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The Inside Story of the Peace Conference By Emile Joseph Dillon Characters: 14794

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Casting a parting glance at Poland as she looked when emerging from the Conference in the leading-strings of the Great Western Powers, after having escaped from the Bolshevist dangers that compassed her round, we behold her about to begin her national existence as a semi-independent nation, beset with enemies domestic and foreign. For it would be an abuse of terms to affirm that Poland, or, indeed, any of the lesser states, is fully independent in the old sense of the word. The special treaty imposed on her by the Great Two obliges her to accord free transit to Allied goods and certain privileges to her Jewish and other minorities; to accept the supervision and intervention of the League of Nations, which the Poles contend means in their case an Anglo-Saxon-Jewish association; and, at the outset, at any rate, to recognize the French generalissimus as the supreme commander of her troops.

Poland's frontiers and general status ought, if the scheme of her French protectors had been executed, to have been accommodated to the peculiar functions which they destined her to fill in New Europe. France's plan was to make of Poland a wall between Germany and Russia. The marked tendency of the other two Conference leaders was to transform it into a bridge between those two countries. And the outcome of the compromise between them has been to construct something which, without being either, combines all the disadvantages of both. It is a bridge for Germany and a wall for Bolshevist Russia. That is the verdict of a large number of Poles. Although the Europe of the future is to be a pacific and ethically constituted community, whose members will have their disputes and quarrels with one another settled by arbitration courts and other conciliatory tribunals, war and efficient preparation for it were none the less uppermost in the minds of the circumspect lawgivers. Hence the Anglo-Saxon agreement to defend France against unprovoked aggression. Hence, too, the solicitude displayed by the French to have the Polish state, which is to be their mainstay in eastern Europe, equipped with every territorial and other guaranty necessary to qualify it for the duties. But what the French government contrived to obtain for itself it failed to secure for its new Slav ally. Nay, oddly enough it voted with the Anglo-Saxon delegates for keeping all the lesser states under the tutelage of the League. The Duumvirs, having made the requisite concessions to France, were resolved in Poland's case to avoid a further recoil toward the condemned forms of the old system of equilibrium. Hence the various plebiscites, home-rule charters, subdivisions of territory, and other evidences of a struggle for reform along the line of least resistance, as though in the unavoidable future conflict between timidly propounded theories and politico-social forces the former had any serious chance of surviving. In politics, as in coinage, it is the debased metal that ousts the gold from circulation.

Poland's situation is difficult; some people would call it precarious. She is surrounded by potential enemies abroad and at home-Germans, Russians, Ukrainians, Magyars, and Jews. A considerable number of Teutons are incorporated in her republic to-day, and also a large number of people of Russian race. Now, Russia and Germany, even if they renounce all designs of reconquering the territory which they misruled for such a long span of time, may feel tempted one day to recover their own kindred, and what they consider to be their own territory. And irredentism is one of the worst political plagues for all the three parties who usually suffer from it. If then Germany and Russia were to combine and attack Poland, the consequences would be serious. That democratic Germany would risk such a wild adventure in the near future is inconceivable. But history operates with long periods of time, and it behooves statesmanship to do likewise.

A Polish statesman would start from the assumption that, as Russia and Germany have for the time being ceased to be efficient members of the European state-system, a good understanding may be come to with both of them, and a close intimacy cultivated with one. Resourcefulness and statecraft will be requisite to this consummation. For some Russians are still uncompromising, and would fain take back a part of what the revolutionary wave swept out of their country's grasp, but circumstance bids fair to set free a potent moderating force in the near future. Already it is incarnated in statesmen of the new type. In this connection it is instructive to pass in review the secret maneuvers by which the recognition of Poland's independence was, so to say, extorted from a Russian Minister, who was reputed at the time to be a Democrat of the Democrats. As some governments have now become champions of publicity, I venture to hope that this disclosure will be as helpful to those whom it concerns as was the systematic suppression of my articles and telegrams during the space of four years.[190]

On the outbreak of the Russian revolution Poland's representatives in Britain, who had been ceaselessly working for the restoration of their country, approached the British government with a request that the opportunity should be utilized at once, and the new democratic Cabinet in Petrograd requested to issue a proclamation recognizing the independence of Poland. The reasons for this move having been propounded in detail, orally and in writing, the Foreign Secretary despatched at once a telegram to the Ambassador in the Russian capital, instructing him to lay the matter before the Russian Foreign Minister and urge him to lose no time in establishing the claim of the Polish provisional government to the sympathies of the world, and the redress of its wrongs by Russia. Sir George Buchanan called on Professor Milyukoff, then Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Constitutional Democratic party, and propounded to him the views of the British government, which agreed with those of France and Italy, and hoped he would see his way to profit by the opportunity. The answer was prompt and definite, and within forty-eight hours of Mr. Balfour's despatch it reached the Foreign Office. The gist of it was that the Minister of Foreign Affairs regretted his inability to deal with the problem at that conjuncture, owing to its great complexity and various bearings, and also because of his apprehension that the Poles would demand the incorporation of Russian lands in their reconstituted state. From this answer many conclusions might fairly be drawn respecting persons, parties, and principles on the surface of revolutionary Russia. But to his credit, Mr. Balfour did not accept it as final. He again telegraphed to the British Ambassador, instructing him to insist upon the recognition of Poland, as the matter was urgent, and to exhort the provisional government to give in good time the desired proof of the democratic faith that is to save Russia. Sir George Buchanan accomplished the task expeditiously. M. Milyukoff gave way, drafted and issued the proclamation. Mr. Bonar Law welcomed it in a felicitous speech in the House of Commons,[191] and the Entente press lauded to the skies the generous spirit of the new Russian government. The Russian people and their leaders have traveled far since then, and have rid themselves o

f much useless ballast.

As Slavs the Poles might have been naturally predisposed to live in amity with the Russians, were it not for the specter of the past that stands between them. But now that Russia is a democracy in fact as well as in name, this is much more feasible than it ever was before, and it is also indispensable to the Russians. In the first place, it is possible that Poland may have consolidated her forces before her mighty neighbor has recovered the status corresponding to her numbers and resources. If the present estimates are correct, and the frontiers, when definitely traced, leave Poland a republic with some thirty-five million people, such is her extraordinary birth-rate and the territorial scope it has for development, that in the not far distant future her population may exceed that of France. Assuming for the sake of argument that armies and other national defenses will count in politics as much as hitherto, Poland's specific weight will then be considerable. She will have become not indeed a world power (to-day there are only two such), but a European Great Power whose friendship will be well worth acquiring.

In the meanwhile Polish statesmen-the Poles have one in Roman Dmowski-may strike up a friendly accord with Russia, abandoning definitely and formally all claims to so-called historic Poland, disinteresting themselves in all the Baltic problems which concern Russia so closely, and envisaging the Ukraine from a point of view that harmonizes with hers. And if the two peoples could thus find a common basis of friendly association, Poland would have solved at least one of her Sphinx questions.

As for the internal development of the nation, it is seemingly hampered with as many hindrances as the international. It may be likened to the world after creation, bearing marks of the chaos of the eve. The German Poles differ considerably from the Austrian, while the Russian Poles are differentiated from both. The last-named still show traces of recent servitude in their everyday avocations. They lack the push and the energy of purpose so necessary nowadays in the struggle for life. The Austrian Poles in general are reputed to be likewise easy-going, lax, and more brilliant than solid, while their administrative qualities are said to be impaired by a leaning toward Oriental methods of transacting business. The Polish inhabitants of the provinces hitherto under Germany are people of a different temperament. They have assimilated some of the best qualities of the Teuton without sacrificing those which are inherent in men of their own race. A thorough grasp of detail and a gift for organization characterize their conceptions, and precision, thoroughness, and conscientiousness are predicated of their methods. If it be true that the first reform peremptorily called for in the new republic is an administrative purge, it follows that it can be most successfully accomplished with the whole-hearted co-operation of the German Poles, whose superior education fits them to conform their schemes to the most urgent needs of the nation and the epoch.

The next measure will be internal colonization. There are considerable tracts of land in what once was Russian Poland, the population of which, owing to the havoc of war, is abnormally sparse. Some districts, like that of the Pripet marshes, which even at the best of times had but five persons to the kilometer, are practically deserts. For the Russian army, when retreating before the Germans, drove before it a huge population computed at eight millions, who inhabited the territory to the east of Brest-Litovsk and northward between Lida and Minsk. Of these eight millions many perished on the way. A large percentage of the survivors never returned.[192] Roughly speaking, a couple of millions (mostly Poles and Jews) went back to their ruined homes. Now the Poles, who are one of the most prolific races in Europe, might be encouraged to settle on these thinly populated lands, which they could convert into ethnographically Polish districts within a relatively short span of time. These, however, are merely the ideas of a friendly observer, whose opinion cannot lay claim to any weight.

To-day Poland's hope is not, as it has been hitherto, the nobleman, the professor, and the publicist, but the peasant. The members of this class are the nucleus of the new nation. It is from their midst that Poland's future representatives in politics, arts, and science will be drawn. Already the peasants are having their sons educated in high-schools and universities, of which the republic has a fair number well supplied with qualified teachers,[193] and they are resolute adversaries of every movement tainted with Bolshevism.

Thus the difficulties and dangers with which new Poland will have to contend are redoubtable. But she stands a good chance of overcoming them and reaching the goal where lies her one hope of playing a noteworthy part in reorganized Europe. The indispensable condition of success is that the current of opinion and sentiment in the country shall buoy up reforming statesmen. These must not only understand the requirements of the new epoch and be alive to the necessity of penetrating public opinion, but also possess the courage to place high social aims at the head of their life and career. Statesmen of this temper are rare to-day, but Poland possesses at least one of them. Her resources warrant the conviction which her chiefs firmly entertain that she may in a relatively near future acquire the economic leadership of eastern Europe, and in population, military strength, and area equal France.

Parenthetically it may be observed that the enthusiasm of the Poles for British institutions and for intimate relations with Great Britain has perceptibly cooled.

In the limitations to which she is now subjected, her more optimistic leaders discern the temporarily unavoidable condition of a beneficent process of working forward toward indefinite amelioration. Their people's faith, that may one day raise the country above the highest summit of its past historical development, if it does not reconcile them to the present, may nerve them to the effort which shall realize that high consummation in the future.


[190] Most of my articles written during the last half of the war, and some during the armistice, were held back on grounds which were presumably patriotic. I share with those who were instrumental in keeping them from the public the moral portion of the reward which consists in the assumption that some high purpose was served by the suppression.

[191] On April 26, 1917.

[192] Mainly White Russians.

[193] The Poles have universities in Cracow, Warsaw, Lvoff (Lemberg), Liublin, and will shortly open one in Posen. One Polish statesman entertains a novel and useful idea which will probably be tested in the University of Posen. Noticing that the greater the progress of technical knowledge the less is the advance made in the knowledge of men, which is perhaps the most pressing need of the new age, this statesman proposes to create a new type of university, where there would be two principal sections, one for the study of natural sciences and mathematics, and the other for the study of men, which would include biology, psychology, ethnography, sociology, philology, history, etc.

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