23/6/1919 Nation building and war in Ireland

Irish nationalists continue with their struggle to secure the freedom of their country. The Dáil, Ireland’s self-declared sovereign parliament, is working to create the administrative apparatus of an independent state. To fund its operations it has recently announced a bond issue, with bonds purchasable both within and outside the country. Early indications are that the bond issue will be a great success, with large numbers of people in both Ireland and the United State seeking to buy them. The Dáil is also working to create a parallel court system that will bypass the British controlled system of justice operating in the country.

Irish nationalists are working to internationalise the conflict. De Valera, Sinn Féin leader and president of the Dáil government, has travelled to the United States to court opinion there. Ireland’s cause has already excited much American interest, particularly among those of Irish descent. The US Senate has passed a resolution calling for Irish representatives to be heard at the Paris Conference; Britain’s objections have unfortunately prevented the raising of the Irish question there.

Within Ireland the military campaign for Irish freedom is escalating, as are British attempts to repress it. The country is becoming increasingly militarised and acts of violence are becoming more routine. Earlier this month policemen in Dublin were shot (but not fatally) when dispersing a crowd that had gathered to attend a banned memorial concert for James Connolly. Today meanwhile in Thurles, Michael Hunt of the Royal Irish Constabulary is shot and killed in broad daylight in a street thronged with people returning from a race meeting. A district inspector, he is the most senior policeman to have lost his life in the conflict thus far.

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Sinn Féin Court, by Sean Keating (Niall Murray, Twitter)

Michael Hunt (Century Ireland: Policeman murdered on crowded Thurles street)

Men of the South, by Sean Keating (millstreet.ie: the Men of the South)

22/6/1919 Kemal launches Turkey’s national resistance

In May the Turkish government sent Kemal, hero of the Gallipoli campaign, to oversee the demobilisation of Turkish troops, as required by Turkey’s armistice with the Allies. However Kemal has instead began to form a network of nationalist army officers who are determined to resist the partition of their country. Turkish nationalists are now resigned to the loss of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab lands, but they fear that the recent Greek and Italian landings in western Anatolia signal that the Allies are intent on dividing up the Turkish heartland, something that they find unconscionable.

As the British become aware of Kemal’s activities, they press the Turkish authorities in Constantinople to rein him in. Eventually the Sultan’s government gives in. Today Kemal receives an order to cease his activities and return to Constantinople. But Kemal does not obey. Instead he resigns from the Ottoman army and summons a congress of like-minded nationalists to assemble at Erzurum. In his determination to preserve the Turkish nation, Kemal is now in revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

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Kemal and other nationalists (Wikipedia: Turkish National Movement)

15/6/1919 The Austrian authorities strike against Communist would-be revolutionaries

In April a Communist coup failed in Vienna, but the Hungarian communist regime of Béla Kun still hopes to spread their brand of socialism to neighbouring Austria. Kun sends Ernst Bettelheim as his representative to Vienna, charged with preparing the Austrian Communists to seize power. Bettelheim installs a new leadership of the KPÖ (the Communist Party of Austria) and draws his plans. He hopes that Austria will fall into Communist hands through an uprising of KPÖ cadres and disgruntled elements of the Austrian army, supported by an invasion from Hungary.

Alas for the onward march of Communism, it is not to be. Informers reveal Bettelheim’s plans to the authorities, and they now strike to pre-empt the Communist putsch. Between last night and this morning the police have rounded up most of the KPÖ’s leadership (though not Bettelheim himself), coming close to decapitating the party. Today Communist demonstrators march to the jail where the prisoners are being held, hoping to free them and make good the revolution, but the police fire into the crowd, killing 20 people and driving the rest from the streets. This appears to be the end of Austria’s Communist revolution: Soviet Hungary must battle on alone.

9/6/1919 De Valera courts American opinion, but Lloyd George blocks consideration of the Irish question in Paris

In Ireland Sinn Féin politicians elected in December’s general election have chosen not to attend the House of Commons in London; instead they have assembled in Dublin, declaring themselves to be Dáil Éireann, the sovereign parliament of the Irish nation. Making Irish independence a reality is proving however proving difficult. Members of the Irish Republican Army are attempting to wage a guerrilla war against British forces in Ireland, but IRA actions are showing no great sign of forcing the British to evacuate the country. Dáil Éireann meanwhile has so far failed to make itself the actual centre of political power in Ireland, with real authority still lying with the British administration centred in Dublin Castle.

Sinn Féin leaders are attempting to internationalise their struggle, hoping that other nations will pressurise the British to yield to Ireland’s claims. At its first meeting, the Dáil issued a Message to the Free Nations of the World, asking them to support Irish freedom. The Dáil has sent a delegation to Paris, but the conference has declined to hear it.

Irish nationalists have had more success in the United States, where Irish Americans are sympathetic to Ireland’s cause. De Valera, the leader of Sinn Féin, has crossed the Atlantic and is having some success drumming up interest in the Irish question. The Senate recently passed a resolution calling for the Paris Conference to hear the Irish delegation. Leading Irish Americans have travelled to Paris, to lobby Wilson to have the conference hear the Irish delegation. Political concerns oblige Wilson to meet the Irish Americans, but he is non-committal. Lloyd George is too important to risk antagonising over the Irish issue.

Nevertheless, Wilson today sounds Lloyd George on whether the Paris Conference might discuss the Irish question, but the British prime minister is clear that this is something that he could not countenance; any attempt by the conference to discuss Ireland would lead to a political crisis in London, with the likelihood that Lloyd George’s government would fall. This would cause great upset to the conference’s progress, which is now at an advanced stage. Wilson makes clear to Lloyd George that he has no intention of pressing the issue.

image source:

Éamon De Valera after being made an honorary chief of the Chippewa nation (in October 1919) (History Hub: Eamon De Valera – The Chief) (The linked-to page includes an interesting newspaper report of De Valera’s visit to the Chippewa, including excerpts from De Valera’s speech, in which he draws parallels between the experiences of the Irish and the Native Americans)

7/6/1919 Sette Giugno: Unrest in Malta, killings by British troops

Britain is facing unrest in Ireland, India and Egypt. Now little Malta joins the ranks of territories causing problems for their British masters. The island has seen the price of basic foodstuffs climb out of the reach of ordinary people since the war ended. Today Valetta erupts in rioting, with the material complaints of the Maltese crossing over into a political dissatisfaction with the British that sees building flying the Union Jack attacked. Three Maltese are shot by British troops and many others wounded, but the city remains in a chaotic state.

The unrest and the killing of Maltese rioters has the effect of increasing support in Malta for nationalist politicians, some of whom favour a closer relationship with Italy. But for General Plumer, recently appointed as Malta’s governor general, the lesson is clear: the Maltese must be conciliated by being offered a greater share in the administration and governance of their island.

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Student demonstrators at the university (Times of Malta: Malta and Me – colonial politics, Il-Gross and university students)

British soldiers and demonstrators (Maltese History & Heritage: Uprisings & Revolts)

30/5/1919 Admiral Horthy: the new leader of Hungary’s conservatives

Soviet Hungary has been invaded by Romania and Czechoslovakia. However the Hungarian Reds have thrown together an army and defeated the Czechoslovaks, making it look as though the invaders are not about to overthrow Kun‘s communist regime. Instead the internal enemies of the Communists make their own preparations to strike back the revolution. In Szeged, currently occupied by French troops, conservatives meet to form a counter-revolutionary army to take on the Communists. The new army’s leader is Admiral Horthy, the wartime commander of the Austro-Hungarian navy. Like the White armies in Russia or the German Freikorps, Horthy’s army attracts many former officers of the old regime, as well as men from the borderlands that have been lost to Romania and other neighbouring countries. They prepare to wage war on the urban communists of Red Budapest.

image sources:

Admiral Horthy (Wikipedia)

New recruits for Horthy’s army
(Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár: Hadsereg és katonapolitika 1919–1940 között (Hungarian Electronic Library: Army and military policy between 1919 and 1940)

22/5/1919 Riga falls to the Freikorps

German Freikorps volunteer units came to Latvia ostensibly to save the country from invasion by the Red Army. Since then however they have seized power in the country, with Freikorps commander Goltz ruling through a puppet government. The Germans have continued to push back the Soviets and today they evict them from Riga, Latvia’s capital.

Before the war Riga was an important industrial and commercial centre and had a substantial community of ethnic Germans. The intervening years have not been kind to it, with industrial activity having collapsed and the city having lost half its population. Nevertheless, to the Freikorps its capture is a triumph, calling to mind its previous seizure by the German army in 1917, when it still looked like Germany might win the wider war.

The fighting for Riga is however quite brutal. The Freikorps are incensed by the resistance they are offered by Soviet irregulars, particularly those they dub Flintenweiber: young rifle-armed women who snipe at the German troops. The Freikorps launch an orgy of violence against real or suspected Flintenweiber and communist sympathisers.

With Riga now secure the ambitions of the Freikorps are growing. Goltz begins preparations for an invasion of Estonia, intent on expanding his Baltic empire.

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Freikorps officers before the attack on Riga (Wikipedia)

Map of (confusing) Baltic situation following fall of Riga (Pygmy Wars: Latvia 1919)