The Eighth Congress of National Minorities in Europe, representing over 40 million people, which has just been concluded here, was much more of a talking than a doing body.
Conditions in Eastern and Central Europe, where Nationalist chauvinism is growing more intense every day, and even the smaller States like Latvia, Esthonia and Lithuania are gradually diminshing the quota of rights which they had previously accorded to their national minorities, are such that it must be admitted at the outset that the Eighth Congress of National Minorities met under an unlucky star. A political Congress representing 40 million oppressed and persecuted peoples who are concentrated on a comparatively small area in Europe, must be a militant body if it is to have any effect on the dominating majority peoples. Academic discussions and carefully worded and moderated moral appeals to the conscience of the majority peoples and to the League of Nations, in which these same majority peoples are again the deciding factors, will not bring any concrete results.
In addition, there is a rule in force at the Congress that prevents any current problem in any particular country being mentioned by name from the tribune. No Government and no State may therefore be directly attacked at the Congress for persecuting and oppressing its minorities. The complaints and the protests are all formulated in a general academic fashion, and published in a special pamphlet after each Congress. That is all.
Clearly, a Congress which cuts out its tongue has forfeited the right of being taken seriously so far as actual influence upon political events is concerned. Naturally, every international Congress must be conducted in a courteous fashion. Wild speeches and denunciations must be eschewed because they lead nowhere. But political congresses must not be afraid of telling the truth, and kid gloves will not promote the Congress and its purpose.
This is the considered verdict passed on the Congress of minorities by many of the Congress delegates themselves, and by practically all the journalists who attended the sessions, and as impartial observers saw not only the formal public side of it, but also behind the scenes.
That does not mean, however, that the Congress is to be dismissed as ineffectual and unimportant. It is a valuable political institution, whose existence and development is perhaps of greater value to Jews than to any of the other national minorities. Most of the minorities represented at the Congress constitute a minority in this or the other country, but there is one country in which they form the majority people. In one country, they are oppressed; in the other they oppress others. While the Jews, on the other hand, are everywhere in a minority, everywhere oppressed. There is no country in which the Jews are able to avenge themselves, so to speak, for the ill-treatment of their confreres in other countries. They have no means of reprisals, and they are not represented on the League of Nations to allow them to raise the question of the ill-treatment of Jewish minorities in direct manner before this international forum.
There is a good deal of truth, therefore, in the view expressed by many of the minorities, and incidentally by some of the States who would like to see the Congress collapse, that the Congress owes its existence in great measure to the work of the Jewish minorities and that if the Jews left it, the Congress would soon be at an end.
The Jewish representatives in the Permanent Congress Praesidium and in the Executive Committee, have by their mediation been successful in keping peace between the German and the Slavic minorities, who are really the two pillars on whom the whole Congress structure rests. Thus the Jews very often find themselves in the position of turning the scales, and by their support of the President of the Congress, Dr. Wilfan, in the frequent disputes that arose between Germans, Slavs and Hungarians, they have repeatedly saved the situation.
But there is one respect in which the Jews have found themselves in a very difficult position at this Congress, and that is the way in which the many German minorities from about ten different countries have been endeavoring to dominate the Congress, and the way in which the Hitlerist spirit has been growing among the German minorities.
All this has called for a great deal of tact and circumspection on the part of the Jewish representatives, because the Jewish minorities problem is concentrated primarily in the Slavic countries, and all the Slavs view a Hitlerist Germany with alarm as a possible source of conflict.
If Hitlerism continues to increase among the German minorities in the way it has done so far the position of the Jewish representatives at the Minorities Congress may become untenable and the whole Congress may cease to exist.
Signs of such a tendency were not wanting at this Congress which has just closed. A large number of German delegates immediately walked out of the hall as soon as a Jewish delegate rose to speak. German delegates were also heard talking among themselves, and with the German journalists complaining that the Jewish delegates were actually considering themselves as good as other people.
For the present these are undercurrents. The Hitlerist feeling has not come openly to the surface. In public, the Jewish delegation, which in addition to the Zionists and Nationalists, included an Agudist, Deputy Wittenberg, a member of the Latvian Parliament, played a very prominent part in the Congress. The Jewish delegation was a disciplined body, which knew very definitely what it wanted, and its members took a clear stand, and obtained certain definite results.
Not all the Jewish resolutions were put to a vote. A notorious and flagrant case was that of the Augudist motion seeking to obtain a declaration from the Congress condemning the movement to prohibit Shechita. The German delegations killed it. They would not hear of such a resolution, that would condemn the Hitlerist Governments in some of the German Federal States.
Sensing this, it is possible that the Jewish delegates avoided putting the feeling to the test by raising the Jewish question as such in the form of resolutions. If the thing could not be done, it was best to avoid public discomfiture and defeat.
Leo Motzkin’s return to active work in the Congress was a good thing, because he is regarded with a great deal of personal respect by all the delegates. The Jewish delegates were given seats on the most important of the Congress committees and they were thus able to get some of the resolutions worded in such a way that they satisfy to some extent the particular Jewish point of view. One resolution contains a warning against the Hitlerist efforts to confiscate the property of East European Jews in Germany.
The resolutions are worded in general terms, they concern national minorities in the abstract, and deal with the principle of the protection of minorities. But the Jewish delegates made it clear in their speeches what the Jewish complaints and the Jewish demands are.