The Fiume Crisis:
Life in the Wake of the Habsburg Empire
2020 Belknap Press- Harvard University Press
Honorable Mention from the 2021 ASEEES Jelavich Book Prize
The Fiume Crisis recasts what we know about the birth of fascism, postwar nationalist activism, and the fall of empire after 1918 by telling the story of the three-year period when the Adriatic port-city Fiume (today known by its Croatian name Rijeka) became an international fiasco that stalled negotiations at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and became the setting for the fifteen-month occupation of the city by the poet-soldier Gabriele D’Annunzio, an occupation many believe Mussolini copied explicitly in his rise to power. The history of Fiume in this period is usually cited as the natural outgrowth of extreme nationalism at the end of World War One, which led to it becoming the birthplace of charismatic fascism. The Fiume Crisis upends this story by showing that what happened in Fiume had little to do with D’Annunzio, charisma, or proto-fascism. Rather, the Fiume Crisis was a result of the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy and all the promises and challenges that living in a “ghost state” presented.
The Fiume Crisis is accessibly written to attract readers outside specialist circles and to enliven a world that has been ignored in favor of the sensationalist press attention to stories of communal hate and the media-darling D’Annunzio. Much more was going on than what yellow journalism told us, and this book shows how and why Fiume was one of the first places to give women the vote in Catholic Europe, how life could work when over 60% of its currency was forged, why an entire police force refused to give over nationality figures to the state, and how an ethnically diverse population (about 49% mother-tongue Italian speakers, 26% mother-tongue Croatian speakers, 13% mother-tongue Hungarian speakers, 5% mother-tongue Slovene speakers, 5% mother-tongue German speakers) could be convinced that annexation to a nation-state notorious for its intolerance was the best way to approach its future.
The over three years of onsite research for this book in Croatia, Italy, Germany, the UK, and the US have been supported by the NEH, ACLS, the American Academy in Rome, and the University of Miami.
Early Praise for The Fiume Crisis:
“A superb book, smartly conceived and beautifully written. With a genius for unearthing fascinating stories of local people, then using them to illuminate larger issues, Reill forces us to reconsider in profound ways how we conceive the history of the immediate postwar period in Europe. This history from below questions stale nationalist certainties and depicts vividly how communities worked to create their own options in a challenging postwar world.”—Pieter Judson, author of The Habsburg Empire: A New History
“The Fiume Crisis offers a fundamentally new way of thinking about war and postwar rebuilding. By zooming in to a specific city at the crossroads of many different pasts and multiple possible futures, Reill provides a fresh perspective on who makes history happen—bilingual cabbage sellers and young schoolteachers, emigré lawyers and seductive dockworkers—all those who tried to create a city that could escape the ravages of war and economic devastation. Their creativity and vision, triumphs and failures come alive in this breathtaking story.”—Alison Frank Johnson, author of Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia
“In this fascinating and important book Reill transforms our understanding of both the Fiume crisis and the whole geopolitical metamorphosis of Europe that followed World War I. She shows that the struggle over the city between Italy and Yugoslavia reflected a much deeper and more complex history of Adriatic identities in a Habsburg and post-Habsburg context.”—Larry Wolff, author of Woodrow Wilson and the Reimagining of Eastern Europe
“A magisterial account of everyday life in the multi-ethnic city of Fiume after the end of the Great War. Moving well beyond the familiar story of the soldier-poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and his occupation of Fiume, Reill succeeds in telling the fascinating story of how a city of considerable cultural complexity dealt with the challenges of being a small successor state in a post-imperial world.”—Robert Gerwarth, author of November 1918: The German Revolution
“A brilliant reevaluation of the nationalist myths and legends that have grown up around the history of Fiume under Gabriele D’Annunzio. Shifting our gaze away from his charismatic personality to the experiences of the citizens of Fiume, Reill demonstrates the persistence of imperial loyalties underpinning their quest for greater autonomy. This book forces us to question what we think we know about the relationship between nationalism and empire in the aftermath of the First World War.”—Tara Zahra, author of The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World
“In this gem of a book, Reill peels away the sensational stories that made Fiume notorious as both a diplomatic thorn in Woodrow Wilson’s peacemaking and the prancing ground of proto-fascist Gabriele D’Annunzio, revealing a more thrilling, politically meaningful history. In the plucky polyglot city’s colliding authorities, crazy quilt laws, and contradictory wants, Reill vividly captures the human comedy as well as the shoals on which hopes for the Great Peace to follow the Great War foundered.”—Victoria de Grazia, author of The Perfect Fascist: A Story of Love, Power, and Morality in Mussolini’s Italy
“Reill opens up an important conversation on What Is History and Who Gets to Write It... With the rigor of a scholar and the artistry of a bard, she finds not just a story to represent the complexities of speaking local problems into a larger global conversation. She finds the story, the case study, the Martin Guerre who articulates a worldview." —Aliza Wong in August 29, 2021 Los Angeles Review of Books (see full review here)
“Some stories are just too good not to tell,” writes Reill, a University of Miami scholar, as she opens her account of what happened in Fiume — today, the Croatian port-city of Rijeka — immediately after the first world war. The colourful story of Fiume has indeed been told before, but never with so many fresh and fascinating insights as Reill provides in her book." —Tony Barber in December 12, 2020 Financial Times (see full review here)
"Reill’s book makes us rethink what we thought we knew about the end of empire—not just in Europe but far more broadly. The Fiume Crisisdoesn’t just provide a more nuanced local interpretation that balances the stories we know about D’Annunzio, Woodrow Wilson and the Fiume question at Paris. Instead, Reill’s book challenges readers to consider deeply unsettling questions about how historians have approached state formation during the interwar years, and the dismantling of empire and the construction of successor states. All of the successor states to the Habsburg, Ottoman, German, and Russian empires dealt with similar, if not the same crises—as far as currency, law and constitution making. After reading The Fiume Crisis, it isn’t possible to read the post-war period in the same way." —Aimee Genell in March 2022 H-Diplo (see full review here).
"... a boldly original take on the political drama that overtook Rijeka in the years immediately after World War I.... By re-telling the story of Rijeka from a street-level perspective, Reill shows us how the whole of Central Europe felt – and why populations were manoeuvered into accepting new situations... The Fiume Crisis is a thrillingly well-written book. —Jonathan Bousfield in March 2021 Jutarnji List (see full review in English here and in Croatian here).
"Combining Italian and Croatian sources ... Dominique Kirchner Reill’s reading [of the Fiume Crisis] offers depth and contours against [traditional interpretations]… Attentive to details and filled with sources Kirchner Reill contradicts the thesis that the entire city between 1919 and 1921 was overwhelmed by D’Annunzio’s charisma.” — Michael Martens in May 28, 2021 Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung (see full review here)
"...brilliantly written and accurately researched… this approach is based on a radical anti-determinism, one that is sensitive to contingency and to the plurality of alternatives in the historical process… The Fiume Crisis offers a path-breaking contribution in reconsidering the imperial transitions in twentieth-century Europe.” — Marco Bresciani in August 2021 HNet-Habsburg (see full review here)
"What Reill chronicles with no little élan is not a spectacular rupture with the past ‑ the sort of “holocaust” d’Annunzio announced ‑ but rather a series of, sometimes surprising, continuities…. As the centenary events in Ireland have shown over the past decade, the accommodation and cultivation of diversity are intrinsically linked to probing, questioning and expanding upon given historical narratives. This is precisely what The Fiume Crisis does, and its sedulous record of the variety of ways that were employed by individuals and bureaucracies in their struggle to orientate themselves in the postwar period will pose a formidable challenge to future attempts to cast d’Annunzio’s adventure in Fiume in a uniform manner." — Aidan O’Malley in May 2021 Dublin Review of Books (see full review here)
"Her monograph is impressive in its thoroughness, the precise use of terms, its clever methodological solutions, its welcoming style, and its use of convincing examples based on a rich and diverse collection of sources.” — Ágnes Ordasi in December 2020 Hungarian Historical Review (see full review here)
"In opposition to what has been written before… Dominique Reill’s book reminds us of the importance of learning about alternative historical pathways for understanding the tragedies of the twentieth century…. and how Rijekans at the beginning of the twentieth century were … true Europeans.” — Natka Badurina in March 2021 Fluminensia (see full review in Croatian here)
"Reill’s depiction of the local, enriched by massive research in Rijeka’s archives (and some at the Vittoriale), is a delight. A readership that should extend well beyond sober scholars will love to hear about the fate of a legally challenged load of cabbages being transported into hungry Fiume (it did not get there), and about the cunning counterfeiters whose business boomed thanks to the large number of different banknotes, restamped or otherwise, that circulated in the area.... Throughout the book, Reill paints deft portraits of people and events. But there is also an intriguing argument. Reill shows that Fiume was not a place of simple definitions." —RJB Bosworth in February 2021 Literary Review.
"This excellent book will be of interest to scholars of Modern Italy, Eastern Europe, European nationalism, and interwar Europe among others. Readers will finish this book enthusiastic about Fiume. But they will also come away with new insights into the creative ways that Europeans tackled the aftermath of World War i on the ground…. These pages make the scramble to find food, clothe and educate one’s children, and win residence rights and government protections palpable. This book also reframes our understanding of post-World War I self- determination. As Reill shows, although many Europeans embraced the language and the principle of self-determination as they grappled with the challenges of post-war imperial collapse, they did not necessarily do so in Wilsonian terms. Not all self determination was national, it did not necessarily align with the goals of the Great Powers, nor did it always succeed. Reill highlights the importance of considering both the imperial and the local if we want to understand the end of World War I or the mapping of interwar Europe. She illustrates how Habsburg currency, administrative structures, legal codes, and community norms lived on after the collapse of the Empire. She shows us how press coverage of local events in Fiume helped drive international politics by creating a narrative of nationalist crisis. And she plunges us into an on the ground tour of colorful, scrappy, resourceful, everyday Fiume to show how those nationalist narratives obscured essential truths about interwar Europe for a century." —Caitlin Murdock in January 2022 Canadian-American Slavic Studies. (see full review here)
"Dominique Kirchner Reill’s vibrantly written new book boldly takes on (at least) two established convictions in the historiography of Europe’s twentieth century.... The contributions of The Fiume Crisis are many, and it is both approachable and useful. This book can be fruitfully assigned to undergraduates and graduates alike because it is eminently readable and of high academic value. It is an excellent product of meticulous research and carefully considered presentation, a beacon for monographs to come." —Zachary Mazur in March 2022 H-Diplo. (see full review here)
"Reill has produced an engaging, highly readable portrait of a city that became the contested object of clashing national interests and international diplomacy, yet whose citizens sought to retain a degree of agency over their lives through self-organization, scheming and improvisation. Therefore, her book could serve as a model for future studies of similar, contemporary cases ... because it provides valuable insights into the ways local populations negotiated and managed the consequences of Imperial disintegration after the First World War." —Carlo Moll in January 2022 H-Soz-Kult. (see full review here)
"The Fiume Crisis is a fine book: well-written and full of insights and food for thought. It is a study that makes the most of a season of significant historiographical innovation that has placed the deconstruction of the process of nationalising the masses and the nation-state at its centre in order to provide a ground-up reconstruction of what the building of a nation-state meant for the millions of people affected by this process, and how ambiguous the process of appropriating certain catchwords was." —Giulia Albanese in March 2022 H-Soz-Kult. (see full review here)