Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 kept statesmen like US President Woodrow Wilson and British prime minister David Lloyd George in Paris for six months. They created the League of Nations, our topic of last week, within the space of weeks. So what else were they up to?
Skip to 0 minutes and 26 seconds For most of the time, they discussed how the post-war order would look on the ground. And as the months went by and the summer of 1919 approached, it became very clear that the new world map would look very different from the old one. In part, this is the familiar story about the victors dividing the spoils of victory. But in part, this is also the birth of something new. During the war, President Wilson had made clear that the post-war order should be based on the principle of self-determination, the right of peoples to govern themselves. Old motives and new visions came together and often they clashed, and this resulted in the most significant territorial changes in centuries.
Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds For the most part, these territorial changes were agreed in international treaties. Treaties shifting boundaries, treaties ceding territory. These treaties were signed at palaces on the outskirts of Paris, and they are named after them. [SPEAKING FRENCH] I’m here in Versailles, just 10 miles out of Paris but a city in its own right. The Versailles Treaty is the one we tend to remember. That was the peace treaty signed with Germany. But there were four other peace treaties signed with four other defeated powers and named after different places on the outskirts of Paris. With Austria, at Saint Germain. With Bulgaria, at Neuilly. With turkey at Sevres– and that treaty was later superseded by a new treaty at Lausanne.
Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds But in some ways the most dramatic of the various peace treaties was the one signed with Hungary. Hungary lost about two thirds of its territory, and it still struggles to come to terms with the trauma of Trianon. In terms of the reordering of borders, the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was unparalleled. Nearly everything that went before and certainly everything that came after pales in comparison. And to appreciate its impact and to see how many borders were changed, all we need to do is look at a map of Europe in the 1920s. And we see that few states were unaffected. France regained Alsace-Lorraine from Germany. Poland, partitioned by its neighbours in the 18th century, was recreated.
Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds The three Baltic states gained independence. In the southeast of Europe, the Austro-Hungarian empire, which had occupied the largest part, was dissolved. Austria was reduced to its present size. Hungary was reduced to its present size. Czechoslovakia was created, as was Yugoslavia. Romania gained large parts of territory in its Western part. And that was just Europe. In addition, in Africa, in Asia, and in the Pacific, Germany had to give up its colonies. And then there was the Ottoman Empire. In 1914, the Ottoman Empire still stretched from southeastern Europe well into the Arabian Peninsula. The Ottoman Empire was partitioned too. And on its territory emerged entities with now familiar names such as Syria or Jordan or Palestine.
Skip to 3 minutes and 52 seconds This was a global war and it led to territorial changes around the globe. In the course of this week, we’ll have the chance to revisit some of these changes and assess their impact. We’ll see how some of them were taken lightly by statesmen who sometimes, with little guidance, acted as supreme arbiters of territory. And we see how the world today, in many ways, is still the world created at Paris in 1919. But territory was not everything. So we’ll also learn about other legacies of Paris, such as the willingness of the conference to establish a system of minority protection so that minorities that ended up in a new state would not be without protection, but would have rights under international law.
Skip to 4 minutes and 44 seconds And we’ll see how the conference discussed proposals to try war criminals, and how it paved the way for the first ever World Court, the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague. All these were controversial matters then, and they remain controversial to this day. This week will give you a chance to engage with these debates.
Introduction to week 2
The League of Nations was one of the outcomes of the Paris Peace Conference, but the peacemakers spent most of their time discussing other matters - such as territorial disputes, claims to statehood, minority rights, etc. In week 2, we will revisit some of these debates, while Christian travels to Versailles, where treaties embodying many of the Conference’s decisions were signed.
We have also added below a list of optional additional readings for Week 2, should you wish to read further on this subject.
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