Poland a playing-field for Belgian and French banks after the First World War

In signing the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, the Great Powers agreed that an inde- pendent Polish state should be recreated from territories which in 1914 had been part of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires. However, it took quite some time to agree on the precise borders of the new Second Polish Republic.

The territories lying between Poland and its neighbours to the east were inhabited by a mixed population of Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Belarussians. In 1920, pur- suant to the Treaty terms, British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon proposed a dividing line between Poland and the USSR, running from Grodno (today Hrodna in Belarus) down to Lvov (Polish spelling Lwów), a city in the former Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia that is now in Ukraine and known as Lviv, which Curzon proposed allocating to Poland. The Soviets refused to recognise this border, but were then pushed back during military engagements with Polish forces. At the Treaty of Riga in March 1921 the Soviets were compelled to concede a frontier well to the east of the Curzon Line , ceding Lvov and also Wilno (today Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania) in the north, to Poland.

Meanwhile, during the long months following the signing of the Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles, the fate of German Upper Silesia hung in the balance. In March 1921, a referendum was held there under the auspices of an Allied Commission but after the vote armed conflict broke out between Germany and Poland. Following arbitrage by the League of Nations, the most eastern and most industrialised part of Upper Silesia became part of Poland.

In parallel with these armed clashes and diplomatic battles, the government of the Second Polish Republic embarked on the reconstruction of a country devastated by war. The financial situation was hardly ideal, as Paul Keppenne, an advisor to the Belgian High Commissariat at the Allied Commission for the Territories of the Rhine, stressed in October 1921: Polish government bonds are practically unknown and almost no-one will buy them ( ). Many people have bought Polish marks but as such speculation has so far proved an outright failure, they have now almost entirely lost confidence in Poland and have no desire to entrust any further capital to the country 1.

Some commentators, including the economist J.M. Keynes, doubted Poland s economic viability. So it does seem pertinent to ask what the two banks which later became part of the BNP Paribas Group were expecting when they got involved so quickly.

It should be stressed that at that time the search for new markets was a matter on which bankers, industrialists, merchants and the political authorities collaborated closely.

1. State Archives of the Kingdom of Belgium Vol II, BBE, n° 81-82, Report on the Polish Republic, by Paul Keppene, October 1921.

Charles de Gaulle in Poland

Charles de Gaulle, who at that time held the rank of captain, had two tours of duty in Poland: the first from April 1919 to May 1920, the second from June 1920 to January 1921.

On his first mission, the future General de Gaulle, who became President of France, was initially seconded to the autonomous Polish Army which had been formed in France in June 1917, comprising around seventy thousand men including six thousand Frenchmen. In April 1919 this army, led by Polish General Haller, began to leave France for Poland. Captain de Gaulle then joined the French Military Mission sent out to assist Poland in the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921) and was sent as an instructor to the Rembertow Infantry Training Centre. In November he was promoted to chief instructor and then in December took charge of the senior officers training programme.

During his second mission in Poland, from June 1920 to January 1921, de Gaulle experienced two distinct sides of life. He had the human experience of living alongside Polish people at a time when the Polish troops initially suffered defeat and then tasted victory. He also experienced real military service when he was seconded to the Third Section of the Southern Army Group Staff Office, and subsequently that of the Central Army Group commanded by the Polish Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly. He took part in military operations, earning Poland s highest military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.