Irredentism – What is it, definition and concept | 2022

Irredentism is a political current that seeks and defends that those independent territories, or belonging to another country, that share certain characteristics with a nation, must join it for reasons of affinity.

Irredentism is a term that comes from irredento. According to the RAE, this adjective is “said especially of the territory that a nation intends to annex for historical reasons, language, race, etc.” Thus, irredentism is the current or doctrine that defends this idea: that one territory has to join another by sharing certain common cultural traits.

This territory can be independent or belong to another country. Normally, we are faced with the second case. Territories that, after a war, have been seceded from the loser and incorporated into the winning nation. This has led to subsequent conflicts and invasions. Although in some cases the territory has not been claimed, at least by belligerent means.

Italian irredentism

The origin of the term irredentism, as we are defining it, can be found in 19th century Italy. It was used to refer to the territories that the Italians understood should be under their borders for cultural reasons. This gave rise to Italian unification, a process in which the monarchy claimed and incorporated those territories.

Later, in the seventies of the nineteenth century, Italy began to claim territories that they also understood should be under their domain. Some of these were: Dalmatia, Trentino and Istria.

Finally, there was a last stage, from the interwar period to the end of World War II. In which the fascist Italian state claimed territories such as San Marino, the Ionian Islands, Corsica or Nice. Aspirations that ended with the end of the war and the defeat of the axis.


Now we are going to see some more recent and popular examples of this idea, that of claiming territories because we believe that they share characteristics with the nation that claims them:

  • Gibraltar: This territory, although within the Spanish geography, belongs to the United Kingdom, framed within its overseas territories. The cession happened in 1713, through the Treaty of Utrecht. Treaty that ended the War of the Spanish Succession and ended with the Spanish cession of a large number of territories outside its natural borders. Despite more than three hundred years under British administration, part of the Spanish population and its political class defends the recovery of this territory. Since, apart from being previously under Spanish rule, it is within its natural borders, that is, within the Iberian Peninsula.
  • Alsace and Lorraine: After the war between France and Prussia at the end of the 19th century, this territory became part of the German Empire. After World War II, one of the demands of the Treaty of Versailles was the return of this territory to France. Fact that, together with the rest of the demands of the treaty, caused the rearmament of Germany and the outbreak of the Second World War. One of the rapid annexations of the III Reich was that of this territory. Finally, at the end of the conflict, Germany had to cede the territory to the French administration. In this case, we see how a territory adjoining two great powers was claimed by one or the other side depending on the context and the wars unleashed.
  • Occidental Sahara: This is a complex case for which there is still conflict today. The UN, in 1967, ordered the decolonization of the territory, then under Spanish rule. Spain accepted the self-determination of the region through a referendum, which was rejected by Mauritania and Morocco, who claimed for themselves the sovereignty of the territory. In 1976 the green march took place, the decolonization of the territory and its occupation by Morocco. Since then the Moroccans have treated the natives of the place as inferior. They are also waiting for UN guarantees that were never fulfilled.
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