Thursday, February 12, 2015


Excerpt from "The Independent" of 1915:


The opportunity which the Great War affords for Italy to obtain the Austrian territory which, under the name of Italia Irredenta, "Unredeemed Italy", she has long claimed is too favorable to be missed, and she is evidently determined to use force if necessary to carry out her long cherished ambition.

As in France the schools have been utilized ever since 1871 to impress upon youth the duty of "revenge" upon Germany and the recovery of the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, so in Italy the present generation has been trained to believe that the unification of Italy is not yet completely accomplished. In the elementary textbook of history used in most of the Italian schools the lesson is taught in these words:

By the capture of Rome, Italy was freed almost entirely from the domination of foreigners. We say almost entirely because two parts of Italy belong still to Austria, namely: Alto Adige (the southern section of the old Tyrol) and Istria with Trieste. Two beautiful countries which possess more than a million inhabitants, nearly all Italian speaking.



It will be noticed that nothing is said about Savoy, which belonged to the reigning house of Italy from the twelfth century, but has been in the possession of France since 1860. Nor would the dutiful pupil get any suspicion that most of the two "parts of Italy" mentioned have belonged to the House of Hapsburg pretty continuously for some five hundred years. The Hapsburgs got the Tyrol in 1363 thru the bequest of Wide Mouthed Meg, the richest, ugliest and most licentious princess of her time. And Trieste was offered to Archduke Leopold of Austria in 1382 by its citizens. The Trentino under its Prince Bishop became a fief of the Empire in 1027.

But the custom of playing fast and loose with history is so common that we need not stop to consider it. The question of historic claims, which usually receives most attention in determining the rightful ownership of territory, is actually entitled to the least. An ancient map is no better than a modern one. Every European nationality can point with pride to some time in the past when it held sway over the lands of its neighbors and in any rational settlement of boundary lines the first thing that ought to be done would be to slam shut the history book. Then the ownership of the disputed territory could be determined by reference to the interests, first, of its inhabitants, present and prospective; second, of its neighbors; and third, of the rest of the world.

But such sensible procedure is far to seek and for the present claims are based largely on parchment and tradition. The ardent Italian Irredentist appears to believe that his Rome has a right to all the lands over which ancient Rome held sway. This was, in fact, one of the popular arguments brought forward three years ago in defense of the Italian conquest of Tripoli and it is now adduced in support of Italy's claim to the Dalmatian and Albanian coast. Here there are indeed remnants of a Latin race, but impartial antiquarians dispute the Italian assumption that they were Venetian colonies. However that may be, the Albanian ports of Avlona and Durazzo are now held by Italian warships and Italy is demanding of Austria a chain of ports and islands extending all the way along the eastern coast from Albania to the Gulf of Trieste, which will give her the command of the whole Adriatic.

If these ambitions of Italy were fully satisfied it would mean that Austria, Hungary and all the Balkan states except Greece would be virtually barred from the Adriatic Sea. Germany would then be bottled up as Russia has been by being shut off from southern seas by hostile territory.

Trieste is the seaport of Austria. Fiume is the seaport of Hungary. Pola is the Austro-Hungarian naval base. These three are now demanded by Italy under threat of war. On racial grounds there is much to be said in favor of the Italian claim. The population is largely Italian; at least half in the case of Fiume and Pola and about four-fifths in the case of Trieste. Like all the Italians of the Coastland they are devotedly attached to their language, religion and customs, which they have striven for centuries to preserve against the constantly increasing Slavonic pressure from the hinterland.

For while the city people on the eastern Adriatic coast are mostly Italians the country people are mostly Croats or Slovenes and the Government has favored the Slavs in order to root out the Italian influence. The districts were so gerrymandered as to secure a Slavic majority wherever, possible and then Croatian or Slovenian took the place of Italian in the schools and courts. It made the Italians furious that their children should be cut off from the rich heritage of T^alian culture and forced to learn a language which had no literature. Some thirty years ago •when the question of recognizing Slovene as the language of the province of Carniola, Count Auersperg entered the Diet carrying under one arm a bundle of books which he presented as containing the entire body of Slavenian literature. Nevertheless the bill passed. As in Alsace and Poland the attempt to eradicate the language degenerated into petty persecution and obstinate resistance. Every case of injury was echoed thruout Italy, magnified and multiplied in the process, and served to swell the ranks of the party whose slogan was "Italia Irredenta."

The fact that the "Unredeemed Italy" of Istria was enjoying greater prosperity than at any former period of its twelve hundred years of history and that this was due to its serving as the sole gateway to Austria-Hungary did not reconcile the Italians on either side of the Adriatic to being separated by the sea. The question of what should in equity to all become of the Kiistenland and the Dalmatian islands would be a difficult one to solve even if approached in the spirit of good will and unselfishness by both parties. But under existing circumstances there is little hope for a solution that will be either just or satisfactory. The fate of the country is to be decided by war or bargaining with little regard to the desires of its mixt population. The case of the other territory demanded by Italy is not so difficult. Here the Italian claim is clearer and could be granted without involving any fatal consequences to Austria. The Tyrol sticks its tongue down into Italian territory in most offensive fashion and fairly tempts the cutting off. It would be a real "rectification of the frontier" to draw the boundary line across it, probably somewhere between what Italy demands and what Austria is willing to cede.

The lower part, the Trentino, as the Italians call it, drains southward into Italy and its commercial interests lie in the same direction. The population, if we exclude Austrian garrisons and government officials, is almost solidly Italian. It has suffered by the unification of Italy, for it has shared neither in the recent prosperity of the kingdom from which it is separated or of the empire with which it is incorporated. Austrian rule has been oppressive and unintelligent and the people are sullen and disloyal. It is a country of peasants and mountaineers, a very different type from the Italians of the Istrian cities. The most profitable outlook for the Trentino would be the tourist industry, but this has been neglected by the people and discouraged by the officials. At Trent was held from 1545 to 1563 the ecumenical council which set the standards of Catholic faith and anathematized the heretics.

"When the snow melts on the mountain tops then the conquest of the Trentino will begin" is the saying with which the Italian Irredentists have been holding in check their eagerness to enter upon the war. Now the snow is melting and the Italian army is mobilized, but they will not have an easy task before them in spite of Austria's exhaustion and preoccupation on her other frontiers. In 1866 the Italians invaded the Trentino in cooperation with the Prussians, who were simultaneously attacking Austria from the north. But in the battle of Custozza the army of Victor Emmanuel was defeated by the Austrians. The Prussians, on the contrary, succeeded and as a result of their victory at Koniggratz first Austria and later Italy were brought into the alliance with Prussia which has lasted to the present. During all this time the Italian Government has out of deference to Austrian sensibilities been compelled to repress all overt manifestations of the Irredentist movement, but now freed from the bonds of the Triple Alliance it need no longer set itself in opposition to the popular demand for the rescue of "Unredeemed Italy" from the Austrian yoke.

Bismarck foresaw the change in Italy's attitude which has now taken place, for in 1888 he said:

In case of a reconciliation with France, Italy might resume her Irredentist policy and renew her claims on Austrian territory.

Curiously enough Italy's desire for expansion in Africa was the reason why Italy became a member of the Triple Alliance and why she left it. It was Bismarck who made Italy the enemy of France by consenting to the French conquest of Tunis in 1881. It was Sir Edward Grey, probably as great a diplomatist as Bismarck ever was, who alienated Italy from Germany by consenting to the Italian conquest of Tripoli. The partition of northern Africa by mutual agreement between Great Britain, France and Italy in spite of the protests and threats of Germany nearly precipitated the war in 1911.

But none of the European powers was ready for it then, so it was postponed. During the Tripolitan war Italy took pains to draw her troops from the southern and eastern parts of the country so as not to weaken the defenses on the Austrian frontier. Austria began to build dreadnoughts in preparation for the coming struggle for the Adriatic. Then a new complication came in, for the Balkan wars doubled the power of Serbia and aroused her ambitions to take not only Bosnia and Herzegovina from Austria but also Fiume and the Croatian and Dalmatian coast and islands, which Italy also covets. So we have the curious situation that Italy proposes to fight on the side of Serbia for territory they both plan to annex.