Which countries did Italy colonize?

Europe between colonialism and decolonization

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Metzler

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Metzler

is Professor of the History of Western Europe and Transatlantic Relations at the Institute for Historical Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin and Director of the Affiliated Institute Center Marc Bloch.

Her main research areas are: Change in statehood since 1945; State and Terrorism as well as the History of Western European Societies in the Experience of Decolonization.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the European states condensed and formalized rule over their colonial territories. They want to carry out a "civilization mission" on the population living there. They respond to resistance with ruthless violence, which they believe to be justified by the emerging "racial doctrine" and the prevailing international law of their time.

At the Berlin conference in 1884/85, the representatives of European states, through Otto von Bismarck's mediation, agree on principles and procedures for regulating their colonial property claims. (& copy ullstein picture)

In the 1880s, the conquest and order of the world by the Europeans entered a new phase. This can be observed in Asia and Africa as well as in Europe itself. The first signs of this already existed at the end of the 1850s, when Great Britain after the so-called Great Mutiny from 1857, an uprising of the Indian military, rearranged his empire in India and took power there from the East India Company passed on to state representatives of London.

Now, since the 1880s, colonial politics took on a new quality. It was reflected in the claim of the European powers to actively shape the colonized areas and societies according to rational criteria. This included large-scale rail and road construction programs, medical campaigns to combat malaria and sleeping sickness, and the construction of schools. The interrelationships between Europe and outside Europe now developed even more dynamically and the "race for Africa" ​​between the European colonial powers was the most prominent part of it. The historian Jürgen Osterhammel described the European occupation of Africa as "a unique process of temporally concentrated expropriation of a continent".

"Race for Africa" ​​and expansion of imperial power in Asia

When the representatives of the European powers and the USA signed the so-called Congo Act on the last day of the Berlin Conference (November 15, 1884 - February 26, 1885) and declared the huge Congo Basin a free trade area, they not only asserted economic interests: In doing so, they laid the foundations of high imperialism. Because contrary to what is often claimed, they did not decide at the Berlin Congo Conference to divide Africa among themselves. In fact, the "race for Africa" ​​had long been underway. Rather, they agreed that colonial occupation had to be "effective" in future in order to be recognized; and that meant that at least rudimentary structures of a territorial administrative state had to be developed in the colony. Under Chapter VI of the Act, they agreed on how the future claim to European property was to be raised and legitimized: If one wanted to take possession of new areas or even to establish a "protective rule", the other European powers were to be made aware of this possible objections could be asserted. In addition, it is imperative to take possession of an "authority that is sufficient to protect acquired rights and, if necessary, the freedom of trade and passage (...)" (Art. 35 of the Congo Act).

The era of informal penetration came to an end, and a more formalized European rule now became the rule. Until then it was mainly the "men on the spot"who had penetrated into undeveloped areas without a political mandate and had created facts; be it out of commercial or scientific interest, out of pure adventurousness or a desire for profile. Their influence was not completely suppressed, but overlaid by the state The European powers advertised a reversal of the trend as a "means of increasing the moral and material welfare of the indigenous peoples", as they mutually assured each other in the preamble to the Congo Acts. Otto von Bismarck, as the German Chancellor host of the conference, saw in this task " new bond of community among the civilized peoples "formed, as he announced in the closing speech.

The way in which the future of the African continent was negotiated in Berlin in 1884/85 is quite characteristic of European politics before the First World War. The representatives of the European states were completely in agreement not to involve the Africans themselves in the deliberations, not even to listen to them or to take their interests into account. For them it was also beyond question that the Europeans had found their historical task in the "civilization" of non-European peoples; and that they are especially superior to people from Africa in every respect, as suggested by the "race theory" that was becoming dominant at the same time. After all, the Berlin negotiations were also an example of the fact that colonial claims or colonies served as assets that the European states had access to if they wanted to defuse their conflicts among themselves.

The division of Africa
In fact, until 1914 it was always possible to resolve conflicts peacefully through colonial concessions. Even when confrontations came to a head, colonial "compensation deals" could be agreed and spheres of interest delimited. It happened around 1898 near Faschoda, a Sudanese town on the White Nile, when English and French troops met there and tried to emphasize the respective claims of their governments on Africa: France was planning an east-west expansion from Senegal to Lake Chad to the Nile, Great Britain, a south-north connection from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope. It was also possible to defuse the conflicts of 1905 and 1911, when German and French interests in Morocco led to mutual military threats.

At the time of the Berlin Conference, the European map of Africa still showed large white areas in the interior of the continent, but by 1914 the Europeans had divided the land mass among themselves. Only Liberia and Abyssinia, the area of ​​today's Ethiopia and Eritrea, were (still) free of European access (Fig. Map IV).

Africa now also inspired the fantasies of the colonial "late comers" among the European powers: the two young nation states Germany and Italy. The German Reich raised claims to German Southwest and German East Africa as well as Cameroon and Togo. The young kingdom of Italy, itself not established until 1861, controlled Libya and some areas in East Africa (Somaliland, Eritrea) before the First World War; his protectorate over Abyssinia existed only from 1889 to 1896, but from then on remained within the horizon of Italian politics.

The German Empire and Italy were involved in the division of Africa, but others secured the lion's share: France took most of West Africa alongside North Africa - Algeria since 1830, which became part of France in 1881, and Tunisia and Morocco. Tunisia was formally a province of the Ottoman Empire until France first established a protectorate there in 1881 and integrated the country completely into its colonial empire two years later. In 1896, France then advanced to the Horn of Africa in the east of the continent with the establishment of the colony of French Somaliland (now Djibouti); a year earlier it had captured the island of Madagascar off the south-east African coast.

Meanwhile, British rule extended mainly over South Africa and large parts of East Africa. Even the Kingdom of Belgium, which is small by European standards, had taken over the huge private colony of King Leopold II, which had been a Congo Free State since the Berlin Conference in 1885. The old colonial power Portugal also renewed its rule in Africa by controlling areas in West and East Africa (later Angola and Mozambique) as well as on the northwest coast of Guinea.

The colonization of Asia
In Asia, too, the imperial rule of the Europeans not only continued, but was expanded before the First World War. France expanded its colonies in Southeast Asia. The focus was on Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina (the three provinces of what later became Vietnam) and Cambodia (Union Indochinoise, 1887); Laos was added in 1893. The European superpower in Asia was of course Great Britain, which in 1870 India, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, branches on the Strait of Malacca ("Straits Settlements"), Singapore and Hong Kong; other smaller areas were added by 1914. The British were also present in the Pacific.

There, the German Empire also strived for colonial possession, which, however, compared to Samoa and New Guinea, turned out to be quite modest. Portugal also held some smaller possessions in the Pacific (especially Macau and Portuguese Timor), while the Dutch empire was almost entirely concentrated in Southeast Asia (Dutch East Indies, where other islands were subdued from Java). With the United States, a new, increasingly powerful adversary arose for the Europeans since the beginning of the Spanish-American War in 1898, especially in their old rulership, the Caribbean, and beyond: The Philippines, which had previously been claimed by Spain, were a colony of the USA from 1902 to 1946 .

European expansion met resistance and could often only be enforced by force. But the relationship between colonies and metropolis also remained controversial. White settler colonies were most successful in their demand for a say. Canada achieved the status of one as early as 1867 Dominion within the UK Empire; Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland followed in 1907, the South African Union in 1910. This status was linked to the separation from direct British rule and the largely autonomous regulation of its own internal affairs.