Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2018/14 posted by hidden europe on

The dignified commemorations marking one hundred years since the end of the First World War masked the details of what actually happened in November 1918. The aftermath of the Great War was a messy business, with conflict continuing in some areas for some years after the armistice.

article summary —

hidden europe 56 has just been published. In this new issue, we celebrate the diversity of Europe as we roam from Belgium to Bohemia, and from the forests of Lithuania to the banks of the Danube. We take time out on a small island in Lake Maggiore, explore the Swiss Jura by train and make a rare excursion beyond the boundaries of Europe to a remote valley in Kyrgyzstan. Copies of hidden europe 56 as well as subscriptions can be purchased in our online shop.

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Dear fellow travellers

The dignified commemorations marking one hundred years since the end of the First World War masked the details of what actually happened in November 1918. The aftermath of the Great War was a messy business, with conflict continuing in some areas for some years after the armistice.

It was a time when, as empires crumbled, myriad small states sprung up, some of them so short-lived that cartographers hardly had the chance to record them in atlases. For five weeks in autumn 1918, the town of Zakopane on the north side of the Tatra Mountains was a self-governing republic with Polish writer Stefan Żeromski as its president.

The Republic of Zakopane was one of a number of small states which existed briefly in the former Austrian territories of partitioned Poland. Just east of Zakopane, in territory which now forms the south-east corner of Poland, was the Ruthenian National Republic of the Lemkos, often just referred to as the Lemko-Rusyn Republic (LRR). It was one of the longest-lived of the post-armistice ephemeral states, surviving until March 1920, when it was assimilated into Poland.

Just over the hills that marked the southern boundary of the LRR, Transcarpathia's brief dabble in independence ended when it became part of newly formed Czechoslovakia.

Germany was convulsed by revolution following the abdication of the Kaiser and the formal cessation of hostilities in November 1918. The Council of the People's Deputies, led by Friedrich Ebert and Hugo Haase, held unsteady sway for a few weeks, with its authority challenged in January 1919 by the Spartacist Uprising.

There were several ephemeral states which seceded from the Weimar Republic. The Bremen Soviet Republic lasted just three weeks. There was a similarly short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. Lenin wrote with a message of solidarity, querying whether the capitalist factories in Munich had all been confiscated. "An emergency tax must be levied on the bourgeoisie," he urged. All well and good, but just a week later the Bavarian Soviet collapsed in disarray and many of its leaders were executed.

Amid all the fleeting polities, small states which came and went, there were some which showed staying power. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all declared independence in 1918, as did the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

An accidental beneficiary of the turmoils of war and its aftermath was Iceland. Links with Denmark were difficult during those war years, and Icelanders demonstrated that they were well capable of managing their own affairs. Denmark recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign state on 1 December 1918. It alone, of all the new European states created in the aftermath of the Great War, has kept exactly the same territory ever since.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

Posted in Moments
This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.