Changes - 1914–1922

“Divide and rule!” The victors redrew the world map in a way that would possibly perpetuate ethnic and religious conflicts.

Invoking the principle of national self-determination, the peace system bringing World War I to an end tore apart the old empires of Europe and severed the countless civilisational bonds between their peoples. The victorious powers – principally Great Britain and France – followed the logic of colonialism not only in dividing up the Ottoman Empire and redrawing borders in the Middle East, but also in their vision for the old continent. This was unprecedented in European history. With deliberate disregard for ethnic realities, they created an array of new countries in Central Europe. This is how approximately one-fifth of German-speaking Europeans – around 13 million people – were consigned to the fate of being minorities in other countries. The results of referenda were ignored – for example in South Tyrol and Alsace-Lorraine, where a mere 10 per cent of the population spoke French. Only 51 per cent of the inhabitants of the newly created Czechoslovakia were Czech, and one in three citizens of Romania belonged to other ethnic groups. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was home to seventeen ethnic groups. And as for Hungary, areas with Hungarian-majority populations were allocated to neighbouring countries, with new borders being drawn without consulting the people living there. In Central Europe one of the principal beneficiaries of World War I was Poland, which regained the independence it had lost in 1793.