The results of the two referendums

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The results of the two referendums

Everyone who had lived in one of the referendum regions since 1900 was entitled to vote, and more than 90% of the electorate turned out for the ballot.

In Zone 1 (North Schleswig), the people voted on 10 February 1920 en bloc, i.e. the result for the entire region was decided by simple majority. A total of 75,431 votes were cast for alignment with Denmark and 25,329 for becoming part of Germany. The majority of voters in the towns of Sønderborg, Aabenraa and Tønder, and in the parishes of Højer, Ubjerg and Tinglev actually voted for Germany, but the decision was made by the population of the region as a whole. In Zone 2 (Flensburg and Central Schleswig), the referendum was held on 14 March, when 51,724 votes were cast for alignment with Germany and 12,800 for incorporation into Denmark. In Flensburg, 75.2% of the voters opted for Germany, and a Danish majority was only recorded in two villages on the island of Før.

As a result of the referendums, the Danish – German border was moved approximately 70 km south and North Schleswig was gradually assimilated into Denmark over the period from 5 May through 10 July 1920. With this division of Schleswig, the right of self-determination was applied in practice, although it did not produce a clear ‘nationality border’. National minorities were to be found both north and south of the new geographical border – as is still the case to this day.


The result of the plebiscite

The peace treaty accurately described the plebiscite zones, both in words and by reference to a map.  Furthermore, guidelines were given as to who was entitled to vote.

Any person over the age of twenty, born in the plebiscite area, or resident there since before 1 January 1900, or who had been expelled from there by the German authorities without retaining his or her residence, was entitled to vote. During the preparation of the Treaty of Versailles, however, an error crept in to the text, making it possible for all who had been born in the area to vote, irregardless of residence. People were to vote in that local authority in which they were resident, or from which they came.

Danish and German organisations dug out information about all those from near or far who were entitled to vote and urged them to take part in the plebiscite. In this way, the event left its mark far beyond the plebiscite area.

Information centres were opened in the larger towns. In Denmark, it was the national associations who took up the task of helping to make things work in practice; in Germany, the home soil associations had this function.

Travel had to be arranged for the voters, in flag-bedecked trains or special ships. When they arrived they were given a warm welcome and were given lodging with relatives, old friends or families of the same political sympathies..

In Zone 1, the plebiscite was held on 10 February 1920. The weather was very bad that day, with stormy winds and rain, but when the ballot stations closed, the outcome was clear.

111,191 people were entitled to vote, of which 27,853 came from outside the area. In all, 101,632 of them had cast their vote, corresponding to 91.4 %. 75,431 (74.9 %) voted for Denmark, while 25,329 (25.1 %) voted for Germany.

There were German majorities in the towns of Aabenraa, Sønderborg and Tønder, as well as in the village and country parish of Højer, and in the parishes of Ubjerg and Tinglev. However, these majorities did not affect the overall result, and when the first returns were announced in the evening there was great rejoicing among the Danish population of North Schleswig.

The plebiscite in Zone 2 on 14 March produced quite a different result. In this zone, 71,104 people were entitled to vote, and 64,524, or 90.75 %, did in fact do so.

Here, too, the result was clear. 51,724 (80.2 %) votes were cast for Germany, and 12,800 (19.8 %) for Denmark. Any doubt about the way people felt in the town of Flensburg was removed: 27,081 (75.2 %) votes for Germany and 8,944 (24.8 %) for Denmark.

The result in Flensburg created a deep, dark feeling of defeat among the Danish-minded population. The German population, on the other hand, gathered for demonstrations and joyous processions. At midnight the church bells rang and thousands of voices joined in the singing of the hymn, ‘Nun danket alle Gott’.


New borders – new minorities

After the plebiscites in Zones 1 and 2, it was the task of the CIS to make suggestions concerning the definitive border between Denmark and Germany, taking account of commercial and geographical factors. Danes and Germans both tried to influence the work being done by the commission.

In the southern part of Zone 1, areas with  German majority were often geographically adjacent and partly borders on Zone 2. The Germans therefore suggested that the border should follow the co-called ‘Tiedje Line’.

This was a boundary line proposed by Johannes Tiedje, passing north of Højer, Tønder, Ravsted and Tinglev, and south of Gråsten to Flensburg Fjord.

Similarly, the Flensburg Movement tried to arouse interest in Denmark for the internationalisation of Zone 2 with its financial links to Denmark, with a new plebiscite to be held 10-15 years later, hoping thus to incorporate more areas (especially Flensburg) into Denmark.

Neither of these proposals was adopted by the Allies and the CIS. On 16 April 1920, therefore, the Commission ratified its own proposal for a new Danish-German border. This conclusion was not reached unanimously: a majority, with the Chairman having the casting vote, went in for the Clausen Line, which settled the border between Zones 1 and 2. A minority had wanted the border a little further south.

In Paris, the peace conference followed the majority proposal, and on 8 May, the Conference of Ambassadors accepted the Clausen Line. On 15 June, the Danish Ambassador, Bernhoft, received a note explaining where the border was to be drawn.

The new border was not just a line drawn on the map. It left national minorities on both sides and was a sharp dividing line between what was Danish and what was German in all areas – political, economic and social.

The German Foreign Ministry estimated that the German minority in North Schleswig encompassed  some 25-30,000 people, corresponding to a sixth of the population of North Schleswig.

By far the majority of them were living in thirty parishes and towns in the southernmost border area, which at the time was called ‘the crooked square’. From 1920, the German minority established an organisation with associations and institutions that could help preserve German identity.

While the German section of the population in North Schleswig had to get used to being a national minority, this was nothing new for the Danish minority in South Schleswig. What was new for these people was that they now had to stand on their own two legs, though they were heartened by the fact that Denmark had moved closer to them, physically and mentally.

The ‘Schleswig Association’ was founded as early as 26 June 1920. Its aim was to “… gather our countrymen together for mutual support in all matters relating to the people, to strengthen Danish culture, enlightenment and intellectual life, and for them to maintain lively connections with their countrymen north of the new Danish border”.

Even before the plebiscite was concluded, Germany urged Denmark to open two-part negotiations with a view to creating the same rights for both the Danish and German minorities.

However, the Danes were only interested in three-part talks about the legal position of minorities involving Denmark, Germany and the Allies. The German government could not accept this and therefore no common minority agreement was reached until 35 years later in 1955.


Danish officials arrive – 12 February 1920.

A film showing Danish officials at the River Kongeå border. Amongst them is Minister H.P. Hanssen, former member for Southern Jutland in the Reichstag in Berlin.