Alsace/Lorraine & Schleswig/Holstein

These two tongue-twisters used not only to twist tongues, but eject furious spittle from the pursed mouth of European statesmen and politicians. The problem is not only of dual nationality and two different languages, but also historic bickering between countries traditionally seeing each other as treacherous enemies.

Alsace is a part of North/East France, comprising Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. They lie on the frontier with Germany. Thus enters the traditional loathing of the French for the Germans, and vice-versa. Alsace was a simply a part of France (Lorraine) before finding itself fairly suddenly a part of the German Empire: the fault lies with treaties, as usual: The Peace of Westphalia (1648) and Treaty of Rijwijk (another tongue-torturer, 1697) handed over most of Alsace to France – but in 1871 it was re-annexed by Germany! As if this were not complicated enough, Alsace was subsequently returned to France in 1919 (Treaty of Versailles of immortal memory), and then, though this may difficult to believe, regained by Germany during the Second World War!

It should be pointed out that by now the region was predominantly German-speaking, and Teutonic culture was strong. Nevertheless, many autonomic movements have heaved the region into discontent and unrest ever since 1871. Alsace/Lorraine is a permanent thorn in the flesh of the European Parliament/Community/Commission/Council/Lobbies etc. etc.

Moving north, we find Schleswig/Holstein in the southern part of the Jutland Peninsula – another region hotly contested by Denmark and Prussia during most of the 19th and 20th centuries. The two duchies have effectively been ‘ruled’ since the middle ages by he who is King of Denmark, though they have remarkably different populations: Schleswig was rather mixed, whereas Holstein was 95% German in language, outlook and loyalties. Indeed, Holstein joined the German Federation in 1815.

In 1848 Denmark tried to annex Schleswig, notwithstanding, which caused war between the German Federation and Denmark. While diplomats scratched their head, not knowing what to do or say, until a compromise was reached in 1852; Danish demands were not met however, and a conflict broke out again in 1863, mainly because of a dispute over the right of Christian X (who had succeeded Frederick VII of Denmark) to rule. The chief problem was the Salic Law, which would not recognise a female line of succession. The German speaking/feeling part of the population argued that both duchies should be ruled by the Duke of Augustenberg. Prussia and Austria joined the tug-of-war on the German side, naturally. The Danes were defeated in a brief war, and the Treaty of Prague (1866) passed Schleswig/Holstein as a single entity over into Prussian domination.

In state of comparative peace dotted by sporadic outbreaks pf violence, this situation continued until the above-mentioned Treaty of Versailles (q.v.) in 1919, which awarded northern Schleswig to Denmark, though this did not actually happen until July of 1920. A referendum was then called and as a result the remainder of Schleswig/Holstein was absorbed as a state into what was then called West Germany (1946). Are you still there with me? It is mysterious, not to say uncanny, that Denmark, a state overrun and occupied by Nazi Germany during the 2nd World War, should now lose Schleswig /Holstein to the loser in the war, but the mindsets of diplomats can be just as mysterious. Canny they certainly are not.

Lord Palmerston is said to have said, apropos of Schlesig/Holstein, though he could easily have been thinking of Alsace/Lorraine as well: “There are only three men who have ever understood it (the problem): one was Prince Albert, who is dead; the second was a German professor, who went mad. I am the third, and I have forgotten all about it”.

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