STATI LIBERO di FIUME
FREE STATE of FIUME
by Richard Doody
STATI LIBERO di FIUME - FREE STATE of FIUME
Fiume began as the Roman settlement of Tarsattica soon after the legions of the empire defeated the Illyrian pirates in 180 BC. The town was a fiefdom of the Holy Roman Empire in medieval times, fell under Hapsburg rule in 1466 and remained so until the end of World War I except for a brief period of Venetian rule during the 15th century and an eight year French reign during the Napoleonic wars.
Fiume came under Hungarian rule with the institution of the dual monarchy in 1867. The Adriatic city was the chief port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, seat of the Royal Naval Academy and a shipbuilding center. The Austro-Hungarian navy maintained a squadron in Fiume's harbor. Its home port was at Pola a few miles further down the Istrian peninsula.
Croats constituted the majority of the city's cosmopolitan population until the end of 19th century when Hungary began to actively recruit Italian immigrants to stem the rising tide of Slavic nationalism. Italy was promised most of the Hapsburg territories on the Adriatic including Trieste, Dalmatia and Istria as an inducement to join the Allied Entente during the First World War. However, the secret Treaty of London signed in April 1915 made no mention of Fiume.
The struggle for control of Fiume's post war destiny began on October 23, 1918. The Croatian soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian garrison mutinied and took control of the city in the name of the South Slav Committee of Agram. The Austrians signed an armistice ten days later and the Hapsburg empire collapsed. The Italians rushed to claim their spoils. The cruiser RN Emanuele Filiberto sailed into Fuime's harbor on November 4th. The Croats were forced to yield power over Fiume's civic affairs to the local Italian National Council. Allied reaction to the Italian coup was swift and negative. The French destroyer Audace entered the port on November 17th and landed a combined French, British and American task force. Administration of Fiume was assumed by an Inter-Allied Control Commission pending resolution of the dispute by a peace conference.
Italy continued to press its claim to Fiume when the conference convened in Paris. Wilson's Fourteen Points and the principle of self-determination contained there in was cited as the justification for the Italian stance. They noted that Fiume's 22,488 Italians outnumbered its 13,351 Croats. The 11,000 to 1,500 Croat majority in the industrial suburb of Susak went unmentioned.
Premier Orlando's appeals to Wilson were rebuffed. The American president was a firm supporter of the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Yugoslavia). Yugoslavia's economic viability demanded access to the sea. Fiume was the only port available.
The Italians were outraged. They refused to accept a "mutilated peace" as an acceptable reward for the sacrifice of their war dead. Negotiation with the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was out of the question for the latter two peoples were still techincally the enemy. Orlando attached little importance to the fate of Fiume but was forced to play to the emotions of his public. Italy withdrew from the conference. Orlando returned to Rome. He appealed to parliament and received a vote of confidence. Though the Italians soon returned to Paris, the Treaty of Versailles was concluded without resolving the issue of Fiume.
Italy's democratic politicians were content to let the matter resolve itself. Others were not. Gabriel D'Annunzio, the most celebrated Italian poet and writer of the era, stepped into the breech opened by the politicians. D'Annunzio led a corps of several hundred blackshirted volunteers dubbed "Arditi" across the border into Fiume on September 12, 1919. The Inter-Allied Control Commission was forced to withdraw. D'Annunzio proclaimed Fiume, "the Italian Regency of Carnaro".
Reaction to the coup de force was mixed. Hundreds of Italian veterans flocked to the ranks of the Arditi but the Italian government bowed to the will of its allies. It continued to call for a negotiated settlement. The Italian Army which stood aside when the Arditi marched was ordered to blockade Fiume. D'Annunzio, acting as "Commander of Fiume", declared the city, "a fortress under siege" and imposed martial law. Opponents of the Fiuman cause were threatened with execution.
The Italians remained passive in the face of D'Annunzio's defiance. A plebiscite was staged on October 26, 1919. The predetermined result favored annexation to Italy by a 6,999 to 156 margin. The only surprise was the 156 No vote cast despite the threats of retribution by D'Annunzio's thugs.
Italy and Yugoslavia continued to negotiate. The Treaty of Rapallo was signed on November 12, 1920. It created an independent Free State of Fiume and ceded Dalmatia (except for the city of Zara) to Yugoslavia.
While the diplomats maneuvered, D'Annunzio spent his idle moments fashioning a corporate constitution with the help of the anarcho-syndicalist, Alceste de Ambris, delivered orations and watched the nightly display fireworks displays from his balcony on the municipal palazzo. The Arditi busied themselves with terrorizing the opposition. An overdose of castor oil was a favorite means of silencing dissent. The Commander was enjoying his power and refused to yield.
D'Annunzio's response to Rapallo was swift. He seized the Yugoslav islands of Arbe and Veglia the very next day. A few weeks later he declared war on Italy. Italian Premier Giovanni Giolitti finally had enough and sent an expeditionary corps to oust the poet warrior. Giolitti ordered the battleship Andrea Doria to bombard Fiume's municipal palace. He correctly reckoned that a few shells lobbed in the direction of D'Annunzio's headquarters would be enough to send the dictator packing. The Fiume war lasted from December 24 - 28, 1920 and entered Fascist folklore as, "the Christmas of Blood".
Victorious Italy proclaimed Fiume a "Free State" and installed a provisional government headed by Riccardo Zanella. Fiume withdrew from Arbe and Veglia. The Fiumans approved the creation of the Free State and confirmed Zanella's government in an April 1921 election.
Fiume's importance to the larger world might have ended there but D'Annunzio's reign had inspired both the style and substance of the Fascism. It was D'Annunzio who first proposed a March on Rome to Mussolini. It was D'Annunzio's blackshirted Arditi who inspired the fashion for solid colors adopted by the various para-military legions during the interwar years. It was D'Annunzio's Charter of Carnaro that gave rise to the corporate constitutions of Fascist regimes from Italy to Iberia and South America.
Mussolini finally marched on Rome and took control of the Italian government in March 1922. Fascists seized power in Fiume at the same time. Zanella fled to Yugoslavia where he established a Fiume Government in Exile.
Il Duce deferred action on the Fiume question while he consolidated power in Italy. The matter was brought to the bargaining table again in January 1924. The Treaty of Rome was concluded in short order. Yugoslavia ceded Fiume to Italy and Italy recognized Yugoslav sovereignty over Susak. King Victor Emmanuelle III arrived in Fiume aboard the cruiser Brindisi on March 16, 1924 to formally proclaim the annexation.
Gabriel D'Annunzio retired to a villa on Lake Garda. Mussolini shut D'Annunzio out of the Fascist power structure but named him President of the Royal Italian Academy in 1937.
Fiume was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during World War II. The city was occupied by the Germans after Italy withdrew from the Axis. It remained in German hands until the final days of the war when it was liberated by Yugoslav partisans. Fiume was ceded to Yugoslavia by the Treaty of Paris in 1947. The Italian population was evacuated and Fiume became the Yugoslav city of Rijeka.
by Richard Doody
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