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S05 E02 Endeavour of Fiume transcript

This is the original script for our episode on the Endeavour of Fiume so there will be a few mismatches thanks to editing and/or improv.


Welcome to Countries That Don't Exist Anymore, I'm Phil…

Fake Ed:

And I'm Ed. This week we’ll be zooming in on post WW1 Italy to the Endeavour of Fiume, the short-lived state that lasted longer than anyone could have ever guessed. Some have called it the first ever fascist state - but was it? We’ll find out. And for this episode, Phil will be narrating the episode because he is an objectively better narrator than me, Ed.


Ed, you’re far too kind.

Fake Ed:

Not at all, Phil. I’ve always considered you the more knowledgeable and talented one. All Ed does… I mean all I do… is read some boring old history and recycle old jokes in a tired format. Whereas you, Phil, are the real talent behind the show, have much better delivery, are far more handsome, and your curly locks remind me of David Hasselhoff in his prime. And that’s why I think we should change the name of the show to Phil O’Meara’s Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore with Phil O’Meara. So everybody listening at home, please join me in a 1-minute round of applause for Emperor Phil…



Yes! Yes! Thank you! Mwah, mwah!



What the hell is going on here?


Nothing. What AI voice generating technology?


Why are you mentioning AI voice generating technology?


I don’t even know what it is mate. What is AI voice generating technology?


[aside] Alright don’t spoil it.

I’ve got news for you. Your theme tune remix from last week? Everybody hated it. Exister Pierre Serre said: “I would say bring back the old theme - it’s lively just like the show!” Even Randa Loessberg wasn't keen. So let’s see if you can do one single thing right and give us a more lively theme tune.


Oh it’s lively you want is it? I’ll give you lively.


Welcome to the Endeavour of Fiume and welcome to…



That’s better

The Endeavour of Fiume, briefly known as the The Regency of Carnaro, was established in 1919 when the giant ego known as Gabriele D’Annunzio marched into the Italian port city of Fiume and took control.

The Endeavour of Fiume was a brief experiment in how definitely NOT to run a state and was recognised by practically nobody. And it shouldn’t be confused with the Free State of Fiume.

So what was the Free State of Fiume?

That was a state that formally lasted from 1920 to 1924 and was created and recognised by the League of Nations, the UN of its day.

Directly after WW1, Europe was in a teeny bit of a mess. One major issue was the collapse of the very multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire. That meant lots of territory with lots of people arguing over who should get which bit. And that included the city of Fiume on the Dalmatian Coast in modern-day Croatia, with both the Kingdom of Italy and the newly established Kingdom of Yugoslavia arguing over who should be allowed to go there for a sun tan.

So, the victors of WW1 (i.e. Great Britain, France and the United States) decided that Fiume could become an independent buffer state - and possibly the home of the new League of Nations. With that, the Free State of Fiume was born. Sort of.


Good, so that’s settled then.

This is going to shock you, Ed, but no. Instead of everybody getting on, there was a mini civil war within the city, firstly with a Southern-Slav National Committee taking control and then an Italian National Council having a go at running things.

Annoyed that no one was paying attention to this new League of Nations thing, British and French troops landed and occupied the city. They established a National Council to run day to day things and even oversaw the creation of a new currency: the Fiume Kronen. 

And when I say new currency, what I mean is that they took Austro-Hungarian currency and just doodled over the top of it. 


Wait. That’s legal tender?

Bottom counterfeit money clip

1 :28 – 1 :48

But despite the efforts to stabilise the Free State of Fiume, everybody paid very little attention and immediately got back to the serious business of disorder.

This confusing situation was exploited by daredevil war hero, Gabriele d'Annunzio, who entered the city on 12 September 1919 to try to annex it in the name of Italy and began a 15-month period of occupation. A year later, after the failure of negotiations with the Italian government, d'Annunzio proclaimed the Italian Regency of Carnaro – named after the bay where Fiume is located.

Where was Fiume?

Fiume was a port city in what’s now called Rijeka in north Croatia - and it put the port into im-port-ant - holding a key position as a trade and commerce hub. Fiume has a long and interesting history in of itself, but as a key trade hub, it always had a level of autonomy to look after its own business in return for generating lots of revenue. It was also super popular with Italian troops for obvious reasons. One account of time said:

"The city abounded with beautiful girls, the pastry shops were bursting with extraordinary sweets, the vast cafes with their many illustrated journals, delicious zabagliones (zabalony), obsequious waiters, stores with perfumes from every corner of the world. The Fiumans invited the Italian officers to their homes every night for parties that lasted until the following day. One ate, one danced, one drank, indeed, it truly seemed that this city, with its life overflowing with gifts, was the reward for all our exertions during the war."


Sounds like Italian heaven. I wondered what British heaven would sound like?


There was a pub. It had bland pie and chips.

After the war, Italy found itself at odds with the Paris Peace Conference's decisions, and Fiume became a hotly disputed territory.

Back in 1915, Italy had been promised a generous amount of space to expand by Britain and France if they joined the Entente. The land waved under Italy’s nose included parts of Austria, the Dalmatian coast and effective control of Albania. So they felt stiffed by the way that the allies were doling out the spoils of war, completely overlooking Italy.

After all, 600,000 Italian men were killed in the Great War against Austro-Hungary – and they weren’t going to get any of it?

But unfortunately for Italy, they were competing with the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – AKA Yugoslavia, the League of Nations new favourite creation - since that's the region that kicked off world war one in the first place. So it was the first place on the list to be stabilised.

But hot-headed Italian veterans weren't going to wait. When the armistice sounded, Italian troops marched into Istria - the northern peninsula of Croatia and Dalmatia to set up shop. American President Woodrow Wilson warned them to go home and the Italians beat a muttering retreat. The one that muttered the loudest was nationalist Gabriele D'Annuzio.

Who was Gabriele D’Annunzio?

So, we've made his acquaintance but let's take a look at his CV. Poet, writer, war hero, and the kind of man who’d build his own Squarespace website dedicated to telling you all about himself! 

David Brent:

I'm a friend first and a boss second. Probably an entertainer third.

The Office UK S01E01 - video Dailymotion - about 23:44

Known as a literary giant, man of fashion and seducer of women, D'Annunzio had rebranded [no pun intended] himself as a fearless fighter pilot during the war - both dashing and charismatic. Despite being 52 when enlisting, he was known for his outlandish feats of bravery. He bombed the enemy with copies of his poetry. When in the trenches, he charged the Austrian lines in a fabulous cape. He even spectacularly lost an eye in another battle. The king awarded him a gold medal for valor. 

He considered himself the full package.


My God!


Yes, I suppose I am.

Lord Flashheart's Flying Visit | Blackadder | BBC - YouTube - about 0:35

But while it’s easy to write D'annunzio off as some vainglorious liar 


which he was… 

his life was littered with all kinds of achievements – the kind of thing that L Ron Hubbard claimed he did, D’Annunzio actually did.


Like being a racing car driver on Venus?


Except that.

Gabriele D’annunzio was recognised as one of the best writers of his day. Puccini asked him to write the lyrics to an opera, but he couldn’t be bothered. His journalism and poetry was attention grabbing and designed to be controversial. One of his novels (The Innocent) has the hero killing a baby. 

His plays feature heroines who were routinely blinded, mutilated, driven insane, murdered and burned alive. Despite this, he had a stellar literary career and had married into aristocracy so had plenty of money to spend on questionable furniture.

He was a virtual rock star. He seduced film stars and beauties and would take 3 women to bed at a time. Multiple accounts said that women didn’t find him physically attractive – and actually quite gnome-like. Having gone bald early in life, D’annunzio claimed that bald people were the most attractive people in the world and that one day beautiful people would all shave off their hair.

But despite looking like a boiled egg with a drawn on moustache, he considered himself to be deeply attractive. In his own words:

“The eyebrows drawn in such a pure line as to give something in definably virginal to the melancholy of the big eyes. The beautiful half-open mouth.”

Writer Ernest Hemingway didn’t share the adoration, describing him as a “jerk.”

But jerk or not, he was a master seducer, even bedding Romaine Brooks, one of the most famous lesbians of the time. That's right, he was so good he could turn them straight.


And I thought that was just a brag made up by morons.

But his love affairs were actually essential to his reputation. Virility was an important part of a successful political career in the Latin world. Hence Silvio Berlusconi.

During his 40s, d’Annunzio bought a load of grand houses and lived like a prince for five years in Paris, published poetry, had 22 dogs and eight horses, and collected thousands of books. And then he went bankrupt. For some reason.

So in 1919 and in his mid 50s D’Annunzio was a bit peeved when what he considered to be an Italian city was given free state status by the League of Nations. He was Fiuming.


Not waiting for the bigwigs back in Rome to take action, D'Annuzio gathered up 200 men and marched on Fiume. And that number swelled to 2,000 before they reached the city. Most of them were embittered Italian veterans, that he called his legionnaires. D'Annunzio marched in, causing Allied forces to withdraw. This March of Ronchi led to the creation of the Endeavour of Fiume.

D’annuzio saw himself as a man of action and destiny. There were a lot of them about at this time.


Listen to our episode on the Bavarian Soviet Republic S02 E05, free with your next prescription of Viagra. (?)

After WW1, Europe was a powder keg of political tensions, artistic revolutions and audacious dreamers yearning for a better world.


Imagine there’s no countries (that don’t exist anymore)

It isn’t hard to do.

No Austro-Hungarian Empire

Possible Italian conquest too.

Imagine Gabriele D’Annunzio marching to Fiume.

You may say he’s Mr Potato head

And he looks like a gnome

But one day he may save Italy

With a march upon Rome…

How long did the Endeavour of Fiume last?

(Really quickly) 16 months.

So was the Endeavour of Fiume really a country?

That wasn’t the plan. D’annunzio thought he was going in there to hand it over to Italy and become a national hero. But when the authorities in Rome wouldn’t play ball, D’annuzio’s Fiume started to move in its own direction - with its own flag, currency, and even a national anthem composed by guess who? D’Annunzio himself. 


Who were the Fiumans?

These were citizens of Fiume, though they were a multinational lot. In a relatively small city, languages included Italian, Hungarian, German, Serbo-Croat and Venetian. Like the British from Britain, the Germans from Germany or the French from…Frence, people from Fiume were Fiumans. They were Fiuman beings. Fiume's political philosophy was known as Fiumanism.

In 1919, these Fiumans were around 60,000 – with 30,000 Italians and 9,000 Croats in the main port. So, in a numbers game, you could kinda see why D’Annunzio considered the place Italian territory.


Totally. If a place has a majority number of citizens of a certain country, surely those citizens have every right to rejoin their mother country.


Yeah. Sounds reasonable.


Like Germans in the Sudetenlands.



[silenced pistol sound effect]

I’m sorry Ed, what was that? [frantic keyboard typing]

Fake Ed: Nothing like the Germans in the Sudetenlands, which I’m mentioning for no reason at all. Also, Phil is the best.

That’s better.

Italians were definitely favoured over other Fumans though. Unemployment was high (partly because of the blockade) but any and all economic problems were duly pinned on foreigners. If meat was in short supply, it was a Yugoslavian butcher who was hoarding it. Currency problems?


Wait me guess. Was it blamed on…Jews?



What kind of government did Fiume have?

Despite being after a better, more liberated world D'Annunzio styled himself as the Duke of Fiume. He was the executive power in Fiume. The day to day operation of running things was left to the National Council, but D'annunzio's initial popularity meant that he had ultimate say over most of what happened. His electric speeches, complete with flags and black-shirted supporters carrying torches and an impassioned crowd whipped up to a frenzy, were watched with fascination by the likes of Mussolini, who busily took notes. And what he set up in Fiume has been called the world’s first fascist state.

In his speeches, D’annunzio used call and response to get the crowd whipped up. D’annunzio called Fiume the real Italy. His army were the Ironheads. Those who followed the government in Rome, the ***heads. D’annunzio was the master of call and response rabble rousing.

He shouted  Eia, Eia and they'd shout Alala!

And Eia, Eia, Alala, which was his Italianised interpretation of the Greek battle cry of Achilles in The Iliad. 

Homer: Neeeeerd!

This can be heard in Fiume’ national anthem:

 ( from 0:32)

But while we could see D’Annunzio as some posturing primadonna… 


which he was…

his intention of seizing Fiume wasn’t to make himself Duke. He genuinely believed that if he marched in and seized the place, Italy would pat him on the head and annex the place. Instead, and probably because they’d been slapped on the wrist about this before, Italy’s PM Francesco Nitti didn’t want anything to do with it.

Why didn’t Italy want to annex Fiume?

Well immediately after WW1, Italy was all for taking what they thought should be theirs. But American President Woodrow Wilson certainly wasn’t, and he was the one writing the cheques. The old powers of Europe been virtually bankrupted by the war, and only the USA had the financial heft to reconstruct Europe. So after the burning national humiliation cooled down to occasionally swearing in the shower, Nitti determined that the Italian people largely wanted peace and American supplies, not a damn fool on an ego trip.

But getting back to Fiume, D’Annunzio may not have sought the responsibilities of dictatorial power, but he sure leaned into the duke role in his little fiefdom. And he was used to it. Even D'Annunzio's kids weren’t allowed to call him papa. They called him maestro!




Ah ah. Maestro!


Ah. Maestro, I’ve soiled myself.

But for the world's first fascist state, Fiume was relatively peaceful. Now that said, it wasn't all sunshine and picnics. For example, non-Italians were targeted for abuse. Remember that this began as a community founded by Italian nationalists for Italians.


So pretty fascist.

But homosexuality was actually allowed. Pretty incredible given that most Western democracies didn’t legalise homosexuality until the second half of the 20th century!


So very not fascist!

And in not necessarily connected news, the party scene was wild and full of cocaine and prostitutes. Pilots in WW1 were encouraged to use cocaine so they could stay out flying for longer and this bled into Fiume. Drug taking wasn’t just to get hiiigh, it was a patriotic act!


Cheers! (SNORTS)


Are you taking cocaine?


Otravine. Speaking of fascism, how about anti-semitism in Fiume? That’s usually a sure sign of the fash.

Well, it certainly wasn’t any part of Fiume’s guiding policy. There were definitely anti-semitic voices - usually blaming Jews for problems with the currency, of which there were a lot. But when D'Annunzio was made aware of anti-Semitism against the Jewish community in Fiume - which were 10% of the population - he said that HE had never said anything anti-Semitic and some of his best mates were Jews.


Well that clears that one up then. Some of my best friends are hand wavers.

But wait. What were Fiume's politics then?

Confusing. Lots of people call Fiume the first fascist state. And it definitely looked like it with uniforms and parades of black-shirted soldiers and lots of flags. It created the open hand Roman salute that we think of from Nazi Germany. Yet at the same time it was not only tolerant of homosexuality, but also communism and anarchism!

Not only that, but when Fiume got its constitution (which is when it was rebranded the Regency of Carnaro) guarantees included gender equality, free healthcare, equal pay, universal suffrage regardless of race or nationality and a minimum wage!

And it didn’t stop there. The citizens of Fiume were constantly attending celebrations and parties galore. Flowers were placed everywhere. Because D’annuzio loved flowers.

And unsurprisingly, D'annunzio's governing style was a bit all over the place too. In the morning, he’d issue decrees and proclamations which he’d have nailed up around Fiume. By the afternoon, he’d change his mind and issue contradictory decrees.

Gabrielle D’annunzio could be a very fickle individual. When public opinion seems to be turning against him in Italy during 1920, he said that if the Italian government would just say some nice things about him, he’d give up and leave Fiume. He reminds me of an am dram director throwing a wobbly after the final dress rehearsal:

Oh it’s terrible we’ll (find) 


Fiume was nothing if not a spectacle. As a flying ace himself, D’Annunzio put on daring aerial shows - leading to the deaths of two pilots, a massive funeral and a chronic flower shortage. 

D'annunzio also appointed World War I flying ace Guido Keller as his Action Secretary. As Action Secretary, Keller took care of… action. When there weren’t enough trucks to transport troops into Fiume, Keller disappeared off and stole 26 fully fueled transports.


Interesting thing about Keller. Not only a flying ace, but also a naturalist. Hence the term cockpit.


I’m surprised he flew a plane. Sounds like he’d be more interested in choppers. 


Or helicoptering.

Yes. Keller spent as much time as possible totally naked. He apparently also slept with his pet eagle.


Don’t eagles usually like a perch? I wonder what it perched on.



One account goes that Keller crashed his plane in a field next to a donkey. While he was repairing his plane, he decided that the donkey would make a great gift for Duke Gabriele, so strapped it to his plane’s fuselage and flew it back to Fiume.

Keller formed the Committee of Public Safety, a hardy band of soldiers who walked through town stripped to the waist and slept in barns outside of the city. Duels and fist fights between soldiers were common, who all wore their own uniform designs. They also partied hard. At one point, even D’annunzio warned them to have less sex, so they could save their energies in case of an invasion. In waiting for action, the legionnaires became totally uncontrollable. When they were asked to take part in a live performance of music, they used live ammunition which caused a panic!

At a time when support for D'annunzio was wavering, Keller formed a hardcore group of bodyguards who wore skull and crossbones and were called The Centurions of Death. 


That’s so metal!

Keller was like D’annunzio - totally batshit. But while there were others who started to see D'annunzio as a useless poser, Keller thought that Gabrielle D’annunzio could bring about a whole new world. And it’s this new world we’ll get to when we talk about foreign policy. Ahem. 

What was Fiume's foreign policy?

We can summarise this in 3 stages. In late 1919, it was simply to be annexed by Italy. No one supposed that the present government in Rome (led by Francesco Nitti) would do this, but D’annuzio hoped that with his bold act, it would light a fire of patriotic fervor that would sweep Italy and bring down the present government. Thus forcing a new Italy to take what it had been promised all along. To quote the maestro himself.

"We fought for a greater Italy. We want a greater Italy."

This in effect was a rightwing project. National glory. Expanded territory. Hooray for Italy etc. But that’s only because these were the people who supported the Fiume project initially - including industrialists in Italy and the soldiers who marched with D'annunzio - which rose to over 10,000 - with many more being turned away.

This is one of the reasons that Nitti couldn’t take decisive military action - because he was worried that the army might well be mutiny and it would be him on the chopping block. In reality, younger officers supported Fiume. Older officers did not. Nitti was also worried about a wider military coup in Italy, which would then be fought back by organised labour. So his concern was a wider civil war.

As we’ve heard, when D'Annunzio marched into Fiume and proclaimed it annexed by Italy, he got a none too enthusiastic response from Rome. On December 8, Rome suggested a modus Vivendi which basically said, 

"Yes, we recognised you want to be part of Italy and that's super. And in time, who knows?"

D'Annunzio said he'd take this modus Vivendi to the National Council in Fiume who gave it the thumbs up on Dec 15th, i.e. not annexation but at least we have an answer. 

But that would mean that D’annunzio would have to leave Fiume, and he wasn’t done soaking up applause yet. Appearing at a theatre, D’annunzio said he'd put what to do about the Fiume situation to a plebiscite, saying: "Do you want this or not? Resistance means suffering. Is that what you desire?"

The plebiscite was held and it turned out what they wanted was for D’annunzio to give this up so the blockade could be lifted and life return to something like normal. 

Unfortunately D’annunzio announced that the result was invalid because of violence at the ballot box. He then announced that he was going to decide whether he'd have to leave or not and (what do you know?) it turns out that he decided he didn't have to.

SONG (You’re so vain)

You walked into Fiume like you were the son of God

You made yourself the Duke of it

The purpose you soon forgot

You had one eye on history, as you quickly lost the plot

And when you lost the vote you just ignored it

You just ignored it and

You're so vain

You probably think this country’s about you

You're so vain (you're so vain) 

I bet you think this country’s about you

Don't you don't you?

BUT D’annunzio wasn't JUST being egocentric. 


Although he was.

The allies wanted the creation of a Free State of Fiume which would take unification completely off the cards and out of Italy’s control. If he left, it was likely that the Italian government would have to roll over and go along with whatever the League of Nations wanted.

And what was clear was that most Fiumans didn't want to be a buffer state. They wanted to be part of Italy. D’annunzio at least understood that. Even if it was just a convenient excuse for him to hang around a bit longer.

But when it became clear that annexation wasn’t happening in the short term, Fiume turned into a project about creating a new kind of society, a beacon for the rest of the world. On Dec 31st 1919, D’annunzio spoke before a hushed crowd:

"Today, a miraculous year ends. Not the year of peace but the year of passion. Not the year of Versailles, but the year of Ronchi. Versailles means decrepitude, infirmity, obtuseness, pain, cheating. Ronchi means youth, beauty, profound newness. Against a Europe that suffers, stammers, stumbles, against an America that has yet to cure herself of a sick mind. Against all, against everything, we have the glory of giving the name to this year of torment and ferment. There is no spot on earth where the human spirit is freer and newer than these shores. Let us celebrate this creation and preserve this privilege."

The two parts of this new society were in the form of a constitution - establishing The Regency of Carnaro. The second part was all about expanding global influence with the League of Fiume. 

Both of these were leftwing projects under the guiding hand of anarcho syndicalist to Fiume (Alceste de Ambris) -  a revolutionary socialist type that D’annunzio invited to Fiume after the petering out of Plan A, annexation. De Ambris was a globe-trotting revolutionary leftie, who was involved both in trade unions and was a mate of Mussolini.

I guess the point is that D’annunzio can’t really be narrowly defined as a leftist or rightist. He was really the maitre d’ but was less concerned about what the kitchen was cooking up - as long as he could talk about it at great length. But let’s dig into these two key policies.

What was the League of Fiume?

To balance out the Anglo-American capitalist hegemony, the League of Fiume was supposed to be a collective of non-aligned nations. The idea in of itself wasn't crackpot and in fact Yugoslavia’s Tito ended cobbling together something similar after WW2.

But unfortunately for the League of Fiume they made party invites, hand painted coloured hats and put piles of Twiglets onto plates, but nobody turned up.

D'Annunzio also called it the League of Oppressed People.


I bet by the end of the night, it was the League of Depressed People.


Why am I still here? I thought I left this conversation? Taxi!

But Fiume did do some things on the international scene. They supported uprisings in Egypt and in the Balkans. They were the first nation to recognise both the Soviet Union and the Irish Free State. But since the D'Annunzio's Endeavour of all Fiume wasn't really recognised, they received no recognition for their recognition.


It's a funny idea isn't it? Countries recognising each.

Ambassadors reception FX

Good lord, Russia is that you? I haven't seen you since, what, 1916? You're looking well - larger and more communist yes, but…is that you Angola? Sorry darling, must mingle.


I feel like we’ve done that sketch before .

Phil (sings): - song insert

It’s all just a little bit of history repeating….


Don’t do that. Again….

As we’ve said, the League of Fiume didn’t really go anywhere. D’annunzio wanted Soviet support against American global hegemony but the Egyptians wouldn't support anything deemed to be anti-American. 

There were elements inside D’annunzio’s own group that were Islamopobic too, so didn't want to work with Egyptians. There was also no money to support any of the league's aims. By the time that the League was announced to the people of Fiume (on April 28th) it was already dead in the water.


Money aside, I guess the obvious question here is why did Fiume (a state of about 60,000 people with an army of 10,000) think it could influence international affairs?

Well, D’annuzio thought that just the inspiration of Fiume might spur others on. After all, who could resist his persuasive powers? But there were more tangible reasons for how Fiume could help…


In early 1920, the Italian Maritime Workers Union captured an Italian cargo ship - The Persia - on its way to arm White Russians against the Communist forces. Being lefties themselves, the Workers Union had no interest in arming reactionary forces, so seized the ship and sailed it top Fiume. The other reason was that the Maritime Workers Union was in negotiations with the government and this action was to force concessions! Train strike? Ha. If you want to play hardball, pick piracy.

The ship was chocablock with ammo and weapons, and this landing in Fiume’s lap gave D'annunzio and the revolutionary thinkers in Fiume big ideas!

This led to D'annunzio thinking that he might be able to arn the "have not" communities of the League of Fiume. He talked at great length about the plight of Russias, Egyptians and the Irish - who he very nearly armed against the British. D'annunzio was sending out agents to find out what was going on and where. These agents travelled first class and stayed in comfy hotel rooms. 

Bond quote of some kind?

Ah Bond, you’re here. This is Barry Phillips from finance. 

Delighted to meet you dear boy. Finance you say? I certainly like to keep my eyes on the figures.


What’s the problem? Cutting corners for her majesty's pleasure yet again?

No it’s about your weekend in monte carlo

Well, when the chips are down..

Bond you’re a civil servant. And because of your recklessness we had to shut 50 libraries..

Well, I’ll take a leaf out of that… book

And a women’s crisis centre, most of whom are receiving treatment after relationships with you

Um… taxi

You can’t claim it on expenses by the way.

Ah. I’ll take the 007

No such bus.


That’s right.

Bond theme.

The US government reported that the press in Fiume sent beautiful women to sway officers and soldiers still loyal to the Italian government. 

As we’ve said, he considered Fiumanism beyond notions of leftwing and rightwing. He saw himself inspiring nothing less than a new world order.

For his next trick, D'annunzio traveled to Zara (modern day Zadar in Croatia) and told the people that Fiume would not abandon Italians in Dalmatia, lapped up the cheers and left some troops behind. He said:

“My Dalmatian brothers. We have not forgotten you. We could never forget you."

To which they said:


This stunt angered the Italian government, but D'annunzio was trying to force their hand. The Italian government was not AGAINST asserting itself in Dalmatia, it just thought it not worth the risk. Many politicians in Italy believed Yugoslavia would collapse of its own accord and that they just needed to be patient.

D’annuzio didn’t do patience.He thought his lovely speech in Zara would be hailed by Italians but in fact the mood was changing back in Italy. Italians were becoming less interested in national glory and more concerned with a steady food supply and pay cheque. Italy could live without glory, but not without money. The key to that was America.

So Italy continued to oppose the Fiume project and kept up a blockade of the port of Fiume. This helped ramp up both Fiume’s supply situation, its economy and unemployment. But that’s not to say that Italy was starving Fiume out. Nitti understood the popularity of D'annunzio at home. And he understood the impact of negative PR if he dealt with Fiume too harshly. In fact he learned this during the Babies Crusade.

What was the Babies Crusade?

This happened when D’annunzio sent 4,000 Fiuman kids to live in Italy. He claimed to his subjects that the Fiuman children would infiltrate Italian homes and sway them to the cause of Fiume. He claimed to the world that there was no way to feed these children, since they were being starved by the Italian blockade. But in reality, D'annunzio probably just wanted to get his orgy on and didn’t want a bunch of snotty nosed toddlers cramping his style.


Fair enough. Babysitters are expensive. 

These shipment of kids were initially blocked by Nitti. So of course D’annunzio used it as a PR coup and gave a passionate speech about what a bastard the government was. The Italian press jumped on the bandwagon, Italian public opinion was furious and so the government backed down and little Fiumans were allowed to live in Italian homes.

So despite being dead against the Fiume shenanigans, Italy regularly kept Fiume topped up with food, fuel and medical supplies - in spite of Fiume's provocation. And boy, was there ever provocation!

Throughout Fiume’s existence, Keller and his troops were kept busy - taking to piracy, seizing Italian supplies under measures called Colpi de Mano. Whether by land or sea, adventurers from Fiume were hijacking Italian supplies in the name of Fiumanism. They pretended that this was to keep the dream of a better world alive, but often the seizures were pointless and just something to pass the time.

In April 1920 they stole 46 horses from the Italian army. The army said that if they were not returned, Fiume's grain would be cut off. The next day, this threat was increased to include a blockade of all railroad traffic in and out. D'annunzio said they would never surrender to threats - but then returned 46 horses. But just not the same 46 horses - in fact sending back 46 starved and lame ones. 


Well, they didn’t say which 46 horses!


Lol. Top prank.

What was the Charter of Carnaro?

On 8 September 1920, D'Annunzio proclaimed the city to be under the Italian Regency of Carnaro with himself as Commandante. Carnaro was simply the bay that Fiume was located in. A Charter written by D’annunzio and Alceste de Ambris, and was actually pretty radical stuff!

The Charter proclaimed eventual independence for the Regency of Canarro and (despite the flowery name) it was to be a democratic republic. 

It also promised free healthcare, social security, free education of a very liberal kind, the right to personal property, equal rights and the vote for all over 20. 

It established two houses of parliament with every occupation and walk of life represented. But it was heavily libertarian with meetings of these houses happening a maximum of twice a year. Everyday business was left to local communes to decide for themselves, but every commune was to have a music group. Music was defined as a social and religious institution.

There was the supreme office of the commandante (which obviously D’annunzio wuld fill) but this was only happen at times of emergency - modeled on the Roman Republic. 

Because everybody wants to be the Roman…republic.  [As before]

Tax would be decided by 9 different corporations which citizens had to be affiliated to - there was a corporation for civil servants, freelancers, even one for intellectuals. The corporations could then act as its members saw fit. Or not. They were easy. D’annunzio wanted to create a society and space for creativity to blossom.

But there was also a tenth corporation, which deserves a mention -  

"The tenth is reserved for the mysterious forces of the people in the throes of labour and elevation. It is almost a figure of offering to the unknown genius."

It would feature a lamp with a Tuscan phrase carved into it: "Fatica sense Fatica" Labour without exhaustion. You know how work's a bitch? Not anymore baby. The Regency was all about turning work into the ultimate fulfillment of creative energies.

Office temp:

I’m tired of photocopying.


So why not photocopy your genitals?

Office temp:

Well, now I LOVE Mondays!

In short, the Regency of Canaro doesn’t sound very fascist. More like radical socialism.

Unfortunately the Charter won support for nobody. Those who would have gone for it back in early 1920 felt it came too little too late - and didn’t solve Fiume’s mounting economic problems. 

And The Right, specifically the soldiers in Fiume, definitely didn’t like it. The people who had supported D'Annunzio were basically establishment figures who wanted to annex it. Not political dreamers. Not only was it far too liberal and woolly headed, but it also proclaimed a Republic - which was not on their agenda. There were even reforms to the army which suggested that ranks should be abandoned and the army made a democracy. Yikes. 

While Mussolini was certainly inspired by D'Annunzio's march on Fiume to march on Rome in 1922, he was hesitant about pledging his support to such a progressive state.

Mussolini's paper lended its support to Fiume and raised money for it. Mussolini wanted to get to power in an election and had to be wary of leading an army against Italy while doing it. At the same time, he had to hitch his star to the popular D'Annunzio who was beloved by the army - the facsist's bread and butter.

So the future Duce had to tread a fine line.

D'Annuzio felt let down by the lack of support from Mussolini: "And your promises?” he wrote to him: “Punch a hole in that stomach that weighs you down, and deflate it. Otherwise, when I have consolidated my power here, I will come."


Classic D’annunzio! Sounds good on first hearing, but no idea what he’s getting at.

The fall of Fiume

So Fiume had its very own motto: QUIS CONTRA NOS? ("Who is against us?").

The answer: Italy.


Well that's the problem with giving yourself a motto. Just asking for trouble. Except for mine: "Never knowingly smashes crockery." Right, I might just have a refreshing sip of tea.

Slurp Ahhhhh


Oh. I thought you were going to break your teacup there. 



In June 1920, Italy had a change of government - and the patient Nitti was replaced by a far less patient Giolotti - who had no patience for D’annunzio’s antics. A few months after, Italy sent a warship and parked it in the Gulf of Carnaro. 

D’annunzio organised a last ditch defense of Fiume, including arming the populace with rotten fruit. We’re also told that D’Annunzio flipped a coin. Heads – carry on the Fiume Endeavour. Tails – call it quits.

Tails it was!

But that seems to differ from a more reliable account that said that D’annunzio said something to the affect that he’d die for Fiume, declared war on Italy and then on 29th December 1920 an Italian cannonball went right through his palace and he quickly decided he probably wouldn’t after all. And with that he beat a hasty retreat to Italy, formally ending the Endeavour of Fiume.

So why did Fiume fail?

So, we’ve pretty well covered Italian opposition so taking that as a given, there are 3 main reasons.

  1. Cash

Yes, cash. Never particularly well funded, the Endeavour of Fiume lived on donations or credit. At first Italian industrialists and soldiers passing around a cap. Or the Italian government propping them up via the Italian Red Cross. And then from piracy. D’annunzio also promised lots of money to revolutionaries around the world - but could never find the money. He even had an Italian government ship hijacked and tried to sell it back to the Italian government so he could then pay for an insurgency in the Balkans. 

D’annunzio had no shortage of balls, or bills. But to be fair to him, the Fiume economy was pretty well throttled by the blockade and almost everybody involved in the Fiume Endeavour thought it would be over in a matter of weeks or months. Nobody imagined the situation would roll on for a year and a half.

But none of this bothered D’annunzio. Like a cult leader, shortages and privations were just evidence that a great sacrifice was being made, so what they were doing was really important. That was the key to D’annunzio’s hold on the people of Fiume. He convinced them that everything they did was crucial to the cause - whether singing a song or hijacking a ship.

2.               The leadership of Gabriele D'angnunzio

D’annunzio may seem to us a vainglorious loon or some self-important art student, but he was considered a bona fide hero and man of action by many in his day. Even Vladimir Lenin called him “"the only real revolutionary in Italy.” 

His problem was that he didn’t really have a plan. He was a great salesman, but it was rarely clear what he was trying to sell. But he was so charismatic, that he seemed like a real threat. Nitti blockaded him because he really thought D’annunzio could really march on Dalmatia or even Rome. Mussolini considered him his only real competition.

And even his supporters understood that he didn’t have the capability to really run a country. He had no idea how to govern, he couldn't handle money, he was extremely superstitious and left decisions to chance and had zero discipline. What he could do was get people fired up - and for a lot of people that was a great talent which they could use.

Decking out everything with flags, songs and speeches, D'Annuzio was there to daily remind people how important everything they did was. Everything was life and death. Everything was a patriotic action. D'Annuzio wasn't a leader, he was a festival organiser. He said: “Fiume dances before death!”

3.               The Treaty of Rapallo

Now this one, we’ve tucked away in our back pocket, but if you understand the Treaty of Rapallo, you can actually summarise this whole episode in about 5 minutes. 


Ed, why didn’t we just do that?


Well, I’d done days of research before this finally occurred to me.


You made me read all that? Right that’s it… (LEAVES MUTTERING)

Hands over to Ed

The Endeavour of Fiume only really existed because President bigwig Woodrow Wilson said that Italy and Yugoslavia had to come to an agreement and sort out their own dispute. And quite simply, this took time. 

During the negotiation, the Italian government really wasn’t going to commit one way or the other. Yes, D’annunzio was being a pain. But having him there was actually a good bit of leverage while discussing things with Yugoslavia.There was always this threat that he could somehow go conquering the Dalmation coast or stir up a successful revolt in Yugoslavia - and the Italian government could say: “Look, it’s not us. We’re blockading him!”

The Treaty of Rapallo was signed between Italy and Yugoslavia in November 1920. In the treaty, the two came to an agreement about borders with Italy getting Zadar (Zara) and some islands. Both powers agreed that what was happening in Fiume had to end once and for all.

For the Italian government, D’annunzio had outlived any usefulness he had had. It was time for peace and prosperity, not messing about with empire.

And all of D’annunzio’s key advisors said that basically the Treaty of Rapallo was good news and D’annunzio had won…basically. 

D’annunzio went into a major huff and locked himself in his palace. He asked Mussolini for a union with Mussolini's fascists, to which Mussolini said:

“Meh, I’m good.”

D’annunzio raged that he was surrounded by turncoats and cowards, declared war on Italy and sent troops to occupy the Yugoslavian islands of Veglia and Arbe, desperate for one last roll of the dice. Or flip of the coin. He also reassured everybody by pointing out that he had had the port of Fiume completely mined up so that if anyone attacked everybody would be blown to kingdom come. Reassuring.

So the Italian navy put a shell through his palace and he had a sudden change of heart.

In his typically stoic and understated way, D’annunzio said: "A beautiful thing is about to end. A light is going out. The loveliest of the lovelies."

So, what did you think of that AI David Hasselhoff?


I think that without sushi there would be no David Hasselhoff, because sushi is like the perfect way of describing the insides of David Hasselhoff. He is like a protein, clean and easy. That's how I feel about myself.


That's certainly a step up from Phil's analysis.

Phil: (enters)

Are we done or is there another 500 pages you're hiding?


I find it a bit sad that there is no photo of me hanging on the walls in the Berlin Museum at Checkpoint Charlie.


Not now, David.

What was the legacy of the Endeavour of Fiume?

The newly rechristened Free State of Fiume carried on for another three years without D’annunzio before being finally annexed by Yugoslavia in 1924, retaken by Mussolin’s forces, going back to Yugoslavia, and now it’s a lovely holiday destination in Croatia.

Gabriele D’Annunzio was given a mixed reception back in Italy so sulked off to retire in his house overlooking Lake Garda. But for many, he was still a hero - particularly with the rise of Mussolini and annexation being back in fashion. Mussolini showered him with gifts and honours, but kept him at arm's length - saying “You can either pull the tooth or fill it with gold.”

He was ennobled by the king in 1924 as Prince of Montenevoso. At one point there was either an assassination attempt against him or he got drunk and fell out of a window. You decide. He also co-directed the film Quo Vadis - which was an expensive flop. A bit like Fiume.

Perhaps to show penitence for his misdemeanors or to cast off materialism, he took to wearing the outfit of a monk…except one made of very luxurious silk.

He was made president of the Royal Academy of Italy in 1937 but died the next year of a stroke or possibly of poisoning from his Nazi spy girlfriend. You decide.

Either way, he received a state funeral. Always with an eye on his own legacy, he dedicated a museum to himself - "The Shrine of the Italian People's Victories" and his birthplace in Pescara is now a national museum. Still considered an important figure in Italy, he has a university and an airport named after him. Something must get lost in translation.


Don't forget that he was a huge literary figure.


Yeah, but if JK Rowling became dictator of Swindon for 15 months, don't you think that people might go, " Harry Potter, hmm maybe a bit fascist after all?"



Huge character and literary giant? Yes. Father of fascism? Probably not. As De Ambris concluded, "D’annunzio is too unique an individual to be the partisan of a doctrine, whatever it may be." 

D’annunzio was all style, less substance. Except substance abuse. But as he wrote to Nitti, "We will remain here splendidly."

It was quite the party while it lasted!

SONG - Paul McCartney Michael Jackson

Fi-u-me how you want but don't play games with annexation.

Take, take, take the ships you need but don't make us a buffer nation.

D'Annunzio, what are you going to do, throw a party (party)

Your head's too bald and you're very old, but you’re so bold.

You know we’re crying, Eia, Eia, Eia, Alala.

It-a-ly what’s the hold up, forget about Woodrow Wilson.

Yu-yu-yugoslavia don’t care about Fiume’s mission.

Carnaro is happening too slow, where’s that constitution (-ution)

But there’s no cash, and we’re not that flash, why the clash, 

Just wanna say, Eia, Eia, Eia, Alala.*

Wrap up

Next episode - what happens when the Ancient Greeks establish a colony in Afghanistan and India? Find out with our episode on Greco Bactria!

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