Fascist Italy and the Rights of Others
With its 1935 assault on Ethiopia, a fellow member of the League of Nations, Italy became the first major power to defy the postwar international order, blithely disregarding the new Paris norms of national sovereignty. Yet in spite of its willingness to thumb its nose at the League of Nations, Mussolini’s Italy did in fact respond to the new interwar principles of sovereignty and national self-determination in important, though not always coherent, ways. While the Fascists conformed to the Paris mold in their embrace of the homogeneous nation-state model, they felt constantly at odds with other norms of the postwar order, not least its mandate of colonial emancipation and the protection of minorities.
My paper will explore the place of “others” in Fascist Italy’s colonial territories and inside the nation. After the Great War, Italy incorporated into the nation new multi-ethnic territories acquired from the defunct Habsburg Empire, i.e. the southern part of Tyrol and the former Austrian Littoral. At the same time, it sought to strengthen its hold on recently conquered colonial possessions in North Africa, namely the formerly Ottoman territories of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Both realms, I argue, posed similar challenges to Italian sovereignty, and gave rise to similar solutions. The Paris principles of colonial emancipation and of minority rights found resonance among the non-Italian populations in these contested territories and forced the Italian government, by 1922 in the hands of the Fascists, to respond. To bolster Italian claims to rule in an era that prized self-determination and no longer saw imperial claims as self-evident, the Fascists used settlement policies in the hope of creating an ethnic-Italian majority in its northern multi-ethnic provinces as well as its southern Mediterranean colonies. That in turn invited administrative changes that turned colonies into national provinces. This expansion of the nation however meant that yet more “others” needed incorporating, and the Fascists developed new hierarchies of national membership that undermined liberal postwar understandings of an equal and self-determined national citizenry. Fascist Italy thus responded to postwar norms of sovereignty by creating its own hybrid variant of a nationalized space. It was a space incorporating former imperial realms and, despite the assertion of Italian nationhood, one that was marked by the differentiations of empire.
Revisionism as a Means of Nation Building: The Characteristics of Hungarian Revisionism between the World Wars
After the First World War, Hungarians had a hard time to accept territorial losses and picture their country shrunk to a third of her previous size. Official maps continued to show the old frontiers of „historic Hungary”, and a popular verse boasted: “Rump Hungary is no country, Heaven is Great Hungary”.
Revisionism – a movement aiming at the modification of the Treaty of Trianon – became a fundamental characteristic of Hungarian foreign policy and public thinking in the inter-war period. Idealizing the conditions of “Old Hungary” and aiming at its full or partial restoration, Revisionism looked upon historic Hungary both as a memory of the glorious past and the image of the desired future. Such a national programme, which was seeking a better Future by returning to the Past, created a rather controversial attitude towards Modernisation. (An example of which was the reluctance of the Hungarian government to give even a hint of consenting to the “mutilation” of the country and to carry out the long-overdue reshaping of the internal administrative borders even after the peace treaty had dwarfed several counties to the size of only a few villages.) Another obstacle of Modernisation was the ideological traditionalism of the Hungarian regime in the 1920s which was based on the well-known “Christian-National” ideas and held political groups of a more progressive character (Liberals, Democrats, workers’ movement) as responsible for the “Tragedy of Trianon”.
On the other hand the countries of the Little Entente, cherishing no nostalgias towards the past, were more opened to Modernisation. Even Austria, a new republic and an industrialized country, was looking to the future rather than to the past.
Hungarian public opinion, meanwhile, was ready to embrace revisionist propaganda which provided simplified, self-absolving answers to the collapse of historic Hungary and a promise for the “providential” victory of “Hungarian Justice”. A whole set of arguments, symbols and rituals were developed, some of them carefully built upon certain elements of general knowledge for greater effect.
One of them was the retelling of the fight of Good against Evil (i.e. Hungary vs her enemies) at the end of which treason and negligence were to be redressed, “Justice for Hungary” to be granted and the Treaty of Trianon revised.
Another one was the use of historic parallels taken from the Hungarian past. Thus, the Conquest (of the Carpathian Basin by the ancient Magyars in the late 9th century) acquired a new message: Hungary must and shall be fully reconquered. Likewise, the War of Independence (against Austria in 1848–1849) received a new interpretation: Hungary must and shall break the chains of foreign imperialism.
A third and most widespread example was the invocation of the biblical story of the Passion, suggesting that now it was Hungary which had to relive the humiliation and glorification of Christ and that the “Calvary of Hungary” would inevitably lead to the “Resurrection of Hungary”, i.e. the restoration of “historic Hungary”. The success of such a symbolism was almost guaranteed in a country where the national anthem took the form of a prayer, the Government carried out a “Christian-National” consolidation policy, and the population had a two-thirds Catholic majority with another 25 per cent belonging to other Christian denominations.
Strengthening national pride – so high in the year of the Hungarian Millennium (1896) and so shattered after the dismantling of Hungary (1918–1920) – was one of the main goals of right-wing governments in inter-war Hungary. Revisionism could certainly be employed to this effect but the immense obstacles which lay in the way of “Hungarian Justice” were hard to dismantle. It caused continuous frustration among Hungarians but it also instigated further efforts.