Italia irredenta: Wikis


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Map of the Regions claimed by the Fascists in the 1930s. In green: Nice, Ticino and Dalmatia; in red:Malta; in violet: Corsica. Savoy and Corfu were also later claimed.

Italian irredentism (Italian: irredentismo) was an Italian nationalist and Irredentist movement that aimed to complete the unification of all ethnically Italian peoples. Originally, the movement promoted the annexation by Italy of territories inhabited by an Italian majority but retained by the Austrian Empire after 1866 (hence 'unredeemed' Italy). These included the Trentino and Trieste, but even other areas with South Slav (Slovene and Croat) population such as Istria, Gorizia, and Dalmatia. The ideology was then extended to the city of Fiume (Rijeka), Corsica, the Ionian islands, the Mediterranean island of Malta, Nice, and Ticino.



Italian Irredentism was not a formal organization, it was rather an opinion movement that claimed that Italy had to reach its 'natural borders'. Similar patriotic and nationalistic ideas were common in Europe in the 19th century. The term 'irredentism' was successfully coined from the Italian word in many countries in the world (List of irredentist claims or disputes). This idea of 'Italia irredenta' is not to be confused with the Risorgimento, the historical events that led to irredentism, nor with Greater Italy, the political philosophy that took the idea further under Fascism.

The beginning of Irredentism in Italy was originated as a consequence of the French expansion in Italy that started with the annexation of Corsica in 1768 and was followed by Napoleon's inclusion - inside the territories of France's First French Empire - of the regions of Piedmont, Liguria and Tuscany. Indeed, Pasquale Paoli, the hero of Corsica, was called "the precursor of Italian irredentism" by Niccolo Tommaseo because he was the first to promote Italian language and socio-culture (the main characteristics of Italian irredentism) in his island. Corsica is one of the biggest islands in the Italian geography, and Pasquale Paoli wanted the Italian language to be the official language of his Corsican Republic; even his Corsican Constitution of 1755 was in Italian and the short-lived university he founded in the city of Corte in 1765 used Italian.

During the XIX century the Italian irredentism fully developed the characteristic of defending the Italian language from other people's languages (like, for example, the German in Switzerland and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the French in Nice).

The liberation of Italia irredenta was perhaps the strongest motive for Italy's entry into World War I, and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 satisfied many irredentist claims.[1]

Indeed Italian irredentism has even the characteristic of being originally moderate, requesting only the return to Italy of the areas with Italian majority of population, but after WWI it become aggressive -under the Fascism influence- and claimed to the Kingdom of Italy even areas where Italians were minority or were present only historically in the past. In the first case there were the Risorgimento claims on Trento, for example, while in the second there were the fascist claims on Dalmatia or on Malta.


Place names

To avoid confusion and in line with convention, this article uses modern English place names throughout. However, most places have alternative names in Italian. See List of Italian place names in Dalmatia.


After the Italian unification of 1861, there were areas with Italian peoples in several countries around the newly created Kingdom of Italy. The Irredentists sought to annex all those areas into a unified Italy, including some areas with a non-Italian majority. The areas targeted were Corsica, Dalmatia, Gorizia, the Ionian islands, Istria, Malta, Nice, Ticino, Trentino, Trieste and Fiume (Rijeka in Croatian).

Initially, the movement can be understood as part of a more general nation-building process in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries when the multi-national Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires were being replaced by nation states. The Italian nation-building process can be compared to similar movements in Germany (Großdeutschland), Hungary, Serbia, and in pre-1914 Poland. Simultaneously, however, in many parts of 19th century Europe, liberalism and nationalism were ideologies which were coming to the forefront of political culture. In Eastern Europe, where the Habsburg Empire had long asserted control over a variety of ethnic and cultural groups, nationalism appeared in a standard format. The beginning of the 19th century "was the period when the smaller, mostly indigenous nationalities of the empire - Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Ukrainians, and the Latin Romanians - remembered their historical traditions, revived their native tongues as literary languages, reappropriated their traditions and folklore, in short reasserted their existence as nations."[2] The notion of a single united Italy was related to the aspirations of the "majority populations".

19th century

Italian unification process (Risorgimento)

One of the first 'Irredentists' was Giuseppe Garibaldi who, in 1859 as deputy for his native Nice in the Piedmontese parliament at Turin, attacked Cavour for ceding Nice to Napoleon III in order to get French help and approval for Italian Unification. Irredentism grew in importance in Italy in the next years.

On July 21, 1878, a noisy public meeting was held at Rome with Menotti Garibaldi, the son of unification leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, as chairman of the forum, and a clamour was raised for the formation of volunteer battalions to conquer the Trentino. Benedetto Cairoli, then Prime Minister of Italy, treated the agitation with tolerance. It was, however, mainly superficial, as most Italians had no wish to launch a dangerous policy of adventure against Austria, and still less to attack France for the sake of Nice and Corsica, or Britain for Malta.

One consequence of Irredentist ideas outside of Italy was an assassination plot organized against the Emperor Francis Joseph in Trieste in 1882, which was detected and foiled. Guglielmo Oberdan, a Triestine and thus Austrian citizen, was executed. When the Irredentist movement became troublesome to Italy through the activity of Republicans and Socialists, it was subject to effective police control by Agostino Depretis.

Irredentism faced a setback when the French occupation of Tunisia in 1881 started a crisis in French–Italian relations. The government entered into relations with Austria and Germany, which took shape with the formation of the Triple Alliance in 1882.

The Irredentists' dream of absorbing the targeted areas into Italy made no further progress in the 19th century, as the borders of the Kingdom of Italy remained unchanged and the Rome government began to set up colonies in Eritrea and Somalia in Africa.

World War I

See also: The Kingdom of Italy's entry into World War I and Italy in World War I - from neutrality to intervention

Italy signed the London Pact and entered World War I with the intention of gaining those territories perceived by Irredentists as being Italian under foreign rule. According to the pact, Italy was to leave the Triple Alliance and join the Entente Powers. Furthermore, Italy was to declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary within a month. The declaration of war was duly published on 23 May 1915.[3] In exchange, Italy was to obtain various territorial gains at the end of the war. In April 1918, in what he described as an open letter "to the American Nation" Paolo Thaon di Revel, Commander in Chief of the Italian navy, appealed to the people of the United States to support Italian territorial claims over Trento, Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia and the Adriatic, writing that "we are fighting to expel an intruder from our home."[4]

The outcome of the First World War and the consequent settlement of the Treaty of Saint-Germain met some Italian claims, including many (but not all) of the aims of the Italia irredenta party.[5] Italy gained Trieste, Gorizia, Istria and the cities of Rijeka (Fiume) and Zadar (Zara). In Dalmatia, despite the Treaty of London, only Zara with some Dalmatian islands such as Cres (Cherso), Lošinj (Lussino) and Lastovo (Lagosta) were annexed by Italy, as Woodrow Wilson, supporting Croatian claims and not recognizing the treaty, rejected Italian requests on other Dalmatian territories.

The city of Fiume (now Rijeka) in the Carnaro was the subject of claim and counter-claim (see Italian Regency of Carnaro, Treaty of Rapallo, 1920 and Treaty of Rome, 1924).

The stand taken by the irredentist hero Gabriele D'Annunzio, which briefly led him to become an enemy of the Italian state,[6] was meant to provoke a nationalist revival through Corporatism (first instituted during his rule over Fiume), in front of what was widely perceived as state corruption engineered by governments such as Giovanni Giolitti's.

D'Annunzio briefly annexed to this "Regency of Carnaro" even the Dalmatian islands of Cherso (now Krk) and Arbe (now Rab), where there was a numerous Italian community.

Fascism and World War II

Fiume residents cheering D'Annunzio and his Italian Irredentism raiders, September 1919. Rijeka (Italian: Fiume) had 22,488 Italians in a total population of 35,839 inhabitants.

Fascist Italy strove to be seen as the natural result of war heroism, against a "betrayed Italy" that had not been awarded all it "deserved", as well as appropriating the image of Arditi soldiers. In this vein, irredentist claims were expanded and often used in Fascist Italy's desire to control the Mediterranean basin.

In 1922 Mussolini temporarily occupied Corfu, using irredentist claims based on minorities of Italians in the Ionian islands of Greece. Similar tactics may have been used towards the islands around the Kingdom of Italy - through the Pro-Italian Maltese, Corfiot Italians and Corsican Italians - in order to control the Mediterranean sea (that he called in Latin Mare Nostrum).

Around 1939, the main territories sought by fascist irredentism included the rest of Dalmatia, the Ionian Islands (in Greece), Malta, Corsica, Nice, Savoy and Ticino. Other claims were also made for the Fourth Shore, which meant coastal Libya and Tunisia, and The Dodecanese islands of the Aegean Sea.

After the occupation of Albania in April 1939, Mussolini sent nearly 11,000 Italian colonists to Albania (and started to create irredentism ideals related to Albania). Most of them were from the Venice area and Sicily. They settled primarily in the areas of Durazzo, Valona, Scutari, Porto Palermo, Elbasani and Santi Quaranta. They were the first settlers of a huge group of Italians to be moved to Albania to create the Greater Italia of the Mussolini "dreams" [7].

During World War II, large parts of Dalmatia were annexed by Italy into the Governorship of Dalmatia from 1941 to 1943. Corsica and Nice were also administratively annexed by the Kingdom of Italy in November 1942. Malta was heavily bombed but was not occupied, due to Allied naval control of the Mediterranean and the success of Operation Pedestal, one of the most important[8] British strategic victories of the Second World War.

After Italian capitulation in 1943, areas formerly under Italian control in Istria and the Julian March (Italian: Venezia Giulia) were temporarily controlled by Yugoslav Partisans. Shortly afterward these areas were occupied by the German Wehrmacht and SS forces, that suppressed Tito's Partisans and found the first massacres of Italians done by those "irregular" slav fighters[9].

After 1945, many Italians were murdered in the Foibe killings and nearly 350,000 were forced to exile and move mainly to Italy.[10]

As a consequence, there was a significant decline in Italian speaking populations in Istria and Dalmatia.[11]

Dalmatia: a case of Italian Irredentism

The Italian linguist Matteo Bartoli calculated that Italian was the primary spoken language by almost 30% of the Dalmatian population at the beginning of the Napoleonic wars.[12].

Bartoli's evaluation was followed by other claims: Auguste de Marmont, the French Governor General of the Napoleonic Illyrian Provinces) commissioned a census in 1814/1815 which found that Dalmatian Italians comprised 25% of the total population of Dalmatia. Accordingly, 3 years later, an Austrian census found around 70,000 Italians in a total of 301,000 people living in Austrian Dalmatia.

With the development of Slav nationalism, critics such as Croatian historian Duško Večerina, asserted that these evaluations were not conducted by modern scientific standards and that they took spoken language as the criterion, rather than ethnicity. They pointed out that, according to a report by Imperial court councillor Joseph Fölch in 1827, the Italian language was spoken by noblemen and some citizens of middle and lower classes exclusively in the coastal cities of Zara, Sebenico, and Spalato. Since only around 20,000 people populated these towns and not all were Italian speakers, their real number was rather smaller, probably around 7% of the total population, as is asserted by the Department of Historical Studies of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU).[13]

On the other side, Italian irredentists (like Gabriele D'Annunzio) and other scholars (like Angelo Vivante) alleged that Joseph Fölch did not include the Dalmatian islands of Cres (Cherso), Lošinj (Lussigno), Vis (Lissa) and others with significant Italian communities. And so -in their opinion- Folch did only a partial and mistaken estimate of the real number of the Dalmatian Italians. They reasserted that the only official evidence about the Dalmatian population comes from the 1857 Austro-Hungarian census, which showed that in this year there were 369,310 Slavs and 45,000 Italians in Dalmatia[14], making Dalmatian Italians 17% of the total population of Dalmatia in the mid-19th century.

The irredentist D'Annunzio on a 1920 Fiume postage stamp.

The last city with a significant Italian presence in Dalmatia was the city of Zara. In the Habsburg empire census of 1910 the city of Zara had an Italian population of 9,318 (or 69,3% out of the total of 13,438 inhabitants). Zara population grew to 24,100 inhabitants, of which 20,300 Italians, when was in 1942 the capital of the Governatorate of Dalmatia (the "Governatorate" fulfilled the aspirations of the Italian Irredentism in the Adriatic).

In 1943 Tito, informed the Allies that Zara was an important supply centre for German forces in Yugoslavia. Perhaps overstating it's importance he persuaded them of its military significance. Italy surrendered in September 1943 and over the following year, specifically between 2nd November 1943 and 31st October 1944, Allied Forces bombarded the town fifty-four times bombardments.

The city came to be known as the Italian "Dresden". Nearly 2,000 people were buried beneath rubble; 10-12,000 people escaped and took refuge in Trieste and slightly over one thousand reached Apulia.

Tito’s partisans entered in Zara on 31 October 1944, and 138 people were shot, killed or drowned [15].

With the Peace Treaty of 1947, Italians still living in Zara, numbering no more than three thousand, were not allowed to remain as an Italian minority. Tito required them to renounce Italian nationality or leave. There then followed an Italian exodus from Dalmatia and only about 100 Dalmatian Italians now remain in the city.

Supposed Italian irredentism today

After World War II, Italian Irredentism officially disappeared along with the defeated Fascists and the Monarchy of the House of Savoy.

Some Croatian and Slovenian politicians and organizations (supported by some politicians from their countries) assert that Italy - in their opinion - openly propagates irredentist ideas even in the 21st century, often causing sharp reactions from Croatian and Slovenian officials.[citation needed]

They often cite the then Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, who in Senigallia in 2004 gave an interview to the Slobodna Dalmacija daily newspaper at the 51st gathering of the Italians who left Yugoslavia after World War II, in which he was reported to have said that "From the son of an Italian from Fiume I learned that those areas were and are Italian, but not because at any particular historical moment our army planted Italians there. This country was Venetian, and before that Roman" [16]. Rather than issuing an official rebuttal of those words, Carlo Giovanardi, then Parliamentary Affairs Minister in Berlusconi's government, affirmed Fini's words, saying "...that he told the truth".[17].

These sources point out that on the 52nd gathering of the same association, in 2005, Carlo Giovanardi was quoted by the Večernji list daily newspaper as saying that Italy would launch a cultural, economic and tourist invasion in order to restore "the Italianness of Dalmatia" while participating in a round table discussion on the topic "Italy and Dalmatia today and tomorrow" [18]. Giovanardi later declared that he had been misunderstood [19], and sent a letter to the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he condemned nationalism and ethnic strife [20].

They underline that Alleanza Nazionale (a former Italian conservative party, now merged in the People of Freedom party) derived directly from the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neo-fascist party, which often claimed that Italy paid too much for her defeat in World War II , repeating that "Dalmatia was stolen from Italy"[citation needed]. For example, in 1994, Mirko Tremaglia, a member of the MSI and later of Alleanza Nazionale, described Rijeka (Fiume), Istria and Dalmatia as "historically Italian" and referred to them as "occupied territories", saying that Italy should "tear up" the 1975 Treaty of Osimo with the former Yugoslavia and block Slovenia and Croatia's accession to EU membership until the rights of their Italian minorities are respected.[21]

In 2001, Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi gave the golden medal (for the aerial bombings endured during WWII) to the last Italian administration of Zara (today Zadar, Croatia), represented by its Gonfalone, which is currently owned by the association "Free municipality of Zara in exile". Croatian authorities complained that he was awarding a fascist institution, although the motivations for the golden medal explicitly recalled the contribution of the city to the Resistance against Fascism. The motivations were contested by several Italian right wing associations, such as the same "Free municipality of Zara in exile" and the Lega Nazionale[22].

In February 2007 (on "Foibe Memorial Day"), Italian President Giorgio Napolitano gave a statement in which he used phrases like "one of the barbarhoods of the century", "movement of hate and bloodthirsty rage", "Slavic annectionist project", when speaking about the Foibe massacres[23]. The European Commission did not comment on this event, but did comment (and partly condemn) the response by Croatian president Stjepan Mesić, when he said that "it's impossible not to see in Napolitano's statements traces of open racism, historical revisionism and political revanchism", asking for toning down and warned the Croatian President "not to use too sharp phrases".[24]

On December 12, 2007, the Italian post office issued a stamp with a photo of the Croatian city of Rijeka and with the text "Rijeka - eastern land once part of Italy" ("Fiume-terra orientale già italiana") [25][26]. The same sources declared that the severeness of this act could seen in use of prepositions and adjectives - adfirming that "già italiana" could also mean "already Italian". But according to Italian syntaxis the correct meaning in this case is only "previously Italian". The stamp was printed in 3.5 million of copies. [1] [2], but was not delivered to the public by the Italian Post Office in order to forestall a possible diplomatic crisis with Croatian and Slovenian authorities. [3]

Napolitano's statement in Feb 2008 (on "Foibe Memorial Day"), in which he reconfirmed his statements from 2007, and called Mesić's reactions from 2007 as "unjustified", caused sharp reaction from the Office of the Croatian President Stipe Mesić on 11 Feb 2008, in which it was said, that as a reaction to this Napolitano's statement, there's no need to change any word from Mesić's last year's reaction.[24][27]

Some Italian exiles believe that all these complaints made by Croatian authorities (like President Mesic) are due to the fact that there it is a growing movement in Italy (and Europe) toward asking for the official recognition of "genocide" or even democide [4] of the Italians in Istria and Dalmatia (like has been done with the Armenian massacre done by the Turks).[28]

They argue that there it is a long history of ethnic cleansing in Croatia [29] and former Yugoslavia, as reported by many academics like R.J. Rummel[30]

Political figures in Italian Irredentism


  1. ^ irredentism - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07
  2. ^ Sperber, Jonathan. The European Revolutions, 1848-1851. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. page 99.
  3. ^ 11 NATIONS NOW INVOLVED IN WAR; Washington Expects Rumania, Bulgaria, and Greece Soon to Join the Allies. TRADE PROBLEMS CREATED Switzerland, Now Isolated, Must Look to Italy for Means to Get in Supplies. 11 NATIONS NOW INVOLVED IN WAR May 24, 1915, Monday Page 1, 749 words - The New York Times
  4. ^ Italy's Navy Chief Explains Italian Claims; Trent,...(14 April 1918) - The New York Times
  5. ^ ITALY'S PRICE FOR NEUTRALITY (28 March 1915) - The New York Times
  6. ^ Stato Libero Di Fiume - (English: "Free State Of Fiume")
  7. ^ Lamb, Richard. Mussolini as Diplomat p. 142
  8. ^ "Operation Pedestal and SS Ohio Save Malta". Retrieved June 24, 2007. 
  9. ^ In Trieste, Investigation of Brutal Era Is Blocked NYT April 20, 1997
  10. ^ Summary of Ermanno Mattioli's book; Summary of historian Enrico Miletto's book
  11. ^ A tragedy revealed: the story of the Italian population of Istria, Dalmatia, and Venezia Giulia, 1943-1956 By Arrigo Petacco, Konrad Eisenbichler
  12. ^ Bartoli, Matteo. Le parlate italiane della Venezia Giulia e della Dalmazia. p.46
  13. ^ O broju Talijana/Talijanaša u Dalmaciji XIX. Stoljeća”, , Zavod za povijesne znanosti HAZU u Zadru, 2002, UDK 949.75:329.7”19”Dalmacija 2002, p. 344
    (“Concerning the number of Italians/pro-Italians in Dalmatia in the XIXth century”) See
  14. ^ Statistisches Handbüchlein für die Oesterreichische Monarchie Page 38 - Von Direction der Administrativen Statistik, Österreich - Veröffentlicht 1861
  15. ^ Lovrovici, don Giovanni Eleuterio. Zara dai bombardamenti all'esodo (1943-1947) Tipografia Santa Lucia - Marino. Roma, 1974. pag.66
  16. ^ Slobodna Dalmacija Gianfranco Fini: "Dalmacija, Rijeka i Istra oduvijek su talijanske zemlje", Oct 13, 2004
    ("Dalmatia, Rijeka and Istria are ancient Italian lands") See
  17. ^ Slobodna Dalmacija Davorin Rudolf: Utroba koja je porodila talijanski iredentizam još uvijek je plodna, Mar 18, 2006
    (The bowels that gave birth to Italian irrendentism are still fertile)
  18. ^ Nacional Talijanski ministar najavio invaziju na Dalmaciju, Oct 19, 2005 (Italian minister announced an invasion on Dalmatia)
  19. ^ "Veleni nazionalisti sulla casa degli italiani" su Corriere della Sera del 21/10/2005 (Nationalist poisons on the house of Italians)
  20. ^ CROATIA "We Are Ready to Invade Dalmatia" Italian minister says - 24/10/2005 - Pioneer Investors
  21. ^ Italian Coalition Trips on Old Yugoslavia Issue By JOHN TAGLIABUE, Published: Monday, April 25, 1994 - New York Times
  22. ^ Lega Nazionale Medaglia d'oro al comune di Zara (Golden Medal to the Municipality of Zara)
  23. ^ (Italian)Corriere della Sera Napolitano: "Foibe, ignorate per cecità" Feb 2, 2007 (Napolitano: "Foibe, ignored for blindness")
  24. ^ a b Mesić iznenađen govorom Napolitana
  25. ^ (Croatian) MVP uputio prosvjednu notu Italiji zbog poštanske marke s nacionalističkim natpisom
    (The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a protest note to Italy, because of issue of a stamp with nationalistic text)
  26. ^ B92 - Internet, Radio and TV station Zagreb protests over Italian stamp
  27. ^ Croatian President Surprised By Napolitano Speech
  28. ^ Italy-Croatia: World War II killings were ethnic cleansing, Napolitano says
  29. ^ The policy of ethnic cleansing (1994)/Final report of the United Nations Commission of Experts established pursuant to Security Council resolution 780 (1992), about massacres done by Croats (and others) in former Yugoslavia in the early nineties
  30. ^ Democide in Tito's Yugoslavia


  • Bartoli, Matteo. Le parlate italiane della Venezia Giulia e della Dalmazia. Tipografia italo-orientale. Grottaferrata, 1919.
  • Colonel von Haymerle, Italicae res, Vienna, 1879 - the early history of Irredentists.
  • Lovrovici, don Giovanni Eleuterio. Zara dai bombardamenti all'esodo (1943-1947). Tipografia Santa Lucia - Marino. Roma, 1974.
  • Petacco, Arrigo. A tragedy revealed: the story of Italians from Istria, Dalmatia, Venezia Giulia (1943-1953). University of Toronto Press. Toronto, 1998
  • Večerina, Duško. Talijanski Iredentizam ( Italian Irredentism ), ISBN 953-98456-0-2, Zagreb, 2001
  • Vivante, Angelo. Irredentismo adriatico (The Adriatic Irredentism), 1984

External links

See also


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