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Minorities and the League of Nations in Interwar Europe

Author(s): Mark Mazower


Source: Daedalus, Vol. 126, No. 2, Human Diversity (Spring, 1997), pp. 47-63
Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences
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Mark

Mazower

in

and the League of Nations

Minorities

Interwar Europe

YEAR THE NORTHERN GREEK CITY of Thessaloniki

THIS

of Europe.
Capital
one of the most
as Selanik,

Cultural

man Empire. Roughly half its 150,000


as many

as lived

in the whole

ago,
cities

century

fascinating

it was

is the
known

in the Otto

inhabitants then were Jews,


In addition

of France.

to Turks

and

there were

Greeks,
Albanians,

and

also Armenians,
Circassians,
Vlachs,
Bulgarians,
had
the secretive D?nmeh?the
who
crypto-Jews

into Islam in the late

followed Sabbatai Zevi, their falseMessiah,


were

to find boot
century.
Foreign
or
seven
six
and porters on the docks who
languages.
spoke
How
did polyglot
Selanik
turn, in the span of a few generations,
a popu
into a modern
of the Greek
with
nation-state,
metropolis
no
than one million
and
lation of more
Greeks,
Turks,
virtually
visitors

seventeenth

astonished

blacks

fewer

than

in 1912
designation
Eurocrats

two

thousand

Its "liberation"

army
by the Greek
In fact, the city's
is only
of the story.
the beginning
as the Cultural
is perhaps more
Capital
fitting than the
the hellenization
realized:
of Thessaloniki
encapsulates
Jews?

in Europe
in the first half of this century.
the history
of minorities
In 1943, while
the young Wehrmacht
lieutenant Kurt Waldheim
was
and

to the city, its large Jewish


posted
a few months
exterminated
within

But

even

dominantly
variant
of

that point,
Greek
city. Nazi

before
the

international

ethnic minorities

Mark

Mazower

is Reader

Thessaloniki
genocide

had
was

but

experimentation

that had begun with

in History

was deported
community
at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

at the University

the most

a pre
extreme

in policy

towards

turned

into

the disintegration

of Sussex.

47

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of the

48

Mark Mazower

Ottoman,

and Romanov

Habsburg,

in the maelstrom

empires

of

I.

World War

more
to turning
contributed
Selanik
into Thessaloniki
Nothing
as
in
than the population
that
took
the Balkans
place
exchanges
In 1919,
the Ottoman
broke
under
the Treaty
of
up.
Empire
the
of
inhabitants
the
and
the
Neuilly,
city
Bulgarian
surrounding
a
with Greeks
from Bulgaria.
This was
region were
"exchanged"
in terms

innovation
striking
thousands
caught

in this

up

small fry compared with


of

exchange

of

international

the tens of
were

transfer

voluntary

supposedly

involved in the compulsory

the millions
that

populations

but

policy,

took

between

place

Greece

and

a few years
between
them stopped
later.
fighting
to
in
1923
of
the
Muslim
residents
Lausanne,
According
Treaty
to Turkey,
Greece
had to leave their homes
and "return"
while
when

Turkey

Orthodox
direction.

of thousands

Hundreds

thus helping
aftermath

Thessaloniki,

the war

of

in the opposite
in and around

moved

of the latter settled

to "hellenize"

in the

Today,

were

from Asia Minor

Christians

Greek

Macedonia.

in Bosnia

and its massive


enforced movements
cleansing
1923 Greco-Turkish
has acquired
agreement
some
to
tidiness
European
seeming
appealed

with

its ethnic

of population,
relevance.

the

new

Its

then,
policymakers
was
it? At the
still does today. But how successful
apparently
level of individual
in?the
de
lives, it wrought?or
acquiesced
homes
it transformed
struction
of centuries-old
and communities;
to the logic of nationalism,
identities
turning Orthodox
according

and

of whom
could not speak Greek,
from Anatolia,
many
villagers
were
into Greeks,
from Crete, many
of whom
the
and Muslims
a
mas
It
into
of Islamized
Turks.
created
descendants
Christians,
these refugees
left behind,
the property
regarding
It also
for several years.
Greco-Turkish
relations
which
poisoned
in
and
with
of
Athens
Ankara
the
burdened
expense
governments
sive

problem

resettling

of

hundreds

thousands

of refugees.

the other hand, both the Greeks and the Turks

On
exchange

as a means

of bolstering
the ethnic mix of

their

new

saw the

nation-states

and

to the
More
their populations.
are
relations
concerned,
policymakers

"homogenizing"
as far as international
point,
did
the two countries
between
before
tions

the Cyprus
are perhaps

dispute
as bad

improve over the next


them once more.
poisoned
as

they

have

ever

been.

twenty

years,
rela

Today,
Thus
the

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jury

out on whether

remains
In the

interwar

such
in the

tensions

international

transfers

from

of population
international

the

years,
however,
to draw
reluctant

on

It was

community

the Greco-Turkish
not

of
policy
the Baltic

the South

ease

actually

run.

long

strikingly
proved
as a precedent.
tion exchange
own
and the start of Hitler's
Germans

49

and the League of Nations

Minorities

popula
until Munich

emulated

the ethnic
repatriating
and
Bessarabia.
states,

Tyrol,
of Wilsonian
the minorities
liberalism,
that, in the heyday
came to be associated,
of Nations
the League
policy with which
seems to me to remain an experiment
inter
of abiding
and which
were
minorities
and
where
involved
est,
they
offering
keeping
of international
them the protection
law, rather than uprooting

Before

and

them elsewhere.
resettling
minorities
The
idea of protecting

edly during World War


and Eastern

of Central
prise. History

seemed

Europe"?whether

law emerged

by

rather

belat

I.The sudden collapse of the great empires


Europe
by sur
caught most
policymakers
to have vindicated
the dreamers
of a "New

it was Wilson

himself with

his dangerously

of national
for op
crusaders
self-determination,
principle
like
Seton-Watson
Robert
nationalities
and
Arnold
pressed
Toynbee,
or national
But some
leaders
such as Masaryk
and Paderewski.
vague

were

aware

as a policy
could
Years
box of conflicts
and tensions.
open up a Pandora's
before,
Lord Acton
had warned
that "by making
the State and the nation
commensurate
in theory,
with
each other
reduces
[nationality]
a
to
all other nationalities
that may
practically
subject condition
liberals

also well

that nationalism

"I do not myself


the boundary."
noted Robert
believe,"
a European
in the British
in
Office
"that
1917,
Foreign
on
founded
and
without
other
any
only
nationality
provi
or even in all respects
is likely to be desirable
beneficial."1

be within
Cecil,
peace
sions

Similar doubts were


groups
Wars
of

forcefully expressed by Jewish lobbying

in both Washington

1912-1913,
they
the dangers
that "half-crazed
ties

World

and
War

first was

international

and
had

London.

tried

Ever

to alert

nationalists"

posed
in southeastern

stability
movements
I, two national
to wipe
the Turkish
attempt

since

the Great

the Balkan
Powers

to

to ethnic minori

Europe.
During
their point. The
proved
out the Armenians,
which

unfolded in all its horror in 1915 and led to themurder of between


eight hundred thousand and 1.3 million people. This was perhaps

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50
the

Mark Mazower
first

of the
example
Arnold
Toynbee

scholar
principle
Ottoman
On

was

that

clashed
under

Poles

of

extermination"

as the result

the Armenian

Poland in 1918-1920.
pure Poland
monwealth

saw

of

tapestry

came

genocide

the

those who

advocated

Polish

leadership.

The

for

problem

Germans,
Jews,
alongside
in the claimed
the problem
territory;
was a rather ambitious
that multiethnic
harmony

Ukrainians

the
the
for

struggle

a multiethnic

lived

of
of

of an ethnically

At Versailles, proponents

with

the British

that

the extension

to the multi-confessional

of nationalism
Empire.2
the heels of

"war

com

the former

and
Lithuanians,
for the latter was

goal for anyone


the
end
of
Polish
1918,
Europe.
By
troops were
for
with
the
Ukrainians.
also
carried out
supremacy
battling
They
a series of pogroms
to
that forced Jews
form self-defense
units.
Balfour worried
that an independent
"so
far
from
Poland,
promot
in postwar

Eastern

peace, would
ing the cause of European
strife."
mid-1919
Poland
European
By

be a perpetual
occasion
of
Polish
only two-thirds

was

an ethnic

point of view. In the disputed


city of L'viv someone
war
an
to
see
the
American
"You
visitor:
pointed
damage
those little holes? We
call them here
'Wilson's
Points.'
have
They
from

out

been made

with machine
guns; the big gaps have been made
are now
We
in self-determination,
grenades.
engaged
knows what
the end will be."3
and when

hand
God
At

the Paris

Peace

the struggle
into
brought

Conference,

Poland
independent
eventually
new international
policy on minority
influential

New

States

rights.

Committee

over

being
Behind

the form

the scenes,
the
for some
Eastern
of Bol

was
the new Polish
protests,
government
a
to
as
certain
its
minorities
condition
rights

shevism.

bitter

Despite
to guarantee
obliged
of recognition:
they included
as well
and religious
freedoms
organization
Minorities

in the

of treatment
under the law
equality
as rights to certain
forms of collec

educational
was

and

cultural

The
spheres.
the League
of Na
could be brought

Treaty
guaranteed
by
meant
that complaints
apparently
not directly
(though
by the minority
the
Council
could
circumstances,
League's

tions, which
to Geneva
certain

of an

the need

recognized
if ethnic civil war was not to spread through
policy
an area already
and destabilize
under
the shadow
Europe

tive

and

an ambitious

such

Polish

with

concerned).
take action.

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In

Polish

The

waters.

law into uncharted

international

took

Treaty

51

and the League of Nations

Minorities

Powers
had often
the Great
the previous
recog
century,
During
on a commitment
to religious
freedom
nized new states dependent
in
in Belgium
such had been the case, for example,
and toleration;
for "national"
rather

collective

rights
international

for

Poland
treaties
Similar

rather
than

rights, for
exclusively
religious
and
the
individual
liberties,
provision

deliberation.

series of minority
for a whole
the model
rights
provided
in Paris drew up for Eastern Europe.
that the peacemakers
on other newly-created
states as,
were
imposed
obligations

tional
tackle

and older states like

like Hungary

as a result of the
territory
acquired
came to stand for a system
that, on
norm
as the
in interna
the nation-state

which
and Greece,
Nations
of
League

Romania
The

the one

the

than

well as on former belligerents


war.

in 1919 was

in 1878. What was new

1830 and Romania


concern

hand,
relations

accepted

and, on the other,


issues that were
the minority
sometimes
encouraging
thereby

haps
collective

a considered

made

the creation

and profile were


their political weight
entities;
of the European
the annual meetings
Congress

through

to

effort

It accepted
of) minorities

thus created.

(per
as

increased
of Na

tionalities, which publicized their plight.


But
more
them

itself in this system was


the League
ambiguous.
to bring cases to the League's
and even
attention,
to push them through
and have
the Geneva machine

the role of

It was

difficult
difficult

up by the Council.
Although
cases to the Permanent
Court

to refer

on

rarely

acted

power
Court

and blocked

pion

it. On

governments
few sanctions
repressive
unchecked,
campaign"

in The Hague,
it
of Justice
it
this
hand,
guarded
jealously
to appeal
to the
to allow minorities
see itself as a "cham

did not

Secretariat
League
but more modestly

carry out

the power

the other

proposals

directly. The
of minorities"

had

the League

taken

as an

their own

obligations.
offenders.
against
egregious
behavior
of Yugoslav
gendarmes
as did the Polish
government's
in 1930.
the Ukrainians
against

interlocutor
The

Thus

helping
also had

League
the notoriously

in Macedonia
bloody

went

"pacification

Polish or Serbian intolerance did not much bother the French,


who

were

more
allies

European
bother
the British,

concerned
than
who

about

about

the

minorities.

believed

stability

Nor,
the minorities

of

their

Eastern

did it
increasingly,
hin
treaties were

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52

Mark Mazower

the process
of assimilation.
"More harm would
in the end
dering
even
be done by unnecessary
at
interference
the risk of a
than,
to allow these minorities
little local suffering,
to settle down under
a Foreign Office
wrote
their present masters,"
in London
official
can
"So long as these people
that their grievances
imagine
be aired before
the League
to settle
of Nations
refuse
they will
down
and the present
effervescence
will
continue
indefinitely."4
Yet despite
such indifference
from the League's
main
sponsors,
in 1922.

some

groups

pushed
of Gustav

diplomacy
and began
League
an eye
ties" with
across

Eastern

for more

an

stance.

Under

the

Weimar
Stresemann,
Germany
to assume
the role of the "defender

entered

the

to

of

the millions
German

Europe.

activist

of
and

ethnic
Jewish

the lobbying of the European Congress


Stresemann

identified

himself

with

of minori

Germans
groups

scattered
spearheaded

of Nationalities,
the cause

while

of

closely
reforming
a permanent
machinery
by creating
minority
rights
commission.
His
efforts
had limited
because
results,
partly
they
were
to form part of a more
effort to revise the
suspected
general
the Geneva

to convince
merely
managed
at home
never
German
nationalists
that the League
would
ad
Germans
ethnic
abroad.5
protect
equately
as
At the same time, the minorities
treaties were
bitterly resented
a humiliation
were
countries
concerned.
by the
They
particularly
was
no
irritated
there
the
fact
that
universal
by
minority-rights

Versailles

settlement.

Stresemann

no
regime;
why
they wondered
they had been singled out when
on Germany
or on Italy when
such obligations
had been imposed
it persecuted
in the South Tyrol.
the German-speaking
minority
It is true that of the approximately
estimated
thirty-five million
some 8.6 million
in interwar
inhabitants
minority
Europe,
only
one
in
lived inWestern
of
the total popu
twenty
Europe
(roughly
about
million
lived in Central
and
lation) whereas
twenty-five
was
in
Eastern
minorities
Thus
the
(one
four).
Europe
question
in the East. Even so, the lack of a
far more
important
numerically
universal

regime

was

an embarrassment

for the Great

Powers.6

Such an idea had in fact been considered in 1919 in Paris, only


to be rejected. As James Headlam-Morley,
the minorities
noted
guarantees,

behind
issues

of

state

sovereignty

were

one
at the

of

the key figures


time, fundamental

at stake:

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53

and the League of Nations

Minorities

that there should


At first there was, so far as I recollect, a proposal
some general clause giving the
be inserted in the League of Nations
in all countries
the right to protect minorities
League of Nations
of the League. This I always most
which were members
strongly
have involved the right to interfere in the
.for it would
opposed..
of every country in the world. As I pointed out,
internal constitution
the right to protect the Chinese
itwould give the League of Nations
in France, the French in Canada,
in Liverpool,
the Roman Catholics
such as the Irish. This
quite apart from the more serious problems,
not
I
view
of
was,
think,
seriously opposed by any except the
point
to be a sort of
who
the
bodies
unofficial
wished
League of Nations
a
and freedom
super-state with
general right of guarding democracy
...
own
was
view
that any right given to
the world.
My
throughout
the League of Nations must be quite definite and specific, and based
on special treaties entered into because of definite exceptional
cases,
in the case of a new
and that such a right could only be recognized
or immature

state of Eastern Europe or Western


Asia. Even if the
lead to injustice and oppres
of such a right elsewhere might
sion, that was better than to allow anything which would mean the
of every state in the world.7
negation of the sovereignty
denial

the Great

Thus
affairs

of

affairs.

This

lized"

states

were

Powers

"new"

states

but

happy
allowed

supremely
paternalistic
such as those inWestern

to interfere

Europe

had

dures to facilitate the assimilation of minorities


exist
was

in "immature
easier

states."

for Welsh

or the civil
professions
or Hungarians
Poland
recent. Breton
children

That

or Catalan
service

and villages
their homes
a way of educating
ties were

have

to some

view was,
children
than

in Romania,
suffer
might
burned

in the

internal

no meddling
in their own
stance
assumed
that "civi

to make

it was,
where

evolved

proce

that did not yet


true: it
extent,
careers
in the

in
say, for Ukrainians
were more
hatreds

but they did not


school,
trea
down. The minorities

at

less civilized

nations

in international

deportment.
But the underlying
that assimilation
into the civi
premise was
was
lized life of the nation
and desirable.
As a Brazilian
possible
in 1925,
the goal of the treaties was not
put it in Geneva
delegate
a state of affairs
to perpetuate
in which
certain groups
in society
saw themselves
as "constantly
to
the
establish
alien," but, rather,
conditions

for

"a complete

national

unity."8

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54

Mark Mazower

After

1933,

the "assimilation

however,

(as itwas

thesis"

dubbed

by opponents) was spectacularly refuted with the rise of the Third


Reich.

Ethnic

had

limited

that
lowed

as practiced
in Warsaw
for assimilation;
racial nationalism

scope
across

spread
none.

The

Central
rise of

therefore

Germany

approach
ing the assimilationist
the

of

Polish

idea
Nazi

1933,

Germany

Colonel

Beck,
he denounced

premier,
coffin when

League's

the whole

supposedly
in the most

the introduction

gations
"pending
for the protection

of minorities."

the kind
1930s

Europe
anti-Semitism

institutionalized
A

of

in the

Eastern

and

undermined

to minorities.

In October

or Bucharest

nationalism

al

in Hitler's

of the League's
state was
reject
fashion possible.

basis

"civilized"

sweeping
left the League.
drove
another

A year later,
into the

nail

Poland's

minority-rights
of a general and uniform
The number
of minority

obli
system
peti

tions received at Geneva fell sharply from 204 in 1930 to fifteen in


as a
can be taken
drop
minorities
confidence
felt by European
Let us not, however,
be too hasty
In the first
system altogether.
minority
1936.

This

successes

that offered

was

what

have

today
between

with

possible
been

too peaceful

valuable
astute

forgotten,

lessons

barometer

of

in the value
in writing

off

and Finland,

the League's
up a few

it did notch

place,
for the future

and

for instance,

was

islands dispute

resolved

a high
granted
formed
the
compact
source

tension

of

of administrative
degree
that
basis of a solution

between

the two

in

quietly

1921: the islands remained Finnish, but the Swedish


were

showed

If these
government.
far-sighted
it is perhaps
because
only
they were
and

for the history books. The Aaland

Sweden

the waning
of the League.9

islanders

This
autonomy.
a major
removed

countries.

took the remarkable


step of granting
government
to
Latvians
its
the
did
"national
cultural
minorities";
autonomy
in education.
not go quite this far but did offer some concessions
to be sure, were exceptions. More
These,
usually, as in the Lithuanian
Estonian

The

and

Polish

cases,

144

in the

kept minorities
Those who
ponder
creation

promises

made

were

not

kept.

The

number

of

schools in Poland, for instance, dropped from 3,662 to

Ukrainian

interwar
out

Too
period.
of universities

condemn

the alternatives.
of wartime

the League's
Nation-states
Great

Power

numerus
clausus
often,
and the civil service.10
minorities

clauses

also
system might
a reality, not merely
a
of
The conversion
diplomacy.
were

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

and the League of Nations

Minorities
into
Empire
be attributed

the Ottoman
could

hardly
made

Kemal
Turkish
treating

the

running

a Turkish
to forces
there,

demonstrates,
"First we kill

example
minorities.

national
outside

not Lloyd
there were

55

state, for instance,


the country; Mustafa
as the
And
George.
several

the Armenians,

other
then

of
ways
the Greeks,

then the Kurds," a Turkish gendarme told a Danish Red Cross


nurse

in July

as the war

1915

Ottoman

accelerated
German

Even

the Turkification
observers

of the

concluded

that,
Empire.
friendly
concern
in border areas,
for military
the professed
security
beyond
aimed for "the planned
the Turks
extermination
of the Armenian
Later
this
would
be
termed
and, later still,
"genocide"
people."
mass
nor
"ethnic
Neither
murder
transfer
cleansing."
population
offered

was

a way

acceptable

of

solving
to liberal

Eastern

ethnic

Europe's

problems

that

opinion.11

If proof was needed of the horrors such alternatives held in


store,

it was

population
new order
formed

use of both mass murder


and
by Hitler's
provided
an anti-liberal
in his own effort to construct
transfer

in Europe.
part of this

The

"final

solution
Nazi

of the Jewish question"


to redraw
the
attempt

thoroughgoing
A policy
racial map
of the continent.
based on international
law
was replaced
one
and state sovereignty
that
the
very
by
repudiated
foundations
of both: Nazi
theorists
attacked
Geneva's
legal

of international
in
relations
and its pathetic
belief
"juridification"
a "common
to peoples
rule of law" applicable
of differing
racial
worth.12

The

Third

doctrine

that

fairs of other

to replace
a
international
law with
proposed
in
German
intervention
the internal
af
legitimized
states on behalf of ethnic Germans
abroad. The state,

Reich

the expression
of the racial Volk.
is
"Blood
all, was merely
a
a
wrote
than
in
stronger
passport,"
prominent
pan-Germanist
1937.13 The German
minorities
in Eastern
"racial
Europe were
comrades"
of Reich Germans.
could be protected
They
through
after

inAustria
and the Sudetenland?or
through the "trustee
in
that Germany
its
Danubian
client states in the
acquired
Vienna
accord
of August
1940. German
commentators
on
this last step as a vast
the
old League
improvement

invasion?as
rights"
second
hailed

These
"laws
system of minority
protection.
the folk-group"
gave the "mother
country"

for the protection


of
the right to intervene

directly with the host government on behalf of the minority. They

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56

Mark Mazower

turned

the entire

looked
legislation
it did a mere
than
power
had

been

into a collective

Such
legal entity.
at the height
of German
later. By 1945 collective
justice

"folk-group"
a lot more

on

turned

attractive

four years
as millions

its head,

of ethnic

were

Germans

westwards.

expelled

the war

came
the League's
record towards minorities
its
too
of
been
scrutiny.
protection
policy
by treaty
or
not
ambitious
ambitious
it failed because
Had
the
enough?
was
or
to
unworkable
because
the
will
operate
machinery
political
to replace
a
it was
As plans
absent?
the League
with
emerged
During
under

itself,
Had

successor

these questions
could not be shirked. The
organization,
racial basis of Nazi
and Germany's
abandonment
of
jurisprudence
the accepted
of
international
law
had
been
principles
regarded
as among
causes of the break
the principal
in Europe.
down
of order
Nazi
had undermined
the
aggression
same
of an "international
At
the
very existence
time,
community."
treatment
Nazi
of the Jews persuaded
that if the
many
people
since

the

late

was

to be protected

of state

sovereignty
revival
and

individual
doctrine

1930s

reconsidered.

thus

as the natural

emerged

in particular,
international

peace
and,
"Effective
Quincy
against

against
in domestic

of human
for the safeguarding
rights.14
wrote
is not possible,"
organization
it protects
basic human
"unless
rights
States."

unlike Poland or Czechoslovakia,


a minorities

to conclude

that

of Nations

"there was

state, the traditional


affairs would
have to be

law
of international
reinvigoration
to
concern
world
liberal
for
adjunct

in 1943,
Wright
encroachments
by national

the result

the

Wright

observed

that

Germany had not been obliged

treaty with
no formal

the League
of Nations,
with
on
which
the
ground
League
the beginning
of the persecutions

could

protest
against
a general
It was
that a State was
free to
principle
as it saw fit."15
in its own territory
its own nationals
persecute
But the protection
of human
the
of a
existence
rights required
in Germany.

body
superior
recourse.
The
consists
tional

only
law]

to

the

Austrian

state

to which

jurist Hans

the
Kelsen

individual
insisted

could
that

to invoke a court....
in the legal possibility
can confer rights on individuals
only under

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

have

"a right
[Interna
the condi

and the League of Nations

Minorities
tion

individuals

that

His

colleague
of human
protection
the relations
of the
drastic

interference

access

to an international

warned

that

the

court."

international

Lauterpacht
as it does
upon
rights "touching
intimately
.
a more
State and the individual.
.implies
with
the sovereignty
of the State
than the

of war."

renunciation

direct

have

Hersch

57

in his aptly-named

But

Peace

through

Law,

Kelsen argued that only people who believed in a "theology of the


to be bound
by
a
red
"We can
Sovereignty
simply
herring.
else
derive from the concept
of sovereignty,"
he went
on, "nothing
than what we have purposely
put into its definition."16
State"

to recognize

refused

The

rather than
then, reflected
sovereignty,
political
or philosophical
But who was go
considerations.
states acknowledge
the supremacy
of international
in the

to respect
Charter,
war
in other
state,

period

had

of world

be required
the Allies'

was

matters

interwar

its confi
reposed
to
human
public opinion
safeguard
a
more
that
effective
instrument
of enforce

thought
in the pressure
It was obvious

rights.
ment would

for all states

was

of

limits

jurisprudential
ing to make
law? Liberal
dence

the need

law.

international

in the postwar

period. What
complicated
as enshrined
in the Atlantic

commitment,
traditional
ideas of state

The post
sovereignty.
to
in some measure
asked

was
words,
being
own
in
its
like Kelsen
acquiesce
Experienced
weakening.
lawyers
saw no other realistic way
to persuade
and Lauterpacht
individual
to
a
states
make
their international
part of domestic
obligations
was to push for some form of world
law. The alternative
state, but
this
At

as Utopian.
they regarded
the heart of this debate

was
the question
of whether
the
in the new postwar
order should be
This was where
the post-1945
order would

to be enshrined

human
individual

rights
or collective.

deviate

most

Nations

had

from Geneva's
The
sharply
approach.
the latter in its system of protection
chosen

The war had done


Europe.
of the problem
of ethnic strife. Indeed,
in Eastern

minorities
the gravity

coined the term "genocide"


Europe,
for the

Occupied
machinery
groups

against

55
u17

and

called

international

extermination

little

of
League
for ethnic
to diminish

Raphael

Lemkin

in his 1944 study of Axis Rule

in

for

the development
of "adequate
of national
and ethnic
protection

attempts

and

oppression

peace.

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in time

of

58
Yet

Mark Mazower
the obvious

despite

strong arguments
than improving
President
League.
nounced
shown

of safeguarding
minorities,
importance
in favor of demolishing
advanced
rather

were
the

collective-rights
approach
pioneered
by
in exile
Benes
and the Czech
government

the League
it had
that

on

system
actually
will

the grounds
that experience
had
their
national
security.
jeopardized

find
ultimately
the states of Eastern

"Every protected minority


one observer.
In addition,

its Henlein,"

warned

resented

Europe

fact that they had been singled out for special obligations
their minorities,
had
Germany,

the Great

whereas
not

to suffer

had

same

Benes

as the protectors
posed
were
Rather
really democratic."
Benes
system,
League
suggested
minorities
should
be based upon
time

the

towards

Powers,
including
Italy and
an indignity.
"In the end,"
to such an extraordinary
pass

such

in 1942,
"things came
and dictator
that the totalitarian
states?Germany,
Hungary,
in their own territories
minorities
the
and
Italy?persecuted

wrote

the
de

and
at the

in states which

of minorities

to restore
the
attempting
to
the postwar
approach
"the defense
of human
demo

than
that

rights."18
rights and not of national
to this opposition
In addition
from Eastern
the major
Europe,
the
States?also
and
United
showed
Allied powers?Britain,
France,
a system that had succeeded
in inter
for reviving
little enthusiasm
in Europe without
serious source of tension
the most
nationalizing
cratic

in
As the postwar
settlement
of resolution.
adequate means
was
in
main
interest
of
the
the
would
powers
show,
major
Europe
to minor
that they too
their obligations
states; this meant
limiting
to
were happy
to bury the League's
collective
rights. The
approach
finding

result was

that

the UN's

eventual

to

commitment

an expression
of passivity
rights was as much
a
means
was
It
of
the Allies.
avoiding
problems,
so few
fact helps us understand
them. This
why

man

for a reinvigoration
hopes
the rhetoric,
Behind

of

international

the UN's

law were

commitment

individual
as of resolve
not
of

hu
by

of

solving
the wartime

to be realized.

to minority
rights
In terms of
politics.

as its overall
as weak
in power
position
a definite
the UN Charter
of minorities,
the protection
represented
Declaration
of
The
Universal
from
the
backwards
step
League.

was

Human Rights of 1948 underlined the new status of the individual


in international
doctrine

of

law
state

and

revealed

supremacy,

but

a lasting mistrust
of the Nazi
no provisions
it contained
for

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Minorities
enforcement.
was

and their study


scarcely mentioned,
Sub-Commission
of the Human
Rights

to an obscure

Committee. A UN
sharp distinction
the new "general

59

were

Minorities

confined

and the League of Nations

Secretariat study of 1950, which provided a

between

the League's
outmoded
and
approach
and universal
of
human
protection
rights," has
one
as
commentator
been described
"disastrous
for
the interna
by
tional protection
of minorities."19
was
More
in its implications
the 1948 Genocide
far-reaching
a
one-man
after
remarkable
crusade by Raphael
Convention?passed
at
who
had
been
the
refusal
of the Interna
Lemkin,
disappointed

tional Military Tribunal at Nuremberg

to judge acts committed by

had seen the war-crimes


as an opportunity
to secure world
the
peace
by increasing
to
under
international
law
take action against
individuals
powers
as well
as states. The Genocide
Convention
added an important
new crime
to those recognized
under
international
law and im
states
to
or
act
to
upon ratifying
posed obligations
prevent
punish
the Nazis

1939.

before

Lemkin

and others

trials

its commission.

But

the international
back

the UN's

world

society

the convention's
and

community,
confident
assertion

has been ignored


potential
there has been little evidence
that

"the

feeling

will

by
to

grow

in

that by protecting
the national,
and
racial, religious
we
in
our
the
world
will
be
everywhere
protecting
a series of
four decades,
went
genocides
unpunished

ethnic

groups
selves." Over

in 1992 that indifference extended

outside Europe;

to Europe

itself.20

the Cold War,

During

Europe's

minorities

much

problems?already

reduced by the dramatic shifts of populations

that took place in

simply put into a deep freeze. On each side of the


Iron Curtain,
bi
potentially
destabilizing
disputes were managed
under
the gaze of the presiding
Neither
laterally,
superpower.

the 1940s?were

Austro-Italian

over

differences

the

over Transylvania
disputes
cohesion.
The German
problem

Romanian
bloc

ties?as

it had

been

between

South

nor Hungarian
Tyrol
to jeopardize
allowed
no longer one of minori

were
was

the wars?but

country. The brutal stability the Cold War


disguised

the fact

that

the

international

regime

rather

of

a divided

brought to Europe
on minority

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rights

Mark Mazower

60

after the interwar years. In the


rather than advanced
regressed
to the outbreak
in
as the international
of war
response
1990s,
to
start
on
from
had
showed,
minority
rights
thinking
Yugoslavia
scratch again.
had

is a striking
international

There
of

dence

contrast

between

the

in the

1920s

policy
transfer
style of the 1990s.
Population
have
the 1923 Greco-Turkish
may
exchange
as they tried to manage
Western
policymakers
none

remains

instead

peace

As for a fully developed

appealed
the war

uncertain,
the lines of
to

some

to offer

one possible

the Dayton

obfuscation,

along

confi

in Bosnia,
as a solution.
It
it explicitly
of
of that masterpiece
interpretation

the assurance

had

the

and

reactive

but

and

ambition

accords.

international regime of minority

rights

seem from today's perspective


effort must
the League's
activist
and idealistic
of an almost
po
unimaginably
half a continent
of their right to reshape
litical elite, confident
to the tenets of Western
Their
effort remains
liberalism.
according

protection,
the product

of

as

interest

solve

the most

the dilemmas

sustained

attempt

of nationalism

looks very different.


the map
today
and the Jews,
the Germans
1918,
also generally
minorities
eliminated;

in Europe's
international

through
two
The
have
form

to
history
law. But

of
great minorities
in different
been
ways
a smaller proportion
of

than
Eastern
Europe
today
populations
as
in history
the war. At the same time, liberal confidence
before
for
an engine of ethnic assimilation
has disappeared,
good.
perhaps
in
in size and shrunk
has grown
The
international
community
in Central

national

and

seems unlikely.
There may be
therefore
Geneva
resolve;
emulating
for good be
some talk of rewarding
countries
Eastern
European
Croatia
admits
of Europe
the Council
but when
Tudjman's
havior,
as a member,

it is hard
eventually

Yugoslavia

Cooperation

to take

this very seriously.


the Conference
impelled

The
on

breakup
Security

of
and

in Europe (CSCE) to appoint a High Commissioner

of the
the publication
and it accelerated
Minorities,
on the Rights
of Persons
"Declaration
belated
Belong
So
or Ethnic, Religious
and Linguistic Minorities."
ing to National
the League's
remain
these initiatives
tentative;
poli
far, however,
as
in comparison.
and coherent
cies look forceful
Internationally
more
as though
about
is
as domestically,
it seems
well
history
on National

UN's

own

forgetting

the past

than

about

learning

from

it.

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Let me

a paradigm

then, with

conclude,

61

and the League of Nations

Minorities

of forgetting.

The

island

of Ada Kaleh was the site of a Turkish fortress on the Danube

just

a library, and a small


in the
slackened
the Balkans

a mosque,

It contained

the Iron Gates.

above

the Ottoman
grip on
village. When
was overlooked.
Ada
Kaleh
nineteenth
century,

It was apparently
at the Congress
of Berlin and remained
between
the newly
stranded midstream
In 1919
its three hun
of Serbia and Romania.

by the diplomats
Turkish
anomaly,

forgotten
a curious

created kingdoms
dred Muslim
inhabitants
used

row

to

across
drink

curiosities,"

were

from
their

over

handed

the mainland

coffee,

buy

to Romania.
to view

their

figs and

Tourists

these

"human

rose-water

and

Turkish delight, and peer inside the last remaining harem in Eu


rope.

At

time when

these

Turkey,

ways. Today
lies beneath

few

a secular
state
in
creating
Ottoman
the traditional
preserved
in vain on the map
It
for Ada Kaleh.

Atatiirk

islanders

one will

search

the waters

of

the ambitious

was

to
in the 1950s
the Danube,
sacrificed
communist
rulers.
plans of Romania's

hydroelectric
Kaleh
just as appropriate
this century
with minorities

Is not Ada
dealing

a symbol
of our manner
of
as any of Europe's
Cultural

Capitals?

ENDNOTES
1
Acton,

quoted

by C. A. Macartney,

National

States

and National

Minorities

(New

York: Russell & Russell, 1968), 17; Robert Cecil inVictor H. Rothwell, British
War Aims and Peace Diplomacy, 1914-1918
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971),
159.

2See especially Arnold Toynbee's deliberately titled The Western Question


in
Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations (London: Constable
and Company,

Ltd.,

1922).

3SeeMark Levene, Wars, Jews and the New Europe: The Diplomacy of Lucien
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); Israel Cohen, Trav
Wolf 1914-1919
els in Jewry (London: E. Goldston, 1952), 87.
4Cited by P. B. Finney, "'An Evil For All Concerned': Great Britain andMinority
Protection After 1919," Journal of Contemporary History 30 (1995): 536-537.
5C. Fink,

"'Defender

of Minorities':

1933," Central European History

Germany

in the League

of Nations,

1926

5 (4) (1972): 330-357.

6Figures from Otto Junghann, National Minorities


Friede, 1932), 116, 119.

in Europe

(New York: Covici,

This content downloaded from 99.0.118.126 on Sun, 5 Jan 2014 20:12:21 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

62

Mark Mazower

7JamesWycliffe Headlam-Morley, A Memoir


(London: Methuen, 1972), 112-113.

of the Paris Peace Conference,

1919

8S.Sierpowski, "Minorities in the System of the League of Nations," in Paul Smith,


ed., Ethnic Groups in International Relations (New York: New York University
Press, 1991), 27.
9Cited by Inis Claude, National Minorities: An International Problem
Mass.:

Harvard

Press,

University

30; numbers

1955),

(Cambridge,
inMacartney,

of petitions

National States and National Minorities, 504, and Jacob Robinson et al., Were
theMinorities Treaties a Failure? (New York: Institute of Jewish Affairs of the
American Jewish Congress and theWorld Jewish Congress, 1943), 252.
10A. J. Motyl,
1921-1939,"

in Inter-War Poland,
Political Violence
"Ukrainian Nationalist
East European Quarterly 19 (1) (March 1985): 46.

nManoug J. Somakian, Empires inConflict: Armenia and the Great Powers, 1895
1920 (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 1995), 137, 86; Arnold J. Toynbee,
in Greece and Turkey, 2d ed. (London: Constable,
The Western Question
1923), 16-17.
"The National

12J.Herz,

Doctrine

Socialist

of International Organization,"
1939): 536-554.
13Cited

in United

States,

of

Law

International

Political Science Quarterly

Department

of

State,

Division

and

the Problems

44 (4) (December

of European

Affairs,

Na

tional Socialism: Basic Principles, Their Application by theNazi Party's Foreign


Organization and the Use of Germans Abroad for Nazi Aims (Washington,
D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1943), 70.
14Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied
Endowment
tion

for International

of European

Civilization

Peace,
and

Europe

(Washington, D.C.: Carnegie

1944),
xiv; W.
Friedman,
of International
the Future

"The Disintegra
Modern
Law,"

Law Review (December 1938): 194-214; J.Herz, "The National Socialist Doc
trine of International Law," Political Science Quarterly (December 1939): 536
554.

15WorldCitizens Association, World's Destiny and the United States (Chicago, 111.:
World Citizens Association, 1941), 102-105.
16Ibid., 113; Hersch Lauterpacht, An International Bill of the Rights ofMan (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1945), vi; Hans Kelsen, Peace through Law
(Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1944), esp. 41-42.
17Lemkin,Axis Rule inOccupied Europe, xiii.
18E.Benes, "The Organization of Postwar Europe," Foreign Affairs 20 (1) (January
1942): 226-242; Claude, National Minorities: An International Problem,
55-59.
19I. Szabo,
ments,"

"Historical
in Karel

of Human

Foundations
Vasak,

ed.,

The

International

and
Rights
Dimensions

Develop
Subsequent
of Human
Rights

(Paris: UNESCO, 1982), 11-42; Hersch Lauterpacht, International Law and


Human Rights (New York: F. A. Praeger, 1950), 353; Hersch Lauterpacht, Re
port: Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations and the International
Bill of the Rights of Man (Brussels: n.p., 1948), 22; P. Thornberry, "The UN

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Minorities
Declaration:

Background,

Analysis

63

and the League of Nations


and

Observations,"

in Alan

Phillips

and

Allan Rosas, eds., The UN Minority Rights Declaration


(Turku, Abo: Abo
Akademi University, Institute for Human Rights; London: Minority Rights
Group, 1993), 15.
20Nehemiah

Robinson,

The

Genocide

Convention:

Commentary

(New

York:

Institute of Jewish Affairs, World Jewish Congress, 1960), 52; see also Hans
Kelsen, "Collective and Individual Responsibility in International Law with Par
ticular Regard to the Punishment of War Criminals," California Law Review
XXXI (December 1943): 530-571; Hersch Lauterpacht, "The Subjects of the
Law of Nations," Law Quarterly Review LXIII (October 1947): 438-460; Law
Quarterly Review LXIV (January 1948): 97-116.

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