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Post-war visions Transnational Resistance

Geneva Declaration of European Resistance Movements 1944

Does it make more sense to speak of “European resistance” or “resistance in Europe”? There was definitely  no common European resistance organisation, even though the 1942 film “Casablanca” portrays the fictional character of Viktor Laszlo as the leader of such an organisation. However, many resistance groups shared the impression that they were part of a common struggle against fascism in Europe, and there were also efforts to establish contacts between resistance groups from different European countries.


Those contacts led to a series of six meetings in Geneva between March and July 1944. Why Geneva? The town with the beautiful lake was situated in neutral Switzerland, so it was less dangerous to meet there than in an occupied country, and several resistance movements had delegates there.  The initiative had been taken by Altiero Spinelli and other Italian antifascists who were convinced that it was necessary to build a democratic and united Europe after the war. The meetings gathered representatives of resistance groups from Italy, France, Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark and Germany.  From Yugoslavia it was Lazar Latinović, a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and a Spaniard, who had fought in the French resistance and then had settled in Switzerland where he was active in connecting and organising Yugoslav antifascists.


The delegates worked on a common declaration on Europe, but the discussions were not easy. There were those who, like Spinelli, clearly supported the creation of an European Federation where the national sovereignty of each state would be limited – this was seen as a precondition to prevent the return of nationalism, fascism and new wars. But others were sceptical, among them the representatives from Norway and Yugoslavia.  In many countries, the priority for resistance groups was “national liberation” – and once a country would get rid of the occupier and get its sovereignty back, they would not really be willing to give up this sovereignty which had been reconquered through many sacrifices.


Finally, most participants agreed on a draft of a common document, called the “Declaration of the European resistance movements”.  It openly advocated “to organise the federal union of European peoples” but also mentioned that this “federal union must not seek to undermine the right of each member state to resolve its own specific difficulties”. Even if their immediate resonance was limited, the Geneva meetings and the declaration illustrate that the resistance during World War II was an important trigger for the idea to create a common and democratic Europe after the war, against nationalism and fascism.


Nicolas Moll

Extracts of the Declaration draft
Sources / Further reading

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