De vlag van Neutraal Moresnet


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1816 - 1919


How did it come into existence

In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, the borders within Europe had to be re-established, which happened during the Vienna Congress. Also the border between Prussia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands had to be established (Belgium did not exist yet; the greater part of belonged to the Netherlands).
But in the neighbourhood of Kelmis (close to Moresnet) they could not come to an agreement, because of an important zinc mine. As neither of the two countries wanted the other one to own this mine, they negotiated for a year.
Finally, in 1816, it was decided in a separate treaty, called the Aachen border treaty (also: the Treaty of the Borders) that the territory (the Mairie Moresnet) would be divided into three parts. Moresnet went to the Netherlands, the present Neu-Moresnet became part of Prussia under the name of Prussian Moresnet and the little area with the village Kelmis and the zinc mine got a neutral status. It was this area with its special status that continued to exist, under the governance of a Prussian and a Dutch commissioner, as a mini state under the name Neutral Moresnet.

Boundary markers and the Four-country-point

According to article 42 of the Treaty of the Borders demarcation markers had to be installed within 2 weeks from the transfer of the territory. However, it took until 23rd September 1818 before they were actually placed. The markers were numbered from the Moselle and with nr. 188 the (southwestern) point of the disputed territory was reached. From this point onwards a double row of markers was erected with the same numbers on both sides of the neutral territory. At the top of the triangle (the present Three-country-point) a joint boundary marker was placed, which was numbered 193.
It is obvious that Neutral Moresnet was situated between the Netherlands and Prussia and had thus a Three-country-points points meet with both countries.
However, this changed when the Belgian Revolution took place in 1830. The southern part of the Netherlands seceded from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and became the independent country Belgium. From that moment on Moresnet was part of Belgium. The governmental rights of the Kingdom of the Netherlands over Neutral Moresnet went to Belgium, too. From the moment that Belgium became an independent state there was a Four-country-point near Vaals.
A remarkable fact: the Netherlands never officially transferred the governmental rights over Neutral Moresnet to Belgium.

The wooden boundary markers had to be replaced regularly and therefore stone markers were placed in 1869/1870. Along the Belgian border the numbers were I - XXX and along the Prussian border XXXI - LX.

The zinc mine Vieille Montagne (Old Mountain)

The zinc mine justified the existence of Neutral Moresnet. This mine, which had been conceded in 1805 to a chemist from Liege, Jean-Jacques Daniel Dony, was so important that in art. 31 of the Aachen Border Treaty the following was stipulated:

It is explicitly agreed that a change of the authority or government will not harm the rights of Mr. Dony & Cie. to exploit calamine so that his concession will remain undamaged and he will continue to enjoy the advantages and rights which were originally conceded to him. The original burden under the concession remains applicable, like the obligation to deliver calamine to the zinc mills of both contracting parties against the price stipulated in the concession agreement.

Because of his invention of the zinc oven, the zinc mine had been conceded to Mr. Dony, who was a brilliant chemist. With this Liege zinc oven zinc ore could be processed to rollable metal zinc. Though Dony was a brilliant chemist, he was not a good businessman. Already in 1813 he had to accept his main creditor, the banker Hector Chaulet, as business partner. In the same year 75% of Dony’s industrial properties went to François Mosselman and in the end Dony went bankrupt.
Later Mosselman got the rest of the shares of the zinc mine and thus complete control of it. The zinc mine blossomed enormously, through the activities of Mosselman’s heirs, who established in 1837 “Société des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montage”, until the mine was completely depleted.
The Société de la Vieille Montagne was heavily involved in the administration of the territory. Some of the directors were mayors and the offices of the company accommodated the local government offices. In 1857 the company had a local school built and one of the supervisors was put at the mayor’s disposal as constable.
It is well known that the company pursued a social policy towards the population. Examples were the good medical care and low interest loans.

Jean-Jacques-Daniel Dony (1759-1819)

Jean-Jacques-Daniel Dony (1759-1819)
Inventor of the zinc oven.

Life in Neutral Moresnet

In 1856 only 256 persons lived in the disputed territory. But the number of inhabitants grew steadily, especially by the development of the zinc mine and the resulting economic growth. In 1850 there were 500 inhabitants and in the year 1858 this number had grown to 2.572. Of these 2.572 people 695 were so-called “neutrals” (mainly offspring of the first inhabitants), 852 Belgians, 807 Prussians, 204 Dutch and 14 immigrants from other countries. These inhabitants had quite some advantages by living in Neutral Moresnet, although, and especially for the real "neutrals", there were some disadvantages, too.
Until 1847 the inhabitants could simply escape military service (more about this later). Imports from the surrounding countries were toll free, the taxes were very low and prices were lower and wages higher than in these countries.
It was permitted to distil liquor, be it for one’s own use only. However, the quantities distilled were so huge that these could never be served in the local bars, even though there were 60 - 70 of them. Most was smuggled across the border, especially to the Netherlands.
A disadvantage for the "Neutrals" was that they were stateless if they were abroad.

The defence and military service

According to art. 17 of the Treaty of the Borders neither country (Prussia or the Netherlands and later Belgium) were allowed to occupy Neutral Moresnet. Neutral Moresnet itself was not allowed to have an army. However, this did not mean that there was no conscription. Following the agreements of the commissioners the inhabitants of Neutral Moresnet, who had reached the age of 20 years, had to declare at the town hall whether they wanted to perform military service in Prussia or the Netherlands (Belgium).
Although both controlling countries had ratified the agreements already in 1823, they were never implemented because of various reasons. Prussia was not in a hurry to implement them, because most people would choose for the Netherlands (Belgium) anyway, because military service in Prussia lasted much longer.
Later it was considered to have an alternating system, so that the class of one year had to go to Prussia for military service and the class of the next year to Belgium. But this plan was not implemented either, because chances were that members from one family had to serve in different countries. In the end everyone could escape military service until 1847. This attracted quite some young people from the neighbouring countries, who wanted to escape the service.
However, in 1847 this changed for the Belgian inhabitants of Neutral Moresnet. From then on the Belgian law imposed the military service upon Belgians abroad.
Prussia acted differently in 1855 and stopped considering a person who went to Neutral Moresnet as an emigrant, because Prussia had always had the intention to appropriate the territory, but this measure was not implemented until 1875. In the end after 1875 only the real “neutrals” were safeguarded from military service.

Dr. Wilhelm Molly

The history of Neutral Moresnet would not be complete if the legendary dr. Wilhelm Molly would not be mentioned.
Dr. Molly, born in Wetzlar in Germany, had moved in 1863 to Neutral Moresnet to be a general practitioner. He was soon popular with the inhabitants because of the low prices for his treatments. When he succeeded to root out a threatening cholera epidemic, his popularity knew no end and soon he was appointed company doctor of the Vieille Montagne. Without Dr. Wilhelm Molly some interesting aspects of Neutral Moresnet’s history would be missing.
Dr. Molly was the founder of the “Kelmiser Verkehrsanstalt” (traffic organisation). The organisation itself was not so special, but the stamps issued by the organisation were. By these stamps dr. Molly and his friends wanted to show their aspiration for independence. They may have been influenced by the local post services in a number of Prussian cities.
When the mayor informed the commissioners of the activities, they immediately issued a prohibitive rule. They based this rule on the fact that in Neutral Moresnet French law was applicable. And under this law (from 1799) the postal service was a state monopoly.
But the issue of stamps is a minor detail compared to dr. Wilhelm Molly’s effort to turn Neutral Moresnet into the Esperantostate “Amikejo”. In 1906 dr. Wilhelm Molly had met the French professor Gustave Roy. Gustave Roy and dr. Wilhelm Molly, both very keen Esperantists, decided to establish an Esperantostate. And which territory would be more suitable than the neutral territory of Moresnet.?
In 1908 a great propaganda demonstration was held in the pavilion of the shooting association. The complete population was drummed up and in the decorated hall glowing speeches were given for the establishment of the Esperantofreestate “Amikejo” (place of great friendship). During this gathering the miners’ band played the “Amikejo-march”, which was composed by Willy Hupperman. This march was to be the national anthem. After the meeting many international newspapers did mention that an Esperantostate had been founded. During the Fourth Esperantist Congress it was decided to make Neutral Moresnet the new seat of the global organisation instead of The Hague.

Dr. Wilhelm Molly (1838-1919)

Dr. Wilhelm Molly(1838-1919)
Was awarded with the "Croix Civique" by Belgium.
Prussia awarded him the Crown order and the Red Eagle order.
On top of that Prussia promoted Dr. Molly from "Sanitätsrat" to "Geheimrat".

The flag

As they had their own stamps, their own hymn and their own coat of arms, an own flag was essential in Neutral Moresnet. It is not clear where the flag with 3 horizontal bars in black, white and blue originated from. One could think that the colours came from the black and white from Prussia and the Nassau blue of the Netherlands to symbolise both countries originally (until 1830) controlling Moresnet. However, it seems more likely that the colours have been taken from the emblem of the logo of the Vieille Montagne.

How it ended

In fact the justification of Neutral Moresnet’s existence had ended when the zinc mine was depleted. From that day onwards especially Prussia put more efforts than before into ending the temporary status of Neutral Moresnet. Everything was done to convince Belgium to start negotiations. Because this did not happen quickly enough outright sabotage actions were undertaken. Around 1900 Prussia cut the electricity off as well as the telephone connections. They even tried to prevent the construction of new connections across Belgian territory. And they tried to prevent the appointment of new municipal officials.
The inhabitants of Moresnet, seeing the storm coming, filed a petition for annexation by Belgium in cause the neutral status would be ended.
But events in 1914 lead to the end of the neutral territory of Moresnet. In that year German troops concentrated at the border and on 8th August German troops marched on Liege through the Liege-street. The neutrality of Belgium then came to an end and the inhabitants of Neutral Moresnet realised what this meant for their state.
Quite remarkably, the Prussian considered Neutral Moresnet at first as occupied territory, just as Belgium. They did not annex it, although they had always considered it to be German territory. In 1915 a German was appointed (Dr. Bayer), who took over the tasks of the Belgian commissioner. In the same year Dr. Bayer was dismissed and on 27th June it was announced that only the Prussian government had the sovereign power over the disputed neutral territory of Moresnet.
However, this took place under military pressure and that was in contradiction with art. 17 of the Aachen border treaty, in which it was explicitly stipulated that Neutral Moresnet was never to be occupied by one of the supervising countries.
In 1919, with the Versailles Treaty the final curtain fell for Neutral Moresnet.

Art. 32 of this treaty reads:
Germany recognises the sovereign power of Belgium
over the complete disputed territory of Moresnet.

Proclamation announcing the peace.
It also tells the inhabitants of Moresnet that Neutral
Moresnet has ceased to exist. It has disappeared from the map.

What is left

A small museum (Göhltal museum) is all what is left of this unique episode in European history. Also of interest is the fact that of the 60 border markers, more than 50 are still there and mark the former border as if the little state still existed. These markers in particular form a lasting memory of this territory, which was once so special.