Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Unredeemed Italy - The Background

Ever since the unification and independence of the Kingdom of Italy was secured there has been a national longing to restore "unredeemed Italy" to the national borders. The areas which were the focus for the most attention were Trentino, Trieste, South Tyrol, parts of Istria, Gorizia and Dalmatia. Other areas include Nice, Savoy, Corsica and the Italian-speaking corner of Switzerland. Outside of Italy, many people, even many monarchists, have taken a very critical or hostile view of such ambitions, mostly due to fervent support for the late, great "Dual Empire" of Austria-Hungary. Yet, monarchists of all people, even the legitimists among them, should be able to appreciate the Italian point of view given how these regions of "unredeemed Italy" came to be under the flags of foreign powers. Of course, if one takes into account the legacy of Imperial Rome, it would be hard to find any part of the Mediterranean basin that Italy could not lay claim to. However, rest assured, the claims on "unredeemed Italy" do not need to invoke the Roman Empire to justify their case. In most cases the claims date back to the Napoleonic Wars which leads to the rather novel situation of ardent (non-Italian) monarchist legitimists supporting the way the map of Europe was re-drawn by Napoleone Buonaparte.

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.

One that was (and to some extent still is) a source of tension is the Alto Adige (South Tyrol), mostly because this was an area populated almost entirely by German-speaking Austrians. The Italian claim to the Alto Adige was, because of this, not so strong or clear-cut as in other areas with large Italian populations. Indeed, many Italian leaders were not terribly concerned with gaining the Alto Adige, preferring other areas populated by their own people and to which the Italian nation had a greater historical claim to. Yet, much of this territory ended up being given to the "Greater Serbia" (Yugoslavia) despite being populated by Italians and formerly belonging to Venice while the Austrian-populated Alto Adige was given to Italy even though it was not considered a priority area to many in the Italian government and supreme command. The claim to the Alto Adige dates far back in history, one would have to go back to the Lombard Kingdom of Italy and even then the northern area was held by the ancestors of the Bavarians. There was also the borders of Italy as defined by the Roman Empire and it was these geographic borders that were often referred to by prominent Italian figures during the Renaissance and later the eras of nationalism and unification.

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).

Italian Switzerland, essentially the canton of Ticino and southern Graubuenden canton, the area had been part of the Roman Empire, part of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy and later were held by the Duchy of Milan. The Swiss Confederation began expanding into the region, the Swiss would take some territory, the Italians would take it back and the Swiss would take it again and so on. By 1440 the area was mostly solidly in Swiss hands and has remained so ever since. Also often included in the area of "unredeemed Italy" was the island of Malta, mostly for ethnic, linguistic and geographic reasons rather than for historical reasons. Malta was held by the Knights Hospitaller until the Napoleonic Wars when it was conquered by the French, liberated by the British and then, at the request of the Maltese, remained under British protection until 1964 when it became an independent Commonwealth Realm. In 1974 it broke with the British monarchy and became a republic.

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.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Queen Margherita Flag Photos

The Top-Heavy Italian Republic

The financial woes of the Italian Republic are now, thanks to the E.U. and global finance, a matter of international concern. It is a crisis that has been a long time in coming and definitely puts the lie to those who claim that monarchy is financially burdensome while a republic is some sort of bargain. Surely, in economic terms, there is no greater example than modern Italy of what a poor return on public money a republic can be. That the monarchy was inordinately expensive is an argument only the foolish or truly ignorant could ever accept. Why is that? Because, one could certainly point to the grandeur of the royal residences, the glittering pomp and ceremony and the splendor of royal progresses to make the ignorant believe that the monarchy must have been a huge drain on the public purse. However, most of this came from the private accounts of the House of Savoy from money raised by their own properties and not from the public trough. Even then, in times of economic hardship, the King of Italy drastically renounced his income, cut back expenses and handed over valuable and extensive properties to the state. Has any of his republican successors done likewise? Certainly not and quite the contrary in fact. What has been done is to replace the monarchy with one of the most expensive and top-heavy republics in the world.

How many people, in or outside of Italy, are truly aware of this? How many of those who have loaned money to the safekeeping of the free-spending republican politicians are aware of this? How many are aware that the Italian Chamber of Deputies actually has far more members than the House of Representatives in the United States (which, for those unfamiliar with geography) is very many times larger than the Italian Republic? Not only is the government bigger, which means that there are more politicians to pay, but they are paid quite a few times more than their American counterparts as well (and rest assured that American Congressmen are in no danger of going hungry). In fact, Italian politicians are amongst the most highly paid and lavishly compensated in the entire world! So, what do Italians today have to administer their country? A republican government that is bigger than most, more expensive than most and more ineffctive than most as well. Bigger is not better and for as much as they cost the Italian taxpayer the government has clearly not provided value for money. Further, despite the promises of democratic republicans, they are by no means more accountable. When the people vote to cut the pay of their politicians, their votes are ignored and, of course, presiding over it all now is Prime Minister Mario Monti, an EU financial bureaucrat who was never elected to any office in Italy ever!

In addition, the tax-and-spend policies of the republican government have been digging Italy into a deep financial pit for decades. It was under the socialist prime minister (no surprise there) Bettino Craxi that the Italian national debt rose to be greater than the entire gross national product of the country -and that was in the 1980's! Things have hardly improved since as the current state of affairs clearly demonstrates. Recently, the European Union mandated that Italy would have to give help in the bail-out of Spanish banks and loan money to Spain at 3% interest. However, due to the fact that Italy herself is quite broke, Italy will have to borrow money to give that loan at 7% interest! What sort of economic and mathematical idiot thought up that "brilliant" plan? With leaders like that, is it any wonder that Italy finds herself on the brink of economic ruin? Probably not, considering that even the largely ceremonial office of President is currently held by a former member of the Communist Party, an ideology not known for creating economic prosperity around the world to say the least.

Italy would be better off to rid themselves of the lot of these overpaid, under-performing members of the political class, restore the lire, restore the monarchy, trash the tangle of regulations that strangle growth and incentive, leave the EU and pursue again a policy of "sacred self-interest" in which only those policies are pursued which will be to the benefit of the Italian nation. As things stand now, the people are disenchanted with their government, over taxed, over regulated and rapidly growing frustrated and divided. No country or government is ever without fault and certainly the Kingdom of Italy was not free from error. However, the Kingdom of Italy was brought down by intrigue and betrayal at the end of a world war while the Italian Republic is being brought to its knees simply by corruption, idiotic policies and carelessness, all of which amount to "business as usual" in the realm of the republicans.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Maria Luisa of Savoy, Queen of Spain

Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy was consort to the first Bourbon King of Spain and also showed herself to be not only a popular and beloved consort but a talented and confident woman who would have been perfectly capable of ruling a country herself, as she did on occasion when her husband was out of town. She was born in Turin on August 17, 1688, the third daughter of Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy and Princess Anne Marie of Orleans (daughter of the Duke of Orleans and Princess Henrietta of England). She was a bright, playful and happy child but it was a childhood that did not last long since, as with so many princesses, she had to grow up quite rapidly for the sake of a political marriage. It was not as much a case of her own parents seeking a match for her but her husband-to-be who sought her out for political reasons. Over in Spain the House of Hapsburg had died out with King Carlos II and the grandson of King Louis XIV of France was set to be imported as the new King of Spain, the first of the dynasty that continues to the present day. Only 16-years-old at the time, the French and Spanish governments came to an agreement and the teenage Duke of Anjou became King Felipe V of Spain.

However, although Spain and France were in agreement, there were few doubts that the spread of Bourbon influence to the Iberian Peninsula would arouse opposition amongst the other great powers of Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Austria. War seemed inevitable and the marriage of the young Felipe V would be used to secure his claim to the Spanish throne by linking him with the House of Savoy which also had marriage ties with the Kingdom of France and even a possible claim on the Spanish throne by way of the dowry of the great-grandmother of Duke Vittorio Amedeo II (Infanta Catherine Michelle) which had gone unpaid. In this way the choice fell on the 13-year-old Savoy princess and the marriage was arranged by the Duke of Savoy and King Louis XIV with proxy wedding ceremonies taking place in both Turin and Versailles. By her marriage in 1701 she became Queen consort of Spain before she had ever set foot in the country or even met her husband face-to-face. Nonetheless, the Savoy princesses had a reputation for putting duty first and the well educated, fun loving new Queen set out for Spain. While passing through Nice she met Pope Clement XI who showed his favor by presenting her with a Papal Golden Rose, an honor still given out today but since the reign of Pius XII only to religious places rather than individual people.

Happily, when Queen Maria Luisa arrived in Barcelona and met her young husband King Felipe V she was not disappointed. Despite the circumstances of their union the two had a successful marriage and a genuine romance. As she settled in to life in Spain her most constant guide and companion was the formidable Princess des Ursins who became head of the Queen’s household and, unofficially, the most powerful woman in Spain. It had to be a difficult time for her as the War of Spanish Succession broke out which placed her father, the Duke of Savoy, on the side of Great Britain, Austria and others in opposition to France and Spain. As fighting raged from northern France and the Low Countries to the Italian peninsula, King Felipe V had to leave Spain to defend family territory in Naples. This left Queen Maria Luisa in Madrid as regent for her husband for quite some time but she proved herself to be more than up to the challenge. She was extremely thorough in her work, listening to all sides, investigating every complaint and checking all reports herself. She helped to reorganize the government and rallied the Spanish people to unite in support of the war effort. The patriotism she displayed and the care she showed toward the people made her popularity soar and the population adored her, affectionately calling her “La Savoyana”.

Although the Queen was very young, and of course depended on the assistance of more experienced ministers, everyone was impressed by how she rose to the occasion and devoted herself totally to her husband and her new country. Her prestige was unmatched and her authority unquestioned. The war ended with her husband secure on the Spanish throne and some may have wondered how the couple would behave once the King returned to Madrid. He had been forced to leave so early in their marriage and with the Queen so beloved and respected and the King having been so long distant, it would have been natural to wonder if Queen Maria Luisa would easily step into the background and leave the center stage to Felipe V. Fortunately, there were no problems. She was thrilled to simply have him back, the royal couple just as in love as ever and from being a ruling monarch in all but name Queen Maria Luisa willingly and happily devoted herself to being a consort once again.

The only problem for the Queen was her long-time ‘right arm’ Princess des Ursins who, one year after the King returned, was forced to leave the court because of pressure from King Louis XIV. This was mostly due to the fact that she had strongly advised the King and Queen to keep the French at a distance and surround themselves with Spaniards to make sure there was no mistaking that the new Bourbon monarchy would be Spanish and not simply an extension of France. Queen Maria Luisa was extremely distraught to see the Princess go who she had come to depend on so much. However, it was only temporary and to the great delight of the Queen the princess was able to return in 1705. Two years later the Savoy queen did her duty for the Spanish succession and gave birth to a son and heir, the future King Luis I. Two years later another baby boy followed but, sadly, did not live out the year. In 1712 the Queen gave birth to another son, who greatly resembled his mother. However, like the rest, his health was not robust (usually attributed to the degree of relation between the King and Queen) and he would die at only seven years old. In 1713 the Queen presented her husband with another son, the future King Fernando VI, who would thankfully have a long life and go on to enact many reforms in Spain and across the Spanish empire.

Queen Maria Luisa, despite the difficulty she often had with the health of her children, had a happy life with her two sons and a husband she was devoted to and who was devoted to her. She was talented, compassionate and adored by the Spanish people. It was thus very worrying when, not long after the birth of her last child, the Queen fell ill with tuberculosis. There was some hope that she would recover but complications eventually set in and, sadly, she passed away on February 14, 1714 at the age of only 25. She was buried in El Escorial, deeply mourned by her husband, her sons and all the people of Spain. From start to finish she had been an exemplary Queen consort, a star in the royal history of Spain and a credit to the House of Savoy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Marshal of Italy Ettore Bastico

Marshal of Italy Ettore Bastico was one of the best Italian commanders of World War II even though he remains less well known than he should be. He was born in Bologna on April 9, 1876 and on October 14, 1894 entered the Military Academy of Modena for training as an infantry officer. In 1896 he graduated as a lieutenant in one of the elite Bersaglieri regiments. He attended the Military Academy at Turin after that and served in several commands as a staff officer; the VIII Army Corps in Florence, the Cuneo Division and the War Ministry. He was then posted back to a Bersaglieri regiment in Rome and promoted to captain. During the Italo-Turkish War he served in Libya for several months as an observer with the airship engineer specialist battalion. After this service he returned to the War Ministry as war broke out in the rest of Europe. He earned the bronze medal of merit in January of 1915 for his organization of the relief effort for the victims of the Avezzano earthquake. After Italy entered the First World War Bastico won further promotion and served in various staff positions. For his service and courage he earned a silver medal for bravery and another bronze medal from the King of Italy and the Cross of War from France. After the conflict he taught art and military history at the Livorno Naval Academy for a few years as well as writing about trench warfare and the future of warfare as he saw it, displaying military thinking well ahead of his time.

From 1923 to 1927 Colonel Bastico commanded the IX Bersaglieri Regiment in Asti. He then served as Director of “Military Review” and was commander of the National College of Physical Education. In 1928 he was promoted to brigadier general and commanded the XIV Infantry brigade at Gorizia. After being promoted to major general he commanded the Prince Eugene of Savoy division at Udine, the XVI Division at Bologna and then was given command of the first MVSN (Blackshirt) Division upon the outbreak of the war with Ethiopia. He proved himself a highly adept field commander and General Badoglio promoted him to command the III Corps. He played a decisive role in the brilliant Italian victory at the second battle of Tembien when the entire Ethiopian Army of the Center was all but destroyed. In the final stages of the war he showed his logistical and engineering talent building roads and moving supplies for the final victory of the Italian forces despite tremendous geographical hardships. For all his achievements he was promoted to lieutenant general and awarded the Military Order of Savoy (Commander), the Order of the Star of Italy (Grand Officer) and the Order of the Crown of Italy. Bastico had already proven himself one of the best field commanders Italy had but his greatest triumph was still to come.

At the height of the Spanish Civil War Mussolini sent large numbers of Italian volunteers to fight alongside the nationalists of Generalissimo Francisco Franco against the communist-dominated republicans. After the stunning defeat of the Italo-Spanish forces at the battle of Guadalajara, General Bastico was sent in to take command of the Italian army, replacing General Mario Roatta. The republicans had been stockpiling supplies in the north for a massive counter-offensive across the whole of Spain, massing up all of their strength in the hope of winning the war in one massive stroke. General Bastico developed a bold plan for attacking and wiping out the republicans in their northern stronghold, running his men through intense training exercises and coordinating infantry, artillery and airpower for an attack such as had never been seen before. When he sent his troops forward he impressed on them the need to maintain the initiative, to never stop advancing for any reason. The result was the crushing Spanish-Italian victory of Santander with the republican forces being almost wiped out completely. General Bastico was hailed as the “conqueror of Santander” and credited with breaking the back of the republican forces in northern Spain. However, he clashed with Generalissimo Franco and was recalled to Italy after that triumph.

Bastico was further decorated, given command of the Army of the Po and was made a senator in 1939. When Italy entered World War II the “conqueror of Santander” was posted to the Dodecanese Islands to defend them from a Greco-British attack that never materialized. In 1941, promoted to General of the Army, Bastico was made Governor of Libya, replacing General Italo Gariboldi who had been unable to get along with the German General Erwin Rommel. The Axis forces won some of their greatest successes but, like Gariboldi, Bastico often clashed with Rommel who had a reputation of difficult relations with his superiors. Despite the fact that he usually got his way, Rommel was officially under Italian command since the war was being fought in Italian territory. Bastico was sidelined somewhat as Rommel won his sweeping victories that drove the British out of Libya. When Rommel was promoted to Field Marshal by Hitler for his victory at Tobruk, Mussolini promoted Bastico to Marshal of Italy in 1942. However he was restricted to command only the forces in Libya. He strongly disagreed with Rommel over the invasion of Egypt. Bastico (and others) warned that Malta had to be taken first or else the British would repel any attack on Egypt simply through logistical superiority. Unfortunately for the Italian army, Bastico was ignored and Rommel led Axis forces to ultimate defeat at El Alamein where much of the Italian army was sacrificed.

In the aftermath, the British counter-attacked and Rommel retreated to Tunisia, surrendering Libya to Britain virtually without a fight. Bastico then had no function as Governor-General of Libya and retired to Rome. There was talk of Marshal Bastico trying to arrange an armistice with the Allies through the Vatican to get rid of the Fascists and set up a provisional military government to keep order in Italy but nothing came from it. After the war, Marshal Bastico was put on the reserve list, decorated by the Italian republic and spent his time studying military history, uniforms, decorations and chivalric orders from around the world. He died in Rome on December 2, 1972 as one of the most experienced, successful and skillful commanders of the Royal Italian Army in the Twentieth Century.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Lateran Treaty - 83 Years

It was on this day in 1929 that the Lateran Treaty was signed between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy which finally ended the stand-off known as the “Roman Question” that existed since the forces of the Kingdom of Italy occupied and annexed the city of Rome in 1870 at which point the Pope withdrew inside the walls of Vatican City, refusing to recognize the united Italy in a self-imposed “exile” of sorts which lasted from that time until the Lateran Accords were signed. During that time the Popes refused to set foot outside the Vatican, banned (or attempted to ban) Catholic participation in Italian politics and refused to recognize the legal existence of the Kingdom of Italy. This split the Roman nobility into two rival camps; the “White Nobility” around the King and the “Black Nobility” around the Pope. Ordinary Italians, the vast majority of whom were solidly Catholic, mostly accepted the new political realities whether they welcomed them or not. Even Catholic clergy had to walk a thin line, remaining loyal to the Pope in keeping with their vow of obedience but also continuing to administer the sacraments even amidst the most difficult of circumstances. For example, since 1870 the Holy See had withdrawn Catholic chaplains from the Royal Italian Army yet in World War I many Catholic clerics volunteered to serve, many quite heroically, even accompanying the troops as they charged into enemy machinegun fire to administer the last rites and attend to soldiers who were wounded.

Bl. Pius IX and Vittorio Emanuele II
The Vatican policy of officially ignoring the Kingdom of Italy for such a great period of time was ultimately harmful to both parties concerned. The Kingdom of Italy was deprived of the blessing of the Church and was harmed by the division of loyalties caused by the rift. Yet, the Church was also harmed as well. Most Catholics participated in politics by voting despite the papal ban but there was basically no one to officially argue the cause of the Church in the political arena. Those Italian politicians who did try to argue for the rights of the Church faced condemnation from both sides. The anti-clerical leftists naturally opposed them but the Vatican opposed them as well simply for being loyal to the King of Italy. It also prevented the Church from playing as great a role as it might have in the crucial peace process after World War I because the Italian government feared that the Vatican (which was seen to favor the Austrians) would use the proceedings to redress their own grievances and call for the dissolution of the Kingdom of Italy. Whether the Church would have actually done that we can never know but the standoff undoubtedly prevented the Church from doing as much good as she could have done during such a crisis. This is not surprising as refusing to deal at all with an unfavorable situation usually allows the other side to win by default. As Catholic author Harry Crocker wrote in his book “Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church”, “The pope, in his own words, became a prisoner of the Vatican. He refused any formal acknowledgement that the princely realms of the Vicar of Christ had been reduced to a few -albeit magnificent- buildings, and demanded that Italian Catholics refrain from politics and voting, which was a self-defeating ordinance indeed”.

The Popes, of course, were standing on principle and protesting against the seizure of the Papal States over which they had long ruled as the local monarchs. However, the Italian occupation of Rome was not as detrimental to the Church as many feared and, indeed, ultimately proved beneficial in some ways. The fear of a loss of independence on the part of the Pope was real and well founded. The Pope had to have freedom of action and not be under the control of or subject to any sort of pressure by any foreign power. Yet, in truth, the Papal States had never had that sort of independence which would have required the Pope to have sufficient land and people to match any of the major powers of Europe. Even when the Papal States existed the Popes were constantly shifting in political alliances between (usually) France and Austria to try to prevent any one power from dominating the Italian peninsula and thus threatening Rome. Pope Leo X, for example, joined in a league with the German Emperor and King of England against France when France and Venice looked to be dominating northern Italy. Later, when the Emperor (also King of Spain) looked to be too powerful, the Pope sided with France and his hesitancy in dealing with the outbreak of the Protestant movement is often attributed to his political fear of the German Emperor.

Papal Rome had, of course, been occupied many times by invading forces and probably none were so humane and respectful toward the Church as the Italian Royal Army. In 1083 the Holy Roman (German) Emperor Henry IV besieged Rome and the Pope called on the Normans for help. When they arrived the following year they cleared out the Germans but then sacked the city of Rome themselves. In 1527 German and Spanish troops of Emperor Charles V ransacked the city, butchered the Swiss Guard and besieged Pope Clement VII in Castel Sant Angelo. In 1798 French revolutionaries seized and looted Rome, took Pope Pius VI prisoner and sent him to France, declaring the city a French allied-republic. After Napoleon came to power he annexed Rome and the Papal States as part of the French Empire and Pope Pius VII signed a concordat with him and presided at his coronation. Later he too was arrested by the French for his opposition to the policies of Napoleon. The Congress of Vienna restored the Papal States but in 1849 republican revolutionaries took over, forced the Pope to flee the city and it took a French army sent by Napoleon III to restore the Pope to his proper throne. On the other hand, when the army of the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome, order was maintained, property was protected and the Pope was not hindered or harmed in any way. In fact, the initial offering the King of Italy made to the Pope was far more generous, in terms of the territory to be left under papal control, than in the Lateran Accords the Holy See ended up agreeing to many decades later.

Originally, King Vittorio Emanuele II offered all of Rome within the Leonine wall to the Pope as his exclusive domain (this included all of Vatican City as well). He was to be treated as a sovereign monarch, immune from criticism, above the law and his person legally sacrosanct and inviolable. He was also to have exclusive use to all papal properties on Italian soil. This was hardly 1527 or 1798. However, standing on principle, the Pope refused and so the “Roman Question” festered for decades until 1929 when Pope Pius XI and King Vittorio Emanuele III at long last made peace. It had taken three years of negotiation but finally was accomplished, as it should have been long before. According to the agreement, the Vatican City State was recognized by the King of Italy as a sovereign, independent, neutral state. The Pope recognized the Kingdom of Italy and renounced all claims to the former territories of the Papal States in exchange for which the Kingdom of Italy paid to the Pope compensation of 750,000,000 lire and 1 million lire in Italian bonds for the loss of these lands as well as an indemnity of 3,250,000 lire a year. The amount paid to the Pope as compensation for the loss of his territory was likewise less than what the King of Italy had originally offered in 1871. However, what was most significant was recognition of the Italian nation by the Church and the creation of the Vatican City State as an independent sovereign entity, protected by law. The Roman Catholic Church also became the official state religion of the Kingdom of Italy, religious instruction became a part of all Italian schools (with a crucifix in every classroom) and religious marriages became government approved.

Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini
It was a happy day without question. The only problem was that this agreement had come about during the Fascist era with considerable pushing on the part of Benito Mussolini himself who wanted absolutely no division of loyalties among the people and just as he had swallowed his ardent republicanism toward that end so too did he suppress his lifelong anti-clericalism, even going through a show of being baptized and declaring the Catholic Church a part of Italian life. He eagerly accepted the praise heaped on him as “the man who had given God back to Italy and Italy back to God”. Of course, he had ulterior motives and both Mussolini and the Pope wasted no time in basically breaking the agreement they had just signed. Mussolini had vowed to respect Catholic institutions but, of course, quickly determined to bring them all under state control. The Pope had promised to stay out of Italian politics but when Mussolini stepped over the line he wasted no time in condemning Fascist totalitarianism as the “pagan worship of the state”. Things could have been so much better if the two sides could have reconciled sooner to make the Kingdom of Italy a more perfectly Catholic country.

Pope Pius XII visits the Quirinale
This should have been the effort from day one, once it was clear that the era of a ‘political papacy’ had gone. Indeed, it is hard to see what real good was accomplished by the long standoff. Of course, that is not to say things would have worked out entirely for the better if the Pope had accepted the original offer laid out in the Law of Guarantees. It rested on the power of the Italian Parliament and, as history shows, what Parliaments give other Parliaments can later take away. The spiritual prestige and popularity of the Pope grew significantly in the aftermath of his self-imposed home-exile but the Church and the Kingdom of Italy both suffered as a result of being deprived of a strong Catholic influence in the new government. The Church could have been of enormous help in combating the spread of radical leftist republican sentiments and this was realized in 1946 when the Church strongly favored the preservation of the monarchy but it all came too late. The republican government that succeeded the monarchy started out in friendly hands but soon came back to amend the Lateran Treaty again and again and again. The most significant change came in 1984 under the socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi who abolished Catholicism as the Italian state religion (and as an aside also ran up the national debt until it was greater than Italian GNP).

There was nothing more historically natural than for the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Italy to be reconciled. A united Italy under one monarchy had been in peace and accord with the Catholic Church from the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great until the fall of the Roman Empire in the west. The House of Savoy had a long history of being staunch defenders of Christendom. The family ranks included the likes of crusaders and clerics of Blessed Umberto III and Blessed Amedeo IX, the Savoy were the guardians of the Holy Shroud of Turin and the Kings of Piedmont-Sardinia had been ardent supporters of a strong Church and a strong monarchy and viscerally opposed the principles of the so-called “Enlightenment” and the subsequent French Revolution. Today, the loyal faithful should strive equally for the restoration of the Kingdom of Italy as a truly and officially Catholic monarchy and to strive to put back the Lateran Treaty to the original status it had when it was first signed 83 years ago today. A Catholic Kingdom of Italy is still the answer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

MM Movie Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin

“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is a 2001 film (the last in our look at Italian war films starring Nicholas Cage) directed by John Madden and starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz. The movie has been much-derided, both when it came out and since, for playing up national stereotypes, it was not well received by critics and disappointed some fans of the book upon which it was based. The accusation that it makes virtually every character into a stereotype is, frankly, legitimate. For much of the time, actually most of the time, the film is running, it is one long stereotypical characterization of the Italians, Greeks and Germans. However, it did manage to draw attention to one of the previously most overlooked or forgotten but proud and heroic pages in the history of the Royal Italian Army; the defense of the island of Cefalonia from the Germans. I tend to give the film a great deal of credit simply for accomplishing that. The book did this as well but, as always, more people will watch a movie than read a book. Since the production more people have become aware of Italian heroism on Cefalonia and the Greek and Italian governments have recognized their sacrifice during the chaos of World War II.
The film opens with an introduction to the happy, simply Greeks of the island of Cefalonia, particularly the lovely Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), her father the town doctor (played by John Hurt as a gruff but good man -I know, John Hurt as a good guy, it’s weird) and Mandras, Pelagia’s love interest who is played by a barely recognizable Christian Bale. Pelagia and Mandras are expected to be married even though he is an uncouth, uneducated fisherman and she is a super-intelligent daughter of a doctor. However, when the war arrives in Greece, Mandras immediately departs to go fight the Italians along the Albanian border. Pelagia writes to him religiously but hears nothing back and eventually gives up on him as being either dead or simply beyond her. Of course, the film plays up the idea that the Greeks were winning the war against Italy before the Germans came in (which is not exactly true, things were more or less stalemated) and one would get the impression that the Italians never won even a single battle against the Greeks, which is not true. In any event, Greece is conquered and the island of Cefalonia is occupied by Italian forces of the Acqui division, including the captain of artillery Antonio Corelli (Nicholas Cage).

Captain Corelli speaks Greek, takes an immediate liking to Pelagia and stays at their house in exchange for providing the doctor with medical supplies. Captain Corelli and his men are pretty much walking stereotypes. The are lustful, wine loving, opera singing artillerymen who have never fired a shot in anger and who would rather have a good time than fight or observe military discipline. They are the relaxed, fun-loving guys and the Germans (the few we see) are all rigid, militaristic jerks. The actors are all good but they have not been used to best advantage. A good example being Cage’s ridiculous attempt at an Italian accent. Personally, I think it is often better to just speak your own language without attempting an accent if you cannot master it properly. Mandras returns from the front and is nursed back to health by Pelagia and his mother (played by Irene Pappas who was also in the previously reviewed “Lion of the Desert”). He never wrote back because he is illiterate, which Pelagia did not know (and evidently he could not ask a friend to write for him after they read him the letters where she is clearly becoming forlorn and distraught at his silence but … oh well). Especially when compared with the novel, the characters in the film come off as extremely simplistic to the point of being rather flat.
The Italians eventually come to be more and more accepted by the Greek locals. This infuriates Mandras who goes to join the guerillas and, of course, a romance slowly builds between Pelagia and Captain Corelli. However, conditions become more difficult as the war goes on and it becomes clear that the Germans and Italians are nearing a split, especially after the fall of Rome to Allied forces. To their great delight Captain Corelli and his men learn that Mussolini was removed from power and they think that the war is over for Italy. The Greeks begin celebrating as well, pulling down Italian flags and replacing them with the Greek colors as the Germans retreat. The Italian forces are told that they will surrender to the Germans, hand over their weapons and be transported back to Italy. However, despite the woman between them, Mandras tries to persuade Captain Corelli to hand over the Italian weapons to the guerillas. The Greeks tell Corelli that the Germans are preparing to occupy the island and that Italian forces who surrendered were either killed or sent to concentration camps in Germany. Obviously, this makes the Italians less than happy to cooperate when the Nazis arrive to disarm them. Tensions are raised and the Germans machine gun several of the Italian troops.

The Nazi forces still promise to send all Italians safely home but Captain Corelli no longer believes them and so the Italian forces decided to resist and defend the Greeks and their island from the Germans. Working with the partisans, they distribute what weapons they have and deploy their forces to fight the German invasion. There is a short, fierce battle in which the Italians offer determined resistance but they have nothing to counter the German air attacks and are eventually vanquished. The Germans then gather together all the Italian prisoners and begin massacring them. Captain Corelli would have been killed but, keeping a promise to watch over him to Pelagia, one of his men shields him with his body and saves his life. Mandras finds him and brings him to the doctor and Pelagia and the doctor manages to save him even though he was very badly wounded. He stays hidden with Pelagia as the Germans kill any Italians and anyone found harboring Italians in a wave of brutality. Captain Corelli is finally smuggled off the island by Greek partisans and returns to Italy.

Mandras says he saved the Captain so that Pelagia might love him again and he tells her how he had every one of her letter read to him until he memorized them until the final one in which Pelagia broke it off. Of course, he never explains why he had no one to answer for him when the letters kept getting more and more sad and urgent with each one but … oh well. After the war ends Pelagia, who is studying to be a doctor, receives a package from Italy containing a record of the mandolin song Captain Corelli wrote for her. She doesn’t even listen to all of it but her father writes to him and more or less asks him to come back because Pelagia is still longing for him. Immediately afterward there is a huge earthquake and Pelagia thinks her father is killed, but he’s not and this shakes her emotions loose, she has a good cry and things go back to normal. And then, of course, Captain Corelli (now a civilian) returns, reunited with Pelagia and everyone can live happily ever after.

The movie is not as bad as the reputation it has gained as one of Cage’s more infamous stinkers. It’s just not very good either. It is heavy on stereotypes, everything is pretty predictable and it tells the sort of story most moviegoers have seen a hundred times. However, it can be moving at times, the characters are generally sympathetic and so on. The only ones I had a real problem with were Mandras and the German. Mandras because he simply comes across as being, well, not a terribly nice guy. If he loved Pelagia as much as he claimed he should have answered her damn letters, he admits he only saved Corelli for selfish reasons and he allowed a lifelong friend to be murdered just because she danced with a German (and I’m not going to say there was more to it because the movie didn’t show us any more). The German comes across as sort of an innocent guy who has been brainwashed but in the end he is just as brutal as the rest (though he does spare Corelli’s life) and we see no reason for this, no change in him or anything of the kind. However, as I said before, I will give this movie credit for at least getting more people to read about the real story of Italian heroism on the island of Cefalonia during World War II, something which received very little attention before the book and movie came out.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

MM Special Report: The Referendum in Italy

Today is the “birthday” of the Italian republic, marking the day in 1946 that the referendum was held which abolished the Savoy monarchy in favor of the current republic. It was such a grossly undemocratic charade of the order that only democratic republicans seem capable of producing. There remains a great deal of confusion and misinformation about this referendum which brought down the Kingdom of Italy and it deserves being closely examined. The first myth that should be exploded is the idea that the Allies, (of whom the ‘big three’ were Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union) were completely impartial in the question of whether the monarchy would be preserved or overthrown in favor of a republic. It goes without saying that the Soviets were opposed to the monarchy on principle and while they had no forces on the ground in Italy they were certainly supporting the communist partisans in the north of the country whose leaders took their marching orders from Moscow. U.S. General Maitland Wilson, who took over for Eisenhower in 1943, sided with the American political leaders who wanted an immediate abdication, however, President Roosevelt sided with British Prime Minister Churchill who favored keeping King Vittorio Emanuele III on the throne, so long as he made no trouble, for the time being in order to avoid political distractions when they still had to focus on defeating the Germans.

The Allies were certainly not impartial. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden despised Crown Prince Umberto and Harold Macmillan, British Minister Resident in the Mediterranean, worked for two days to get the King to abdicate or retire and achieved, at the last minute, the ‘final and irrevocable’ surrender of royal authority. In that first action the Allies, despite their talk of neutrality, took the first step in tearing down the existing legal Italian government. From the very beginning the Allied Control Commission in Italy exhibited an anti-monarchy bias. When the King did abdicate, fuming over the large communist presence in the new government, the British Foreign Office even downplayed the danger of Italy becoming a communist dictatorship, believing it would still be closer to the west than to the Soviets! Most assumed that there would be some sort of vote after the war to determine the Italian form of government but there was no consensus over how this was to be done. King Umberto II favored a plebiscite of the whole people while the leftist enemies of the monarchy (the socialists and communists) wanted the leftist-dominated temporary government to vote on the issue. Clearly there would be some sort of vote but while the leftists were spreading every bit of anti-monarchy propaganda they could, even digging up stories fabricated by the Fascists and kept on file to use against the monarchy, the Allies “advised” King Umberto II not to engage in partisan politics any time he tried to encourage the case for keeping the monarchy.

In terms of who supported and who opposed the monarchy there remains some confusion to be cleared up. One misconception is that the Vatican was opposed to the monarchy and favored a Christian Democratic republic under Alcide De Gasperi who was a very popular man in the Vatican. However, this is simply not true. De Gasperi indeed had many friends in the Holy See but he kept mostly silent about the debate over the monarchy and most in the Vatican favored the monarchy. King Umberto II was very well regarded in the Holy See and the monarchy was seen as the only bulwark capable of keeping the revolutionary communists from gaining a foothold and taking over the country. Far from being in opposition, the Catholic Church actively encouraged people to support the monarchy and vote for the King. Another popular misconception is that the Crown and the Fascists were, and always had been, good friends. Quite the contrary, there was no place more opposed to the monarchy than those areas where support was strongest for the Italian Social Republic (Mussolini’s puppet state in the north) where the most diehard Fascists had migrated at the end of the war. The Fascists themselves launched a propaganda campaign against the monarchy, accusing it of betraying the nationalist movement from the time of unification to push a reactionary agenda on Italy.

So, when it came time for the referendum to be held, the communists, socialists and fascists had been spreading republican propaganda for some time while King Umberto II was largely prevented from making his own case. About all he could do was to travel around the country and meet as many people as possible in an effort to convince them that Italy would be better off under his guidance. Most of the mainstream politicians sat on the sidelines, fearful of being in the losing camp. No honest person could in any way call the referendum a fair expression of the wishes of the whole Italian people. The minister in charge of managing the elections was Giuseppe Romita, a socialist and an avowed republican! In addition to the referendum being held in the aftermath of a terrible war, with the country in ruins and still under Allied occupation, it was decided that this would also be a good time to let all women vote for the “first” time in Italian politics. Actually, Mussolini had given some women the vote in 1925 but based on past experience in other countries, most knew which way this new voting bloc would go. In addition to this, the South Tyrol and the Julian March were not allowed to vote at all as they were still under the rule of the United Nations as disputed territory. There were also still many thousands of Italian military personnel outside the country who were not allowed to vote and nowhere was support for the monarchy higher than amongst the armed forces. Similarly, there were still many Italians abroad in the former Italian colonies who were likewise denied the opportunity to vote (King Umberto II had hoped, in vain as it turned out, that the Allies would not confiscate Italian colonies gained prior to the Fascist era).

The vote was held from June 2-4 and the returns that came in were very telling. Most expected the more conservative south to be more pro-monarchy just as most expected the north, where the communists and fascists were concentrated, to be most republican, however, the resulting returns were extremely dubious. Starting in the south, the returns on June 2 favored the monarchy. By June 3 the returns were even more pro-monarchy and no doubt the republicans were beginning to get nervous. Even in the early hours of June 4 the returns favored the monarchy moving toward the north. However, all of a sudden, support for the monarchy seemed to stop completely and the returns became almost unanimously republican. Reports almost immediately surfaced from northern areas of monarchists being assaulted by communist gangs to prevent them from casting their votes for the King. Yet, immediately the government went to King Umberto II to report a victory for the republic, claiming that the votes from less than one day were more numerous than the monarchist majorities of the more than 2 days previous.

Obviously, King Umberto II had doubts about the process and refused to accept the results at first glance. There had been numerous disturbances after all, to such an extent that a special auxiliary security force had to be dispatched to maintain order at the polling stations. Sadly, not surprisingly, this force was organized and commanded by a republican. The very next day after the referendum, June 5, De Gasperi went to tell the King that the republic had won and to vacate the Quirinale to make room for the President who would soon take his place. Umberto II, however, refused to submit to this until all the votes had been properly counted. The republicans began to flaunt themselves almost immediately and in Naples a group of monarchists were shot down with machine guns when they tried to remove a defaced Italian tricolor from which the Savoy royal arms had been removed, killing 9 and injuring 150. On June 10 the Supreme Court ruled that the referendum had been a victory for the republicans. However, the actual final count was not to be completed until June 18 and King Umberto said he would await the results. The government refused to accept this, saying that the court ruling was sufficient even though the count was not final and ordered the King to immediately leave the country.

There were, of course, those who urged Umberto II to use any means necessary to oppose this obviously fraudulent referendum. With so much support for the monarchy in the south, it was proposed to send the King to Naples, raising his flag there and leading a separate regime, holding a last bastion of monarchy on the Italian peninsula with the ultimate goal of reuniting the country again. However, Umberto II, after witnessing the horrors of World War II, could not bring himself to take any action that would provoke a civil war. Already there had been monarchist demonstrations in Naples, Taranto and Rome that were bloodily suppressed by the republicans and quickly hushed up by the pro-republic press. King Umberto II stated his objections, refused to abdicate or recognize the clearly improper referendum and then peacefully left the country after which the republican authorities showed how shaky their hold on power was by their paranoid persecution of the Savoy Royal House. This was the shameful beginning of the Italian republic and the end of the Kingdom of Italy which had created the united nation in the first place. No honest observer could ever claim it was a free and fair exercise of the democratic process or a true reflection of the will of the Italian people. It was a blatant example of gross injustice from start to finish and the sooner it is repudiated and the lawful monarchy restored the better Italy will be.