A little history

Crimea is now, effectively, a part of Russia. I see almost no reason for this to change. Ukraine is not part of NATO, so NATO has no obligation to ward off Russian’s invasion of the Crimea and no nation wants to go to war with Russia over another nation’s island. The eastern nations of the EU, such as Poland and the Baltic States, are no doubt troubled by the situation on the Black Sea but their desire for more action by the EU will almost certainly not amount to nothing. The real decisions get made by bureaucrats or Germany, sometimes France.

Putin defends the annexation by drawing parallels to what happened to Kosovo when it split from Serbia. Kosovo, like  Crimea, is a ethnically mixed and has been the site for racial atrocities: Kosovo its own war, Crimea the deportation of its Tartar population. The similarities go farther because each region separated from its former nation unilaterally and in each case foreign troops were present. As far as Putin is concerned, Kosovo set the bar for unilateral territorial transfers low, and what is happening in Crimea clears that low bar.

Dig a little deeper into the both the Crimean situation and history and we find another interesting case study for Crimea. This would be the issue of Savoy and Nice. Both are now parts of France, and today, few outside of Italy and France would even consider this controversial. If we go back to the unification of Italy the situation on the ground in these south-eastern French possessions is less clear.

Until deposed by World War Two, the royal house of Italy was The House of Savoy. Now European monarchy is seldom a straightforward beast, but the House of Savoy experienced relative stability as far as kingdoms went, and while the Kingdom of Italy was not long-lived, the House of Savoy was chosen to rule the Kingdom, and part of the reason was because the house from Savoy was Italian.

Indeed the roots of a unified Italian state stretch from much of South Eastern France. Nice, which is quite nice, is the home of Italian founding father Guiseppe Giribaldi. He firmly believed himself and his hometown to be Italian, and he was one of the most ardent Italian nationalists to have lived. Nice had for a long time been possessed by the House of Savoy, and at the founding of the Italian state was regarded by many citizens as a necessary part of a united Italian Kingdom.

So why are Nice and Savoy part of France? Imperial politics! The First Napoleon, a Franco-Italian mix himself, annexed everything that bordered France which brought these territories under French control. Napoleon really did awaken ethnic consciousness on a new level, and these territories which had never been populated overwhelmingly by one group or another also never had been populated by “Italians,” because that term seemed like an artificial construct for much most of the 19th century, and it still does to some.

When the first Napoleon was defeated the House of Savoy reclaimed its territory and then set about extending its Kingdom over all of the Italian Peninsula. Ironically, Napoleon himself inspired this cause by uniting Italy for his brother to rule over. It turned out that uniting Italy was hard because some local leaders did not want to lose their power and the outside forces of Austria and France regarded Italy was weak, and constantly looked for ways to take northern lands for themselves. In the end this would be why Savoy and Nice are French.

In order to defeat an Austrian threat the Italians traded Savoy and Nice to France for military support. The deal was done in an interesting way though, much like Russia’s annexation. In this case, while France agreed to help the House of Savoy and the House of Savoy agreed to surrender any claims to Savoy, but the men of Savoy were given the chance to vote on the issue. In this case they got to vote on whether or not they agreed to the terms of the treaty. So they could either accept it and become part of France, or they could deny it. But what did it mean to deny the treaty? Well Italian forces had already left Savoy and been replaced by now occupying French troops, and now the only nation to claim Savoy was now France. so this choice was as exciting as the one that faced the Crimean voters: annexation or annexation. Just incase the people of Savoy were worried that their vote might actually count, France and Italy did not wait for the voters to ‘approve’ of the treaty before signing it and starting to implement it. 

Many nations were outraged by this, Britain protested calling the vote a shame, Austria was obviously not happy about this, and many Italians believed the whole affair to be a huge betrayal and were upset. Now few know of the intrigue of this whole affair. I predict that Crimea will end up the same way.

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One Response to A little history

  1. phildange says:

    What you say about Savoie is not complete and somehow partial . Napoleon III helped the kningdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to unify Italy under its direction . Mighty Austria didn’t like that, so an agreement was made between Cavour and the French . This agreement was made in July 1858 . In July 1959, armistice of Villafrance, Austria has lost but not completely . Napoleon III, hearing that French opinion is very angry about the huge losses of men and money, hearing that Prussia is annoyed too, stops the war before the very end . Austria gives Lombardy to France and France gives it back to Sardinia . Napoleon III, judging the job was not complete, doesn’t claim Savoy and Nice . The French troops DON’T STAY in Savoy . In 1860 Napo claims Savoy again .
    Before that, a lot of Savoy people were fed up being under Sardinian domination, and the place kept a rather good memory from 1792 when they were freed of aristocrats and kings by the young French Republic . So it’s true the vote was not fair, but demonstrations in the towns showed a good deal of locals didn’t want to belong to the new Sardinian Italy nor to Switzerland . In several towns, the locals insulted and chased away Geneva delegates . And there was no French army .
    All this is not crystal clear, of course, but what was clear in those times anwhere? I’m always impressed by the English way of telling history, alas believed like the Bible by Americans . The English way is not often telling blatant lies, but hiding or exagerating half of what happened . Clever bastards hey ? The smartest demons always win the world .

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