- (Rijeka)The city of Fiume, on the Dalmatian coast, became the object of a major diplomatic crisis after the 1919 Paris peace conference failed to hand the city over to Italy. Fiume had a large Italian population, but it had not been promised to Italy in the 1915 Treaty of London. When, in June 1919, it became clear that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson favored giving the town to the new state of Yugoslavia, Italian nationalist opinion was outraged. In July 1919, there were clashes between the local Italian population and French soldiers garrisoning the town. Several French soldiers were killed. Italy was criticized by a commission of the wartime allies for its behavior and forced to reduce the number of its own troops in the town. The nationalists began to assemble a legion of volunteers to seize the city, and on 12 September 1919, 2,500 “legionaries” led by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio seized the city. Initially, the Italian government issued only a formal condemnation of this act; it hoped to use the nationalist fervor to put pressure on Britain, France, and the United States. Wilson held firm, however. D’Annunzio proceeded to rule the city as a personal fief until December 1920. His dictatorship was brought to an end by the Treaty of Rapallo in November 1920, which, among other decisions, declared Fiume to be a free city and awarded the town of Zara (which D’Annunzio had occupied in November 1919) to Italy. The Italian government accepted these terms; D’Annunzio did not. On Christmas Eve 1920, Italian troops attacked Fiume and after four days of fighting succeeded in overcoming the resistance of the legionaries. The loss of Fiume was treated by nationalist opinion as evidence that Italy had been repaid for her suffering during the war with a “mutilated peace.” There is no doubt that the credibility of Italy’s traditional political class was gravely weakened by the crisis and that the rise of Fascism owed much to the liberal state’s failure to obtain the port for Italy. Ironically, the city of Fiume became Italian within a few years. One of the first major successes of Benito Mussolini’s conduct of foreign affairs was a treaty of friendship, signed in Rome on 27 January 1924, between Italy and the new kingdom of Yugoslavia. By the terms of this treaty, Italy gained, as well as Fiume, great influence in the Danubian basin. In gratitude, King Victor Emmanuel III made Mussolini a member of the Ordine dell’Annunziata, the highest honor of the realm. Fiume remained Italian until after World War II.See also Foreign Policy.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.
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