di Stefania Rampello
The new book of Eugenio Di Rienzo provides useful and original insights into the personal and political life of Galeazzo Ciano, Foreign Minister of the fascist Italy between 1936 and 1943. Although, as the author writes, it was a typical Italian story, made up of family rivalries and disputes, this story was at the same time imbued with the great events of international politics. The volume of about 600 pages has in fact the credit to give a broad and detailed analysis as well, on one hand of the role played by Ciano in the Italian Foreign politics and on the other one of the international political frame itself of those years. A wide-ranging vision, the result of the skilful reconstruction made by a historian, provided with a broad knowledge both in the modern and contemporary history, author of important studies regarding such as Napoleon III and Gioacchino Volpe, who contributes with his last book to enrich the study of international relations during the fascist period.
Di Rienzo divides his work in three parts, addressing Ciano family’s story in the first one titled «Il Delfino di regime, 1903- 1937»: to better understand the figure of Ciano, in fact, the head director of «Nuova Rivista Storica» dedicates several pages also to Costanzo, father of Galeazzo, named «Ganascia», because of his imposing jaw (p. 25). After the Great War, during which he obtained three silver medals, Costanzo worked firstly as president of the commercial shipping company, starting his own business thanks to close and non-transparent relations with some business leaders of the economic, financial and banking world, joining then the Mussolini movement of the origins. In 1924, Costanzo Ciano was appointed head of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs and in 1926 Mussolini, after the unsuccessful personal attack suffered in Bologna, gave proof of trust to Ciano senior naming him as his successor in the event of sudden death. In 1934, Costanzo was called to the Presidency of the Chamber of Deputies.
However, the death of his father due to a heart attack on the 26th June 1936 left a mark in Galeazzo, who was very similar to Costanzo for mentality and principles. As him, Ciano junior put his trust in Fascism, even if his political faith was more conservative, against the unnecessary violence of the original movement, linked instead to a provisional respect for the Monarchy and a more long lasting and convinced one towards the Vatican.
“The right man at the right time”, in this way Di Rienzo defines Galeazzo Ciano, to place in the correct dimension the connection between the marriage with Mussolini’s favourite daughter, Edda (24th April 1930), and the escalation of the diplomatic career which leads Galeazzo to head the Foreign Ministry from June 1936 until the 6th February 1943.
Earlier, after few missions – first as vice-consul in Rio de Janeiro, in Buenos Aires and in Beijing in 1926-1927, then as Secretary of the Embassy for the Holy See at the end of 1929, and as consul general in Shanghai since May 1930 – Ciano had held another important task, being appointed head of the Press Office of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in August 1933. In this role, Ciano built a centralized method of control of newspapers and empowered the ideological-political orientation of the Italian mass media system. The Press Office was transformed into the Under Secretariat of State for Press and Propaganda in September 1934 and in June 1935 Ciano became the Ministry of Press and Propaganda. He left that Ministry after few months to leave for Ethiopia in order to take part to the Imperial War prepared by the Fascism, war that, as Di Rienzo writes, was one of the turning points both in the Italian and in the international foreign politics.
As Di Rienzo emphasises throughout the entire book, with the Ethiopian War, during which Ciano obtained two silver medals, Galeazzo showed the first act of his comedy, fully and intimately adhering to the foreign policy line dictated by Mussolini on the public scene but at the same time criticizing it in privately. Regarding it, since the introduction, the head director of «Nuova Rivista Storica» faces the intricate question of the truthfulness of Ciano’s Diary, defining it as his only political masterpiece and declaring that it was deliberately written, since the 9th June 1936, with the purpose of separating the responsibilities of its author from those of Mussolini.
In contrast with many scholars such as Lucien Febvre and Mario Toscano who have deeply believed in its reliability as a historical source, Di Rienzo instead places great caution in the consultation of the Diary, highlighting the aims that pushed Conte Genero to write it. If Dulles or Salvemini had detected some shortcomings and inaccuracies contained in the Diary, other protagonists and testimonies of the period have contributed to deny the authenticity of it: Giovanni Ansaldo, the journalist of Ciano’s family, Ribbentrop, Serrano Súñer, Attilio Tamaro. Moreover taking into account numerous archival documents, Di Rienzo states in the book that a Ciano plan, a personal program of foreign policy, autonomous and sometimes contrary to Mussolini’s ideas, never existed: in Mussolini mind, the Generissimo had to be a puppet following faithfully Duce’s directions, and he was exactly that, a «prestanome» in author’s words. There was so complicity between the two men, a well acted roles game, which also served to keep close relations up especially with Great Britain on one side, and with Nazi Germany on the other, even during the non belligeranza phase.
In the second part of the book, named «La Grande Scacchiera, 1937-1941», Di Rienzo reaches the conclusion that even the pro-British statements and attitudes shown by Ciano were not evidence of an alleged neutrality line followed by Conte Genero, but they were instead a consistent proof of the famous peso determinante policy. This strategy, which was not a creation of Fascism, but rather a legacy of Italian foreign policy, was useful for Mussolini to avoid, during the non belligeranza, a war he would not have wanted to take part to. We need to consider that even after the declaration of war made on the 10th June 1940, Duce’s main goal was to hinder Germany’s actions rather than defeat Great Britain and its allies. Both Mussolini and Ciano tried so to use this kind of strategy until the end: thanks to the British archival documentation, new reconstructions certify that the dialogue between Italy, Great Britain, France and the United States was not interrupted even in the immediate eve of the declaration of war. Moreover, Di Rienzo recalls how, before the 10th June 1940, Ciano with the permission of Mussolini has also provided information to the Allied and neutral capitals. Then Ciano informed the French regarding the danger of a German aggression against Belgium and the Netherlands, in order to prepare a massive attack against France; information that was not given too much credit to, but which, once reached also the Germans, confirmed for them the unreliability of the Latin partner.
Di Rienzo exposes his thesis with a great variety of episodes, quoting the several documents consulted during his research. These episodes have been used to reconstruct the ambiguous relationship between Ciano, Chamberlain and the Foreign Secretary Eden, from the Gentlemen’s agreement on the 2nd January 1937 to the Easter Accords signed on the 16th April 1938. Equally, we need to consider the seesawing liaison with the Nazi Germany leading to the Pact of Steel of the 22nd May 1939, the Italian decision to take part to the Spanish civil war, guided by geopolitical masons, and the attack against Greece on 28th October 1940. In particular, this campaign, often remembered as the third war of Ciano, even if it was just another war of Mussolini, and the related defeat marked the political decline of Conte di Cortellazzo.
Ciano was discharged by the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs, becoming ambassador at the Vatican at the beginning of February 1943. His last task as Foreign Minister consisted in staying behind Mussolini’s attempt to reach a compromise peace between Hitler and Stalin, with the aim to save also the regime. After that, Ciano played, even more than before, between his personal and political life, and if he turned his back to his father in law, he did that just at the very last minute. According to what is written in the book, Di Rienzo does not support in fact the existence of any attempt against Mussolini in which Ciano could have been truly involved before the 25th July, and even in that moment he seemed wanted to follow a mediation line.
Taking into account internal and international facts, in the third and last part of the book, «II Talleyrand del Fascismo, 1941-1944», Di Rienzo describes extensively the collapse of a system, during which many men were saved and just few remained «sommersi» (p. 534). Particularly both engaging and relevant are the events described in this last chapter, characterised by Mussolini’s very last moves after the vote in Gran Council on the 25th July 1943 when he saw the end of his personal dictatorship. Despite his involvement in the coup d’etat, the day after, also the Count Ciano was under house arrest at his residence in Angelo Sechi street with the pretext of protection. Albeit the new Badoglio government had offered him to maintain his role as ambassador for the Vatican, it was obvious that the former Foreign Minister was not anymore a resource, but a «fastidioso ingombro» (p. 537). Probably pushed by his wife Edda, Galeano looked for asylum in Germany at the end of August, waiting to reach Spain. In Munich, Mussolini and Ciano met again, before the latter one has been brought in Verona where he was processed and then shot on the 11th January 1944. Di Memo exposes how Mussolini tried to save Ms son-in-law’s life, guided both by pietas familiar and by political oppor-tunism, finally surrendering to what had to be done: therefore, Clam was a pawn until the end, sacrificed on the altar of a new possible Fascism.
However, according to Mussolini himself, the Verona trial held by the Tribunale per la difesa dello Stato of the new Italian Social Republic (RSI) was actually just «the Clam trial». In effect, the sentence against Ciano was an act of political justice, not of real justice, due to the fact that who was really responsible of the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, in primis the King and Badoglio, would not have been judged.
Differently to the historiographical absolution done of Ciano in the immediate second after war, the reconstruction written by Di Rienzo reveals the true nature and the real political responsibility of the last Foreign Secretary of the fascist Italy. A man who for Hider was a «ninnolo da salotto» whereas for Churchill the Mussolini’ son-in-law perfectly represented the part of «avventuriero senza ventura» (p. 178), overwhelmed in the plot of a Shakespearian tragedy.
In the very last pages, the narration made by the historian is able to catch the at-tention of the readers along the fatal ‘Iliad of Ciano; during which Galeazzo gave proof of his physical courage, in contrast with his lack of moral character, even until the very last moment of his life, in front of the firing squad. While Mussolini seemed to act as Pontius Pilate, Edda, in a clear contrast with her father and all family, tied everything to save his husband, even to exchange the life of Ciano with the concession of the Diary: she was as Antigone, Di Rienzo writes, seeking to let prevailing justice of affects against the legitimacy of the fascist civitas. Finally, the ‘Odyssey of the Ciano Papers’ that from May 1944 became a prey coveted by all the main Countries, gradually contributing to spread a false and inaccurate comprehension of the figure of Galeazzo Ciano.
Through the new book of Eugenio Di Rienzo, the reader will discover a careful and historiography rich reconstruction of important events in the history of international relations, thanks to the use of Italian, English, French, German, American and Vatican archival sources, combined with the narrative capacity of the author. A not very common quality, which makes this important and voluminous book not just a valid source of reflections but also a very pleasant reading.
(Pubblicato in © «Res Publica. Rivista di studi storico-politici internazionali», 27 (Maggio-Agosto 2020), pp. 105-109)