Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present

By Spencer M. Di Scala | Go to book overview

14
World War I and the Red Biennium

After 1870 the European diplomatic scene changed dramatically. Italian and German unification ended the balance created by the Vienna settlement of 1815 and destabilized the continent in two ways. Austria’s losses in Italy heartened minorities within the empire hoping to create their own nation-states. An independent Serbia serving as a pole of attraction for Slavs living in BosniaHerzegovina and Croatia seemed to fit the Piedmontese-Italian "model." The steady decline of Turkey in the Balkans polarized the Austro-Serbian conflict by eliminating a power that had been present in the area for centuries, leaving a rich inheritance for an eventual victor. On the other hand, the Austrians not only had never accepted their Italian defeat but also well understood the threat to their empire if all the national groups within it followed the Italian example. As a matter of self-defense, they determined never to allow other secessions but vowed to keep power in the hands of Austrians and Hungarians. In the ensuing struggle on this issue, the Risorgimento proved a harbinger of things to come.

At the same time, German unification also radicalized the diplomatic situation. Germany replaced France as the strongest continental power, its productive capacity outstripped Britain, and the new country marched toward world-power status. Convinced of enduring French hostility, Bismarck isolated France. Geographical and cultural considerations dictated an agreement with Austria-Hungary, but Bismarck also secured treaties with Russia (the Three Emperors’ League) and Italy (the Triple Alliance) and achieved a friendly relationship with England.

Bismarck’s brilliant diplomacy aimed at preventing a conjunction of France and Russia, which could trap Germany between them in case of war. Cracks appeared in Bismarck’s diplomatic edifice because of Austro-Russian competition in the Balkans, with Germany certain to choose Austria should a conflict erupt. Bismarck attempted various expedients to keep Russia satisfied, but even before Emperor William II forced him to retire in 1890, the Bismarckian system had already begun to unravel. The diplomatic recovery of France, the struggle

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