Response to Chancellor Stresemann on Alto Adige
By Benito Mussolini
The long and oscillating speech of Mr. Stresemann necessitates an immediate reply which will be as clear and precise as the speech that I made last Saturday in the Chamber.
My speech was not improvised, but patiently—I repeat, patiently—considered during the two months of a disgraceful anti-Italian campaign. It was not a rhetorical speech but, on the contrary, very unrhetorical; and the fact that Mr. Stresemann interpreted it in the way that he did shows once more that he and many other Germans do not at all understand the profound spiritual and unrhetorical upheaval which has taken place in the conscience of contemporary Italy. But these are details of the controversy. Few speeches have had a more rapid and more profound repercussion in the Italian spirit and the European public opinion than the speech delivered by me. This shows that my declaration was necessary to clear up a situation which was gradually becoming complicated and which could have resulted in extremely serious incidents.
A clarification was given. The conflict is historically precise; it is a conflict between full Italian rights and an absurd German pretense.
It is hardly necessary to add that I stand by both the spirit and the letter of my previous speech, including the final reference to the tricolour on the Brenner, which Mr. Stresemann may interpret as he wishes; but Italians know that it means that Italy will not tolerate a violation of the peace treaties which guarantee her the frontiers won at the cost of so much blood.
For the rest, Mr. Stresemann's answer only confirms the essential points of my speech. Was he able to deny that since the war Italy has followed a friendly policy towards Germany? No, he could not deny that. Has he denied the existence of a German press campaign during the last several months which has overstepped all bounds of decency by insulting the institutions and sentiments which are most dear to Italians? No, he could not deny it, because this press campaign was organised and found hospitality even in Government papers such as the Tägliche Rundschau, which is rightly considered to be the official organ of the German Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Has Mr. Stresemann denied the existence of a campaign intended to bring about a boycott of Italian goods and of tourist traffic to Italy? No, because this campaign existed and still exists and is now becoming worse, as is proven by the news that I received just this morning. Mr. Stresemann has tried to minimise the importance of this campaign by endeavouring to make it appear as the work of small irresponsible groups. Is Mr. Stresemann therefore unaware that the anti-Italian boycott propaganda in Bavaria has been carried out in universities, public offices, post offices, markets, and trains? Is Mr. Stresemann unaware that a member of the Liberal Party, a school inspector, two university professors, and an ex-Minister of Justice are all members of the executive Committee for the boycott of Italy? Is Mr. Stresemann unaware that on January 29 some Populist deputies presented to the Prussian Landtag a proposal to close all Italian private schools in Prussia?
Mr. Stresemann made no reference at all to that part of my speech in which I referred to the ridiculous projects proposed by the heads of the Pan-German movement in June 1918, when, believing that victory was secure, they met at Vipiteno, in Alto Adige, and demanded that the German frontier be fixed not at Salorno, but at the Seven Communes and include all the territory as far as Desenzano, Peschiera, and Verona with the intention of denationalising it.
Knowing all the facts, I affirm most seriously that this mad dream is still cherished by large circles in Germany, even if today the German government is limiting itself to claiming cultural rights, however incompatible these may be with the full exercise of Italian sovereignty.
Nor has Mr. Stresemann uttered a word in response to my statement that, while millions of Germans have been annexed to other States, an artificial agitation has been directed only towards Alto Adige, an agitation based on statements known to be lies. Did not the Prague government pass a law just the other day forcing upon all the citizens of Czechoslovakia, including the three and a half million Germans, the compulsory use of the Czech language in all state administrations?
Finally, Mr. Stresemann defended with very feeble arguments the unprecedented statements of Minister Held, in which he urged "the liberation of our brothers in South Tyrol". This sentence is contained in the stenographic text. Extensive adulterations and compassionate mystifications only increase its importance and exceptional gravity. It is not enough to say that German foreign policy is made in Berlin and not in Munich. We are also interested in the men who talk about it from the point of view of their responsibility and position.
Mr. Stresemann has avoided the substance of my speech and prefers to focus on the details, details whose profound irony he has not grasped. But I will return to that shortly.
First I want to respond to certain specific statements in Stresemann's speech.
The comparison made by Mr. Stresemann between the reciprocal treatment of Italian and Jugoslav minorities is without foundation for obvious reasons. We have no bilateral agreement with Austria regarding the reciprocal treatment of minorities. Thus the historical precedents cited by Mr. Stresemann, such as the message of Picori Giraldi and the speech of the Crown, actually support the Italian viewpoint that the policy of excessive tolerance has proved to be totally ineffective, because the Germans always interpreted it as a sign of weakness.
For the first three years, the Fascist government essentially continued the policy of waiting and tolerance, but was forced to change this attitude vigorously when, in the spring of 1925, it realized the enormous dangers which the Italian people could face in the more or less immediate future.
But there is one claim in Stresemann's speech that I must deny in the most formal manner, and that is this: that the Italian Government has in any way and at any time called for an additional guarantee pact for the Brenner frontiers.
The truth is that the Italian government has not only not call for any such pact, but has scrupulously rejected any positive suggestion in this matter, both before and after Locarno; because we are convinced, at present, that the most solid guarantee of the Brenner lies in the moral and material force of the character of the Italian people.
Now I will briefly refute certain minor statements contained in Mr. Stresemann's speech.
He complains that I told Ambassador Neurath that the Italian government would respond to a boycott with a counter-boycott. Well what else would you expect? Do you expect Italy to passively accept the boycott of its goods and freely allow German goods to enter?
Mr. Stresemann protests what I said about German tourists. Let me reiterate that we are and always will be a hospitable people, but we will not tolerate guests who assume the arrogant pretenses of masters and throw their money before us as if Italy did not have other ways to earn a living. Many Germans are perhaps ignorant of the fact that Italy has fields, workshops, shipyards, and that Italy can very well survive even if in the future not a single German crosses the Alps.
I respected the Walter monument and allowed it remain for the sake of memory, but the idea of making it an antagonist of Dante is grotesque to me.
I do not regret what I wrote in 1920 about German possibilities, but the Italy that I represent through my Regime—which is not a mere historical episode, but an era—no longer bows to the sufficiency and arrogance of anyone and does not admit friendships unless they are on the footing of perfect political and moral equality.
As for the denationalisation of Alto Adige, Mr. Stresemann deliberately confuses denationalisation—which we are not doing—with the pure and simple application of Italian laws.
That violence and terror reign in Alto Adige, as Prime Minister Held asserted in his speach, and which Stresemann repeated albeit in an attenuated form, is absolutely false. That the German press has lied about this is demonstrated by the votes of the teachers, hoteliers and ethnic minorities in Alto Adige who have—without any pressure whatsoever—expressed their sympathy with the Italian government and expressed their indignation against the maneuvers and fantasies carried out on the other side of the Brenner.
Let me repeat again that our policy in Alto Adige—a policy which I call Roman justice—will continue in those lands which you very boldly seek to enclose within the circle of the German cultural community, while for us Alto Adige is and always will be politically, historically, geographically, economically and morally Italian.
Mr. Stresemann promises that Germany will change its attitude towards its own ethnic minorities that live along the borders of the Reich. I will keep that in mind for the future, but as for the situation as it exists today, the truth is that Germans do not tolerate Polish language schools in areas where Polish minorities live. Nor do they even tolerate Danish minorities.
In fact, very recently the various Danish associations of Schleswig sent a notice to the Prime Minister of Prussia, in which they invited him to consider the fact that the Danish population of Schleswig has been waiting six years to be granted cultural freedom in schools similar to the one enjoyed by the German minorities in Denmark.
Mr. Stresemann, before attempting to remove the mote from Italy's eye, remove the beam from your own eye!
This demonstrates that if the Austro-Germans had won, all things Italian between the Brenner and Lake Garda would have been brutally annihilated!
The short controversy these recent days is not one between two ministers, but between two points of view of a complex and delicate situation.
Hence the interest and the emotion aroused throughout the world. Now that the veils have been lifted, the situation appears extraordinarily illuminated.
Germany intends to assume—inside and outside of the League of Nations—the moral tutelage of all the Germans in the world, including the few in Alto Adige, who before the war did not belong to Germany. It is necessary to take note of that and make it the object of a careful examination. But I declare no less explicitly:
1) that the foreign ethnic population of Alto Adige is absolutely excluded from the number of minorities which were the object of special agreements in the peace treaties;
2) that Italy will not accept any discussion on this matter in any assembly or council, and that therefore the vote of the Tyrolean Diet is absolutely useless;
3) That the Fascist Government will energetically oppose any plan of this nature, for it would consider itself guilty of the crime of high treason against the Fatherland if, for the sake of a hundred thousand Germans living on Italian soil, the security and peace of 42 million Italians, who certainly form the most homogeneous and compact national bloc in Europe, were imperiled in any way.
These are not threats reserved for ambiguous dilemmas; these are statements of dignity and strength which facts can never disprove, as is the custom of the new Italy; and too many Germans—still influenced by old stereotypes—continue to commit the serious mistake of not comprehending this.
With your perfect sense of civil responsibility, you understand that this recent controversy has touched upon a fundamental and vital question. It is not only the question of the intangibility of the Brenner frontier—which Mr. Stresemann kindly recognizes to be juridically ours in virtue of the peace treaties—which is fundamental and vital, but also the question of the consequences of this intangibility.
You remember that from 1866 to 1915 our Nation suffered from the absurd old frontier of the Trentino, which was like an enemy dagger thrusting its blade from the Alps into the banks of the Po. This frontier was one of the most agonising aspects of our national drama, which was interrupted in 1866, resumed, and brought to a triumphant conclusion by the victory of our arms in 1918.
There is only one word to sum up our position: inviolable. In saying that I know that I have spoken for the whole Italian people.