By Guest Author André Linden: Democracy in superlatives. Propagandistic storytelling by Luxembourg’s government in exile

https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson/status/1205252415261421570 Website visited July 6, 2020

Thanking his voters in a tweet on the night of his re-election on December 12, 2019, Boris Johnson hailed the United Kingdom as “the greatest democracy in the world”.[1] In a similar vein, the Luxembourg Grey Book published in May 1942 in London by Luxembourg’s government in exile, praised Luxembourg as “one of the most free and democratic countries of Europe”.[2] However, public declarations by Luxembourg officials in exile initially faltered to mention ‘democracy’.

The Luxembourg head of state, Grand Duchess Charlotte, fled the country together with four ministers on May 10, 1940, when Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland were invaded by German troops. After stopovers in France and mainly Portugal, they spread out to London and to Montreal in September 1940. These became the two home-grounds of a split government in exile, whose members were continuously on the move, struggling to keep in touch and to sustain connections with their Allies.

Recent research has shed light on the genealogy of ‘democracy’ in Luxembourg’s government in exile’s propaganda during World War II. It highlights the ‘London Moment’ as a major turning point.  To be officially recognized as an Ally by the British government, and to be invited on November, 6, 1940 by Lord Halifax to participate in the first Inter-Allied Conference, which finally took place only in June 1941, came along with overtly abandoning the claim to ‘neutrality’ that had characterized the first months of exile in Portugal. In a letter on January 5-8, 1941 from London to Prime Minister Dupong in Montreal, Luxembourg’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Joseph Bech bluntly stated that “neutrality [is] dead, well dead”.[3]  

My findings suggest that the first endorsement of ‘democracy’ by Luxembourg’s government in exile occurred in London on June 12, 1941, during the address by Prime Minister Pierre Dupong to the first Inter-Allied Conference in St. James-Palace. Commenting on the draft resolution, Dupong generically opposed the “democratic” and “free regimes” at the Inter-Allied Conference to “regimes of oppression”.[4] In his address to the Second Inter-Allied St-James-Palace-Conference on September 24, 1941, in London, Luxembourg’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Joseph Bech took a bolder stance. Bech demanded respect for “the historic Rights of Europe’s smallest democracy” and he mentioned Luxembourg in one breath with the “great English-speaking democracies under the guidance of the two illustrious leaders of democracy, the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, and President Roosevelt”.[5]

The findings also point to a transatlantic diffusion of the unique spirit of Inter-Allied collaboration inherent in the ‘London Moment’. The draft version of a speech by Grand Duchess Charlotte on the occasion of her first ever arrival in the USA on October 4, 1940 declares the adherence of the Luxembourg government in exile to the community of “all Nations intent upon saving the democratic institutions of the World”.[6] The corresponding draft for a written press statement stages the Luxembourg monarch as standing together in a community of values with the monarchs of Norway and the Netherlands.[7] These early appeals to ‘democracy’, which were however not included in the first official speech of the Grand Duchess in the USA, stemmed from the cooperation between the Luxembourg government assistant Georges Schommer and the British diplomat H. S. Watt, who was the secretary of a newly installed Inter-Allied Information Committee. The I.A.C.I. had been founded in Summer 1940 in New York under the guidance of British diplomats and with the approval of the Foreign Office. The I.A.C.I. was keen to unite representatives of governments in exile present in London in an effort to prepare the ground in the USA for an acceptance by the American public of an entry of their country into war.[8]

Schommer attended the I.A.C.I. initially only as an observer. In September 1941, he moved to London to operate as the Secretary of the Luxembourg Minister of Foreign Affairs. In December 1942, he temporarily served as Chairman to the I.A.C.I. in the British capital.[9] An unpublished draft editorial from September 10, 1941 for the launch of the first London edition of the propagandistic Luxembourg Bulletin is signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Bech, but has presumably been prepared by his secretary Georges Schommer. It echoes the idea of a community of values which had already appeared in the draft for the press statement for the Grand Duchess in New York: “The Luxemburgers [sic] are joining there [sic] forces with all the others, at the home front as well as abroad, wherever some fighting is done for our ideals of democracy and freedom.”[10] For the Luxembourg government in exile, propagandistic reference to ‘democracy’ and Inter-Allied cooperation under British leadership appear as two sides of the same coin on both sides of the Atlantic.

The rise of a narrative of ‘democracy’ in the public announcements of Luxembourg’s government in exile mirrors a universalist turn in Allied propaganda. In line with the Atlantic Charter, which promised that “all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want”[11], this universalist turn blurred the lines between internal and foreign affairs. and fuelled the rise of ‘human rights’ as a universal value.[12] Consequently, documents of Luxembourg’s government in exile also started to refer to the “Rights of Man” and to “human rights” alongside with ‘democracy’ or as an alternative to it. The draft for a launch issue of the London edition of the Luxembourg Bulletin from September 1941 uses the phrase “Rights of Man”.[13]The draft for an address by Grand-Duchesse Charlotte to the Luxembourg people for the end of year 1941 appeals to “human rights”.

The engagements of the royal head of state, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, likewise mirror a transatlantic reach of the ‘London Moment’. Charlotte insisted on flying from Lisbon to London during the Blitz, in order to meet Queen Mother Mary and other royal refugees like Wilhelmina from the Netherlands and Haakon from Norway. Her speeches, which were prepared by members of the government, initially avoided explicit endorsement of ‘democracy’ by the monarch. Charlotte’s first address from exile to the Luxembourg people, which was delivered in a BBC-radiobroadcast from London on September 5, 1940, emphasised the retrieval of national independence and sovereignty.

In January 1942, President Roosevelt invited the Luxembourg monarch to address the American public, underlining that the Grand Duchess should appear and present herself “in a democratic manner”.[14]Charlotte started a ‘good-will tour’ through the USA, to pledge for American help as the head of a tiny European state victim of Nazi occupation. A key address on September 13, 1942, which she delivered in direct response to the bloody repression of protesters in the Grand-Duchy, made not only explicit reference to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, but even claimed that her country had been one step ahead of the Atlantic Charter of the U.S. President and the British Prime Minister:“The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, within its own frontiers, was realising the ideals of the Atlantic Charter even before it had been proclaimed by the great leaders of democracy.”[15]

A U.S. newspaper reports a striking reference to ‘democracy’ by the monarch, since it occurred without explicit use of the word, through the presentation of an open page of the Luxembourg Bulletin, displaying on its right side an article entitled “Luxembourg – A true democracy”, and on its left a picture entitled The R.A.F. visits LUXEMBOURG. The reporter marvels how the copy which was handed over to him on demand of Charlotte should “strangely enough” just be opened on that specific page. [16]

From the point of view of a ‘London Moment’ going transatlantic, the visual of a British aircraft throwing leaflets including a declaration of the British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden over the city of Luxembourg may seem equally stunning. Particularly, if it is displayed in the Montreal edition of a government bulletin handed over to an American journalist by the secretary of the Luxembourg head of state. Even more so, if it presents the photo of the Grand Duchess side by side with a headline emphasising that her country is A true democracy. Sure enough, this elaborate propagandistic staging emphasises how much endorsements of ‘democracy’ mattered for a Luxembourg government in exile in March 1943, as a bridge to British and American allies. No less did such propagandistic endorsements of ‘democracy’ matter to a British Prime Minister on his re-election in December 2019, as a bridge to national unity.

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This contribution is based on research undertaken for the Master thesis “Leitwert ‘Demokratie’? Dialektik eines politischen Grundbegriffs im Kontext der luxemburgischen Exilregierung während des Zweiten Weltkriegs“, delivered by André Linden in contemporary European History in August 2019 at the University of Luxembourg under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Michel Pauly. A summary in German has been published in the Luxembourg History Journal Hémecht. Revue d’Histoire luxembourgeoise – transnationale, locale, interdisciplinaire / Zeitschrift für Luxemburger Geschichte – transnational, lokal, interdisziplinär, (2020) 2, pp. 221-225.


[1] <https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson/status/1205252415261421570> [Website visited January 16, 2020].

[2] GOVERNMENT OF LUXEMBOURG (Ed.), Luxembourg and the German invasion before and after, with a Preface by J. Bech, Foreign Minister of the Grand-Duchy. Published by the Authority of the Government of Luxembourg. [Luxembourg Grey Book], London et al [1942], p. 40.

[3] Translation from the original French by AL, in: HAAG, E./ KRIER, E., La grande-duchesse et son gouvernement pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale. 1940, L’année du dilemme, Luxembourg 1987, p. 299. See also HEISBOURG, Georges, Le gouvernement luxembourgeois en exil Vol I-IV, Luxembourg 1986- 1991.

[4] Archives nationales du Luxembourg (ANLux,), AE-GtEx- 091, sheet 0010.

[5] ANLux, AE-GtEx-217, Meeting interallié à Londres (24 septembre 1941), Déclarations officielles, résolutions, Charte atlantique (1941-1944), sheet 0018.

[6] ANLux, AE-AW-0046, Voyage de la Grande-Duchesse Charlotte aux États-Unis en 1941 [sic] (partie 1).

[7] ANLux, AE-AW-0046, (Fn. 6).

[8] Cull, Nicholas John, Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American “Neutrality” in World War II, New York/ Oxford, 1995, Kindle edition, p. 118.                          

[9] ANLux-AE-05907, Dossier de M. G. Schommer – Inter Allied Information Committee – Londres.

[10] ANLux, AE-5905, Politique de presse – Luxembourg Bulletin – Londres, Sur une politique de presse.

[11] <https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_16912.htm> [Website visited June 30, 2020].

[12] BORGWARDT, Elisabeth, A new deal for the world, America’s vision for human rights, Cambridge, Massachusetts / London, England, 2005, p. 4.

[13] ANLux, AE-5905 (Fn. 10) – The Luxembourg Bulletin was first published in London on the symbolic date of May 10, 1942, with an editorial by Foreign Affairs Minister J. Bech: “MAY 10 TWO YEARS AGO. TWO YEARS AFTER THE GERMAN INVASION. In: Luxembourg Bulletin (London), nº 1 (10.05.1942), p. 1. [Digitised by the National Library of Luxembourg, https://persist.lu/ark:70795/6mh67d838/pages/1/articles/DTL65 ].

[14] HEISBOURG, Gouvernement en exil 1942-1943 (Fn. 3), p. 27.

[15] Grand Duchess Charlotte to the Luxembourgers. In: Luxembourg Bulletin (London), nº 3/4 (01.09.1942), p. 1. [Digitised by the National Library of Luxembourg, https://persist.lu/ark:70795/6bzkc070d/pages/1/articles/DTL100 ].

[16]  The Oregon Journal, Sunday March 28, 1943.



Cite this blog post
andrelinden (2020, July 12). By Guest Author André Linden: Democracy in superlatives. Propagandistic storytelling by Luxembourg’s government in exile. The London Moment. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/onmp

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