The Experience of Italian Fascists in Assimilating National Minorities

The problems of survival of the Russian community in Latvia force to reflect on the experience of the confrontation of national minorities with forced assimilation. Many think that a policy of assimilation was carried out only by the National Socialists in Germany. It wasn’t. In the 20th century such a policy was pursued by an absolute majority of “young” European nations: Italian, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Polish, and others. This pushed them later into the ranks of allies of Nazi Germany, but the process started quite independently. Not only Jews and Gypsies, but also many other national minorities were persecuted. I am sharing material on fascist Italy.

Italian fascists initially started to pursue a line of the forced assimilation of the national minorities who lived in the country.

The nearly million-strong population of Italy’s post-World War I breakaway from Austria-Hungary, Venezia Giulia, was 43% Italian, and 50% Slovene and Croat. The fascists, after coming to power, forced about 100,000 Slavs to emigrate from this province. The remaining were subject to forced Italisation.

The new authorities closed 300 Slavic cultural, sports, youth, and professional organisations and libraries. 3 political parties expressing the interests of Slavs, 31 newspapers and magazines, and 300 cooperatives and financial organisations were banned. Then, on the basis of special laws, the classical lyceum, the higher school, 488 Slovenian and Croatian schools were closed. Teachers who teach in Italian were sent to the remaining schools from Italy. Slovenian and Croatian were banned in administrative proceedings and in court.

The territory of South Tyrol – the second province ripped away from Austria-Hungary in 1919 by Italy – was inhabited by about half a million people. 90% were Germans.

In 1924 Italian forcibly became the official language in this province with the displacement of German from all areas of public life, including schools. Germans were forced to teach their children in German underground (so-called catacomb schools). All topographical names became Italian. Fascists started to encourage the relocation of Italians to South Tyrol.

The active Italisation of the population of South Tyrol continued until 1939. That year A. Hitler concluded a treaty with B. Mussolini on the status of Germans in Italy. The Germans were to emigrate to Germany or stay in Italy and fully Italise.

About 70,000 Jews lived in Italy in the mid-1930s. However, they had a strong influence on the economic and social life of the country, as they held key positions in business, among professionals, and in politics.

From 1937-1938 Italian fascists started to pursue anti-Semitic policies. In particular, they expelled Jews from the army and other state organisations. Marriages of Jews to “Aryans” were banned. In case of violation of this norm, the property of Jews was subject to confiscation. Jews were forbidden to participate in scientific conferences, to print in newspapers and magazines, and to put their plays in theatres. 98 professors of Italian universities of Jewish origin were dismissed. The books of Jewish authors were removed from public libraries. Jewish children could not study in Italian public schools. In economic terms, it was forbidden for Jewish entrepreneurs to have more than 100 workers and to own more than 100 hectares of land. However, it did not come to deporting Jews from the country, much less sending them to local concentration camps and prisons. Italian fascism did not develop into national socialism.

In 1936, Italy was proclaimed an empire. During the construction of the empire, the Italians captured Somalia (1925-1926), Libya (1928-1929), Eritrea (1936), and Ethiopia (1935-1936) on the African continent. Part of the population of the conquered colonies was destroyed during the wars. In Ethiopia 750,000 people died, and in Libya – 100,000 natives. In Ethiopia, Italians used chemical weapons extensively against the army and civilians, killing tens of thousands of people from this banned weapon alone. The natives lost most of their fertile land following the colonial war, many of them were forcibly moved to concentration camps. Italian colonists started to move to the captured territories.

The authorities imposed restrictions on access to education and work for the native population. The colonies were governed by governors and commissioners who were ethnic Italians. All appointments from the local population in the colonies to lower administrative posts were subject to agreement with the imperial administration.

As a result, an ethnic hierarchy emerged in the empire with Italians in charge, and national minorities and natives at the bottom of the social ladder.

The crimes of Italian fascists against national minorities during the Second World War are a separate topic to consider.

Aleksandr Gaponenko

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