Italy’s Foreign Relations and the Future
The question of Trieste is the only future obstacle to good relations between Italy and the Balkan countries to the east. The ambitions of fascism to build a Balkan empire for Italy appear to be gone, and in time, it is to be hoped, the scars of war in Albania and Greece will heal. Italy needs the foodstuffs of the Balkans, while the Balkan countries need some of Italy’s industrial products such as textiles. Renewed friendship may perhaps be built on economic and cultural exchanges.
Russia, still farther to the east, has won the admiration of large numbers of the Italian people. Some of the largest Italian parties are committed to a policy of friendship with Russia. It may be expected that Russian recognition of Italian interests will lead to close ties between the two countries.
Toward the west
Italian relations with France got off to a hopeful start with General De Gaulle speaking generously in favor of a democratic Italy. The boundary issue is a possible source of trouble; otherwise no clash of interests separates the two peoples. Many reasons exist for close economic and political relations between them. The migration of population from Italy to France is one of them.
The population of France has been declining, that of Italy increasing. Italy now, for the first time in history, has the larger population. Between the wars, hundreds of thousand of Italian farmers, small tradesmen, and laborers settled in France. They proved to be among the stoutest defenders of the French Republic. There were few fascists among them.
The French have recognized these qualities and admit that France will need many more immigrants from countries with similar cultural backgrounds if it is to remain strong. Italy, at the same time, may need relief of its population pressure through more emigration. If reason prevails, the two needs could be served at once.
In prefascist days it used to be the rule to speak of the traditional and historic friendship between Italy and England. The damage done to that ideal by fascist aggression has been immense. As a result of the war, future Italian relations with England are tinder a greater cloud than are those with any other country. The Italian challenge to British maritime power and the threat to the Mediterranean life line of empire were overcome, but at the cost of blood, toil, and tears. They will not be easily forgotten in England.
Toward the United States
Friendly relations with the United States have been restored more quickly than with any other of Italy’s former enemies. American animosity was never so bitter toward Italy as toward the other Axis members, partly because the Italian people, so clearly against their will, had been betrayed into the war by the fascist gangsters who led them. Not having been menaced as England was nor plundered as Greece was, the United States was the more inclined to forgive and forget the past and to give the future a break.
Most Italians, conversely, hold the United States in higher regard than any other country in the world. It is the country where millions of poor Italians found a haven and a chance to better themselves, the country whence for nearly half a century came a nourishing rain of funds sent home by the emigrants. No territorial conflicts exist with the United States—even of the artificial kind that Mussolini manufactured with France and England. The Italian declaration of war on the United States was a decisive factor in bringing many Italians to realize the full disaster of fascism.
Until September 3, 1943 Italy was an enemy nation. On the following October 13 the government headed by Marshal Badoglio declared war against Germany. Italy became a “cobelligerent” but not an ally of the nations fighting Hitler.
In the process of what Prime Minister Churchill called earning Italy’s way back into the fold of democratic nations, the Italian fleet, some units of the Italian army, guerrilla forces in the German-held north, and great numbers of service units all actively helped fight the Nazis. In the meantime, Italy’s betwixt-and-between status has posed many problems for the allied powers to whom Italy, surrendered and who, under the terms of the armistice, hold the real political power in liberated Italy.
Italy has a government. It is a government that rests of on a popular mandate but on the backing of the Allied Commission which has handed over to it progressively greater powers. At the end of 1945 the Italian government exercised civil authority in all but small portions of Italy, subject, of course, to the over-all control of the Allied Commission’ and to its obligations under the terms of the armistice of September 3, 1943. It was allowed to resume diplomatic relations with all members of the United Nations.
Although the Italian government, therefore, is not quite a sovereign government, the fact that it exists is important. It is evidence of allied belief that the Italian people can and should be encouraged to reconstruct their political system on democratic lines. It appears to recognize the fact that this was a war of ideas, and that having destroyed the idea and substance of fascism we should allow the Italians freedom to replace fascism with a democratic structure of their own design.
The Italian people and the future
The task of reconstruction will be long and hard. But since the human materials needed for it are not all destroyed, it is not a hopeless task.
The educational system, for instance, though it suffered damage, did not break down under the ax of fascism. In the universities, especially, voices of tolerance and freedom were not completely silenced. Some of the leading prefascist educators stayed-or were allowed to stay-at their posts. The result is a new generation that gives promise of facing the future with a courageous spirit.
In 1922 a majority of university students were fascist in fact or by inclination. They thought it at worst an exciting adventure and at best a possible solution for Italy’s troubles. By 1943 the overwhelming number of educated young Italians, the source of tomorrow’s political leaders, had decisively rejected fascism.
It cannot be said for certain, of course, that they will grope their way out of the present confusion to a confirmed belief in the kind of democracy we in the United States hold dear. Many of them may embrace ideologies of the extreme Left—opposed to fascism, to be sure, but not pure democracy either. If the Italians, having been given freedom to work out their own future, elect to travel a different road from our own, shall we try to bar them from it? Realizing that we ourselves do not always practice democracy as well as we preach it, have we moral justification for laying down the law to them?
The common people of Italy, the millions of artisans and workers and peasants, are humble, industrious, sound. They have a deep attachment to the family, the land, and the great moral values of Christian civilization. For them fascism was a nightmare only half understood. Democracy, perhaps not fully understood either by the uneducated masses, at least means to them freedom of the individual to be himself.
These are good materials for reconstruction. With some help and a reasonable chance, the results should be good. There is reason to hope that the misery of fascism has strengthened those who believe that Italy’s only “empire” can be spiritual, its only “conquests” intellectual, and its highest greatness moral.