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ON the east side of the circle of statues to French cities that bounds the Place de la Concorde, the female figure representing Strasbourg, capital of Alsace-Lorraine, for many years sat draped in mourning, a constant reminder to a symbol-loving nation of an historical event which President Wilson in his Fourteen Points was to describe as "the wrong done to France in 1871." That wrong having been righted by the agreement by which Germany laid down her arms on November 22, 1918, the French army marched over the Vosges, to be greeted at every village by an outburst of collective emotion approaching the delirious. Improvised triumphal arches bore the legends, "To our Liberators," and "We Have Long Awaited You." Streets were decorated as for a festival and in the windows of many houses appeared portraits of ancestors of the occupants, testimony of loyalties antedating the forty-seven-year rule in Alsace-Lorraine of the Empire whose disorganized forces had scarcely yet completed their eastward passage of the Rhine. The President of the National Council of the two provinces, speaking from the tribune of the Palais Bourbon, assured the French Chamber that Alsace and Lorraine "gave themselves freely to France;" while the National Assembly at Strasbourg issued a declaration welcoming "joyously" the return to France "after a long and cruel separation," and suggesting "a new era of liberty, prosperity and happiness."
Within the last few months -- more than eight years after this exhuberant embrace between Alsace-Lorraine and "la Mère Patrie" -- nearly every revue and newspaper in France has undertaken to explain, each in accordance with its particular political bent, what has been commonly referred to as "le malaise en Alsace." Some have described in detail the political difficulties there; others have attributed the discontent chiefly, if not entirely, to German propaganda; while some Frenchmen are inclined privately to insist -- as certain people used to say of Ireland -- that malaise was chronic in Alsace and should not be taken too seriously. In any case, it became evident that the "era of liberty and happiness" had not quite come off.
The sources of this malaise, of which certain of the more acute manifestations merit a stronger term, are to be found, not alone in the uncomprehending stubbornness of the French officials who took charge of the provinces in 1918, and in the surprising number of provocative errors they managed to commit, but also in the peculiar history that has given a special character to Alsace-Lorraine and its people.
Alsace and Lorraine form culturally a part of the Rhineland, always strongly attached to the Church and to the regional liberties so jealously defended for centuries by the series of small states and cities extending from the Alps to the Low Countries. A confederation similar to the Hanseatic League, which embraced in the thirteenth century nearly one hundred Rhenish towns, exemplifies the early development of a community of sentiment and interest among the Rhine Provinces; while the rapid growth of the universities, the invention of printing by Gutenberg, who lived in Mayence and Strasbourg, and the erection of magnificent cathedrals, convey a suggestion of the rich artistic fruitfulness that spread over Europe from that politically self-contained Rhine Valley which Goethe, one of its products, referred to as a paradise. Long before either France or Germany achieved national consolidation, Alsace and Lorraine possessed a culture and a nationalism of their own.
Some cognizance of this distinguished past and of its cultural, social and sentimental heritage is necessary to enable one to cease to think of Alsace and Lorraine as merely two small and annoying provinces on France's eastern frontier, and to gain a slight appreciation of the significance of the affectionate term, "la Petite Patrie," which Alsatians sometimes apply to their country. No people possesses a more profound attachment to its homeland than the Alsatians and the Lorrainers. If their emotions are able, in a certain sense, to reach out and encompass France, their oldest and deepest roots remain in the soil of the Rhine Valley.
Lest this should be regarded as a species of parochialism, let it be remembered that, by virtue of their position on the frontier of two civilizations, the Latin and the Germanic, the provinces have long enjoyed a double culture that has prodigiously broadened their appreciative powers and enriched the minds of their educated class. It is the French officials, rather than Alsace-Lorraine, who are guilty of parochialism -- in so far, that is, as they wish, as some do, to impose a single culture upon the provinces, thus destroying those rare qualities that the cultivation of two languages and ancient regional traditions have produced.
The older and basic of these cultures is, of course, Germanic. From the time Cardinal Mazarin brought Alsace under French protection until the Revolution, there was no special attempt to introduce the French language or French customs. "Let Alsace alone," was the wise motto of the ministers of Louis XIV; and Napoleon remarked that he did not mind what language the Alsatians spoke since they "fought in French." The effort of the Revolutionaries to displace the local tongues in all parts of France failed, partly because it came a century before popular education.
So the languages of the provinces have been little changed by political vicissitudes. As the Count Jean de Pange expresses it in his book, "Les Libertés Rhénanes" -- "The linguistic frontier in Lorraine, as well as in Alsace, dates from the barbaric invasions. . . . In Lorraine the limits of the languages bear no relation to the topography of the country. They form an irregular fringe, marking the points where the Frankish invaders ceased to be sufficiently dense for their language to replace that of the Gallo-Roman population. Nevertheless, these limits, arbitrarily traced by historical accident, have not appreciably altered in fifteen centuries." Broadly speaking, the northeastern half of Lorraine and practically all of Alsace are charted on the maps as areas where Germanic dialects predominate, four Germanic patois being spoken in Lorraine and one, known as Alsatian, in Alsace. Of these tongues there is no written form, printing and writing being in high German, with which all the dialects have a close affinity.[i]
While the demarkation is surprisingly abrupt in places, one village speaking a form of German, another a few miles distant speaking only French, both languages are spoken in the larger towns, and it is difficult to arrive at precise figures for the proportions of French-speaking and German-speaking inhabitants. Of the 1,161,639 residents of Alsace (census of 1926), French government estimates state that about three-fourths speak Alsatian. The Abbé Delsor places the proportion at four-fifths. In the Department of Moselle, the Lorraine area annexed by Germany in 1871 and generally spoken of now as Lorraine, there is a population of 633,461. The Abbé Charles Ritz, editor of Le Lorrain, a Metz daily, among other Lorrainers, told the writer that three-fifths of this population spoke French, and this estimate was accepted by the correspondent of the London Times who recently made a study of the region. It is perhaps a bit optimistic, for the Count de Pange states that only approximately one-third of Moselle speaks French. One is perhaps justified in assuming that the 1,795,000 Alsatians and Lorrainers include, at the most, not more than 500,000 French-speaking people. The educated classes and some of the trades people speak both languages, with varying degrees of proficiency.
The great majority also are Catholics. Since the French census does not classify the population according to religious faith, the latest government statistics are those of the 1910 census, which gave the following figures for the two provinces: Catholics, 1,428,000; Protestants (Lutherans), 408,000; Jews, 30,000. The departure of more than 150,000 Germans since the armistice has reduced the number of Catholics and Protestants, but the proportions have not been greatly altered. It is estimated that the Catholics now comprise 62 percent of the population of the Bas Rhin, 84 percent of that of the Haut Rhin and 85 percent of Moselle; the Protestants 35 percent, 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively, of the three departments.
Political changes of the last half century have affected the population considerably. The annexation of 1871 resulted in the emigration of about 300,000 French-speaking residents, many of whom went to America, many to Algeria, others to France. A large number of Germans entered the provinces during German rule, and the number living there at the time of the armistice is estimated as between 300,000 and 400,000. About half of them departed almost at once, many being expelled, others leaving to avoid expulsion. Those who had married Alsatians had the opportunity of becoming French citizens, and 75,000 to 80,000 did so. Relatively few not thus naturalized have remained, the 1926 census showing that there are only 164,997 foreigners of all nationalities in Alsace and Lorraine, 114,409 being in Lorraine. The Germans and other aliens, some of whom have immigrated within the last few years in response to the need for labor, are engaged chiefly in the industrial districts of Lorraine. Of the employes of the coal mines of that department 40.3 percent are French, 6.5 percent natives of the Saar living in Lorraine, 20.5 percent Sarrois living in the Saar, 9.5 percent non-Saar Germans, the rest being Poles, Czechs, Italians and others. In the metallurgical industries of Lorraine 25 percent of the workers are French, only 8.8 German (including the Sarrois), 37.5 percent Italian, 11.4 percent Polish. The number of foreigners in the provinces has increased 31,895 since the year 1921, 25,869 of this increase being in Lorraine. The Germans remaining in Alsace have largely merged into the population, while those in Lorraine consist chiefly of industrial workers, and neither group can be said to constitute a political force. Some of the exiles have sought to exert an influence from across the Rhine, and the autonomous press receives constant encouragement, if not more substantial support, from Germany.
But there is only an extremely small amount of pro-German sentiment in Alsace and Lorraine, and the causes of the discontent must be sought elsewhere.
While Alsace and Lorraine immensely increased the mineral and industrial wealth of France -- Lorraine producing 5,279,000 tons of coal in 1925, 38.8 percent of the French output of cast iron and 35 percent of that of steel, and Alsace possessing rich potash deposits and a large textile industry -- 49 percent of the population of the two provinces is listed in the 1926 census as rural. In Alsace the soil is rich and small garden culture on farms, generally less than 100 acres in area, prevails. The Lorraine soil is heavy and hard, several oxen or horses being needed to draw one plow, and it is used chiefly for grain crops and dairying. The fact that his reluctant and difficult soil imposes a rude and laborious life upon the Lorraine peasant, while his Alsatian neighbor reaps plenteous harvests with less effort, may perhaps partly explain the existence of important differences in temperament and behavior between the inhabitants of the two provinces. A recent commentator remarked that Alsace and Lorraine were no more alike than England and Ireland. This comparison was suggested doubtless by the observation that the Lorrainer is regarded as being somewhat stolid, slow and relatively unemotional, like the peasant of the north of France; while the Alsatian is vivacious, lively and argumentative, resembling rather the French of the south. Alsatians and Lorrainers agree in recognizing that there are broad differences of this type between the populations, though those unacquainted with the region make no such distinctions, largely, probably, because of the fact that the provinces formed a single territory in the German Empire.
Alsace, being less industrialized than Lorraine, is perhaps a bit more aggressively clerical. Lorraine resented being made a political tributary of Alsace when the Germans created the capital of the two provinces at Strasbourg, and at Metz one discovers on the part of some a lack of enthusiasm for a regional government for Alsace and Lorraine, based upon the apprehension that the Alsatian metropolis again would be its centre. Alsace, behind the barrier of the Vosges, has led a self-contained existence. Lorraine, which is a plain, has greater affinities with the adjoining French departments to the west and south than with Alsace.
From this social and cultural situation, scarcely considered by the French Government in 1918, have arisen certain definite political grievances which constitute the tangible manifestation of the malaise of which France probably will have to take far greater account than she so far has done. These grievances are approximately the same in both Alsace and Lorraine, though Alsace, as its temperamental qualities might have led one to expect, has expressed itself lately with greater vigor than Lorraine. They all relate to what Alsatians and Lorrainers refer to as their liberties, and reflect the marked particularist sentiment characteristic of the Rhineland of the middle ages.
On November 9, 1918, a trainload of sailors from Kiel, the original point of eruption of the German revolution, arrived in Strasbourg, formed a Council of Soldiers and Workmen in the conventional Russian manner, placed the red flag on the cathedral spire and declared the revolution. Two days later the members of the second (elected) chamber of the Parliament of Alsace-Lorraine formed a National Council and a government. One of the first acts of the Council was to declare the "right" of Alsace and Lorraine to "remain members of the French family," and to express the "joy" of the provinces in returning to France. There never was any doubt upon this point.
If Alsace and Lorraine thus voluntarily rejoined the French nation, they expressed at the same moment, in the same declaration of the Council, the stipulation that the new relationship involved the "safeguard of their traditions, their beliefs and their economic interests, which has been solemnly guaranteed to them by the chiefs of the victorious army." As early as November, 1914, Marshal Joffre, addressing Alsatians in an Army Bulletin, had said: "France brings to you, with the liberties she has always represented, the respect of your own liberties, your traditions, your convictions, your customs." M. Poincaré, then President of the Republic, specifically confirmed this promise of the Marshal in February, 1915, in an address at Saint-Amarin. Generals Pétain, Mangin, Gouraud, M. Deschanel, President of the Chamber, and M. Millerand, President of the Republic after being Commissioner General at Strasbourg, all repeated and elaborated these assurances in the name of France. When the provinces greeted the French army in 1918 they accepted these conditions and regarded them as constituting a solemn agreement.
What are these liberties, traditions and customs, unfortunately not described in more precise terms in the agreement? Recently when the present writer met Mgr. Charles Ruch, Bishop of Strasbourg, he summed up the difficulties between Church and State by saying: "We were assured that the religious régime would remain unchanged: we ask only that France keep her word." The Concordat, negotiated by Napoleon I and the Vatican, by which the clergy is paid by the State, and the confessional schools, in which pupils are segregated according to their religious allegiance, receiving instruction from teachers of their own faith, are obviously among the liberties and traditions of Alsace and Lorraine. So is the right to speak German and to learn it in the schools. So also are certain local laws, municipal privileges and methods of government. It might even be argued that, since Alsace and Lorraine had had a separate Parliament since 1911, that, too, was a tradition that France should respect. This is precisely the position of the autonomists, whose demand for administrative "selbständigkiet" (independence) within the French nation has been bitterly denounced as German propaganda. As a matter of fact, the provinces do not appear to desire a separate legislature, though they do cling tenaciously to some of the laws their provincial Parliament gave them.
When M. Herriot was Prime Minister of France in 1924 he undertook to wipe out entirely the Concordat, to disestablish the churches and to introduce the laical schools that have existed in France since the separation of Church and State in 1905.[ii] Catholic school children in Alsace and Lorraine went upon a strike and Catholics in many parts of France rose in protest. M. Herriot did not succeed. By virtue of a law of 1850 an effort was made to re-introduce what are called interconfessional schools, in which the pupils are placed in classes without regard to religion, separating only for religious instruction. On the authority of the municipal councils, this system was inaugurated in four towns, Strasbourg, Colmar, Mulhouse and Guebwiller. The churches, especially the Catholic Church, bitterly opposed this move, desiring to direct not only the religious instruction of the children, but all other instruction as well. The Church does not want the pupils to study history, for example, under non-Catholic teachers.
French is, of course, the official language of the schools. For their first two years primary pupils must study French exclusively. After that they receive three hours a week of German. Religious instruction, given four hours a week, is generally in German. The Church is not satisfied with this arrangement, its leaders contending that the non-Catholic teachers brought from France have neglected the religious training and often given it in French, a foreign tongue to most of the children. Many Alsatians urge equality of the two languages, but the French Government insists upon French having a primary place, in view of the handicaps it faces as a minority language.
What the Alsatians and Lorrainers call their liberties represent in part concessions wrested from Germany after long struggle, and it strikes them as an ironical paradox that immediately after the arrival of the French troops, greeted as liberators by the provinces, they should have to defend against the agents of the French Government the traditions and customs that French statesmen had so recently promised to respect. But the forty-seven years of German rule developed in Alsace and Lorraine a habit of aggressive protest that has served them with some effect in their dealings with France.
Though the recovery of the provinces became one of the chief objects of the war, when the armistice was signed the French Government had no prepared policy in regard to them. It began by ignoring the National Council, thus wounding the susceptibilities of a proud people, by suppressing the Strasbourg Municipal Council, by placing the government of these highly religious provinces in charge of an anti-clerical Under-Secretary of State. It established the French currency in such a way as to do injustice to both the Alsatians and Lorrainers and the Germans living there. It sent out to run the railways and other public services officials who knew no German, who had no understanding of the provinces and whose sole idea was to govern them in the manner in which the rest of France was governed. Many of these men were members of families that had left Alsace-Lorraine after 1871, and they were received coolly by their compatriots who had stayed in the provinces during the period when it was necessary to defend their liberties against the German Government.
The strike of Lorraine railway men in August, 1919, was a vigorous protest against this policy. "Alsace-Lorraine belongs to Alsatians and Lorrainers," said one of the strikers' representatives, "and it wasn't worth while to get rid of the Germans if the French come and take all the good jobs." The strike, enjoying the almost complete support of the public of the two provinces, lasted five days. The Government capitulated, accepting the ultimatum of the workers which demanded the removal of all French railway officials and foremen not speaking German.
Unmistakable manifestations of the opinion of the provinces, and the hopeless confusion in administration to which the unwise beginning had led, meanwhile had resulted in the appointment of M. Millerand as Commissioner General for Alsace and Lorraine with an office at Strasbourg. Thus the French Government came to Alsace-Lorraine. But little by little the administration was transferred from the Commissioner General to Paris, and in 1925 his office was abolished, the Government returning to Paris. But the protests against the "revenants" and the functionaries "from the interior" have since then led to considerable increases in the proportions of Alsatians and Lorrainers in the public service in the region and the Government has fortunately adopted a far more sympathetic attitude, as illustrated by M. Poincaré's letter expressing his willingness that the provinces remain bi-lingual.[iii]
In their struggle against the over-zealous centralizers there is little division among Alsatians and Lorrainers save in the vehemence of their complaints. If the Catholics cling to the privileges of the Church, the Socialists are equally intent upon maintaining the obligatory old age pensions and the superior municipal services of the provinces, a product of the German system of professional mayors, now abolished.
The newly annexed provinces have brought to the fore the question of decentralization, the revision of the rigid Napoleonic structure of the French State in the direction of greater local freedom in administration. Several recent decrees have made changes of this nature, transferring certain powers to Prefects and Sub-prefects, enlarging the scope of the Councils General, enabling many decisions to be made locally instead of by a minister at Paris. Related to this is the question of allowing the local authorities greater liberty in coöperating with each other in the interest of regional improvement. There is a disposition to grant this also, but governmental reforms move slowly in France. There is a prospect that Alsace and Lorraine, instead of being cut up into three departments, as at present, may be permitted to develop a system under which they may govern themselves without being hobbled by arbitrary departmental lines.
In defending so stubbornly their regional liberties and culture, Alsace and Lorraine may eventually contribute not a little to a salutary revision of the antiquated and inefficient system of administration which today handicaps the life of France. The reforms made during the latter part of the year 1926 probably were motivated largely by a desire to appease Alsace and Lorraine without further recognizing the special position of the recovered provinces within the French State. In enlarging the powers of local French officials generally, the Government was able to concede something to Alsace and Lorraine, while at the same time maintaining its policy of declining further to discriminate between them and the other departments of France.
Moreover, the provinces have supplied an impressive example of the limitations of the doctrine that there is necessarily a connection between language and culture, on the one hand, and nationality on the other. German writers often have argued that, being German in speech and tradition, Alsace should be embraced politically within the German nation. The fallacy of this contention is illustrated by the fact that the German military authorities deemed it necessary during the war to treat Alsace and Lorraine as unfriendly territories. The French have been inclined to apply the same doctrine, though reversing the reasoning. Alsace and Lorraine are French and desire to remain French, they said; therefore they should learn to speak French as soon as possible and abandon their Germanic culture and their local traditions and customs. Both were wrong. Though speaking a Germanic dialect, the Alsatians had no desire to become German subjects and protested to the last when the French National Assembly was forced in 1871 to purchase peace by ceding the two provinces. Though willing to rejoin France in 1918, Alsatians and Lorrainers resent the suggestion that their acceptance of French political allegiance involves the alteration of their ancient speech and culture.
The Powers have accepted, nominally at least, the principle that territories should not be shifted from one sovereignty to another without regard to the desires of the inhabitants. The case of Alsace and Lorraine suggests that in applying this principle it is not always warrantable to judge the political preferences of the populations concerned by the language they speak.
[i] For a discussion of the linguistic frontier see "Franco-German Frontiers," by Charles H. Haskins, in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, December, 1924.
[ii] M. Herriot described his program -- political,educational, religious -- in an article in the June, 1924, issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS.
[iii] The Countess de Pange has well depicted, in her novel, "Le Beau Jardin," the divergent attitudes of the Alsatians and the French functionaries during this period.