CIS – The international Commission

Swipe to the left to browse...

CIS – The international Commission

Under Articles 109 – 114 of the Treaty of Versailles, an International Commission (the Commission Internationale de Surveillance du Plébiscite Slesvig – CIS) was set up and given responsibility for holding referendums in Schleswig.

The commission comprised four members – one each from Great Britain, France, Sweden and Norway – and took over the administration of the two referendum zones in Schleswig on 26 January 1920.

German troops and public officials were required to leave the two zones and CIS took responsibility for maintaining public order using its own police force and contingents of French and British troops.

Special CIS postage stamps were issued to indicate that the referendum zones were an area under special administration.

CIS kept a close eye on the referendum campaigns and the two votes were held in an orderly fashion on 10 February (in Zone 1) and 14 March (in Zone 2).

The commission then prepared a proposal for the new border on the basis of the referendum results.

Its mandate expired on 15 June 1920, after which Zone 1 became part of Denmark and Zone 2 was returned to Germany.


The background for the CIS

On 18 January 1919 the Paris Peace Conference began, saddled with the task of bringing Europe together again after four years of war.

A few months later, on 28 June 1919, the peace treaty was signed at the palace of Versailles outside Paris. The 440 Articles of the Treaty of Versailles laid down the conditions of the peace agreement between Germany and the victors after World War I.

The Germans had not been able to have much influence on the proceedings. They therefore saw the Treaty as a decree, and signed it under protest. Section 12 of the Treaty contains Articles 109-114, which concern the decisions made about Schleswig.

Article 109 stipulated the two geographical areas where plebiscites were to be held, and laid down that German military personnel and civil servants were to leave the plebiscite areas.

The same Article also stipulated that the plebiscite area as a whole was to be under the jurisdiction of a five-man international commission: three members from the allied countries (England, France and the USA), and one member each from Norway and Sweden.

The commission was named CIS; Commission Internationale de Surveillance du Plébiscite Slesvig. It was invested with general administrative powers, and was to ensure free and unimpeded secret plebiscites in the two zones.

As the Treaty was ratified in the course of the summer and autumn, it became clear that the USA would not ratify it, and that the CIS would thus be reduced to four members.

England and France appointed as members of the Commission their ambassadors in Copenhagen – Sir Charles Marling and M. Paul Claudel respectively. From Norway came Thomas Heyfte, Director of the Telegraph Company, and from Sweden Regional Governor Oscar von Sydow.

The Commission set up its headquarters in the Flensburger Hof hotel on the waterfront in Flensburg. An Englishman, Charles Marling, was appointed chairman and another Englishman, Charles Brudenell Bruce, General Secretary. To provide further assistance, three technical advisers were seconded from Germany and Denmark.

The commission took over the administration when the peace treaty came into force on 10 January 1920. At the same time, English and French troops moved into the plebiscite areas. Their task, supported by a police corps, was to help the commission maintain law and order.

The German currency and tax system was retained, as were the legal system, railways, and the telegraph and postal services. The CIS did, however, issue its own postage stamps.

A joint Danish-German committee for import-export and food supplies helped to ensure that the population had the necessities of life. From the middle of February, a court of law was set up to try cases of assault of a national political character.

The CIS delegated some of its authority to groups of experts manned by both Danes and Germans, and called on Danish and German advisors to solve the sometimes very complicated problems the commission was faced with. This is one reason why we can conclude today that in general the CIS did a very good job.


Border dispute in North Schleswig

Before the final formulation of the regulations concerning the plebiscite zones, an intense debate and much negotiation had been going on between various groups who were unable to agree on how the future shape of North Schleswig was to be determined.

The strongest party in these disputes was the ‘North Schleswig Electors Association’, which was the political organisation for the Danish-minded community of North Schleswig.

The prominent figure at the head of this association was H.P. Hanssen, who had watched over its interests in the German Reichstag since 1906. The final formulation of the demands they would put forward took place at a meeting of the Supervisory Committee of the Electors Association on 16-17 November 1918.

The two most important points were that, in the first place, North Schleswig should vote as a single unit – en bloc. This would ensure that the whole area, despite smaller areas with a German majority, would go to Denmark. In the second place, a separate, local plebiscite could be held in areas of Mid-Schleswig that demanded it.

The upshot of this decision was that a ‘Mid-Schleswig Committee’ was set up as early as 18 November 1918. I.C. Paulsen from Flensburg, a wholesale merchant, was appointed chairman. 4,200 signatures were quickly obtained on a petition for a separate plebiscite in Flensburg and a number of Mid-Schleswig local authorities.

Via the Danish government, the wishes of the North Schleswig Electors Association and the Mid-Schleswig Committee were passed on to the peace conference for consideration.

The ‘Danevirke Movement’ was a third group that contributed actively to decisions concerning the future of Schleswig. This movement arose as a reaction to the proposed southern border of Zone 1 put forward by the North Schleswig Electors Association. Central figures in this movement were Ernst Christiansen, Editor of the newspaper, Flensburg Avis, and Ionas Collin, a doctor.

This movement placed greater weight on historical rights as the basis for the definition of new borders. The movement took its name from the Danevirke fortification, which they regarded as the natural southern border of Denmark. According to this view, a border running from The Schlei over Danevirke to Friedrichstadt would follow the historically inherited Danishness of the population.

Due to intensive lobbying in Paris, especially by Ionas Collin, the movement succeeded in getting a third plebiscite zone added to the treaty. This became evident on 7 May 1919, when the peace conference published the preliminary treaty declarations, revealing that the plebiscites in Schleswig were to be held in three zones, with the Schlei-Danevirke-Ejder line as the southernmost border.

Through its diplomatic representative, Bernhoft, the Danish government had been able to present its views about the drawing of the future borders to the ‘Belgian-Schleswig’ commission established by the peace conference.

The proposal of a plebiscite in three zones took the Danish government by surprise, and in a note to the peace conference they rejected it. As the North Schleswig Electors Association also supported this position, the peace conference did not include a third plebiscite zone in the final version of the treaty.

It was therefore settled that there would be two plebiscites, one in North Schleswig (Zone 1) and one in the town of Flensburg plus a number of rural local authorities in the counties of Flensburg, Tønder and Husum (Zone 2).