15 June 2011

Backwaters of History – Neutral Moresnet

I have a small confession to make – I am fond of what is called alternate history. Basically alternate history is speculation on what would happen if a historical event, be it minor or major, took a different course. Two popular, and perhaps clichéd examples are a Confederate victory in the American Civil War and a successful Operation Sealion (the proposed Nazi invasion of Britain in WWII).

Altrnatehistory.com contains many different timelines, some very good and well thought out. Some are intriguing including one I came across today concerning the possibility of Neutral Moresnet remaining in existence as a micronation ,

Neutral Moresnet? Where the hell was Neutral Moresnet?

This website provided me with the answer.

After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo the Congress of Vienna had to re-establish national borders. One area of contention was the Prussian/Dutch border near Aachen .

The village of Kelmis near Aachen had a zinc mine which both the Prussians and the Dutch wanted, Neither party wanted the other one to have possession of it either. The problem was resolved in 1816, with the Aachen border treaty that created a small neutral zone around Kelmis and the zinc mine.

The Neutral Moresnet flag

Neutral Moresnet ,as it was called, was never going to be a major player on the world stage given that it had a total area of just one Square mile and a population in 1850 of fewer than 300 souls. It had no currency, no army and low taxes. Its population rose to around 4,000 by the outbreak of WWI

The zinc mine was depleted by the 1880s and attempts to raise wealth by other means, including casinos and postage stamps, were thwarted by Belgium and Germany. That said several gin distilleries flourished! In the early 20th century Germany took an increasingly aggressive stance against Neutral Moresnet, cutting off the electricity supply and severing telephone connections.

As a result the citizens petitioned to join Belgium but events overtook them. The territory was overrun in 1914 WWI and remained in German hands until the end of WWI.

After WWII the Treaty of Versailles ceded Neutral Moresnet to Belgium which annexed it formally in 1920.

So there you have it. Interestingly (or perhaps not) Neutral Moresnet may have become the first “country” to adopt Esperanto as its official language. More on that another time.


Silent Hunter said...

Very interesting. Good find!

susan said...

That was a neat story and one I'd never heard before.

Speaking of alternate histories, have we ever spoken about Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Years of Rice and Salt' wherein he postulates the Black Plague wiped out 90% of the population of Western Europe? You'll likely have read it but just in case..

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Gin and Esperanto - a combustive mix!

jams o donnell said...

Thanks SH It s not the only anomaly either

Ah I've not read that one. Will have to add to my long list

Haha I can picture the riots now Snoopy

Francis Hunt said...

I'd just add my recommendation of Robinson's book to that of Susan - a very different approach to alternate history than that of Turtledove, Birmingham, etc. Imagine a world in which Christian memes play no roles (in a cultural as well as religious sense), replaced instead by those of Buddhism and Islam! A real must read.

jams o donnell said...

Well I wiil definitely add it to my list Francis. Thanks for confirming Sue's reccomendation