East European History 0200
University of Pittsburgh
Fall Semester 1998-99
Prof. Irina Livezeanu

Topic Five - Reading One

Selection from:
"Readings in East European History" Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, eds.




39. Minorities Treaty (June 28, 1919)


Article 1

Poland undertakes that the stipulations contained in Articles 2 to 8 of this Chapter shall be recognized as fundamental laws, and that no law, regulation or offical action shall conflict or interfere with these stipulations, nor shall any law, regulation of official action prevail over them.

Article 2

Poland undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Poland without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion.

All inhabitants of Poland shall be entitled to the free exercise, whether public or private, of any creed, religion or belief, whose practices are not inconsistent with public order or public morals.

Article 7

All Polish nationals shall be equal before the law and shall enjoy the same civil and political rights without distinction as to race, language or religion.

Differences of religion, creed or confession shall not prejudice any Polish national in matters relating to the enjoyment of civil or political rights, as, for instance, admission to public employments, functions and honours, or the exercise of professions and industries.

No restriction shall be imposed on the free use by any Polish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, in religion, in the press or in publications of any kind, or at public meetings. Notwithstanding any establishment by the Polish Government of an official language, adequate facilities shall be given to Polish nationals or non-Polish nationals of non-Polish speech for the use of their language, either orally or in writing before the courts.

Article 8

Polish nationals who belong to racial, religious or linguistic minorities shall enjoy the same treatment and security in law and in fact as the other Polish nationals. In particular, they shall have an equal right to establish, manage and control at their expense charitable, religious and social institutions, schools and other educational establishments, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their religion freely therein.

Article 9

Poland will provide in the public educational system in towns and districts in which a considerable proportion of Polish nationals of other than Polish speech are residents adequate facilities for ensuring that in the primary schools the instruction shall be given to the children of such Polish nationals through the medium of their own language. This provision shall not prevent the Polish Government from making the teaching of the Polish language obligatory in the said schools.

SOURCE: "Protection of Linguistic, Racial, and Religious Minorities by the League of Nations" (Geneva: Publications de la Societe des Nations, I.B., Minorities, 1927), I.B.2, pp. 39-45.

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In towns or districts where there is a considerable proportion of Polish nationals belonging to racial, religious or linguistic minorities, these minorities shall be assured an equitable share in the enjoyment and application of the sums which may be provided out of public funds under the State, municipal or other budgets, for educational, religious or charitable purposes.

The provisions of this Article shall apply to Polish citizens of German speech only in that part of Poland which was German territory on August 1, 1914.



1. In the wake of World War I, the declared intention of the victorious Allies was to create a new Europe of individual and national liberty. Indeed, as they entered the war, the Allies emblazoned on their banners the cause of national minorities. As the British prime minister Herbert Asquith explained in a statement of August 5, 1914, "We are fighting . . . that small nationalities are not to be crushed, in defiance of international good faith, by the arbitrary will of a strong . . . power." With similar sentiments, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States enshrined in his famous "fourteen points" of February 1918 the right of national self-determination. The realization of this objective, however, was enormously complicated by the problem of national minorities in Central and Eastern Europe where there was a plethora of smaller nationalities intermingled among other nationalities, often without territorial contiguity with other concentrations of their co-nationals elsewhere. Much to the exasperation of the visionary architects of the new Europe, it was often impossible to include large pockets of national minorities within states with a predominant population of their own nationality. Thus, the states emerging from the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian empire and those states in the western regions of the former tsarist empire asserting their right to self-determination remained multinational societies, containing sizeable national, linguistic and religious minorities. Still preserving their own distinctive culture and language--Yiddish--and often concentrated in large demographic pockets, the Jews were one of these minorities. A Committee of Jewish Delegations (Comite des Delegations Juives), representing, among others, Jewish national assemblies, councils, and committees formed in most Eastern and Southeastern European Jewish communities, attended the Paris Peace Conference and on May 10, 1919, submitted a memorandum petitioning the Allies to ensure that all members of national minorities in each of the newly created or enlarged states would enjoy the full rights of citizenship and that each minority would have the collective right, secured by international law, to preserve and further its own distinctive culture.

The principle of national minority rights was eventually accepted by the Allies. In addition to signing peace treaties proper, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania and Yugoslavia were each signatories to special treaties designed to protect the members of national and religious minorities both as citizens of their respective states and as members of distinct ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. Later, similar treaties were signed with Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey. Still later, the states of Albania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Iraq (the latter in 1932) pledged themselves to the League of Nations to safeguard the rights of minorities in their respective countries.

The treaty between the principal Allied and associated powers--the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan--and the newly founded Republic of Poland, signed on June 28, 1919, served as a model for similar minority treaties with other nations. With various modifications, articles 10 and 11 of this treaty, which dealt with specifically Jewish cultural and religious liberties, were introduced into the treaties with Czechoslovakia, Greece, Lithuania and Turkey, and into the conventions regarding Upper Silesia and Memel. Significantly, the minority treaty with Rumania included an article (chapter 1, article 7) designed to prevent a repetition of that country's evasion of its obligations under the Treaty of Berlin of 1878 (see document 22 in this chapter). This article reads as follows: "Rumania undertakes to recognize as Rumanian nationals ipso facto and without the requirement of any formality Jews inhabiting any Rumanian territory, who do not possess another nationality."

Jews placed great hope in the system of minority rights, guaranteed as it was by international agreement and law. Initially, with all its pro-

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cedural and substantive imperfections, the system seemed to work. In most states civic equality was achieved while provisions were made, particularly in education, to secure the cultural integrity of national minorities; some minorities, including the Jews, achieved a remarkable measure of cultural and communal autonomy. The great weakness was that the League of Nations, which was charged with supervising the minority rights treaties, had few instruments to enforce compliance. When, for instance, in 1934 the Polish minister of foreign affairs, Colonel Jozef Beck, renounced his country's obligations to its minorities, there was little the international community could do but protest. Whatever was left of the system suffered the fate of the League of the Nations, which met its demise with the outbreak of World War II.

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