Paul Hymans’ Forgotten Negotiations: The Dispute over the Vilnius Region in Brussels and Geneva in 1921

  • Vilma Bukaitė
Keywords: Republic of Lithuania, Republic of Poland, Paul Hymans, project, negotiations


The dispute over the Vilnius Region was one of the most complicated political issues of the interwar period. Politicians of the Republic of Lithuania (1918–1940) proclaimed Vilnius the country’s capital. However, the authorities of neighbouring Poland treated Vilnius and the surrounding areas as an inseparable part of their state. Thus, in April 1919 and in October 1920 Polish troops occupied the territory. The dispute was long negotiated by the Council of the League of Nations. Authorised by the League, the well-known Belgian politician Paul Hymans mediated the negotiations between Lithuania and Poland in 1921. Two projects for the resolution of this issue were linked to his name. Paul Hymans’ archive at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and related materials from the archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France document consultations with numerous French, British, and Belgian politicians, diplomats, and the militaries. George Curzon, British Foreign Secretary, and Aristide Briand, Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, were actively involved in the formulation of the projects of the resolution. Hymans’ first resolution noted a great impact of Poland for it was closely related to the agreement proposed by Alexander Babiański, a left-wing Polish general. A proposal for a federal state, most likely based on this project, was sent from Warsaw to London and Paris by the envoys of the Entente states. However, it was unacceptable to the right-wing government of Poland, which proposed an unconditional incorporation of Lithuania. Slightly changed, Hymans’ second resolution was to some extent more beneficial to Lithuania and therefore even less acceptable to Poland, and caused significant dissensions in both states. The negotiations tended to the loss of independence of Lithuania, and the government of Lithuania was the first to abandon these later in 1921. Hymans successfully negotiated the separation of the Malmedy region from Germany and its annexation to Belgium; he also took a part in defining the international status of the Scheldt River (Dutch: Schelde) in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. He participated in the process of the consolidation of political and trade relations with France and especially with Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, his negotiations for Lithuania and Poland had failed. In his memoirs, this mission was mentioned only fleetingly, as though deemed to be forgotten.