måndag 24 mars 2014

Territorial referenda after World War I

The background is a bit complicated, but interesting. A comparable series of referenda were never held after eg. World War II. What happened after WWI is sort of unique (and should be set as an example according to my opinion).

After World War I, on the 8th of January 1918, United States President Woodrow Wilson presented his famous policy, the "Fourteen Points". It outlines the territorial and economic future for Europe after the war. It is often claimed that one leading principle in this was the notion of "self-determination". It isn't mentioned in the "Fourteen Points", but Wilson said the following in a speech on 11 February 1918 (i. e. one month after announcing his Fourteen Points):
National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.
The notion of "Self-determination" has been interpreted in many ways. One interpretation is that the populations themselves are given the power to decide sovereign questions eg. through referenda. This interpretation has been refuted several times; this is not at all necessarily what Wilson meant by the expression. Here is an article (The Fable of the Fourteen Points: Woodrow Wilson and National Self-Determination by Trygve Throntveit, 2011) which goes as far as to state that Wilson wasn't interested in people making these decisions, but instead governments.

Still, the fact is that referenda were used in a remarkably high number of cases to decide borders after World War I. And we know that the "Fourteen Points" in general was extremely influential in how borders and governments were decided in Europe after World War I. In a Wikipedia article about the Eupen-Malmedy referendum 1920, it is said: "Under pressure from the United States, whose war aims had included popular sovereignty, a plebiscite was planned..."

So, these are referenda held after or as a result of World War I. I haven't come across a full compiled list like this elsewhere on the Internet and therefore I present it here in this blog. I'm interested in this because I tend to think that this is how it should be done. (Also in the case of the current situation of eg. Crimea, Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh.) Except of course, that results should be respected!

Result of referendum
Åland 1
Finland or Sweden      
Dec 1917
Wish to go to Sweden
Åland 2
Finland or Sweden      
June 1919
95.5 % wish to go to Sweden (never happened)
Austria or Switzerland
80 % wish to go to Switzerland (never happened)
Economical union with France or Belgium
73.0% vote, with France (never happened, union with Belgium instead)
Northern Schleswig
Denmark or Germany
To Denmark
Central Schleswig
Denmark or Germany
To Germany
Belgium or Germany
1920-01-26- -1920-07-23
To Belgium (democratic deficit)
Austria or Yugoslavia
59.1 % to Austria (not a majority in alla zones)
Upper Silesia
Poland, Germany or Czechoslovakia
Eastern part to Poland
East Prussia (southern)
Prussia or Poland
Remain in Prussia
Smyrna (Izmir)
Greece or Turkey
(1925) never held)
Turkey invaded in 1923
France, Germany or League of Nations Administration
90 % vote to Germany
Reject current "European status"
67.7% vote to Germany


The referenda in Åland, Vorarlberg and Luxemburg are the only ones that were not a result of WWI peace negotiations (except for the second Saargebiet referendum of course). The results were not respected in any of these cases. Germany and Denmark signed a minority protection treaty in 1955 concerning both the Danes in Germany and the Germans in Denmark.

Pressure from the Belgian government never made the Eupen-Malmedy referendum a true expression of popular will. The Oberschlesien referendum included only the biggest part of the territory. The Smyrna referendum was never held since Turkey invaded before that. Saargebiet is not the same as Saarland but just a (big) part of it. The second Saargebiet referendum was not a (direct) result of WWII peace negotiations.

1 kommentar:

  1. Interesting list. Funny with East Prussia, which could choose between Prussia or Poland. Today, much of that region belongs to a completely different country: Russia.