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Italia irredenta

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Italia irredenta

Italian irredentism (Italian: irredentismo italiano) was an Italian irredentist movement that (in the late 19th century and early 20th century) aimed at the unification of Italian speaking peoples and territories deemed to be Italian lands.

Originally, the movement promoted the annexation to Italy of territories inhabited by an Italian indigenous population but retained by the Austrian Empire after Third Italian War of Independence in 1866 (hence 'unredeemed' Italy).

The territories of Corsica, Nice, and Savoy have been claimed by irredentists. During the period of Risorgimento in 1860 to 1861, Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was leading the Risorgimento effort, faced the view of French Emperor Napoleon III who indicated that France would support Italian unification provided that France was given Nice and Savoy that were held by Piedmont-Sardinia, as France did not want a powerful state having control of the passages of the Alps.[1] As a result, Piedmont-Sardinia was pressured to concede Nice and Savoy to France in exchange for France accepting the unification of Italy.[2] These included Trentino and Trieste, but also multilingual areas within the northern Italian region encompassed by the Alps, with German, Italian, Slovene, Croatian, Ladin and Istro-Romanian population such as South Tyrol, a part of Istria, Gorizia, and part of Dalmatia. The claims were extended later to the city of Rijeka (Fiume), Corsica, the island of Malta, the County of Nice, and Italian Switzerland.


Italian Irredentism was not a formal organization; it was an opinion movement, advocated by several different groups, claiming that Italy had to reach its "natural borders" or unify territories inhabited by Italians. Similar nationalistic ideas were common in Europe in the late 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 nationalism or Imperial 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 Niccolò 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 19th century the Italian irredentism fully developed the characteristic of defending the Italian language from other people's languages (like, for example, German in Switzerland and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or 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.[3]

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,[4] but after World War I it became aggressive - under fascist influence - and claimed to the Kingdom of Italy even areas where Italians were minority or had been present only 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 the Ionian Islands, Savoy and 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 and Third Italian War of Independence in 1866, there were areas with Italian-speaking communities within the borders of several countries around the newly created Kingdom of Italy. The irredentists sought to annex all those areas to the newly unified Italy, including some areas with a non-Italian majority. The areas targeted were Corsica, Dalmatia, Gorizia, the Ionian islands, Istria, Malta, County of Nice, Ticino, small parts of Grisons and of Valais, Trentino, Trieste and Fiume.

Different movements or groups born in this period: in 1877 the Italian politician Matteo Renato Imbriani invented the new term "terre irredente" ("unredeemed lands"); in the same year the movement Associazione in pro dell'Italia Irredenta ("Association for the Unredeemed Italy") was founded; in the 1885 was founded the Pro Patria movement ("For Fatherland") and in 1891 the "Lega Nazionale Italiana" ("Italian National League") was founded in Trento and Trieste (in the Austrian Empire).

Initially, the movement can be described as part of the 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, Romanians - remembered their historical traditions, revived their native tongues as literary languages, reappropriated their traditions and folklore, in short reasserted their existence as nations."[5] The notion of a single united Italy was related to the aspirations of the "majority populations".

19th century

A precursor of the 'irredentists' was perhaps the unification leader 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 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 did not wish a dangerous policy against Austria, and even less against France for the sake of Nice and Corsica, or against 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.[6] 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."[7]

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.[8] Italy gained Trieste, Gorizia, Istria and the city of Zara . In Dalmatia, despite the Treaty of London, only territories with Italian majority as Zadar with some Dalmatian islands, such as Cres (Cherso), Lošinj (Lussino) and Lastovo (Lagosta) were annexed by Italy, because Woodrow Wilson, supporting Yugoslav claims and not recognizing the treaty, rejected Italian requests on other Dalmatian territories.

The city of Fiume in the Kvarner was the subject of claim and counter-claim because had an Italian majority, but was not promised to Italy in the London Pact (see Italian Regency of Carnaro, Treaty of Rapallo, 1920 and Treaty of Rome, 1924) and become Italian in 1924..

The stand taken by the irredentist Gabriele D'Annunzio, which briefly led him to become an enemy of the Italian state,[9] 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 Krk and Rab, where there was a numerous Italian community.

Fascism and World War II

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. To the east of Italy, the Fascists claimed that Dalmatia was a land of Italian culture whose Italians, including those of Italianized South Slavic descent, had been driven out of Dalmatia and into exile in Italy, and supported the return of Italians of Dalmatian heritage.[10] Mussolini identified Dalmatia as having strong Italian cultural roots for centuries via the Roman Empire and the Republic of Venice.[11] The Fascists especially focused their claims based on the Venetian cultural heritage of Dalmatia, claiming that Venetian rule had been beneficial for all Dalmatians and had been accepted by the Dalmatian population.[11] The Fascists were outraged after World War I, when the agreement between Italy and the Entente Allies in the Treaty of London of 1915 to have Dalmatia join Italy, was revoked in 1919.[11]

To the west of Italy, the Fascists claimed that the territories of Corsica, Nice, and Savoy held by France, were Italian lands.[12][13] During the period of Italian unification in 1860 to 1861, Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was leading the unification effort, faced opposition from French Emperor Napoleon III who indicated that France would oppose Italian unification unless France was given Nice and Savoy that were held by Piedmont Sardinia, as France did not want a powerful state having control of all the passages of the Alps.[1] As a result, Piedmont-Sardinia was pressured to concede Nice and Savoy to France in exchange for France accepting the unification of Italy.[2] The Fascist regime produced literature on Corsica was that presented evidence of the Italianita of the island.[14] The Fascist regime produced literature on Nice that justified that Nice was an Italian land based on historic, ethnic, and linguistic grounds.[14] The Fascists quoted Medieval Italian scholar Petrarch who said "The border of Italy is the Var; consequently Nice is a part of Italy".[14] The Fascists quoted Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi who said: "Corsica and Nice must not belong to France; there will come the day when an Italy mindful of its true worth will reclaim its provinces now so shamefully languishing under foreign domination".[14] Mussolini initially pursued promoting annexation of Corsica through political and diplomatic means, believing that Corsica could be annexed to Italy through Italy first encouraging the existing autonomist tendencies in Corsica and then independence of Corsica from France, that would be followed by annexation of Corsica into Italy.[15]

In 1923, 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).

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 Erwin Rommel's request of diverting to North Africa the forces that had been prepared for the invasion of the island.


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.[16] 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, three years later, an Austrian census found around 70,000 Italians in a total of 301,000 people living in Austrian Dalmatia.[17]

With the development of Croatian 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 blood, origin and 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 Zadar, Šibenik, and Split. 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).[18]

Not only Italian irredentists (like Gabriele D'Annunzio) but also Italian prominent scholars (like Angelo Vivante) alleged that Joseph Fölch did not include the Dalmatian islands of Cres, Lošinj (Lussino), Krk (Veglia), Vis (Lissa), Hvar (Lesina), Korcula (Curzola) and many others islands 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 indigenous Croatians and 45,000 Italians in Dalmatia,[19] making Dalmatian Italians 17% of the total population of Dalmatia in the mid-19th century.

Dalmatia was a strategic region during World War I that both Italy and Serbia intended to seize from Austria-Hungary. Italy joined the Triple Entente Allies in 1915 upon agreeing to the London Pact that guaranteed Italy the right to annex a large portion of Dalmatia in exchange for Italy's participation on the Allied side. From 5–6 November 1918, Italian forces were reported to have reached Vis, Lastovo, Šibenik, and other localities on the Dalmatian coast.[20] By the end of hostilities in November 1918, the Italian military had seized control of the entire portion of Dalmatia that had been guaranteed to Italy by the London Pact and by 17 November had seized Fiume as well.[21] In 1918, Admiral Enrico Millo declared himself Italy's Governor of Dalmatia.[21] Famous Italian nationalist Gabriele d'Annunzio supported the seizure of Dalmatia, and proceeded to Zadar in an Italian warship in December 1918.[22]

The last city with a significant Italian presence in Dalmatia was the city of Zadar. In the Habsburg empire census of 1910 the city of Zadar had an Italian population of 9,318 (or 69.3% out of the total of 13,438 inhabitants). Zadar 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, Josip Broz Tito informed the Allies that Zadar was a chief logistic centre for German forces in Yugoslavia. By overstating its importance, he persuaded them of its military significance. Italy surrendered in September 1943 and over the following year, specifically between 2 November 1943 and 31 October 1944, Allied Forces bombarded the town fifty-four times.

Nearly 2,000 people were buried beneath rubble; 10–12,000 people escaped and took refuge in Trieste and slightly over 1,000 reached Apulia.

Tito's partisans entered in Zadar on 31 October 1944, and 138 people were killed.[23] With the Peace Treaty of 1947, Italians still living in Zadar followed the Italian exodus from Dalmatia and only about 100 Dalmatian Italians now remain in the city.

Modern day

After World War II, Italian Irredentism officially disappeared along with the defeated Fascists and the Monarchy of the House of Savoy. After Treaty of Paris (1947) and, after Treaty of Osimo (1975), all territorial claims were abandoned by the Italian State (see Foreign relations of Italy). Today, Italy, France, Malta, Greece, Croatia and Slovenia are all members of the European Union, while Montenegro and Albania are candidates for accession.

However, some Croatian and Slovenian politicians and organizations assert that some Italian politicians still propagate some irredentist ideas even in the 21st century, often causing sharp reactions from Croatian or Slovenian officials.

They often cite the then-Italian Deputy 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".[24] 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".[25]

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 touristic invasion in order to restore "the Italianness of Dalmatia" while participating in a roundtable discussion on the topic "Italy and Dalmatia today and tomorrow".[26] Giovanardi later declared that he had been misunderstood,[27] and sent a letter to the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he condemned nationalism and ethnic strife.[28]

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. For example, in 1994, Mirko Tremaglia, a member of the MSI and later of Alleanza Nazionale, described Rijeka, 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.[29]

In 2001, Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi gave the golden medal (for the aerial bombings endured during World War II) to the last Italian administration of Zadar, represented by its Gonfalone, which is currently owned by the association "Free municipality of Zadar 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 Zadar in exile" and the Lega Nazionale.[30]

In February 2007 (on "Foibe Memorial Day"), Italian President Giorgio Napolitano gave a statement in which he used phrases like "one of the barbarities of the century", "movement of hate and bloodthirsty rage", "Slavic annexationist project", when speaking about the Foibe massacres.[31] The Croatian President Stjepan Mesić responded by stating that "it's impossible not to see in Napolitano's statements traces of open racism, historical revisionism and political revanchism". The European Commission asked for both sides to tone down and advised the Croatian President "not to use too sharp phrases".[32]

On December 12, 2007, the Italian post office issued a stamp with a photo of the Croatian city of [3]. Nevertheless, intentionally or not, some of the stamps leaked out and came in official use.

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 "unjustified", drew a sharp reaction from the Office of the Croatian President Stipe Mesić on 11 Feb 2008, saying that as a reaction to Napolitano's statement, there was no need to change any word from Mesić's reaction the previous year.[32][35]

Italian exiles from Yugoslavia 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 "

Political figures in Italian irredentism

See also



  • 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

  • Unredeemed Italy (Google Book)
  • Articles on the History of Dalmatia
  • Articles on the Italians in Dalmatia
  • Articles on Zadar, when was a city of the Kingdom of Italy.
  • Slovene - Italian relations between 1880-1918
  • Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911)
  • (Italian) Website of the Italian irredentism
  • (Croatian) Hrvati AMAC Gdje su granice (EU-)talijanskog bezobrazluka? (Where are the limits of Italian arrogancy?; page contains the speech of Italian deputy)
  • (Croatian) Slobodna Dalmacija Počasni građanin Zadra kočnica talijanskoj ratifikaciji SSP-a
  • (Italian) D'Annunzio and Rijeka
  • (Italian) Guglielmo Picchi Forza Italia
  • (Italian) Italia chiama Italia Francobollo Fiume: bloccata l'emissione
  • (Italian) Stoppato” il francobollo per Fiume, bufera: protestano Unione degli istriani, An e Forza Italia (contains the scan of the stamp)
de:Irredentismus#Italienischer Irredentismus
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