Thursday, May 13, 2004

Metz Declaration of 1928

[This post deals with an issue directly from my research. If you would like to know the sources, please contact me.]

One theme of my research is how people can imagine the existence of a place that cannot be realized as a nation or state. Rhinelanders perceived the existence of something called "the Rhine" or "the Rhineland" or "the Rhenish world", they disagreed with each other on how to turn that landscape of culture, economy and politics into a state. They disagreed on how to draw the borders of states, where political power should be located, and how closely tied they should be to the national government. By 1933 they achieved nothing--no state, no autonomy, no separate republic. Nevertheless, the imagined landscape was an important force that motivated politics, especially when it came to reforming government nationally and locally.

Even in different parts of the Rhine, plans to create new territories under local control collapsed because people disagreed about how these new territories should look. Alsatian politicians called for autonomy in the 1920s. These politicians (like Zorn von Bulach) wanted to create an autonomous state in France composed of the territories that made up "Alsace-Lorraine" (Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen) when they were part of Germany. According to this plan, the three administrative units (d├ępartements of Bas-Rhin, Haute-Rhin and Moselle) would be dissolved, and Strasbourg would be invested as the capital of all three.

On January 12, 1928 the city council of Metz (in the Moselle Dept., which was part of Alsace-Lorraine) rejected this proposal. In their declaration, they insisted that the words "Alsace- Lorraine" should be suppressed from all administrative documents:
We do not authorize anyone in the neighboring departments to speak either directly or indirectly in our name or in the name of a so-called people of "Alsace-Lorraine", who have never existed in the history of France

Furthermore, they rejected the project of autonomy on the basis that no part of France should have particular privileges:
We want to be assured that we will enjoy the same independence as is enjoyed by every other department in France. (Emphasis mine)

The only way they would honor "Alsace-Lorraine" was as part of a common sacrifice during the period in which they were separated from the French republic. In the weeks that followed, other communities in the Moselle Department confirmed the Metz Declaration.

Politicians from Metz and Moselle were nevertheless active advocating for decentralization in France and giving more power to the departments. They would not tolerate any redrawing of the administrative map to create new entities or recreate old ones. And in a typically Rhenish fashion, they abhorred having special privileges and thus being different from the rest of France.


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