Saint Germain, Treaty of

   The Treaty of Saint Germain between the victorious Allies and Austria was signed on 10 September 1919. The former Austro-Hungarian empire was broken up, and new nations—Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia—were created. Italy’s territorial claims against Austria were one of the thorniest issues in the peace settlement, and the treaty left the Italian public feeling that Italy had been betrayed by its fellow powers. The secret Treaty of London (April 1915), which had secured Italian accession to the war on the side of the Entente, and a subsequent deal among the wartime premiers of France, Great Britain, and Italy in April 1917, had promised Italy large gains at the expense of Austria, control over much of the Dalmatian coastline (modern-day Croatia), the Dodecanese Islands, Smyrna in Asia Minor, and colonial compensation. These exorbitant promises, made at a moment when the Entente powers were desperate to get Italy into the conflict, seemed excessively generous compensation for Italy’s contribution once the war was over. Moreover, the United States had entered the war in 1917, and President Woodrow Wilson was determined to shape the postwar peace in accordance with the principle of self-determination of racial minorities. In particular, he was adamant that Italy would not acquire sovereignty over several hundred thousand Slavs in Dalmatia. Despite Italy’s representative at Paris, Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, walking out of the peace conference in protest, Italy’s expectations were cut back sharply. Wilson conceded Italy the Brenner frontier (ensuring that hundreds of thousands of German nationals were incorporated into Italy) and allowed Trieste and Istria, but not Dalmatia, to become Italian territory. Italy also maintained de facto control over the Dodecanese Islands but had to renounce its territorial ambitions in Asia Minor. Cunningly, Britain and France took advantage of Italy’s self-imposed exclusion from the conference table to ensure both that Italy was not given any of the former German or Turkish colonies as a “mandate” from the League of Nations and that it was not compensated with territorial gains in Africa. In objective terms, Italy was not badly treated by the peace settlement. Italy’s statesmen, however, had been convinced that the settlement would transform the Mediterranean into an “Italian lake” and that Italy would emerge as one of the indisputably great powers. The disillusionment was therefore enormous, with even moderates denouncing Italy’s supposed betrayal at the hands of the other powers. Resentment at the peace settlement enabled Gabriele D’Annunzioto seize the town of Fiume(which had been given to Yugoslavia) on the Dalmatian coast and fanned the already smoldering flames of nationalism and Fascism.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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