International conference “Minorities and Self-determination – 100th Anniversary of the Post-World War I Plebiscites”

3-4 June 2021, Flensburg (Germany)


This one-time conference was co-organised by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) and the Danish Central Library for South Schleswig (DCBIB), both located in Flensburg, Germany. The ECMI conducts practice and policy-oriented research, provides information and documentation, and offers advisory services concerning minority-majority relations in Europe. The research department at the DCBIB concentrates on the history of the Danish-German border area, with a particular focus on the Danish minority in Southern Schleswig and relations between Denmark and Germany.

The conference coincided with the 100th anniversary of the border settlement between Denmark and Germany resulting from the outcome of two plebiscites held in Northern and Middle Schleswig. At the same time, Schleswig was only one of several European regions where plebiscites concerning self-determination were held in the aftermath of World War I. Other areas, such as Allenstein and Marienwerder in West and East Prussia, Upper Silesia on the German-Polish border, Carinthia on the border between Austria and Slovenia and Burgenland on the border between Austria and Hungary, experienced similar plebiscites, however each of them took place within a different context and as a consequence delivered differing ramifications and experiences.

The aim of the conference was to draw attention to these plebiscites and the impact they have had on national minorities in the relevant areas, alongside reflection on the notion of self-determination itself and legal frameworks concerning minority rights elaborated in the aftermath of World War I. A crucial element of the conference was to enhance the comparative and interdisciplinary perspective in scholarly research concerning aforementioned issues.

Conference Panels

The conference programme consisted of six panels; five thematic plus a concluding session. In addition, during both conference days, the panels were preceded by extensive presentations delivered by two keynote speakers representing varying academic disciplines (see below). The panels were organised under the following titles:

  • Panel 1: Self-determination: the concept and its historical contextualizations
  • Panel 2: Plebiscites as a tool for self-determination in 1920-21
  • Panel 3: Minority treaties as a consequence of the Versailles Peace Conference 
  • Panel 4: Post-plebiscitary territories as living spaces between the two World Wars
  • Panel 5: Plebiscites, referenda and self-determination in current contexts
  • Panel 6: Concluding discussion


Keynote Speakers

The conference featured two keynote speakers. Political scientist Professor Matthew Qvortrup delivered a lecture on Schleswig plebiscites in both historical and contemporary contexts additionally focusing on the role of emotional arguments, while historian Dr. Volker Prott addressed the issue of 1917-1923 plebiscites as tools contributing to the establishment of just and lasting peace.

ECMI Founders