Back   What was ‘self-determination’, and how did the principle affect the peace treaties of 1919–1920?

 

 

Summary

Self-determination was point 10 of Wilson’s Fourteen Points.   Wilson wanted to re-draw the frontiers of eastern Europe so that races ruled themselves.   In some ways, self-determination was achieved.   The Treaty of Versailles created Poland by taking West Prussia from Germany.   It also created the new nation-states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.   The Treaty of Saint Germain created Czechoslovakia and the Treaty of Trianon created Yugoslavia.   In all, nine nation states were set up.

                However, the Big Three did not allow the defeated countries self-determination.   Germans found themselves living in Poland, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia, and Anschluss with Austria was forbidden.   Bulgaria and Turkey also lost land.   In the new countries (especially Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia), were ‘enclaves’ of minority races.   Also, France and Britain did not allow colonies self-determination, and German colonies and the Turkish empire became mandates.

 

 

Self-determination for the peoples of Eastern Europe was point 10 of Wilson’s Fourteen Points.   Also, points 5 (colonies), 7 (Belgium), 12 (Turkish empire) and 13 (Poland) promised self-determination, by which he meant the right of nations to rule themselves.   Wilson, a History Professor, thought it would make people happier, and make a safer peace.   He wanted to re-draw the frontiers of eastern Europe so that all races ruled themselves.   Wilson was one of the ‘Big Three’, and so – to a certain extent – ‘self-determination’ got into the treaties.

 

The Treaty of Versailles – although mainly concerned with Germany – took land on the Baltic coast (which Germany had gained from Russia by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk) and created from it the new nation-states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.   It also gave the German town of Memel to Lithuania.

 

Other nations-states were created by the Treaties.   Poland was created by the Treaty of Versailles. T  he Treaty took West Prussia (including the ‘Polish corridor’) and land in the Ukraine (which Germany had gained at Brest-Litovsk) to make the new nation-state.   More land was given to Poland by the Treaty of Saint Germain with Austria in 1919.   Czechoslovakia was created by the Treaty of Saint Germain, from land in the old Austrian empire.   Czechoslovakia also got land from Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.   Yugoslavia was formed by giving Serbia land from the old Austrian Empire (St Germain) and from Hungary (Trianon).   Romania was given Transylvania by the Treaty of Trianon.

            In all, nine nation states were set up (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia).   Plebiscites (elections) were held in Schleswig and Upper Silesia, so people there could chose their own country.   Also, Alsace-Lorraine given back to France.   The peace-makers tried to protect minorities by putting clauses into the treaties forcing countries to treat minorities fairly.

 

There were ways, however, that self-determination did NOT affect the Treaties.   The Big Three did not allow Germans self-determination.   Many Germans found themselves living in Poland or Lithuania, and the German Sudetenland was made part of Czechoslovakia (to give Czechoslovakia an industrial base).   Anschluss with Austria was forbidden. Also, the Treaty of Neuilly in 1919 took Bulgarian areas, and gave them to Greece, Yugoslavia and Romania. In the same way, the Treaty of Sèvres gave Turkish Smyrna to Greece.   Like Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey were defeated powers, so they did not get self-determination.

            In all the new countries (especially Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia), there were ‘enclaves’ of minority races.   Sometimes also, the new countries would not allow self-determination to others.   In 1919 Czechoslovakia seized Teschen (inhabited by Poles), and the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio led an Italian army to capture Fiume, which was Yugoslavian.   In 1920 Poland invaded and captured large areas of Russia and Lithuania.   Worst of all, France and Britain did not allow their colonies self-determination, and German colonies and the Turkish empire became mandates.