Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

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These are links to my pages on Italy's various historical eras.   

 

Click on the trench image above to read a concise account of the Treaty of Versailles.  The best part is actually after the summary, where first-hand accounts by participants are reported, giving insight into the personalities involved in the negotionations.

 

Two images of Mussolini, a famously vain man, one with hair and one without.  He shaved his head when his comb-over was no longer convincing.  He had hundreds of portraits made of himself and they hung everywhere in Italy during his dictatorship.  

I recall a TV game-show host in the 80's who asked an Italian family to produce a portrait of Mussolini to win some money.  They said they didn't have one and sent word around to the their neighbors for help.  Within minutes, the shocked host was inundated with at least twenty portraits of Mussolini.  They won the money, but the host made a hasty retreat from that neighborhood.

Click on the image above to read an account of Italy and World War II.  Again, after the summary are first-hand accounts and excerpts from famous speeches and agreements.  

L'Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia della Provincia di Roma (ANPI - Roma) is an association of resistance fighters (partigiani) and those who participated in various ways in the war for the liberation of Italy.  They are the sponsors of a site all about that period in Italy.  It is very information, in Italian, and worth a long visit.  Click on their logo above to go to their site.

Each region in Italy has an association representing their resistance movement, so it is well worth a search on the web if you are interested in a specific area.  

The link above on the small yet stylish logo is for the Tuscan Association.  Their site is full of information both information and moving.  The best part, in my humble opinion, is the section 'Protagonisti' that describes many of the 'partigiani' from the Tuscan region.

The not for profit 'Resistance in Florence' site is an online version of a multimedia project that documents the the era of Fascism and the Resistance to Fascism and the German occupation of Italy.  It is rich with images and history, in Italian, that anyone interested in this era should not miss.  Here are a few of their images, so you can see what I mean.

This is an aerial shot of Florence for Allied bombers to use when targeting the city. 

An Allied B26 over Florence, with an explosion in the background, from 1944.

Here you can see the transport of a bronze horse from the city to a safe area in the woods.  Many works of art were removed from the city for protection from bombing.  Others were packed in wooden pallets to protect them from bombing and the vibrations from bombing and massive movements of tanks and equipment through the streets of Florence.

This is a view of Florence just as Campo di Marte was destroyed by bombs from Allied planes in 1944.

If you're a royal hobbyist, as many are in Europe, click on the coat-of-arms of the ex-Italian royal family to see who they are.

Another page from this site, run by Mr. Allan Raymond, is especially interesting.  It identifies how many descendants of Queen Victoria of Great Britain there are in the European royal families.  Makes you understand better all those inbreeding jokes they make throughout Europe about the royal families.

This is a recent image of Emmanuele Filiberto, the 'exiled crown prince of Italy', as the Royalty.nu site calls him, despite his being allowed to return to Italy in 2003 after swearing allegiance to the Italian Republic and renouncing claims to rule Italy.  He married in September of 2003 in Italy.

Click on the image to read  the latest Italian royalty news.  Especially interesting are the bits about the forensic examinations being made of Medici family remains.  It seems ancient Italian princes count as royalty.  At the bottom of their page are more links, even one to Emmanuele Filiberto's official website.  He's given up the claim to the throne perhaps, but not to the fame.

 

Fascism and The World Wars

 

Italy was allied with Austria and Germany before World War I broke out in 1914, but withdrew from their Triple Alliance once war was declared on just about everybody by everybody in Europe during those insane years.  

 

Italy finally joined the Allies near the end of the war when promised territory in exchange for military assistance:

  • in the north, 

  • in todayís Yugoslavia, 

  • in Africa, 

  • and in the Middle East.   

But after the Versailles Conference at which the settlements after the fighting were determined, Italy was given only part of what she had expected for her efforts:  territory in the north.  

 

Italian politics continued in confusion, with a plethora of parties, few strong party leaders, and a weak King, Vittorio Emmanuele III.   

But it was mainly the failure of the conflicting post-unification policies that lead to the growth of Fascism in the 1920s.  

 

First the Fascists, under their founder Benito Mussolini, played the populist card by stoking peopleís fears and resentments, like fears of remaining forever poor, and resentments with the rich land owners.  

 

Once the Fascists gained a large populist following, they promised their followers that the Fascists could end her humiliations in the world, and their poverty at home.  They promised economic advancement and empire. 

 

At the same time, Mussolini used his more fanatical followers to terrorize his political enemies and to silence the press.  

 

Eventually the Fascists were elected to the Italian Parliament, and immediately Mussolini started moves to take over the government.  The fragile state tried martial law and emergency decrees to stop him, but failed in the end, and by commanding a large and vocal popular support, the King allowed Mussolini to form a government in 1922. 

 

Immediately, like the Fascists in Germany, Mussoliniís Fascists declared that they would retain control of the country until a totalitarian state was created, for the good of all Italians, of course.  Mussolini then:

  • used terror tactics to silence his critics, 

  • outlawed dissent and opposition parties, 

  • and set up a private Fascist army to do his dirty work.  

For those who keep abreast of politics around the world today, youíll recognize shades of this happening on several continents.  In human history, there really is nothing new under the sun.

 

There was economic advancement under the Fascists, but that was brought about by force, and much of the growth was in:

  • weapons and military equipment put to use in Spain, Albania, Somalia and Ethiopia, 

  • agriculture which was necessary to feed the military, 

  • in transport which was needed to move weapons and troops.  

There was also an empire put together, but it came at the end of the Era of Empire, a time when Colonialism had made way for Imperialism.  The main difference between the two was the superior attitude of the ďWhite Manís BurdenĒ to westernize and convert the native peoples wherever they went. 

 

Mussolini tried to make up for lost time, and joined the great divvying-up of Africa.  His invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 lead to censure by the struggling precursor of the United Nations, the League of Nations.  But just like todayís international body, the League had no means of enforcing her edicts, and unlike today, the military powers of the day were not willing to enforce the Leagueís edicts, so Mussolini defied the League, leading to itís eventual demise.

 

Mussoliniís alliance with Hitler led the country into World War II.  Italian forces fought in Africa, and Italy was base to thousands of German soldiers.  When ally forces under General Eisenhower took Sicily in 1943, Italian Resistance fighters overthrew Mussoliniís Fascist government. 

 

From that point on, the war moved to Italian territory and was between the allies including the Resistance, and Germanyís troops stationed throughout the country.  The fighting was fierce, and at times brutal.  War crimes are still being pursued today. 

 

All through these years, Italian writers wrote, even some in the face of persecution by the Fascists, and some supporting the Fascists.  But it is also the writing of this period, and just after the wars, that opened the worldís eyes to the modern Italian literature of Pirandello, Svevo, Moravia, Levi, Calvino Sciascia, Ginzberg, Quasimodo, Morante, to name a few. 

 

Mussoliniís actions after the overthrow of his government were something out of a perverted Goldoni farce.  He escaped to the north of the country with his mistress, declared it his, set up a new government, and planned his return to retake the rest of Italy.  

 

When the Resistance fighters took the area, the leader of the group killed both Mussolini and his mistress.  When asked why he didnít just arrest them, he said, to paraphrase:

  • that it was better for the country to avoid letting a rabble-rouser and grand-stander like Mussolini make a mockery of Italy and Italians during his trial and afterward; the Italian people had been through enough already.  

These are surely sentiments that must reverberate with those presiding over the trial of Milosevic in The Hague, and with those running Serbia today; and perhaps with those who will be prosecuting Hussein in Iraq.

 

The costs of Mussoliniís empire building adventures, and of later supporting Hitlerís program for European domination left little for investment in Italy itself.  Only those things necessary to maintain control and to pursue the military plans were addressed:  the education system, communication, industrial production, the railways.  

 

The end of the World War Two signaled the end of the Era of Empire.  The slow acceptance of this and the ultimate dismantling of the Empires shaped that era, and some would say it is still shaping the happenings in the former imperial colonies around the world.

 

(For some information of what life was like in Italy under Fascism, visit this History Learning Site.

 

Post War Growth and European Integration

 

After World War II, Italy placed itself at the center of every effort to:

  • unify Europe,

  • to develop itís economy and security, 

  • to resist communismís gains in Europe.  

Treaties were negotiated and signed throughout the 1940s and 1950s.  Italy and Italians recognized, and still recognize, that their future is brighter when:

  • standing side-by-side with their European neighbors in the European Union

  • together with the U.S. in N.A.T.O.

  • and with the world in the United Nations.  

The Italian government became a constitutional monarchy under Umberto II, but in June of 1946, Italians voted to create a republic with a cabinet government under De Gasperi, of the Christian Democratic party.  

 

The monarchy was abolished and the royal family left for Switzerland, tainted by their acquiescence under Mussolini. 

 

The Christian Democratic party, a center-right party, has until recently dominated Italian politics.  But as is the case whenever one party dominates for long, corruption and hubris overtook the party, and they were eventually voted out. 

 

Italyís Economic Miracle after World War II stunned Europe and the world.  The liberal business policies reinforced by the early European Economic Community treaties, and easily available capital under the Marshall Plan, fuelled much pent up capitalistic energy.  Italians showed they were ready and able to join the industrialized countries. 

 

  • Universal education was enhanced, 

  • agriculture modernized, 

  • ports rebuilt for the 20th century, 

  • shipbuilding and steel production grew to world class levels, 

  • all natural resources were tapped,

  • centuries old skills were tapped to produce and market specialty items in foodstuffs, fashion, and light industries.  (The theory of added-on value is the key to Italian business success.)

Italyís system of proportional representation in government leads to many small parties and many unstable coalition governments.  Some Italians joke that there is a political party for every political opinion.  

 

It seems that whenever two members of a party disagree, one leaves to set up his own party and names it after a plant (Daisy, CarnationÖ).  Despite this, the country is politically stable, and because of this, Italy is home to one of the liveliest political systems in Europe. 

 

And what about that banished royalty?  Recently, a descendent of the royals was allowed to return for a visit to Italy, and he was greeted as a movie star.  

 

Even though the monarchy was abolished, I never met an Italian who didnít know who in Italy was a former royal relation, or what the former royal family was doing at that moment and where they were doing it.  The royal fascination remains, as it does in most of Europe, but for the entertainment value rather than for political reasons.