by Herman Bernstein Contributing Editor
The Polish government, through its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Colonel Jozef Beck, appeared before the Assembly of the League of Nations and, under the pretext of demanding equality for all members of the League with regard to minority rights, denounced its own treaty guaranteeing the rights of the minorities in Poland. Thus the League of Nations has been dealt a severe blow by the nation that was restored to statehood by the fathers of the League of Nations.
When Poland was re-created by the great allied powers at the peace conference in Paris, under the influence of President Woodrow Wilson and Colonel Edward M. House, and Poland was requested, together with several other nations, to sign treaties guaranteeing the rights of minorities. Premier Clemenceau, on behalf of the allied powers, addressed a letter to the Polish Premier, M. Paderewski, reminding him that “it is to the endeavors and sacrifices of the powers in whose name I am addressing you that the Polish nation owes the recovery of its independence. There rests, therefore, upon the powers an obligation, which they cannot evade, to secure in the most lasting form certain essential rights which will afford to the inhabitants the necessary protection, whatever changes may take place in the internal constitution of the Polish government.”
Poland, together with other powers, signed the treaties containing the clauses for the protection of the rights of minorities.
Now the Polish representative, on behalf of his government, has repudiated its signature. In his declaration before the Assembly of the League, he demanded immediate recognition of the necessity to generalize the national minority treaties for all powers and convocation of an international conference for this purpose, and then he hastened to add that “pending the bringing into force of such a uniform general system, my government is compelled to refuse as from today all cooperation with international organizations on the matter of supervision over the application of the national minority system in Poland.”
On September 4, when the first report of Poland’s proposal appeared, I pointed out that it was a dangerous move, not merely from the viewpoint of the minority rights. In that editorial I wrote:
“Most of the nations that pledged themselves to protect the rights of minorities have failed to fulfill their obligations. Only a few of the nations have lived up to their solemn promise on this point. The reported Polish proposal, backed by Hungary, to have all the members of the League undertake similar obligations with regard to minority rights is sure to lead to unfortunate consequences.
“While the peace treaties cannot be regarded as perfect documents from any point of view, it is most unwise at this critical and chaotic time in Europe to raise the question of the revision of the treaties. Until recently Poland was opposed to the bloc that favored treaty revision. The Polish Corridor constituted one of the most sensitive danger zones in Europe. For the powers that advocated treaty revision had in mind first of all the readjustment of the boundaries between Poland and Germany.
“Poland was definitely opposed to treaty revision at that time. Recently Poland and Nazi Germany concluded a non-aggression pact, and now Poland seems to feel secure because of this arrangement with regard to her present boundaries.
“The powers favoring the revision of treaties at this time by advocating the recognition of the minority clauses by the other members of the League are pursuing a very shortsighted and unwise policy. They are endangering the frail instrumentality that still holds nations together under a semblance of peace. They may release a flood of passions and animosities that could not be controlled.
“Though the revision of treaties will be necessary in time, for the treaties contain seeds of injustice and causes for discontent, it would be foolhardy to attempt such revision now. The unbridled spirit of vengeance let loose by the irresponsible demagogues and adventurers now in control of Germany would welcome any kind of revision of treaties as a starting point for new trouble in Europe.
“Poland would play into the hands of Nazi Germany by this demand for a change with respect to the minority treaties. And Poland, in the event of a new catastrophe, would undoubtedly pay dearly for rendering this indirect service to Nazi Germany.
“Instead of insisting upon equality in the League of Nations and demanding that all members of the League recognize the treaties for the protection of the rights of minorities, it would be far more sensible and more honorable for these powers to impress the world by their sincerity in honoring the pledges they had made with regard to the rights of minorities.
“There is dynamite in any treaty revision at this time. The voice is that of Poland just now, but the hand is the hand of Hitler.”
Poland has now gone far beyond the reported proposal. She has actually treated her treaty of minority rights as a mere scrap of paper. She followed the lead of Japan and Germany in their attitude toward the League of Nations. Poland’s ingratitude to the League and to the nations that were instrumental in restoring her national independence is surpassed only by the harm she has done to herself by this latest adventure. The Nazi influence of this repudiation of her moral obligations, she may find herself, like Naziland, isolated and alienated from her most powerful friends among the nationals.