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GUERRINI Irene, « 2008 – 2009: Italian commemorations about the end of the Great War and the Peace Treaty ».

2008 – 2009: Italian commemorations about the end of the Great War and the Peace Treaty.

Ninety years ago Italy was experiencing a heavy and lacerating debate about war management and the outcomes of the Peace Treaty. Socialists were trying to demonstrate war’s bloody uselessness, while Nationalists and all the rightists were cursing the betrayed and maimed Victory. All these clashes were both verbal and physical, and they became among Fascism’s basis.

Coming to the present, what kinds of commemorations received these facts in these last twelve months, in Italy? Had Italian society managed to organize a wide debate on these subjects, both on the cultural and on the historical side?

I think that Italy had devoted them a weak attention, especially at the national level. It missed both a great Conference and a great, central exhibition. On 2005 in Rome had been organized a great exhibition, and the same happened on 1994 in Milan about the XX Century wars and the everyday life experiences. Between 2008 and 2009 in Italy there only were exhibitions at a local level, especially in the north-eastern regions where Great War’s memory is still deeply rooted. Usually they were very interesting and well organized, and sometime they were managed by museums devoted to the Great War. But, it missed a centralized initiative, and it’s a pity because it could be useful to link the two World Wars and the Fascist inter-war experience.

About the conferences there was an interesting meeting in Vittorio Veneto on October 2008. It was organized by a local centre for the military history (Centro Piero Pieri); it joined together specialists from Historical Office of many European Armies’ General Staff, but it had an approach strictly linked with the military history.

A month before in Udine there had been another conference, sponsored by Friuli Venezia Giulia region. It was the second step of a three years long project, but it was a little influenced by the new, rightist regional government and by the national government leaded by mister Berlusconi.

All around the Country there were other interesting conferences and seminars, and some of them had devoted their attention to the industrial mobilization (Terni), to the organization of consent and welfare system (Modena), and to the post war conflicts in Central and Eastern Europe (Brescia), or to the local social situations and conflicts during the war (for instance, there was a conference in Lugo about the war years in the leftist provinces of Romagna).

About the exhibitions, some of them had been devoted to the soldiers’ and officers’ experiences, and to the cultural elaboration of the war experience and trauma. These are interesting approaches, also if in Italy they were not a novelty at all. In Genoa there were two exhibitions, both of them devoted to the war experience and its influence in the Italian culture: one had been sponsored by a society devoted to the alpine war’s study (Società della guerra bianca), and the other had been sponsored by the Region and City Councils, and by the University; unfortunately, this last exhibition had some rhetorical approaches about officers’ experience.

At all, Futurist Manifesto’s hundredth anniversary had received much more attention than the end of the Great War, with two great (and interesting) exhibitions in Rome and Milan.

Also the ninety anniversary of Versailles Conference didn’t receive a great attention, in Italy. A part the above-mentioned seminar in Brescia on May 2008 (and another planned in Turin for the next year), the Peace Conference hadn’t drawn so greatly the Italian historical community. The incoming Conference in Udine (end of September) will also be devoted to Versailles. Instead, the next convention of the Italian Society for the Study of the Contemporary History (S.I.S.S.CO) will be hold in Trieste (one of the mythical place in the pro-war propaganda), but it will not pay a so large attention to the Great War and Versailles subjects.

On 18-19 September an interesting conference is scheduled in Rovereto (promoted by the Italian War Museum) about propaganda and the building of enemy image, but it’s devoted to the complex of Twenty Century wars.

Last year Historical Museum in Trento had held an initiative about Trento inhabitants’ experience during the war, and it was interesting because the city (under the Austrian rule) knew a strong polarization between the pro-Italian irredentisti and the pro-Hapsburg loyalists. On 26 July 2008 the City Council unveiled a plaque to commemorate the citizens had foughten and died for the Hapsburg monarchy.

We can infer that W.W.I anniversaries during 2008-2009 didn’t received the same attention that had in the previous occasions; also the rightist government didn’t devoted them a so great attention, maybe because it didn’t like a lot culture, and the historical and public debates. At least, the general subjects received a reduced attention, while Great War’s subjects linked with local history seemed to have more appeal. Till now Italian historians seem to have neglected the chance to analyse thoroughly both the links among post-war Italian military engagements abroad and the nationalist wave that came to the Fascism, and the economic aspects of W.W.I.

During the last twelve months one of the main subjects of debate was Defence Minister’s initiative to send officers in the schools to explain Great War to the students. The Minister is Mr. Larussa, a former neo-fascist politician, and his idea was perceived very negatively by the majority of the historians. But, the real problem was that they were not fully able to develop an effective and widespread explanation about this subject, to oppose Minister’s project.

These two anniversaries are seeming to be a partly wasted chance, and it is very regrettable because at the beginning there were two publishing initiatives that received a warm welcome: the Italian edition of the Becker and Audoin-Rouzeau edited Enciclopedie de la Grande Guerre 1914-1918 published by Einaudi and edited by Antonio Gibelli on 2007 with some interesting additional contributions about the Italian experience, and the two books of La Grande Guerra: dall’intervento alla « vittoria mutilata » part of the project Gli Italiani in Guerra. Conflitti, identità, memorie dal Risorgimento ai giorni nostri, published by UTET and edited by Mario Isnenghi and Daniele Ceschin on 2008.

Irene GUERRINI.

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