Report of Richard von Kühlmann, German envoy in the Netherlands, to the German chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg, 5 October 1915

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Description

In this October 1915 report, the German envoy in the Netherlands, Richard von Kühlmann, discussed German ambitions in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Flanders. To read the original report, please click on the sources above.

Context

Germany's main aim of war in the West was to integrate Belgium (or at least the Dutch-speaking part of Flanders) and the Netherlands within the German empire. To achieve this, German officials designed a Flamenpolitik targeted at both the Flemish and the Dutch, capitalising on their grievances about the subordinate status of the Dutch language and Flemish culture in a largely French-speakering dominated Belgium. This Flamenpolitik, as part of the German Revolutionary Program to undermine Belgium, was based on the German strategy of a cultural-racial policy, bringing closer together Germanic-speaking people such as the Flemish, the Germans, and the Dutch.
Yet, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the German army quickly became divided on the strategy of this Flamenpolitik. Some German officials, like von Kühlmann in The Hague, did not agree on this imperialist German strategy for the Low Countries, which was defended by those in the German army such as von Bissing jr. (Wils). Von Kühlmann considered that von Bissing's plea for direct annexation of (parts of) Belgium undermined Dutch support of the German cause. During 1915, von Kühlmann continuously warned the German chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg that German annexation of Belgium would result in widespread Dutch aversion of Germany and even into the Dutch entering the war on the side of the Allies. Von Kühlmann argues that this imperialist German policy severely conflicted with a general Dutch aspiration to remain independent and to see Belgium restored.
Because of this widespread Dutch aversion, von Kühlmann advised a radical reorientation of the Flamenpolitik and of German policy in the Low Countries towards a more moderate 'Great-Netherlandish' Flamenpolitik, in which Flanders and the Netherlands would be encouraged to enter an anti-French and anti-British block under German influence. In this 'more positive' scenario, as von Kühlmann stated, a more or less independent Dutch nation would be enlarged by Flanders. Von Kühlmann was largely influenced in this thinking by several Dutch 'Great-Netherlandish' intellectuals, such as the Dutch historian and poet Frederik Carel Gerretson and the Dutch conservative politician Abraham Kuyper whose reports on the attitudes of the Dutch were sent directly to Berlin. Both Gerretson and Kuyper were advocates of greater autonomy for Flanders within Belgium and a pro-German block in the Low Countries.
In order to be successful, von Kühlmann stressed that this moderate Flamenpolitik should be carried out by like-minded Flemish and Dutch intellectuals. In this report of October 1915, he demanded a subsidy for the 'Flamenfonds' in the Netherlands, as both Dutch and Flemish agents, such as René Declercq, operated from the Netherlands.