Advances in Historical Studies, 2016, 5, 143-167
ISSN Online: 2327-0446
ISSN Print: 2327-0438
DOI: 10.4236/ahs.2016.54014 September 12, 2016
A History of Italian Citizenship Laws during the
Era of the Monarchy (1861-1946)
1International Studies Centre, ISCTE/IUL, Lisbon, Portugal
2CEC (Centro de Estudos Interdisciplinarers de Comunicação), Maputo, Mozambique
3ISGE-GM, Marracuene, Mozambique
This article aims to present the evolution of Italian citizenship from political unific
tion to the end of the Second World War, which in Italy corresponds with the end of
the monarchy and the advent of the Republic. In this long period, the central defin
tion of Itali
an citizenship was given by the Civil Code (1865), the basis of which was
and the patrilineal system. The 1912 Law on Citizenship changed some
aspects of the previous legislation, but did not alter the general legal scenario, despite
great pressure from some organised movements such as those formed by Italian e
in the Americas. With the advent of fascism (1922), the discourse on the
Italian nation became radicalised, but Mussolini’s regime did not pass any organic
laws on citizenship. The innovations introduced under fascism were relatively mo
est; many were directed towards limiting the rights of particular categories of cit
zens, such as political opponents and Jewish people. Italy reached the beginning of
the republican period with
a legal apparatus on citizenship that was very similar to
the one established for the first time in the Civil Code of 1865. This shows how Ita
ian political classes have given more attention to the orthodoxy of the law than to the
need to adapt it to the numerous transformations in Italian society.
Italian Citizenship, Nation, Fascism, Legal Innovation
This work does not have philosophical objectives: in particular, it does not want to con-
sider the ancient and complex debate on the concept of citizenship, maybe one of the
most important of Western thought since the Greeks onwards. So, the article will not
How to cite this paper:
Bussotti, L. (2016)
A History of Italian Citizenship Laws dur-
ing the Era of the Monarchy (1861
Advances in Historical Studi
August 12, 2016
September 9, 2016
September 12, 2016
Copyright © 201
6 by author and
Research Publishing Inc.
This work is licensed under the Creative
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discuss the various conceptions of citizenship before the period here approached, fo-
cusing its analysis on a historical, juridical and political perspective.
The main objective is thus to analyse the evolution of Italian citizenship during the
era of the monarchy, from the foundation of the Italian Kingdom (1861) to the refer-
endum which, after the end of the Second World War in 1946, replaced the monarchy
with the Republic as the new form of state for Italy.
Its main thesis is that a line of continuity has crossed Italian right on citizenship in
this long period, even if during Fascism (1922-1943) some transformations has oc-
curred, especially in terms of general conception rather than of actual change of citi-
The European context, throughout the 18th century, was extremely dynamic, as from
a political as from a juridical point of view. After the French Revolution and the
Restauration, many States experienced new social movements, whose aim was to obtain
the political independence or the reduction of monarchic power. The first country to
reach this goal (from the Ottoman Empire) was Greece, meanwhile, after the Con-
gresses of Troppau (1820) and Ljubljana (1821), the revolts in Italy, Portugal and Spain
suffered a strong military repression, under the impulsion of Metternich. However, in
Spain the new Constitution of Cadiz (1812) began to be a symbol of progression and
democracy, giving a vast political space to the bourgeois, through the Low Chamber. In
the Thirties, Belgium obtained its independence, and in France the old king, Karl X,
was deposed, in favour of Louis Philippe d’Orleans. The revolts of 1848 were even more
violent and well organized: they interested the most important European countries, as
Great Britain, France, Italy and the German galaxy of States, yet not unified in a unique
political entity (Costa, 2005).
Various States which composed the political mosaic of the pre-united Italy approved
too new Constitutions (as the Sicilian one in 1812): however, especially after the revolts
of 1848, many of them came back to their decisions, and cancelled a great part of the
concessions which had been made. In the Rein of the Two Sicilies, for instance, Ferdi-
nand the 2nd of Bourbon, after having sustained militarily the attempt of the Piedmont
State to fight against the Austrian-Hungary Empire in Lombardy and Veneto, called
back his troops and abolished the Constitution, revoking the Neapolitan Parliament; in
the Vatican State the situation was yet worse than in the South: the Pope went into a
voluntary exile to Gaeta, leaving his State to the Roman people. So, a new Republic was
elected and a new, advances Constitution approved (in July, the 3rd, 1849). French
troops stopped abruptly this experience, supporting the Pope. In Tuscany the situation
was very similar: here too, Leopold the 2nd, the Gran-Duque, left Florence, coming back
only thanks to the militarily intervention of the Austrian troops. The Statute which had
been conceived decayed in 1852.
All these experiences, together with other very similar which was occurring in
Europe, left, as their legacy, the idea that the popular classes (especially the bourgeois)
had the right to actively participate to the political life, promoting a new conception of
citizenship. Nevertheless, for the Italian scenario, these impulses were not sufficient to
promote a unification under Republican bases: in fact, to think Italy could obtain its
unification through a federal process vanished, so that the only actual alternative was a
process conducted by Savoy’s Royal House, with a very moderate political and constitu-
tional approach (Migliacci, 2011).
The question of citizenship was not one of the first concerns of the new Italian State.
So, the bases of Italian citizenship have to be found in the Civil Code, approved in
1865, after a long work of harmonization of the previous, backward Constitutions of
the different pre-united States (Codice Civile Italiano, 1865). It is here that Italian leg-
islator tries to define the essence of the new Italian citizen: who is he, how can he ac-
quire or lose his citizenship, which laws regulate the relationships between husband and
wife inside family in terms of citizenship and so on (Donati, 2013).
Their key principles were the adoption of
for the determination of citi-
zenship by birth, the uniqueness of Italian citizenship (excluding dual citizenship), the
patrilineal system of transmission, linking wives’ citizenship to their husbands’ citizen-
ship, and finally the freedom of decision regarding which citizenship could be chosen in
the event of conflict between two citizenships. Through these principles, the Italian leg-
islators intended to distinguish “its” citizens from citizens of all other countries. At this
stage, the number of citizens was not as important as the “quality” of the citizens and
their fidelity to the Italian cause.
Law no. 555/1912, the first organic law of Italian citizenship, maintained the same
key principles and contained few modifications in relation to the Civil Code of 1865.
Paradoxically, Law no. 555/1912 was more important for what it did not state than
what it did. At that time, a huge flow of Italians migrated to the Americas, especially the
United States and Argentina. Many of them acquired the citizenship of their hosting
states. Important movements formed of Italian migrants began to make claims in fa-
vour of the dualnationality. The Italian legislators, composed mostly of moderate poli-
ticians and (especially at the Senate) many lawyers, dramatically rejected this proposal
and continued to prefer a “pure” Italian citizen to a “shared” one.
The peace agreements of the First World War complicated the legal landscape de-
picted above because a series of new provisions were inserted in every treaty, starting
with the protection of minorities whose territories had been incorporated for the first
time into Italian territory, as in the case of Alto Adige.
When fascism came to power, its philosophy was completely different from the one
expressed by “liberal Italy” (Romanelli, 1979) and by the peace treaties. Mussolini had a
clear idea of what Italian citizenship should represent: a number, possibly a large one,
in order to challenge other European states on a military field. The minister Rocco pre-
sented a draft law to the Parliament but was unsuccessful. So, the only law on citizen-
ship approved by fascist institutions, therefore, was Royal Decree no. 1997/1934. It was
an extremely simple law comprising only two articles, essentially designed to favour the
acquisition of Italian citizenship by foreigners who were regularly resident in Italy.
Fascism had an important role in the history of Italian citizenship, especially for the
restrictions it imposed on special categories of citizens and the introduction of the
“colonial right”. In this case, the result was a variety of types of Italian citizenship: co-
lonial citizenship (for Libyan inhabitants), subjects of the Kingdom (for Eritrean and
Somali inhabitants) and Italian citizens in general, with political and racial restrictions.
These restrictions were directed towards political enemies (Law no. 108/1926 and
Royal Decree no. 16/1926) and, in their final stage (Royal Decree no. 1728/1938), Jew-
ish Italian citizens.
This article has four sections: the first analyses the foundation of Italian citizenship;
in the second one, the focus is on Law no. 555/1912; the third section is devoted to the
effects of the post-First World War international treaties on Italian citizenship; in the
last one, particular attention is paid to the new laws fascism introduced to Italian citi-
In terms of methodology, a mixed approach is used: historical reflection prevails,
trying to relate changes in the law to social movements and the debate inside and out-
side the Italian Parliament. The transformations of Italian citizenship law considered
here are framed within a historical and social perspective. This methodology should
make it possible to completely view the evolution of Italian citizenship and its main
steps and innovations.
A last note on concepts: in this article, the terms “citizenship” and “nationality” are
used synonymously, since this distinction was not present in Italian law. The distinc-
tion is only present in the fascist period, since the regime tried to differentiate between
the two legal statuses. No philosophical or sociological references are made to the con-
cept of “citizenship” as formulated, for instance, by Marshall and his commentators.
2. The Foundation of Italian Citizenship: Main Principles and
Problems in the Italian Civil Code (1865)
The first formulation of Italian citizenship law has its roots in the “Italian moderate
revolution” led by Cavour, through which Italy became an independent country in
1861. At the moment of unification, one of the main problems Italy had to tackle was
the question of citizenship.
The configuration of the new state—its principles, its rules, its ways of involving (or
rather, excluding) the masses from political life—responded to conservative ideas (Riall,
It was difficult to establish who should be considered an Italian citizen. The pre-
united states had their own civil codes with specific laws. There were five main ones at
the time: the Austrian code, approved in 1815, the code of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies
(1819), the Parma code (1820), the Modena code (1831), and finally the Subalpine code
(1837). Tuscany did not have a civil code, since common law prevailed there (Bussotti,
2002). In addition, a framework of decrees, specific laws, and exceptions to the main
rules in all the Italian pre-united states had caused a chaotic situation: weddings, con-
tracts, citizenship, and all the issues related to civil life encountered different regula-
tions in different states. No one could imagine bringing all these legal traditions to-
gether without an enormous effort.
Therefore, there were two problems related to the question of citizenship: firstly, was
it necessary to put a specific rule in the new Italian Constitution or Statute or was it
enough to insert a rule into the new Civil Code? Secondly, how was Italian citizenship
to be determined?
The first question was resolved by the adoption of the Albertine Statute for the new
Italian Kingdom. This Statute had been approved in 1848 by the Subalpine Kingdom
and signed by King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. The new Italian ruling class (which came
mostly from the Subalpine Kingdom) decided to extend the old Subalpine Statute
across the country.
Nevertheless, citizenship was not one of the issues dealt with by the Civil Code.
There was a section devoted to citizens’ rights and duties, but it did not give any defini-
tion of who was considered Italian. This lacuna needed to be filled. The only legal in-
strument that could do so was a new civil code.
The second question emerged at a time when a vast group of experts began to reflect
on the future civil code of the Italian state. As Bollati showed, the moment in which the
need to define Italian identity arose was the period at the start of the unification process
(Bollati, 1983). Nevertheless, in this case, the choice was completely different from what
had happened in relation to the Statute. A new civil code now had to be written. The
revision of the new Civil Code ended in 1863, when the Minister of Justice of the Italian
Kingdom, Pisanelli, presented the three volumes to the Senate for discussion and ap-
proval (Calcaterra, 1873). His successor, Vacca, found the work and he submitted the
“Pisanelli Code” to Parliament for approval. As he mentioned in his parliamentary re-
port, the new Civil Code needed to respond to the desire for the “full development of
the country’s legal culture” (CD, 1865: p. 6).
The Civil Code of 1865 addressed the topic of citizenship in its first book, “
”. In particular, it defined those who should be considered citizens, determining
the conditions for the acquisition and loss of this status. The main issues that found a
solution were the following:
1) The adoption of
citizenship was to be transmitted by the patrilineal
system. Article 1(4) said: “A citizen is the child of a father who is a citizen”. This prin-
ciple could be attenuated through some concessions to
or the mother’s citizen-
ship in some specific cases. These cases included: a) If the father lost his Italian citizen-
ship before the baby was born, while resident abroad: in this case, the new-born could
not be considered Italian. However, if the father was in this situation but the baby was
born in Italy and resided there, then he/she was Italian (Article 5); b) If the father was
unknown and the mother was Italian, the new-born was Italian too. If both parents
were unknown, the
principle substituted the
those born in Italian territory whose parents’ identity was unknown (namely in the
) were Italian (Article 7); c) Those was born in Italy to a foreign
father were considered Italian if the father had resided in Italy for more than 10 years,
and they had the opportunity not to choose Italian citizenship once they reached the
age of majority (Article 8).
2) The idea of the family as a homogeneous nucleus, in which it was impossible for
members to have different citizenships. In this case, the wife always had to accept the
citizenship of her husband, and the same applied to their children. This is particularly
interesting in relation to the conditions for losing or acquiring Italian citizenship and
when the father recognised paternity with some delay. If the husband and wife came
from different nations, the foreign woman acquired Italian citizenship and kept it even
after the death of her husband (Article 9). Only the children could choose a nationality
that was not Italian when they reached the age of majority. In the case of delayed rec-
ognition of the child by the father, even when the mother had transmitted her national-
ity to her child, the child would lose the mother’s nationality and acquire the father’s
3) The exclusivity of Italian citizenship, which made it impossible to have two na-
tionalities. In fact, one of the reasons for losing Italian citizenship was obtaining a dif-
ferent nationality abroad or to have accepted, without the authorisation of the Italian
Government, to work for a foreign state or to have served in the army of a foreign po-
litical power (Article 11). If the head of a family lost his Italian citizenship due to the
above-mentioned reasons, all the other family members had to follow this change. They
could only keep Italian citizenship if they continued to reside in Italy. The exclusivity of
Italian citizenship also applied to reacquisition: in fact, it was possible to reacquire it if
the head of the family gave up his foreign nationality and his work or service in a for-
eign army and established residence in Italy within one year from the declaration made
before an Italian civil servant (Article 13). Similarly, an Italian woman who married a
foreigner became a foreigner when she acquired her husband’s nationality. Once she
had become a widow, she would be able to reacquire Italian nationality if she returned
to Italy within one year. As some scholars pointed out, the condition of woman in Ital-
ian legislation, namely the one related to citizenship and civil and political rights, was
unequal in comparison with the condition of man: only after the Second World War,
with the advent of the Republican regime and a new Constitution (19489, woman will
begin to move the first, meaningful steps for equalizing her rights of citizenship with
the rights of the man (Rossi-Doria, 1996; D’Amelia, 2006).
4) The impossibility of being stateless. As seen in the cases mentioned above, the
Italian Civil Code never allowed people to become stateless. This was relevant for the
nationality of women who had married a foreign man and could therefore lose their
nationality. The Code paid particular attention to ensuring that she would not be left
without any citizenship.
5) The distinction between “lesser” and “greater” or “full” nationality: Article 10 of
the Civil Code distinguished between citizenship “acquired by law” or “by royal decree”
and citizenship acquired “by choice”. For acquisition by law, a “natural” citizen could
enjoy all rights, including political rights; citizens “by choice” were excluded from po-
The approval of Civil Code gave rise many comments, which highlighted the issues
raised. In brief, the following three main points were raised:
1) The adoption of
reflected the prevalent cultural and political lean-
ings of the time (Salvatorelli, 1975). Leftist tendencies, such as those inspired by Mazz-
because of the importance of the homeland as a bridge be-
tween humanity and individuals. “Without a Homeland (…) you are a bastard of Hu-
manity” (Mazzini, 1860: pp. 51-65). Influenced by Herder, Mazzini and his followers
could not adhere to
Pasquale Stanislao Mancini, for example, defended the
“right of people” over the right of states, so that there was no space for
(Mancini, 1851: p. 44)
The right-wing or moderate movements shared the same ideas,
accentuating blood rather than cultural factors as the main component for national
unity. Gioberti, the leader of Neo-Guelphism, spoke of an “Italian ancestry bound by
blood, religion, written language” (Gioberti, 1846: pp. 117-118), while a very important
scholar of the period, Sechi, emphasised that nationality was a “matter of race” and that
“the various races are transmitted by blood and do not depend on the case of birth”
(Sechi, 1897-1902: p. 221). The same debate at the Italian Parliament showed that the
represented a small minority. In fact, while Pisanelli pointed out
that “race is the primary element of nationality”, the only one who tried to oppose was
Crispi, who took the side of
For him, “citizenship is given by the land in which
one was born; each individual who was born in the Italian Kingdom is an Italian citi-
zen” (Gianzana, 1888). This idea was used to put forward the medieval position that the
land was the most important link between a nation and its subjects (Borsari, 1871: p.
150). In Italy in the 19th century, the young, new nation had to root itself in the most
physical of elements—blood—and relegate land to a secondary position.
2) The prevalence of the patrilineal system also encountered some opposition. The
debate that took place was between two different philosophical and cultural positions
and had a direct influence on the Civil Code: some defended the unity of family as the
basis of Italian society, the nation and, consequently, citizenship law; others wanted to
radicalise freedom of choice, leaving everyone free to opt for Italian or foreign citizen-
ship regardless of sex. The report to the Senate that accompanied the part of Civil Code
related to citizenship law was clear: “A free homeland wants free children and not ser-
vants (…). Thus (…) the proposal allows for freedom to give up nationality and leave
the homeland for those who have an overbearing need, due to serious incidents or hope
for a better future under another sky” (Gianzana, 1888: p. 165). However, it is easy to
see that this statement contradicted the idea that wives and children automatically fol-
lowed the head of their family’s nationality, excluding any chance to freely choose a
different nationality. In this case too, two opposing positions emerged. In general, the
position of women in Italian culture in the 19th century followed a highly antiquated
model; the legal system was consistent with this conviction. Women were given per-
mission to enter high schools and universities in 1874. Only in 1919 were they given
formal emancipation from their husbands and fathers, with the abolition of marital au-
thorisation to manage their own belongings and testify in a trial. And only in 1922 were
they given the right to vote in local elections, although fascism revoked this right en-
tirely in 1929. The issue that needed to be faced was the following: which principle
would prevail in citizenship law? The family or the individual? There were a few doubts
in the debate at the Italian Parliament. Once more, representatives of progressive posi-
tions, like Mancini, expressed the same opinions as other, more moderate exponents,
like Ricci. All concluded that the state was “an aggregate of families” and that the rela-
tionship between state and individual was mediated by family (Mancini, 1851; Ricci,
1891). This statement had a direct effect on public rights, since ties had to be founded
on the family and not on individual rights.
3) Italian citizenship had to be exclusive: this meant that dual nationality could not
be permitted. The same ideological apparatus that defended
served to jus-
tify the decision not to accept dual nationality in the Italian Civil Code. When it was
approved, in 1865, the migratory flow from Italy to other countries had not yet reached
significant proportions and, more importantly, it was not considered to be a mass phe-
nomenon. The 1861 general census indicated that consistent groups of Italians could
already be found in France (77,000), Germany and Switzerland (14,000), and in the
major Mediterranean African countries, such as Egypt and Tunisia. There were about 1
million Italian residents in the Americas, half of whom were living in the United States.
Nevertheless, until the 1880s, Italian migration continued to be relatively sporadic and
not systematically organised, with an average flow of around 135,000 people. Between
1887 and 1900, this flow doubled, reaching 269,000 people per year. This new social
situation had an immediate impact on the debate about citizenship. Italian citizens who
lived abroad began to organise associations, and they were particularly active in claim-
ing continued Italian citizenship, even after obtaining the nationality of the host state.
The Italian Civil Code left some ambiguities in relation to the loss of citizenship if a
migrant had obtained the nationality of his/her new state of residence. The individual’s
declaration regarding his/her citizenship always prevailed. Article 11(2) therefore had
to be interpreted correctly. Italian citizenship was lost “by those who had obtained the
citizenship of a foreign country” after moving their residence there. Some interpreted
this article literally: an individual would lose his/her Italian citizenship as soon as an-
other nationality was acquired. Others, however, thought that the interpretation was
not correct, since in some cases attribution of a new nationality was automatic, regard-
less of what the person wanted. In these cases, Italian citizenship should be conserved.
Ambiguities emerged even in cases that appeared to be clearly regulated by the Italian
Civil Code. For instance, it was undisputed that someone who served in a foreign mili-
tary force would lose his Italian nationality. However, if the military service was in the
Civil Guard of the municipality in which the Italian citizen resided, he could avoid los-
ing his original nationality. In light of this, the Supreme Court of Rome issued a judg-
ment in favour of maintaining Italian citizenship, originating a case of dual nationality
(Appello Roma, 1877: p. 304). Some, considering the new social situation, began to re-
flect on how this contradiction could be solved. Esperson, for example, pointed out that
the adoption of
created an irreconcilable contrast with the adoption of a
principle by several American countries where many Italians lived (Esper-
son, 1883). These ambiguities reinforced the pressure that Italian migrant organisations
were placing on the principle of uniqueness of citizenship. During the First Congress of
the Italian Expatriates, in 1908, organised by the Italian Colonial Institute (ICI),
founded in 1905, this issue emerged with full force. Senator Giacomo De Martino, one
of the founders of the ICI and President of the 1908 Congress, declared that the Italian
state had to stop being an “almost passive spectator” of migratory flows and reach out
to “our brothers who are losing their nationality” (ICI, 1908: p. 11). De Martino did not
put forward any concrete proposals but he clearly stated that dual citizenship had to be
introduced into Italian law. De Martino was a nationalist and colonialist and, unlike
Professor Buzzati, a democrat. He formulated a more explicit proposal in favour of in-
stituting dual citizenship (Idem). A very similar position was defended by a moderate
advocate, Valli, during the Congress of the Dante Alighieri Association, in 1909.He
tried to distinguish between nationality (the original “ethnic” citizenship that belonged
to the individual) and citizenship (a transitory condition, which the individual would
lose when he decided to return to his homeland) (Società Dante Alighieri, 1909). In
1910, the Minister of Grace, Justice and Religion, Scjaiola, presented a new, organic
proposal for reforming citizenship law. The historical and social context seemed fa-
vourable to introducing significant innovations in relation to the old law. Many people,
however, including the Italian expatriates and their organisations, were disappointed by
the measures adopted.
3. The New Law of Citizenship (Law no. 555/1912)
The law on citizenship was reformed in 1912.Before the new law was approved, two
others had been passed by Italian Parliament regarding the same issue: Law no. 23/1901
and Law no. 217/1906.
What were the innovations introduced by these two laws? Law no. 23/1901 partially
reformed the Civil Code from two perspectives: it suspended the obligation to perform
military service if the Italian citizen resided abroad and had left Italy before turning 16.
The only exceptions were calls to arms due to a risk of war (Chapter 4,
speciali sul servizio militare e sulla cittadinanza
). The second modification concerned
the abolition of Article 11(3) of the Civil Code. In this case, Italian citizens resident
abroad could now work for the state in which they lived without losing their original
Law no. 217/1906, presented by Sonnino (CD, 1905), tackled just one issue: the
naturalisation of foreign citizens who resided in Italy and requested Italian citizenship.
Once more, the historical context was decisive, since the strictness of Italian law had
allowed fewer than 20 naturalisations in 44 years. Italy was therefore losing its citizens
who expatriated and was unable to acquire foreign residents living in its territory. Be-
cause of this paradoxical situation, Sonnino put forward this draft law, which consisted
of only three articles, all about the acquisition of Italian citizenship. In order to be
naturalised, the following conditions had to be met: a favourable opinion from the
Council of State; six years of residence in Italian territory or four years of service to
Italian State; to have married an Italian woman or to have made special services to Italian
State. The only limitation was that the naturalised citizen could not be elected to either
of the two Italian chambers for six years following acquisition of the new nationality.
These partial modifications did not significantly alter the philosophy with which the
Italian law on citizenship had been inserted into the Civil Code. What about the new
organic law on citizenship, which was approved in 1912?
The Scialoja Report submitted to the Italian Senate explained the Government’s ob-
jectives regarding this issue: “1) to attenuate the international conflicts of law (…); 2) to
ensure that the right determined by citizenship responds, normally, to the status quo
determined by the current subjection of the individual to the state in which he resides
(…); 3) to treat family relationships with the utmost care (…); 4) to allow every defini-
tive change in the state of citizenship to be voluntarily made by the individual” (SR,
1910: p. 4). Scialoja pointed out that the reform of Italian citizenship was necessary due
to an important phenomenon that was almost unknown when the Civil Code had been
approved in 1865: migration. In addition, systematisation was needed because of the
fragmentation of legislation and the confusion it brought about caused by the many
laws that were involved in citizenship. A new philosophy of law was expressed by Scia-
loja: if the Civil Code was designed for a nation still under construction, and conse-
quently with an “autarchic” vision in mind, it was now necessary to open new perspec-
tives, especially towards international law. In fact, Italy was trying to sign agreements
with the states that had numerous Italian migrants, but it was proving to be a very dif-
ficult exercise. The new Italian law on citizenship had to consider this new factor,
adapting its law to the new international conditions. This would have been absolutely
unthinkable only 50 years before. Nevertheless, those who were born abroad to Italian
parents and continued to reside abroad would have lost immediately their Italian citi-
zenship, which would have been recovered once they reached the age of majority, pro-
vided that they resided in Italy.
In any case, there were many significant difficulties, since most Italian MPs and
senators were anchored to Cicero’s formula
Nemo duarum civitatum civis esse potest
the explicit adoption of dual nationality. Scialoja tried to medi-
ate these ideological positions with actual needs to give effective answers to the claims
made by the Italian expatriate associations, which did not want expatriates to lose their
Government instability and growing difficulties in finding an agreement on the dif-
ferent points of the law caused a delay in the discussion of the Scialoja draft law.
One-and-a-half years later, the debate on the citizenship law at the Senate took place.
The political scenario had changed: the new minister, Finocchiaro Aprile, had ideas
that were partially different from Scialoja’s views, as did the law rapporteur, Senator
Polacco. The new draft law intended to maintain Italian citizenship for Italian citizens
and their descendants living abroad, including in those cases that the Scialoja draft pro-
vided for the loss of this condition.
The gap between the traditional doctrine—which fitted well with the positions of the
moderates and nationalists and was prevalent in Italian Parliament—and the social
reality at the time was notable in the speech made by the MP Fusinato at the
. Speaking on behalf of the Italian expatriates, he criticised the short-
sightedness shown by the Government and the majority of his colleagues. He pointed
out that the institution of dual nationality, which had been rejected, should be thought
of as “an unhappy expression (…) but a trend that is right, in my opinion” (CD, 1912).
His concerns for the Italian expatriates were shared by Cabrini, a prominent exponent
of the Socialist Party. In any case, the conservative and nationalist majority at the Par-
liament frustrated every attempt to change the original text.
The new Italian law on citizenship (Law no. 555) was approved in 1912. Its key prin-
ciples can be summarised as follows: the criteria for acquiring Italian citizenship were
similar to those in the Civil Code, with some modifications. First of all,
and the patrilineal system were maintained. According to Article 1, an individual was a
citizen by birth if the father was Italian; if the mother was Italian and the father was
unknown or did not have Italian citizenship or any other citizenship; if the father could
not transmit his citizenship to his children; if the individual was born in Italian terri-
tory and both the parents were unknown or did not have Italian citizenship or citizen-
ship of another state or if the parents did not transmit their citizenship to their chil-
dren. Citizenship could be acquired by foreigners born in Italy or those whose parents
had resided there for the preceding 10 years, if they had served the Italian army or had
accepted a public job; if they were resident in Italy at the time of their 21st birthday and
declared their desire to obtain Italian nationality before their 22nd birthday; if they had
resided in Italian territory for at least 10 years and did not declare that they wanted to
conserve their foreign citizenship before their 21st birthday. Italian citizenship could be
obtained by Royal Decree by any foreigner that had: provided services to the Italian
state for at least three years; resided in Italy for the last five years; resided in Italy for the
last 2 years and rendered special services to Italy or married an Italian woman; resided
in Italy for the last 6 months, for those who could choose Italian citizenship but had
failed to do so. A new citizen could enjoy all rights, including political rights.
The other pillar of the new law was the impossibility of having two nationalities. Ital-
ian citizenship was therefore lost by those who voluntarily acquired a different nation-
ality and moved their residence abroad. It was also lost by those who did not voluntar-
ily acquire a foreign nationality but declared that they renounced their Italian citizen-
ship and moved their residence abroad. Finally, those who worked for a foreign state or
performed military service for a foreign state after being notified by the Italian authori-
ties to cease this activity would also lose their citizenship.
Women continued to be subjugated to their husbands. In fact, since the family had to
remain united, the woman always had to follow her husband’s nationality, even if he
changed it to become a foreigner. An Italian woman who got married to a foreigner
would lose her original nationality. Only in the case of the legal separation of spouses
without children could the wife choose to keep her original citizenship (Article 11). If
the father recognised his child after the mother, the child would acquire his father’s
citizenship; if their child was already an adult, he/she could—within a year—chose
his/her mother’s nationality (Article 2).
What conclusion is it possible to make in relation to this new law? The debate that
occurred immediately after it was passed revealed a clear characteristic: ideologically,
the prevalence of nationalism had emerged, to the detriment of a more objective analy-
sis of social reality. Migration and the events organised by the Italian expatriate associa-
tions had not been enough to substantially change or alter the logic of uniqueness of
citizenship; the first struggles of women and their incipient movements had not been
regarded as important enough to dictate a modification to the patrilineal system, de-
spite the rare exceptions that Law no. 555 introduced, particularly related to the legal
separation of spouses without children. It is worth noting that the Italian legal system
did not have a law on legal separation or divorce at the time, so this case partially con-
tradicts Italian law. Once again, the principle of the family unit prevailed over wives’
free choice to determine their citizenship. What Law no. 555 tried to attenuate were
cases of statelessness, giving Italian citizenship to all people who were born in Italy to
unknown parents (which meant applying
in exceptional cases). Also, when an
Italian citizen decided to reside abroad or work for a foreign state, the new law cor-
rected the provisions of the Civil Code, according to which the loss of original citizen-
ship was immediate. Now, the Italian state had to warn its citizens, drawing their atten-
tion in order to prevent them from losing their original nationality. In addition, the
new law abolished the distinction between greater (or full) and lesser citizenship, and
made the rights of natural and naturalised citizens the same, especially in terms of po-
litical rights. Finally, there was a wide gap between the ideology and doctrine used by
the Italian Parliament: the social trends and movements that were running through
Italian society and politics at the time had no influence on the text of the law. An at-
tenuation of these key principles could be seen in the sense that Italian law on citizen-
ship now expressed a more open trend towards keeping its citizens, as in the case of loss
of nationality (Article 8). According to this article, only Italian citizens who had volun-
tarily requested foreign nationality and who lived and worked abroad would lose their
original citizenship. Automatic mechanisms of loss of citizenship were overcome by the
new law, revising the provisions of the Civil Code. It can be considered one of the ac-
tual (and very timid) responses by the Italian legal system to the phenomenon of the
massive loss of Italian nationality by many migrants.
One of the biggest critics of the new law was Buzzati. As an advocate of the institu-
tion of dual citizenship, he demonstrated the contradictions of Law no. 555 on the
matter. The law, in spite of its firm principle of uniqueness of citizenship, caused sev-
eral cases of dual nationality. Buzzati remembered the irreconcilable conflict between
migration and the adoption of
as the main regulatory principle of nation-
ality. In his opinion, Italian migrants had to be recognised as citizens of their host state
but at the same time they had to maintain a link with Italy not only through a spiritual
bond but also through the only possible legal instrument, Italian citizenship (Buzzati,
1916). He showed that dual citizenship, which Italian legislators refused to adopt ex-
in Law no. 555/1912. Among the different circumstances, he
remembered Article 2(2), which originated cases of dual nationality for minors if rec-
ognition of an Italian father occurred after recognition of a foreign mother. The minor
did not lose the mother’s citizenship but acquired the father’s nationality and would
have dual citizenship. However, the fulcrum of the debate on this subject was Article 8,
which was related to the loss of citizenship. Buzzati considered the new provision ac-
cording to which an Italian citizen working for a foreign state and resident abroad
would not automatically lose Italian citizenship. In his opinion, this reform of Article
11 of the Civil Code protected against cases of statelessness and created many individu-
als with dual nationality. In fact, according to Article 8 of Law no. 555/1912, people
would have to voluntarily acquire another nationality to lose their Italian citizenship.
This meant implicitly allowing dual nationality, with Buzzati’s complacency (Idem).
The same position was expressed by other commentators, including De Dominicis (De
On the other side, conservative commentators defended the new law. Gemma, for
instance, rejected all the arguments used to justify the adoption of the institution of
dual citizenship in the Italian legal system. First of all, Italian migrants had to reject the
acquisition of a foreign citizenship, since their participation in public life of the host
state was not as important; secondly, he considered the infringement of the principle of
to be heresy,
so the law could not subjugate its philosophy to social needs
but rather to contingent needs (Gemma, 1923).
Degni also defended the principle of adopting
and the uniqueness of
citizenship but admitted that cases of dual citizenship could arise involuntarily (Degni,
The other great debate after the approval of Law no. 555/1912 concerned the condi-
tion of wives in relation to their husbands.
In this case, the positions were more connected than for the principle of uniqueness
of nationality. Conservative commentators, like Gemma and Degni, also raised some
doubts. In fact, while it is true that the main principle had to be the family unit, there
was some reserve about the excessively passive role of wives in relation to their hus-
The debate was essentially focused on a change to the husband’s citizenship. Degni,
for example, stressed that it was impossible to derogate the “supreme necessity of unity
in the constitution of a family”, including in the legal separation of spouses, since this
condition could be reversed for a return to marriage (Degni, 1921: pp. 161-162). This
meant that wives had to assume their husbands’ nationality in every case. The problem
arose when a foreign husband decided to change his nationality. Based on the principle
of family unity, his wife had to follow his nationality; Degni admitted, however, that
there was an exception. He spoke of an “impairment of the wife’s personality”, theoris-
ing that the wife could avoid following her husband’s nationality once he moved abroad
and that she could maintain her original nationality but it would violate the key principle
of family unity (Degni, 1921: p. 162). As an alternative to this radical position, Degni
introduced the possibility of the wife following her husband but left her the chance to
conserve her original citizenship. In this case too it is not difficult to see a potentially
major conflict with the key principle of uniqueness of citizenship: in fact, while conser-
vative positions like the one expressed by Degni made a strict connection between na-
tionality and citizenship, in this case the tie would be broken. Furthermore, the wife
could acquire her husband’s nationality but if she declared that she wished maintain
her original nationality, she would become automatically a citizen with dual nationality.
The same difficulties can be seen when analysing Gemma’s position. He also thought
it was necessary to soften the principle of family unity by including the principle of the
wife’s wishes. He concluded as follows: “the legislator did not want to state (because it
would be excessive) that she too had to coercively follow all of her husband’s changes of
nationality; he just wanted to state the principle that women cannot, through an act of
her own initiative, break the marital family unit, which could cause very serious con-
flicts in some situations” (Gemma, 1923: pp. 84-85). Gemma concluded by pointing out
that it was necessary to choose the lesser of two evils, i.e. the wife would lose Italian
citizenship if she decided to marry a foreigner rather than breaking family unity.
A last, relevant subject concerned the political rights of naturalised Italians. As ex-
plained above, Law no. 555/1912 abolished the differentiation between “greater” and
“lesser” nationality. Only 17 days after Law no. 555 was approved, a new electoral law
was passed. Law no. 665/1912,
Sulla riforma dellalegge elettorale politica
many articles but just two were strictly related to citizenship: Article1 stated that elec-
tors had to enjoy the civil and political rights of the Kingdom. Individuals who had ob-
tained Italian nationality through a Royal Decree now became electors too. The same
was true for elections for the lower chamber (
Camera dei Deputati
). However, in these
two cases, Law no. 665 referred to the citizenship law of 1906 and not to the law of
1912, which caused serious legal interpretation issues. In fact, the two laws differed due
to the acquisition of electoral rights by naturalised Italians. Careful commentators
stressed this problem and pointed out that Law no. 665 mentioned an abrogated rule
and not the one in force at the time (Diena, 1912). This meant that naturalised citizens
were prohibited from being elected to the lower chamber and had stricter conditions
for being electors. Diena proposed the approval of an
law to correct the mistake,
which would have seriously penalised a group of people who should have been consid-
ered to be fully Italian.
A definitive way of interpreting this dilemma was given by Esperson. As explained by
Diena, the problem was circumscribed to the electoral rights of naturalised people. In
this case, Esperson assumed that the Italian Parliament (namely, the Senate) voluntarily
approved the new electoral law knowing that a new citizenship law had already been
passed. In fact, the
Camera dei Deputati
approved the draft electoral law in May 1912.
The Italian citizenship law was, at the time, Law no. 217/1906, so the only possible ref-
erence should have been to this law. The Senate began its discussion of the new elec-
toral law on 24 June 1912 and it concluded five days later, i.e. 16 days after the approval
of Law no. 555. The Senate had the time to change this obsolete reference and introduce
the correct one. But it decided not to do so. Why not? According to Esperson, it was
because of pressure exerted by the Prime Minister, Giolitti, on the Senate. He wanted
the electoral law to be passed quickly, and thought that the above-mentioned mistake
should be overcome
because Law no. 217/1906 had been replaced by Law no.
555/1912 (Esperson, 1913). Finally, the reference to the old law was not completely
pointless. The Royal Decree of 2 August 1912 stated that (Article 10) requests for the
acquisition of Italian citizenship presented before 1 July 1912 had to follow the process
and provisions of the laws approved before no. 555/1912. Law no. 217/1906 therefore
ended when it was replaced by Law no. 555, even though it was limited to requests for
naturalisation submitted before 1 July 1912 (RD 949/1912).
The approval of the new citizenship law in 1912 must be considered an important
step in the construction of the Italian concept of nationality. In fact, a continuation can
be clearly seen from the Civil Code of 1865 to the new Law no. 555. This continuity can
be explained through the proximity of the Italian legislators’ political tendencies in the
two periods considered here. A conservative point of view in relation to social, eco-
nomic and cultural phenomena was common in the Italian ruling classes. Moreover, in
the latter period, waves of nationalism and colonialism (the colonisation of Libya began
in 1911), which were spreading in Italy, together with aggressive political movements,
were strengthening the ideological bases of the traditional principles of nationality. Fas-
cism merged all of them and removed any possibility of democratic debate and discus-
sion, including discussion of Italian citizenship.
4. Italian Citizenship between the First World War and the Peace
Treaties: A Brief Overview (1914-1920)
After the approval of Law no. 555/1912, the gap between the political class and some
significant social movements became very wide. As shown above, the main issues had
not been solved by the Italian Parliament.
With the First World War and its related treaties, the focus centred on issues closely
connected to the treatment of “new” Italians in the annexed territories, such as Alto
Adige, and the protection of Italian minorities, especially those living in Dalmatia, a re-
gion of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
There were two issues during the First World War that dealt with the question of na-
tionality and caught the attention of Italian legislators. Firstly, there was the issue of
Italiani non regnicoli
” (“Italians not belonging to the Kingdom”, henceforth INR).
This topic had been relatively important before the political unification of the penin-
sula. The Savoy state had approved its electoral law (Royal Edict no. 680/1848), which
gave INR the right to vote because they had “lesser” nationality. This feature was main-
tained in successive electoral laws and the Civil Code of 1865 rejected the differentia-
tion between Italians and INR. The electoral law of 22/11/1908 made the same decision,
with the only limitation that INR were not eligible for the position of mayor. Although
many special INR rights had been recognised, they could not be compared to those en-
joyed by Italian citizens (BUFARDECI, 1923). This conclusion caused a certain concern
among Italian politicians, who had a tendency to absorb INR into the wider Italian
family, for comprehensible reasons related to the war.
The second issue faced throughout the First World War consisted of a series of pro-
visions designed to impede Italian citizens from doing business and trading with citi-
zens of belligerent states, in particular the Austro-Hungarian Empire. An apparently
secondary issue was actually particularly important. Lieutenant Decree no. 920/1915
in the Kingdom
of real estate sales and other operations with subjects of
the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the war
) raised—maybe involuntarily—a very
important question: for the first time, Italian law proposed an equal footing, in terms of
nationality, for individuals and commercial entities. In addition, it distinguished be-
tween “nationality” and “citizenship”. The case that caused a heated debate was rooted
in the request by two companies based in Trieste (General Insurance and the Adriatic
Union of Security) to be certified as Italian by the Government of Rome. Trieste was, at
that time, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The issue that this request raised was
whether a company based in a foreign territory could be considered Italian, in terms of
nationality, as Buzzati pointed out (Buzzati, 1916). The first point was whether or not it
was possible to talk about nationality for a company; it seemed that it was, based on Ar-
ticle 230 of the Italian Commercial Code and an international debate had also con-
cluded that it was possible (Segrè, 1918). The second issue was yet more problematic. In
this case, Buzzati expressed an opinion that was clearly influenced by the climate of war
at the time. In fact, he stressed that a series of reasons made it possible to conclude that
the two companies should be considered as Italian. Firstly, because of the permanent
location of their head offices in Trieste, a town which symbolised an “Italian Sea”, the
Adriatic; secondly, their articles of association were written in Italian; thirdly, although
they were dominated by Austria, but this did not mean that they wanted to be part of it.
Therefore, when Italian Government granted Italian citizenship to these two compa-
nies, the distinction between nationality and citizenship became effective for the first
time in Italian law. Confirmation came in the form of another Lieutenant Decree, no.
1829/1918, in which Italian legislators excluded—also for the first time—the prohibi-
tion of all subjects or entities that had Austrian nationality but Italian citizenship,
which had been established in the preceding Decree no. 920/1915.
As a consequence of the end of the war, several treaties were signed between the dif-
ferent states. The two most important treaties for Italy were the Treaty of Saint-
Germain-en-Laye, signed on 10/09/1919 by almost 20 states, among which Italy and
Austria, and the Treaty of Rapallo, signed by Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats
and Slovenes on 12/11/1920.
The Treaty of St. Germain dealt with the question of citizenship in two sections, sec-
Protection des Minorités
under the supervision of the League of Nations, and
Clauses concernants la nationalité.
For Italy, these clauses meant that Alto
Adige passed to the peninsula and that its inhabitants became Italians, losing their
Austrian citizenship. Nonetheless, not all these people automatically acquired Italian
citizenship: the rule could not be applied to those who were not born in those territo-
ries or those who had acquired Italian citizenship before 24 May 1915 (the date on
which Italy entered the conflict) or those who did it “
seulement en raison de leur posi-
”. Nevertheless, it was possible for them and those who had joined the
Italian army during the war to request Italian citizenship. In every case, the choice of
one of the two citizenships involved moving residence—within a year—to the relevant
country. Wives always had to follow their husbands’ decisions.
The Treaty of Rapallo was characterised by the strategy of friendship promoted by
Giolitti in Italian relations with the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Zara be-
came Italian, unlike Dalmatia and Fiume (which had independent status); a few groups
of Adriatic isles became Italian, while all the others joined the new Kingdom of Serbs,
Croats and Slovenes. Article 7 of the treaty was devoted to citizenship: it stated that
Italian citizens and companies in Dalmatia had to be protected and should maintain
their business and activities. It also declared that members of the Italian minority living
in the territory that now belonged to the new Kingdom and had previously belonged to
the Austro-Hungarian Empire could opt for Italian citizenship. Finally, the new King-
dom recognised Italian degrees, while Treaty introduced a new agreement for recogni-
tion the other way round.
The Italian Parliament approved the two treaties but the debate introduced a new
atmosphere. A new political party, the Nationalists, began to explore the question of
nationality as its key issue. Colonna di Cesarò, a nobleman, pointed out that Dalmatia,
which had been left to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, was “one of the
purest and most glorious branches of our people” and that it had now been left “with-
out defences or guarantees”; his colleague Benelli spoke of “the fear of barbarian slav-
ery” (CD, 1920).
Times were changing and the ideology of an extreme nationalism, together with the
idea of the “mutilated victory” of the First World War, was rapidly spreading through-
out Italian institutions. When the new spirit of nationalism encountered the violence of
fascism, a new warlord was appointed: Benito Mussolini.
5. Citizenship Law during Fascism (1922-1943)
When fascism came into power, following a coup d’état (the March on Rome, 1922), an
enormous ideological apparatus had been designed to give an effective response to the
popular calls for greater dignity for Italy in the international landscape.
In fascist ideology, the theme of nation and nationality was one of the most impor-
tant. In the first fascist period, some intellectuals formulated the bases for defining a
clear concept of “Italianness”. Grandi, for instance, one of the most prominent fascist
personalities, wrote that interest should be restricted to the nation (Grandi, 1922), while
the philosopher Gentile wrote that war was the only occasion “to cement this nation in
blood, as it had been formed more by chance than thanks to the values of its children”
(Gentile, 1925). Consequently, the idea that fascism promoted regarding citizenship
was quantitative: increasing the number of Italian citizens meant forcing the rules that
were in force at the time. However, there was also a qualitative aspect promoted by fas-
cism: the identification of Italian citizenship with fascism. For this reason, those who
were not fascist could not be Italian (De Felice, 1981: pp. 292-293).
With these ideological convictions, some could think that the issue of citizenship was
foremost in the concerns of fascist politics. In truth, the regime led by Mussolini never
passed an organic law on citizenship. The only attempt to do so was carried out by the
Minister of Justice, Rocco, in 1930, but the Parliament never approved his draft law.
A brief summary of the provisions fascism approved regarding citizenship follows:
1) In order to increase the number of Italian citizens, fascism passed the Royal De-
cree of 29/01/1922 (RD 43/1922). It stated that for citizens belonging to the territories
annexed by the war, the declaration to acquire Italian citizenship would be delayed by
approximately one year from the original date (13/07/1921). The Royal Decree of
18/11/1922 simplified the procedures for obtaining Italian citizenship (the opinion of
the Council of State was no longer mandatory, as established by Law no. 555/1912) for
those who had Italian parents, had lost their original citizenship and wanted to reac-
quire it, even if they were not resident in Italy (RD 1655/1922). This category of new
citizens could not serve in the Italian army or vote, and therefore the institution of
“lesser citizenship” returned. Some observed that the new demands related to the war
had forced the Government to reintroduce this differentiation, which was not flawless
from a legal point of view (Giannini, 1935). Royal Decree no. 1997/1934 replaced Arti-
cle 4 of Law no. 555/1912, in that the opinion of the Council of State was no longer
mandatory to grant Italian citizenship. It also reduced the term for obtaining Italian
citizenship for foreigners residing in Italian territory who had provided special services
to Italian state or married an Italian woman from 3 years to 2 years. Immediately, a
large portion of legal doctrine aligned its positions to the new fascist philosophy: the
fact that the Council of State had to give an opinion contrasted with “the concept of the
functions of the Government according to the political doctrine of fascism” (Lampis,
1935: p. 310). Government discretion therefore began to constitute the main criterion
for granting Italian citizenship, which was a tendency that had been clearly expressed
by the draft law submitted by Rocco in 1930. Here, the pillars for determining Italian
citizenship remained anchored to the tradition of local law: the adoption of
the uniqueness of Italian citizenship, the emphasis on the patrilineal system
(even an individual recognised by his father as an adult had to follow his citizenship
and would lose his mother’s citizenship), easing the process of a foreign resident ac-
quiring Italian citizenship, impediments to renouncing Italian citizenship—which
made the explicit desire of the applicant, formal authorisation from the Government
and the effective choice to reside abroad compulsory conditions—the maintenance of
Italian citizenship for minors whose fathers changed their citizenship. As the minister
Rocco eagerly explained, the principle that guided the proposal was the “defence of
Italian citizenship”, in which the Government played a prominent role in determining
the acquisition and, particularly, the loss thereof (SR, 1930). However, the most ex-
planatory words came from a legal expert who had a clear memory of the most impor-
tant debates on citizenship inside and outside the Parliament. Baccelli, the law rappor-
teur, emphasised the continuity that the principles of the new draft law represented for
the clauses of Law no. 555/1912 and pointed out the reasons why the legislators were
putting forward some significant modifications. The modifications can be justified by
the historical period in which the draft law had been presented: war and international
competition between states had stimulated the importance of demographics in deter-
mining citizenship law. He concluded as follows: “power is strength and strength is, to
a great extent, in numbers” (SR, 1933). In relation to dual citizenship, Baccelli claimed
that the interests of the nation had to prevail over those of the individual, so that it was
impossible to speak of dual citizenship, but rather of citizenship “contended between
two national units or states” (Idem). These principles, as mentioned above, were not
introduced in an organic law, and only the small modifications mentioned above were
introduced by fascism in relation to citizenship law.
2) In order to limit the rights of citizenship for some special categories of citizens,
fascism approved the following laws: at the start of its political trajectory, Law no.
108/1926 and Royal Decree no. 19/1926. Both these laws dealt with limitations to citi-
zenship rights for political enemies, leaving broad freedom of decision for the Govern-
ment. Italian citizenship could be revoked if an Italian citizen committed an act abroad
that dishonoured the good name of the country, even if it was not a crime. Italian citi-
zenship could be revoked also for citizens who had acquired it if their political behav-
iour was “unworthy”. At the end of its political journey, fascism adopted laws that were
openly against the Jews. Influenced by Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini imposed, through
the Royal Decree no. 1728/1938, the introduction of the concept of the “Aryan race”,
which was completely alien to Italian legal tradition. A citizen of “Jewish race” could
not marry any Italian citizen of another race or (Article 2) any foreign citizen unless the
Minister of Internal Affairs gave his authorisation. Jewish Italian citizens could not be
appointed guardians of minors or disabled people of other races, nor serve in the na-
tional army. In addition, they could not manage companies that dealt with issues re-
lated to national security, own land worth more than 5000 lire or buildings with a tax-
able value of more than 20,000 lire. If the children of Jewish parents joined another re-
ligion, the state could remove their parental authority. Jewish Italian citizens could not
ever serve the state. While this was the most controversial legal measure adopted by
fascism, another provision emerged following pressure from Hitler. In 1939, Hitler and
Mussolini signed an agreement on the citizenship of the German-speaking people living
in Alto Adige, a region that had been annexed to Italy after the end of the First World
War. The agreement stated that the Italian Government would facilitate the choice of
German citizenship for those people who demonstrated this desire. This measure went
against all the propagandistic ideas that Mussolini had spread about increasing the
number of Italian citizens.
3) Finally, the other important contribution of fascism to citizenship law was the in-
troduction of different levels of citizenship according to colonial law. Before fascism,
three Royal Decrees had been issued to regulate the relationships between citizens and
subjects (RD no. 315/1913,
; RD no. 931/1919,
Sulla cittadinanza e il
governo della Tripolitania
); RD no. 2401/1919 (
Sulla cittadinanza e il governo della
). Fascism approved laws to organise all these aspects related to citizenship
and the rights of the new Italian colonised people in a more organic way. Law no. 1013/
Legge organica per l
amministrazione della Tripolitania e della Cirenaica
Libyan citizenship as citizenship transmitted from a Libyan father (or mother if the fa-
ther was unknown), who was born in Libya, regardless of place of residence, on the
condition that the person was not an Italian citizen and did not have foreign citizen-
ship. Libyan Italian citizens could acquire Italian citizenship once they reached the age
of 21, provided that they had not committed polygamy, had no convictions for political
crimes, had attended at least the 3rd year of Italian school, and were loyal to Italy. RD
no. 1146/1932 forced Italian Libyan citizens aged 16 to 60 to serve in the national army
if it was mobilised for war. Law no. 999/1933 established the same provisions for Eri-
trean and Somali subjects but without the many prerogatives reserved for Italian Libyan
citizens (Monaco, 1937). In coherence with the law for the defence of Aryan race, RD no.
70/1939 impeded marriage between Italian citizens and Italian subjects, with a sentence
of up to 5 years’ imprisonment for Italians who disrespected this law. A special Libyan
Italian citizenship was established for Muslim subjects.
At the end of fascism, the types of citizenship were: a) Mainland citizenship, but with
“lesser” citizenship for foreign residents who had acquired Italian citizenship and the
political and racial limitations described above for some special categories of citizens; b)
Libyan Italian citizens; c) Libyan Italian Muslim citizens; d) Italian subjects, reserved
for the colonised people of Eritrea and Somalia.
This inextricable jumble of different types of citizenship demonstrates the great con-
fusion with which fascism dealt with such an important matter. In fact, despite the
ideological declarations, no organic law on citizenship was approved by Mussolini’s re-
gime. Furthermore, the issue was approached in contingent situations, which had the
immediate consequence of completely distorting the most elementary principles of
public law, at least the principles of Italian legal tradition. It was the war that first
guided the approval of new laws, emphasising a demographic philosophy, then political
domestic battles against opponents that had to be silenced, then management of the
colonial situation, and later the urgent request received from Germany to establish a
new concept of “Aryan race” and, hence, to draw up special measures for inferior civi-
lisations, such as the Jewish and Muslim ones. Finally, another demand came from Hit-
ler to favour the loss of Italian citizenship for German minorities living in Italian terri-
tory, belying all the nationalist rhetoric that characterised fascist discourse (rather than
legal measures) on citizenship.
This is the scenario that the new Italian constituents found in the aftermath of the
fall of fascism. Their task was very difficult: they had to re-establish a legal rationale and
coherence in the citizenship law. A new era was beginning, so the fascist provisions had
to be considered completely null. New work had to begin.
This article aimed to show how Italian citizenship law changed during the monarchic
era, a long and intense period in the country’s history as in all of the other European
states. Using a mixed research methodology, the article attempted to connect the
transformations in Italian citizenship from a legal point of view with what was hap-
pening in the Italian political and social scenario. Finally, a relatively exhaustive
The key historical subdivision into two sub-periods, before and after the advent of
fascism, showed that, in this specific case, it is impossible to observe correspondence in
the development of Italian citizenship, at least for the most important aspects of the is-
sue. In fact, the base formed by the principles established in the Italian Civil Code of
1865, and confirmed—with a few innovations—by Law no. 555/1912 and other less
important provisions, presents a continuation of fascism ideology and decisions.
Throughout the liberal era, especially from the end of the 19th century, social move-
ments began to pressure the Italian Government and Parliament to change citizenship
law, bearing in mind the cases of women and expatriate associations. This was a situa-
tion in which women had to renounce their nationality to follow their husbands’ in the
name of preserving family unity. It was less acceptable still that Italian expatriates had
to lose their nationality when they acquired the nationality of the state in which they
were living and working.
Before this situation, the Italian legislators were indifferent and considered fidelity to
the original principles established in Civil Code of 1865 to be more important than rapid
social and cultural transformations. The gap between the political and legal elite—
which were the same, to a large extent—and Italian society remained constant through-
out the liberal era. The history of citizenship represents just one of the many examples
that confirm it.
With the First World War, this gap increased: the political problems of a “mutilated
victory” fitted with serious social troubles that the liberal elite that had managed Italy
since its independence was unable to face. When fascism violently took over leadership
of the country, its ideology was extremely nationalist and intolerant of its political ene-
The first laws on citizenship in the fascist era aimed to limit some fundamental rights
for special categories of citizens, namely political dissidents. However, the question of
citizenship never appeared to be prominent in Mussolini’s agenda. Or rather, Mussolini
tried to establish a concept of citizenship based on the strength of numbers, so, in his
opinion, it was a contradiction to lose millions of Italians who lived abroad simply to
maintain erudite fidelity to the doctrine. In addition to the definition of the new Italian
as fascist, it was necessary to recover compatriots living abroad and dispute their citi-
zenship with other states. Without succumbing to the idea of introducing the principle
of dual citizenship into Italian law, he wished to accentuate the criterion of
straining the most elementary rules of Italian public law.
This was the path that the minister Rocco tried to follow in 1930 with his draft law.
Nevertheless, the only law coherent with the fascist doctrine of citizenship was passed
in 1934 and it was certainly not an organic law.
After the second half of the 1930s, fascism began to deal with the question of citi-
zenship erratically and on the basis of contingency. The colonial experience in the Horn
of Africa, together with the military alliance with Hitler, caused two different and con-
tradictory scenarios: the already complicated citizenship law of the ancient colonies
(Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the two regional subdivisions of Italian Libya) became
even more abstruse for the racist provisions that Mussolini adopted against Muslim
people and the “new colonisers” of the Horn of Africa; he issued special rules for Jewish
Italian people, taking away many of their fundamental human rights. The agreement
signed with Hitler in 1939 forced him to make it easier for individuals in the German
minority in Italy to acquire German nationality, renouncing their Italian nationality,
which was clearly in conflict with his demographic convictions in relation to citizenship
Similar difficulties were encountered by the Italian Republic’s legislators when de-
fining the new citizenship law after the end of the Second World War. It is enough to
remember that fidelity to the principle of
and the uniqueness of national-
ity were the two key pillars of new Italian citizenship for many years, in part even today.
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Contenente il nuovo testo unico della legge elettorale politica
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Modificazioni ed Aggiunte alla legge 1O Giugno 1912
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Legge organica per l’amministrazione della Tripolitania e della Cire-
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Ordinamento organico per l’Eritrea e la Somalia
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Royal Decree No. 931, 01/06/1919,
Sulla cittadinanza e il governo della Tripolitania
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Sulla cittadinanza e il governo della Cirenaica
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Che reca norme relative al conseguimento della cittadinanza
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Obbligo per i cittadini italiani libici della Tripolitania di
prestare servizio militare in caso di mobilitazione
Royal Decree No. 1997, 01/12/1934,
Modificazioni alla legge 13 giugno 1912, n. 555, Sulla citta-
Royal Decree No. 1728, 17/11/1938,
Provvedimenti per la razza italiana
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