Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Unredeemed Italy - The Background
Most of the eastern areas of "unredeemed Italy" were major points of contention after World War I. For the most part, the Italian claim on these areas came from the legacy of the maritime empire of the Republic of Venice which had extensive holdings along the Adriatic Coast and throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. These areas had belonged to Venice going all the way back to the Middle Ages, were populated by Italians (though certainly not exclusively) and even after so many centuries some level of Italian was still spoken. When Napoleonic France conquered northern Italy the Republic of Venice, by then in a weakened state, declared neutrality. However, Napoleone disregarded this and occupied Venice anyway during his war with the Austrians. When a peace was negotiated, the territories of Venice were divided between France and Austria, part becoming the eastern frontier of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy and the rest, stretching down to the Dalmatian coast, became part of the Austrian Empire. When the Napoleonic Wars were ended the Congress of Vienna did not restore the Republic of Venice but simply handed over the French gains to the Austrian Empire as well. It was quite an injustice considering that Venice had tried to stay out of the conflict altogether only to be wiped from the map by Napoleone only to be handed over in total to the Austrians after the fact. After World War I some of these areas were regained by Italy but even into the 1940's there were still 55,000 Italians living in Dalmatia.
As for the areas under French rule, other than Corsica, the change-over was quite recent (in historical terms) and widely known. Nice had been ruled by the House of Savoy since the Middle Ages. In various wars France captured Nice a few times but it was always restored to Savoy rule. Likewise, after the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna restored Nice to the House of Savoy (Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia) as well as the former Republic of Genoa. Garibaldi was, famously, a native of Nice. However, in order to gain French support in the Second Italian War of Independence, Savoy itself and Nice were handed over to the Emperor of the French, Napoleone III and has remained in French hands ever since (though there was brief hope of changing this during World War II). Corsica is a little different. The island belonged the Italian Republic of Genoa going back for many centuries but when Genoa could no longer afford the island, it shared the burden with the Kingdom of France. In 1729 the Corsican revolution broke out with an effort to obtain independence. The constitution was written in Italian and Italian was the official language. However, Genoa, having lost the island anyway, sold her rights to the Kingdom of France who sent in troops to crush the independence movement and Corsica has been a part of France ever since (though for a short time there was an Anglo-Corsican state in which the island was under the British monarchy).
That is the basic background for Italia Irredenta. It is untrue to claim, as many try to, that Italian efforts to regain these areas were due to baseless ambition. Doing so ignores the very long history and extensive colonial outposts (minor though they were) of the Italian city-states which reached from North Africa to the Middle East and Corsica to the Crimea. It seems particularly odd for those monarchists who denounce Napoleone as an illegitimate usurper to at the same time begrudge the Italians for trying to regain areas, historically Italian, that only fell into Austrian hands as a result of an agreement with the Emperor of the French over lands which were Italian going back to the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. Even if one does not agree with any changing of flags, one should at least be able to understand the Italian point of view and the basis for the Italian claim to these former holdings of Genoa and Venice.