Italy, Austria and the Anschluss: Italian involvement in Austrian political and diplomatic affairs, 1928-1938
Zuber, Frederick Raymond
Rath, R. John
Master of Arts
Italy's involvement in Austrian political and diplomatic affairs during the interwar period generally has been studied in light of her acquiesence in the Austro-German Anschluss of March 15, 1938. Mussolini's acceptance of the union of these two German states is frequently interpreted as yet another manifestation of the growing cooperation between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany which, beginning with their collaboration during the Spanish Civil War, eventually led to the events of Munich and the Second World War. While not without a degree of validity, this approach to Italy's involvement in the Anschluss tends to ignore the basic differences in policy and interests that existed between these two states. The resulting image, therefore, overemphasizes the closeness of the affinity between Rome and Berlin. This study seeks to present a balanced view of Italy's involvement in the Anschluss by tracing the rather complex course of Italian foreign policy in Austria during the period from 1928 to 1938. The examination of Austro-Italian relations is divided into three phases. The first, extending from the initial Italian contacts with various rightist groups in Austria in 1928 to the assassination of the Austrian chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, in July, 1931 marked the development of an Italian "protectorate" over Austria and the expansive phase of Italy's quest for hegemony in Central Europe. Following the assassination of Dollfuss, Italian policy entered a transitional phase dominated by Mussolini's efforts to create a British-French-Italian entente which would block German expansion in Austria and preserve Italy's position of influence in Central Europe. The failure of these efforts as a result of the events of the Abyssinian War obliged Italy to accept a compromise with Germany over Austria, culminating in the Austro-German "Gentlemen's Agreement" of July 11, 1936. Italy's foreign policy in Central Europe subsequently entered its final phase which witnessed the rapid erosion of her position in Austria. These events forced Mussolini to relinquish all remaining vestiges of his former protectorate over that country, thereby enabling Hitler to achieve his union of Austria and Germany on March 15, 1938.