16 AUGUST 1930, Page 7

The Frontie r of Europe

TO sit in the sunshine on the loggia of a Polish manor- house and discuss the United States of Europe is a pleasant enough academic exercise. Your Polish host approaches the subject, naturally, from the point of view of Poland, and your own attitude is conditioned by certain preconceptions. Poland, you feel privately, is obsessed, like France, with the idea of security. Poland, like France, can never forget the War. Why not sec life a little more as life is ? Take, for example, simply the aspects of it which I had seen myself that day. We had left Vilna by the Kalwarjska road, and time and again the car was slowed to a walking pace as we overtook a little procession—a priest, at image.. from the church, choristers, a band of girls in white, a train of peasants, men, women, and plodding children, babies carried in tired arms—all wending their way, like a score of other little processions from other villages, to the church at Kalwarja, noted through the countryside, that keeps its festival on

Ascension Day. Many of the women were barefooted, as the peasant women in Poland so often arc, and many had been walking through the night, for these pilgrims come from far. A farm cart or two carries their scanty provisions, and they bivouac for a while in the darkest hours as best they may.

. That was peaceful enough, surely. Peaceful enough, too, the place of my sojourning that clay. It was what, in the language of agrarian reform, would be called a great estate, great enough at any rate to be broken up in a country where agrarian reforms arc zealously pursued, for part of it lay across the Lithuanian frontier, and of that part only the statutory eighty hectares were left to its owner. On the Polish side he has ten times that, and on such a holding (for a hectare is nearly two acres and a half) a man can live in no great privation. So I suggested to my host, and, philosophically, he agreed. We talked, us I said, of the 'United States of Europe. Thc sun played on

the grass and the swaying trees and the springing corn. It burnished the storks' long spears of beaks and set the ruffled waters of the lake a-sparkle. Peaceful enough, surely, to make the eternal " security " issue an irritation.

Peaceful surroundings, moreover, for a peaceful people. More than thirty families lived and worked on the estate. There were the cows to tend and the horses—draught and driving—the pigs and the poultry, the distillery (a special cognac is made there of potatoes) the flour-mill and the sawmill and the dairy, as well as the forests and the culti- vation of the fields. The relation of the workers to the master of it all was feudal—a survival of feudalism, as it seemed to me, at its best. My host, returning after a brief absence in the city, was welcomed with a sincerity there was no mistaking. In the cottages the women invariably kissed his sleeve and most of the men his hand. If he accosted them about the farm they stood, with doffed cap, noticeably, though not aggressively, at attention—a sure mark of the military training that every worker gets in a conscript country. But when a couple of young grooms made to kiss his hand he put it behind his back and waved them away with the other. Why, I asked him, did he do that ? Because, he said, he never quite liked having men kiss his hand. It suggested a wrong relationship, with a touch of the servile in it, though in intention it spelled simply respect, with no sort of self-abasement at all. The older men had done it all their lives (I was a little dis- concerted myself when, being introduced to the head forester, I put out my hand to shake his and found it raised to his lips instead) and it was better to let them go on, but the new generation should drop the custom.

Feudal or not, at any rate it denoted in this ease a genuine bond between proprietor and worker that harmonized well with the en-ironing atmosphere of peace. And yet—was the peace so deep-rooted and so enduring ? There were insistent reminders of something different very close. The house, with its quiet coolness, and the satisfying simplicity of its white walls without and its smoothed boards within, was not the manor-house itself. That greater structure stood a stone's throw away, seaffolded, gutted, uninhabitable. For the War had ebbed and flowed long across that land. The Russians were there at the beginning, and then the Germans. And when the Great War ended, Russians, Poles and Lithuanians turned to fighting once again, and roofs still standing when the treaties of 1919 were signed came crashing down in 1920. It was, as it happened, a Lithuanian shell that completed the devastation here. It might as well have been a Polish or a Russian.

Such a spectacle shook a little the conviction of settled peace. So, in another way, did a walk round those sunlit fields. This particular estate, as I have mentioned, is actually cut by the frontier. When that line was drawn— in Paris, on the paper of a map—half the property was left in Lithuania and half in Poland. Now most of the Lithuanian part has been sacrificed (by no means unjustly, provided proper compensation is paid) to the processes of agrarian reform. But a portion still remains on that side of the frontier and, as sole infinitesimal result of years of negotiation between the Warsaw and Kovno Governments, workers on this estate and others like it are permitted, if armed with special passes, to cross the frontier for their necessary work, but only within the boundaries of the estate itself.

• For, apart from this, the frontier is absolutely closed. The Poles drove the Lithuanians from Vilna in 1920 in circumstances that have been a matter of controversy ever since, and they hold it still. In protest against that rape, as they consider it, the Lithuanians have forsworn all dealings with the Poles. That was why the blue- green Lithuanian sentry with his loaded rifle was keeping his monotonous vigil on the hillside across the stream. That was why the Polish post, with its score or so of khaki guards, had been planted between the manor- house and the mill. That was why my host, as he pointed to the spire of what used to be the parish church for all his people, mentioned that of course that was inaccessible now, as the frontier came in between. A state of war'? Not technically. The state of war was ended by a formal declaration at Geneva in 1927. But in no sort of sense, if words have any meaning, a state of peace.

It is not so astonishing, perhaps, that war is not quite forgotten in Poland, nor the security issue quite ignored. For Poland has other neighbours besides Lithuania. One of them is Germany, and there are few pairs of bed- fellows in Europe so uneasy as the German and the Pole. Who is to blame for that is a question no easier to answer than the same question as between Poland and Lithuania. But the fact is what matters here, not the causes of the fact. And the hard fact is that no confi- dence in the permanence of peace exists on the German frontier or the Lithuanian or the Russian.

So, while the sun shines still, and the talk on M. Briand's plan flows on, those obstinate questionings obtrude themselves unasked. Are the Pales simply harping on their one persistent string when they hail M. Briand's proposals as a new guarantee of security ? And do they remember one war because another war seems so real a possibility ? Poland is neither militarist nor militant in the sense of menacing anyone or seeking new acquisitions. Her only concern is to defend what she possesses. But she likes to think of herself as guarding the frontier of Europe, and the post of warden of the marches, when Russia is the nearest neighbour beyond and there arc a dozen unsettled differences with Germany behind, is not the most tranquil office in the world. The security issue, in a word, does not look quite the

same in Poland as in Putney. H. WILSON HAIL