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Anniversary of the Birth of the Italian Republic: June 2, 1946

Seventy-eight years ago, one of the most iconic and revolutionary dates in Italian history, the people freely chose the establishment of the republic. However, a victory that was not overwhelming highlighted a stark social divide between the North and the South.
This is the story of the birth of the Italian Republic, with a note on the historical background of Italy in those years.

Anniversary of the Birth of the Italian Republic: June 2, 1946
Front page of Corriere della Sera: June 6, 1946

Chapter 1: The Spread of Republicanism

Following in the wake of revolutionary and progressive France, albeit with considerable delay, the first republican ideas began to spread in Italy. This occurred during the pre-unification period, when various kingdoms divided Italy.

The initial movements towards republicanism materialized with the founding of the Giovine Italia by Garibaldi in 1831, a new political movement aiming to unify the kingdoms into a single republican unit. And it succeeded. After conquering almost all of southern Italy, the leader handed over the conquered territories to the then-King of Sardinia, Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy (the future first king of Italy). Thus, the dynasty’s prestige increased, reigning until the 1946 referendum amidst both light and darkness.

Italy before unification (1861) was divided into kingdoms

Chapter 2: House of Savoy, in Power from 1861

From 1861 to 1946, Italy was a monarchy under the noble House of Savoy. It was one of the oldest and longest-lasting dynasties in Europe, founded in 1003 and deposed shortly after the national referendum.

The situation at the top did not change until King Vittorio Emanuele III (1869-1947) who, accused of facilitating the rise of fascism, abdicated on May 9, 1946, in favor of his son Umberto II who reigned for just over a month.

Vittorio Emanuele III and Benito Mussolini
Vittorio Emanuele III and Benito Mussolini

Chapter 3: The Rise of Fascism

After the end of World War I, the Savoy family did not strongly resist the rise to power of fascism. Due to the extraordinary rhetoric and charisma of Benito Mussolini, he managed to expand significantly, at least in the early years. People later severely accused King Vittorio Emanuele III, who went into voluntary exile in Alexandria, Egypt.

Nevertheless, in 1922, Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister and quickly overturned the situation. The fascist dictatorship, racial laws, and the alignment with Nazi Germany were just the tip of the iceberg that led to the birth of the first anti-fascist movements.

Chapter 4: Towards the National Referendum

On June 4, 1944, the Allies liberated Rome, marking the end of World War II for Italy. The newly formed government, with Ivanoe Bonomi as Prime Minister, established that the population would be called upon to choose the definitive form of state at the end of the war. The political situation was in disarray during these years, and change was more than necessary.

Anniversary of the Birth of the Italian Republic: June 2, 1946
A protester with the sign “Down with the monarchy”

Italy at the Polls

Between June 2 and 3, 1946, Italy was called to vote through the first national referendum, to decide whether to continue trusting the Savoy monarchy or to shift towards a republic.

The victory was triumphant but not overwhelming.

Women voting for the first time

A voter turnout that we will never see again in the history of Italian elections, amounting to 89%, just over 28 million Italians. For the first time, women also participated (with an 82% turnout). The official results were:

  • In favor of the monarchy: 10,718,502 (45.73% of the validated ballots)
  • In favor of the republic: 12,718,641 (54.27% of the validated ballots)

After the rise of fascism, economic and political instability, and a nation in disarray, why did only 54% vote for the Republic?

We can say that the North and South experienced the war and especially the fascist dictatorship differently. In the South, people generally saw the fall of fascism as a normal change of governments. In the North, however, the grip was much tighter, being a territory where much of the resistance and liberation struggle against the Nazi-fascists was concentrated. A social divide also widened by the fear of leaping into the unknown, the fear of an unfamiliar republican state. A fear that perhaps was more pronounced in the South…

If you want to learn more about the Festa della Repubblica (June, 2nd): JUNE, 2ND: THE FESTA DELLA REPUBBLICA EXPLAINED

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