How A Small Croatian City Laid the Foundations for Fascism
Our story begins with a man: Gabriele D’Annunzio, an Italian playwright, poet, journalist, author, aristocrat, army officer and war hero. In 1919…D’Annunzio became a dictator.
When World War One began, D’Annunzio, a self-proclaimed ‘Superman’ (having been inspired by Nietzsche’s Ubermensch), started to give speeches in favour of Italy’s entry on the side of the Triple Entente. With the war beginning, he volunteered and achieved further celebrity as a fighter pilot, losing sight in one eye during a flying accident. It was in the First World War that perceptions of D’Annunzio transformed from literary figure to national war hero, as he was also associated with the elite Arditi storm troops of the Italian Army, and took part in “il Volo su Vienna”, translating to Flight over Vienna, where he lead nine planes in a 700-mile round trip to drop propaganda leaflets on Vienna.
The war strengthened D’Annunzio’s ultra-nationalist views, and he campaigned widely for Italy to assume a role alongside her wartime allies as a first-rate European power. During World War One, Italy had made a pact with the Allies, the Treaty of London 1915, in which it promised all of the Austrian Littoral, but not the city of Fiume. After the war, the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 confirmed this delineation of territory, with Fiume (or Rijeka, Croatia as it is referred to today) remaining outside of Italian borders and amalgamated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia). Outraged by this proposed handing over of the city, whose population, outside the suburbs, was mostly Italian, on the 12th of September 1919, D’Annunzio led a seizure. The force behind D’Annunzio was about 2,600-strong and drawn mostly from former or serving members of the Granatieri di Sardegna brigade of the Royal Italian Army, as well as Italian nationalists.
D’Annunzio and his army forced the withdrawal of the Allied occupying forces, successfully seizing Fiume. On the same day, D’Annunzio announced that he had annexed the territory to the Kingdom of Italy, having been enthusiastically welcomed by the…