Get your free copy here. Perceiving a state as a living creature could well be seen as insane. Even during the times when such a state complies with unfavourable international demands and humiliating constraints out of necessity, its self-perception as a Great Power even if a temporarily restrained one is likely to be as solid as ever and its domestic nationalists may be feeding on revanchist theories. On the one hand, pressed by economic demands and troubled international and domestic circumstances, post-WWI Germany had to quickly shift its wartime annexationist plans.
Germany: Beyond the Stable State
This was necessary for pursuing pragmatic cooperation with the newly independent Baltic States that would potentially open the doors to Eastern primarily Russian economic markets. On the other hand, revanchist and imperialistic discourse was quietly but steadily streaming below the surface of the carefully considered diplomatic efforts.
For most of the s, Gustav Stresemann led German foreign policy. Historians have disagreed as to whether he was a pioneer of European diplomacy or an adamant advocate of pan-German expansion. This paper takes a discursive approach to foreign policy and proposes that with regards to Weimar Ostpolitik, both positions are correct.
The study builds on the analytical model developed by Ole Waever, who introduced the idea of layered discursive formations. According to him, the deeper discursive structures are more abstract and more solidly sedimented. For that reason they are more difficult to politicise and change. This study focuses on the first half of the s.
While German Ostpolitik was dynamic throughout the whole Weimar period, the most radical shift in its policies towards the Baltic States occurred precisely in the early years of the Weimar Republic.
However, the remainder of the study that outlines the context that this political discourse operated in relies on various other sources, both secondary studies by other scholars and primary memoirs, diaries, archival material etc. The second part discusses the shift in German policies towards the Baltic States that were constructed at the surface level of political discourse.
The aim is to unearth the aforementioned discursive layers that enabled the co-existence of revisionist ideas and pragmatic policies.
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You must carve in your heart These words as in stone: What we have lost We will restore! Post-WWI Germany, the successor of a defeated empire, faced the challenge of coming to terms with a significant decrease in population and territory, the loss of military might and the consequent sense of injustice and humiliation.
This provoked a desperate search for an explanation as to why it had failed. Such an explanation was offered by geopolitical theory that pointed to other Great Powers, the Allies, as responsible for the German fall. The theory took advantage of widespread resentment towards the Treaty of Versailles. Similarly, despite their differences, all German political parties agreed that the Peace Treaty had to be revised. Count Harry Kessler, a German diplomat and writer, described in his diary the mood in Berlin in summer of , a few days before the Treaty of Versailles was signed:.
This morning, students and soldiers removed the French flags we are supposed to surrender from the Arsenal and burned them in front of the statue of Frederick the Great. This afternoon, since the Entente has declined to accept our signature under reservation, the military leaders have announced their resistance to the government, the Centre Party has withdrawn its Agreement to signature, and the government has decided to resign.
This evening the ultimatum expires. The tension is terrific. Very oppressive weather. Counter-revolution war, insurrection threaten us like the nearing thunderstorm.
New geopolitical ideas provided the German people with hope that results of the war need not to be permanent. Historian David Thomas Murphy accurately noted that the geopolitical criticism of the Treaty i. However, geopoliticians at the time argued that their critique was scientific and therefore it was accepted as more objective and credible than other critiques. It just is. In s Germany, geopolitical ideas were not limited to narrow academic and political circles.
They were introduced in German schools in order to persuade the new generation that the emergence of new states in the East was unnatural and unjust and therefore their existence was only temporary. Likewise, geographical institutes at German universities offered lectures and seminars on geopolitics. In both cases it is not artificial, not a mere treaty border, but a natural one. Karl Haushofer, one of the leading geopoliticians of the Weimar era and arguably of all times, explicitly favoured German territorial expansionism. It was the duty of the stronger state with a growing population to expand at the cost of the weaker one.
Their argument was that the decrease in population was allegedly a result of people gathering in the cities, which prompted urbanization, the decline of moral standards, and changes in the social role of women. Such were the lands located in the East, primarily in the Baltics, where people of German descent had been cultivating them for centuries. These and similar assertions were intended to give legitimacy to the eventual expansion of German territory.
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Furthermore, geopoliticians invoked the threat of de-Germanization of the already shrinking body of the German population. Geopolitical theory is claimed to have become an intellectual underpinning for Nazi policies in the s and during WWII. Murphy made a similar observation, stating that while geopolitics and originally geopolitical terms notably: Lebensraum , Raumforschung , Blut-und-Boden , Rasse-und-Mum etc. To make sense of their time, in search for a way out of their problems and to a better future they turned to the East. Shattered by the war, in despair as a result of deprivation and hunger, greatly disillusioned by the seeming futility of all the sacrifices in blood and goods, our people at that time were lured by many phantoms ….
His narrator then embarked on the pilgrimage to the East in the quest for the ultimate truth. However, it was not only the romantic writers and disenchanted ordinary Germans who were mesmerized by the East. They realised that if managed properly, relations to the newly independent states in the East might build a foundation for a brighter tomorrow.
Throughout history German territorial borders were constantly changing from the pre-unification period to the boundaries of , the suddenly expanded post-Brest-Litovsk Empire of spring and summer of , and the humiliatingly reduced territory of the Weimar Republic. Not one of these states represented ethnic, linguistic, and cultural homogeneity.
Having lost the war and much of its territory, Germany faced national identity confusion and the need to redefine what was German. Where was Germany? Was it where the nation was? But the nation was screaming for food … Was it the State? But the State was busy searching for its constitutional form.
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The provisions of Versailles Peace Treaty told us where Germany was. This excerpt illustrates the understanding of a Freikorps soldier as to what Germany was in The soldiers felt that the lands in the East where they were fighting were also German, but admitted with bitterness that it was ultimately the Peace Treaty that dictated where Germany was. Von Solomon wrote with irony that they were German soldiers who were nominally not German soldiers and protecting German lands that were nominally not German lands. That being said, before the outbreak of WWI, the prevailing ideology in Germany was that of a nation-state, where state, nation, and territory coincide.
The pan-Germans a movement founded in were concerned that millions of Germans continued to live outside of the borders of the unified German Empire. They were especially interested in Germans residing in East-Central Europe, who were allegedly subject to growing assimilationist pressures in the expansive and dangerous Slavic territory. During the course of the war, discussions about Baltic annexation intensified in the German media and among the stakeholders from business, industry and academia.
Their prayers seemed to have been answered in March with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, by which Russia ceded the Baltics to Germany. The November Revolution and the collapse of the German Kaiserreich thwarted any further attempts to create German rule in the Baltics. Foreign policy makers in post-war Germany had to adjust to new inconvenient circumstances.
This inevitably meant abandoning any revisionist claims towards the new states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Economic demands in war-torn Germany required access to the Russian economic markets and the quickest way was through the Baltics. The most sensitive issue with regards to Lithuania was the situation with Memel Klaipeda territory. This territory, previously a part of the Kingdom of Prussia, pursuant to the Treaty of Versailles was to remain under the control of the League of Nations until a later date when the people of this region would vote on whether to return the land to Germany or not.
Germany never ceased to consider the people in Memel as part of the German nation. In , disregarding the provisions of the Peace Treaty, Lithuania seized the Memel territory. Despite profound indignation over Lithuanian actions, the Weimar Republic was forced to maintain relatively soft policies concerning this issue. It had to eventually endorse Lithuanian actions, as it was motivated to have Lithuania on its side and thus prevent the isolation of East Prussia. This was even before signing the infamous secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as if the suppressed revisionist bitterness had been impatiently waiting for the right time to erupt.
As discussed above, Germans nearly unanimously opposed the new borders imposed at Versailles and many thought of the German minority abroad Auslandsdeutsche as a symbol of the German historical claim to territory in East Central Europe. However, in the tense post-war environment, when Germany was under strict surveillance by the Allied powers, any indications of irredentist ambitions in German foreign policy would have been politically destructive.
Needless to say, the demilitarised, impoverished and vanquished German state would have had little chance to actually enact such aspirations. Instead, foreign policy makers started viewing the Baltic-German community as irreplaceable for the vital task of preserving and promoting German culture in the East, and strengthening the ties between the Baltics and the Reich. As historian John Hiden noted,. The Baltic Germans as a whole exemplified the model of a German minority which had enjoyed a long-standing and prominent economic role abroad and which might be expected to pick up the threads again after In other words, the German government was interested in pursuing its own pragmatic interests in the Baltic provinces while the interests of the Baltic-Germans as such were in second place.
Therefore, the German government was eager to support and protect the Baltic-German community on both sides of the border, primarily by funding the relevant minority organisations. Another factor that pressed Germany to pursue politics of understanding and cooperation with the Baltic States was the British interest in the region.
Already in , when the Bolsheviks retreated from the Baltics and the Freikorps turned against the Baltic people, British advisors arrived to train the Baltic forces to fight against the Freikorps , and the Entente increased its pressure on the German government to withdraw all support from the Freikorps.
The German-Baltic National Committee Deutsch-Baltische Nationalausschuss , an organisation founded in to represent the Baltic-German population in Latvia and to maintain ties with Germany, then declared that, even though there was a rumour in Germany that after the revolution the Baltic countries sought for British protection, no Baltic-German would ever think of such a thing. It [was] the duty of every Balt to oppose such talks and such projects by all means with the greatest vigour and with ruthless candour.
However, despite such reassurances, Great Britain clearly had an interest in the newly independent Baltic States. In , Dr. It is well known that at the moment England is making its efforts to alienate Baltic-Germans against the Reich in order to use them for the purposes of English politics.
Efforts are being made to encourage the Baltic-Germans to return and they are being promised that pressure on the Baltic governments will be exerted, if the Baltic-Germans are willing to turn their backs to the Reich and to place themselves at the service of the English policy. The historian Henry L. Bretton accurately described this clash of interests:. By force of necessity, German foreign policy had to be peaceful, bare of all reference to the use of arms. On the other hand, the peace settlement had created enough dissatisfaction among the German masses to render a rational and moderate foreign policy highly impractical from the point of view of domestic politics.
Domestic nationalists were not prepared to accept rapprochement with the Western powers. This resulted in growing alienation between Gustav Stresemann and his adherents on the one hand and the bourgeois nationalist circles on the other.
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