Italian leaders flounced out of the Paris Conference in protest at the lack of respect being shown to their ambitions by the other Allies. Since then Prime Minster Orlando and Sonnino, his foreign minister, have slunk back, hoping to extract whatever they can from the conference.
Italy’s problem is that the world has changed since Britain and France made lavish promises to lure the country into the war against Austria-Hungary. In the secret Treaty of London, Italy was offered not just favourable adjustments of its land border, but also extensive Adriatic territories, both offshore islands and points along the Dalmatian coast. Unfortunately the rise of Wilson and his new-fangled ideas of national self-determination make the Allies less inclined to grant the Slav-inhabited Dalmatian territories to Italy, with the newly emergent state of Yugoslavia the more natural home for these peoples. Italian claims have also not been helped by the poor performance of Italian arms during the war, with the Italian war effort seeming to the other Allies to have been almost more of a hindrance than a help to their eventual victory.
Growing Italian ambitions have caused them to set their sights on the city of Fiume, not originally promised in 1915 but now a focus of nationalist attention in Italy. In Paris Orlando offers to rescind Italy’s claims to Fiume in return for full implementation of the Treaty of London, but the other Allies are not having it. Instead the shape of a solution begins to emerge. Fiume will be a free city, with a plebiscite to be held after 15 years to determine its final status. Italy’s borders will advance to bring the Trentino, the south Tyrol, Trieste and the Istrian peninsula under Rome’s control, but the Dalmatian coast and islands will remain with Yugoslavia. Italy’s population will increase by around 1,400,000 people, but less than half of these will be ethnic Italians (the rest are Slovenes, German-Austrians and Croats). Italy’s inflated appetites unfortunately mean that this imperial expansion will still be seen by many of its people as a betrayal by the Allies.