Books: The Italian Dodecanese, a unique, forgotten history

Pignataro's Vol. II focuses on Governor Mario Lago (1923-1936)

10 September, 10:25

    Pignataro's second volume in the trilogy Pignataro's second volume in the trilogy

    (by Patrizio Nissirio) (ANSAmed) - ROME, SEPTEMBER 9 - Strategically located in the Aegean Sea off the eastern edge of Crete, the Dodecanese Islands were colonized by Italy from 1912-1947: the second volume of historian Luca Pignataro's ''The Italian Dodecanese'' (Solfanelli publishers, 655 pages, 40 euros) sheds light on an occupation that, at least until 1936, was marked by good administration, efforts to modernize a long-marginalized area, and tolerance towards local communities.

    The second volume of a history narrated with accuracy and a wealth of materials focuses on Mario Lago, who was governor of the colony from 1923-1936.

    ''A man of culture as well as a diplomat'', says Pignataro, ''because it must be said Mussolini wanted it that way, at least for a while. Mussolini wanted to establish good relations with Greece and Turkey, so he drew up some treaties with that purpose and unofficially decided to preserve a degree of autonomy for the inhabitants. In 1936, when the aim became challenging Great Britain for control of the Mediterranean, Italian foreign policy became more aggressive''. Why has this piece of Italian history in the once-Ottoman, now Greek islands fallen into oblivion? ''The main reason is Italy lost the war, so it had to try to make others forget its previous superpower attitudes,'' the historian explained to ANSAmed. ''In the post-war period, Italy had to try to re-establish good relations with its neighbors, in this case with Greece. Then, the islands were far away, and there were few Italians living there. Also, the Italian rule of the Dodecanese became involuntarily linked with the 1940 attack on Greece. That was a very sad page, and everything that could become an obstacle to good relations between Italy and Greece had to be forgotten.'' ''Lago was a man of culture - says Pignataro - and he tried to make the islands flourish. He was fairly tolerant towards the various local communities, took a soft-handed approach, without political fanaticism. His period was not one of Fascism with a truncheon. Of course, as the representative of a foreign power his mandate was to 'Italianize' the inhabitants to a degree. But he respected local customs and tried to preserve them.'' And the Greeks? How do they remember that period? ''Educated, European-oriented Greeks are very interested in that history, while older educated Greeks berate it, out of ideological prejudice. On the contrary, the locals recall it as a time of good administration'', says Pignataro, who spent 10 months in the Rhodes island archives. ''They recognize the quality of the architecture and urban planning. Now they are in disrepair, and they lament their loss.'' Things changed with the arrival of Governor Cesare De Vecchi di Val Cismon in 1937. ''De Vecchi imposed Italian as the only language in schools, which all became state-run. He sacked local teachers and brought others in from Italy. There were unpleasant episodes, with Fascist squads participating in repression. But even then, there was a concern for the material well-being of the locals. De Vecchi did not want Italy to declare war.

    Personally he was not an anti-Semite, although he later applied the Racial Laws.'' ''De Vecchi's policies and most of all, Italy's entry into war ruined everything,'' Pignataro recalls. ''At that point, it became clear that whoever won the war would get to keep the islands. There was a measure of local hostility towards Italians, although peppered with stories of friendships being struck up with Italian soldiers. On the island of Kastellorizo a number of locals fought the British alongside the Italian troops, and were awarded medals of valor for it.'' (ANSAmed).

    © Copyright ANSA - All rights reserved

    Business opportunities

    The information system of business
    opportunities abroad

    News from Mediterranean