Propaganda and the battle for votes

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Propaganda and the battle for votes

The run-up to the referendums was distinguished by lively campaigns with strong arguments from both sides. Meetings were held, posters were put up, flyers were handed out and numerous articles were written for various newspapers.

The debate was emotionally charged, with claims and counter-claims about ‘Danish-ness’ and ‘German-ness’ in both past and present. Both sides emphasised the importance of history.

There was conscious and conscientious use of national symbols – often in combination with ridicule of national opponents.

Much was made of age-old prejudices against ‘Jutlanders’ and ‘Prussians’, respectively, and many an appeal was made to national solidarity and the Schleswig sense of regional affiliation – and, of course, to the voters’ purses and wallets.

In the referendum propaganda, women were portrayed as mothers responsible for the fate of their children.

In order to rein in excesses, the CIS censored all posters and flyers and succeeded in preventing the propagation of emotive representations of ‘the enemy’ of the kind that had previously marred other referendums in Europe.

Flying flags of allegiance was not permitted until 10 February (i.e. the date of the referendum in Zone 1), and so the practice first came to play a major role in connection with the referendum in Zone 2 – particularly in and around Flensburg.


Posters and handbills

The campaigns leading up to the plebiscites were marked by an overwhelming amount of  propaganda, both Danish and German.

Posters, fliers, sticky labels, emergency money, articles in newspapers and journals, ballads and caricatures – all were used to shake people up and force them to take sides.

Slogans were spread around, national symbols pressed constantly into use, and biting satire was aimed at opponents of the other national persuasion. Representations of the enemy, though, were rarely used.

Both sides appealed to nationalist feelings, to a Schleswig identity and an awareness of the ‘native soil’, to financial interests and deeply-rooted antipathies against ‘Jutlanders’ and ‘Prussians’.

In the propaganda material, women were referred to as ‘Mother’ and represented as responsible for the future fate of their children.

At assemblies and demonstrations, many people revealed their position by wearing badges and cockades.

Flying flags was forbidden until 10 February, but from this date flags became one of the most important ways of showing national affiliation.

The streets of towns were dominated by the red-white Dannebrog, the blue-red-white flag of Schleswig-Holstein, or the black-white-red flag of the German Empire. However, the black-red-gold colours of the newly-fledged German Weimar Republic were not much in evidence.

To avoid excesses, the CIS censured all fliers and posters. A few were forbidden, and the exhibition shows two of the banned Danish posters.

The press, too, was controlled, and the ‘Flensburger Tageblatt’ was banned for a week after the newspaper had helped remove Danish propaganda material.

On 6 March, the Commission forbade flying flags in Zone 2 in the period 12-16 March. This led to vehement protests from the Germans, and the Commission’s German advisers resigned. In the end, the prohibition was restricted to apply only to public buildings.



Emergency money

In the last year of the war, emergency money was issued to counteract the catastrophic lack of coinage. Local authorities were therefore given permission to issue emergency money, that is, low value paper notes.

The amount for which notes were issued was meant to be covered by local authority reserves, but many authorities ignored this requirement and concentrated on making attractive notes for collectors: there was a handsome profit to be made on issuing notes that ended up in albums as collectors’ items.

In the plebiscite area, the tussle between what was Danish and what was German was the general theme. In Zone 1 (North Schleswig), emergency money often had a Danish side and a German side, or a Danish side and a neutral side, whereas in Zone 2 (Mid-Schleswig) there were no notes with a pro-Danish side: here, the motifs were pro-German or neutral.

On 20 May, Danish currency was introduced and the emergency money thus disappeared from the scene.


The reception of plebiscite voters from outside the area

People entitled to vote arriving by ship at Aabenraa.


People from outside the area entitled to vote

German cinema advertisement, urging people from Schleswig resident outside the plebiscite zones to come back home and cast their vote.