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Italia Irredenta

Italia IrredentaItalia Irredenta in the Italian language means "unredeemed Italy." It refers to territory adjoining Italy on the north and northeast, occupied by Italians at some time or another, but not yet redeemed from foreign rule. When in 1871 the kingdom of Italy took its present form through the union of former Italian states, Italia Irredenta remained under the rule of Austria. All ancient Italy, as indicated by geography and extending southward from the Alps, had been brought under one sceptre. Beyond those mountain barriers or inhabiting the islands of the sea were people whose language was Italian and who were claimed as belonging to the Italian family. Such were Nice, Savoy and Corsica, occupied by France, Malta by Great Britain, and South Tyrol, Trieste and the islands and shores of the northwestern Adriatic by Austria.

So-called Irredentist Italians felt, however, that Italian unity was not complete so long as adjoining lands inhabited by Italianspeaking people were ruled by foreign governments. So they regarded these lands as "unredeemed." To repossess or acquire them is the ambition of to-day. For a time so little was said concerning it that the idea seems to slumber, but it was no less real and deep-seated. Italian irredentism in regard to the Adriatic littoral was a serious and complicated problem. Observers were struck everywhere in the Adriatic, even as far south as Corfu, by the Italian character of the cities. Cattaro, Ragusa, Spalato, Zara, Fiume, Pola, and Trieste, all have an indefinable Italian atmosphere. It had never left them since the Middle Ages. It was in the buildings, however, rather than in the people. It would have been difficult to attribute even to the people of Fiume and Trieste Italian characteristics in the narrower sense of the word. On the Dalmatian coast, the Slavic element had won all the cities. In Fiume and Trieste, it was strong enough to rob these two cities of their distinctive Italian character. There were undoubtedly several hundred thousands of Italians in this region. Italian was the language of commerce, and on the Austrian-Lloyd and Hungaro-Croatian steamship lines, Italian was the language of the crews. But the people who spoke Italian were not Italians, nor did they resemble Italians.

The Italians of the Adriatic littoral were the product of the dispensation under which they had lived. Unlike the Alsatians, they had never known political freedom and cultural advantages in common with their kin across a frontier forcibly raised to cut them off; unlike the Poles, they had not been compelled to revive the nationalism of an historic past as a means of getting rid of oppression; unlike the Slavs of the Balkans, their national spirit had not been called into being by the tyranny of a people alien in civilization and ideals, because alien in religion.

Italia Irredenta in 1914 consisted chiefly of the Trentino, a triangle of territory dipping down into the north of Italy, and some land around the northern end of the Adriatic including the important city of Trieste. Both of these regions were ruled by Austria. For many years this situation led to ill feeling between the two countries. While it did not have so direct a bearing on the outbreak of the Great War as the question of Alsace-Lorraine, it nevertheless largely explains the entrance of Italy into the war on the side of the Allies.

As soon as the Triple Alliance was denounced, Italian hopes turned to the Irredenta, and the Italian people began to clamour for the acquisition of the Trentino and Triest because the alliance of the Turk with the Central Powers, besides reopening the Tripolitan question, assured the latter of supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean, where Italy had great ambitions, all of which ran counter to those of Berlin and Vienna but found ready hearing and small opposition in Allied capitals. It was a desirable thing for Italy that Germany and Austria should be beaten. It would be a fatal thing for many Italian hopes if they won.

Nor was it less essential that Italy should contribute to the defeat of the Central Powers, if she was to share in the results. There were in Greece and Serbia eager aspirants for the eastern shores of the Adriatic and the islands and shores of Asia Minor. The noise of Allied fleets before the Dardanelles forts presently awoke echoes in Rome that German diplomacy could not silence. The hereditary antipathy to the Austrian and the longing for Triest mounted with the weeks until they reached a point in popular emotion where Prince Bulow grimly conceded that "the street" had won; and Italy, despite the fears of her Sovereign and the opposition of Giolitti, her most influential politician, was plunged into the world strife.

In 1919, Benito Mussolini helped to create the Fascist Party. Its platform highlighted Italy’s sacrifices during the First World War, charged its members to sabotage any neutralist politicians, and “declared its opposition to the imperialism of other peoples to the detriment of Italy.” Mussolini wrote that "A foreign policy is never original. Foreign policy is strictly conditioned by factual circumstances in regard to geography, history, and economics."

Once he came to power in 1922, Mussolini’s activist policy expanded in all directions. To the east, Mussolini sought to pursue historical Italian interests in Dalmatia and Albania. He also saw the Balkans as a major source of raw materials. Mussolini actively sought to weaken French influence in the Balkans by weakening its ties with members of the Little Entente, specifically Yugoslavia. Mussolini‘s Fascists conquered Albania in April 1939, five months beiore World War II got under way in full force. His idea was to pursue a guerra parallela, or parallel war.

The key to Mussolini’s actions in the Balkans are a result of trying to redress the balance within the Axis alliance. Germany’s campaign in the West and peaceful encroachment in the Balkans gave Italy very little room for maneuver. When the Italian offensive in Greece failed, the balance further shifted towards Germany’s favor. As the lesser power, Italy’s early defeats quickly mortgaged any independent action. Mussolini’s guerra parallela was at an end by January 1941. In the spring of 1941, the government of Yugoslavia agreed to Hitler's demands that Yugoslavia align itself with the Axis nations. On March 27, however, a popular Serbian uprising overthrew the government, placed the young King Peter on the throne, and rejected the agreement. On April 6, German troops invaded Yugoslavia, and the young king and and his government were forced to flee. In September 1943, the King and the Regio Esercito ousted Mussolini and switched to the Allies.

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Page last modified: 24-11-2018 18:46:59 ZULU