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Alsace-Lorraine - Post-War Problems


ALSACE-LORRAINE - POST-WAR PROBLEMS The previous history of Alsace-Lorraine explains the difficulties met by France in this country since the armistice. Many insti tutions had been introduced by the Germans during the half century of their occupation—the land survey, the German civil code, social legislation, etc.—and the population had grown accustomed to German administration, which in certain respects was far in advance of the French. Certain urgent problems arose immediately after the armistice, and these were solved by France in the most liberal and generous spirit ; the German mark was accepted at the exchange rate of 1 f r. 25c.; the railways, which had once formed an integral part of the French chemin de fer de Pest, were maintained as an autonomous system, etc.

France is a unified and centralized state, although of demo cratic spirit and admitting freedom of discussion. Germany was an aristocratic and authoritative state, but its constitution was federal. The Alsatians, moreover, being fundamentally demo cratic and impatient of authority, like the true French, had got into the habit under the German rule of looking to Strasbourg rather than to Berlin. These habits have inclined them to resist a complete assimilation with the rest of France, despite the obvi ous kinship of the two mentalities. To satisfy the peoples of the recovered provinces, the French Government thought it better at first not to hurry things overmuch ; a Haut-Commissariat was therefore established at Strasbourg, followed by a Commissariat general, a provisional arrangement that was maintained until 1925, the successive commissioners being Maringer, Millerand, Alapetite and Cacaud. They were assisted by a conseil regional composed of native notabilities. Since 1925 there has been a Government department for Alsace-Lorraine at Paris, consisting of an under-secretary of state and an advisory council. These changes, although inevitable—they could, indeed, have been f ore seen from the beginning—were destined to afford a pretext for malcontent agitation. A new political party was formed under the name of "autonomists" (manifesto of the Heimatbund, June 1926). Emboldened by the passivity of the French authorities, who have respected, perhaps too scrupulously, liberty of opinion, this party is supported by all the German immigrants who became French citizens under the Treaty of Versailles, and also by propa ganda from beyond the Rhine. Already it aims at the separation of Alsace-Lorraine from France. In 1926 it demanded autonomy "dans le cadre de la France," but in 1927 this no longer satisfied it. Its manifesto of Sept. 1927 showed that it had ceased to be autonomist and become separatist.

Backed by the clerical press and by the Communists, the Auton omist Party set itself to oppose France by every means in its power. In 1928 the arrest of the chiefs of the party on a charge of plotting against the state gave them the opportunity of posing before the electorate as martyrs—which secured their election in April to the Chambre des deputes. The trial which followed at Colmar in May, and which ended with the condemnation of the principal offenders further excited popular passion for some con siderable time.

Two burning questions make this agitation formidable—that of religion and that of education. As all its history demonstrates, religion is almost as strong a factor in Alsace as democracy. In France, although complete freedom of conscience is assured, yet the neutrality of the state in religious matters is absolute. The Germans, however, cast their net round both the Catholic and Protestant clergy ; intending priests and pastors were obliged to attend German universities. The denominational schools were maintained. Modern France, therefore, with its lay schools and its separation of Church and State, was suspect in the eyes of the clericals of Alsace and Lorraine. The French Government wisely decided to maintain the existing state of things in the recovered territories; and when, as sometimes happens, it establishes here and there an "interdenominational" school (different from a lay school) it is in no way hostile to the habits of the country, and only acts as it does at the request of the population interested. This does not, however, prevent the Clerical Party (the Union populaire republicaine) from uttering strongly worded protests ; so that it has been suspected in many quarters of secret complicity with the autonomists.

The question of education bulks equally large. While Germany forbade the teaching of French, France has retained that of Ger man. There are protests, however, against a system which forces a German-speaking population to devote more time to French than to German. Against this it is urged that it is natural that France should wish her citizens to understand the language of their coun try. Moreover, the Government has made certain concessions (Sept. 1927).

Behind all these divergences of view lies, of course, the oppo sition of the two civilizations. But the two civilizations should rather supplement each other, and the solution of this question is easy enough if history be consulted, and with it the secret feelings of the immense majority of the inhabitants of Alsace Lorraine. From the remotest times, Alsace has formed the arena in which two civilizations have either met or replaced one another. Goethe studied, and Pasteur taught, at Strasbourg. Autonomy for Alsace-Lorraine is totally impracticable. The chief ambitions of its people are first to have done, once and for all, with swinging backwards and forwards between France and Germany ; secondly, to act as a connecting link and as the messengers of peace between the two countries. To do this they must learn to know France.

But this requires time.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.--. Lorenz and W. Scherer, Geschichte des Elsasses Bibliography.--. Lorenz and W. Scherer, Geschichte des Elsasses (i886) ; R. Reuss Histoire d'Alsace (22nd 192o) ; G. Delahache, Les debuts de l'administration francaise en Alsace et en Lorraine (1921) ; G. Schmidt, Les plans secrets de la politique allemande en Alsace-Lorraine 1915-16 (1922) ; C. Spindler, L'Alsace pendant la Guerre (i925). (F. BR.)

france, french, german, party and alsace