CHAPTER X
ITALY AND FRANCE

Many problems were causing strain between the Governments of Rome and Paris.

The first concerned the Italians settled in Tunisia. In 1881, when France placed the Regency of Tunis under her own protectorate, there were approximately 20,000 Italians settled there. In 1920, there were about 110,000.1 The majority consisted of agricultural workers and small landowners, wine-growers, and fishermen, mostly of Sicilian origin. The manual labour in the mines of Kel and Gafsa was done by Italians. In the city of Tunis and its vicinity these numbered approximately 60,000. Italian penetration tended to spread also to Algeria.

The legal status of these Italians was regulated by the convention of 1896, which had expired in 1905 but had been renewed year after year until 1918. In September of that year—that is to say, when the victory of the Entente over the Austro-German bloc seemed assured —the French Government denounced the convention. All Italians, including those who desired good relations with France, were agreed that the denunciation, coming at that particular moment, showed a gross lack of tact. The French had been friends of Italy during the war, and now unceremoniously tossed her aside. The French Foreign Office took note of this bad impression and tried to mitigate it by declaring that, pending the signing of a new agreement, the status quo would be prolonged every three months. This provisional régime was still in effect in 1934. Meanwhile, the administration of the Regency was endeavouring to induce Italians to adopt French nationality. To this end it created legal obstacles against the acquisition of land by those who had not become French subjects; it enacted discriminations in wages between French and foreign workmen employed in public works, and resorted to other shabby and petty devices.2 The Fascists, who were far more brutal in their efforts to denationalize the German, Slav, and Hellenic groups living under Italian sovereignty, had little right to protest against.

____________________
1
According to the French census of 1931, there were 91,178 and 91,427 Frenchmen in Tunisia. The Fascists claimed that the Italians residing in Tunisia numbered 130,000, and Mussolini quoted this figure in a speech to the Chamber on Navember 12, 1924. They overlooked the phenomenon of naturalizations, many of which were not imposed by the French authorities but were quite voluntary. On the other hand, the French authorities omitted from the census some 10,000 nonnaturalized Italians. The French officials falsified the census by understatement, the Fascists falsified their statistics by overstatement.
2
Macartney and Cremona, Italy's Forsign and Colonial Policy, pp. 125-7

-86-

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