Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

"Bloody Christmas" Brings D'Annunzio's Fiume Extravaganza to a Close

D'Annunzio Raises His Flag Over Fiume, September 1919

Fiume, now know as Rijeka in Croatia, is a city on the east shore of the Adriatic. Through the Great War, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The disintegration of the Empire at the end of the war, though, led to the establishment of rival Croatian and Italian administrations in the city; both Italy and the founders of the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) claimed sovereignty based on their "irredentist" ("unredeemed") ethnic populations. Volatile poet, warrior, and adventurer Gabriele d'Annunzio demanded the area around Fiume for Italy and began making passionate speeches for its seizure.

An international force of Italian, French, Serbian, British, and American troops occupied the city (November 1918) while its future was discussed at the Paris Peace Conference during the course of 1919. On 10 September 1919, the Treaty of Saint-Germain was signed declaring the Austro-Hungarian monarchy dissolved. Negotiations over the future of the city were interrupted two days later when a force of 2,000 Italian nationalist irregulars (known as arditi, after Italy's special assault troops), organized and led by Gabriele d'Annunzio, seized control of the city, forcing out the international security force. The local Italian population was thrilled by his arrival.

D'Annunzio then established a state, the Italian Regency of Carnaro. To the embarrassment of the Italian government, several ships mutinied and offered their service to d’Annunzio. For 16 months he ruled Fiume as a dictatorship founded on anarcho-syndicalist-decadent ideals (a city for poets and pirates), while Italy pondered what to do. When they continued to condemn his project, he even formed an Anti-League of Nations that reached out to "oppressed peoples" around the world.

D'Annunzio's Arditi Supporters, October 1919

According to one account, artists, bohemians, adventurers, anarchists (d’Annunzio corresponded with Malatesta), fugitives and stateless refugees, homosexuals, military dandies (the uniform was black with pirate skull-&-crossbones, later stolen by the SS), and crank reformers of every stripe (including Buddhists, Theosophists, and Vedantists) began to show up at Fiume in droves. The party never stopped. Every morning d’Annunzio read poetry and manifestos from his balcony; every evening a concert, then fireworks. This made up the entire activity of the government.

The resumption of Italy's premiership by the liberal Giovanni Giolitti in June 1920 signaled a hardening of official attitudes to d'Annunzio's coup. On 12 November, Italy and Yugoslavia concluded the Treaty of Rapallo, under which the city was to be an independent state, the "Free State of Fiume," under a regime acceptable to both. D'Annunzio's response was characteristically flamboyant and of doubtful judgment: his declaration of war against Italy invited the bombardment by Italian royal forces which led to his surrender of the city at the end of the year, after a five-day resistance. This event was known as "Bloody Christmas."

D'Annunzio fled by airplane to Venice and escaped capture. His career as an independent political entrepreneur, however, was at an end. After the Fiume episode, d'Annunzio retired to his home on Lake Garda and spent his later years writing and campaigning. A few years later the king designated him a prince. Although d'Annunzio had a strong influence on the ideology of Benito Mussolini, he never became directly involved in fascist government politics in Italy. He died in 1938.

Sources: Wikipedia, History Today and Culture Trip

1 comment:

  1. Such a character he was.

    I've been meaning to read Bruce Sterling's short novel about this adventure.