Italy has 60.3 million people. As in other parts of Western Europe, the 20th century in Italy was characterised by industrialisation, urbanisation, and modernisation. Up until World War One, Italy was still defining itself politically, but prospered after the war, having avoided many of the disruptions caused by fighting in other parts of Europe. The rise of fascism and the conflict of World War Two dominated all aspects of Italian life during the middle decades of the century. In the post-war period, the modernisation of Italy continued (particularly in the 1950s and 1960s), and political life witnessed the rise of a wide variety of political parties representing an array of views. Italy in the 21st century is richer and more developed than it had been a hundred years previously. Many problems remained, however, including continuing political instability and corruption, the historic but persistent economic and cultural divisions between the north and the south, and the new challenges of immigration and European economic and political unification.

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Italy from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1901 – Continuing southern Italy poverty (compared to northern Italy) stimulated mass emigration to North America and South America, averaging 500,000 to 900,000 a year (till World War One).
  3. 1911 – Italy defeats the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and gains control over Libya and the Rhodes archipelago.
  4. 1912 – Suffrage (right to vote) was extended to nearly the entire adult male population, from 3.3 to 8.6 million men.
  5. 1915 (to 1918) – World War One. Although formerly aligned with Germany and Austria-Hungary, Italy enters the war on the side of the Anglo-French Allies. Some 600,000 Italians died and 950,000 wounded. After the war, Italy expands its borders.
  6. 1920s – Rise of Fascism. Fascist squads, dressed in black-shirted uniforms, often financed by landowners or industrialists (backed also by many members of the urban middle class, including students, shopkeepers, and clerical workers) used systematic violence to break up strikes, dismantle Socialist and Catholic labour unions and peasants’ cooperatives and – often with police collusion – overthrow newly elected local councils. Unable to defend basic democratic rights or to prevent the criminal activities of a private militia that operated openly and nationwide, the state had lost all credibility.
  7. 1922 – After the lack of a compromise between socialists and Christian-democrats, and the March on Rome of 50,000 fascist militias, Benito Mussolini is named by the King as prime minister of Italy (to avoid possible army disloyalty or even a possible civil war).
  8. 1926 – Benito Mussolini assumes dictatorial powers. Mussolini had disbanded unions and replaced them with new syndicates with little bargaining power. Strikes were illegal and more or less ceased to occur.
  9. 1929 – Vatican City becomes independent territory called the Holy See within the city of Rome.
  10. 1935 – Italy invades Ethiopia. Nearly 400,000 Italian troops took part in the conflict. The army employed brutal methods, including massacres and poison gas bombs. After an attempt in February 1937 on the life of the “viceroy” of Ethiopia, General Rodolfo Graziani, Italian forces arrested and shot hundreds of Ethiopians. However, the war was popular at home and among Italians abroad, especially in the Italian American community. Racist propaganda depicted the Ethiopians as backward barbarians “civilized” by the Italian army. The colonial wars coincided, not by chance, with the period when the regime enjoyed its maximum popularity.
  11. 1936 – Following the invasion of Ethiopia, Italy is expelled from the League of Nations.
  12. 1936 (to 1937) – Italy sent some 60,000 “volunteer” militiamen, as well as about 800 warplanes, 90 ships, and 8,000 jeeps, to fight on the side of Mussolini’s ideological cohort Francisco Franco, in the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). This Italian force was defeated in 1937.
  13. 1936 – Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler signed the Rome-Berlin Axis.
  14. 1938 – Italy’s increasingly close alliance with Adolf Hitler Nazi Germany was resented and feared, even by many Fascists. So too was the shocking decision to impose sweeping Nazi-like anti-Semitic laws. In 1939, all books by Jewish authors were removed from the shops. Many Jews left Italy. Resented too was the obvious corruption of the Fascist governing clique, without whose permits – available at a price – nothing could be done. Among the members of the various conservative groups, including those in the army, the civil service, the law, and the church, which in the mid-1920s had looked to fascism to protect their interests, some had realised by the late 1930s that fascism was unreliable and began to withdraw their support.
  15. 1939 – Italy annexed Albania. When Albania’s King Zog refused to accept a trade agreement, the Italian army took control of the main strategic centres of the country and installed Italian loyalists in the civil service. King Zog escaped to Greece.
  16. 1940 (to 1945) – World War Two. When France was about to fall to the Nazis, Italy joined the war on Germany’s side, hoping for territorial spoils. Italy enters the war by invading Greece from Albania, which it had occupied since 1939. The performance of the Italian army was quite disappointing for both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Italy constantly needed German help and only the Italian naval forces could be considered successful. The Germans also had to lend support in the hard-fought campaigns of North Africa, where eventually the decisive second battle of El-Alamein (October 1942) destroyed the Italian position and led to the surrender of all of Italy’s North African forces in May 1943. Meanwhile, the Italians had lost their extensive empire in eastern Africa, including Ethiopia.
  17. 1941 (to 1943) – While confined on the island of Ventotene by the Fascist regime, Altiero Spinelli compiles the Ventotene Manifesto, ie “Towards a Free and United Europe”. With his Manifesto, Altiero Spinelli gives the major contribution to the formulation of the Federalist thinking and is later one of the main figures of the European Parliament. Most of the leading clandestine parties were more willing to work together to overthrow fascism. In March 1943, they signed an agreement to do so.
  18. 1943 – After the Allied occupy Sicily, the government of Benito Mussolini is overthrown by the same Council of Fascism, and the king dismissed Mussolini. The army took over the key positions in Rome where there were demonstrations, and Benito Mussolini was arrested. German troops began pouring into Italy. Heavy Allied bombing continued over most Italian cities. The Germans took over Rome.
  19. 1943 – General Pietro Badoglio signs the armistice. He becomes Prime Minister of Italy. The new government declares war on Germany.
  20. 1943 – Nazi troops occupy Northern Italy, release Benito Mussolini from his mountain prison and have him leading the puppet Italian Social Republic. Some of the leading Fascists who had voted out Benito Mussolini in July 1943, including Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law, the former foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano, were tried by a Fascist court and was shot by firing squad at the behest of his father-in-law, under pressure from Nazi Germany. Anglo-American troops fight in the following two years to free the whole peninsula. The Italian Resistance plays a growing role in harassing German occupation forces.
  21. 1944 – Allied forces liberate Rome.
  22. 1945 – Milan in Italy is liberated. Resistance fighters catch Benito Mussolini as he flees north in the hope of reaching Switzerland. They shot him along with his lover Clara Petacci. The corpses are brought back to Milan and hung by their feet at a gas station in Piazzale Loreto, along with the bodies of several other Fascist ministers and leaders, in front of huge festive crowds. This scene in history generated much controversy and debate.
  23. 1945 – Alcide De Gasperi, who founded the Christian Democracy Party, becomes Prime Minister, holding the office until 1953. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the European integration. After World War Two and the defeat of Benito Mussolini’s fascist government, Italy’s history was in the hands of the Christian Democratic system for almost 40 years with the Italian Communist Party acting as the main opposition. Alcide De Gasperi had to accept the harsh Treaty of Paris in 1947, in which Italy gave up all African colonies and relinquished some Alpine territories to France and the Dodecanese islands to Greece.
  24. 1940 (to 1945) – World War Two. Throughout German-occupied Italy, Jews and oppositionists were rounded up and sent to detention camps or prisons. Many Jews were sent straight from Italy on trains to concentration and extermination camps in Poland and Germany. In all, nearly 9,000 Jews were deported under the Germans. Only 980 returned. The Jewish community had been forced early on to hand over gold and money to the German army.
  25. 1945 – Another consequence of the war was the internment of hundreds of thousands of Italian emigrants across the world, especially in Britain and USA. Italians, even with strong anti-Fascist credentials, were rounded up and sometimes stripped of their citizenship. This draconian policy left a legacy of bitterness and recrimination which lasted for years on both sides.
  26. 1946 – Italy becomes a republic after the results of a popular referendum. The Constituent Assembly is elected to draft the Republican Constitution. Women gain the right to vote. Umberto II becomes the last king of Italy.
  27. 1948 – The general election sanctions the supremacy of the Christian Democracy party, and the belonging of Italy to the Western side.
  28. 1948 – The Constitution of Italian Republic, agreed between Christian-Democrats, Socialists and Communists, comes into force.
  29. 1949 – Italy joins NATO. The country was transformed in less than two decades (1950s and 1960s) from a largely agricultural backwater into one of the world’s most dynamic industrial nations. Its most prominent industries, still in the northwestern industrial triangle, produced fashionable clothing (especially shoes), typewriters, refrigerators, washing machines, furniture, plastics, artificial fibres, sewing machines, inexpensive motor scooters (the Vespa), and cars (from economical Fiats to luxury makes such as Maserati, Lamborghini, and Alfa Romeo). The “economic miracle” did not rest on market principles alone; government agencies played a vital role in it.
  30. 1955 – Italy joins the United Nations, along with 15 other states, after years of stalemate due to opposed vetoes between USA and the Soviet Union.
  31. 1957 – The Treaty of Rome founds the European Economic Community (EU today).
  32. 1960 – The Summer Olympics are held in Rome.
  33. 1969 – Far-right terrorists bomb the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricolture (the National Agricultural Bank) in Milan, killing 17 people and wounding 88.
  34. 1970 – Serious incidents of violence across Italy.
  35. 1970 – Parliament approves the law on divorce.
  36. 1971 – Giovanni Leone is elected President of the Republic of Italy at the 23rd ballot.
  37. 1972 – Giulio Andreotti becomes prime minister – a post he will hold seven times in 20 years.
  38. 1974 – A referendum asking voters to repeal a government law allowing divorce is defeated.
  39. 1978 – Kidnapping of the former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades. Aldo Moro is killed after the government refuses to negotiate with the Communist group. Giulio Andreotti steps down as Prime Minister. The Red Brigades begin falling apart. President Giovanni Leone resigns.
  40. 1978 – Abortion is legalised.
  41. 1980s – Regular church attendance fell sharply, from about 70% in the mid-1950s to about 30% in the 1980s.
  42. 1980 – A neo-fascist terrorist bombing took place at the Central Station at Bologna kills 85 people and wounds more than 200.
  43. 1982 – General Carol Alberto Dalla Chiesa and his wife are killed by the mafia in Palermo in Southern Italy.
  44. 1984 – Roman Catholicism loses status as state religion.
  45. 1985 – Rome Airport is attacked by Palestinian terrorists; 16 people die.
  46. 1986 (to 1992) – The Maxi Trial of six years against the Sicilian Mafia took place in Palermo, South Italy. It was held in a bunker style courthouse specially built for this trial. Sicilian prosecutors indicted 475 mafiosi for a multitude of crimes, of which 338 were convicted and sentenced to a total of 2,665 years, not including life sentences handed to 19 bosses. It is considered to be the most significant trial ever against the Mafia, as well as the biggest trial in world history.
  47. 1987 – In the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a referendum put off the use of nuclear plants. The three working plants are slowly decommissioned.
  48. 1991 – Italy takes part in the Operation Desert Storm, during the Gulf War, for the liberation of Kuwait.
  49. 1992 – Two Italian anti-Mafia magistrates, are assassinated by the Mafia.
  50. 1994 – Media magnate Silvio Berlusconi becomes Prime Minister for a rightist coalition. However, the pact between northern autonomists and southern post-fascists collapsed late in the year, and Silvio Berlusconi is forced to resign as prime minister.
  51. 2001 – Silvio Berlusconi’s second term as Prime Minister begins.
  52. 2001 – Italy takes part in the Afghanistan War.
  53. 2002 – The euro begins circulating as new official currency of Italy, replacing the lira.
  54. 2003 – Italy takes part in the Iraq War.
  55. 2006 – The Winter Olympics are held in Turin, Italy.
  56. 2006 – Italy’s most-wanted man, suspected head of the Sicilian Mafia Bernardo Provenzano, is captured by police.
  57. 2008 – Silvio Berlusconi’s third term as Prime Minister begins.
  58. 2011 – The discredited Silvio Berlusconi resigns amid a rising debt crisis and more sexual scandals. Mario Monti takes over as Prime Minister.
  59. 2021 – Mario Draghi, an economist and ex-governor of the Bank of Italy, forms a government of national unity.
  60. 2020 (to 2022) – COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 160,000 deaths in Italy.
  61. 2022 – Italy has 60.3 million people.
    © Comasters May 2022.
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