The Rights of Nationalities

Other Rights of Nationalities is of paramount importance to the realization of other fundamental human rights. Possession of a nationality carries with it the diplomatic protection of the country of nationality and is also often a legal or practical requirement for the exercise of fundamental rights.

(1) Right to Exist:-

Whatever the differences of opinion regarding the moral right, or the right under international law, of discontented nationalities, to separate themselves from the states of which they are an unwilling part and to organize themselves into new states of their own creation there is a general agreement that they do have an important right which should be respected by the dominant nationality Which controls the government.

The first and most natural of the rights said Bluntschli, the one which lies at the base of the others is the right to exist. A nationality, as we have seen, is a historical formation it is a group united usually by ethnic, linguistic, and cultural bonds, it is a population having a common element which gives it the character of an entity more or less separate and distinct from the population of the rest of the state.

It is hard to conceive of any considerations of public policy which Would justify a state in attempting to extinguish the individuality of nationality by forbidding the use of its language, by suppressing its literature and its established customs, and by outlawing the national religion.

(2) Right of Language:-

The strongest bond which unites the members of nationality, and which constitutes usually its most peculiar possession, is language. They have therefore the strongest moral right to retain and speak their native language, to teach it, to their children, and to employ it as the medium of expression in their literature, But it does not follow that the duty of the state to permit a nationality to retain and use its own language implies also the duty to admit it to an equal footing with the dominant language in the proceedings of the legislature and of the courts, in the administration, or in the army.

Considerations of practical convenience may make the use of one language to the exclusion of all others desirable for those purposes. It may be that the other languages are spoken by a relatively small part of the population, in which case it is no great hardship to give the preference for state purposes to that one which is spoken by the majority of the population.

Thus the Welsh, the Basques, the Wends, the Bretons, the French Canadians, and the small Romansch speaking element of Switzerland could hardly lay claim to a right to have the proceedings of the parliaments and the law courts of their respective countries conducted in their languages equally with the other languages. But where the nationalities are approximately equal in numbers it would be otherwise.

Thus in Switzerland, the French-German, and Italian languages are and should be on an equal footing for all state purposes the proceedings of the parliament, the courts, and the administrative bodies being recorded in all three languages. In the parliaments of Austria and Hungary prior to the division of those states at the end of World War, an even larger number of languages were employed, each being on an equal footing with the others.

One of the unceasing complaints of the Magyars of the old Hungary was the refusal of the emperor king to permit the use of the Magyar language in the army, with the result that Magyar recruits were obliged to learn German, which was the language of command. On the other hand, the Germans of Bohemian Austria never ceased to agitate for the recognition of their language in the local administration of that part of Austria where they were numerous.

German Policy in Respect of Racial Minorities:-

The policy of the German government with respect to the use of the native languages by the French in Alsace-Lorraine, the Danes in Schl eswigHolstein, and the Poles in the German-Polish provinces was often criticized as a grave infringement of the right here under discussion. In Alsace-Lorraine German was made not only the language of the administration, the legislative council, and the courts of law-which were entirely defensible-but it was required to be used in the schools, and French was prohibited for the names of streets, shop signs, inscriptions on tombstones, etc.

Similarly in German Poland, the use of the Polish language was forbidden in public meetings; from the outset, it was forbidden in the national schools where half the pupils were capable of understanding German, and, finally, it was decreed that after 1928 the use of the Polish language should be forbidden in all schools.

About 1906 the German government went to the extreme length of forbidding the use of the Polish language as the medium of religious instruction-a measure which provoked strike in the schools and widespread disturbances among the Polish population.

In the territory of South Jutland, where there were some 150,000 Danes, the rigor of German policy was even less defensible, because of the small area of territory and the limited population. The use of the native language was not only forbidden in the administration and in the law courts but it was gradually suppressed in the schools except for religious instruction.

In 1908 it was forbidden to be used in public meetings except for election put poses, and except where at least 60 percent of the population spoke a language other than German. The display of Danish colors and the singing of Danish national songs were also prohibited. These and other measures, regarded by the Danes as oppressive and tyrannical, were rigorously enforced with a view to Prussianizing the territory, and hundreds of offenders were punished by imprisonment or banishment.

Flemish Agitation in Belgium:-

In March, 1919, during the meeting of the Peace Conference, a committee representing the Flemish population of Belgium laid before President Wilson an appeal. in which they said:

No permanent peace will be possible in Belgium unless our people shall have found absolute security that, it Will no longer be governed, educated, tried in courts of justice or led in its army in a language not its own, but in its old Dutch vernacular, and will be enabled to regain its ancient glorious civilization, instead of being kept down under foreign influence.

Although the Flemings assert that they constitute 57 percent of the total population, French was made the official language of the country. Later, however, the Flemish language was by law placed on an equal footing in Flanders with French in the courts, in the army, and in the administration, but it is alleged by the Flemings that the law was made a dead letter by the French-speaking officials and by French-speaking lawyers in the courts.

They complained that there was no state school or University in which Flemishyouth could receive a complete education in their own language. They demanded among other things that the university of Ghent be made a Flemish institution, and by recent legislation, this has been done in part.

They further complained that all official text-books, reports, and official communications were in the French language other complaints were made, the sum and substance of all of which was that the government was endeavoring to “Frenchify” Flanders and to make the whole country part and parcel of Latin CiviliZation and culture-a policy which was coma bated with special vigor by the Catholic clergy.

On the other hand, it is asserted in answer to the Flemish complaints, that their charges regarding the exclusion of Flemish from the schools, the courts, and the local administration in Flanders were not in accord with the facts.

Furthermore, it was pointed out that there is no distinct Flemish literary language, that their literary language is Dutch, that in fact the Flemish literati generally employ the French language and that if Flemish-Dutch were to gain the supremacy in Flanders, the population would be cut off from the intellectual intercourse of Europe, which is carried on mainly through the medium of the French language.

The Language Question in India:-

In India, where there is a great variety of languages (there are said to be nearly one hundred spoken languages in the province of Assam), and where English has been made the official language of the country, the nationalists are demanding the displacement of English for one of the vernaculars. They are, however, not agreed as to which one of them should be given the preference.

There is no particular one in which any considerable part of the total population could understand if it were made the Ochial language of the country. It is not easy, therefore, to see what would be gained by the displacement of English, which is understood by a much larger number of the population than any one of the vernaculars.

Concluding Observations on the Language Question:-

Viewing the language question from the standpoint not only of the general ultimate good of the particular nationality concerned but also from the point of view of the advancement of civilization in general, it may be seriously doubted whether the maintenance of the language spoken by small nationalities ought to be encouraged by governments.

It is enough that they should be respected and allowed to be spoken and used in the primary schools, in religious worship, and for literary purposes. But when the language is one which is purely local when it is incapable of being employed in international intercourse, and when it is not and cannot become the vehicle of science and general literature, there would seem to be no reasons of state policy or public morality why it should be fostered as a living language by the state and accorded the same recognition in the courts, in the administration, in the parliaments and in the higher educational institutions supported by the state that is accorded the dominant language when the latter is a language of general science, literature, and international intercourse.

Instances are not lacking in south-eastern Europe Where small nationalities have fought for the official employment of their language for state purposes when it was spoken only by a relatively small number of persons and where the entire literature of the language could be carried under one’s arm.

(3) Right to Retention of Local Customs and Law:-

Another right of nationalities that should be respected is the preservation of their local customs in so far as they are not contrary to the generally recognized principles of public morality or state policy. The suppression of the wearing of the kilt, the national costume of the  Scotch Highlanders, following the Stuart rebellions in Scotland, was justified on considerations of public order, while the prohibition by English of suttee (widow-burning) in India was defensive be upon grounds of morality.

It may be doubted, however, whether a nationality has a right to the maintenance of its local system of law when it is not in harmony with the general law of the country. The Romans, therefore, were probably justified in imposing the Roman law upon the peoples whom they reduced to subjection. Similarly, the French were justified in introducing the Code Napoleon in Alsace as the Germans were justified later in displacing it with their own law when Alsace came under their dominion.

Likewise, no one would deny the right of Great Britain to apply English law in Wales, or the right of the French to apply French law in Brittany. Instances are not lacking, however, where the exercise of the right proved to be inexpedient.

Thus the attempt of the British to impose the forms of their law and judicial procedure upon the Indians of Bengal in the eighteenth century has been pronounced a serious mistake. Similarly, the imposition by the Romans of their law and administration of justice upon the German tribes in disregard of the Teutonic principle of the personality of law, according to which conquered peoples were entitled to retain their own law, aroused strong opposition, and kindled the flame of German freedom.

Sometimes for reasons of public policy, conquered peoples are allowed by the conquerér to retain their own system of law, wholly or in part. Thus upon the conquest of the South African Republic in 1901, the British allowed the system of Dutch-Roman law to be retained in the Transvaal; and in Quebec French law is permitted in large measure.

Protection of the Rights of Racial Minorities by the League of Nations:-

As has been pointed out above, the territorial rearrangements made by the treaties of peace at the close of the World War left important fragments of alien nationalities in the territories of various old and newly created states Realizing that these minority groups Who differed in race, language, or religion from the majority of the population would be exposed to discriminatory treatment or persecution at the hands of the dominant nationality in control of the government, the Peace Conference made an attempt to provide adequate safeguards for their protection.

The treaties of peace with four of the former belligerent powers in whose territories such minorities existed (Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria; and Turkey) placed their protection under the guarantee of the League of Nations. In 1919-1920 treaties embodying the same arrangement were concluded between the Allied and Associated Powers, on the one hand, and Poland, Czechoslovakia Yugoslavia, Rumania, Greece, and Armenia, on the other.

All these treaties confer certain rights upon both the inhabitants and the nationals of the country, without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race, or religion, and such countries undertake to recognize the treaty provisions as a part of their fundamental law, and as international obligations placed under the protection, of the League of Nations.

In brief, the rights conferred inClude equality before the law, political equality, free use of language in social and business intercourse, in religious worship, in the press or public; meetings, and in the law courts, the right of minority peoples to establish and maintain at their own expense charitable,religious, social, or educational institutions, the use of their own language in the primary public schools in towns and districts in which the minority constitutes a considerable proportion of the population and an equitable share of the state and municipal appropriations for educational, religious, or charitable purposes.

In some of the treaties, there are also provisions dealing with particular races or conditions. Thus the treaty with Poland contains special provisions relating to the Jews the treaty with Czechoslovakia contains provisions for safeguarding the autonomy of the Ruthenians south of the Carpathians and the treaty with Rumania provides for educational and religious autonomy of the Saxons and Czechlers of Transylvania.

All the treaties provide that any member of the council of the League of Nations shall have the right to bring to the attention of the Council any infraction of the treaty provisions and the Council may thereupon take such action as. it may deem proper and effective in the circumstances. In case of any difference of opinion concerning matters of law or fact arising under the treaties the difference shall be regarded as international in character and shall be referred to the Permanent Court of International Justice, whose decision shall be final.

Several of the new states with which no such treaties were concluded and Which have been admitted to the League of Nations were required as a condition of admission to give an undertaking that they would apply and énforCe the principles of the minority treaties. Such undertakings were given by Albania, Finland  Esthonia, Latvia, and Lithuania upon their admission to the League.

Enforcement of-the Treaty Provisions:-

The conclusion of these treaties marked a great Step in advance for the protection of racial, linguistic, and religious minorities, and not the least of the important services rendered by the League of Nations has been its intervention to ensure the observance of the treaties. It is necessary to admit, however, that its efforts have not been Wholly successful. Where there have been complaints and petitions to the Council for redress, the governments accused have shown a disposition to resent the intervention of the League as outside interference in matters which they considered as domestic and not international.

In Poland, there have been complaints against them dispossession of German farmers and the denial of Polish citizenship to German residents in violation of the treaties and in Hungary, the Jews have complained at the alleged exclusion of Jewish students from the universities.

The Turkish government has undoubtedly been the greatest offender, having forcibly expelled large numbers of Greek and Armenian inhabitants of Asia Minor ? Greece, on her part, has used pressure to force out of Macedonia large numbers of native Bulgarians. Yugoslavia has employed a similar method to force out Bulgarians from the part of Macedonia assigned to her by the treaty of peace; Rumania is said to have made life almost intolerable for the Hungarians of Transylvania While Poland has raised numerous difficulties for the Lithuanians who chose to remain in Vilna.

The effect of all these measures haS been to cause a wholesale rescuing and migration of minority peoples from one state to another. Each nationality having been provided-with a home state by the Area ties of peace, there is a disposition to compel, by every sort of pressure, those who remain in other states to leave and return to the home state provided for them. The League of Nations has not been able to prevent these clear violations of the spirit if not of the letter of the treaties which were concluded for the protection of the unfortunate victims.

The situation of the Germans in South Tyrol:-

It may be observed in this connection that no treaties were concluded for the protection of minorities who may happen to be found in the territories of any, of the Allied and Associated Powers. As has been said above, South Tyrol, inhabited almost entirely by Germans, was detached from Austria and annexed to Italy.

This was for the alleged reason that this territory was necessary to give Italy a “strategic” frontier. As there are no treaty guarantees for their protection, the 250,000 Germans in the annexed territory are left entirely to be dealt with by the Italian government in such manner as its sense of justice, or its Views of state policy may demand.

The inhabitants addressed a protest to the Peace Conference, expressing their feeling of grief and despair at being annexed to Italy without their being consulted by means of a plebiscite, but it was without effect. An Italian delegate (Tittoni) at the Conference pledged his word that the language and cultural institutions of the people annexed would be respected and similar assurances were later given by prominent members of the Italian Chamber of Deputies who expressed regret that “strategic” considerations had made necessary the annexation of the territory.

For a time these promises were observed by the Italian government, but with the advent to power of the Fascisti party, a change of policy was adopted. Local meetings and processions are said to have been broken up, sometimes by violence, German teachers in the schools were displaced, local German officials and judges were dismissed, the use of the German language in the schools was forbidden, and in consequence, hundreds of schools were closed, and even religious instruction was required to be given in the Italian language.

The names of towns and villages and even of roads and streets have been changed frém German to Italian the use of the German language in public transactions has been prohibited and historic monuments and portraits of national heroes have been removed from the schools and public places. By these and other measures an attempt had been made to Italianize completely the province and to extinguish so far as possible all traces of a once vigorous nationality.

Exchange of Racial Minorities:-

It has been suggested that where the voluntary assimilation of racial minorities appears to be impossible a practicable and equitable means of solving the problem would be an exchange of such population for those of another state, who possess the ethnic nationality of the state in which they constitute a minority.

This Solution, in appearance at least, was applied in 1923-25 in the relations between Greece and Turkey. The defeat by Turkey of Greece in 1922 was followed by a general exodus of the Greeks from Asia Minor, in order to escape massacre or maltreatment by the victorious Turks.

Upon the suggestion of Dr. Nansen at the Lausanne Peace Conference, Greece and Turkey concluded a convention (Jan. 30, 1923) under which the two powers agreed to exchange a portion of their minorities the Orthodox Greeks of Asia Minor for the Ottoman Moslems in Greece.

Theemirges were permitted to take with them their personal effects, and they were to be paid for their immovable property by the government of the territory in which it was found, the value to be fixed by a mixed commission. The Greek government reluctantly agreed to the exchange and the Greek population of Asia Minor addressed vigorous protests to the Peace Conference at Lausanne, the League of Nations, and the governments of the Allied and Associated Powers.

Everywhere deep sympathy was expressed for the unfortunate refugees who became the victims of the arrangement. In appearance a voluntary exchange, in fact, it was a mass expulsion of the Greeks. A more genuine case of reciprocal exchange of moralities Was that provided for by a convention between Bulgaria and Greece signed at Neuilly on November 29, 1919. It differed from the Turkish Greek convention in that the arrangement was entirely voluntary and did not have the character of forcible expulsion.