❤ Sharing Folkworthy Stuffs ❤
1 Comment | Vintage
A little bit of background – between the 19th and 20th centuries, Tunisia was home to a sizeable Italian community, that numbered more than 100,000 in the early 1900s. Due to it being the African country nearest to Italy (even nearest than Libya), Tunisia already had important trade relations with the Italian states in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the Republic of Genoa established a colony in the Tunisian island of Tabarka; many Italian exiles sought refuge in Tunisia during the early period of the Italian independence and unification wars in the 19th century, and during the second half of that century tens of thousands of Italians of every social standing, especially from nearby Sicily, settled in Tunisia. At the same time, investment and economic penetration by Italian concerns increased significantly; the newly unified Kingdom of Italy did indeed have colonial aims towards Tunisia, and the establishment of the French protectorate in 1881 created a serious rift in Italian-French relations. Even under French colonial rule, though, the Italian colony remained the largest European community in Tunisia for many decades, to the point that writer Laura Davi quipped that Tunisia was “an Italian colony managed by French officials”; as late as the 1920s, the Italian community still outnumbered the French one, although the margin gradually shrinked. The French colonial authorities saw the Italians as a potential danger, as Italy had not completely abandoned its aims towards Tunisia, and thus promoted discriminatory policies towards Italian Tunisians (for instance, after 1902, foreign lawyers – mostly Italian nationals – could not practice unless they had a French degree; from 1913, Italian entrepreneurs were excluded from participating in public contracts; restrictions were placed on the access to private practices; a 1919 decree made the acquisition of real estate property practically prohibitive to the Tunisian Italians), pushing for their complete assimilation into the French community. These policies eventually backfired, as they ended up pushing more and more Italian Tunisians towards nationalism at first, and then towards Fascism, as Mussolini seized the opportunity to present himself as a protector of Italian interest in Tunisia. The Fascist regime promoted the building of schools, banks, hospitals and cinemas for the Italian community, created Italian assistance organizations, bankrolled Italian newspapers in Tunisia so that they became more aligned with the regime, etc. “The Times” in 1939 wrote that “*…Well supplied with fascist funds, Italy’s consuls and their agents have long been busy systematically undermining French influence of authority. Italian banks are generous to Italian colonists, Italians have their own schools loyal to the fascist state of Italy, and many Tunisian newspapers are subsidized by Italy. Professional agitators are actively encouraging trouble, magnifying grievances, imaginary or real. Radio programs tell Muslims that Mussolini alone is their protector. Membership in the Fascist Party is all but compulsory for every Italian male in Tunisia, and refusing to join means virtual banishment. Granted free speech and free assembly by French law, fascist leaders in Tunisia have become loud and aggressive in demanding special privileges for Italians, at the same time denouncing the French government, which tolerates their activities. Italy is making buildings that are easily convertible to military use, and building up the civil population to support a mass takeover…*” When Italy entered World War II in June 1940, some Italian Tunisians repatriated to enlist in the Army; others did so in November 1942, when the Axis occupied Tunisia, and fought in the subsequent Tunisian campaign in the *Reggimento Volontari Tunisini* (Tunisian Volunteers’ Regiment). After the Allied victory in May 1943 returned Tunisia to French rule, Italian schools and newspapers were closed down and a more aggressive policy of forced assimilation began.