed, but Swedes of Finland. The conception of Finnish nationality does not necessarily mean Finnish race or Finnish language. The State has always been composite and bi-lingual. Is not the same thing true of Bohemia ? As far back as history goes, Germans and Czechs have here been intermingled. If the old Bohemian state was to be re-established, it must then be one which would include among its citizens a large German population. And this leads us to recognise that these composite nationalities are a valuable and essential part in the European systemCelts and Teutons in Scotland, Welsh and English in Wales, Walloons and Flemings in Belgium, Germans, French, and Italians in Switzerland, warn us that Europe would be poor if in every case the political frontiers were conterminous with those of language. There is another bond, that of common institutions which have been built up by the co-operation of the different elements among the people.
If for these and other reasons the Conference did not