Friday, August 1, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: Referendum About the Future of the Monarchy in Luxembourg in 1919

These days the world is commemorating the beginning of the First World War which also had profound impact on Luxembourg though the country technically remained neutral. In 1919, the world came very close to losing its last grand duchy. The Luxembourg monarchy was undergoing a crisis brought about by the enormous impact of World War I, the blurred lines between the powers of a monarch and the functions of politics, the abolishment of several other European monarchies during that time, and the interest in new socioeconomic theories (such as socialism and communism) in Europe was forcing the citizens of Luxembourg to question whether or not a new system of governance was needed.  The matter was decided through a referendum held in fall of 1919, in which the fate of the Luxembourg monarchy was decided.

The Grand Ducal Family in 1918
After months of struggle, Marie-Adélaïde, Luxembourg’s first grand duchess to rule in her own right, had abdicated in favor of her younger sister, Charlotte, in January 1919. But due to increasing republican sentiment in the country, Charlotte’s position was anything but secure. A public vote on the structure of the government was planned for early fall 1919. In the meantime, at least two surrounding countries had taken notice of the instability in Luxembourg. Both France and Belgium had interests in annexing the grand duchy, and the crisis seemed to represent the best opportunity to do so.  In fact, it was French troops who had led the effort to suppress revolutionary action in Luxembourg.

By early March, there were indications that the citizens of Luxembourg were leaning toward a union with Belgium as the Grand Duchy was most familiar with a monarchy. If Luxembourg were to become a republic, critics argued, the French would likely absorb the territory and impose heavy taxes upon its people. Land-locked Luxembourg also preferred to use the port of Antwerp for shipping, making partnership with Belgium logical. A shortage of labor in France could mean increased job opportunities for Luxembourg citizens, but the cost of living within France was more expensive than in Belgium. 

The plebiscite was held on September 28, 1919. The citizens had the choice of keeping Charlotte as Grand Duchess, selecting another ruler from the Nassau dynasty, choosing a member of a different European royal family (which would have basically meant that King Albert I of the Belgians would have also become Grand Duke of Luxembourg), or transforming Luxembourg into a republic.  Voters were also asked to chose between allying economically with France or Belgium (but not being annexed by either).  The election marked the first time in which all citizens over the age of 21 - men and women - were eligible to vote. 

By the end of the first day of ballot counting, it was clear that the people of Luxembourg wished to keep Charlotte as its monarch.  In the end, voters elected to keep their ruling Grand Duchess, with 77.8% voting in favor of keeping the monarchy intact. In a distant second, slightly less than 20% of voters wished to abolish the monarchy in favor of the creation of a republic.  In their first turnout as voters, it was later reported that the percentage of female voters was higher than that of male voters.

Grand Duchess Charlotte in 1919
Charlotte said of the vote that kept her in power, “I am sure the people voted for me because it was the surest way to preserve the independence of the country.” Charlotte was likely correct in the fact that the people chose to keep her as their monarch as an indication of Luxembourg’s wish to remain independent as possible from outside control. The formation of a republic in Luxembourg may have involved increased French influence and possible annexation; removing Charlotte may have meant another European power would force a member of their own royal family on Luxembourg.         

Results also indicated that an economic partnership with France was preferred over Belgium, an outcome that had been expected. Over 73% of voters chose the French alliance over the Belgian. The outcome of the election prompted Belgium to accuse the French of interference, however, the French declined any economic association with Luxembourg and so, two years later, Luxembourg and Belgium formed an economic union (the Union économique belgo-luxembourgeoise or UEBL) that has flourished ever since. 

In the following years, Charlotte worked tirelessly to gain the trust and admiration of her people. Charlotte’s descendants have continued by her example in symbolizing and serving their country. Luxembourg's independence and unique status as the world's only Grand Duchy was maintained all thanks to the support of the citizen of Luxembourg and that historic vote back in 1919.

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