1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Irredentists
IRREDENTISTS, an Italian patriotic and political party, which was of importance in the last quarter of the 19th century. The name was formed from the words Italia Irredenta—Unredeemed Italy—and the party had for its avowed object the emancipation of all Italian lands still subject to foreign rule. The Irredentists took language as the test of the alleged Italian nationality of the countries they proposed to emancipate, which were South Tirol (Trentino), Görz, Istria, Trieste, Tessino, Nice, Corsica and Malta. The test was applied in the most arbitrary manner, and in some cases was not applicable at all. Italian is not universally spoken in South Tirol, Görz or Istria. Malta has a dialect of its own though Italian is used for literary and judicial purposes, while Dalmatia is thoroughly non-Italian though it was once under the political dominion of the ancient Republic of Venice. The party was of little note before 1878. In that year it sprang into prominence because the Italians were disappointed by the result of the conference at Berlin summoned to make a European settlement after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. The Italians had hoped to share in the plunder of Turkey, but they gained nothing, while Austria was endowed with the protectorate of Bosnia, and the Herzegovina, the vitally important hinterland of her possessions on the Adriatic. Under the sting of this disappointment the cry of Italia Irredenta became for a time loud and apparently popular. It was in fact directed almost wholly against Austria, and was also used as a stalking-horse by discontented parties in Italian domestic politics—the Radicals, Republicans and Socialists. In addition to the overworked argument from language, the Irredentists made much of an unfounded claim that the Trentino had been conquered by Giuseppe Garibaldi during the war of 1866, and they insisted that the district was an “enclave” in Italian territory which would give Austria a dangerous advantage in a war of aggression. It would be equally easy and no less accurate to call the Trentino an exposed and weak spot of the frontier of Austria. On the 21st of July 1878 a noisy public meeting was held at Rome with Menotti Garibaldi, the son of the famous Giuseppe, in the chair, and a clamour was raised for the formation of volunteer battalions to conquer the Trentino. Signor Cairoli, then prime minister of Italy, treated the agitation with tolerance. It was, however, mainly superficial, for the mass of the Italians had no wish to launch on a dangerous policy of adventure against Austria, and still less to attack France for the sake of Nice and Corsica, or Great Britain for Malta. The only practical consequences of the Irredentist agitation outside of Italy were such things as the assassination plot organized against the emperor Francis Joseph in Trieste in 1882 by Oberdank, which was detected and punished. When the Irredentist movement became troublesome to Italy through the activity of Republicans and Socialists, it was subject to effective police control by Signor Depretis. It sank into insignificance when the French occupation of Tunis in 1881 offended the Italians deeply, and their government entered into those relations with Austria and Germany which took shape by the formation of the Triple Alliance. In its final stages it provided a way in which Italians who sympathized with French republicanism, and who disliked the monarchical governments of Central Europe, could agitate against their own government. It also manifested itself in periodical war scares based on affected fears of Austrian aggression in northern Italy. Within the dominions of Austria Irredentism has been one form of the complicated language question which has disturbed every portion of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
See Colonel von Haymerle, Italicae res (Vienna, 1879) for the early history of the Irredentists.