Alsace-Lorraine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reichsland in the German Empire, 1871-1918.  In 1871, all Alsace, except the Territory of Belfort, and northeastern Lorraine, including the fortress city of Metz, were annexed to the German Empire.   The loss of this territory deeply embittered much of French opinion, partly because the frontier on the Rhine seemed to symbolise French greatness as a power, partly because the French-speaking population in Lorraine and many of those in Alsace whose language was a form of German did not wish to become part of Germany.

Alsace-Lorraine was an anomaly within the German Empire.  The rest of the land consisted of at least nominally sovereign states, whereas Alsace-Lorraine belonged to them all.  Being a border zone, it was subject to a great deal of Army influence, and the Prussian army was not known for tactful consideration of civilian feelings.  As late as 1913, in the Zabern incident, an officer incited loutish behaviour by the soldiers under his command, and was backed up by his commanding officer. Whatever benefit might have resulted from a discreet posting or two was obscured by the shouting of the undying virtues of the Army from the house-tops and by the vigorous condemnation of the civilians as provocative.  The incident, besides adding to international tensions, cast doubt on the new constitutional arrangements, made in 1911, which were designed to make the Reichsland into a more normal political body.  Whether the changes could have reconciled the people of the Reichsland with the Reich no-one was to know, because the Great War changed the politics and destroyed Elsass-Lothringen.

The French government moved warily at first when Alsace-Lorraine was recovered in 1918, setting up special bodies for the three new departments – Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle – and appointing a High Commissioner to superintend the reintegration of Alsace-Lorraine within France, but even so there was resentment at French centralism and secularism.   In 1924 the largely Roman Catholic region did not welcome the advent of a left-wing anti-clerical government ready to dispose of the Concordat with Rome that France had inherited with the region in 1918.   The High Commissioner left in 1925.

The unhappy inter-war period was followed by war and conquest.   Though the armistice agreement between Germany and France did not mention Alsace-Lorraine, the German authorities treated it as part of the Third Reich.   Alsace came under the Gauleiter of Baden and Lorraine under the Gauleiter of Saarland-Pfalz (whose territory was renamed Westmark).   In 1942 conscription was introduced, a clear case of integration into the Reich.   The winter of 1944-5 brought the end of German rule, but the return to France was less unhappy than before, partly because Nazi Germany was so much worse than the German Empire, partly because in the new Fourth Republic the Catholic MRP was one of the major parties.

In the new era that soon dawned of seeking reconcilation in Europe, Alace-Lorraine’s position within France and on the borders of Germany gave it a new importance.  The Council of Europe, founded in 1949, on which many European states are represented, has its headquarters in Strasbourg.   Its most important institution, the European Court of Human Rights, established in 1959, sits there.   When the Coal and Steel Community was established in 1951 its Common Assembly held sessions in Strasbourg;  the European Parliament, its successor in the European Union, continues to hold plenary sessions there.   In the 1990s successive French governments strenuously resisted the concentration of the Parliament upon Brussels, favoured by many members of the Parliament itself, and had the support of many Germans in this.

The introduction of the Coal and Steel Community was of particular importance, within this region, to northern Lorraine with its heavy industry.   The Region of Lorraine, first established as an administrative unit in 1960 but with elected institutions from 1986, has cooperated with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Land of Saarland on economic matters.

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1 Response to Alsace-Lorraine

  1. Pingback: The French Region of Alsace | My Frenglish Thoughts

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