The Fiume Crisis:
Life in the Wake of the Habsburg Empire

2020 Belknap Press- Harvard University Press

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 40% Italian, 40% Croatian, 10% Hungarian) 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



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