Orlando’s Statement


Orlando’s Statement


Orlando, Vittorio Emanuele, 1860-1952




1919 April 24


Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton, Virginia




Orlando’s Statement

Yesterday, while-the Italian-Delegation-was-assembled discussing an alternative proposal sent them from the British Prime Minister for the purpose of conciliating the opposing tendencies that had shown themselves in regard to Italian territorial aspirations, the newspapers of Paris published a message from the President of the United States, Mr. Wilson, in which he expressed his own opinion in reference to some of the most serious problems that have been submitted to the judgment of the Conference.

The step of making a direct appeal to the different peoples certainly is an innovation in international intercourse. It is not my intention to complain about it, but I do take official notice of it so as to follow this precedent; inasmuch as this new system without doubt will aid in granting the different peoples a broader participation in the international questions, and inasmuch as I have always personally been of the opinion that such participation was a sign of a newer era. However, if such appeals are to be considered as being addressed to peoples outside of the Governments that represent them, I should say almost in opposition to their Governments, it is a great source of regret for me to remember that this procedure, which, up to now, has been used only against enemy Governments, is to-day for the first time being used against a Government which h has been, and has tried to be always a loyal friend of the Great American Republic: - against the Italian Government. I could also complain that such a message, addressed to the people, has been published at the very moment when the Allied and Associated Powers were in the middle of negotiations with the Italian Government, that is to say, with the very Government whose participation had been solicited and highly valued in numerous and serious questions which, up to now, had been dealt with in full and intimate faith.

But above all I shall have the right to complain, if the declarations of the presidential message signified opposition to the Italian Government and people, since in that case it would amount to ignoring and denying the high degree of civilization which the Italian nation has attained in these forms of democratic and Liberal rule, in which it is second to no nation on earth. To oppose, so to speak, the Italian Government and people, would be to admit that this great free nation could submit to the yoke of a will other than its own, and I shall be forced to protest vigorously against such suppositions, unjustly offensive to my country.

I now come to the contents of the presidential message: it is devoted entirely to showing that the Italian claims, beyond certain limits defined in the message, violate the principles upon which the new regime of liberty and justice among nations must be founded. I have never denied these principles, and President Wilson will do me the justice to acknowledge that in the long conversations that we have had together I have never relied on the formal authority of a treaty by which I knew very well that he was not bound. In these conversations I have relied solely on the force of the reason and the justice upon which I have always believed, and upon which I still believe, the aspirations of Italy are solidly based. I did not have the honor of convincing him: I regret it sincerely, but President Wilson himself has had the kindness to recognize, in the course of our conversations that truth and justice are the monopoly of no one person, and that all men are subject to error, and I add that the error is all the easier as the problems to which the principles apply are more complex. Humanity is such an immense thing, the problems raised by the life of the people are so infinitely complex, that nobody can believe that he has found in a determined number of proposals as simple and sure a way to solve them as if it were a question of determining the dimensions, the volume and the wieeight of bodies with various units of measure. While remarking that more than once the Conference nearly failed completely when it was a question of applying these principles I do not believe that I am showing disrespect toward this high assembly. On the contrary, these changes have been and still are, the consequence of all human judgment. I mean to say only, that experience has proved the difficulties in the application of these principles of an abstract nature to concrete cases, thus with all deference but firmly, I consider as justified, the application made by President Wilson in his message of his principles to Italian claims. It is impossible for me, in a document of this sort, to repeat the detailed proofs which were produced in great number. I shall only say, one cannot accept without reservation, the statement that the downfall of the Austria-Hungarian Empire implies a reduction of the Italian aspirations. It is even permissible to believe the contrary, that is, that at the very moment when all the varied peoples who constituted that Empire sought to organize according to their ethnic and national affinities, the essential problem caused by the Italian clams can and must be completely solved. Now this problem is that of the Adriatic in which is summed up all the rights of both the ancient and the new Italy, all her sufferings throughout the centuries and all the benefits she is destined to bring to the great international community.

The Presidential message affirms that with the concessions which she has received, Italy would attain the walls of the Alps, which are her natural defences. This is a grant of vast importance upon condition that the eastern flank of that wall does not remain uncovered and that there be included among the rights of Italy that line from Mount Neveso separating the waters which flow toward the Black Sea from those which empty into the Mediterraean. It is this mountain which the Romans themselves have called the “Limes Italianus” since the very hour when the real figure of Italy appeared to the sentiment and the conscience of the people.

Without that protection a dangerous breaech would remain open in that admirable natural barrier of the Alps: and it would mean the rupture of that unquestionable political historical and economic unity constituted by the peninsula of Istria.

I believe, moreoever, that he who can proudly claim that it was he who stated to the world the free right of self-determination of nations, is the very person who must recognize this right for Fiume, ancient Italian city, which proclaimed its Italianness even before the Italian ships were near; to Fiume, admirable example of a national consciousness perpetuated throughout the centuries. To deny it this right for the sole reason that it has to do only with a small community, would be to admit that the criterium of justice toward nations varies according to their territorial expansion. And if, to deny this right, we fall back on the international character of this port, must we not take into account Antwerp, Genoa, Rotterdam, - all of them international ports which serve as outlet for a variety of nations and regions without their being obliged to pay dearly for this privilege by the suppression of their national consciousness?

And can one describe as excessive the Italian separation for aspiration for the Dalmatian Coast, this boulevard of Italy through the centuries, which Roman genius and Venetian activity have made noble and great, and whose Italian-ness, defying all manner of implacable persecution throughout an entire century, to-day shares with the Italian nation the same emotions of patriotism? - The principle is being adduced with regard to Poland that denationalization obtained by violent and arbitrary methods should not constitute grounds for de jure claims; why not apply the same principle to Dalmatia?

And if we wish to support this rapid synthesis of our good international rights by cold statistical facts, I believe I am able to state that among the various national reorganizations which the Peace Conference has already brought about or may bring about in the future, none of these reorganized peoples will count within its new frontiers a number of people of a foreign race proportionately less than that which would be assigned to Italy. Why, therefore, is it especially the Italian aspirations that are to be suspected of Imperioalistic cupidity?In spite of all these reasons, the history of these negotiations shall demonstrate that the firmness which was necessary to the Italyian Delegation was always associated to a great spirit of conciliation in the research for a general agreement that we all wished for fervently.

The Presidential message ends by a warm declaration of friendship of America towards Italy. I answer in the name of Italian people and I acclaim with pride this right and this honor which is due me as the man who in the most tragic hour of this war has uttered to the Italian people the cry of resistance at all costs; this cry was listened to and answered with a courage and abnegation of which few examples can be found in the history of the world. And Italy, thanks to the most heroic sacrifices and the purest blood of her children, has been able to climb from an abyss of misfortune to the radiant summit of the most resounding victory. It is therefore, in the name of Iralny, that in my turn express the sentiment of admiration and deep sympathy the the Italian people has for the American people.


(Signed) VE Orlando




Orlando, Vittorio Emanuele, 1860-1952, “Orlando’s Statement,” 1919 April 24, WWP15736, Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.