Tuesday, June 4, 2024


There was a period of time when the Greece 's western islands (usually called "Ionian islands") were devastated by the Middle Ages invasions and wars and so lost most of their original greek population: not only the island of Corfu (the greek "Kerkyra") seemed to be dominated by the nearby Italians (who largely colonised the island after the year 1100 AD) and so would be forever italian (or italianised, because the area was and is greek), but also -in minor proportions- the islands of Cefalonia ("Kephalonia"), Itaca ("Ithaca") and Zante ("Zakynthos").

Greece in 1388 AD. Note that Venice possessed Corfu and Creta, while Florence the Attica region around Athens and the other Ionian islands were in the "County Palatine of Cefalonia".

The Ionian islands remained under Byzantine rule after the end of the Roman empire, before being caught up in the wars of powerful European families (mainly Italian and French). Zante, Cefalonia and some of the smaller islands were conquered by the Normans of southern Italy in the 12th Century. Indeed from the late 11th century, the Ionian Islands became a battleground in the "Byzantine–Norman" Wars. The island of Corfu was held by the Normans in 1081–1085 and 1147–1149, while the Venetians unsuccessfully besieged it in 1122–1123. The island of Cephalonia was also unsuccessfully besieged in 1085 AD, but was plundered in 1099 AD by the Pisans and in 1126 AD by the Venetians. Finally, Corfu and the rest of its byzantine theme except for Leucas were captured by the Normans under Guglielmo II of Sicily in 1185 AD.

Although Corfu was recovered by the Byzantines by 1191 AD, the other islands henceforth remained lost to Byzantium, and formed a "County Palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos" under the sicilian admiral Margaritus of Brindisi. The County Palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos existed for four centuries, from 1185 to 1479 AD as part of the Kingdom of Sicily. It is noteworty to pinpoint that the title and the right to rule the Ionian islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos was originally given to the italian Margaritus of Brindisi for his services to Guglielmo (William) II, King of Sicily, in 1185 AD. He ordered many of his sailors to move from southern Italy (mainly from Brindisi) to the Ionian islands with their families, in order to control better this territory.

In 1267 AD, Charles of Anjou, French King of Sicily, took the island of Corfu and attempted to replace the existing Orthodox religion with the Catholic one. Orthodox Christians were persecuted and all churches converted to Catholic churches. Many colonists from catholic Italy moved to the island, starting the ethnic group now called "Italian Corfiots" and located mainly in Corfu city. But the attempt of conversion fell and Corfu returned under Venetian rule in 1386 AD. Corfu stayed under Venetian domination for a long period of more than four centuries until 1797 AD, during which a large number of buildings, monuments, and other constructions were built becoming the symbols of Venetian/Italian architecture in Greece.

The italian Tocco family conquests & possessions in the Ionian islands in the XIV century

The County Palatine was governed by three families (who moved some families from Italy and France to repopulate the Ionian islands): the italian Orsini, the french House of Anjou and the italian Tocco family. The rule of the family of Tocco lasted for 122 years, up until 1479, when Ottomans captured Cephalonia, Zante, Lefkada and Ithaca. However the Turkish rule in the three islands of Cephalonia, Zante and Ithaca was short-lived. In 1481 AD, two years after the beginning of the Turkish rule, Antonio Tocco invaded and briefly occupied Cephalonia and Zante but he was soon driven out by the Venetians. Zante was officially recovered by the Venetians in 1485 AD. Then, Cephalonia, after sixteen years of Turkish occupation (1484–1500), became part of the "Stato da Màr" of the republic of Venice on 24 December 1500, with the Siege of the Castle of St. George. Finally, Ithaca, following the fate of Cephalonia, was conquered by Venice in 1503.

After Venice captured Cephalonia on 24 December 1500, the administration of the defense of all the islands was delegated to an official seated in Corfu. This official was being referred to as "the General Provveditore of the Three Islands" ("Provveditore Generale delle Tre Isole") and resided at the fortress of Angelokastro from 1387 AD to the end of the 16th century. The Three Islands refer to Corfu, Zante and Cephalonia. The Venetian equivalent for "Ionian Islands" is "Ixołe Jonie", the Italian being "Isole Ionie".

We know that before the XIV century the island of Corfu was populated by greek speaking inhabitants in the country & the villages, however the capital (Corfu city) was nearly fully venetian speaking. But this changed when the Turks wanted to conquest the island: the Ottomans in 1537 AD were not able to conquer the capital (and so most of the venetian speaking citizens survived the war) but did terrible massacres in the island's hinterland - while deporting as slaves nearly all of the christians living there (some estimates are terrible: the enslaved were more than 22,000 and so the Greeks of Corfu were reduced to a minimum of survivers).

Italian Tocco family's Coat of Arms, when ruled the "County Palatine of Cephalonia & Zante"

As a consequence of these Ottoman attacks & huge enslavements (that were done not only with Corfu, but also with all the other Ionian islansds) when the central Ionian Islands were captured by Venice their population was very low and Ithaca was completely uninhabited. To address this problem, a small colonisation to the islands took place. Catholic Italians from Italian "Terraferma" (and a few Corfiot Italians from Corfu) with some Orthodox Greeks from the "Stato da Màr" were transferred to the islands as part of the colonisation. The phenomenon is well attested for Cephalonia, after whose conquest in 1500 AD the island was colonized not only by civilian but also by military (called "Stradioti") refugees from the lost Venetian fortresses of Modon and Coron. Furthermore the island also received an influx of Italan families from the Venetian-ruled island of Crete, just conquered by the Turks.

Venetians, being Catholics, retained the privileges enjoyed by the Latin bishopric of the islands under the Count Palatine dynasties. The Catholics were not numerous, and during the Venetian period, they were mainly concentrated in Corfu, Itaca and Cephalonia. Most of them were descendants of Italian settlers but there were some conversions by Greeks to Catholicism.

After the terrible 3 tentatives of the Ottomans to conquer Corfu the researchers Mancini & D'Ambrosio think that in the 1580 census nearly 80% of the island inhabitants were venetian speaking and catholic, concentrated in Corfu city - while the other areas of Corfu were nearly totally depopulated. Something similar happened after the occupations of the other Ionian islands by the Turks: probably in those years Cephalonia had 2/3 of the population that was venetian speaking and catholic, while Itaca had a something similar percentage (but Zante had only around 35% of "italianised" inhabitants). So, we can say that these 3 islands (Corfu, Cefalonia and Itaca) were italianised at the end of the "Cinquecento" (at least we can say: more or less -because, of course, we have no precise statistical data about).

POSSIBLE POPULATION -according to "Paparrigopoulos, Constantine (1860). History of the Greek Nation, XI"- in 1580 in the islands of:
1) Corfu/Kerkyra................ (16000, of which 14000 venetian speaking)
2) Cefalonia/Kephalonia... (18000, of which 13500 " )
3) Itaca/Ithaca ................... (300, of which 250 " )
4) Zante/Zakynthos.......... .(14000, of which 4500 " )
Nota Bene: At least half of the venetian speaking population in Cefalonia and Zante was bilingual (greek-venetian), meaning they were Greeks partially "italianised" (or were descendants from at least one Italian relative, like a grandfather).

But the Republic of Venice welcame -after the Ottoman attacks & conquests in the XVI century- many refugees from the continental Greece conquered by the moslem Ottomans and so the islands were soon "flooded" by Greek christians. As a consequence when the republic of Venice ended in 1797 AD the orthodox Greeks were the majority in all the Ionian islands, with the only exception in Corfu city.

For example, after the collapse of the "Hexamilion wall", which was supposed to act as a defense across the Isthmus of Corinth; and hence, protect the Peloponnese, Leonardo III Tocco made an agreement with Venice to accept 10,000 refugees from this region. Leonardo III Tocco and his realm was increasingly vulnerable from Ottoman Turkish attacks. These refugees consisted of Greeks, Arvanites/Albanians and some Venetian officials & administrators (many with their families) and most of them were settled in Zante & Leucada. However Zakynthos was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1478 AD, but conquered by the Republic of Venice in 1482 AD and remained for 3 centuries free of the Turk domination while mostly greek populated.

In the last two centuries of Venice domination of the Ionian islands, the greek speaking inhabitants grew in percentage, while the venetian/italian speaking diminished, remaining only in the upper class categories, related to military and administrive control. But with the weakening of the Republic of Venice, many italian speaking families preferred to go back to the italian peninsula to live without the danger of Ottoman attacks or conquests.

Only in Corfu city this reduction was minimal (one worldwide famous Corfiot Italian was Felice Beato, photographer born in Corfu city -or Venice, according to a few historians- in 1833: see photo of him in 1866 to the left)

The years when the Ionian islands were "italian" or "italianised" were over forever.....even if the italian irredentism (note that Ugo Foscolo -one of the Italian Risorgimento fathers- was born in Zante) appeared powerful during Mussolini's rule in the late 1930s/early 1940s.

if interested about these fascism years, please read my "Corfu italiana" (https://researchomnia.blogspot.com/2024/04/).

Wednesday, May 1, 2024


There are only a few studies -like the one done by D. Rodogno ("Fascism's European Empire: Italian Occupation During the Second World War". Cambridge University Press, 2006)- about the tentative to create the italian province of "Alpi Occidentali" (and another possible small province on the french riviera coast: the "Alpi Marittime"). This happened after the Italian occupation of southeastern France in 1940, during WW2 (if interested in further detailed info, please read in french: https://books.openedition.org/pur/130170#anchor-toc-1-43).

Here it is what I found in my researches:

Map of occupied southern France in 1940. In green the areas in the Alps annexed to Italy and in yellow the territory "demilitarised", but controlled by Italy in southeastern France (probably to be in future the "Provincia delle Alpi Occidentali"-after the end of the expected victorious war). It is painted in grey lines the area (up to the Rodano river) occupied by Italy from November 1942 to September 1943 and that was formerly part of Vichy France.

In 1940, Italy on 10 June declared war against Britain and France and on 21 June Italian forces entered South Eastern France. It was quickly occupied Mentone on the coast, but on the mountains it was more difficult the conquests for the Italian troops. However on the 24th of June France and Italy signed an armistice effective the following day and allowing the Italians to retain the gains of several small communes as well as Menton. Additionally, a demilitarized strip 50 km wide from the French side of Mediterranean Sea to the Swiss border was agreed to be under the control of a specially established Italian-French Armistice Commission under the supervision of German and Italian officers.

In summer 1940, the Italian Armistice Commission ("Commissione Italiana d'Armistizio con la Francia", CIAF) produced two detailed plans concerning the future of the occupied French territories, according to historian Davide Rodogno:

Plan 'A' presented an Italian military occupation all the way to the river Rhone, in which France would maintain its territorial integrity except for Corsica and Nizza.

Plan 'B', proposed by senator Francesco Salata, the director of a section of the ISPI dedicated to Italian territorial claims, encompassed the Italian annexation of the Alpes Maritimes (including the Principality of Monaco) and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes Alpes and Savoie. The territory would be administered as the new Italian province of "Alpi Occidentali" with the town of Briançon (Italian: Brianzone) acting as the provincial capital (please read: https://archive.org/details/fascismseuropean0000rodo/page/90/mode/2up).

In addition to Nice and Corsica, the Italians planned further territorial claims to impose on defeated France. The problem of Italy's western border was raised as early as August 1940 with a limit that reached the Varo river, but included Antibes and substantial adjustments to the Alpine border up to Mont Blanc. A second project - that of Senator Francesco Salata, director of a special ISPI series dedicated to Italian claims - added direct dominion over the Principality of Monaco. On 19 October 1940, in a letter to Hitler, Mussolini stated that the time had come to establish the metropolitan and colonial borders of tomorrow's France, reducing it to proportions that would prevent it from starting to dream of expansion and hegemony again. The 850,000 Italians who formed the largest mass of foreigners in France, said the Duce, would be repatriated for a total of at least 500,000 in a year.

The Italian and German territorial acquisitions would have removed another four million inhabitants from France. The peace treaty would have reduced France to a state with 34-35 million inhabitants, with a tendency to decline further. As for acquisitions of a metropolitan and colonial nature, he added: "They are limited to Nice, Corsica and Tunisia. I don't count french Somalia because it is a classic desert". Among the numerous plans for the dismemberment of metropolitan France, one of the most complete and detailed was drawn up in 1942 by the Italian Armistice Commission with France (CIAF). It proposed a Plan A and a Plan B which were developed starting from the assumption that the military occupation would in any case remain a transitory phase awaiting victory.

Pietro Badoglio reads the conditions of the Franco-Italian Armistice (24 June 1940) to the French delegation at the Villa Incisa outside Rome.

Plan A, or «maximum project for the occupation of mainland France up to the Rhône and Corsica», was also called the «general governorship». He envisaged a regime of military occupation, with unimpaired sovereign rights, except for Nice and Corsica, where the Italians would settle "firmly in the corners of civil organisation". French legislation would have remained in force, but all provisions contrary to Italian interests would have been suspended. Extraordinary legislation would be carried out through the proclamations of a supreme commander or governor, while the French civil authorities and officials would continue to exercise their functions, unless replaced by political, military or public order needs. The prefects, their heads of cabinet and the sub-prefects would have been exempted, while the subordinate officials and administrators of the municipalities, departments and other minor local authorities would have remained in service. The administrative structure would have been composed of a governor general, a superintendent for civil affairs, eleven provincial governors, assisted by civil commissioners and extraordinary commissioners and, finally, a high commissioner for the principality of Monaco.

Plan B, in the event of implementation of the Plan B, the superintendents for Civil Affairs would have introduced the Italian legal system and provided the administration cadres of the new province of the Western Alps: prefecture, sub-prefecture and provincial offices (Civil Engineering, Finance, Post Office, Instruction). In Corsica, a general would have immediately replaced the French prefects and vice-prefects with civil commissioners to be installed in Bastia, Corte, Sartene. Other commissioners would be appointed in Grasse, Barcelonnette and in the two districts of Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Modane, thus ensuring the functioning of the dissolved local authorities. To make this plan operational, 326 officials would have been enough.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that Rodogno wrote also about the possibility of creating another small italian province around Mentone and Nizza: the "Alpi Marittime", to be added to the Liguria region (while the "Alpi Occidentali" was going to be added to the Piemonte region).

Furthermore, Mussolini started a process of italianisation in the occupied areas since 1940, with opening of italian schools and prohibition to speak french officially (only italian was allowed).This process of italianisation was most successful in the city of Mentone, that had nearly 90% of italian speaking inhabitants in summer 1943. And was also opened again by the italian fascists a local newspaper/magazine (the "Nizzardo", closed by the French in the XIX century, when Nizza was given to France by the Savoya's "Regno di Sardegna"), that proved to be totally nationalistic -because it was in the editing hands of the local italian irredentists.

Finally, we must remember that the "french départements" occupied entirely in November 1942 southern France were: Alpes-Maritimes; Basses-Alpes; Hautes-Alpes; Isère; Savoie; Haute-Savoie; the Var; and Corsica; while those occupied partially were Ain; Bouches-du-Rhône; Drôme; and the Vaucluse.

Map showing the Italian attacks and conquests in summer 1940

The following are excerpts from the very detailed and interesting “The Italian Occupation of South-Eastern France, 1940-1943” written by Niall MacGalloway (https://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/10023/10858/NiallMacGallowayPhDThesis.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y):

“The Italian Occupation of South-Eastern France, 1940-1943”, by Niall MacGalloway

The nature of the Italian zone of occupation makes it a difficult subject to examine. At different points during the war, the Italian zone of occupation encompassed different territories, making it difficult to talk about a single zone at any one time. Instead, the zone can be broadly divided into two temporal distinctions: those territories occupied from the signing of the Italo-French armistice in June 1940; and those territories which only came under occupation from November 1942.

The initial zone of occupation comprised of only 83,217 hectares and 28,473 inhabitants, the overwhelming majority of whom lived in the border town of Mentone. Mentone and the occupied communes in Savoie, Haute-Savoie and the Alpes-Maritimes remained the extent of the Italian zone of occupation until the Allied landings in North Africa prompted the Axis powers to occupy the remainder of unoccupied France in November 1942.

Prior to this invasion, Italy’s initial possessions had been treated as de facto annexed territories. The expansion of the zone of occupation brought a further eight départements under the control of Rome in their entirety, and another three were partially occupied. Nonetheless, even after the expansion of the zone of occupation, the territories initially occupied by Italy continued to be treated as annexed territories and were governed by different laws and by different agencies. As a result, it is possible to speak, if not of two separate Italian occupations, then of an Italian occupation with two distinct sections. Although governed by separate agencies, the two sections of the Italian zone of occupation existed simultaneously.

While the Italian annexed territories were subject to Italian law, this was never imposed on the occupied territories. Nonetheless, Italian organisations of law and order were present in these territories and Italian commanders did give orders to French administrative organs. In reality, of course, the Italian military presence in the region made it difficult for most mayors and public servants to ignore the wishes of the Italian military entirely. The Vichy government’s policy of collaboration with the occupiers in the hope that it would produce favourable results may also have created an atmosphere where such actions were acceptable. Unlike the annexed territories, however, any actions designed to co-operate with the Italian authorities were carried out thanks to the pragmatism of local government officials, rather than because they were legally obligated to do so: the legality of the Italian presence in the occupied territories had no real legal basis, especially in the armistice terms.

Despite her grandiose pre-war territorial ambitions, Italy opted for an initially small zone of occupation, most likely based upon pragmatism and economic and military realities. Italian troops were stationed inside the Linea verde (Green line), which roughly corresponded to the final position of the Italian troops.

Those territories stationed behind the Linea verde represented the extent of the initial zone of occupation, and the limits of Italy’s policies of annexation. French civilians were permitted travel within the limits of the Linea rossa (Red line). In practical terms, this covered almost the same area as the Linea verde, but encompassed small additional tracts of territory designed to compensate for mountain routes that were impassable in winter. The Linea viola (Purple line) represented an area fifty kilometres from the frontier which was to be completely demilitarised by the French army.

The armistice was also to be rolled out over a number of months, with demilitarisation of the Linea viola given the highest priority. In addition to these zones, a final Linea azzurra (Blue line) stretched far beyond the limits of the zone of occupation which gave Italian authorities the power to inspect French facilities as far afield as Lyon, Marseille and Toulon as well as Corsica.

Italian troops in Mentone, after the conquest.

Davide Rodogno has shown that by 1942, a time when Italy was practically starting to subordinate to Germany, two plans – Plan A and Plan B – had been established.

Plan A, also entitled “General Governorate”, foresaw a military occupation in which France would lose territorial sovereignty in the Nizzardo and Corsica, which would become Italian. French administrative staff would be dismissed, while 594 Italian officials, plus all Italian organisations, such as the carabinieri, would be sent to France.

Plan B envisaged an amalgamation of the Alpes-Maritimes and Monaco. Parts of the Alpes-deHaute-Provence, Haute-Alpes and Savoie would create the new province of Alpi Occidentali, containing 76,000 inhabitants with its capital at Briançon. This would become a full province of Italy, though difficulties were anticipated due to the sentiments of the population and communication issues. Corsica would be made autonomous, but dependent upon Italy.

Italy became increasingly aware that many of the territorial expansions that she made came at the behest of Germany. In France, the expansion of the zone of occupation to the Rhône was made possible only by the German diktat given to Pétain only hours earlier. Nonetheless, Italian subordination to Germany was once again demonstrated by the fact that Germany occupied the key cities of Avignon, Marseille, Lyon and Toulon (this city was inside the area under italian "control"!)>

Italy was determined to pursue her own policies in France. The most obvious example of this is the Italian policy towards Jews in the zone. In the years immediately following, scholars believed that the Jews were deliberately “saved” by the Italians. Italian anti-Semitism did not exhibit the same exterminatory drive that developed in Nazi Germany.

Davide Rodogno’s Plan A and Plan B for the future incorporation of French territories were certainly one way to "Italianise" areas of France, but it was not enough for Italy simply to declare the existence of new provinces. Plan B was arguably the more extensive of these two options and involved the amalgamation of the Alpes-Maritimes and the Principality of Monaco, which would presumably be re-styled as "Alpi Marittime". Tracts of the Alpes-deHaute-Provence, the Haute-Alpes and Savoie, would also be combined in order to create another new province: "Alpi Occidentali".

Despite the capital of this new province being placed at Briançon, it is likely that the region would gravitate towards Turin as the most dynamic city in the immediate vicinity. Although Nice was a growing urban centre, both Turin and Genoa were larger and benefitted from Italian policies designed to push these new provinces towards Piedmont and, to a lesser extent, Liguria.

In red the new limits of italian borders in Mentone (area west of Liguria that was united to Italy), after the conquest in June 1940.

Finally I want to pinpoint that at the outbreak of war, France was home to around 900,000 Italian citizens, but the real size of the Italian diaspora was far higher. There were also 500,000 Italians naturalised as French citizens during the 1930s, and many more who held dual French and Italian citizenship. In the department of Alpes-Maritimes, for instance, italian officials estimated that around 40% of the population of the department was Italian, and a further 40% of French citizens were of Italian descent. That means that 80% of the population in coastal areas like Mentone & near Nizza was clearly with italian roots directly or indirectly.

Because Italian nationality was passed down from the parent, regardless of place of birth, many people possessed dual French and Italian nationality. When war erupted, Italy began vigorously to assert its citizenship claims and consequently some men of the occupied areas served in the Italian Army.

And we must also remember that many thousands of Jews moved to the Italian zone of occupation to escape Nazi persecution in Vichy France. Nearly 80% of the remaining more than 300,000 French Jews took refuge there after November 1942, according to historians Paccini and Semelin. Indeed in January 1943 the Italians refused to cooperate with the Nazis in rounding up the Jews living in the occupied zone of France under their control and in March prevented the Nazis from deporting Jews in their zone.

In April 1943 German foreign minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop complained to Mussolini that "Italian military circles... lack a proper understanding of the Jewish question.". Quickly the italian marshall-general Cavallero answered saying that «The excessess against the Jews are not compatible with the honor of the Italian Army (Gli eccessi contro gli ebrei non sono compatibili con l'onore dell'esercito italiano.)»

Italian help to Jews after occupation of southeastern France in November 1942 (from https://www.holocaustrescue.org/chronology-of-rescue-by-italians):

Beginning in November of 1942, the Italian Army and Foreign Ministry officials occupy and administer eight French departments east of the Rhône River, in southern France. A French government remains in place, but the Italians control the area. In these Italian zones, French Jews and other refugees are protected right up until the Italians leave the war in September 1943.

Italian forces refuse to enforce any anti-Semitic measures in their zones. They refuse to allow any forced labor camps in their occupation zones. Further, the Italian occupying Army prevent any arrests or deportations of Jews in their area. As word spreads, thousands of Jewish refugees flee into the Italian zone. More than 50,000 Jews move to the Italian zone by July 1943. Twenty to thirty thousand of these are non-French Jews. Many of the Jews gravitate to the area around Nice (Italian "Nizza").

In order to prevent concentration of Jews in one area, refugees are sent inland to villages (like Saint-Martin-Vésubie) and even resort areas in each of the Italian occupied zones.

The Nazis strenuously protest these actions to Mussolini and representatives of the Italian Foreign Ministry. Mussolini's ministers and generals (like Cavallero) persuade him not to accede to the Nazi demands for deportations.

For nearly 10 months, Italian diplomats and the occupying military forces thwart the Nazis' "final solution" in southern France.

The following Italian diplomats were active in rescue of Jews in southern France: Gino Buti; Alberto Calisse, Consul in Nice; Guido Lospinoso, Interior Ministry Official and 'Inspector General of Racial Policy,' Nice; Vittoriano Manfredi, Consul in Grenoble; Augusto Spechel, Consul General in Nice; and Consul Vittorio Zoppi. In Paris, Consul General Gustavo Orlandini; and Vice Consuls Luciolli and Pasquinelli.

Two photos of French jews crossing the Alps north of Mentone while escaping to Italy in September 1943, after the German nazi took control of southeast France from the Italian army.

Monday, April 1, 2024


This month I am going to research about the italians in the island of Corfu' (called Kerkyra in Greek), specially during the years of the italian irredentism for the "Corfu' italiana".

The censuses of the populations living under the Venetian rule in the Greek regions -like the island of Corfu- are incomplete and fragmented both in quantity and quality, historians of demo- graphy think. We know only that around the year 1200 AD some families from Napoli's area and Puglia in southern Italy moved to live in Corfu, when the island was occupied by the italian Normans and their successors (but we don't know how many they were). Even relatively recent XVII, XVIII & some early XIX century documents lack a complete and continuous series of statistical data. I found only that in 1500 there were nearly 70,000 inhabitants in this island, but only 16,360 in 1580 (according to "sindici" Zuanne Gritti and Giulio Garzoni who did the first "official" census): a huge reduction due to the bloody attacks done by the Ottomans in 1537/1571/1573, who tried to conquer the Venetian Corfu'.

Map of Venetian Corfu in 1720.

We know that before the XVII century the island was populated by greek speaking inhabitants in the country & the villages, however the capital (Corfu city) was nearly fully venetian speaking. But this changed when the Turks wanted to conquest the island: the Ottomans in 1537 were not able to conquer the capital (and so most of the venetian speaking citizens survived the war) but did terrible massacres in the island's hinterland - while deporting as slaves nearly all of the christians living there (some estimates think that the enslaved were more than 22,000 and so the Greeks were reduced to a minimum of survivers).

They repeated the tentative in 1571 and 1573 (doing some additional massacres and enslavements, however not at the same huge level), but were again defeated by the Venetians: Will Durant, an American historian, claims that Corfu owed to the Republic of Venice the fact that it was the only part of Greece never conquered by the Muslim Turks.

Researcher Mancini thinks that in the 1580 census nearly 80% of the island inhabitants were venetian speaking, concentrated in Corfu city - while the other areas of Corfu were nearly totally depopulated.

But the Republic of Venice welcame -after the 3 attacks- many refugees from the continental Greece conquered by the moslem Ottomans and so the island was soon "flooded" by Greek christians. Already in the third census done in 1596 (according to Gerassimos D. Pagratis in his "LA POPOLAZIONE DI CORFÙ NEL CINQUECENTO") Corfu had a population of 23,748 inhabitants, an increase due mainly because of greek refugees from Lepanto, Modone, Corone and Navarino. And in the following centuries the greek population in the island increased further in percentage, while the venetian speaking remained at the same level - concentrated mainly in the capital and in some minor localities.

When disappeared the Republic of Venice at the end of the XVIII century, only Corfu city was mostly venetian speaking (and also it is noteworthy to pinpoint that inside the city there was a growing minority of Greek speaking inhabitants, relocated from the country nearby: according to french historians probably they were nearly 35% in 1800 Corfu city).

Then the "Corfioti italiani" (as were called) in the XIX century started to disappear. But their reduction originated the so called "italian irredentism" in the capital city (indeed during the XIX century the Corfiot Italians were mainly concentrated in the city of Corfu, which was called "Città di Corfù" by the Venetians).

Furthermore we must remember that the signatories of the creation in 1815 of the "United States of the Ionian Islands" (the first greek independent state of modern times) were nearly all Corfiot Italians:

B. Theotoki, president. - Cav. Calichiopulo. - Alessandro Marietti. - Niccolò Anino Anas°. - Vettor Caridi. - D. Foscardi. - D. Bulzo. - Felice Zambelly. - Basilio Zaro. - Valerio Stai. - Giovanni Morichi. - Stefano Palazzuol Scordilli. - Anastasio Battali. - Anastasio Cassimati. - Giacomo Calichiopulo Manzaro. - Spiridione Giallina Ym Anastasio. - An.° Tom.° Lefcochilo. - Cav. Niccolò Agorosto. - Marino Veia. - Niccolò D. Dallaporta. - Spiridione Metaxa Liseo. - Pietro Caidan. - Sebastiano D Schiadan. - Daniele Coidan. - Paolo Gentilini. - Spiridione Focca Gio. - Demetrio Arvanitachi. - Dionisio Genimata. - Giulio Domeneghini. - Francesco Mazzan. - Angelo Mercati. - Giovanni Melissimo. - Marino Stefano. - Angelo Condari. - Niccolò Cavada. - Pietro Petrizzopulo. - Gio. Psoma. - Niccolò Vretto. - Giorgio Massello. - Stefano Fanarioli. - Riccardo Plasket, secretary. - Dom. Valsamachi, secretary.

As can be seen, only the president & another two had Greek surnames, while all the others have Italian family names: this simple evidence shows the influence of the Corfiot Italians in the History of Greece! And we cannot forget that Ioannis Capodistrias (considered a founder of the modern Greek state and the architect of Greek independence) was born in Corfu city in a venetian family emigrated to Corfu in the XIII century from Istria's Capodistria: his family's name in Capodistria had been Vitori or Vittori

But the re-emergence of Greek nationalism, after the Napoleonic era, contributed to the disappearance of the Corfiot Italians. Corfu was ultimately incorporated into Greece in 1864 and the Greek government abolished the use of italian in the Ionian islands in 1870.

It is important -however- to pinpoint that the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1947) expanded Italian influence and control on some islands of Greece: in the first half of the XX century there were also a few tentatives to create some "italian provinces" in those islands ( "Provincia di Corfu", "Provincia di Rodi", "Provincia delle Cicladi" and "Provincia delle Sporadi").

Initially these tentatives were due to some ideals linked to the "Italian Irredentism", like as happened with Corfu and the Ionian islands. Those islands (mainly Corfu, actual Kerkyra, please read also http://wwwbisanzioit.blogspot.com/search/label/Corfu) in the beginning of the XIX century had a huge community of venetian speaking inhabitants (the island of Cefalonia -actual Kephalonia- was nearly totally venetian speaking in the XVIII century, according to: Kendrick, Tertius T. C. (1822). "The Ionian islands: Manners and customs"; p. 106 ), as a consequence of the Republic of Venice "dominions" in this region since the Middle Ages. For example one of the Italian "Risorgimento" fathers was Ugo Foscolo, born in Zante (actual Zakynthos).

Festa di San Spiridiano in "Citta di Corfu" (Corfu city) in early summer 1942, showing some of the nearly 2000 Corfiot Italians of the island. The city was proposed to be the capital of a possible 1943 "Provincia di Corfu", but WW2's Italian defeat blocked this project

In Corfu, the "Corfiot Italians" were helped by Mussolini, when he took control of Italy in the 1920s (read, if interested in further information, the article I created in wikipedia and named "Corfiot Italians" or see: https://6612springbottomway.blogspot.com/2018/12/blog-post.html).

Additionally it is noteworhty to pinpoint that the island of Corfu was "administratively" separated from Greece, when was occupied by Italy in spring 1941, while the Corfiot Italians welcomed the Italian troops in those 1941 days: see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCktc3anQo4. There were -also- some comments from the same Mussolini in order to create a "Provincia di Corfu" in late 1942.

Pugliese and Neapolitan fishermen (the latter engaged in the activity of coral extraction since the eighteenth century) were the backbone of the Italian community of Corfu island, estimated at 1,300 by a census promoted in 1928 by the Greek authorities: they reached the quota of 1,500 people during the first year of the second world war, when they welcomed the arrival of the Italian troops in April 1941 (video showing groups of Italian Corfiots throwing flowers to Italian soldiers:

In fact, the Italians of Corfu, even if reduced to a thousand in the late thirties of the XX century by the Greek authorities, were strongly supported by fascist propaganda and in the summer of 1941 (after the Italian occupation of all the Ionian islands) Italian schools were reopened in the city of Corfu. In autumn 1942 the Italians of Corfu became almost 2000, concentrated mainly in Corfu city.

And Mussolini continuously declared -during 1940/1941/1942- that Corfu's urban architecture influence derives from Venice, reflecting the fact that from 1386 to 1797 the island was ruled by the Venetians. Indeed the architecture of the Old Town of Corfu along with its narrow streets, the "kantounia', has clear Venetian influence and is amongst the actual World Heritage Sites in Greece. Another notable Venetian-era buildings include the "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù", the first Greek opera house.

After the defeat of Italy in WW2, the greek government "exterminated" the italians of the island: actually not one single member of this 2000 persons community remains in Corfu!

The following are excerpts from the article about the "Corfiot Italians " that I wrote in wikipedia some years ago:


Foto of Old town of Corfu city


The origins of the Corfiot Italians can be found in the expansion of the Italian States toward the Balkans during and after the Crusades. The Kingdom of Naples sent in the XII century some Italian families to Corfu to rule the island conquered, and the same transfer - but in larger scale - was done by the Republic of Venice in 1204 and later. Those families brought to Corfu the Italian language of the Middle Ages.

When Venice ruled Corfu and the Ionian islands during the Renaissance, all the nobility of the islands was Venetian and the dominant presence of this community lasted until the first half of the XIX century.

Under Venetian rule, most of the Corfiote upper classes spoke Italian (or Venetian in many cases) and converted to Roman Catholicism, but the mass of people remained Greek in language and religion mainly after the Ottoman sieges of the XVI century.

In the main city of Corfu, called "Cittá di Corfu" by the Venetians, were concentrated the Corfiote Italians of Corfu. More than half of the population of Corfu city in the XVIII century was venetian speaking. The development of the Greek nationalism, after Napoleon times, created a process that assimilated in the next century the community of the Corfiot Italians (in 1870 the Greek government abolished all the Italian schools in the Ionian islands, just incorporated to Greece in 1864).


The Republic of Venice dominated Corfu for nearly five centuries and many Venetians moved to the island. By the end of the XV century, the Italian language and culture -- including in some ways the Roman Catholic church -- came to predominate.

Kerkyra (the Greek name of Corfu) remained in Venetian hands till 1797, though several times assailed by Turkish naval and land forces and subjected to four notable sieges in 1537, 1571, 1573 and 1716, in which the great natural strength of the city and its defenders asserted itself time after time. The effectiveness of the powerful Venetian fortifications of the island was a great factor that enabled Corfu to remain the last bastion of free, uninterrupted Greek and Christian civilization in the southern Balkans after the fall of Constantinople.

Will Durant, a French historian, claims that Corfu owed to the Republic of Venice the fact that it was the only part of Greece never conquered by the moslem Turks. The Turks occupied the other Ionian islands, but were unsuccessful with their four sieges of Corfu. This fact gave Corfu and Malta the title of Bastions of Christian Europe during the late Renaissance.

The "New Venetian fort" in Corfu city

Corfu Town looks very different from most Greek towns because of Corfu's unique history. From 1386 to 1797, Corfu was ruled by Venetian nobility: much of the town reflects this era when the island belonged to the Republic of Venice, with multi-storied buildings on narrow lanes.

Before the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans most of Corfu population spoke the "Veneto da mar" dialect as first or second language. But a hiuge influx of Christian refugees from Greece and Albania along with the mortality of the Black Death and the Turkish deportations of the original Corfiotes from Corfu (when they tried unsuccessfully to conquer the island for three times), changed the ethnic-linguistic-religious composition of the island population. From predominantly Venetian-catholic before the XIV century the island of Corfu became Greek-orthodox by the XVII century, with the exception of Corfu city that maintained a majority of venetian speaking population (with the Italkian of the Jewish community). This was a process, provoked mainly by the Ottoman invasions, similar to what happened in the venetian Dalmatia (where only the cities -like Zara, Spalato and Cattaro- maintained a majority of venetian speaking people).

The island served even as a refuge for Greek scholars, and in 1732 became the home of the first Academy of modern Greece. Many Italian Jews took refuge in Corfu during the venetian centuries and spoke their own language (Italkian), a mixture of Hebrew and Venetian with some Greek words.

The Venetian influence was important in the development of the Opera in Corfu. During Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, and many local composers, such as the Corfiot Italians Antonio Liberali and Domenico Padovani developed their career with the theatre of Corfu, called Teatro di San Giacomo. Indeed, the architecture of Corfu remains much more Italian than anywhere else in Greece.

Venetians promoted the Catholic church during their four centuries rule in Corfu. Even if today the majority of Corfiots are Greek Orthodox (following the official religion of Greece) there is however a percentage of Catholics (5%) who owe their faith to their origins. These contemporary Catholics are mostly families who came from Malta, but also from Italy during the Republic of Venice. Today the Catholic community consists of about 4000 people, (2/3 of Maltese descent) who live almost exclusively in the Venetian "Citadel" of Corfu City, living harmoniously side-by-side with the Orthodox community.

Venetian domination influenced extensively the way of life in the island in many ways: the local cuisine, for example, was influenced at a great degree by the Venetian cuisine. Today, Corfu's cuisine maintains some Venetian delicacies, cooked with local spicy recipes: "Pastitsado" (the most popular dish in the island of Corfu, that comes from the Venetian dish Spezzatino), "Strapatasada", "Sofrito", "Savoro" , "Bianco" and "Mandolato". Even the Corfu tradition of the Carnival (Ta Karnavalia) was introduced by the Venetians.

The Italian influence is evidenced even in Corfu's spacious squares such as the popular "Spinada" and its narrow cobblestone alleys known as "Kantounia". The Italian Renaissance is best represented on Corfu by the surviving structures of the old "Fortezza Vecchia" on the eastern side of the town and created by the Veronese military engineer Michele Sanmicheli and the Venetian Ferrante Vitelli, who designed the later fortress on the west, the "Fortezza Nuova".

In the Venetian period the town of Corfu began to grow on a low hillock situated between the two forts. In many respects Corfu typifies the small Venetian town, or borgo, of which there are numerous other surviving examples in the former Venetian territories of the Adriatic Sea, such as Ragusa and Spalato in Dalmatia. As in Venice itself, the "campi" developed haphazardly in the urban fabric where it was natural for residents to congregate, especially around churches, civic buildings, fountains, and cisterns. The best example of such a space is Plateia Dimarcheiou, or Town Hall Square, overlooked on its north side by the seventeenth-century Loggia dei Nobili (which today serves as the seat of local government) and on the east side by the late sixteenthcentury Catholic Church of St. Iakovos, or St. James.

Actually the Corfu City Hall was the original "Teatro di San Giacomo": during Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, which was the real source of the extraordinary (given conditions in the mainland of Greece) musical development of the island during that era. The opera house of Corfu during 18th and 19th century was that of the "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo", named after the neighbouring catholic cathedral, but the theatre was later converted into the Town Hall. A long series of local composers, such as the Corfiot Italians Antonio Liberali and Domenico Padovani contributed to the fame of the Teatro di San Giacomo.

Cafe (Italian style) in Corfu city


The Italian Risorgimento was initially concentrated in the Italian peninsula with the surrounding continental areas (Istria, Dalmatia, Trentino, Nizzardo, etc..) and did not reached Corfu and the Ionian islands. One of the main heroes of the Italian Risorgimento, the poet Ugo Foscolo, was born in Zante from a noble venetian family of the island, but only superficially promoted the possible unification of the Ionian islands to Italy.

Consequently, the small communities of venetian speaking people in Corfu were mostly assimilated by the Greek government after the island became part of Greece in 1864, mainly after all the Italian schools were closed in 1870. But the Italian language maintained some importance, as can be seen by the fact that poets like Stefano Martzokis (Marzocchi was the surname of the father, an Italian from Emilia-Romagna) and Geranimos Markonos, the first from Corfù and the second from Cefalonia, wrote in Italian some of their poems in the second half of the XIX century.

The island of Corfu was the refuge for many Italians in exile during the Wars of Independence of Italy, like Niccolò Tommaseo (who married Diamante Pavello-Artale, a Corfiot Italian). It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the greek government closed the italian school of Corfu city in the second half of the XIX century and this fact reducrd the importance of the Corfiot italians in the Corfu society.

Initially the italian government did not react to the slow disappearance of the Italians of Corfu, but after WWI the Kingdom of Italy started to apply a policy of expansionism toward the Adriatic area and saw Corfu as the gate of this sea. Mussolini developed to the extreme nationalistic positions the ideals of the Italian irredentism and promoted actively the unification of Corfu to Italy.

Consequently, the Corfiote Italians, even if reduced to a few hundreds in the 1930s, were strongly supported by the fascist propaganda and in summer 1941 - after the Italian occupation of the Ionian islands - Italian schools were reopened in Corfu city.


Italy occupied Corfu two times: the first for a few months only in 1923 by Mussolini, after the assassination of Italian officers; the second during WWII, from April 1941 to September 1943:

The first) The Corfu incident was used by Italy to occupy temporarily Corfu from august to September 1923.
The second) During the Greco-Italian War Corfu was occupied by the Italians in April 1941. They administered Corfu and the Ionian islands as a separate entity from Greece until September 1943, following Mussolini's orders of fulfilling the Italian Irredentism and make Corfu part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The following is the detailed chronology of the two occupations:


At the end of December 1915, Italy sent a military force to Corfu under the command of General Marro. They established Post Offices with the French occupation troops there. In 1915-1919, the Italian and French forces (as well as Serbian forces) remained on the island of Corfu. The Italians did not have any intention to pull out in 1919, but the British and the French government forced them to displace.

In 1923, the Italians tried to occupy Corfu again. The morning of the 27th of August 1923, unknown people (probably Greeks) murdered the General Enrico Tellini and other three officers of the Italian engrave deputation on the Greek – Albanian border.

Italy made an announcement asking within 24 hours the following demands: the apology of the Greek people; the commemoration of the dead in the Catholic Church of Athens, with all the members of the Greek government to participate; the honor of the Italian flag in the Italian naval squadron, which would have shipping in Faliro; the investigation of the Greek authorities adjoined by the Italian military attendant carnal Perone di San Martino, which should end within 5 days; the death penalty of the guilty people; the Greek government should pay the amount of 50 million Italian pounds in 5 days, as a penalty; the dead should be honored with military honors in Preveza.

The Greek government responded accepting only the following demands: the Greeks accepted to present the apologies; the commemoration; the honor of the Italian flag at the Embassy; the honor of the dead in Preveza.

Consequently on 31st of August 1923, the Italian Army suddenly attacked Corfu. The commander Antony Foschini asked from the Prefect of Corfu to surrender the island. The Prefect refused and he informed the government. Foschini warned him that the Italian forces would attack at 17:00 and the Corfiots refused to raise the white flag in the fortress. Seven thousand refugees, 300 orphans plus the military hospital were lodged in the Old Fortress, as well as the School of Police in the New Fortress. At 17:05 the Italians bombarded Corfu for 20 min.

There were victims among the refugees of the old Fortress and the Prefect ordered the raising of the white flag. The Italians besieged the island and set the forces ashore. From the beginning of their possession, they started to inflict hard penalties on the people who had guns, and the officers declared that their possession was permanent. There were daily requisitions of houses and they censored the newspapers. Greece asked for the interference of the Society of the Nations, in which Greece and Italy were members, and demanded the solution of the problem through arbitration. The Italian government of Mussolini refused, declaring that Corfu will be possessed until the acceptance of the Italian terms. On 7th of September 1923, the ambassador’s conference in Paris ended with the evacuation of the Italian forces from Corfu, which finally happened on the 20th of September 1923 and ended on the 27th of the same month.

Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù (now Corfu City Hall)


During the Second World War Mussolini wanted to possess the Ionian Islands, which he succeeded with the help of the Germans during the Greco-Italian War. The Italians occupied Corfu from March 28, 1941. They implemented a process of italianization, with creation of Italian schools, centered around the small surviving community of the Corfiote Italians, who still spoke the venetian dialect.

The first reaction to the Italian occupation happened on the first Sunday of November 1941. During the procession of the Saint Spyridon, the fascist young Corfiot Italians participated and provoked the students of the Greek high schools. When the procession arrived in the Upper Square, the students started to leave whilst singing the national Greek songs. The “Carbinaria” and the “Finetsia” fascist groups attacked and arrested many Greek students, beating them and exiling some of them to the island of Othonous. After that episode there was a relative calm in Corfu until the surrender of Italy in September 9, 1943.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the island of Corfu was one of the few areas of Greece without famine in 1942, thanks to the food help from the italian government.

The small Corfiot Italian community numbered more than 1500 people, living mainly in Corfu city, when Mussolini occupied the island in 1941-1943. They increased to nearly 2000 in summer 1943, because the italian schools were reopened attracting personnel from Italy and a few descendants of some Corfiot italians (who refugiated in Italy in the XIX century) moved back to Corfu city. Furthermore it is noteworthy to pinpoint that the community of "Corfiot Maltese" (numbering around 5000) was initiating in those years an italianisation process, because also Malta was considered by the Fascists as an irredent island that should be belonging to the kingdom of Italy.

From the 10th to the 14th of September of 1943, the Germans tried to force to surrender the Italian garrison in Corfu, while the political prisoners were set free from the small island of Lazaretto. The morning of 13th of September, Corfiots woke up to the disasters of the war. The German air raids continued the whole day bombarding the port, the Fortresses and strategic points. During the night of 14th of September, huge damages happened in the Jewish parts of Saint Fathers and Saint Athanasios, the Court House, the Ionian Parliament, the Ionian Academy, -in which the Library was lodged-, the Schools of Middle Education, the Hotel "Bella Venezia", the Custom Office, the Manor-Houses and the Theatre. Finally the next week the Germans occupied the island with huge losses between the Italians, forcing successively the nearly 5000 Jews (speakers of the "Italkian", a language made of hebrew, italian and a few greek words) of the island to concentration camps in Germany.

Actually there are no more Corfiot Italians in the island: the last peasant speaking the "Veneto da mar" local dialect died in the 1980s.

Magazine front-image showing Italian troops landing in Corfu city in April 1941

However something remains of the Italian presence in the island: the long Venetian domination left not only architecture masterpieces but also:
1) a very strong influence on local Greek language, which absorbed a wide range of Italian words - more than one third of the words in the local greek dialect of Corfú city are loanworded from the Italian language;
2) the fact that the Corfu's cuisine also maintains many Venetian delicacies, cooked with local spicy recipes. Dishes with italian roots include "Pastitsada" (the most popular dish in the island of Corfu, that comes from the Venetian dish "Spezzatino"), "Strapatsada", "Sofrito", "Savoro", "Bianco", "Poulenta", "Mandola", "Fogatsa", "Bourdeto", "Stifado" and "Mandolato" (to name the few most famous);
3) some important traditions in Corfu that were introduced by the Venetians, such as the Carnival (Ta Karnavalia) and the passion for "opera".
4) The "Liston": this elegant promenade of Corfu city is lined with cafes and restaurants and has the same "way of life" (for the local people) like in any italian beach town.

Friday, March 1, 2024



From 1876 to 1980 more than 26 million Italians emigrated abroad: it is interesting to note that this figure is equal to the total Italian population at the time of italian unification in 1861.

According to the data available (since 1905), 48 percent of Italian emigrants returned before of the First World War, 1.52 percent between the two wars, 57 percent after the second world War. More than half of the emigrants returned home, on average at least once. The peak of the phenomenon was reached at the beginning of the 20th century, when more than half a million people left the country every year, and in 1913 with 872,000 units. Before the first war fourteen million people had already emigrated worldwide: 55 percent of the entire flow of a century. Initially the flow was mainly toward the Americas.

At the end of the second decade of the 2000s, over 1.5 million Italians resided in Latin America, approximately a third of the 5.5 million registered in the Registry of Italians Resident Abroad (AIRE). Eight Latin American countries appear in the ranking of the top 25 Italian communities abroad: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico. Other communities of a certain importance are found in Paraguay, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Bolivia, while in Honduras and Nicaragua there are less than a thousand Italian residents. Therefore, it is valid to say that Latin America is mostly a "continent of Italians".

"Festa do immigrante" (Immigrant Celebration) in Sao Paulo/Brasil

The Italian presence was decisive in the formation of Argentina and Brazil as modern countries, but also in the others the influence of the Italians was felt to a notable extent. The direct contribution of the pioneers of emigration was strengthened by the contribution given by their descendants, who became local citizens. Natives are estimated at nearly 32 million in Brazil, more than 25 million in Argentina, 2 million in Colombia, 1.5 million in Uruguay, 1 million in Venezuela, and more than 850 thousand in Paraguay and Mexico. By adding the results of these estimates to the Italians registered with AIRE in all the world, we arrive at nearly exceeding the population resident in Italy in 2020 (that was 61 million, but some estimates -like those of researcher Mancini- judge that the descendants of italians in the world should be nearly 100 million!)

The first flows were those of Risorgimento exiles followed, from the Unification of Italy onwards, by those who moved for work, driven to do so by a situation of poverty. The "Great Emigration" occurred from 1876 onwards, was intense for the entire duration of the century, and even increased in the following century until the eve of the First World War. Emigration reduced in intensity after the First World War and during the period of the fascist regime while the emigrants were mainly of southern origin in the XX century (because in the northern Italy the process of big industrialization -mainly in the triangle Milan/Torino/Genova- stopped the former huge emigration).

After the Second World War, the flows resumed towards Latin America for only a few years and were directed with particular intensity towards Venezuela following its oil boom. Therefore, the destinations of that continent were supplanted by European ones and, moreover, Italy's internal development strongly reduced the tendency to exodus. Few Italians now emigrate to Latin American countries: for family, commercial or business reasons, as representatives of NGOs, or for other professional reasons, while temporary travel for tourism is more substantial. However, Latin Americans who have emigrated to Italy since the 1970s have become more numerous, i.e. since Italy began to become a country of immigration due to economic, social hardship and also political instability in Latin America.

Argentina fascists in 1939: the "Fascio" of Buenos Aires had 4000 members (a small number in the total italian population of the city). After the WW2 disappearance of fascism, nearly all of them become fanatical supporters of Peronism

Actually the city with the highest number of people of Italian origin in the world is Sao Paulo, Brazil: six million and half of the 11 million "saopaulinhos" (or nearly 60% of the total population). Not only that: 44% of the population of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and 52% of those who live in Buenos Aires, which has 12 million inhabitants, have Italian roots.

Uruguay is the latinoamerican nation were was more strong the "italianism": the period of the late 1930s represented an era in which the Italian community achieved primary importance in Uruguayan society. It coincided with the rise to power of the Italian-Uruguayan Baldomir Ferrari (1938-1943). The Italian-Uruguayan President Ferrari obtained that the hydroelectric dam of the artificial lake "Rincón del Bonete", on the Rio Negro, was financed and partially built mainly by the Italian government in the late 1930. This President of Uruguay openly appreciated Italian fascism and attempted to imitate some of its corporate and political characteristics.

In Montevideo, for example, there was a political Fascio with 1200 members, which gave 150 Italian-Uruguayan volunteers to the Italian conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. President Ferrari (and his predecessor) managed to obtain funding and technical support from Mussolini (and also from Hitler) to build the dam on the Rio Negro, creating the largest artificial lake in South America. Furthermore, he promoted the beginning of the industrialization process of Uruguay through Italian companies. The Italian diplomat Serafino Mazzolini stated that Mussolini considered Uruguay as the most "Italian" state in the Americas, with which to form a possible future political and ethnic-racial alliance.

The italian language acquired considerable importance in Montevideo in those years and became compulsory in Uruguay's high schools in 1942, during the presidency of Baldomir Ferrari.

The Chile's Alessandri family, of Italian descent, in 1920, with two future presidents of Chile, Arturo Alessandri (1920–1925 and 1932–1938) and Jorge Alessandri (1958–1964)

The following are the ten highest percentages of Italian descendants (in parentesis the actual Italian citizens) in the main LatinoAmerican countries. It is noteworthy to pinpoint thar Brasil has the biggest amount of Italian descendants (32 million), while Argentina (63%), Uruguay (44%) and Paraguay (40%) have the highest percentage of them in the total national population:

1) Brasil: 32 million (The Embassy of Italy in Brazil in 2013, reported the number of 32 million descendants of Italian immigrants in Brazil (about 15% of the population); half of them in the state of São Paulo, while there were around 450,000 Italian citizens in Brazil.

2) Argentina: nearly 25 million (at least 25 million Argentines -62.7% of the country's population- have some degree of Italian ancestry, most of them in the Buenos Aires region. And there are nearly 700,000 Italian citizens in all Argentina)

3) Paraguay: 2,500,000 (The Italian embassy calculates that nearly 40% of the Paraguayans have recent and/or distant Italian roots: about 2,500,000 Paraguayans are descendants of Italian emigrants to Paraguay. And actually 13,000 italians are residents, mainly in the capital area)

4) Colombia: 2 million (nearly 2,000,000 Italian descendants of full or partial ancestry live in Colombia, corresponding to about 4% of the total population. There are also 20,315 Italians in 2019 (by citizenship) who reside in Colombia)

5) Uruguay: nearly 1,500,000 (an estimated 1,500,000 Uruguayans have Italian ancestry, about 44% of the total population of Uruguay. The italians residents in Uruguay are 90,000).

6) Peru: more than 1,450,000 (the descendants of italians directly and indirectly -since colonial times- are around one million and half, or the 4.8% of the total population of Peru. The italian citizens are 35000).

7) Venezuela: more than one million (some italian embassy estimates reach the 2 million descendants, while the Italian citizens are more than one hundred thousand)

8) Mexico: nearly 900,000 (there are more than 850,000 Mexicans descended from Italian emigrants since colonial times. Population figures are uncertain because, unlike other countries, Mexico's census does not gather information on specific ethnic groups. Nearly 10,000 are italian citizens living in Mexico, mainly in the capital area)

9) Chile: 700,000 (It is estimated that more than 650,000 Chileans are of full or partial Italian ancestry, corresponding to about 3.9% of the total population, while Italians by birth in Chile are about 52,000).

10) Costa Rica: 460,000 (according to the italian embassy there are nearly half a million Costa Ricans of Italian descent, corresponding to about 7.8% of Costa Rica's population, while there are around 2,300 Italian citizens)

Finally we must remember that the province of Quebec in Canada is officially french speaking and can be considered one of the latino territories in the Americas. In the 2016 Quebec census there were 327,000 italians and italian descendants.

Giuliana Sansaloni, queen of the italian community in Oberá, Misiones, Argentina

The country in Latin America that has experienced the biggest italian emigration after WW2 is Venezuela.

Italians in Venezuela

In the history of Italian emigration to Venezuela, four phases can be distinguished. Arrivals in the country, up until the 1920s, were few and the Italian presence numbered around 3 thousand units. The second phase of Italian emigration took place in the period of the great development of the oil industry until the beginning of the Second World War, when Venezuela became the first crude oil exporting country. Even in that period, the routes of emigrants towards traditional transoceanic destinations and in the Italian colonies in Africa prevailed: there were 3,137 Italians in Venezuela in 1941. The third phase began after the Second World War. Between 1950 and 1960, the period in which the "Venezuelan dream" took hold, the arrivals of Italians exceeded 100 thousand units. The Italians were not disappointed because they, thanks to their resourcefulness, together with the Spanish and the Portuguese contributed to the notable development of the country, entering all sectors. That was the period of the "enlightened dictatorship" of Marcos Perez Jimenez (1953-1958), who managed to promote strong development with the plan to strengthen infrastructure throughout the country.

The Italians, among whom there were few technicians and many agricultural workers, were able to seize the opportunities of this expansion phase and spread throughout the territory, unlike other European communities who favored the capital. There were few Italians hired in the public sectors as doctors, veterinarians, architects and in other sectors. There were many who created their own family-run businesses, obtaining subcontracts from larger ones. Furthermore, with this multiplicity of companies they managed to offer the variety of services required by a society that was beginning to understand well-being of the XX century. The fact that the national currency was strong (and the favorable exchange rate compared to Italy) allowed the emigrants who settled there, on the one hand, to send substantial savings to Italy and, on the other, to achieve family reunions. There was no shortage of those who preferred to operate as commuters between the two countries.

At the 1961 census, there were 121,733 Italians in Venezuela, demonstrating the great growth of the community. However, the repatriations were also substantial, as there was a widespread tendency to stay in place for only a few years. The post-war years were those in which Italians managed to make themselves appreciated on a cultural level, as well as on an entrepreneurial level (especially in the food, construction and fashion sectors). Some data do not fail to make an impression. In the 1950s, at least 12% of the capital's constructions relied on the work of Italians, but in the early 1960s it was nearly 44%! In the food sector, pasta prevailed over the classic corn flour, previously a national food, making Venezuela the second pasta consumer country after Italy. In turn, Italian fashion managed to impose itself on French fashion. Between 1952 and 1958 the production of footwear was in the hands of Italian protagonists. The share then rose to 80%, as emerged from the 1984-1985 industry census, highlighting that as many as 520 companies in the sector were managed by Italians.

After such a strong development, a long phase of decline began (and continues), both in terms of arrivals from Italy and in terms of the economic management of the country. Five million Venezuelans, forced to leave their country and take refuge mostly in other Latin American countries, are a sign of the catastrophic situation in Venezuela in the 2020s.

Compared to the past, the '90s and the first two decades of the new century were not satisfactory and, indeed, the last phases can be defined as dramatic due to the civil war, which saw the president of the National Assembly Antonio Guialdo Marquez, opposing the President of the Republic Nicolas Maduro Moros, who succeeded Hugo Chavez in 2013 (in office from 1999 to 2012). Maduro's government has become unwelcome at home and unsupported by most foreign countries. The 2018 elections did not restore calm.

Furthermore, the crisis, made unbearable by economic decay, had already made itself evident in its institutional and political implications in the 1970s, when the country was struggling to channel the considerable resources deriving from oil into functional uses for local development: a very serious deficiency, taking into account that 90% of the industries and mineral resources were in public hands. State gigantism favored the phenomena of corruption and clientelism. For example, in the past it was foreseen the hiring of a lift attendant in all public and private buildings in which a lift had already been installed and there was a public influx.

National policy was unable to remedy the decrease in oil revenues with the diversification of production activities. The result was the devaluation of the national currency, the collapse of employment, the proposal of severe measures by the International Monetary Fund and a generalized impoverishment with recurring popular uprisings. There was a temporary recovery in the two-year period 2004-2005 (GDP growth of 17.4% and 9.8% respectively), which populist politics was unable to exploit so that the GDP was barely a fifth compared to that of 2013. For critics of the regime it was a long inconclusive populism, incapable of reducing social inequalities through the prudent use of resources.

Pompeo D'Ambrosio (with his daughter Antonella and son Bruno) in 1977, when was vice-president of the main private bank of Venezuela and was responsable -with his brother Mino- of the "Deportivo Italia" (the football team of the italovenezuelans that was considered as the best Venezuelan team of the 20th century, according to the "International Federation of Football History and Education")
After the 1960s, Venezuela began to lose its attractive capacity and the numerical reduction of the Italian community also began, first gradually and then in an increasing manner, it experienced a continuous numerical decrease and in 1999 there were only 61,800 people: in that that year the Italian community was overtaken by the Spanish (133,661) and Portuguese (78,735), which in 1950 were smaller than it. Within the community, which was above average in terms of well-being, cases of hardship and poverty increased, because only higher income classes were protected from it. These are those people who traditionally organize themselves into exclusive clubs, which ensure prestige and professional and entrepreneurial opportunities. As known from recurring news stories, such notoriety comes at the cost of greater exposure to the kidnapping industry.

By virtue of its internal growth, the Italian community in the 2020s is one of the largest on the Latin American continent, around 120 thousand units; the majority of Italians live between Caracas and the regions of Carabobo and Aragua (additionally we must remember that -according to the Italian Embassy in Caracas- nearly two million Venezuelans have roots in italian emigration: the former president Raul Leoni (1964-1969) was the great-greatgrandson of an italian emigrated to Venezuela in the late XVIII century, for example). There are now few Italians who emigrate to Venezuela and, mostly, for a temporary stay: these are NGO workers, journalists and professionals. As has happened in other countries, traditional and regional associations no longer have the attraction of the past and young people are interested in other forms of aggregation.

The Italian community, like the native one, is divided regarding the political regime. The problem arises of showing, with due care, the closeness to a community that is not only formally Italian, but feels its Italianness. The case of Venezuela, in the overall context of post-war migration, represents a significant case for the substantial flows of the two post-war decades, as it was also towards Canada and Australia. The "Venezuelan dream" was motivated by a rapidly expanding country and dissolved with the downsizing of such expectations following the tormented socio-political events of the last thirty years.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024


This month (following a request) I am going to translate some sections of the famous book written by Marco Cuzzi about the years 1938-1943 when the island of Corsica ("Corse" in French language) was (promoted, invaded & nearly made) "italian". These were the five years when italian irredentism fought (and nearly obtained the union) to return this island (geographically, culturally, ethnically and historically italian since roman centuries) to the Italians.

Since the early 1930s the italian irredentism promoted the addition of this island to the kingdom of Italy, but only in November 1942 there was the military invasion (for unification) of Corsica by Mussolini's orders.

Indeed in November 1942 the Italian naval special force, originally formed for the invasion of Malta (never undertaken), landed in Bastia, in the north-east of Corsica (on the night between 11 and 12 November); other forces reached Ajaccio and Porto Vecchio. The 20th "Friuli" Infantry Division of the Italian VII Army Corps landed in Corsica without encountering resistance. The absence of partisan movements on the island, and the desire to avoid disagreements with Marshal Pétain's puppet regime limited the recruitment of Corsicans by the Italians, except for a "worker battalion" in March 1943.

A famous map created by the italian irredentists of Corsica in November 1942

The Corsican population initially showed support to the Italians, partly as a consequence of irredentist propaganda. Many Corsicans welcomed the italian troops when entered in their villages and cities. The garrison of the VII Corps came to include, in addition to the 20th "Friuli" Division, the 44th "Cremona" Infantry Division, the 225th Coastal Division, the 226th Coastal Division, an Alpini battalion and an armored battalion. The command of the garrison was entrusted to General Umberto Mondino until December 1942, to General Giacomo Carboni until March 1943, followed by General Giovanni Magli until September 1943. The initial force of 30,000 personnel grew to almost 85,000 men; an enormous number, if compared to the population of 220,000 inhabitants that Corsica had at the time

Some Corsican military officers collaborated with Italy, among them the retired major Pantalacci and his son Antonio, Colonel Mondielli, Colonel Simon Petru Cristofini and his wife Marta Renucci (the first Corsican female journalist). Cristofini collaborated early in January 1943 and (as head of the Ajaccio troops) helped the Italian army to repress the french resistance of the "maquis" during summer 1943, before the armistice of 8 September 1943. He was joined by the Corsican writer Petru Giovacchini, indicated as a potential governor of Corsica, if Italy had annexed it.

In the first months of 1943 the irredentists, led by Giovacchini and Bertino Poli, carried out a propaganda campaign among the population (mostly pro-italian until late spring 1943), advocating the unification of the island as the "Governorate of Corsica", modeled on the "Governorate of Dalmatia" created in 1941. But Benito Mussolini suspended the unification process awaiting the peace treaty that would follow the hoped-for Axis victory (however the main cause of his reluctance was German aversion to irredentist claims).

ITALIAN CORSICA (1938-1943), by Marco Cuzzi

During a lesson held in March 1942 to the students of a scientific high school in Bologna, professor Umberto Brauzzi summarized in a few well-studied sentences the entire Italian political action on Corsica and above all the concrete motivations underlying the fascist claim to the Tyrrhenian island:

"The Sardinian-Corsican wall, with Corsica in the hands of strangers, would mean the most dangerous breach in our defense system, the paralysis of every movement, from the Ligurian arch to the Campania region. We could never say we were winners without Corsica; because, to peacefully bring to the world the contribution of our undisputed civilization and to the order of the new Europe, it is absolutely necessary that the foundations of our richest commercial movement are not undermined: that is, we need full possession of the island. And again, further on: Our launch platform, the peninsula, is profoundly vulnerable, due to the intrusion, in the middle of our land, of France which monitors and blocks the free ways of sea and air". Beyond the declarations of geographical continuity (Corsica was compared to Dalmatia, with the mirror function of the extreme limit of an Italian "great gulf": there the Adriatic, here the Tyrrhenian) and of national community (the Corsicans were defined as a natural "filiation" of the "Italic race"), what emerged from Brauzzi's reasoning was the exquisitely strategic dimension of the entire claimist system: the Tyrrhenian island had to pass under the control of Rome to perfect the "fortress Italy", closing in particular the area of the capital in a sort of "Italian lake" and allowing a doubling of the Sardinian natural aircraft carrier in the heart of the Mediterranean.

Certainly the claim also found a remote motivation in resentments that never subsided, or rather amplified with the neighbor from beyond the Alps. Another statement by Brauzzi appeared emblematic: «We must infer the tough battle that Italy still has to endure to join the most Italian island in Italy». An emblematic phrase but also one of articulating political weight, if we take into account the period in which it was uttered, with a France half occupied and half poised between collaborative neutrality and total and convinced collaboration towards the Axis. Once again, as in the case of the other disputes with France (mainly Tunis, Djibouti and Nice), there was a complicated and at times painful schizophrenic relationship with Vichy, a state reality in words incorporated into the New Order but in deeds - and the survival of a French Corsica against all Brauzzi's claims was proof of this - an enemy to him, at least according to the considerations of Italian analysts.

The fascist claim to the Tyrrhenian island dated back to the dawn of the Regime, and surpassed in seniority the transalpine disputes over Provence and Savoy.

In 1924, on Mussolini's orders, a "Committee for Corsica" was established with the aim, as stated in a report commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1939, of "keeping alive the question of the Italian nature of the island between the kingdoms and the Corsicans".». The presidency of the association was given to Francesco Guerri, a university professor of Corsican origin, supported by a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Honorable Quirino Figlioli. The Ministry made an "adequate allocation" from the cabinet fund to support the Committee's initiatives. In the same period the dicastery was concerned with reorganizing the Italian diplomatic representation on the island. The objective was to make the irredentist initiative as effective as possible, giving it a solid and organized background made up of the official consular network: « Although for obvious reasons these consular representatives of ours have always had in principle instructions to « ignore » the irredentist action, carried out mainly through fiduciary elements, they have always actively contributed to facilitating this confidential activity, both by collaborating in specific cases in the implementation of some projects, and above all by providing Rome with precise elements of judgment taken from a daily control of the racing situation ». The entire operation, consular and linked to the initiatives of the War Committee, would have been coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the person of the cabinet official Marquis Blasco Lanza D'Ajeta. The dual action had the aims on the one hand of "keeping Italian national aspirations alive" and on the other of safeguarding the "Italian identity" of the island, "at the same time encouraging, after a century and a half of French domination, the rebirth of a movement of an irredentist nature".

Even clearer were the orders given to the "Committee for Corsica", the deus ex machina of all future action for the island and on the island: "to safeguard the original Italian character of the population in multiple aspects and with all possible means; promote among the Corsicans a feeling of reaction to French domination (autonomism-irredentism-philo-fascism)». From this perspective, on the one hand, it was necessary to encourage every action aimed at promoting the Italian character of the island at home. On the other hand, an attempt was made to involve the indigenous autonomist movement, or rather the Corsican independence galaxy, identifying it as the closest interlocutor, animated by a one-way, pro-Italian separatism. After a long preparatory period, the claimist initiative had its first operational season in the aftermath of the Ethiopian crisis, but above all it exploded in all its virulence with the famous demonstration of 30 November 1938 in the Chamber, during which the deputies - expertly guided - shouted the claims of the French territories: Tunis, Nice, Djibouti and Corsica, originating, as De Felice recalls, the definitive shipwreck of the attempted Italian-French rapprochements.

Map of 1494 showing Corsica in the "Genoa republic" (light green color)

The propaganda tools from Italy resulted in three different initiatives

1) First of all, an intense journalistic activity was activated, through the printing of a weekly insert of the Livorno newspaper "Il Telegrafo" (Livorno was one of the Italian cities with the highest number of citizens of Corsican origin); the weekly was placed under the direction of the omnipresent Francesco Guerri (under the pseudonym "Minuto Grosso") and was financed directly by D'Ajeta's office. The insert, which soon became the main organ of printed propaganda in favor of the cause, had collaborators almost exclusively of Corsican origin (either those who had escaped or had been in Italy for generations) and over the years would have dealt with various problems linked to the island Tyrrhenian Sea and the largest and most complex relations with France, supporting a very harsh campaign against the "republican, social democratic and Masonic" plot of Paris and the support of the French government for international and Italian anti-fascism in particular. The weekly was apparently distributed clandestinely in Corsica. The specific initiative of "Il Telegrafo" would be accompanied, with the approval and supervision of the Ministry of Popular Culture, by a propagandist action on some national newspapers which would have intensified, as DAjeta would have wisely written «particularly in moments of greatest discomfort with France».

2) The second operational tool was represented by the various scientific and cultural initiatives. A quarterly magazine, "The Historical Archive of Corsica", under the prestigious direction of the historian of the regime Gioacchino Volpe, would have dealt with historical-literary studies inherent to the island, with particular reference to the phases of greatest connection with the Peninsula (the domination of the Grifone Republic, for example) to all those characters characterized by a strong autonomist or independence commitment (such as Pasquale Paoli) or to all the courses that had influenced French cultural and political life, in an attempt to demonstrate a Corsican superiority over the Power "colonizer" which subtly implied by syllogism a superiority of the "Italic race": the champion of these analyzes could only be, it goes without saying, the Great Corsican par excellence, Napoleon Bonaparte (or rather, Buonaparte, according to the original denomination of the surname, and which was reiterated by Italian scholars to underline its peninsular origin). Volpe's magazine was also allegedly distributed clandestinely on the Tyrrhenian island. The indefatigable Guerri was also responsible for directing a monthly scientific dissemination magazine ("Ancient and Modern Corsica"), with the departed former Corsican autonomist leader Marco Angeli as editor-in-chief. The periodical should have joined Volpe's magazine, completing its work with anthropological, ethnographic, geographical and even geological studies, all aimed at reiterating for the umpteenth time the link with the true and only "motherland". Finally, the University of Pavia professor Gino Bottiglioni coordinated the publications of the «Linguistic Atlas of Corsica», financed by a consortium between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of the Interior and National Education as well as by the University of Cagliari, one of the universities most attentive to the operation towards the Tyrrhenian island. The purpose, evident from the name of the newspaper, was to identify all the possible glottological and linguistic links between Corsica and Italy, to arrive at the demonstration of the thesis according to which «the origins Corsican idioms are closely linked to the Tuscan, Sardinian and Sicilian ones »

3) The third propaganda tool in Italy was characterized by the Corsican cultural groups (Gcc) established in Pavia in 1938 on the initiative of Pietro (Petru) Giovacchini, known as "the parish priest" (u parrucu). Born in 1909 in Corsica, in Canale di Verde, and moved to Pavia in 1930 where he graduated in medicine and surgery, Giovacchini, who was also a volunteer fascist Blackshirt in Spain, would become in the following years the main exponent of the pro-fascist irredentist movement. The aim of Giovacchini's GCC was, originally, to include all Italian citizens of Corsican origin and Corsicans who had escaped under a single acronym, with the aim of promoting the Italian nature of the island both from a cultural and linguistic point of view. In the days immediately following September 1939, D'Ajeta's office, through the "Committee for Corsica", began monitoring the declared 15 thousand members of the GCC (concentrated mainly in Liguria, Tuscany and Sardinia) to understand if there were conditions to transform, with corresponding and adequate funding from the Ministry, the cultural initiative of the Groups into active irredentist propaganda connected with the clandestine movements on the island. However, it was a hypothetical project which, at least until 1939, would not have been applied: the conditions did not exist and the GCC would have had to hold less disruptive roles. This organization, according to the Italian diplomat, could become a useful "opinion movement", capable of coordinating on the one hand the diffusion in the homeland of the battle for a Corsica that was first independent from France and therefore Italian again and on the other the insertion of Corsican citizens resident in Italy, or recently escaped from the Tyrrhenian island, in the midst of national life. In this D'Ajeta suggested to the Minculpop Chief of Staff, Luciano, to facilitate the inclusion of Corsicans resident in Italy in the life of the country, recognizing them a particular status not as foreign citizens (and shortly thereafter "belonging to an enemy nation »), but of "non-kingdom Italian citizens", according to a formula also adopted towards the Italians of Spalato and Dalmatians subjected to the Yugoslav administration. Furthermore, it would have been desirable for the courses to be admitted to the National Fascist Party, even if formally not Italian. In D'Ajeta's drawings, Giovacchini's GCC should have supported the authorities in supervising and channeling the inclusion of the Corsican community in Italy within the national life. The risks of this task were, however, very clear to the Italian diplomat: « […] a strict control would be maintained, which Giovacchini's well-known enthusiasms could sometimes prove to be untimely», while the Groups themselves would not be entrusted « […] managerial tasks" nor "[...] the possibility of being aware of the reserved Italian action as a whole": the characteristics of the Corsican temperament, D'Ajeta concluded not without irony, perhaps involuntary, and that is a temperament "easy to enthusiasm and to the demolition, partisan, factious, interested" they advised against a qualitative leap of the Groups into an explicitly subversive organisation, a sort of Tyrrhenian ustaša15. In reality, the exclusion of Giovacchini's GCC from merely irredentist action and their encroachment on propaganda and classification initiatives in Italy was suggested more than by reasons of unreliability of character by the delicate network that D'Ajeta's Office had spread over the the island through both Guerri's « Committee for Corsica » and the diplomatic network strengthened by the reform of the mid-twenties.

The main instrument of the local initiative was the « Partitu corsu d'azzione » (Pca) of Pietro (Petru) Rocca, a former combatant, decorated with the Legion of Honor by the French General Staff. Through the official organ of the party, the bilingual Franco-Corsican weekly «A Muvra», Rocca's movement had rapidly moved from a moderately autonomist position to an increasingly strong independence and clearly pro-Italian position. Removed from the register of the Legion of Honour, Rocca was perpetually monitored by the French police, risking arrest on a daily basis while his newspaper had suffered numerous seizures until the mandatory suspension of publications immediately after the outbreak of the war with Germany. Without going into details, for "particularly confidential" issues, D'Ajeta listed the Party and Rocca's newspaper as "instruments" of the Italian initiative on the Tyrrhenian island, implying the nature and volume of the support that the government Rome reserved for the insular autonomist movement16: the main trait d'union between the autonomist Party and the Committee for Corsica would have been the former party leader Marco Angeli, editor-in-chief of «Ancient and modern Corsica» and «dean» of exileism.

In a subsequent very polemical letter towards the Giovacchini, considered incapable and unworthy of leading the GCC, Angeli would have summarized the program of Rocca's party as follows: «The program [...] is linked to the tradition of Pasquale Paoli, it reaffirms the combative spirit of the Corsicans against the French tyranny cloaked in hypocrisy and immoral principles and supports the reasons for the recovery for Corsica ».

The Italian activities on the island were conducted overall with great skill and confidentiality, so much so that they did not arouse any suspicion, at least from the French diplomatic corps in Italy, on the contrary. In fact, it is interesting to note the relative transalpine disinterest towards the complex irredentist and claimsist activities in Italy. Almost two months after the "qualitative leap" of the irredentist movement, François-Poncet, the French ambassador to Italy, wrote a short report to his Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet in which he summarized with many uncertainties the propagandist network of D'Ajeta, Guerri and Giovacchini, revealing an inexplicable difficulty in gathering more precise information, also through the French consulate in Livorno, perceived by diplomats as the true operational center of irredentist propaganda. The closing comment is interesting: « J'ai cru devoir signaler, to all useful ends, to the attention of the Department these indications are evidently some fragmentary ones. Elles paraissent me cepoendant de nature à remove the same croissant that for the reasons for the many tactics, and thus obtain, the same ones, other advantages in exchange for an eventual desistement, the Italian government brings or affects the wearer from 'the lost island'". This rather disenchanted attitude and underestimation of the problem, from part of the French diplomacy, would also continue in the following months: «On constate qu'aujourd'hui, rien n'est fait ici [in Italy – Editor's note] pour enflammer à cet egard le moral de la nation», we read for example in a new dispatch from François-Poncet in Paris regarding the usual Italian claims, including Corsica. A trick, therefore, a propaganda balloon for internal rather than external use: no trace appears in the reports of the confidential operations conducted in Corsica by the War Committee and D'Ajeta's office of the transalpine diplomatic representatives in Italy. Inaugurated at the end of 1938, the irredentist operations slowed down in September 1939. The outbreak of hostilities had reduced the scope of the initiatives on the island. What the Italian diplomat defined as "contacts with Corsican personalities", without specifying their names or qualifications, appeared impossible from the first days of September. Even the grants that had been paid in previous years in favor of more pro-Italian island press seemed "very difficult", even if d'Ajeta was confident in an unspecified future improvement in the conditions for reopening a canal with some Corsican newspapers.

The clandestine distribution of Italian publications was very precarious (from the insert of "Il Telegrafo" to cultural and scientific magazines). Apparently another instrument appeared in better conditions, probably even more important and deep-rooted than the Party of Rocca: « Faithful to our cause, to which they have rendered and continue to render precious services, some religious Orders with whom the « Committee » has confidential and appropriate contacts ». But, in general, the initiative on the spot appeared from the first month of the war somewhat limited, and Italian non-belligerence was of little use: the Italian trustees linked to the "Committee for Corsica" and charged by the diplomats with maintaining the quadrangular network (autonomists-local personalities-newspapers-clergy) ran "very considerable risks", while, being Corsica having been declared an "operational zone" by the French General Staff, would soon suffer the same fate as Alsace where, as D'Ajeta recalled, the local autonomist leaders of the pro-Nazi movement had recently been condemned to be shot for high treason: "We have some of our 'friends' in French military prisons." Furthermore: «The population is anti-Italian and certainly anti-fascist: the autonomists – a small number – certainly do not demonstrate ambitions for martyrdom. The bravest are undoubtedly now in Italy, having "deserted" the French army. Faced with such a framework, the Minister of Popular Culture, Alessandro Pavolini agreed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the opportunity to suspend activities in Corsica, maintaining contacts but avoiding worsening the already precarious situation of the "Committee" network with concrete initiatives: it was necessary to wait for the maturation political and military conditions.

In the climate of expectation and uncertainty characterizing non-belligerence, the decision taken by the Government to suspend the initiative on the island also extended to propagandist activity in Italy. François-Poncet also noticed the fact and reported to Paris the reduction in propaganda activity in national newspapers, motivating it with the attempts of Italian diplomacy to reach mediation during the crisis of August 1939. The Committee ordered Giovacchini to suspend all action. It should be borne in mind that the outbreak of the war with Germany had a further impact in Italy too: more than half of the main exponents of the GCC, sometimes due to a rediscovered patriotic feeling and most of the time due to fear of reprisals from the Paris government, had returned to the Tyrrhenian island. Disciplined, against all the suspicions of D'Ajeta who, as has been said, considered him impulsive and restless, the irredentist leader sent a circular to all the groups distributed across the Peninsula which, although commanding silence, foreshadowed a future offensive that was even more military than propaganda: «Period of waiting and silent preparation. Refrain from any public or mass demonstration; do not hinder the work of our diplomacy. Don't discover our batteries, but don't abandon them. I will let you know when the time has come to get excited". The activity of the Giovacchini Groups and more generally of the Committee for Corsica was reduced until May 1940 and the commitment of the main leaders of the Corsican community in Italy appears much more prosaic and less ideal than the previous period, concentrated above all on a series of personal favors requested from Mussolini through both Foreign Affairs and Minculpop. On 22 May 1940 Giovacchini met with Pavolini: the date is fateful, at least for the brief history of the fascist claim of Corsica, and marks the change between the head of the GCC and Guerri's "Committee for Corsica", now definitively anesthetized , leading the propaganda initiative.

Giovacchini illustrated the state of his organization to the Minister of Popular Culture, probably pushing the numbers and amplifying its actual possibilities. The Corsican culture groups amounted to 170 sections, both in Italy and abroad, for a total of 22 thousand members. There were around 250 active executives, even if only a part could actually be used in possible and unspecified "actions". Pavolini agreed with the president of the GCC - renamed himself "general president" perhaps in view of a qualitative leap in the war field - to intensify propaganda and to start the "establishment and training of an action nucleus, to be kept ready to be sent to Corsica at a given time ». It was an explicit response to a statement from Giovacchini to the minister only a few days earlier (« The irredeemed Corsicans gathered in Rome are determined to take action »). The minister allocated 30 thousand lire for propaganda costs, to which five thousand lire was added for the purchase by Minculopop of a brochure on Corsica edited by the Groups themselves. However, the long-awaited "action" did not come even after June 10th. The GCC did not budge and propaganda continued to be suspended.

The only significant act corresponding to the new state of war was the transformation of the culture groups into "Corsican irredentist action groups" (GAIC). In a fit of enthusiasm, which was also illustrative of a certain organizational and organigrammatic confusion, Giovacchini shortly afterwards renamed the GAIC first into "Corsican irredentist movement" and then into "Corsican irredentist action movement" (Maic): the attempt was to throw the foundations for a real insurrectional organization that would support the Italian troops in the "liberation" of the island. A further sign of the desire of Giovacchini's irredentists to give themselves a more militant structure was the separation from the movement of the entire scientific-cultural initiative, through the establishment of the "National Institute of Corsican Studies" in Pavia, which organized university lectures, a exhibition in Venice on the Italian nature of the island, initiatives and mobilizations for the naming of squares and streets after Corsica and Pasquale Paoli. Free from cultural commitment, Giovacchini could finally launch himself into political and perhaps military enterprise. But the game was entirely diplomatic and included on the one hand the relations between Italy and Germany and on the other the complicated armistice issue with France. In the aftermath of the French collapse, the Italian government had included Corsica among the priority territorial requests: "Union with Italy" was stated in the cahier de doléances of the Ministry of Foreign affairs on the eve of the Italian-German summit of June 1940 « is the first and fundamental condition for its development and prosperity.

Corsica is Italian geographically, historically and ethnically ». In the initial plans of the Italian Commission for the armistice with France (CIAF), Corsica would have been included among the apparently indispensable aspirations. However, the long negotiations at Villa Incisa and then the endless CIAF dispute would have seen the claim become increasingly blurred. A CIAF delegation arrived in Corsica in July 1940 and apparently the topic discussed with the local Vichysois authorities seemed more oriented towards the demilitarization of the island, according to the clauses of Villa Incisa. The Italian delegates therefore appeared very respectful of French authority, distancing themselves from the extremism of the followers of Giovacchini or Guerri. However, as Rainero recalls «Don't think that renouncing the immediate annexation of Corsica was among the easiest decisions of the regime; the claim remained almost "for future reference", awaiting a peace settlement [...]".

On the other hand, it is no coincidence that Marshal Badoglio, only two months after the visit of the CIAF delegation to the island, submitted to Mussolini a project for the invasion of Corsica through two divisions, coming respectively from Livorno and Sardinia. The plan would develop over the following months. In the meeting between the chiefs of staff of the Italian and German navy, held in Merano on 13 and 14 February 1941, Admiral Riccardi clearly told his German colleague Raeder that the naval general staff had prepared a plan for the occupation of the island, also arousing disapproval on the German side: the occupation of Corsica was not only considered useless by the Third Reich, but rather harmful in the global strategy of the conflict, and would have definitively pushed Vichy (and certainly the whole of French North Africa, still wavering) into the arms of the British. Irritated by the opinions of their ally, but unable to ignore them given the balance of power within the Axis, the Italian commands continued to perfect the plan only theoretically, waiting for more favorable times, and transformed it into a joint project between navy and army. The new plan, drawn up by Admiral Vannutelli (who should have held the role of commander of the possible occupation contingent), significantly excluded the use of Rocca's separatists and much less Giovacchini's irredentists, both considered treacherous and bungling. While providing extensive protections to the "Corsican ethnic group" (recognition of the acquired rights of Corsican employees, use of the Corsican dialect in trials, etc.), the island would have been governed by a viceroy (like Albania) or by a high commissioner (like Slovenia) with full executive powers and two sub-governorates in Ajaccio and Bastia, corresponding to the two areas (the « Bande ») into which the Tyrrhenian island was traditionally divided.

Map showing the actual Corsica dialects. It also shows 3 places (in red color) where it is spoken the old Genoa dialect: Calvi, Ajaccio and Bonifacio. Until 9 May 1859 the Italian language in Corsica was the official language, after which it became the French one. Another language spoken on the island was Corsican, a dialect of the Tuscan family. Corsican is made up of many variants contained in two main linguistic groups: the “Cismontano” spoken mainly in the north of the island and closer to Italian; then we have the “Oltremontano” more widespread instead in the south of Corsica, more archaic and close to the language spoken in the north of Sardinia.Since 2002 in the elementary schools of Corsica there has been the opportunity to learn the Corsican language originating from the island, recognized since 2013 also as a regional French language. In addition, road and tourist signs on the island are bilingual now: in French and Corsican. It is noteworthy to pinpoint that since the early 2020s there it is the proposal to add -again- the italian language to these two official languages in Corsica.


Here it is the original text in italian:

di Marco CUZZI


Nel corso di una lezione tenuta nel marzo 1942 agli studenti di un liceo scientifico bolognese, il professore Umberto Brauzzi riassunse in alcune roboanti frasi l’intera azione politica italiana sulla Corsica e soprattutto le concrete motivazioni poste alla base della rivendicazione fascista dell’isola tirrenica :

« L’antemurale Sardo-Corso, con la Corsica in mano agli estranei, vorrebbe significare la più pericolosa breccia nel nostro dispositivo di difesa, la paralisi di ogni movimento, dall’arco ligure sino al campano. Vincitori senza la Corsica non ci potremmo dire mai ; ché, per apportare al mondo, serenamente, il contributo dell’indiscussa nostra civiltà e all’ordinamento della nuova Europa, è assolutamente necessario che non siano menate le basi del nostro movimento commerciale più ricco : ci occorre cioè il pieno possesso dell’isola1. E ancora, più avanti : La nostra piattaforma di lancio, la penisola, è profondamente vulnerabile, per l’intrusione, nel bel mezzo di una terra nostra, della Francia che sorveglia e preclude le libere vie del mare e dell’aria »2.Al di là delle dichiarazioni di continuità geografica (la Corsica veniva paragonata alla Dalmazia, con la speculare funzione di limite estremo di un « gran golfo » italiano : là l’Adriatico, qui il Tirreno) e di comunità nazionale (i corsi erano definiti come una naturale « filiazione » della « razza italica »), ciò che emergeva dal ragionamento di Brauzzi era la dimensione squisitamente strategica dell’intero impianto rivendicazionista: l’isola tirrenica doveva passare sotto il controllo di Roma per perfezionare la « fortezza Italia », chiudendo in modo particolare l’area della capitale in una sorta di « lago italiano » e permettendo un raddoppio della portaerei naturale sarda nel pieno centro del Mediterraneo.Di certo la rivendicazione trovava anche una remota motivazione in rancori mai sopiti, anzi semmai amplificati con il vicino d’Oltralpe. Emblematica appariva un’altra affermazione del Brauzzi : « Noi dobbiamo arguire della dura battaglia che l’Italia deve ancora sostenere per aggregarsi l’isola più italiana d’Italia »3. Frase emblematica ma anche di articolare peso politico, se si tiene conto del periodo in cui venne enunciata, con una Francia per metà occupata e per metà in bilico tra una neutralità collaborativa e un collaborazionismo totale e convinto nei confronti dell’Asse. Nuovamente, come nel caso delle altre vertenze con la Francia (principalmente Tunisi, Gibuti e il Nizzardo), si assisteva a una complicata e a tratti penosa relazione schizofrenica con Vichy, realtà statale a parole inglobata nel Nuovo Ordine ma nei fatti – e la sopravvivenza di una Corsica francese contro tutte le affermazioni del Brauzzi ne era la testimonianza – ad esso nemico, almeno secondo le considerazioni degli analisti italiani.

La rivendicazione fascista dell’isola tirrenica risaliva agli albori del Regime, e superava per anzianità le vertenze transalpine sulla Provenza e la Savoia. Nel 1924 venne istituito su ordine di Mussolini un « Comitato per la Corsica » avente lo scopo, come si legge in una relazione commissionata dal Ministero degli Esteri nel 1939, di « mantenere tra i regnicoli e i Corsi viva la questione dell’italianità dell’isola »4. La presidenza dell’ associazione fu data a Francesco Guerri, un docente universitario d’origine corsa, affiancato da un incaricato del Ministero degli Esteri e dall’onorevole Quirino Figlioli. Il Ministero dispose sul fondo del gabinetto un «congruo stanziamento» per sostenere le iniziative del Comitato. Nello stesso periodo il dicastero si preoccupò di riorganizzare la rappresentanza diplomatica italiana sull’isola. L’obiettivo era di rendere l’iniziativa irredentista più efficace possibile, dando ad essa un retroterra solido e organizzato composto dalla rete consolare ufficiale:« Benché per ovvie ragioni tali nostri Rappresentanti consolari abbiano sempre avuto in linea di massima istruzioni di « ignorare » l’azione irredentistica, svolta principalmente tramite elementi fiduciari, essi hanno sempre attivamente contribuito a facilitare questa attività riservata, sia collaborando in specifici casi alla messa in atto di alcuni progetti, sia e soprattutto fornendo a Roma precisi elementi di giudizio tratti da un diuturno controllo della situazione corsa »5. L’intera operazione, consolare e legata alle iniziative del Comitato di Guerri, sarebbe stata coordinata dal dicastero degli Esteri nella persona del funzionario del gabinetto marchese Blasco Lanza D’Ajeta. La duplice azione aveva scopi da un lato di « mantenere vive le aspirazioni nazionali italiane »6 e dall’altro di salvaguardare l’« identità italiana» dell’isola, «favorendo al tempo stesso dopo un secolo e mezzo di dominazione francese, la rinascita di un movimento a carattere irredentistico ». Ancora più chiari erano gli ordini dati al « Comitato per la Corsica », il deus ex machina di tutta la futura azione per l’isola e sull’isola : « salvaguardare nei suoi molteplici aspetti e con tutti i possibili mezzi l’originaria italianità della popolazione ; favorire tra i corsi un sentimento di reazione al dominio francese (autonomismo-irredentismofilofascismo)». In quest’ottica fu giocoforza per un verso incentivare in patria ogni azione atta a propagandare l’italianità dell’ isola. D’altro canto si cercò di coinvolgere il movimento autonomista autoctono, o meglio la galassia indipendentista corsa, individuando in essa l’interlocutore più prossimo, animato da un separatismo a senso unico e filo italiano.Dopo un lungo periodo preparatorio, l’iniziativa rivendicazionista ebbe la sua prima stagione operativa all’indomani della crisi etiope, ma soprattutto esplose in tutta la sua virulenza con la celebre manifestazione del 30 novembre 1938 alla Camera, durante la quale i deputati – sapientemente pilotati – gridarono le rivendicazioni dei territori francesi : Tunisi, Nizza, Gibuti e Corsica, originando come ricorda De Felice il definitivo naufragio dei tentati ravvicinamenti italo-francesi8. Gli strumenti di propaganda dall’Italia si risolsero in tre differenti iniziative.

Anzitutto, fu attivata un’intesa attività giornalistica, attraverso la stampa di un inserto settimanale del quotidiano livornese « Il Telegrafo » (Livorno era una delle città italiane con il più alto numero di cittadini d’origine corsa) ; il settimanale venne posto sotto la direzione dell’ onnipresente Francesco Guerri (sotto lo pseudonimo di « Minuto Grosso ») e fu finanziato direttamente dall’ufficio di D’Ajeta. L’inserto, che divenne ben presto il principale organo di propaganda stampata a favore della causa, ebbe collaboratori quasi esclusivamente d’origine corsa (o fuoriusciti o in Italia da generazioni) e si sarebbe occupato negli anni sia di problemi vari legati all’isola tirrenica sia delle più vaste e articolate relazioni con la Francia, sostenendo una durissima campagna contro il complotto « repubblicano, socialdemocratico e massonico » di Parigi e il sostegno del governo d’oltralpe all’antifascismo internazionale e italiano in particolare. Il settimanale sarebbe stato distribuito clandestinamente in Corsica. All’ iniziativa specifica de « Il Telegrafo » si sarebbe affiancata, con il benestare e lasupervisione del Ministero della Cultura popolare, un’ azione propagandista su alcuni quotidiani nazionali che si sarebbe intensificata, come avrebbe scritto sagacemente DAjeta «particolarmente nei momenti di maggior disagio con la Francia »9.Il secondo strumento operativo fu rappresentato dalle varie iniziative d’ordine scientifico e culturale. Un rivista trimestrale, « L’Archivio storico di Corsica », sotto la prestigiosa direzione dello storico del regime Gioacchino Volpe, si sarebbe occupata di studi storico-letterari inerenti all’isola, con particolare riferimento alle fasi di maggiore legame con la Penisola (la dominazione della Repubblica del Grifone, ad esempio) a tutti quei personaggi caratterizzati da uno spiccato impegno autonomista o indipendentista (come Pasquale Paoli) o a tutti i corsi che avevano influito sulla vita culturale e politica francese, nel tentativo di dimostrare una superiorità corsa rispetto alla Potenza « colonizzatrice » che sottilmente sottintendeva per sillogismo una superiorità della « razza italica » : campione di queste analisi non poteva che essere, ça va sans dire, il Grande Corso per eccellenza, Napoleone Bonaparte (anzi, Buonaparte, secondo la denominazione originale del cognome, e che veniva ribadita dagli studiosi italiani per sottolinearne l’origine peninsulare)10. Anche la rivista di Volpe sarebbe stata distribuita clandestinamente sull’isola tirrenica. L’infaticabile Guerri si sarebbe occupato altresì di dirigere un mensile di divulgazione scientifica (« Corsica antica e moderna »), con il fuoriuscito ex dirigente autonomista corso Marco Angeli come caporedattore11. Il periodico avrebbe dovuto affiancarsi alla rivista di Volpe, completandone l’opera con studi d’ordine antropologico, etnografico, geografico e finanche geologico, tutti atti a ribadire per l’ennesima volta il legame con la vera e unica « madrepatria ». Il docente dell’Università di Pavia Gino Bottiglioni avrebbe infine coordinato le pubblicazioni dell’ «Atlante linguistico della Corsica », finanziato da un consorzio tra i Ministeri degli Esteri, dell’Interno e dell’Educazione nazionale nonché dall’Università di Cagliari, uno degli atenei più attenti all’operazione verso l’isola tirrenica. Lo scopo, intuibile sin dalla denominazione della testata, era quello di individuare tutti i possibili legami glottologici e linguistici tra la Corsica e l’Italia, per giungere alla dimostrazione della tesi secondo la quale « le origini idiomatiche corse sono strettamente legate a quelle toscane, sarde e sicule »12.

Il terzo strumento di propaganda in Italia fu caratterizzato dai Gruppi di cultura corsi (Gcc) costituiti a Pavia nel 1938 su iniziativa di Pietro (Petru) Giovacchini, detto « il parroco » (u parrucu). Nato nel 1909 in Corsica, a Canale di Verde, e trasferitosi a Pavia nel 1930 dove si era laureato in medicina e chirurgia, Giovacchini, che fu anche camicia nera volontaria in Spagna, sarebbe diventato negli anni seguenti il principale esponente del movimento irredentista filofascista. Scopo dei Gcc di Giovacchini era, in origine, quello di inquadrare sotto un’unica sigla tutti i cittadini italiani d’origine corsa e i corsi fuoriusciti, allo scopo di promuovere l’italianità dell’isola sia dal punto di vista culturale che linguistico. Nei giorni immediatamente successivi al settembre 1939 l’ufficio di D’Ajeta, attraverso il « Comitato per la Corsica », iniziò un monitoraggio sui dichiarati 15 mila iscritti ai Gcc (concentrati soprattutto in Liguria, Toscana e Sardegna) per comprendere se vi erano le condizioni per trasformare, con corrispondente ed adeguato finanziamento da parte del Ministero, l’iniziativa culturale dei Gruppi nell’attiva propaganda irredentistica collegata con i movimenti clandestini sull’isola. Si trattava tuttavia di un progetto ipotetico che, almeno sino al 1939, non sarebbe stato applicato : le condizioni non sussistevano e i Gcc avrebbero dovuto ricoprire incarichi meno dirompenti13. Questa organizzazione, secondo il diplomatico italiano, poteva diventare un utile « movimento d’opinione », atto a coordinare da un lato la diffusione in madrepatria della battaglia per una Corsica prima indipendente dalla Francia e quindi di nuovo italiana e dall’altro l’inserimento dei cittadini corsi residenti in Italia, o recentemente fuoriusciti dall’isola tirrenica, nel pieno della vita nazionale. In questo D’Ajeta suggeriva al Capo di gabinetto del Minculpop, Luciano, di facilitare l’inserimento dei corsi residenti in Italia nella vita del Paese, riconoscendo loro uno status particolare non di cittadini stranieri (e di li a poco « appartenenti a nazione nemica ») , ma di « cittadini italiani non regnicoli », secondo una formula adottata anche nei confronti degli italiani di Spalato e dalmati sottoposti all’amministrazione jugoslava. Inoltre, sarebbe stato auspicabile che i corsi fossero ammessi nel Partito nazionale fascista, anche se formalmente non italiani14. Nei disegni di D’Ajeta i Gcc di Giovacchini avrebbero dovuto affiancarsi alle autorità nel sovrintendere e canalizzare l’inserimento della comunità corsa in Italia all’interno della vita nazionale. I rischi di questo compito erano tuttavia ben chiari al diplomatico italiano : si sarebbe mantenuto « […] uno stretto controllo cui suoi ben noti entusiasmi di Giovacchini che potrebbero alle volte rivelarsi intempestivi », mentre ai Gruppi stessi non sarebbero stati affidati « […] compiti direttivi » né « […] la possibilità di essere a conoscenza della riservata azione italiana nel suo complesso » : le caratteristiche del temperamento corso, concludeva D’Ajeta non senza ironia, forse involontaria, e cioè un temperamento « facile all’entusiasmo ed all’abbattimento, partigiano, fazioso, interessato » sconsigliavano un salto qualitativo dei Gruppi in un’organizzazione esplicitamente eversiva, una sorta di ustaša tirrenici15. In realtà l’esclusione dei Gcc di Giovacchini dall’azione meramente irredentista e il loro sconfinamento ad iniziative propagandiste e d’inquadramento in Italia più che da motivi di inaffidabilità caratteriale era suggerita dalla delicata rete che l’Ufficio di D’Ajeta aveva esteso sull’isola attraverso sia il « Comitato per la Corsica » di Guerri, sia la rete diplomatica rafforzata dalla riforma della metà degli anni venti.Principale strumento dell’iniziativa in loco fu il « Partitu corsu d’azzione » (Pca) di Pietro (Petru) Rocca, un ex combattente, decorato con la Legion d’Onore dallo Stato maggiore francese. Attraverso l’organo ufficiale del partito, il settimanale bilingue francocorso « A Muvra », il movimento di Rocca si era rapidamente spostato da una posizione moderatamente autonomista su una sempre più spiccata istanza indipendentista e nettamente filo italiana. Radiato dall’albo della Legion d’Onore, Rocca era perennemente controllato dalla polizia francese, rischiando quotidianamente l’arresto mentre il suo giornale aveva subito numerosi sequestri sino alla sospensione d’obbligo delle pubblicazioni subito dopo lo scoppio della guerra con la Germania. Pur senza entrare nei dettagli, per questioni « di particolare riservatezza », D’Ajeta elencava il Partito e il giornale di Rocca come «strumenti» dell’iniziativa italiana sull’isola tirrenica, sottintendendo la natura e il volume degli appoggi che il governo di Roma riservava al movimento autonomista insulare16 : il principale trait d’union tra il Partito autonomista e il Comitato per la Corsica sarebbe stato l’ex dirigente del partito Marco Angeli, caporedattore di « Corsica antica e moderna » e « decano » del fuoriuscitismo. In una successiva lettera assai polemica nei confronti del Giovacchini, ritenuto incapace e indegno di guidare i Gcc, Angeli avrebbe riassunto il programma del partito di Rocca come segue : « Il programma […] si riallaccia alla tradizione di Pasquale Paoli, riafferma lo spirito battagliero dei corsi contro la tirannide francese ammantata d’ipocrisia e d’immorali principi e sostiene per la Corsica le ragioni della riscossa ». Le attività italiane sull’isola vennero condotte complessivamente con grande abilità e riservatezza, tanto da non suscitare almeno da parte del corpo diplomatico francese in Italia alcun sospetto, anzi. È interessante notare infatti il relativo disinteresse transalpino nei confronti delle articolate attività irredentiste e rivendicazioniste in Italia. A distanza di quasi due mesi dal « salto qualitativo » del movimento irredentista François-Poncet, ambasciatore francese in Italia, scriveva al suo Ministro degli Esteri Georges Bonnet una breve relazione nella quale riassumeva con molte incertezze la rete propagandista di D’Ajeta, Guerri e Giovacchini, facendo trasparire una inspiegabile difficoltà nel raccogliere informazioni più precise, anche attraverso il consolato francese a Livorno, intuita dai diplomatici come la vera centrale operativa della propaganda irredentista. Interessante il commento di chiusura : « J’ai cru devoir signaler, à toutes fins utiles, à l’attention du Département ces indications évidemment quelque peu fragmentaires. Elles me paraissent cepoendant de nature à démontrer l’intérêt croissant que pour des raisons au moins tactiques, et peut-être pour obtenir, le cas échéant, d’autres avantages en échange d’un éventuel désistement, le gouvernement italien porte ou affecte de porter désormais à ‘l’île perdue’ »18.Questo atteggiamento piuttosto disincantato e di sottovalutazione del problema, da parte della diplomazia francese, sarebbe proseguito anche nei mesi successivi : « On constate qu’aujourd’hui, rien n’est fait ici [in Italia – NdA] pour enflammer à cet egard le moral de la nation », si legge ad esempio in un nuovo dispaccio di François-Poncet a Parigi in merito alle solite rivendicazioni italiane, tra le quali la Corsica. Un trucco, quindi, un ballon d’essai propagandistico ad uso più interno che esterno : delle operazioni riservate condotte in Corsica dal Comitato di Guerri e dall’ufficio di D’Ajeta, non compare alcuna traccia nelle relazioni dei rappresentanti diplomatici transalpini in Italia.Inaugurate alla fine del 1938, le operazioni irredentiste avrebbero subito un rallentamento nel settembre 1939. Lo scoppio delle ostilità aveva ridotto la portata delle iniziative sull’isola. Quelli che il diplomatico italiano definiva « contatti con personalità corse », senza specificarne nomi e qualifiche, apparivano impossibili sin dai primi giorni del settembre. Anche le sovvenzioni che erano state erogate negli anni precedenti a favore della stampa isolana più filo italiana sembravano « molto difficili », anche se d’Ajeta confidava in un non meglio precisato miglioramento futuro delle condizioni per riaprire un canale con alcuni quotidiani corsi. Assai precaria risultava la distribuzione clandestina della pubblicistica italiana (dall’inserto de « Il Telegrafo » alle riviste culturali e scientifiche). Apparentemente in condizioni migliori appariva un altro strumento, probabilmente ancora più importante e radicato del Partito di Rocca : « Fedeli alla nostra causa, alla quale hanno reso e rendono preziosi servizi, si sono dimostrati alcuni Ordini religiosi con i quali il « Comitato » intrattiene riservati e opportuni contatti ».Ma, in generale, l’iniziativa in loco apparve sin dal primo mese di guerra alquanto limitata, e ben poco serviva la non belligeranza italiana : i fiduciari italiani legati al « Comitato per la Corsica » e incaricati dai diplomatici di mantenere la rete quadrangolare (autonomisti-personalità locali-giornali-clero) correvano « rischi notevolissimi », mentre, essendo la Corsica stata dichiarata « zona operativa » dallo Stato maggiore francese, avrebbe presto subito lo stesso destino dell’Alsazia dove, come ricordava D’Ajeta, i locali capi autonomisti del movimento pronazista erano stati da poco condannati alla fucilazione per alto tradimento : « Noi abbiamo qualcuno dei nostri ‘amici’ nelle prigioni militari francesi ». Inoltre : « La popolazione è antitaliana e certamente antifascista : gli autonomisti – un esiguo numero – non dimostrano certamente velleità di martirio. I più coraggiosi sono indubbiamente ora in Italia, avendo « disertato » l’esercito francese ».Dinanzi a un siffatto quadro, il Ministro della Cultura popolare, Alessandro Pavolini concordò con il Ministero degli Esteri sull’opportunità di sospendere le attività in Corsica, mantenendo i contatti ma evitando di aggravare la già precaria situazione della rete del « Comitato » con iniziative concrete : si doveva attendere la maturazione delle condizioni politiche e militari.

Nel clima d’attesa e d’incertezza caratterizzante la non belligeranza, la decisione presa dal Governo di sospendere l’iniziativa sull’isola si allargò anche nei confronti dell’attività propagandista in Italia. Del fatto si accorse anche François-Poncet, che segnalò a Parigi la riduzione dell’attività propagandista sui giornali nazionali, motivandola con i tentativi della diplomazia italiana di giungere a una mediazione nel corso della crisi d’agosto 1939. Il Comitato ordinò a Giovacchini di sospendere ogni azione. Si tenga presente che lo scoppio della guerra con la Germania aveva avuto un’ulteriore risvolto anche in Italia : più di metà dei principali esponenti dei Gcc, talvolta per un riscoperto sentimento patriottico e il più delle volte per timore di rappresaglie del governo di Parigi, era rientrata sull’isola tirrenica24.Disciplinato, contro tutti i sospetti di D’Ajeta che come si è detto lo giudicava impulsivo e irrequieto, il leader irredentista inviò a tutti i Gruppi distribuiti nella Penisola una circolare che, pur comandando il silenzio, lasciava presagire una futura offensiva addirittura più militare che di propaganda : « Periodo di attesa e di preparazione silenziosa. Astenersi da qualsiasi manifestazione pubblica o di massa ; non intralciare il lavoro della nostra diplomazia. Non scoprire le nostre batterie, ma non per questo abbandonarle. Io farò sapere quando sarà venuto il momento di agitarsi ». L’attività dei Gruppi di Giovacchini e più generalmente del Comitato per la Corsica si ridussero sino al maggio 1940 e l’impegno dei principali dirigenti della comunità corsa in Italia appare assai più prosaico e meno ideale del periodo precedente, concentrato soprattutto su una serie di favori personali richiesti a Mussolini attraverso sia gli Esteri che il Minculpop26. Il 22 maggio 1940 Giovacchini si incontrò con Pavolini : la data è fatidica, almeno per la breve storia della rivendicazione fascista della Corsica, e segna l’avvicendamento tra il capo dei Gcc e il « Comitato per la Corsica » di Guerri, ormai definitivamente anestetizzato, alla guida dell’iniziativa propagandista.

Giovacchini illustrò al Ministro della Cultura popolare lo stato della sua organizzazione, probabilmente forzando sui numeri e amplificandone le effettive possibilità. I Gruppi di cultura corsi ammontavano a 170 sezioni, sia in Italia che all’estero, per un totale di 22 mila iscritti. I quadri attivi erano circa 250, anche se solo una parte potevano essere effettivamente impiegati in eventuali e non precisate «azioni». Pavolini concordò con il presidente dei Gcc – ribattezzatosi forse in vista di un salto qualitativo in campo bellico « presidente generale» –di intensificare la propaganda e di dare il via alla « costituzione e addestramento di un nucleo d’azione, da tenere pronto per essere inviato in Corsica a un momento dato »27.Si trattava di un’esplicita risposta a una dichiarazione da Giovacchini al ministro soltanto alcuni giorni prima (« I Corsi irredenti riuniti a Roma sono decisi a passare all’azione »)28. Il ministro stanziò 30 mila lire per le spese di propaganda, alle quali si aggiunsero cinque mila lire per l’acquisto da parte del Minculopop di un opuscolo sulla Corsica a cura dei Gruppi stessi29. Tuttavia, la tanto agognata « azione » non venne neppure dopo il 10 giugno. I Gcc non si mossero e la propaganda continuò ad essere sospesa. L’unico significativo atto corrispondente al nuovo stato di guerra fu la trasformazione dei Gruppi di cultura in « Gruppi d’azione irredentista corsa » (Gaic). In un impeto di entusiasmo, esemplificativo peraltro di una certa confusione organizzativa e organigrammatica, Giovacchini ribattezzò poco dopo i Gaic prima in « Movimento irredentista corso » e quindi in « Movimento d’azione irredentista corso » (Maic) : il tentativo era quello di gettare le basi per una vera e propria organizzazione insurrezionale che affiancasse le truppe italiane nella « liberazione » dell’isola30. Ulteriore segnale della volontà degli irredentisti di Giovacchini di darsi una struttura più militante fu lo scorporo dal movimento di tutta l’iniziativa scientifico-culturale, attraverso la costituzione dell’« Istituto nazionale di studi corsi » a Pavia, il quale organizzò lezioni universitarie, una mostra a Venezia sull’italianità dell’isola, iniziative e mobilitazioni per l’intitolazione di piazze e vie alla Corsica e a Pasquale Paoli. Libero dall’impegno culturale, Giovacchini poteva lanciarsi finalmente nell’impresa politica e forse militare. Ma la partita era tutta diplomatica e comprendeva da un lato i rapporti tra Italia e Germania e dall’altro la complicata questione armistiziale con la Francia. All’indomani del crollo francese il governo italiano aveva inserito la Corsica tra le prioritarie richieste territoriali : « L’unione all’Italia » si leggeva nel cahier de doléances del Ministero degli esteri alla vigilia del vertice italo tedesco del giugno 1940 « è la condizione prima e fondamentale per il suo sviluppo e la sua prosperità. La Corsica è italiana geograficamente, storicamente ed etnicamente ». Nei progetti iniziali della Commissione italiana per l’armistizio con la Francia (Ciaf), la Corsica sarebbe stata inserita tra le aspirazioni apparentemente irrinunciabili. Tuttavia, le lunghe trattative di Villa Incisa e poi l’infinita vertenza della Ciaf avrebbero visto la rivendicazione corsa in una posizione sempre più sfumata. Una delegazione della Ciaf giunse in Corsica nel luglio 1940 e apparentemente il tema trattato con le locali autorità vichysois sembrò più orientato verso la smilitarizzazione dell’isola, secondo le clausole di Villa Incisa. I delegati italiani apparvero quindi molto rispettosi dell’autorità francese, prendendo le distanze dall’estremismo dei seguaci di Giovacchini o di Guerri. Tuttavia, come ricorda Rainero « Non si creda che la rinuncia all’annessione immediata della Corsica sia passata tra le decisioni più facili del regime; la rivendicazione rimase quasi « a futura memoria », in attesa di un regolamento della pace [...] ». D’altronde non a caso il maresciallo Badoglio, soltanto due mesi dopo la visita della delegazione della Ciaf sull’isola, sottopose a Mussolini un progetto per l’invasione della Corsica mediante due divisioni, provenienti rispettivamente da Livorno e dalla Sardegna. Il piano si sarebbe sviluppato nei mesi successivi. Nell’incontro tra i capi di stato maggiore della marina italiana e tedesca, tenutosi a Merano il 13 e 14 febbraio 1941, l’ammiraglio Riccardi disse chiaramente al suo collega germanico Raeder che lo stato maggiore della marina aveva predisposto un piano per l’occupazione dell’isola, suscitando peraltro disapprovazione da parte tedesca : l’occupazione della Corsica non solo era considerata dal Terzo Reich inutile, ma anzi dannosa nella strategia globale del conflitto, e avrebbe spinto definitivamente Vichy (e senz’altro l’intero Nordafrica francese, ancora tentennante) tra le braccia dei britannici. Irritati delle opinioni dell’alleato, ma impossibilitati a prescindere da queste visti i rapporti di forza all’interno dell’Asse, i comandi italiani proseguirono nel perfezionamento solo teorico del piano, in attesa di tempi più favorevoli, e lo trasformarono in un progetto interforze tra marina ed esercito. Il nuovo piano, redatto dall’ammiraglio Vannutelli (che avrebbe dovuto ricoprire il ruolo di comandante dell’eventuale contingente d’occupazione), escludeva significativamente l’impiego dei separatisti di Rocca e tanto meno degli irredentisti di Giovacchini, entrambi considerati infidi e pasticcioni. Pur prevedendo ampie tutele all’« etnia corsa » (riconoscimento dei diritti acquisiti degli impiegati corsi, uso del dialetto corso nei processi eccetera), l’isola sarebbe stata governata da un viceré (come l’Albania) o da un alto commissario (come la Slovenia) con pieni poteri esecutivi e due sotto-governatorati ad Ajaccio e a Bastia, corrispondenti alle due zone (le « Bande ») in cui veniva tradizionalmente suddivisa l’isola tirrenica.

Italian troops entering in Corte (central Corsica) in November 1942. The smile of the italian soldier was indicative of the welcome received by the local population