Statelessness? International politics and local life in a German-Czech-Polish borderland in Upper Silesia 1918-1922
Two ethnically mixed regions: Cieszyn/Teschen/Tĕšín Silesia and Prussian Upper Silesia (Regierungsbezirk Oppeln), in 1918 became one of many contested regions claimed by new states of Central Europe: Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. For more than 1,5 year (Cieszyn, until 1920) or almost 3,5 years (former Prussian Upper Silesia, until 1922) both territories were not integrated into state structures and at least for some time – put under international control of the Big Three / League of Nations. This control – in most cases – failed to prevent ethnic violence and solve the national questions in the regions, but, as a side effect it strengthened the meaning or local authorities and regional national representations.
Aim of this paper is to compare the two above mentioned cases of a “stateless” reality after 1918: part of former Austrian Silesia (Cieszyn/Teschen/Tĕšín Silesia) and former Prussian Silesia. I would like to do this by focusing on the two dimensions of what is a state, and interactions between them: local institutions and international politics. In both cases we can observe the rising importance of the local authorities (resp. control over them – from the point of view of the belligerents). They had to not only administrate the territory, control and sometimes substitute the basic food supply (as it was already between 1914 and 1918), issue their own money, solve social problems (e.g. strikes) etc., but also play a role in a national conflict and organize the plebiscite. In this respect the two regions seems to be surprisingly similar, despite many differences and the time dynamics of events in both places. In practice, in Silesia after 1918 it was a city or a village that assume many state functions, with a better or worse result.
On the other hand, there were the national representations of the conflicted nations (like Polish National Council of the Cieszyn Silesia and Czech National Representation for Silesia and the Polish and German Plebiscite Committees in Upper Silesia) that played a double role: they represented and were under control (usually unofficially) of their own authorities in Warsaw, Prague and Berlin, but they also claimed to represent the Czech/German/Polish people from the region in the international debate. I interpret is as one of the unexpected effects of the self-determination principle.
Last but not least, referring to this comparison I aim at contributing some general remarks into the debate about the weakness of the state in the post-1918 Central European reality. During those post-war year we can observe interesting dynamics of loosing and getting power by different elements of the old and new structures. Answering to one of the CfP questions, we can say that although state as a monopoly for the usage of violence and zone of symbols disappeared in Fall 1918, state as procedures and personnel still operated.