860M.01 Memel/171

The Minister in Latvia (Skinner) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 263

Subject: Lithuanian action in the Memel dispute.

Sir: I desire to refer to a despatch No. 26 addressed to the Department on April 1, 1932, by our Chargé at Kovno,10 under the above caption. It is stated in the despatch that the difficulties at Memel are attributed, at least in a considerable degree, to the tactlessness of Governor Merkys who, in some respects, is stronger than the Central Government and who, apparently, rather went out of his way to exacerbate the situation when, by adopting a more conciliatory attitude, [Page 483] he might have won over the German Memellanders to the Government’s program. I cannot but regard the situation in Memel as a threatening one, important to a degree wholly disproportionate to the intrinsic merits of the dispute. The Memel people, meaning by this the German majority elements, have every material reason for wishing their town to prosper and, therefore, to cooperate with the Central Government in all that relates to sound administration. They have been hopelessly blind to their own interests in maintaining a sort of veiled disloyalty to the Lithuanian Government, keeping in contact with German agents, and giving color to the thought that they were preparing at the first opportunity to turn over their city to the German invader should he ever present himself. The Lithuanian governor, on the other hand, may have been less easy to deal with than he should have been, and at all events, after the controversy had fully developed, and after the German Memellanders gave some signs of regretting their own inconsiderate action, did not know how to develop these more favorable tendencies to his own advantage. In the circumstances, and this is unfortunate, possibly well-meant advice from other European Powers, particularly Great Britain and France, is likely to be looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion “in Lithuanian circles, it being felt that these great Powers have their own interests and their own policies which are not necessarily to the advantage of Lithuania.

While we as a Government voluntarily desist from becoming involved in European disputes of a political character, nevertheless we have a great interest in desiring that so trifling a quarrel as one relating to the administration of the town of Memel shall not continue indefinitely and become, conceivably, the point of departure for something more deplorable. What can we do in these circumstances? We can at least, in a quiet way, and after becoming familiar with the actual details of the controversy as it now stands, recommend informally to the proper people in Lithuania ways and means of composing existing differences. Just how far I should go in this direction I would be glad to know. Would it be well to seek out the outstanding personal factors for informal discussion without any responsibility, or is it wiser, all things considered, to stand to one side and allow matters to drift on in the present unfortunate way? Up to now I have done nothing, nor shall I without first receiving suggestions from the Department.

Respectfully yours,

Robert P. Skinner
  1. Not printed.