« PreviousContinue »
often have recourse to a plebiscite, in most of the few occasions when the method was used, the result seems to have been highly satisfactory-satisfactory, that is, if we regard it not from the limited view of the strengthening or weakening of Germany, but as providing a final solution of a vexed territorial problem. This surely is the important thing. We want to get stable and permanent frontiers. The only method of doing so is that they shall be determined in such a way that the justice of the decision must be accepted by both sides.
The Slesvig question was the first to be decided. It was peculiar and delicate, in that it did not arise directly out of the war and involved a neutral State. It clearly would be impossible for the Allies to enforce on Germany a cession of territory for the benefit of Denmark unless the Danish Government itself desired it. The Danish Government throughout showed a moderation for which they were severely criticised by some parties in their own country. They had no wish to reopen ancient controversies; they did not desire again to incorporate in their country districts which would bring with them any large number of alien population. All that they wanted was the execution of the long-deferred promise of 1864permission, that is, for the people of Northern Slesvig to vote whether they would prefer to be Danish or German. There were, of course, some among the Allies who were disappointed at this moderation; they would have wished to see the old Slesvig-Holstein question reopened, and were intent only on the separation from Germany of so large a district as possible. Others there were who would have merged the North Slesvig problem and that of the Kiel Canal, and brought the new frontier down to the actual banks of the canal, so that it would have ceased to be a purely German thoroughfare. To such suggestions the Conference turned deaf ears; there is no evidence that they were even considered. All that had to be done was simply to draw up the detailed arrangements for the long-deferred plebiscite, which would naturally be confined to those districts in which there was evidence of some considerable Danish admixture.
The question was one on which the fullest possible information was available. Danish writers had worked out the problem and could say with the greatest
precision what were the number of Danish and German families respectively in every village of the disputed
The result of these investigations was what is known as the Klassen line,' the line running from Tondern on the west to a point just north of Flensborg on the eastern coast. The district lying between this and the Danish frontier represented the Danish claim. Any vote here would be a foregone conclusion.
The whole matter was really of purely formal importance. It was decided therefore that a vote should be held within this district as a single unit. South of this, however, there were a number of villages and small towns, including the important town of Flensborg, which in former days had been predominantly Danish and where there undoubtedly still was a considerable Danish element. If the matter was to be finally settled, it seemed right that here also a vote should take place; but if it did, it must be on different principles from that in the first section. The problem was, should any of these villages and towns be added to the district to be given to Denmark? Each village and each town must, therefore, be consulted separately. It is to this fact that we owe the principle of voting by commune, a principle which was unexpectedly to attract so much attention in the far more important case of Upper Silesia. Every commune was to vote separately; and then, when the results were known, the Commissioners were to draw a line which would as nearly as possible conform to the wishes of the people, though, of course, in order to make a convenient frontier, they were empowered to pay attention to geographical and economic considerations.
The actual result was a striking confirmation of the figures which had been arrived at by Danish investigators. In the northern zone there was in almost every commune an overwhelming majority of Danes; and, with few exceptions, there was in the next zone a similar preponderance of Germans. The voting was conducted without any untoward incident. The impartiality of the presiding Commission does not appear to have been challenged; and, though the success of the Germans in Flensborg and the adjoining districts was to many a serious disappointment, it has this compensation, that it allows no doubt to be entertained as to the genuine
character of the verdict. It may now be hoped that this question, which has been a serious cause of unsettlement for so long, may be finally closed.
On the Polish frontier the method of the plebiscite was in the first draft of the Treaty only adopted in two small areas, Allenstein and Marienwerder. The district of Allenstein was peculiar. First of all, it had not been part of the old Kingdom of Poland at the time of the partitions, but belonged to East Prussia. The Poles, however, claimed it, because the peasantry (it was an entirely rural district) spoke a Polish dialect. As against this, it was represented that the Masurians, as they were called, were Protestants and had never shown Polish proclivities. Were they, therefore, to be considered Polish ? Here was a definite problem, the answer to which could only be given by the people themselves; the area was one of manageable size in which it did not appear probable that any serious difficulties would arise, and so it was determined that the Polish claim should be subjected to the decision of those whom alone it directly concerned. There was nothing hidden or mysterious or sinister about this. The district was claimed by the Poles on the ground that it was Polish. The Conference did not, and could not, know whether this claim was justified. There were no indications of any kind available as to what the result of the voting would be.
The case of the Marienwerder area, a comparatively small district on the right bank of the Vistula, was different, and it would probably have been wiser not to have had a plebiscite here. What had happened was that this area, which notoriously was predominantly German, had in the first proposals been assigned to Poland merely on the geographical ground that it controlled communications between Poland and Danzig; an important line of railway, the Mlawa-Warsaw line, ran through it, and it included the right bank of the Vistula. When the proposals of the Polish Committee were subjected to revision on the ground that they assigned too many Germans to Poland, it was argued with force that this decision could not be allowed to stand, and that the district could only be given to Poland with the consent of the inhabitants. They must, therefore, be consulted. The consultation was, however, as the event proved, superfluous, for there never was any real doubt as to what the verdict would be. The plebiscite, which resulted in an overwhelming German majority, served the purpose of justifying the refusal of the original Polish claim.
In some ways the Klagenfurt plebiscite, the only one ordained under the Austrian treaty, was the most interesting The problem was to define the frontier between Yugo-Slavia and the new Austria. There were two lines nearly coinciding with one another, either of which might have been selected, namely, the old boundary between the province of Carinthia and Carniola, or the natural frontier provided by the Karavanken mountains; but, undoubtedly, a very considerable Slovene element resided in the Valley of Klagenfurt, which lies to the north of both these possible lines. While it was generally agreed that, as the boundaries were being made on ethnographic principles, the territory of Yugo-Slavia must be so extended as to include the Slavonic districts, the greatest difficulty was found in agreeing on any precise line. The problem illustrated the inconvenience of creating completely new international frontiers on a purely ethnographic basis ; for any such line must cut in half the Klagenfurt basin, the whole of which was mutually interdependent, and separate many villages from the town to which they usually resorted, besides introducing complications on such matters as water supply. As no agreement on a line could be arrived at, it was determined to have a plebiscite; but in this case-and it was the only one-the regulations seem to have been open to criticism on the ground that they were rather heavily weighted against the German element. The Klagenfurt basin was divided into two divisions ; the southern, which was predominantly Slav, was to vote first. If they voted for Yugo-Slavia, then the northern section, in which the German element was largest, was to vote later. It will be clear that their vote would be taken under such conditions as to prejudice the result; for by deciding to remain in Austria, the people would be subjecting them: selves to serious economic disabilities. In these circumstances, the result was remarkable and interesting. The vote, even in the southern section, showed a very considerable majority for Austria. This seems to have been largely due to attachment to old-established local connexions. The general spirit of nationality in country villages may easily be overborne by other motives. Men do not wish to be cut away from old associations of neighbourhood and plunged into the unknown.
The general conclusion seems to be that the plebiscite may be a valuable political instrument when certain conditions are fulfilled, but that it is not a method for universal application. In Allenstein, in Marienwerder, in Klagenfurt, in Slesvig, it was possible to put a clear issue before the electors, and the result was a conclusive answer. In each case, therefore, we may hope that the result will be finally to eliminate what might otherwise have continued a standing issue between two nations. In Allenstein and in Klagenfurt a claim was made by the Poles and the Yugo-Slavs respectively for certain territory. The only ground on which it could be supported was the nationality of the inhabitants; and, the appeal having been made to them, the rejection was definitive. In Slesvig a similar claim was made, and the answer was equally clear. Up to a certain line there was an overwhelming Danish majority, beyond that line an equally overwhelming German majority, It is possible, therefore, now to draw a frontier which it may be hoped both parties will accept, just because it is just. This result could never have been obtained unless every care had been taken that the plebiscite should be conducted with strict impartiality. The conduct of the Commissions appears in these cases to have been above suspicion, and it ought to have the effect of removing a deal of causeless and unwarranted censure of the Allied Powers. They have shown that they were capable of rising to the position of impartial arbitrators.
On the other hand, the method is one which cannot be used with advantage where the issue is not simple but complex, and there is always the danger that it may leave the problem in a worse state than before. For if the result shows that the two parties are very evenly balanced, that the districts which choose one nationality or another are inextricably intertwined, then the task of drawing the frontier is more difficult after the voting than it would have been before; and the whole process
Vol. 236.--No. 468.