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Italianization or Italianisation is a term used to describe a process of cultural assimilation in which ethnically non or partially-Italian people or territory become Italian. The process can be voluntary or forced. It also refers to the sphere of linguistics where foreign words are absorbed into Italian.

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Independent kingdoms and territories pre-Italian unification

Italian Unification

The first phase of Italianization occurred with the unification of Italy. With the annexation of the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, the Papal States, and the absorption of the Kingdom of Sardinia into the new Kingdom of Italy, all areas of modern-day Italy experienced an urgent and immediate Italianization. In order to unite all the various ethnicities, nationalities, language groups, and cultures into a united Italy of real Italians, Italian language and patriotism was forced upon the population of former Sicilians, Neapolitans, and others. Sardinian, one of the closest languages to Latin, had already been subjected to eradication attempts by the Savoyard rulers of the island, who had imposed Italian as a means of converting the indigenous population into genuine Italians, and removing what little was perceived of "Iberian components". Disenchantment over the new country and rulers led to the eruption of a series of revolts against the Italian state in the Sicilian countryside during the early 1860s. These riots eventually arrived on the Sicilian capital of Palermo where they were met by Italian military troops. On May 27, 1860, the Italian government sent a naval fleet to stage in the waters outside of Palermo.[1] During the following weeks, thousands of Sicilians were killed as the Italian government heavily bombed Palermo in an attempt to fight the Sicilian people into submission.

Subsequent Italianization of the former independent kingdoms of present-day Italy included the compulsory education in and public use of Italian over languages such as Sicilian, Neapolitan, Venetian, Lombard, and others.

Fascist Italianization


The village of Sterzing, Italianized as Vipiteno.

Fascist Italianization was the violent and systematic process of assimilation by which, between 1924 and 1945, Benito Mussolini's Fascist government forced minority populations living in Italy to assume the Italian language and culture, and worked to erase any traces of the existence of non-Italian minorities on the territory of Mussolini's Italy.

This program of Italianization aimed to suppress the native non-Italian populations living in Italy, including the Occitan minority in the Piedmont-Aosta Valley and the Albanians in Southern Italy, as well as some areas annexed after the First World War, where Italians were a minority. The program was later extended to areas annexed during World War II. The affected populations were Slovenes and Croats in the Julian March, Lastovo and Zadar; between 1941 and 1943 the Gorski Kotar and coastal Dalmatia; German-speakers in the South Tyrol, parts of Friuli and the Julian March, French and Francoprovençal-speaking peoples in the Aosta Valley, as well as Greeks, Turks and Jews on the Dodecanese islands.


After the First World War, under the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and the Kingdom of Italy, Italy obtained almost all of Istria with Trieste. Under the 1924 Treaty of Rome Italy took Rijeka as well, which had been planned to become an independent state.

In these areas, there was a forced policy of Italianization of the population in the 1920s and 1930s [2]. Even during the brief preliminary period of occupation (1918–1920) Italy had begun a policy of assimilation of Croats and Slovenes. This resulted in the closure of the classical lyceum in Pazin, of the high school in Voloska (1918), the closure of the Slovene and Croatian primary schools and the exile of some distinguished Croats and Slovenes to Sardinia and to other places in Italy. In addition, there were acts of fascist violence not hampered by the authorities, such as the torching of the Narodni dom (National House) in Pula and Trieste carried out at night by Fascists with the connivance of the police (13 July 1920). The situation deteriorated further after the annexation of the Julian March, especially after Benito Mussolini came to power (1922). The official policy of cleansing other nationalities was under no international restraint, as Italy had not given any undertaking about the rights of minorities in either the peace treaties or the Rapallo treaty.

In Istria the use of Croatian and Slovene languages in the administration and in the courts had already been restricted during the occupation (1918–1920). In March 1923 the prefect of the Julian March prohibited the use of Croatian and Slovene in the administration, whilst their use in law courts was forbidden by Royal decree on 15 October 1925. The deathblow to the Slovene and Croatian school system in Istria was delivered on 1 October 1923 with the scholastic reform of minister Giovanni Gentile. The activities of Croatian and Slovene societies and associations (Sokol, reading rooms, etc.) had already been forbidden during the occupation, but specifically so later with the Law on Associations (1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public Order (1926). All Slovene and Croatian societies and sporting and cultural associations had to cease every activity in line with a decision of provincial fascist secretaries dated 12 June 1927. On a specific order from the prefect of Trieste on 19 November 1928 the Edinost political society was also dissolved. Croatian and Slovene co-operatives in Istria, which at first were absorbed by the Pula or Trieste Savings Banks, were gradually liquidated [3]. After this complete dissolution of all Slav political, cultural and economic organizations, armed resistance was organized against Italian rule (see TIGR), followed by new repression, which further embittered relations between the two communities.

In 1927, Italian fascist minister for public works Giuseppe Cobolli Gigli - of Slovene descent[4] - wrote in Gerarchia magazine, a fascist publication, that "The Istrian muse named as foibas those places suitable for burial of enemies of the national [Italian] characteristics of Istria". The minister also added stanzas of a poem, written in dialect "A Pola xe l'arena, la Foiba xe a Pizin" ("In Pula there is the Coliseum, in Pazin the Foiba")[5][6][7][8][9].

Under the program non-Italians were forced to attend Italian language schools and to use only the Italian language in public places including churches. Slovene and Croatian institutions, were vandalized, as were German cultural institutions. Libraries and the media were closed. Croatian, Slovene, German and French toponyms were systematically translated and immigration of Italians from other regions of Italy was encouraged.

Julian March and Italian Dalmatia

Most non-Italians resisted these policies as far as possible, sometimes with the support of local Catholic clergy of the same origin. Some Slovenes and Croatians willingly accepted Italianization as a compromise required in order to gain full status as Italian citizens and favour upward social mobility.

Lojze Bratuž, a Slovene choirmaster who led several Slovene language church choirs and resisted the persecution of Slovenes in the area around Gorizia, was arrested on 27 December 1936, tortured and forced to drink petrol and engine oil.[10]

In 1926, claiming that it was restoring surnames to their original Italian form, the Italian government announced the Italianization of German, Slovene and Croatian surnames, giving this program open legislative form, adding further pressure to these ethnic groups.[11][12] There was no exception for first names.

School certificates were no longer issued in languages other than Italian, schools in other languages were closed and school programs in other languages were abolished. Use of other languages was systematically forbidden.

The Italian administration encouraged the removal of Slavic populations to Puglia and Calabria in southern Italy and East Africa. Italians from Southern Italy were encouraged to populate Istria and Zadar. Italian teachers were brought to elementary schools and kindergartens.


The policy also affected the inhabitants of the Dodecanese islands, conquered by Italy in 1912. Although the islands were overwhelmingly Greek-speaking, with by a relatively small Turkish-speaking minority and an even smaller Ladino-speaking Jewish minority (with few Italian speakers), schools were required to teach in Italian, and the Greek Orthodox religion of most of the inhabitants was strongly discouraged. These measures caused a good deal of Greek emigration from the islands, replaced by a moderate amount of Italian immigration.

South Tyrol

In 1919, at the time of its annexation, the southern part of Tyrol was inhabited by almost 90% German speakers.[13] Under the 1939 South Tyrol Option Agreement, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini determined the status of the German people living in the province. They could emigrate to Germany or the Greater German Reich's territory in the Crimea, or stay in Italy and accept their complete Italianization. As a consequence of this, the society of the province of Bolzano-Bozen was deeply riven. Those who wanted to stay, the so-called Dableiber, were condemned as traitors while those who left (Optanten) were defamed as Nazis. Because of the outbreak of the Second World War, this agreement was never fully implemented. Illegal Katakombenschulen ("Catacomb schools") were set up to teach children the German language.

The Second World War

During the Second World War Italy occupied almost all of Dalmatia, and the Italian government made stringent efforts to Italianize the region. Among other things, it was forbidden to listen to any radio station in Serbo-Croatian nor Slovene, and those doing so risked being identified as an enemy of the state and executed. Yugoslavs were not allowed to buy land or property, and drastic measures were enacted to ensure that.[14] The program was implemented by Italo Sauro, son of Nazario Sauro and personal counselor to Benito Mussolini for Italianization.
Italian occupying forces were accused of committing war crimes in order to transform occupied territories into ethnic Italian territories.[15].
The Italian government operated many concentration and internment camps[16] for Slavic citizens, such as Rab concentration camp and one on the island of Molat. Survivors received no compensation from Italy after the war.

Mario Roatta was the commander of the 2nd Italian Army in Yugoslavia and to suppress the mounting resistance led by the Partisans adopted tactics of "summary executions, hostage-taking, reprisals, internments and the burning of houses and villages" [17], for which after the war the Yugoslav government sought unsuccessfully to have him extradited for war crimes. He was quoted as saying "Non dente per dente, ma testa per dente" ("Not a tooth for tooth but a head for a tooth"), while General Mario Robotti, Commander of the Italian 11th division in Slovenia and Croatia was quoted as saying "Si ammazza troppo poco" ("There are not enough killings") in 1942 [18][19] [20] [21] .


  1. Giudizi critici su l'episodio del bombardamento di Palermo la notte del 27 maggio 1860
  3. A Historical Outline Of Istria
  4. [1]"Giuseppe Cobolli Gigli, figlio del maestro sloveno Nicolaus Kombol" (Giuseppe Cobolli Gigli, son of a Slovene primary school teacher Nicolaus Kombol) S.Fumich, Il pozzo e le parole, LuLu Press, 2007, p.148
  5. Gerarchia, vol. IX, 1927: "La musa istriana ha chiamato Foiba degno posto di sepoltura per chi nella provincia d'Istria minaccia le caratteristiche nazionali dell'Istria"Template:Sr icon[2]
  6. Template:Sr icon
  7. Template:It icon
  8. Template:It icon
  9. Template:It icon
  10. An article from RTV Slovenia entitled '70 years since the death of Lojze Bratuž'. The fourth paragraph reads "Fatality 27.12.1936. Fascists seized Bratuž on 27 December 1936 after a mass at which he had led the choir. They took him to a nearby building, where he was forced to drink petrol and engine oil" (Usodni 27.12.1936 Fašisti so Bratuža prijeli 27. decembra leta 1936 po maši, pri kateri je vodil pevski zbor. Odpeljali so ga v bližnjo stavbo, kjer so ga prisilili, da je pil bencin in strojno olje. See
  11. Regio decreto legge 10 Gennaio 1926, n. 17: Restituzione in forma italiana dei cognomi delle famiglie della provincia di Trento
  12. Hrvoje Mezulić-Roman Jelić: O Talijanskoj upravi u Istri i Dalmaciji 1918-1943.: nasilno potalijančivanje prezimena, imena i mjesta, Dom i svijet, Zagreb, 2005., ISBN 953-238-012-4
  13. Oscar Benvenuto (ed.): "South Tyrol in Figures 2008", Provincial Statistics Institute of the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, Bozen/Bolzano 2007, p. 19, Table 11
  14. Josip Grbelja: Talijanski genocid u Dalmaciji - konclogor Molat, Udruga logoraša antifašista u talijanskom Koncentracijskom logoru Molat : Regoč, Zagreb, 2004., ISBN 953-6813-01-7
  15. Review of Croatian History Issue no.1 /2005 Z. Dizdar: Italian Policies Toward Croatians In Occupied Territories During The Second World War
  16. Elenco Dei Campi Di Concentramento Italiani
  17. IngentaConnect General Roatta's war against the partisans in Yugoslavia: 1942
  18. "Si ammazza troppo poco". I crimini di guerra italiani. 1940-43 - Oliva Gianni - Mondadori - Libro
  19. "Si ammazza troppo poco". I crimini di guerra italiani 1940-1943, Gianni Oliva, Mondadori - 2007 - libri - BOL
  20. "Si ammazza troppo poco". I crimini di guerra italiani 1940-1943 Oliva Gianni
  21. Sixty years of ethnic cleansing, by Tommaso Di Francesco and Giacomo Scotti


Template:Cultural assimilation

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