Remembering Versailles at Hundred

The Synergia Foundation hosted its 62nd Round table to discuss the book, the Treaty of Versailles and the Remaking of the World--1919 -2019, authored by sisters Aloka Moulik Chatterjee and Achala M. Moulik

The Synergia Foundation hosted its 62nd Round table to discuss the book, the Treaty of Versailles and the Remaking of the World--1919 -2019, authored by sisters Aloka Moulik Chatterjee and Achala M. Moulik. Aloka specializes in international history and relations. Achala graduated in economics, international history and international law from University College, London. Achala Moulik joined the Indian Administrative Service where she served as Education Secretary, Government of India and Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India and was Chairman of the Bangalore Development Authority. The Russian Government awarded her the prestigious Pushkin Medal and the Yesenin Prize in recognition of her work on Russian history and culture. 

The authors were joined in discussion by Ambassador CV Raghavan, former UN officials J Gururaja and Shree Lakshmi Gururaja, Amitava Bannerjee, a former World Bank executive, and Uday Balakrishnan, a professor of political science at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). 

The book commemorates the centenary of the end of the First World War and the ensuing Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty punished the vanquished nations of WW I, dismembering the Austro-Hungarian and German empires, and by the creation of new European nation-states. The non-Western world--Asia, Africa, Latin America did not acquire freedom. But the subterranean simmering of discontent and rebellion began in these lands. The authors have shown how the fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire carved out new Arab states without consideration for ethnic ground realities. The imperial progress of France and Britain continued. The United States preferred to remain aloof from the gathering storm.

The authors capture how Germany rose like a phoenix from the debris of defeat to in less than three decades, to be able to wage another war against the nations that defeated her. The authors narrate the tragic events in run-up to the Second World War. The ruinous Second World War was the result of many complex factors--Germany’s desire to dominate Europe, America’s desire to preserve her hegemony, Western European obsession to “contain” and undermine the formidable rising power of Soviet Russia, and to keep their colonial empires intact.

One aspect of the Treaty that was discussed extensively at the round table was how the injustice meted out at Germany, gave rise to a dictator, and how Russians suffered as the greatest victims of any war that took place in Europe. The Treaty was described by the authors as ‘suicidal’. It left Germany debilitated, gave way to the Second World War and came at a time when there was already considerable chaos in West Asia after the Sykes-Picot agreement.

The discussion, then steered towards a rights perspective, as it gave rise to the ideas of a right to self-determination. A lot of human rights agreements as we see today have their beginnings in the Treaty of Versailles. It was only post the Second World War that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into being. 

The Treaty was formulated by the US President Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points which chart a route map for what global relations then on would be. Incidentally, the US never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, as its participation was not agreed to by the Senate. That apart, the Treaty was very western in its outlook, the division of states according to a western dictate was seen, leaving out the narratives of the rest of the world. 

Interestingly, at the time, India was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles. The Maharaja of Bikaner represented India at the time. Countries that had no stake were also participating with the colonial masters to ratify the Treaty though they, themselves were not independent. The Treaty could very well have been understood as a political exercise to contain Germany. One cannot ignore the secret agreements that the British and French had negotiated with themselves and some other Mediterranean countries like Greece. India at the time was in the throes of its freedom movement and that very year in April, India had seen the brutal Jallianwala Bagh Massacre which intensified aggression towards its colonial rulers, who in a few months were drawing up a Treaty that only strengthened their hold over the colonized world. 

The Peace of 1945 completely and irrevocably changed the world. The United States and Soviet Russia emerged as superpowers with their extensive spheres of influence culminating the Cold War, which paradoxically preserved peace. As an exhausted Britain, France, Netherland, Belgium could no longer maintain their garrisons in their colonies; new sovereign states emerged to create a new world order.

In 2019, in the multilateral world, the rivalry for power and influence, garnering of valuable fuel resources, keeping alive the arms industry has created a new world of turmoil–whose outcome cannot be predicted.