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Unholy Alliances? Nationalist Exiles, Minorities and Anti-Fascism in Interwar Europe


Ethno-nationalist exiles in the interwar period were a unique species. While some of them relied on their own diasporic networks and waited for a chance, others established agitation platforms and regarded themselves as an alternative International of the ‘oppressed peoples’. Most of these alliances ended in failure, as it proved extremely difficult to reconcile the demands stemming from divergent national claims, such as those of autonomist factions versus irredentist or pro-independence groups, or those of national minorities seeking reintegration into their motherland as opposed to groups seeking independence. This article explores the relationship between minority nationalist exiles and anti-fascism by focusing on three issues: the emergence and evolution of ‘international alliances’ of minority activists in interwar Europe; contacts and ideological exchanges between ethno-nationalist exiles and liberal and anti-fascist segments of European public opinion and, finally, the emergence of a transnational anti-fascist nationality theory.

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1 See Ledeen Michael, The First Duce. D'Annunzio at Fiume (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 176–86; Kochnitzky Leone, La Quinta Stagione o i Centauri di Fiume (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1922), 141–68.

2 See for a recent reappraisal Mevius Martin, ed., The Communist Quest for National Legitimacy in Europe, 1918–1989 (London: Routledge, 2011). The case of the radical Catalan nationalist Francesc Macià, who travelled to Moscow in 1925, provides one example of the strategic seeking out of Soviet Union support. Macià hoped that the Soviets would support Catalonian independence, thanks to the mediation of some Catalan communists who worked within the Comintern: see Ucelay-Da Cal Enric and Esculies Joan, Macià als país dels soviets (Barcelona: Edicions del 1984, 2015).

3 See for example Arendt Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1979), 270–80; Armstrong John A., ‘Collaborationism in World War II: The Integral Nationalist Variant in Eastern Europe’, Journal of Modern History, 40, 3 (1968), 396410 ; Arzalier Robert, Les perdants. La dérive fasciste des mouvements autonomistes et indépendantistes au XXe siècle (Paris: Ed. la Découverte, 1990).

4 See Manela Erez, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Fischer-Tiné Harald, ‘Indian Nationalism and the “world forces”: transnational and diasporic dimensions of the Indian freedom movement on the eve of the First World War’, Journal of Global History, 2 (2007), 325–44 and O'Malley Kate, Ireland, India and Empire. Indo-Irish Radical Connections, 1919–64 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008).

5 For a general overview, see Timmermann Heiner, ed., Nationalismus und Nationalbewegung in Europa, 1914–1945 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1999); Corsini Ugo and Zaffi Davide, eds., Die Minderheiten zwischen den beiden Weltkriegen (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1997); Núñez Seixas Xosé M., Entre Ginebra y Berlín. La cuestión de las minorías nacionales y la política internacional en Europa, 1914–1939 (Madrid: Akal, 2001); Beer Mathias and Dyroff Stefan, eds., Politische Strategien nationaler Minderheiten in der Zwischenkriegszeit (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2014).

6 See Cunsolo Ronald, Italian Nationalism: From its Origins to World War Two (New York: Praeger, 1989), 18–9 and 58–60. On the transnational circulation of nationalist tenets in the 19th century, see Leerssen Joop, National Thought in Europe: A Cultural History (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006).

7 Guieu Jean M., Le rameau et le glaive. Les militants français pour la SDN (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2008); Cortright David, Peace. A History of Movements and Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 5869 ; Davies Thomas, NGOs: A New History of Transnational Civil Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

8 Seignobos Charles, Les tendances autonomistes en Europe (Paris: Alcan, 1913); Gabrys Jean, Auf Wache für die Nation – Erinnerungen, Demm E., ed. (Frankfurt a. M.: PL Acad. Research, 2013); Soutou Georges-Henri, ‘Jean Pélissier et l'Office Central des Nationalités, 1911–1918: Un agent du gouvernement français auprés des nationalités’, in idem, ed., Recherches sur la France et le problème des nationalités pendant la premiére guerre mondiale (Pologne. Ukraine, Lithuanie) (Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1995), 1338 .

9 See the fascinating account by Seton-Watson Hugh and Seton-Watson Christopher, The Making of a New Europe: R. W. Seton-Watson and the Last Days of Austria-Hungary (London: Methuen, 1981); as well as Goldstein Erik, Winning the Peace: British diplomatic strategy, peace planning, and the Paris Peace Conference 1916–1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) and Gelfand Lawrence E., The Inquiry: American Preparations for Peace, 1917–1919 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963). For a comprehensive account, see Núñez Seixas, Entre Ginebra y Berlín, 42–6.

10 See Heater Derek, National Self-Determination: Woodrow Wilson and his Legacy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994); Seton-Watson and Seton-Watson, The Making of a New Europe; Hadler Frank, ed., Weg von Österreich! Das Weltkriegsexil von Masaryk und Benes im Spiegel ihrer Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus den Jahren 1914–1918. Eine Quellensammlung (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995).

11 For a relatively recent reappraisal of the Peace Conference, see MacMillan Margaret, Peacemakers: the Paris Conference of 1919 and its Attempt to End War (London: Murray, 2003). For the role of Jewish organisations, see Levene Mark, War, Jews and the New Europe (London: Oxford University Press/The Littman Library, 1992), as well as Fink Carole, Defending the Rights of Others. The Great Powers, the Jews, and international minority protection, 1878–1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), Engel David, ‘Minorities Treaties’, in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), vol. 2, 1176–77 and Rabinovitch Simon, Jewish Rights, National Rites: Nationalism and Autonomy in Late Imperial and Revolutionary Russia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014), 258–71.

12 See, e. g., the reflection by the Catalanist leader Antoni Rovira i Virgili, ‘Necessitat de que tot nacionalisme tingui una política internacional’, Revista Anyal, 1915, reproduced in Martínez Fiol D., ed., El catalanisme i la Gran Guerra. Antologia (Barcelona: La Magrana/Diputació de Barcelona, 1988), 7985 . On the concept of proto-diplomacy, see Duchacek Ivo, ‘Perforated Sovereignties: Towads a Typology of New Actors in International Relations’, in Michelmann Hans J. and Soldatos Panayotis, eds., Federalism and International Relations. The Role of Subnational Units (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), 132 ; as well as Aldecoa Francisco and Keating Michael, eds., Paradiplomacy in Action: The Foreign Relations of Subnational Governments (London: Frank Cass, 1999).

13 Bonsal Stephen, Suitors and Suppliants. The Little Nations at Versailles (Port Washington, NY: Kemikat Press, 1969); S. de Gasquet, ‘La France et les mouvements nationaux ukrainiens’, in Soutou, ed., Recherches, 172–83; Núñez Seixas Xosé M., Internacionalitzant el nacionalisme. El catalanisme polític i la qüestió de les minories nacionals a Europa (1914–1936) (Valencia: Afers/Universitat de València, 2010), 7582 .

14 See Gatterer Claus, Im Kampf gegen Rom. Bürger, Minderheiten und Autonomien in Italien, Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1968, 390450 ; Joze Pirjevec, ‘Die politische Theorie und Tätigkeit Josef Wilfans’, in Corsini and Zaffi (eds.), Die Minderheiten, 167–74.

15 See Estelrich Joan, La qüestió de les minories nacionals i les vies del Dret (Barcelona: Catalònia, 1929).

16 For an extensive analysis, see Núñez Seixas, Internacionalitzant el nacionalisme, 115–21.

17 See Ucelay-Da Cal, ‘Estat Català. The Strategies of Separation and Revolution of Catalan Radical Nationalism, 1919–1933’, Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University, 1979, 226–32; Cattini G., Nel nome di Garibaldi. I rivoluzionari catalani, i nipoti del Generale e la polizia di Mussolini (1923–1926) (Pisa: BFS Edizioni, 2010).

18 See Friedman Saul S., Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura (New York: Hart, 1976). On Macià’s and Garibaldi's defence by Torrès, see also Ucelay-Da Cal E., Francesc Macià. Una vida en imatges (Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya, 1984), 113–18, as well as the contemporary account by Santini Louis, Garibaldi, Mussolini et Cie (Paris: Librairie Baudinière, 1926).

19 There is a huge amount of bibliography on the system of protection of minorities implemented by the League of Nations. As a whole, the League of Nations has recently been reappraised from a more positive perspective, seen not only as a failure. See, for instance, Hilpold Peter, ‘The League of Nations and the Protection of Minorities – Rediscovering a Great Experiment’, Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, 17 (2013), 87–12.

20 See Sabelli Luca dei, Nazione e minoranze etniche, Bologna: Zanichelli, 1929 , vol. II, 179; Núñez Seixas, Entre Ginebra y Berlín, 204–45; Petricioli Marta and Cherubini Donatella, eds., Pour la paix en Europe. Institutions et société civile dans l'entre-deux-guerres (Berne: Peter Lang, 2007).

21 ‘L'Assemblée de la Société des Nations à Genève et le droit des peuples’, Le Droit des Peuples, 5 (1920); Claparède René, L' Organisation de la Lutte pour la Liberté des Peuples (Geneva: Publications du Bureau International pour la Défense des Droits des Peuples, 1921).

22 See Ruyssen Théodore, Les minorités nationales d'Europe et la guerre mondiale (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1924); Dickinson Willoughby H., ‘Les Traités des Minorités’, Les Minorités Nationales, II, 1–2 (1929); idem, Minorities (London: League of Nations Union, 1928). See also Fabre René, ‘Un exemple de pacifisme juridique. Thédore Ruyssen et le mouvement “La Paix par le Droit” (1884–1950)’, Vingtième Siècle, 39 (1993), 3854 .

23 See Núñez Seixas, Entre Ginebra y Berlín, 208–25; Gorman Daniel, ‘Ecumenical Internationalism: Willoughby Dickinson, the League of Nations and the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches’, Journal of Contemporary History, 45 (2010), 5173 and Dyroff Stefan, ‘Avant-Garde or Supplement? Advisory Bodies of Transnational Associations as Alternatives to the League's Minority Protection System, 1919–1939’, Diplomacy & Statecraft, 24 (2013), 192208 .

24 Nesemann Fran, ‘Minderheitendiplomatie. Leo Motzkin zwischen Imperien und Nationen’, in Diner Dan, ed., Synchrone Welten. Zeitenräume jüdischer Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005), 147–74.

25 See Núñez Seixas, Entre Ginebra y Berlín, 286–93 and John Hiden, ‘Der Verband der Deutschen Minderheiten in Europa 1922–1936: Von der Verteidigung der deutschen Minderheiten zum Werkzeug des Nationalsozialismus’, in Baar and Dyroff, eds., Politische Strategien, 297–308.

26 See the contemporary account by Lévy Paul, Le germanisme à l'étranger (Strasbourg: Comité Alsatien d'Études et Information, 1933), 103–50; as well as Jaworski Rudolf, ‘Der Auslandsdeutschegedanke in der Weimarer Republik’, Annali dell'Istituto Storico Italo-Germanico in Trento, IV (1978), 223–50 and Gerhard Seewan, ‘Mehrheits- und Minderheitsstrategien und die Frage der Loyalität 1919–1939’, in Baar and Dyroff, Politische Strategien, 15–26.

27 Schot Bastiaan, Nation oder Staat? Deutschland und der Minderheitenschutz. Zur Völkerbundpolitik in der Stresemann-Ära (Marburg a. Lahn: Herder Institut, 1988). See also Trampler Kurt, Staaten und nationale Gemeinschaften. Eine Lösung des europäischen Minderheitenproblems (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1929); idem and Karl Haushofer, eds., Deutschlands Weg an der Zeitenwende (Munich: Hugendubel Verlag, 1931).

28 On Otte's and Hungarian-sponsored projects, see Núñez Seixas, Entre Ginebra y Berlín, 325–7; Cardona Daniel, La Batalla i altres textos, Ucelay-Da Cal E., ed. (Barcelona: La Magrana/Diputació de Barcelona, 1984), 113–5; as well as Otte Viktor, Die unterdrückten Völker der Welt: Gegen Lüge und Gewalt (Vienna: Ostmarken-Verlag, 1926).

29 On the origins and evolution of the CEN, see Núñez Seixas, Entre Ginebra y Berlín, 16–447; as well as an exhaustive description in Bamberger-Stemmann Sabine, Der Europäische Nationalitätenkongreß 1925 bis 1938. Nationale Minderheiten zwischen Lobbyistentum und Großinteressen (Marburg a. Lahn: Herder Institut, 2000). See also Housden Martyn, ‘Ewald Ammende and the Organization of National Minorities in Interwar Europe’, German History, 18 (2000), 439–60.

30 See Keogh Dermoth, ‘The origins of the Irish Foreign Service in Europe (1919–1922)’, Études Irlandaises, 8 (1982), 145–64. On the links between the Irish nationalists and Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalists, see Núñez Seixas Xosé M., ‘El mito del nacionalismo irlandés y su influencia en los nacionalismos gallego, vasco y catalán (1880–1936)’, Spagna Contemporanea, 2 (1992), 2558 ; as well as Ferrer i Pont Joan C., Nosaltres Sols! La revolta irlandesa a Catalunya (1920–1923) (Barcelona: PAM, 2007).

31 Troebst Stefan, ‘Wien als Zentrum der mazedonischen Emigration in den Zwanziger Jahren’, Mitteilungen des bulgarischen Forschungsinstituts in Österreich, II, 2 (1979), 6886 ; Ter-Minassian A., Histoires croisées. Diaspora, Arménie, Transcaucasie, 1880–1990 (Paris: Éditions Parenthèses, 1997), 2566 ; Dupont-Melnyczenko Jean-Bernard, Les Ukrainiens en France. Mémoires éparpillées (Paris: Autrement, 2007), 4464 and Esch Michael, Parallele Gesellschaften und soziale Räume. Osteuropäische Einwanderer in Paris, 1880–1940 (Frankfurt a. M.: Campus, 2012), 411–27.

32 See Troebst Stefan, Mussolini, Makedonien und die Mächte, 1922–1930: Die “Innere Makedonische Revolutionäre Organisation” in der Südosteuropapolitik des faschistischen Italien (Cologne: Böhlau, 1987); as well as Kosyk Wolodymir, The Third Reich and the Ukraine (New York: Lang, 1993).

33 ‘Au Directeur de la Section des Minorités de la Société des Nations’, Minorité, 1, 5 Jan. 1934; de Köver Gustave, Non! Genève ne protége pas les minorités nationales (Geneva: Éditions du Bureau central des minorités, 1934); idem, Histoire d'une trahison: le calvaire des minorités nationales et la Société des Nations (Geneva: Éditions du Bureau central des minorités, 1939).

34 Thus, some Catalanist intellectuals could not escape feeling attracted by Fascist Italy in the mid-1920s. See Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, ‘The Shadow of a Doubt: Fascist and Communist Alternatives in Catalan Separatism, 1919–1939’, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, WP 198 (Barcelona: Institut de Ciéncies Polítiques i Socials, 2002).

35 Dyroff Stefan, ‘Minority rights and Humanitarianism. The international campaign for the Ukrainians in Poland, 1930–31’, Journal of Modern European History, 12 (2014), 216–30. See several examples in Noel-Buxton Lord Noel, National Minorities To-day (London: The Ukrainian Bureau, 1931); Gower Robert, The Hungarian Minorities in the Succession States (London: Grant Richards, 1927) and Hessel Tiltman H., Peasant Europe (London: Kegan Paul, 2005 [1934]).

36 See Emmanuel Debono, ‘Les origines de la Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l'antisémitisme (LICRA)’, Histoire@Politique 2/2007, available at: (last visited); as well as idem, ‘Bernard Abraham Lecache, président fondateur de la Ligue internationale contre l'antisémitisme’, Archives Juives, 40, 1 (2007), 140–4; idem, Aux origines de l'antiracisme. La LICA, 1927–1940 (Paris: Éditions du CNRS, 2012) and Esch, Parallele Gesellschaften, 433–7.

37 Bernard Lecache, ‘À tous! à tous!’, Le Cri des Peuples, 30 May 1928.

38 G. Renard, ‘Pourquoi et dans quelle mesure nous défendrons les minorités’, Le Cri des Peuples, 30 May 1928.

39 Bernard Lecache, ‘Notre programme’, Le Cri des Peuples, 6 June 1928.

40 See, for example, Le Cri des Peuples, 11 July 1928; letter from Bernad Lecache to Josip Vilfan, Paris, 17 May 1928, Vilfan archive, Bundesarchiv Koblenz.

41 See, for example, D. K., ‘Un mouvement qu'on n'arretera pas: c'est l'Anschluss’, Le Cri des Peuples, 15 Aug. 1928.

42 Le Cri des Peuples, 5 Sept. 1928.

43 Bernard Lecache, ‘En suivant les travaux du IVe. Congrés des Nationalités’, Le Cri des Peuples, 5 Sept. 1929.

44 Le Cri des Peuples, 10 Jan. 1929.

45 Le Fédéraliste, 4, 27 (1933).

46 See Berth E., ‘Totalitarisme ou Fédéralisme’, Le Fédéraliste, 2, 41 (1937) and 3, 42 (1937).

47 See, for example, Le Fédéraliste, 1, 28 (1934).

48 See Arzalier , Les perdants; Sébastien Carney, Breiz Atao! Mordrel, Delaporte, Lainé, Fouéré: Une mystique nationale (1901–1948) (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2015), 189220 ; Goodfellow Samuel, ‘From Communism to Nazism: The Transformation of Alsatian Communists’, Journal of Contemporary History, 27, 2 (1992), 231–58. See also Núñez Seixas Xosé M., ‘Katalanismus und Faschismus: Zur Interpretation eines katalanistischen Memorandums an das nationalsozialistische Deutschland’, Zeitschrift für Katalanistik, 6 (1993), 159201 ; as well as idem, Movimientos nacionalistas en Europa. Siglo XX (Madrid: Síntesis, 2004, 2nd. Ed.), 246–9 and 256–62.

49 It is worth noting that some Catalan, Basque and Galician conservative ethnonationalists also joined the Francoist side, as they shared with the Spanish traditionalists and Fascists certain values such as religion, social order and fear of social revolution. See de Riquer Borja, El último Cambó, 1936–1947: La tentación autoritaria (Barcelona: Grijalbo-Mondadori, 1997).

50 See an exhaustive description of these lobbying activities in Ugalde Alexander, La Acción Exterior del Nacionalismo Vasco (1890–1939): Historia, Pensamiento y Relaciones Internacionales (Oñati: Instituto Vasco de Administración Pública, 1996), 533606 .

51 Irish left-wing parties relied heavily on this past relationship to underscore their sympathy for the Catholic Basques. Solidarity with the Basque Country may also have played a role for some of the 250 Irish volunteers of the International Brigades, including the young Dubliner Sullivan Prendergast, who directly joined a company of Basque volunteers (Gudariak). However, mainstream Irish public opinion supported the Francoist rebels, due to their Catholic devotion. Only one Basque radical leader, Eli Gallastegi, found shelter in Ireland after 1937, thanks to his prior contacts with Irish activists. See Leach Daniel, Fugitive Ireland. European Minority Nationalists and Irish Political Asylum, 1937–2008 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2009), 5260 .

52 See Santiago de Pablo, Mees Ludger and Rodríguez Ranz José L., El péndulo patriótico. Historia del Partido Nacionalista Vasco, II: 1936–1979 (Barcelona: Crítica, 2001), 75237 ; Morales Montoya Mercè, La Generalitat de Josep Irla i l'exili polític català (Barcelona: Base, 2009); Núñez Seixas Xosé M. and Cagiao Vila P., eds., O exilio galego de 1936: Política, sociedade, itinerarios (Sada: Eds. do Castro, 2006).

53 See Cubeddu Salvatore, Sardisti. Viaggio nel Partito Sardo d'Azione tra cronaca e storia. Vol. 1 (1919–1945) (Sassari: Edes, 1993), 591–9; as well as Brigaglia Manlio, Emilio Lussi e “Giustizia e Libertà” (Cagliari: Edizioni della Torre, 1976).

54 On Paul Schiemann, see Hiden John, Defender of Minorities. Paul Schiemann, 1876–1944 (London: Hurst, 2004); as well as Hiden John and Smith David J., ‘Looking beyond the Nation State: A Baltic Vision for National Minorities between the Wars’, Journal of Contemporary History, 41, 3 (2006), 387–99.

55 Paul Schiemann, ‘Die neue nationalistische Welle’, Nation und Staat, 5 (Sept. 1932), 799–811.

56 Schiemann Paul, Ein europäisches Problem. Unabhängige Betrachtungen zur Minderheitenfrage (Vienna: Rheinhold Verlag, 1937).

57 See Jacksh Wenzel, Europas Weg nach Potsdam. Schuld und Schicksal im Donauraum (Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1967), 337–52; Kern Karl, ed., Wenzel Jacksch. Patriot und Europäer (Munich: Die Brücke, 1967), 95108 and Bachstein Martkin K., Wenzel Jacksch und die sudetendeutsche Sozialdemokratie (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1974), 195204 , and later portions of the book.

58 See e.g. Woytak Richard, ‘The Promethean Movement in Interwar Poland’, East European Quarterly, XVIII, 3 (1984), 273–8; Gasimov Zaur, ‘Zwischen Freiheitstopoi und Antikommunismus: Ordnungsentwürfe für Europa im Spiegel der polnischen Zeitung Przymierze ’, Jahrbuch für Europäische Geschichte, 12 (2011), 207–22.

59 See a general overview in Wolikow Serge and Ruget Annie, eds., Antifascisme et nation. Les gauches européennes au temps du Front populaire (Dijon: EUD, 1998).

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