Keynote: Dalia Leinarte (UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Cambridge University and Kaunas University) From Suffragettes to Women’s Human Rights: Eastern European Feminism

Miia Halme-Tuomisaari (University of Helsinki) – History of Human Rights: the Versailles perspective

How can we study the history of human rights at a time when they neither existed as an established discourse, had institutional support or recognition, nor were embodied by legal instruments or had an identifiable community to lobby for them? These are some of the questions that accompany attempts to discuss the role of the Versailles peace treaty in the history of human rights. In existing scholarship we can identify two dominant answer: The ‘textbook narrative of origins’ will effortlessly find precedents to contemporary human rights in most historical eras and civilizations – including the Versailles conference – thus confirming the basic contours of the forward-looking progressiveness embodied by ‘mainstream’ human rights scholarship. By contrast, recent ‘reductionist debates’ suggest that efforts to find for continuities are futile beyond, say, the founding of the UN, or even the 1970s. This paper traces a more nuanced middle-ground via a conceptually open-ended understanding of human rights characterized by: 1) the universalizing category of everyone; 2) a focus on entitlements rather than duties; 3) an emphasis on relationships 4) a dynamic of change; and 5) a set of values; 6) a set of institutional structures and bureaucratic practices. Building both on the insights of this conference as well as the recently flourished debates around the history of human rights, this paper considers what such an approach suggests of the role of the Versailles’ treaty, and the developments of the inter-war period more broadly.

Matthias Koenig (University of Göttingen & Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity) International law and the politics of religious difference from the 19th century to Versailles – a historical sociological perspective

Religious freedom has been among the most contested norms in international human rights law. Recent scholarship has traced its genealogy to various critical junctures including the Paris Peace Conference and the minority protection and mandate systems under the League of Nations. This paper turns attention to slow-moving social processes in which religious rights templates took shape in positive international law over the long 19th century. Informed by global field theory and drawing on a novel dataset of bilateral treaties, it traces how legal norms spread through the network of sovereign states and became discursively standardized. Designed to govern religious difference in contexts of trade, ethnic nationalism and imperial competition, these norms contained different understandings of religious freedom that were promoted by distinctive actors – from Western governments to transnational minority activists and Christian missionaries. Uncovering these conflicting understandings and actor constellations is crucial for reconstructing the global politics of religious difference in the early 20th century.

Georgios Giannakopoulos (DurhamUniversity) – British international thought and minority questions in Eastern Europe: Lessons from Paris

The paper charts the emergence of the “minority question” in British thought and scholarship in a period of nationalist agitation and imperial transformation across Eastern Europe, and the wider world. The study of British international thought customarily focuses on debates about the state and inter-state relations. The shifting of the emphasis on national and minority questions allows us to  fully capture  the contribution of nationalism in debates on international affairs, and to reconsider Britain’s role in the international system. More specifically, the paper has a twofold aim: First,  it recovers the thought and practice of a cohort of British intellectuals and experts dealing with national questions in the region during the Great War. Second, it considers how the new minority protection regime set up in Paris impacted their thinking on nationalism, imperialism and international order in Europe.

Wiktor Marzec (Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg) – Polish Parliamentary Debate on the Minority Treaty and the Foundations of Interwar Polish Politics

The so called little treaty of Versailles regulating the minority protection in Poland – a paradigm for a series of similar agreements with other ‘new’ states – spurred on a vivid controversy in the Polish public sphere. In the Polish parliament many voices were heard expressing indignation about the suppression of Polish sovereignty and dignity. These vehement protests often pointed out at the alleged Polish tradition of tolerance and cohabitation of different national and ethnic groups in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. What underpinned the debate, however, was a widely held conviction that the provisions protecting minorities were designed by, and for, the Jews. This impression was strengthened by the fact that in the parliament practically only the Jewish MP’s stood firmly in defense of the protective measures. Because of the border conflicts impeding elections, boycotts, and hybrid nature of the parliamentary representation in the legislative Sejm, other minority groups were hardly present and were not able to speak in their name.

However, in this debate the standpoints were distributed in a quite unexpected manner. The Paris negotiations were led by the politicians of nationalistic, antisemitic right (which on the international forum easily denied the creditability of any assurances that there is no antisemitism in Poland). Thus, the nationalist right in the parliament was not very outspoken in the critique of the treaty in the name of party unity, and the claim to be the godfathers of the Polish independence. These were the peasant parties and to some extend the socialists (secular, Polonized Jewish MP’s included) who viciously attacked the bill for strategic purposes. They did not upheld their general position much more favorable for the minority groups in order to drug the right through mud and mire of accusations.

This debate was one of the tipping points structuring the Polish public sphere of the interwar period. It may be argued that this role reversal prevented the nationalist Dmowski, who negotiated in Paris, from expressing his antisemitism openly abroad and at home. This resulted in his growing antisemitic obsession and paranoia of international conspiracies, which marked the entire political project of the National Democracy party in the forthcoming years. The left, somehow incidentally assuming the mantle of a defender of national dignity in this debate, also later followed suit, resigning from any firm standing in the defense of minority populations. This was also the first moment when in the official debate on the state level various traits relating to alleged Polish noble character, martyrdom and historical victimhood were reforged in the coherent public policy discourse framing the debate on Polish politics of history till today.

Jane Cowan (University of Sussex/ University of Helsinki) – International oversight of rights and protections for minorities at the League of Nations: practices, contestations and alliances in a new political field – The case of the WILPF and Bulgarian women’s organisations

Although the League of Nations ultimately upheld traditional notions of sovereign nation-states, in its early days it was a focus for the hopes and dreams of many different visions of “the international”. Many private organisations as well as self-identified internationalists operated energetically at the edges and interstices of this “experimental” and not yet fully bureaucratised international organisation. Assuming roles of adviser, expert, critic or advocate, lobbying, arguing and collaborating with bureaucrats, delegates and diplomats, they were central in producing the ‘spirit of Geneva’ and aimed to harness these energies for their projects. This paper focuses on the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF), who operated both an inward and outward-looking strategy. From their Geneva headquarters, La Maison Internationale, they attempted to influence League developments toward their goals of feminism, pacifism and internationalism, while also cultivating relationships with local women’s groups beyond Geneva, mediating between them and the League. The paper examines a series of encounters between WILPF and feminist organisations in Bulgaria related to claims about minorities in Macedonia. By following the paths of friendship and collaboration as well as misunderstanding and breakdown, I examine the complexities of alliance between feminist activists united and divided by nationalism and internationalism as they were played out at the scene of minority rights and protections.

Francesca Piana (University of Geneva) – Women Doctors and the Feminist Separate Sphere. The American Women’s Hospitals In Greece, 1917-1941

The American Women’s Hospitals (AWH) emerged in the United States in 1917 as a reaction to women physicians’ exclusion from the Army Medical Reserve Corps and was composed of women physicians only, both at the headquarters and overseas. In the interwar period, Greece became the AWH’s main mission, due to the massive arrival of Ottoman Greek refugees from the former Ottoman territories. Thanks to the activities in Greece, the AWH transformed from a temporary to a permanent organization that is still operational nowadays. After decades of segregation in medicine, where they mainly treated women and children, at the turn of the century American women doctors tended towards gender equality. However, the AWH, which protested being excluded from the Army Medical Reserve Corps, became the proponent of the separate sphere model, yet with a feminist twist. By going transnational, women doctors such as Esther Pohl Lovejoy, the chairperson of the AWH, and Ruth Azniv Parmelee, charged with the Greek mission, turned maternal virtues of motherhood to their advantage in order to pursue their own professional projects. By being capable professionals, even to men, yet carriers of maternal capacity, women doctors independently managed hospitals and dispensaries, activities that would have been denied to them in the US, and challenged male authority in medicine. However, these women, who had just obtained the right to vote in the US, fostered more than professionalism and female solidarity for themselves. They also trained refugee women as nurses and taught “scientific motherhood” to Greek mothers. As maternalist and patriotic caregivers, women doctors wished to transform Greek mothers and children into active citizens and workers. Therefore, warfare and its aftermath, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean region with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, were conditions in which maternalist medical advocacy, which was not devoid of cultural imperialism, benefitted both American women doctors in their quest for gender equality as well as Greek women and children in their citizenship and political rights.

Davide Rodogno and Emmanuel Dalle Mulle (Graduate Institute, Geneva) Three crossroads: Berlin (1878), Versailles (1919) and Geneva (from 1920 to 1934). How and why humanitarian interventions and minority rights intertwined.

This joint paper sits at the crossroad of past and present research interests of Emmanuel Dalle Mulle and Davide Rodogno, who are both working on a research project on the history of national minorities in Western Europe (together with PhD candidate Mona Bieling). The paper will review the parallel histories of the doctrines and practices of humanitarian intervention and minority rights from the beginning of the 19th century to the 1930s through the three crossroads of the 1878 Congress of Berlin, the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference and the minority system supervised by the League of Nations imposed in Eastern Europe from 1920 until its de facto demise after Poland’s rejection of its engagements in 1934. The paper will show that the more minority protection became institutionalised in international governance (first in Berlin, later, and more decisively, at Versailles), the more the older doctrine and practice of humanitarian intervention fell into oblivion and remained limited to the ivory tower of aloof scholarly debates. Stressing the civilisational bias that accompanied 19th century humanitarian intervention (imposed by European Powers on the ‘backward’ Ottoman Empire), the paper will argue that with post-Great War minority protection such civilisational stereotype ‘moved Eastward’, as it put under ‘international supervision’ an area formerly belonging to the ‘civilised’ Austro-Hungarian Empire. More generally, the paper will ponder upon the complex relation between humanitarian intervention, minority rights and sovereignty. Both humanitarian intervention and minority rights were conceived as limits to the absolute sovereignty of the rising nation-state that would further justice and guarantee peace and security. Yet, at the same time, they were also seen as suspicious international practices that concealed reasons beyond the protection of populations victims of mistreatment and abuses. While this contradiction can partly be attributed to flaws in the implementation of the two doctrines, in part, it might simply be due to structural inconsistencies that keep hunting us even today.

Laura Robson (Portland State University) Minorities Treaties and Mandatory Regimes: Sovereignty and Race in the Peace Treaties

The post-war treaties of Versailles, Sèvres, and Lausanne collectively created two related frames for ongoing Allied control over unreliable territory: a system of “minority protection” in the new and fragile states of eastern Europe, and a neo-colonial regime of externally monitored “mandates” in the Mashriq and elsewhere, with both systems falling under the jurisdiction of the newly constructed League of Nations based in Geneva. This paper explores how the architects of the peace agreements deployed a strategic discursive focus on these concepts of minority rights and mandatory responsibilities primarily as a way of codifying, formalizing, and legitimizing restrictions on sovereignty along immovable racial lines.

The minorities treaties, which applied primarily to the emerging nation-states of eastern Europe, and the mandates, which applied to non-European territories, represented differentiated levels in an emerging hierarchy of sovereign rights: limited sovereignty for white but “uncivilized” states, and the mere possibility of future sovereignty for non-white territories. The records of the peace negotiations clearly delineate how these concepts were collectively imagined as a rhetorically retooled version of a highly racialized imperialism, with the specific goal of making it more difficult to challenge at the level of international diplomacy.

This analysis underscores the intentionality of forcing anti-colonial activists to turn to public protest and, often, violence to gain a hearing in the international arena, where the nature of their strategies could be turned against them. In other words, the minorities treaties and the mandates system were constructed in conjunction, with the goal of permanently restricting sovereignty through the use of racially coded categories that rendered movement from one set of sovereign rights to another all but impossible, regardless of the theoretically available channels.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark (Åland Islands Peace Institute) – The Åland Islands Solution in Context

The institutionalisation of international law took place in tandem to the democratisation and constitutional processes across Europe during that long 19th century. These processes were unfolding against the background of the disintegration and reconfiguration of empires, such as the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian and even the French and British. Within these painful constructions of new political systems and conceptions of citizenship and community in Europe, as well as in colonial territories, problems of difference became even more pressing under the influence of romantic nationalism which exacerbated the emphasis on the coincidence of one ‘nation’ and one ‘state’. This is also the time when territorial autonomy as a legal and political tool came to the forefront. This contribution poses the core and persistent question about the relationship between territorial autonomy, minority accommodation and diversity as it was eventually conceptualised in the League of Nations. I argue that territorial autonomy as an institution springs out of a multitude of 19th century experiences, ideologies and institutions linking it simultaneously to democratisation and self-government processes, to the development of regional identities in disintegrating empires and in consolidating modern European nation states, as well as to colonial projects such as the system of mandates.

Steen Bo Frandsen (University of Southern Denmark) – The Danish-German border: Historical Rights, National Self-determination and Minorities

More than half a century after the end of one of the first violent national border conflicts the Danish-German disagreement over the region of Schlewig returned to the agenda of international politics. Although Denmark had been neutral throughout the Great War the border question was brought into the peace negotiations in Paris. In the end this international framework produced a stable solution. Two plebiscites were held to establish a new dividing line. The border of 1920 still exists today.

In the process the arguments of historical rights lost much of their old strength. On the Danish side there was a growing consciousness that the principle of national self-determination could function as a means to win back at least the Danish part of the lost region. The paper will discuss this process and analyse how the border was actually drawn. Even if the plebiscites provided very clear results the voting mode of the two zones was not the same, and they did of course end up producing two national minorities. The plebiscites also clearly were set within a national context as the population could only vote for Denmark or Germany. They were given no alternative.

Border conflicts are generally positioned within national history narratives. They almost always tend to ignore the importance of international politics and strategic issues. A link between regional or local dimensions and the international level is important to stress – also in order to make a critical discussion of principles like national self-determination possible.

Charlotte Alston (Northumbria University) – Representing Russia’s rights at and around the Paris Peace Conference

Ivan Sablin (University of Heidelberg) – The Wilsonian Moment in Siberia and the Far East: Buryat-Mongols and Koreans between the Paris Peace Conference and the Comintern, 1919–1920

The Russian–Soviet imperial transformation can be understood in terms of three consecutive albeit overlapping processes and with the help of three theoretical approaches. Ilya Gerasimov’s application of the concept of the imperial revolution to Russia explained why nationalist activists overwhelmingly campaigned for autonomy rather than independence of their communities until late 1917–early 1918. Erez Manela’s metaphor of the “Wilsonian moment” highlighted the global spread of the idea of national sovereignty as a major element in a liberal post-imperial world order in 1918–1919. Prasenjit Duara’s concept of the new imperialism proved suitable for grasping the rising popularity of the Bolsheviks among nationalists since 1919, due to the former’s support of nationalism in exchange for political dependency and structural adjustments of the newly institutionalized communities. Employing the three approaches, the paper briefly outlines all three developments for the Buryat-Mongols and Koreans living in the former Russian Empire, explores the 1919 independence claims of a united Mongolia and of Korea in connection to the Paris Peace Conference, and discusses how the liberal post-imperial vision gave way to a more radical one centered on the Comintern. Direct appeals of Buryat-Mongol and Korean nationalists to Woodrow Wilson and the conference in early 1919, gave way to disillusionment with the Paris version of international liberalism and with the Russian anti-Bolsheviks, which together with the general radicalization of Korean and Buryat armed activists on site contributed to their rapprochement with the Bolsheviks and increased interest in the Comintern’s post-imperial (new imperial) project.