BASEES Annual Conference 2022

R.W. Seton-Watson and the ‘New Europeans’, 1906-1921: Yugoslavs, Czechoslovaks and the Limits of 'Popular Internationalism'

Fri8  Apr04:00pm(20 mins)
CWB Syndicate Room 2


Samuel Foster


More than seventy years after his death, the Scottish historian and political activist R.W.Seton-Watson, who emerged as Britain’s leading authority on Central and Eastern Europe and an advocate for the rights of ‘small nations’ from 1906 to 1914, remains a polarising figure. His alleged role in the founding of both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia has even seen him characterised as an intellectual ‘dilettante’ who sought to shape and direct Britain’s wartime foreign policy under the guise of an 'independent expert'.

This paper seeks to redress these assertions by situating Seton-Watson within the changing cultural context and ideological currents of British liberal internationalism. Besides a legitimate belief in the humanitarian rationale for these new states, his views on regional self-determination converged with perceptions of Britain as moral arbiter of a new global order. The creation of the Yugoslav and Czechoslovak states was thus conceived of as being politically conducive to the wider region’s eventual incorporation into a benign sphere of British imperial influence. However, this always remained reliant on the fickle and divided attentions of the wider British public. Consequently, Seton-Watson’s efforts at presenting the tenants of his liberal internationalist doctrine as a ‘popular movement', met with little lasting success after 1920.