The Menace of Minorities

Herbert A. Miller

STRAIN, full of the implications of war, characterized the relationships of the great powers of Europe before 1914, but the casus belli was the act of a youth who belonged to one of the minority peoples of Austria-Hungary. The assassination of the Crown Prince was the overt expression of a feeling that prevailed widely and deeply in every non-German people of the Empire and was paralleled in many other countries of Europe. The peace treaty tried to settle such problems once for all by adopting the Wilsonian principle of "self-determination," through a remaking of boundaries and the establishment of a Section on Minorities in the League of Nations; but it was too late. The spark that started the world conflagration kindled in minorities around the world a self-consciousness that does not subside.

In many cases the new freedom would have brought peace if it had been granted earlier; but insurgent minorities have become habituated to revolt and have developed techniques that are difficult to give up. The best-known example is Ireland, whose memory contains little except the struggle for freedom. She now has vastly more freedom than the earlier leaders dreamed of ever getting, and yet is torn by internal conflict while making still further demands on England. The Irish ideal and success, as well as the Irish habit of coöperating in revolts, have played a part in giving courage to minorities all around the world.

The minority menace falls into three classes: local disorder, as between the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine; civil war, as between the Croatians and the Serbs in Yugoslavia; and world war, as between the Japanese and their Chinese territories. No one, however, can foretell whether the first two can be prevented from becoming the last.


In some parts of the world there is comparatively little danger at present. The policies of the United States offer little occasion for the generation of war, and South America seems to portend nothing beyond local disorders and segregated wars. Europe and Asia and, to some extent, Africa tell a different story. Their many hotbeds of minority ferment show little promise of cooling off, for the demands for full sovereignty seem unrealizable.

The peace treaty slashed the map of Europe in a vain effort to satisfy these demands, but no frontiers could be drawn among intermingled peoples without depriving thousands of the sovereignty they had once possessed and putting them under others that they had long hated. The Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians in the succession states find themselves, in many cases, being ruled with a harshness that savors of retaliation for their own previous haughty methods of rule. This reversal of position adds to the intensity of feeling so that everywhere the spread of the world flame of nationalism finds these minorities potential powder magazines.

For the moment, in some cases, high political policies may seem to obscure the danger, as with the Germans in the Tirol, whose Italianization has been pushed with ruthlessness even while Italy and Austria have been playing a

(61) larger political game. In every case, however, where nationals live across the border from their mother state, this mother state makes extravagant claims about the mistreatment which they suffer, and tries to arouse sympathy among other foreign peoples.

Surveying Europe, we find that the Irish-English difficulties are localized and promise slight international danger, ín spite of the militant emotions of the Irish living in other countries.

The Netherlands, Belgium, and France have no serious problems of minorities within their continental boundaries, but they have very dynamic ones in their colonies. Spain and Portugal will for some time be too much occupied with their internal affairs to make much disturbance outside, though they too have colonial problems in Africa that have potentialities similar to those of other countries with colonies. All of Scandinavia, including Finland, is free from the threat of minority dangers, though Finland has made a minority of the Swedes who ruled her for many centuries. In Denmark the aggressive activities of the Nazis from the south may at any time precipitate disturbances, but can hardly result in war.

To the east, the Soviet plan of giving cultural freedom and equality to the many minorities that constitute the "Union" makes impossible the conflicts that would have flourished if the Soviets had continued the practices of Imperial Russia. This plan is one of the great contributions that have come out of the Russian revolution. It is impossible to foresee how much it will serve to stimulate Communism in minorities elsewhere when it becomes clear that it is only under a uniform economic system that such a policy can work.

The unhappy danger spots of Europe are all in the area between Russia and France and between the Baltic and Adriatic Seas—just where they were before the World War.


In the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania there still remain the Germans who for long dominated both politically and culturally the peoples who now possess the power. All three have many Russians, both Red and White. The fears aroused by the strength of these minorities are undoubtedly in part responsible for the wave of Fascism that is now embracing them all. Lithuania has not only Germans and Russians but also Jews and Poles. In fact, peace has never been established between Lithuania and Poland since the frontiers were drawn. However, the status has settled down to a modus vivendi.

Poland has long had an exaggerated nationalism, bred by her struggles against Germany, Russia, and Austria. This has given her a feeling of justification in her treatment of her former rulers, but a complete lack of understanding of the resentment of those whom she now rules. She sees looming beside her the new Russia to whom she is bound by geographic and economic imperatives, and whose philosophy of government she both despises and fears. She has large numbers of Germans who have long lived within her present territory and still plague her, and the Polish Corridor has created a source of constant irritation. The Lithuanians in the north are unreconciled, and the Ukrainians in the south, with a different religion, have a traditional hatred for the Poles so strong that they did everything possible to prevent the Versailles Treaty from giving them to Poland. Then there is Teschen, over which Czechoslovakia and Poland have been in

(62) constant turmoil ever since the establishment of the two states. Every one of these situations is a threat to peace.

Czechoslovakia is the only present country in Central Europe where a free spirit can feel at home, but its peace and stability are constantly threatened by its minorities. These are the Germans who live along the northern and western boundaries and in large numbers throughout the Republic, and the Hungarians in Slovakia who, aided by the strenuous fanaticism of their brothers in Hungary, have kept the tension almost at breaking point from the day the frontier was determined. The Rothermere press in England has added to the ferment by its support of the Hungarian claims, and Mussolini, who has played with Hungary in his political game, recently said that the boundaries must be revised in favor of Hungary. In reply, Mr. Beneś, one of the strongest exponents of peace among the statesmen of Europe, said that the only way revision could be made was by force, and if it were undertaken Czechoslovakia was prepared to meet it with force. This is perhaps one of the most menacing situations in Europe.


Hungary herself is not so much disturbed by minorities within, but is a master disturber of those without. There are Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Austria. Only the first two are serious problems. Hungary's intensive propaganda for her original territory has been extravagant and uncompromising. The emotional concentration on the one issue of recovery of territory, without thought of the problems that would then be created, is so efficiently cultivated that slight concessions will not satisfy.

The Balkan states, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece, which were once the historic symbols of political instability, now constitute one of the most harmonious areas of Europe. In the past, much of their difficulty came from the efforts of the great powers to play them against one another in the struggle for advantage. They are still, however, far from stable internally, in part because of their own minorities. The most serious problems are in Yugoslavia, where the largest group, the Serbs, exercises a dictatorship that is primitive and most irritating to the Croats and Slovenes, who have a much higher cultural level. The one unifying force is their hostility to Italy. It was here that the World War began; but the Government has a long way to travel before much of the improvement hoped for by the transfer of authority from Austria to Serbia is achieved.

It is in the region bordering on Yugoslavia that Italy is nurturing a hornet's nest. Reference has already been made to the treatment of the Germans in the Tirol. President Wilson tried to forestall the unjustifiable concession of Fiume to Italy, but D'Annunzio spectacularly appropriated it, and the Government has brutally put down every demonstration on the part of the almost wholly Slavic peoples in the hinterland. Yugoslavia is openly preparing a war machine to answer this treatment of a minority. This makes a major threat of war. While Albania is nominally free, Italy treats her as a province of her own, and knows that revolt is always imminent.

Austria has a cosmopolitan population but has no minority problem of the sort that is found among her neighbors, though the forces at work from Germany may make one out of the Jews. The biological mixing with the Jews is greater than that of Germany,

(63) so that it will be difficult to make the issue clean cut.


We have now left in Europe only Germany, from whose periphery the peace treaty stripped off old minorities, leaving only Jews and the age-old problem of Alsace-Lorraine. The Jews belong in a class by themselves as a minority. Their solidarity throughout the world is based not on allegiance to a sovereign state or even to the expectation of one, in spite of the Zionist movement, but on the history and traditions of religion and experience. Now, for the first time in modern history, they are being considered by others as a nationality, and consider themselves as such. The establishment of a national project in Palestine, even though small and incomplete, gives a semblance of justification for this position, and thereby puts the Jews in the category of a minority ín every country in which they live.

This minority status of the Jews, which the Germans have to a considerable degree made for themselves out of whole cloth, creates a condition not found among other minorities, and the Jews who have full national rights in other countries identify themselves with their brothers in the Reich. Long and widespread experience with antiSemítism has developed in the Jews a technique of resistance and a power that have great potentiality for war. This expresses itself in solidarity, money power, and control of publicity. Thanks to the gratuitous classification by the Germans of themselves and of the Jews as races, the Jews are accepting the classification and are retaliating with the same irrational claims of race as are made by the Germans. The Jews are characteristically opposed to the use of force, thus differing from most minorities; but the pressure they bring on Germany from the outside as the result of their economic and publicity power may increase the fury of the Germans and at the same time arouse outside hostility against the Germans to the breaking point.

When we leave Europe we find that the Jewish issue raises its head in Palestine, where the British, responsible for the mandate, are defending the Jew against the Arab. There is a growing rage in the whole Arab world that is focused on Palestine. This corresponds in its spread to that of the Jews who live outside a given trouble area. These two cases are in a degree unique in the world, because neither looks back to a geographical or historical sovereignty. In other words, for both of them the geographical location of their habitat for the moment is unrelated to their feeling of solidarity and responsibility. Both are assembling their forces, and the physical force that is normal for the Arabs makes for war.


The old Turkish Empire was a breeder of conflict. Now, with the exception of the northern part of Syria, where many Turks still live, the present Republic of Turkey is one of the least threatening countries of the world. By the vigorous surgery that transferred the Greeks and the Armenians out of the country, the matter of minorities was so completely disposed of that neither at present nor in prospect is there any issue of minorities.

Syria, lying between Turkey and Palestine, is filled with the seeds of revolt. Now a mandate of France, it has a history of conquerors going back for thousands of years—the Assyrians, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Romans coming in succession, and long afterwards, the Turks, the Crusaders, and the Turks again. While

(64) the Turks were still there, the French. more than a century ago, began to gain certain rights which they used in such a way that the Syrians at the time of the peace treaty begged that the mandate be given to some country other than France. In this long period of subordination, the Syrians managed to form groups which had a degree of self-consciousness and autonomy. To these potentially insurgent groups are added those of a multitude of religious communions which in some measure run across political divisions and to some extent correspond to them; but all add to the spirit of conflict which reached the condition of war a few years ago, when the Druses fought with desperation. For the time, insurrection is quelled; but throughout Syria there is no stilling the desire to be free like other nations.


Notwithstanding the great contribution that Great Britain has given the world, it becomes increasingly evident that wherever British dominion is exercised over people who are not English, there trouble is brewing. It makes no difference whether this influence falls upon people who are an integral part of the Empire or nominally free, as Iraq, Arabia, and Egypt. All are girding their loins against England.

India can hardly be called a minority problem, since its numbers are many times those of the English, but its relation to the Government is that of a minority. There is now a continuing revolution in India which may tax the powers of the Empire to the extreme; it is significant that India is being closely watched by all subject peoples around the world. This applies especially to the Dutch possessions in Java and Sumatra, and to those of the French in Indo-China.

The only other badly festering sore is Korea, whose relation to Japan is similar to that of the Irish to the English in the time of greatest repression. It is perhaps little heard of, but the Koreans are only biding their time, and they are doing it with great impatience.

. . . .

Some day minorities will assert themselves in Africa, but for the present the menace seems to be acute only in the areas we have discussed. A solution of the whole problem can come only as the result of the application of the principles being used in the Soviet Union; but conditions are vastly more complicated in Middle Europe because of the stereotyped attitudes which only time can break. Consciousness that the present menace of minorities is based on irrationality and injustice is the beginning of wisdom.

Herbert Adolphus Miller, Ph.D., is lecturer in social economy at Bryn Mawr College. He was formerly professor of sociology at Oberlin College and Ohio State University. He has given courses at Yenching University, Peiping, China, and lectured at universities in China, India, and Syria. He is author of "The School and the Immigrant," "Races, Nations, and Classes," and "The Beginnings of Tomorrow," and joint author of "Old World Traits Transplanted."


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