How did the peace treaties made after WWI both follow and violate the principle of self determination?

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Queen Langosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Prior to the end of World War I, Woodrow Wilson spoke of the need for national self-determination as a guiding principle of any treaty that ended the war. This principle was included among his Fourteen Points, and particularly applied to Eastern Europe. The treaties following World War I at least attempted to follow the principle of ethnic self-determination. The split of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in particular made this possible, as new nations—Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, and Yugoslavia—were carved out of this formerly polyglot kingdom. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and especially Poland were created out of formerly Russian and German controlled areas. So to some extent, the policy of lining up ethnic identities with national borders was pursued. At the same time, Yugoslavia was a mishmash of different ethnicities, including Bosnians, Albanians, Serbs, Croatians, Macedonians, and others who were brought under control of one nation.

Every nation-state created at Versailles contained significant ethnic minorities. Moreover, the policy of national self-determination really only applied to Europe. In Africa, former German colonies like the Cameroons were not afforded independence after the war. In the Middle East, the Sykes-Picot Agreement divided the region, where peoples had struggled for independence from Ottoman rule, into spheres of influence dominated by Europeans. Similarly, peoples in Indochina, the Philippines, and other Asian colonies were denied the right to self-determination proclaimed at Versailles through a number of treaties.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One the one hand, these treaties did create more instances in which national groups got the right to self-determination.  This can be seen most clearly in the break up of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  This empire was split up and countries like Czechoslovakia and what became Yugoslavia were created and countries like Romania were enlarged.  At the same time, however, many people were left in countries not run by their own ethnic groups.  This happened to Germans and Hungarians in particular.  In addition, the treaties did not allow for any sort of self-determination for the people living in the colonies of the various empires.  People living in the old Ottoman Empire, for example, were put under League of Nations mandates, not given their own independent countries.

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