‘Sandwiched’ between the end of the Fascist regime and the resistance struggle on the one front, and on the other the beginning of the Cold War in an intricate theatre such as Italy, the institutional referendum held on June, the 2nd 1946 has been recently ignored by historiography or rarely investigated in its manifold transnational implications. The defeat of the Monarchy has been largely and in some cases swiftly assimilated in the overall interpretation of the end of the Fascist regime (Mack Smith, 1989; Wolf, 2007) or integrated in the narrative of the betrayal of the Resistance’s principles (Ginsborg, 1990; Cooke, 2011).
Responding to a growing interest in the context and practice leading to a referendum’s outcome as well as in the historical reconstruction of founding moment of new Italy’s institutions, although in contrast to a landscape of works that have been so far mostly devoted to the general election for the Constituent Assembly (elected in the same day whose principal task was that of drawing up the new Constitution), this project aims to investigate the reception of the referendum campaign and results within the British public discourse and to what extent this debate participated in formulating the bases and the components of the British notion of the ‘referendum instrument.’ For this purpose, this project will utilize for the first time radio and video broadcasting archival materials on the subject comparing and contrasting them with the traditional public debate as constructed in the press (newspapers and journals). In doing so, the project will also look at the role played by the BBC’s propaganda and will question whether the referendum represent a moment of adjusting and amending to the new international scenario.
In discontinuity with previous ‘plebiscites’ (held during both the Monarchic and Fascist periods), the Republic referendum was the instrument that brought to an end the transition towards the Italian democracy and, most important, legitimized the ‘new Italy’ in the international context. The dissolution of the Italy’s institutional ‘dilemma’ took place alongside the confrontation between small and large political formations and political parties now allowed to compete in a free general election, which captured the ‘tension’ between a national project vis-à-vis an international context in fast transformation, and the representation of different identities and political cultures. Within this democratic transition, different narratives of the past (national and local) and diverse cultural memories (collective and individual) animated the ‘public discourse’ marking the various post-war ‘political Italian identities’ that will found the Republic and navigate outside the national borders, articulating a distinctive idea of Italian character and polity.
Historiography has reconsidered only partially this turning point and its international value. If, the work of the Constituent Assembly by enshrining the anti-fascist culture represented the premise for the republican democracy, questioning and unfolding the reception of the referendum debate and results outside the national context could help us to enlighten its plural and complex meanings and trajectory. This project will intend to do so through the investigation of the case study of the British reception. By analysing the relationship between Italy’s referendum discourse and path, and its reception in a former occupier, this project also aims at questioning the British transitional phase and its adjusting, although completely differently, towards a peace time.