The Democratic Nations of Central-Eastern Europe


By DR. HENRYK STRASBURGER, Polish Minister of Finance

Delivered at the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Philadelphia, Pa., November 16, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 182-185.

I FEEL very happy to have the opportunity of addressing today the American Academy of Political and Social Science. I am sorry, however, not to be able to express myself freely in your language. I am quite sure that after this war English will become the most widely accepted international language. But, judging by my experience at the League of Nations, I think it is not the good English that you speak but rather the bad English that I speak that will really become the international language.

We are gathered here today to discuss Central and Eastern Europe. Let us look at the map of Europe: between the two most powerful countries of that continent, between Germany and Russia, from the Baltic to the Adriatic and Aegean Sea stretches an irregular parallelogram. The Baltic Sea is its prolongation in the north, and its most southern outpost is the Island of Crete.

This area lies in the very heart of Europe. If the term "Axis countries" were not politically discredited by the German and Italian lust for conquest, it would be quite fairfrom the geographical aspect to use it to describe this area, dividing Western from Eastern Europe.

The great Polish port of Danzig-Gdynia is its main link with the outside world in the north. In the south the area has access to the sea at Trieste, although this port is politically Italian domination. Furthermore, Salonika on the Aegean Sea, and also perhaps Constanza on the Black Sea, should be mentioned as the main ports of the area.

All the countries of the area have one common characteristic: on the one hand they are too small to establish autonomous and powerful states, which could withstand the continual pressure of their mighty neighbours, and on the other hand, being too large and having a strong national consciousness, they could not be subjugated by them. That is why their lot and their history have often been tragic. Sometimes they lost their political independence for shorter or longer periods of their history, and sometimes they sought safety in federation with other countries.

These countries are simultaneously old and young,—old, because they possess long periods of often glorious history, and young, because their independence has only been regained recently in the XIXth or XXth century. Greece was the first to recover her independence, between 1821 and 1829, but she had to go on fighting for it during the whole of the XIXth century. Serbia, Bulgaria and Rumania were reestablished by the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania regained their independence after the great war, and it was confirmed by the Versailles Treaty, which also granted independence, for the first time, to Estonia and Latvia.

Why did all these countries achieve their independence in the XIXth and XXth centuries? Because in the XIXth and the XXth century the ideas of freedom of the American and French revolutions became a reality and great masses of people attained full national consciousness, and would no more tolerate the rule of foreign monarchs or of a small group of people of foreign nationality.

Thus the countries of Central-Eastern Europe are the children of freedom and democracy. Some people refer to this part of Europe as "Unknown Europe," and actually it is an area which has been greatly neglected by Western Europe and America. Other people would like to call it "New Europe," thus indicating that a great future awaits these countries. I should like to describe it as the "Bloc of Democratic Countries," because its character is not decided by the political aspirations of any one group, but its very existence is conditional upon the principle of democracy, freedom and equality of all nations, as opposed to the spirit of conquest of the totalitarian nations. Without the right of nations to self-determination there is no real democracy.

With the object of dominating Central-Eastern Europe politically and economically, the Germans sought to isolate it economically from other countries by attempts to establish a kind of economic monopoly for themselves there. In addition they tried to separate it by political and propaganda methods from the rest of Europe, by raising a kind of barrier between it and other countries. To this end Germany discredited the countries of Central-Eastern Europe in the eyes of Western Europe and America. In these countries, they succeeded in spreading untrue or exaggerated information and news. While they themselves prepared for war, they talked of the danger to peace of the "Balkan cockpit" or the "Polish Corridor." Themselves wanting to exterminate other European nations, they accused the Czechs and Poles of being intolerant towards their national minorities. Before setting to work on the systematic extermination of the Jewish nation they spread untrue or exaggerated stories of Jewish persecutions or pogroms.

In consequence, the nations of Central-Eastern Europe, but especially those who are closer to Germany, began to realize their common danger and the necessity for joint defense against attempts on the part of Germany and her Italian ally.

In the political, economic and even psychological structure of the nations we are discussing, there is yet another common feature. There was a gap in their development as independent nations during the most important historical and economical period of the XIXth century. This gap had to leave its mark on the character of these nations. They were unable to develop their state authorities, their institutions of national representation, their line of foreign policy soundly and gradually. The lack of a national independent policy had its greatest effect on the economic development of these States. During the years when the great industrial revolution was being accomplished in other countries, these States did not exist. This mainly explains the unhealthy economic backwardness, the absence of industry, the unsound proportion between the density of population and the state of economic husbandry and density of investment. Only a few areas in Central-Eastern Europe avoided this fate.

The bloc of the Democratic Nations of Central-Eastern Europe will be organized in order to attain the common aims of the countries which compose it. The first of these aims is cooperation for preserving peace in Europe. The very basis of the Bloc and the tendencies of the countries which are its members, whether big or small, clearly reveal its defensive character. Each of these countries, taken separately, proved too weak to resist German aggression. By pooling their human resources, complementing their industry and aggregating their territory, they undoubtedly augment their strength for the defense of peace. However, the Bloc can only achieve results if it closely cooperates in the political and military sphere with other democratic countries which have the same end in view and in particular the United States and Great Britain.

The second main aim of the Bloc will be a speedy and very substantial economic development of the countries composing the Bloc, as well as a rise in the standard of living of their inhabitants. By uniting among themselves, these various countries will undoubtedly be forwarding this task, because the economic systems of many of these countries are complementary and an increase to mutual trade is quite conceivable. They possess sufficient manpower, good workers and competent technicians, so far as these have not been destroyed by the Germans during the occupation.

Assuming that some two thirds of the population lives by agriculture and the total population of the area amounts to some 115 million people, you can see at once that there are considerable possibilities of raising the consumption potential. Equally with China, India and Soviet Russia, the Central-Eastern European area must be regarded as an important and to a large extent a new customer of the world markets. Although the consumers of this area are fewer in number than those of other countries I have mentioned, they are on the other hand more mature to increase in their requirements.

The third great task of our Bloc must be to free other continents from the pressure of immigrant population by retaining our peoples on their own soil, and finding for them adequate employment.

In the States of the Bloc we want to develop those same principles of democracy and liberty which were the verybasis of their independence, and which are also cherished above all, in the United States. So I would like to stress that the fourth great task of the future Bloc of Democratic States must be to cultivate these principles.

But I think that there should also be close collaboration among these nations in the field of immediate post-war relief and reconstruction and I should like to devote my further remarks to this important problem.

From the statements made by responsible statesmen of the United Nations it is clear that the basis of post-war world reconstruction must be international solidarity. International solidarity means that every nation will regard the prosperity of every other nation as being in its own interest.

The Inter-Allied Conference held in London at the St. James' Palace on August 28th, 1941, which I had the honour to attend, laid it down in its resolutions dealing with post-war supplies to the occupied European countries that the plans of the respective Governments "should be coordinated in a spirit of inter-allied collaboration for the successful achievement of the common aims."

The most important task of the Inter-Allied Relief Committee will undoubtedly be to supply the liberated European nations with food, urgently needed articles and medicines. In this respect the task will not be very different from that after the last war. But this time more importance must be attached to other problems, every effort must be made to reopen or keep going all centres of production, in order that from the beginning the people may have not only bread, but work. The wheels of the production machine must not be halted for a moment. The chief care of the various Governments, even during the period of demobilization, must be to ensure employment. In order to meet this requirement it will be necessary to supply not only bread, clothing and shoes, but also all the requisite industrial raw materials, and in addition a plan must be worked out for maintaining production during the immediate post-armistice period.

The question arises,—what should be the attitude of the Allies towards feeding Germany. Should the work of the Relief Committee be extended to her also? It seems to me that the duty of feeding the people cannot leave Germany out of account. But it must not be forgotten that as regards food Germany herself is discriminating between her own people and the people of countries she has overrun. After the war the Germans will physiologically be in a much better condition than the inhabitants of countries now occupied by them. The daily food ration for a German now represents about 2,500 calories, while the daily food ration for Poles in Warsaw at the end of 1941 amounted to 981 calories, and for Jews to only 260 calories. Peoples of the occupied countries, who have suffered so much, would not stand for any further privileged treatment for Germans. In the event of a shortage of supplies, the German rations would have to be smaller to compensate for what is happening during the war. Also, large reserve stocks have been accumulated and concealed in Germany, and there are no such stocks in other countries. Elsewhere it is necessary to take the figures for pre-war imports and consumption, but it would be completely false to apply such a method to Germany. Germany was arming for many years before the war, and this entailed a considerable increase in her import figures and home consumption.

As regards employment and the restarting of industry, public works will also play an important part. They are the easiest means of employing the largest possible number of people with the smallest investment of capital. The part that can be played by public works is especially important in countries suffering from lack of capital and with inadequately developed land and water transport, as is the case of the States of Central-Eastern Europe.

Allied to the question of employment is another great post-war problem,—that of controlling the movements of peoples. Never before in history has this problem been on such a vast scale.

It is surely not an exaggeration to say that after this war tens of millions of people will try to return as quickly as possible to their old homes. This creates a complex of problems of great intricacy, as essential transport will be lacking. The control of these migrations, the preparation of suitable camps, food, help and employment will be a task to tax the resources of the European Governments and international organizations to the utmost. Undoubtedly part of the migration movement will evade all control and will be of a spontaneous character. Nothing will be able to restrain the elemental mass movements of these people.

The movements of population in Europe will present one of the most formidable problems which the United Nations will have to deal with.

This vast movement of peoples is only one of the tasks which awaits Europe and the whole world in the sphere of transport after the war. The supply of food and raw materials is also essentially a problem of transport. Shipment of food and raw materials to Europe will call for an enormous amount of tonnage. The Office of the Inter-Allied Committee has already estimated the tonnage capacity that will be required. The priority of shipments must also be determined. There seems to be no general agreement that a world shipping pool will have to be created and all allocation made through it.

In this war, various other phenomena, not unknown from previous experience, none the less differ from the past by reason of their enormous dimensions. The number of troops engaged, the technique of equipment and armament, the economic and legal consequences of war,—for instance: the shift in the character of agricultural and industrial production, the scale of the movements of population, the changes of juridical property relationships,—all this exceeds every known fact and figure of the past. Stupendous changes have taken place in Europe as regards property and ownership rights. These have arisen from a number of causes. Some are purely military and were brought in order to increase industrial and agricultural production. Moveable property, such as machinery and production plants, has been transferred from one establishment or property to another to meet economic requirements of Germany.

Further changes in juridical property relationships have been effected for national or racial reasons. Jewish property has been confiscated everywhere. Real and personal estate has been taken without compensation, whether Polish real estate in Poznania or French real estate in Alsace and Lorraine. Certain industrial establishments have been handed over to great German concerns as their property, without any compensation to the owners.

To put right again all these arbitrary abuses it will be necessary to establish detailed norms and a special procedure. Justice would seem to demand the restitution of all property rights to original pre-war status. But in many cases it will be necessary to deviate from this just standard. In some cases it will not be possible to make such a restitution at all. Social considerations must also be taken into account.

After the cessation of hostilities, special care will be needed, at least in certain European countries, to restore the ruined human element. This problem has so far attracted little attention. Apart from losses resulting from direct war operations, the intentional and brutal extermination of the educated classes calls for special consideration. Itaffects many countries, but especially Poland. It is not only quantitative human losses that count,—the qualitative ones are even more important.

Furthermore, the physical and moral condition of the peoples of Europe after the war has to be viewed with deep concern. The Germans have done their utmost to deprave the people, more especially the youth, and to inculcate subversive Nazi ideas in them.

Yet, the psychological and moral condition of the people, especially the youth, in Germany itself, gives cause for even more alarm. In Great Britain people are still discussing the question of good and bad Germans. There are some, headed by Lord Vansitart, who declare that the whole German nation has been led astray; others maintain that they have known good Germans and had friends among them. The controversy is really confined to the view to be taken of the older generation of Germans, from the age of 35 upwards. For, so far as the youth are concerned, there is no doubt that they have all been morally and intellectually depraved by the National-Socialist system. Everybody is agreed that there are no good Germans among the younger generation. And yet, it is with them that we must be chiefly concerned, for they are the element responsible for the future of Germany. The great lesson that the German nation must learn is that it has met with disaster because of the lust of conquest and lack of moral principles displayed by its leaders. That lesson must be taught them. It will be in the interest of the world and of the German nation itself that the Germans should be made to realize and suffer all the consequences of the crimes they have committed.

In this address, which to my patient audience may seem already very long, I have tried to summarize the main problems Europe will face after the cessation of hostilities. No doubt these problems are varied and highly complicated. They are not restricted to the question of post-war supplies of food stuffs and medical goods, but concern all the problems of civilized life. Owing to the special conditions created by the long period of German occupation of the European continent, the short-term problems of Europe differ considerably from the short-term problems of America. On the other hand, reconstruction of the continent of Europe can well be considered as part of the American plan for world reconstruction. I believe that in spite of all her difficulties and misfortunes Europe is still indispensable to America's development and prosperity. Just as today nobody can escape war, so tomorrow nobody will be able to escape the consequences of a bad peace. Prosperity and adversities have become indivisible. That is why the peoples of Europe knew fresh hope when on January 6th President Roosevelt brought tidings of great joy to all mankind.* "I know—he said—that I speak for the American people, and I have good reason to believe I speak also for all other peoples who fight with us, when I say that this time we are determined not only to win the war, but also to maintain the security of the peace that will follow."

* Vital Speeches, January 15, 1942, Vol. 8, No. 7.