Speech in the Chamber of Representatives
by Mr. Spaak, Minister for Foreign Affairs,
on December 19th, 1939
M. SPAAK, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.--I should be wanting in gratitude and a sense of justice if, at the beginning of this speech, I did not thank the leaders of groups for the words they have spoken and the sentiments they have expressed.
In the difficult times which are undoubtedly still ahead of us, there could be no more hopeful sign that we shall overcome our difficulties than our unity on foreign policy, a unity from which a people like ours derives its greatest strength.
M. Delwaide, M. Huysmans, and M. Hymans have made my task easy. They have, I feel sure, interpreted the views of the vast majority of the people of this country who approve the Government's foreign policy.
Let it suffice then to repeat here with emphasis that "Belgium is neutral and intends to remain neutral as long as her independence, the integrity of her territory, and her vital interests are not threatened."
In this Belgium is within her rights, and I would add that she is doing her duty to herself.
There is, then, no difference of opinion as to principles. Not one Belgian in a thousand would ask or would desire that we should take part in the war that is rending Europe unless implacable necessity compels us to do so.
That being so, I have no need to explain or justify once more our country's attitude; and I should much prefer to confine myself to emphasizing that public opinion is almost unanimous.
Why then do I offer you explanations?
Because I feel you ought to know the Government's view on one or two points.
I will enumerate them in the order which I want to deal with them: (1) Rights and duties of neutrality; (2) Offer of good offices of November 7th and our relations with the Netherlands; (3) Russo-Finnish conflict.
The Government has been accused of taking too narrow, petty and, as it were, pusillanimous a view of neutrality.
This criticism seems to me to be quite undeserved. The Government is, indeed, very conscious of the difficulties facing it, of its responsibilities. It is undoubtedly in a better position than anyone else to weigh up the dangers we are running and the odds
we are up against. It is not surprising, therefore, that its reactions should differ from the reactions of those whose hearts rule their heads. But no one in the Government has ever maIntained that neutrality should force us to condone injustice, to remain silent before the cruelties of war. No one has ever maintained that a neutral Belgian must be an indifferent Belgian. And the history of to-day cannot efface the history of yesterday. Such truths have often been proclaimed, and not a member of the Government would deny them. But has not the time come for me to repeat once more--at the risk of boring you--the words of J. Bainville, whose wisdom and profundity I appreciate the more as my experience widens: "You must will the consequences of what you want"?
The fact that the Belgian State is neutral with the consent--nay more, with the approval--of the vast majority of Belgians, imposes on it certain duties, particularly the duty of loyalty to the belligerents--duties hallowed by tradition. It also entitle the Government to urge that in expressing our views we should cultivate a sense of balance,k a sense of proportion and dignity. Quite apart from any legal controversy as to the meaning of neutrality, can you not see that life would soon become impossible, in practice, and that neutrality itself would be singularly compromised, if the neutral State maintained normal relations with all of the belligerents, while at the same time its citizens, letting their sense of freindship and their feelings run away with them, lost all sense of proportion and gave free rein to both their sympathies and their antipathies?
I repeat that to-day personal liberty must be squared with national discipline, and that to sacrifice exaggerated utterances is a very small contribution if it helps to strengthen our position.
I hasten to add that fortunately the situation has greatly improved. The daily Press, in particular, has made a praiseworthy effort, and the moderation with which it supports certain views does not in any way detract--far from it--from their influence.
The almost irreproachable discussions in this Chamber also show that we can be neutral without in any way giving up our intellectual independence; neutral, as we wish to be, without weakness, but also without giving any provocation.
On Tuesday, November 7th, the Queen of the Netherlands and the King of the Belgians again made a united appeal to the belligerents, offering their good offices in seeking "reasonable and sound bases for an equitable peace." Everyone understood, everybody in Belgium approved, the King's action.
M. Carton De Wiart points out in his report that my presence
at The Hague was a sure sign that the step taken by our Sovereign was strictly constitutional.
May I say that in the circumstances I am not content with constitutional correctness. I feel I should thank the King in public for the magnificent efforts he has made for several years to spare our country the horrors of war (loud applause); for the wise advice he has always given to the various Governments that came into power one after another; for the strength of mind with which he fulfils his very heavy task; for the example he has always set those with whom he comes into contact, an example which compels respect, admiration, and affection. (Hear, hear.)
Only those who are unwilling to understand can have had any hesitation as to the significance of the appeal of the two Sovereigns and can have attributed to them mysterious motives or aims.
After appealing in very clear terms to the belligerents, offering their good offices, the Queen and King said: "This would seem to us to be our mission, a mission we have to fulfil for the good of our own people and in the interests of the whole world."
The good of our people and the interests of the whole world: those two ideals the Sovereigns and their Governments do not dissociate. In seeking to establish reasonable and sound bases for an equitable peace, they intend to devote themselves to this stirring task.
That their words were not heard, that we must assume that it is still too soon and that the hour of peace has not yet struck, I cannot but record with regret, with emotion, with some anxiety, too. And I hope that later on no one will have cause to regret the failure of this effort.
The common effort of the Sovereigns and the Governments provided an opportunity, as the official communiqué of November 7th pointed out, to reaffirm the solidarity of interests of the Netherlands and Belgium.
It has recently been stressed in this Chamber and elsewhere by several speakers; it is sincerely appreciated throughout the whole country.
It is a fact--one of the plainest facts--the most obvious facts--of the present day; and I find it difficult, I must say, to understand why some people close their eyes to it on the misleading pretext that they and they alone defended it here some years ago.
For my part, I have no hesitation in saying that from the military as well as the economic and moral point of view, an independent and neutral Holland is of vital importance to Belgium. I do not think it necessary to labor so obvious a truth.
I am even more anxious than I was--what has happened makes it necessary--that there should be nothing mechanical about
Belgian foreign policy. I want to be quite free to form a judgment in the light of all the facts. For that reason, I think it would be unwise to decide now what attitude we shall have to adopt if the situation in Holland changes. But I should like to make it clear that it would be madness to suppose such an event would leave us indifferent. (Loud applause.)
As far as I am concerned--and I am sure I am speaking for the whole Government--I am deeply conscious of the ties between Belgium and the Netherlands. (Hear, hear.)
The Government is indignant at the Soviet aggression against Finland. (Loud applause from most Parties.)
M. LAHAUT.--Long live the Soviets! (Vehement protests from most benches.) Down with the capitalist war!
THE PRESIDENT.--Order, please, M. Lahaut.
M. RELECOM.--You did not say that, M. Spaak, about Czechoslovakia and Poland! (Lively interruptions from most benches. Uproar.)
M. DELATRE.--Long live Finland!
M. RELECOM.--Yes, long live the Finnish people!
THE PRESIDENT.--I would ask the Communist members to stop making doubtful comments. (Applause from most benches.)
M. DELATRE.--Long live the Finnish children, who are being pitilessly massacred! (Several members intervened. The President struck the table with his mallet.)
THE PRESIDENT.--The Minister for Foreign Affairs has the floor and no one else.
M. RELECOM.--The Minister for Foreign Affairs has gone too far.
M. BOHY.--You have gone too far yourself by supporting a foreign Government.
M. LAHAUT.--It is an imperialist war. I am against all imperialism. I am against Italy; I am against Germany. (Violent interruptions.)
THE PRESIDENT.--Order, please, M. Lahaut.
M. LAHAUT.--I don't care. (Loud protests.)
THE PRESIDENT.--Does the Chamber desire it to be recorded in the verbatim report of the meeting that I have just called M. Lahaut to order? (Yes! Yes!)
This proposal was put to the vote and was adopted by rising or remaining seated.
M. SPAAK, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.--These interruptions only serve to emphasize that there in unanimity in the Chamber and throughout the country. (Hear, hear.)
We cannot keep silent when an innocent little country is attacked and allow it to be assumed from our silence that we think the attack is justified and even normal.
Even small countries are entitled to live. They too are centres of culture, of civilization, of social progress. And when, like Finland during the past few years, they have carefully avoided diplomatic intrigue, simply affirming their desire to live free and independent among their powerful neighbours, they are entitled to our sympathy in their misfortune. (Loud applause.)
M. SEGHERS (in Flemish).--Hear, hear!
M. SPAAK, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.--When, like Finland, they fight one to ten or twenty they also have a right to our admiration. (Hear, hear.)
In its misfortune, the Finnish Government turned to the League of Nations. What could they hope for from this appeal to law when law was daily broken?
Did they still believe in collective security? I doubt it, and I can assure you that I heard of this step with a pang.
Was I wrong? I do not want to judge other people. I know what very complicated and dangerous situations can arise. All I want is to justify Belgium's attitude.
The Soviet Union, a Member of the League of Nations--and what a Member!--attacked Finland, another Member of the League. The Soviet Union refused to attend to explain the matter, and contemptuously--I might almost say cynically--refused every proposal for an understanding, preferring force to any form of conciliation.
The Argentine Republic proposed that the Soviet Union be suspended from the league. I did not feel the Belgian Government could have the slightest hesitation. Consequently it voted in the Council of the League for the suspension of the Soviet Union.
No one asked me for any explanation whatever, for everyone approved. (Hear, hear.)
We know that this gesture had only moral significance. We know that it did not give effective help to Finland.
It is very difficult for little countries, at a distance from one another, to testify to their feeling of fellowship. We are powerless before this tragedy, but we are ready to collaborate in any humanitarian work that may serve, however slightly, to alleviate the sufferings of an heroic people. (Interruptions from the Communists.)
Table of Contents