How has Paris changed since the 1920s

Background current

Between revanchism and world peace

The Paris peace negotiations began on January 18, 1919. 32 countries discussed the peace conditions after the First World War. Negotiations such as the Versailles Treaty or the League of Nations should create peace around the world. But in view of the difficult political situation, this had little chance of success.

The so-called Council of Four in Versailles during the peace negotiations with Germany in 1919 (from left to right): British Prime Minister Lloyd George, Italian Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and American President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. 1919. (& copy picture alliance / Imagno)

January 18 has a special meaning in Franco-German relations. On this day, in 1871, the German Empire was proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. And 48 years later, also on January 18, the Paris Peace Conference began in the French Foreign Ministry. Representatives from a total of 32 countries negotiated the peace conditions after the First World War here.

At the end of the Paris Peace Conference there was the Treaty of Versailles - a document that tried to reorganize Europe and the world politically and territorially. At the same time, the negotiations were also the birth of the League of Nations, the first attempt to create a worldwide peace order. Based on these structures and experiences, the United Nations was later founded after the Second World War.

The "Council of Four" determines the negotiations

The four heads of delegation from the victorious powers of World War I - the USA, France, Great Britain and Italy - dominated the negotiations in Paris. The "Council of Four" met in 145 closed sessions. Its decisions were later adopted by the General Assembly of the Conference.

With regard to the Central Powers - Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire - which were not included in the peace conference, the "Council of Four" acted against the basic idea of ​​the League of Nations, according to which all states participate equally in international decisions should be. In addition, the policy of reorganization continued to be determined by colonial-imperialist interests. Historians see this as a birth defect in the post-war order.

The draft of the Versailles Treaty was presented to a German delegation on May 7, 1919. Germany should lose 13 percent of its territory, including Alsace-Lorraine, Poznan and West Prussia. Furthermore, the Saar area was placed under the administration of the League of Nations, as were the German colonies in Africa and Asia. There should be referendums on the areas in North Schleswig and Upper Silesia to remain in the Reich. The Rhineland was declared an occupied territory for 15 years. The size of the Reichswehr was limited to 100,000 soldiers, and Germany was to pay reparations payments in an as yet unspecified total amount. A first installment of 20 billion gold marks was demanded until 1921 alone. Article 231 of the peace treaty also assigned Germany sole responsibility for the outbreak of war.

"Paris Suburb Contracts"

For weeks there was fierce controversy over the acceptance of the treaty. Prime Minister Philipp Scheidemann (SPD) said at the time: "What hand does not have to wither that puts itself and us in this fetter." He resigned from office on May 12, 1919. On June 16, the victorious powers presented the Germans with an ultimatum: If they did not ratify the treaty within seven days, the hostilities would be resumed. On the penultimate day of the deadline, the National Assembly accepted the treaty. The document was signed on June 28, 1919 - exactly five years to the day after the assassination attempt in Sarajevo.

The Treaty of Versailles was the first of a total of five so-called Paris suburb agreements that were submitted to the defeated states of the First World War for signature by the victorious powers. They were all conceived at the Paris conference. The Treaty of Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire was revised in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne in part in favor of the newly founded Turkey.

As a result, the three multi-ethnic empires, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire dissolved. States like Poland or Lithuania got their sovereignty back after the First World War and some nations like the Ukrainians, Belarusians, Latvians, Estonians and Finns got their own nation-state. The first Republic of Austria, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Republic of Turkey and later the Soviet Union also emerged.

The consequences are still visible today

The Paris peace negotiations had far-reaching consequences, some of which continue to have an impact today. During the First World War, for example, the Entente powers supported the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule for strategic reasons and gave the rebels hope for a pan-Arab nation-state. But in Paris it became clear that France and Great Britain would divide the Middle East into "spheres of influence" under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which they controlled by means of a League of Nations mandate. This decision was officially made at the San Remo Conference in April 1920. In the Treaty of Sèvres, with which the mandate of Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia was prepared on August 10 of the same year, those often arbitrary demarcations can be found, to which many conflicts in the Middle East today can be traced back.

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