The occasion will be to commemorate the centenary of the famous “Fiume endeavour” led by the Italian soldier-poet Gabriele d’Annunzio in 1919. In the aftermath of World War I, Italy was denied the annexation of Fiume, a port city with an Italian majority on the border between Istria and Dalmatia. D’Annunzio righted this wrong by occupying it with a legion of former World War I soldiers and volunteers hence known as “the legionaries”.
When World War I broke out, the soldier-poet had passionately urged his country’s entry into the war and plunged into the fighting himself, seeking out the most dangerous assignments, also in the air force, where he lost an eye in combat. D’Annunzio’s flight over Vienna [volo di Vienna], where he dropped thousands of propaganda leaflets over the city, and his action at Buccari Bay [beffa di Buccari] – a daring surprise attack on the Austrian fleet with power boats – were two of the most memorable.
In 1919 D’Annunzio and some 300 supporters, in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, occupied the Dalmatian port of Fiume – today known as Rijeka in Croatia – which the Italian government and the Allies wanted to incorporate into the new Yugoslav state.
But D’Annunzio believed that the port city belonged to Italy and ruled Fiume until December 1920, at which time Italian military forces compelled him to abdicate. Nevertheless, by his bold action he had established Italy’s interest in Fiume, and the port eventually became Italian in 1924.
Thus in September, for ten days, Pescara – d’Annunzio’s hometown – will celebrate the endeavor through conferences, readings, concerts, exhibitions and shows. The aim of both the regional council chaired by Lorenzo Sospiri and the Municipality of Pescara is to pay a proper tribute to the genius of d’Annunzio and his political experiment: called the “Regency of Carnaro”, a self-proclaimed State that pioneered many social achievements such as divorce and women’s suffrage.
Seeing the “Fiume Endeavour” as a mere occupation, is missing the point however. What had happened there and on many ongoing European battlefields as Versailles was busy giving birth to a peace treaty, was the shaping of a new political, economic and cultural landscape. In Fiume, the people had succeeded in breaching the perimeter of politics, compromising the resilience of liberal and aristocratic rule.
Many honored guests will join in the celebrations: the actor Michele Placido, the art critic and deputy Vittorio Sgarbi, the singer Enrico Ruggeri, the songwriter Mogol, the news director of the magazine Culturaidentità Alessandro Sansoni, the actor Edoardo Sylos Labini as well as the president of the Vittoriale degli Italiani Foundation, Giordano Bruno Guerri.
“We will celebrate the hundred years of the Fiume endeavor with a sentiment of peace toward the trans-Adriatic nations, trying to stimulate discussion and to reinterpret our history,” said the president of the Regional Council of Abruzzo, Lorenzo Sospiri. “Our aim is to highlight all the innovations that took place during the occupation of Fiume”.
He added: “It was of high importance to host this celebration in Pescara, because it is absurd that the city may pretend, as it lately happened, to not to recognize d’Annunzio as one of its illustrious sons. This is the attitude of someone who fears to challenge their history and origins”.
“The ‘Vate’ [literally ‘The Prophet’, the name by which d’Annunzio is also known in Italy; ed.] returns, then, after years of oblivion, to overcome the attempt to neglect all traces of his presence in the city,” explained Sospiri. “As if it would ever be possible to tear down everything that was built in his name: the Gymnasium, the Theatre, the Conservatory, the bridge. It would take a new city to be built up from scratch to erase his memory. If you’re living in Pescara, you have to deal with d’Annunzio”.
The president of Abruzzo Region, Marco Marsilio, noted: “D’Annunzio has often been a not so much beloved character; he actually withstood an unfair exclusion, even contempt. Today it is our duty to enhance his image. I’m sure in the future we will host several occasions to discuss the contribution the ‘Vate’ offered to our historical identity”.
The “Fiume endeavor” will not be an easy task to accomplish, especially since arbitrary historical analogies with Italian fascism have become so fashionable.
That is why three thousand signatures were collected by the citizens of Trieste, a city in the North-East of Italy, against the decision of the Municipality to erect a statue of D’Annunzio in the city centre.
But where most still see continuity between the two historical periods, initiatives like the one happening in Pescara are crucial as long as they can help to mark the difference between what is just assumed and what is actually true.
D’Annunzio’s illustrious career, his daring wartime actions, his eloquence and political leadership in two national crises, all contributed to make him one of the most striking Italian historical figures.