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11-08-2015, 17:19

THE PROBLEM OF NATIONAL MINORITIES

In accordance with Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, an independent Poland emerged after the war, ending a situation dating from the partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century that had placed the Polish people under Russian, Austrian, and Prussian (later German) rule. To fulfill Wilson's pledge that Poland have "free and secure access to the sea," the victorious powers compelled Germany to surrender an area known as the Polish Corridor to the newly created state. This step promoted Poland's economic stability, but at the cost of embittering German public opinion and providing a potent theme for Hitler's propaganda. The Corridor not only cut East Prussia off from the rest of postwar Germany; it also meant that 1 million Germans were to be incorporated into the Polish state. In fact, hundreds of thousands chose instead to flee across the new border into Germany. The decisions of the peacemakers likewise returned Alsace-Lorraine to France, with a consequent exodus of Germans from this region. The creation of Poland, with its substantial German minority, illustrates how difficult it was to realize the principle of national self-determination that Woodrow Wilson saw as a key to a stable and secure European order. The same explosive minority issue was also on display in Czechoslovakia. To provide that newly created country with a secure western border, Czechoslovakia received the Sudetenland, a territory with more than 3 million ethnically German inhabitants. These Germans were former subjects of the Habsburg Empire and had never lived in a united Germany, but Hitler was to make their supposed plight under foreign rule into a potent weapon for his expansionist plans in 1938. The refusal of the victorious Allies to permit the rump state of Austria to form a union with postwar Germany likewise raised the explosive issue of ethnic Germans stranded outside Germany proper. The peace treaties violated the principle of national self-determination for numerous groups besides the Germans. For example, Rumania was rewarded for being on the winning side with vast territorial gains such as Transylvania; consequently, its population of 16 million now included 1.5 million Hungarians. The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (soon renamed Yugoslavia), with 12 million inhabitants, likewise included some 400,000 Albanians, nearly 500,000 Hungarians, and half a million ethnic Germans. Nearly 4 million Ukrainians and more than a million White Russians found themselves, willing or not, made citizens of Poland.

 

 

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