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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Territorial Integrity

In 1938 there was a huge row in Europe centred on the 'territorial integrity' of the cobbled-together entity called Czechoslovakia. Edward Benes, the 'jackal of Versailles' had conned the gullible Woodrow Wilson into handing to a clique of Czech nationalists more than 4 million German Bohemians, 2.5 million Slovaks, about 500,000 Hungarians, 500,000 Ruthenians and 500,000 Zigani [Gypsies, or Roma].

The great majority of the Germans wanted to be ruled by a German-speaking government, and when Hitler made a ploy for their transfer to Germany - and local leaders mostly accepted that - Neville Chamberlain and his French opposite number did not see that they had much ground to oppose this, as a pretty clear language frontier existed within the old Kingdom of Bohemia. As Brussels is now, Prague was a linguistic 'island' in a predominantly Czech-speaking area, but the rest of the German population was effectively contiguous with Germany and Austria [which Hitler was in the process of annexing, with overwhelming popular support]. Unfortunately, Hitler went beyond the bound of what was reasonable, when he made similar demands of Poland: and World War II began. The tragic outcome does not make the revision of frontiers that was agreed in Munich in 1938 wrong: with almost anyone but Hitler, it was a just and sensible outcome. Retrospective opponents of the Munich Agreement say that it destroyed the 'territorial integrity' of Benes's empire.

Now we have a similar issue in the Ukraine. The internal borders between the Soviet Republics were sketched arbitrarily under Stalin [first as Commissar for Nationalities, and then as 'the Boss'], and subsequently Khrushchev casually handed Crimea to his native 'country' of Ukraine. Despite his early title, Stalin did not give a damn for the sensitivities of nationalities, and in East Ukraine and the Crimea were significant Russophone majorities. When there was a coup in Kiev, unseating a formally elected government, some members of the Assembly made ridiculous and offensive statements about forcing Russian speakers to learn Ukrainian and change their orientation: if necessary, by coercion. That was never proclaimed as policy by the Ukrainian state, but it was popular in the west of the country. So with Russian help the most threatened regions declared their independence from the Ukrainian government: while both ministers and Assembly members in Kiev spoke with different emphasis to and about the Russophone population.

Now naïve western leaders, misinformed by the Munich revisionists in their foreign offices, are burbling on about maintaining "the territorial integrity of Ukraine": and threaten to disrupt the growth of all European economies by imposing sanctions against Russia [which does not directly control the 'rebels' in Donetsk and other areas]. This is daft and destructive.

The Sudeten-German question was 'solved' by Benes - restored to power by the victorious wartime allies - by the expulsion from their homes and livelihoods of more than three million German speakers. Having got rid of them, his regime was then shoved aside by the Moscow-dominated communists and for forty-five years Benes' territory was a Soviet puppet: then the Slovaks broke away. The question of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia remains raw.

The Russophone-Ukrainian issue will not be solved by sanctions, or by war: only by honest and well-informed negotiation.

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