Friday, February 25, 2011

Italy's Fourth Shore

As a quick orientation to modern Libya, I've started reading Dirk Vandewalle's A History of Modern Libya, and have been surprised to learn that Italy attempted a settler-colonial society there similar to French Algeria. From the text:
"From the beginning, therefore, Italy put high faith in agricultural cultivation and regeneration in its Fourth Shore. Until the fascist policy of of "demographic colonization" was implemented, however, settlement colonization in Libya proceeded slowly, mainly financed by north Italian capital that favored large estates. Between 1914 and 1929 roughly 180,000 acres of agricultural land were brought into production for Italian settlement. Although much of Italy's initial investment in its colony included utilities and public works, the focus of investments changed rapidly as the Fascists adopted a set of more intense state-sponsored and subsidized programs that were meant to settle individual Italian peasant families on their own, small individual farms. In line with this fascist vision of self-sufficiency, each family property became the unit of settlement, self-contained and providing its own labor. This policy had already become accentuated during the 1930's, but it was not until 1938, under Marshal Italo Bablo, that Italy embarked upon a number of grand-scale settlement experiments that brought 20,000 one fell swoop to prepared family farms in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. This was followed by another 12,000 in 1939 when 'Libia' as the two northern provinces were now known, became an integral part of metropolitan Italy...

"Except for the large estates in Tripolitania, the overwhelming majority of the Italian settlers consisted of poor, landless peasants and of an urban proletariat that was attracted by the chance of becoming property owners, within twenty years, of the initially state-owned and state-subsidized farms. By 1940, 225,000 hectares were in production and 110,000 Italian settlers had arrived."

This colonization was short-lived, however, as all the Italian settlers were evacuated during World War II. As a result of that war, Italy was forced to renounce its claims, and western powers pushed for immediate full independence so as to have military bases in the south central Mediterranean in the rapidly developing Cold War strategic environment.

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