The Malta Independent 5 December 2023, Tuesday
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The Italian ‘Risorgimento’ and Malta

Tuesday, 11 October 2022, 09:49 Last update: about 2 years ago

Anthony Zarb Dimech

The year 1815, marked Klemens Von Metternich reaching the peak of his power. Metternich had become a main figure in dethroning Napoleon. He possessed excellent diplomatic skills coupled with a determination to steer Europe into the path of stability where Kings governed and the subjects followed.

Although Metternich's goal was genuine in  preventing any further revolutions and uprisings in Europe (as the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars which preceded his rise to power), his tactics were leading to repression of the peoples of Europe.


Between 1848-50, Europe passed through several national revolutions where nationalist and popular insurrections took place against foreign rule and conservative governments. Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium and Britain exploded into a tide of exasperation where discontent took diverse forms and sufferings.


The Metternich 'system'

The countries of Europe were disgruntled with the Metternich "system" which was intended to crush liberalism and nationalism. Additional repressive measures reinforcing the position of the crown in state politics, limiting the power of the legislature, restricting the right of assembly, enlarging the authority of the police and intensifying censorship were the main causes of these revolutions. Metternich had become a symbol of oppression.


Italian Nationalistic Movement

Italy had been divided since the Middle Ages. The Pope, apart from being head of the Roman Church, was also ruler of the Papal States. Other scenarios were Sardinia-Piedmont which had ambitions to expand into Northern Italy. The origin of the revolutions, in Italy, as most of Europe, came from towns. Leadership came from intellectuals who lent inspiration and fused nationalism.

In Italy the main propulsion of the nationalist and patriotic movements came from Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861) and King Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878). They were the men who created the Italian Risorgimento which later unified Italy as a nation.

For instance, Cavour's policies in Sardinia-Piedmont turned into authoritarian and militarist reforms to achieve their aims.

Garibaldi, on the other hand, advocated a policy of irredentism; the aspirations for the Italian Nationalist to claim territories that still did not form part of the Kingdom of Italy. Malta was also considered as irredentist and was demanded from Britain, since it had been for 300 years part of the Kingdom of Sicily. Countries having a strong Italian presence and culture were considered as irredentist states by Italy.


Malta - A centre for Italian Nationalism

During the Italian revolution of the 1830s, Italian Liberals sought and found refuge in Malta and the Island became a centre for Italian Nationalism. The first wave of liberals reached Malta in the 1830s and the Island became a point of departure for Italian Nationalistic "invasions" of the Italian peninsula.

In the wake of the 1848 revolution, the refugees were conservative, but as fortunes shifted in the revolutions, so did the nature of refugees arriving in Malta. Many of the refugees were using Mata as a base to avoid censorship in Italy and hence published their propaganda material in Malta and exported it to the Italian mainland.

By 1849, Neapolitans, Sicilians and Roman revolutionaries were on the Island as the second wave of liberals escaped the Italian mainland. Even the Liberal Democrat Francesco Crispi, who later became Italian Prime Minister, was a refugee in Malta during this period.


Extradition Law for Malefactors

A. V. Laferla in his book titled, British Malta Vol. I (1938), explains that one of the most interesting questions in the early relationships between Malta and the Kingdom of Italy was extradition. Henceforth, an Ordinance was enacted in Malta authorising the Head of the Government to deliver to Italy persons accused of the commission of certain crimes in that country with a proviso that such Ordinance would not take effect until equivalent arrangements were made by the Italian legislature in favour of Malta.

When the Italian unification movement stabilised, a decree was issued by the Italian Government approving the Ordinance of the Maltese colonial government regarding the extradition of criminals. This decree was based on an Ordinance drawn up by Sir Adrian Dingli requested by the Secretary of State and which was approved with minor amendments by King Victor Emmanuel's ministers.

This law was to bring to justice any Italians living in Malta who were trying to escape justice in Italy. The Ordinance was later, also endorsed by King Umberto I 1844-1900, the second monarch of unified Italy. The following were the crimes under which extradition was possible:

1.      Assassinations or conspiring to assassinate

2.      Voluntary homicide

3.      Falsification of money

4.      Falsification of documents

5.      Theft and fraud

6.      Malicious bankruptcy

7.      Undue appropriation by a depositor, bander, agent, administrator, trustee, director member or official of any public or private company and house of commerce

8.      Rape

9.      Abduction

10.  Abduction of children

11.  Burglary and house breaking

12.  Voluntary fire

13.  Depredation with violence

14.  Letters of threat to obtain money or other matters

15.  Piracy

16.  Attempt to or sinking of a vessel

17.  Assault on board a ship on high seas with the intent of killing or causing grievous bodily harm

18.  Revolt or conspiring by two or more persons on board a ship on high seas against the authority of the captain of the vessel

Some argue that Italian unification failed due to the complexities arising from having to try to implement a universal financial and administrative system for all states. Others argue that Italian should have been governed as a federal system on the lines of the Swiss nation.

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