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    H. Selbach, Katholische Kirche und französische Rheinlandpolitik nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Conan Fischer)

    Francia-Recensio 2015/4 19./20. Jahrhundert – Histoire contemporaine


    Hans-Ludwig Selbach, Katholische Kirche und französische Rheinlandpolitik nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg. Nationale, regionale und kirchliche Interessen zwischen Rhein, Saar und Ruhr (1918–1924), Köln (Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek) 2013, 657 S. (Libelli Rhenani, 48), ISBN 978-3-939160-44-1, EUR 24,00.

    rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par

    Conan Fischer, St Andrews, Scotland

    Hans-Ludwig Selbach’s study provides a series of fascinating insights into the interplay between national and regional politics and international diplomacy at a critical point in Franco-German relations. The post-war peace settlement saw France forced by its principal allies to moderate its ambitions for containing German power, particularly with regard to the future status of the Rhineland and the Saar District. Paris had aspired to bring these territories west of the Rhine within its sphere of influence, or even to annex them outright. However, the French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, could not afford to squander Allied solidarity and therefore agreed to a compromise settlement that provided for a temporary Allied military occupation on the Rhine and a French-dominated League of Nations administration in the Saar coalfield. A referendum was set for 1935 to determine the Saar’s final status. However, that was not the end of the matter. Selbach identifies with the growing body of recent scholarship that perceives France’s post-war Rhineland strategy as a subtle and multifaceted attempt de facto to revise the official peace terms in its own favour. The French High Commissioner in the Rhineland, Paul Tirard, played a key role here as he initiated a hearts and minds campaign designed to draw the Rhinelanders into the French fold and away from Protestant Prussia.

    Selbach provides thorough and reliable coverage of this wider context at appropriate points in his narrative, but his primary thrust lies in an innovative and revealing analysis of the Catholic Church’s role in the post-war upheaval that gripped Allied-occupied western Germany. As he demonstrates, Church-state relations became very important indeed in this regard. Most of the predominantly Catholic Rhineland belonged to largely Protestant Prussia, but as revolution gripped Germany in its hour of defeat the provisional Prussian government proposed a thoroughgoing secularisation of education. Meanwhile a more centralised national constitution was mooted and this further trespassed on particularistic and especially Catholic sensitivities. A variegated autonomist movement flared up on the Rhine which at its most extreme even sought secession from Germany. In the event the Prussian authorities withdrew draft proposals to secularise education, while the Catholic Centre Party soon enough secured its constituency’s future as part of the post-revolutionary governing coalition. This saw it enter a near-permanent alliance with the Social Democrats and the German Democratic Party in Prussia and assume a pivotal, long-term role in national government, which it retained up until 1932.

    To French leaders, however, it seemed otherwise. Selbach demonstrates how, in an extraordinary bout of wishful thinking, they convinced themselves that the defence of the Rhineland’s Catholic heritage could be equated with a (latent) desire to leave Germany altogether. It soon enough became evident that the Catholic hierarchy in the Rhineland identified with Germany, as did the overwhelming majority of its congregation, but Tirard continued to woo Catholic opinion in occupied Germany as he strove to create a reality that accorded better with the French leadership’s fantasies. To this end the French authorities sought to install new bishops more sympathetic to the French cause as and when bishoprics fell vacant, but failed in the face of obdurate opposition both locally and within the corridors of the Vatican itself.

    Rome always took care to tread carefully in diplomatically sensitive areas, Selbach argues, leading the Vatican to shy away from prejudicing legally established sovereign rights, such as those reserved by the peace treaty to Germany on the Rhine and the Saar. The Pope and his senior officials had no desire whatsoever to serve as the hand-maidens of a legally dubious French revisionist policy, instead promoting the appointment of new bishops who retained an ultimate loyalty to Germany. And underlying Franco-Papal relations did Paris few favours in this regard, for the breach in diplomatic relations before the war between the secularist French Third Republic and the Vatican now exacted its price. Both Prussia and Bavaria already maintained diplomatic relations with the Vatican, which lent credibility to post-war efforts by the German Republic also to establish formal relations with the Papacy. French efforts to establish a separate bishopric for the Saar (which fell within the existing dioceses of Trier and Speyer) so as to foster a sense of separate local identity, also foundered on institutional resistance. During May 1923 the local Church staged a Catholic Convention (Katholikentag) in Saarbrücken which Selbach argues, served as an explicitly patriotic, German Catholic event. The Convention decried French efforts to extend secular (and French-language) education in the region and resolved to remain within the bishoprics of Speyer and Trier, to the fury of the French metropolitan press. As if to underline France’s isolation, the Katholikentag received favourable front-page coverage in the Papal newspaper, the Osservatore Romano.

    Since the indigenous Church was at best sceptical, the French authorities reacted by setting up their own ecclesiastical presence in occupied Germany led by an ‘army bishop,’ Paul Rémond, whose ostensible function was to minister to the French military, officials, and their families in occupied Germany. This the Vatican could condone, but, as Selbach demonstrates, his role extended to acting as an agent for French revisionist goals on the Rhine. He did succeed in fostering better working relations with his German counterparts, but without effecting any change in the prevailing fundamental realities. Soon enough he lost credibility as his political role became evident.

    The final blow came when France embarked in January 1923 on a va banque effort to remould the Versailles settlement by occupying the Ruhr District with a view to seizing and exploiting its assets. German non-compliance with the reparations schedule provided the pretext for this adventure, but public opinion in western Germany was convinced that, yet again, more sinister ulterior motives were in play. Mass civil disobedience in the form of ‘passive resistance’ resulted, but exacted a devastating price on the region as the Franco-Belgian occupation assumed ever more coercive forms. The costs of German defiance saw unprecedented levels of personal suffering on the Ruhr and the collapse of the national currency during mid-1923. By September Germany was forced to capitulate and, for several months, leave France apparently dominant as the Reich faced imminent disintegration.

    However, the French Prime Minister overplayed his hand when backing a series of botched and ultimately abortive separatist uprisings during late 1923. British outrage combined with local resistance and a determination in London and Washington finally to restore a degree of order to the politics and finances of western Europe. France’s position was further weakened by the severe impact of the Ruhr occupation on its own finances. As is well known, the Dawes Report followed in April 1924 and recommended that German control be restored on the Rhine and Ruhr to allow the orderly payment of reparations. This, in effect, accorded with the Catholic Church’s support for the political status quo in the region as set out in the original Versailles Treaty. A new, centre-left French government soon enough came to respect the peace settlement and even began the process of mending its fences with its German neighbour. In these circumstances, Selbach notes, the febrile events of the immediate post-war era and the Catholic Church’s part in these were at an end, although an unrepentant Rémond latterly accused the Rhinelanders, after all, of just being typical Germans who were spiritually and morally incapable of warming to the vision that he and France had offered them.

    Selbach’s account ends therefore at a logical moment and is rounded off with a helpful, summarising conclusion. That said, he does end rather abruptly and might perhaps have made a little more of the more conciliatory line France adopted after 1924 for soon enough Catholicism came to play a significant role in the process of Franco-German rapprochement. The French Ambassador at the Vatican came to perceive the values common to European Catholics as a potential bridge between France and Germany, the Archbishop of Paris similarly promoted Franco-German detente, while the nationalist tone of French political Catholicism was softened as a new political party, the Popular Democrats, emerged whose ideology anticipated that of post-1945 Christian Democracy.

    However, in fairness to the author this is a story for another place. His new book represents a welcome and valuable addition to the body of literature that deepens our understanding of inter-war France and Germany not least by combining successfully and productively analysis of local, regional, national and international events. Hans-Ludwig Selbach is to be congratulated for a book that makes for indispensible reading.

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    PSJ Metadata
    Conan Fischer
    Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris
    Katholische Kirche und französische Rheinlandpolitik nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg
    Nationale, regionale und kirchliche Interessen zwischen Rhein, Saar und Ruhr (1918–1924)
    en
    CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0
    Zeitgeschichte (1918-1945)
    Deutschland / Mitteleuropa allgemein, Frankreich und Monaco
    Politikgeschichte, Kirchen- und Religionsgeschichte
    1900 - 1919, 1920 - 1929
    1918-1924
    Rheinprovinz (4211235-7), Frankreich (4018145-5), Außenpolitik (4003846-4), Katholische Kirche (2009545-4)
    PDF document selbach_fisher.doc.pdf — PDF document, 331 KB
    H. Selbach, Katholische Kirche und französische Rheinlandpolitik nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Conan Fischer)
    In: Francia-Recensio 2015/4 | 19./20. Jahrhundert - Histoire contemporaine | ISSN: 2425-3510
    URL: https://prae.perspectivia.net/publikationen/francia/francia-recensio/2015-4/zg/selbach_fisher
    Veröffentlicht am: 21.12.2015 14:55
    Zugriff vom: 25.02.2020 03:24
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