15 JUNE 1929, Page 15

The League of Nations

Silesian and Other Minorities

THE Council of the League of Nations is perforce paying serious attention to Minorities, both in general and in particular, at its meeting in Madrid, for grave responsibility lies upon the League to see that justice is done. When public opinion makes this demand, the delegates and officials of the League may fairly retort that the public is ill-informed and bad better not make itself a nuisance by distracting the men at the wheel. The Spectator has always preached the virtues of publicity—not in the debased sense of advertisement by which America has vulgarized the word, but of well-informed public opinion ; and believes that where business is not necessarily confidential, as it must often be, for example, in diplomacy, the honest politician, negotiator or administrator will welcome publicity and fair criticism as aids in his work. But if it is to have any virtue, this public opinion must be honest and well instructed. In spite of the efforts of the unofficial Congress of National Minorities, the Minorities created in Europe and Asia since the War have not been the subjects of enough instruction or inquiry by disinterested persons.

The first " Minorities Treaty " was presented to Poland for signature by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers in June, 1919. The plebiscites on the eastern borders of Germany had not been held, but the Council of Four had decided a few days earlier to hold them. Poland was a creature of the Peace Conference ; she was then rather grateful to her creators and willing to sign a reasonable treaty put before her, and we do not doubt that M. Paderewski had the best intentions of carrying it out honourably. It dealt in a liberal spirit with questions of religion, nationality, language, education and so on. The last article brings in the guarantee (and so the responsibility) of the League and the right of the Council to veto changes ; disputes shall be referred by any Power, a member of the Council, to the Permanent Court of Inter- national Justice. These clauses fitted in consistently with Article XIV of the Covenant and amplified Article XCI of the Treaty of Versailles. The Supreme Council was so well, and justifiably well satisfied with this Polish Treaty that it was made the basis, mutatis mutandis, of four other treaties and was in effect incorporated in four more besides. It would have been a generous action and a good example if the Allied Powers had voluntarily imposed the signature of such a treaty upon themselves. Though the transfer of Alsace was not quite comparable to other transfers, the French Government to-day might have been glad to be bound by such a treaty in black and white. Certainly it would have been well if Signor Mussolini, on reaching his power, had found Italy so bound.

The procedure when a complaint reaches the Council of the League has not given complete satisfaction. The petitions have been passed on to a committee of three, and very often no more has been heard of them. Publicity may be sought for its own sake rather than for the sake of justice ; it can be used in these spheres for ulterior political purposes ; it attracts the disgruntled and the fanatical. But we welcome the proposals made at the March Session by Senator Dandurand : that petitioners must first address their own Governments ; if after forty days the Government has not forwarded the complaint to the League Secretariat, the petitioners may do so. Besides other details there follow these important proposals, that the Committee of three should be enlarged, and that they should have power to make public communications upon the business. All this was well received on the whole, though Poland and some of the smaller States that have signed Minorities Treaties showed some nervousness then and since. Herr Stresemann was favourable, though he feared that publicity would tempt irredentist bodies to mere agitation. Sir Austen Chamberlain then emphasized the duty of petitioners to come " with clean hands " ; their first duty must be loyalty to the State of their allegiance, and they would have to prove their loyalty. The Committee, consisting of Sir Austen, Senor Quinones de Leon and M. Adatchi, has met in London to consider the pro- posals, and the Council is now considering their Report.

To come to the particular case of the German or Silesian Minority in Poland ; the Silesian Poles who remain within the Reich seem to be fairly contented. From the other side of the new frontier we hear little of the hardships of the Jewish

Minority, who were particularly safeguarded in the Polish Treaty. But there is loud and continuous complaint from the Germans there. This must be due either to greater grievances or to more active propaganda, or, as we believe, to both. There is no doubt that the Deutscher Volkabund in the new Polish territory and sympathizers in Germany do try to influence opinion with vigour and ingenuity. We are entitled to ask

whether these people have acted loyally towards their new State before trying to bring pressure from outside. The answer is on the whole favourable to them. Germans did seek election to duly constituted bodies such as the Silesian Sejm, and there is apparently foundation for the charge that the local Governor, a Galician Germanophobe, has dissolved elected bodies upon finding German influence too strong therein. We have not heard his side of the question in full, though M. Zaleski has publicly defended him. The alleged oppressive measures taken to drive children of German blood and speech into purely Polish schools instead of the " Minority " schools have been hotly described, even at Geneva. Unfortunately by the time that definite complaints have reached the Council of the League they always seem to be trivialities, like the colour of the pillar boxes at Danzig. Under the German-Polish Convention there is provided admirable machinery for settling them, the mixed Commission of two Germans and two Poles, presided over by that excellent and experienced Swiss, M. Calonder. His Commission has dealt satisfactorily with a large number of small questions, and it has never been decisively proved to us which side is the more to blame for its lack of more complete success. Stern public rebuke to both sides, showing that this Commission is regarded by the rest of Europe as a serious and important body, should make those who have greater familiarity with it treat it with greater respect. The Council of the the League should do its best to raise the prestige and the authority of the Commission.

But after all it is good will between the parties that is:11 always count for most. We cannot defend the later Allied Commission of Government from charges of committing many faults, but the plebiscite and the Civil War have been over and done with now for seven years. The Convention, signed after the unsatisfactory decision of the new frontier, was a genuine effort to make the line for fifteen years as little noticeable or obstructive as possible. The Germans would naturally be willing that this new frontier within their old territory should he ignored, and the Poles must admit having yielded to strong temptation to make it exceedingly noticeable and annoying in every aspect. In the industrial sphere German brains were quickly reinstalled in the mines and smelting works, as the French realized during the occupation of the Ruhr Valley. The difficulties in the sphere of self-government are far greater and call for much more patience and tact. The Minority must prove their own superiority until the Poles recognize the value to themselves of the German elements. If the Poles in the mass have lower standards of living, if they do now show jealousy and even vindictiveness towards the German race, who is in great measure to blame ? The old partitioning Powers including Prussia. Those faults with meanness of character and inability to use power well when achieved are the very vices that a long oppressed people owes to its oppressors. When Poles are blamed for them in Warsaw, Kattowitz or Posen, we remember the centuries of their oppres- sion at the hands of Russia and Prussia (though we do not forget the practical education imposed by Germany before the War upon all Poles within the Reich). We see the sins of the fathers visited upon the children's children in Poland to-day. That is not the human justice for which we are bound to strive, but recollection of it is due. Our desire is to see the League take a strong line in enforcing the Minorities Treaties in Poland or wherever they have been signed, for a heavy responsibility has passed to it from the Peace Conference. Infractions of these treaties in the letter or the spirit, by which moral and sometimes physical rights are denied, entail grievous mental and sometimes bodily suffering, which are a blot upon a Christian Europe and upon the new reign of Law wherein might is no longer right.