Tags

, , , ,

Today is Icelandic National Day which commemorates the foundation of The Republic of Iceland on 17 June 1944 and its independence from Danish rule. The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, a major figure of Icelandic culture and the leader of the 20th century Icelandic independence movement and and Sveinn Björnsson, who became the first president of Iceland.

The formation of the republic was based on a clause in the 1918 Act of Union with Denmark, which allowed for a revision in 1943, as well as the results of the 1944 plebiscite.

German occupation of Denmark meant that the revision could not take place, and thus some Icelandic politicians demanded that Icelanders should wait until after the war. The British and U.S governments, which occupied Iceland at the time, also delayed the declaration by asking the Icelandic parliament to wait until after 1943. Although saddened by the results of the plebiscite, King Christian X sent a letter on 17 June 1944 congratulating Icelanders on forming a Republic. Today, Icelanders celebrate this holiday on a national scale.

King Christian X character as a ruler has been described as authoritarian, and he strongly stressed the importance of royal dignity and power, in spite of the growing importance of democracy. His reluctance to embrace democracy resulted in the Easter Crisis of 1920, in which he dismissed the democratically elected cabinet with which he disagreed, and instated one of his own choosing.

The immediate cause was a conflict between the king and the cabinet over the reunification with Denmark of Schleswig, a former Danish fiefdom which had been lost to Prussia during the Second War of Schleswig. Danish claims to the region persisted to the end of World War I, at which time the defeat of the Germans made it possible to resolve the dispute.

Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty.

The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919, and was printed in The League of Nations Treaty Series. An intergovernmental organisation founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. The first international organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace.

The U.S. under President Woodrow Wilson intended to stay out of the War, which, in the eyes of many Americans, had nothing to do with them. But in 1917, German submarine attacks on U.S. shipping and attempts by the German government to encourage Mexico to invade the U.S. enraged public opinion, and Wilson sorrowfully asked Congress to declare war. American resources and manpower tipped the balance against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, and on Nov. 11, 1918, what everyone then called the Great War finally came to an end. It is tempting to think about what would have happened had US President Woodrow Wilson adhered to his original resolution to keep the United States out of the war.

On 8 January 1918, United States President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement which became known as the Fourteen Points. This speech outlined a policy of free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination.

It also called for a diplomatic end to the war, international disarmament, the withdrawal of the Central Powers from occupied territories, the creation of a Polish state, the redrawing of Europe’s borders along ethnic lines and the formation of a League of Nations to afford “mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike”.

Wilson’s speech also responded to Vladimir Lenin’s Decree on Peace of November 1917, immediately after the October Revolution, which proposed an immediate withdrawal of Russia from the war, calling for a just and democratic peace that was not compromised by territorial annexations, and led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918, between the new Bolshevik government of Russia (the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey), that ended Russia’s participation in World War I.

  • At the start of the negotiations, the two sides were far apart.

German plans for Eastern Europe included annexing most of Russian Poland, with Austria to receive a smaller piece. A rump Polish state would be established to act as a buffer between Germany and Russia. In addition, Ukraine would be detached as an independent state under German protection, while the Baltic states were to be annexed directly into Germany and ruled by German princes. The Bolsheviks however declared that they sought a peace without any indemnities or territorial concessions.

  • after two months of negotiations the treaty was signed at Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, Belarus)

Of the many provisions in Treaty of Versailles , one of the most important and controversial required “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion.

According to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the disposition of Schleswig was to be determined by two Schleswig Plebiscites: one in Northern Schleswig (Denmark’s South Jutland County), the other in Central Schleswig (part of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein). No plebiscite was planned for Southern Schleswig, as it was dominated by an ethnic German majority and, in accordance with prevailing sentiment of the times, remained part of the post-war German state.

Many Danish nationalists felt that Central Schleswig should be returned to Denmark regardless of the plebiscite’s results, generally motivated by a desire to see Germany permanently weakened in the future. Christian agreed with these sentiments, and ordered Prime Minister Zahle to include Central Schleswig in the re-unification process. As Denmark had been operating as a parliamentary democracy since the Cabinet of Deuntzer in 1901, Zahle felt he was under no obligation to comply. He refused the order and resigned several days later after a heated exchange with the king.

Subsequently, Christian dismissed the rest of the government and replaced it with a de facto conservative care-taker cabinet under Otto Liebe.

The Easter Crisis of 1920 was a constitutional crisis and a significant event in the development of constitutional monarchy in Denmark. It began with the dismissal of the elected government by the reigning monarch, King Christian X, a reserve power which was granted to him by the Danish constitution. As a result of the crisis a revision of the Danish constitution specified that when new elections are called the sitting cabinet remains until after the elections, but the monarch still has the right to dismiss the government today

This was nominally his right in accordance with the constitution, but facing the risk of the monarchy being overthrown he was forced to accept democratic control of the state and the role as a nominal constitutional monarch.

The dismissal caused demonstrations and an almost revolutionary atmosphere in Denmark, and for several days the future of the monarchy seemed very much in doubt. In light of this, negotiations were opened between the king and members of the Social Democrats. Faced with the potential overthrow of the Danish crown, Christian stood down and dismissed his own government, installing as a compromise cabinet under Michael Pedersen Friis until elections could be held later that year.

This was the most recent time that a sitting Danish monarch took political action without the full support of parliament; following the crisis, Christian accepted his drastically reduced role as symbolic head of state.

In spite of becoming unpopular due to his resistance to democracy, during the German Occupation of Denmark he did become a popular symbol of resistance to German occupation, particularly because of the symbolic value of the fact that he rode every day through the streets of Copenhagen unaccompanied by guards.

He also became the subject of a persistent urban legend according to which, during Nazi occupation, he donned the Star of David in solidarity with the Danish Jews. This is not true, as Danish Jews were not forced to wear the Star of David. However, the legend likely stems from a 1942 British report that claimed he threatened to don the star if this was forced upon Danish Jews. This is also supported by the king’s personal diary, where the following entry can be found:

When you look at the inhumane treatment of Jews, not only in Germany but occupied countries as well, you start worrying that such a demand might also be put on us, but we must clearly refuse such this due to their protection under the Danish constitution. I stated that I could not meet such a demand towards Danish citizens.

If such a demand is made, we would best meet it by all wearing the Star of David. In addition, he helped finance the transport of Danish Jews to unoccupied Sweden, where they would be safe from Nazi persecution. With a reign spanning two world wars, and his role as a rallying symbol for Danish national sentiment during the German Occupation, he has become one of the most popular Danish monarchs of modern times.

  •  World War I began 100 years ago this month, and in many ways, writes historian Margaret MacMillan, it remains the defining conflict of the modern era.

Many of the now-familiar political boundaries in Europe and the Middle East still reflect the peace settlements that followed the war I.

These resulted in a smaller Russia and Germany and wound up the great multinational empires of Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans. New countries appeared on our maps, with names such as Yugoslavia and Iraq.

What is harder to pin down and assess are the war’s long-term consequences—political, social and moral. The conflict changed all the countries that took part in it and old regimes collapsed, to be replaced by new political orders. In Russia, czarist autocracy was succeeded by a communist one, with huge consequences for the rest of the century. The scale and destructiveness of the war also raised issues—many of which we still grapple with today—and spread new political ideas.

President Wilson talked about national self-determination and making the world safe for democracy. He wanted a League of Nations as the basis for international cooperation.

The armistice of 1918 ended one gigantic conflict, but it left the door open for a whole host of smaller ones—the “wars of the pygmies,” as Winston Churchill once described them. Competing national groups tried to establish their own independence and to push their borders out at the expense of their neighbors. Poles fought Russians, Lithuanians and Czechs, while Romania invaded Hungary. And within their borders, Europeans fought each other. Thirty-seven thousand Finns (out of some 3 million) died in a civil war in the first months of 1918, while in Russia, as many as a million soldiers and many more civilians may have died by the time the Bolsheviks finally defeated their many opponents.

The end of hostilities in 1918 also brought the challenge, one we still face, of how to end wars in ways that don’t produce fresh conflict. The first World War didn’t directly cause the second, but it created the conditions in which it became possible. President Wilson was for a peace without retribution and a world in which nations came together for the common good; his opponents, such as Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, thought that only a decisive victory over Germany and its allies would lay the groundwork for a lasting peace.

As Wilson once said, “America is an idea, America is an ideal, America is a vision.” In his great speech to Congress in April 1917, when he asked for the declaration of war on Germany, he made it clear that the U.S. wanted nothing for itself from the war, that its goal was to defeat militarism and build a better world.

From Russia, Lenin and his Bolsheviks offered a stark alternative: a world without borders or classes. The competing visions helped fuel the Cold War, which ended just 25 years ago.

  • Russia has unilaterally redrawn a European border for the first time since the end of World War II.

Before 1914, Russia was a backward autocracy but was changing fast. Its growth rate was as high as any of the Asian tigers in the 1960s and 1970s; it was Europe’s major exporter of food grains and, as it industrialized, was importing machinery on a massive scale. Russia also was developing the institutions of civil society, including the rule of law and representative government.

Without the war, it might have evolved into a modern democratic state; instead, it got the sudden collapse of the old order and a coup d’état by the Bolsheviks. Soviet communism exacted a dreadful toll on the Russian people and indeed the world—and its remnants are still painfully visible in the corrupt, authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin.

Advertisements