The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Italy and Europe

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by Francesca Leone

On March 6th, 2014, the Biblioteca di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome hosted a presentation of the book Il Patto Ribbentrop-Molotov: L’Italia e l’Europa (1939-1940). The book originated from the contributions to the May-June 2012 conference hosted by the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs. The volume was co-edited by Alberto Basciani, Antonio Macchia and Valentina Sommella.

The book presentation featured Elena Aga Rossi, Italian professor and historiographer; Marta Herling, Secretary General of the Istituto Italiano di Studi Storici; and co-editors Valentina Sommella and Lucio Caracciolo, editor-in-chief of the well-known journal of geopolitics Limes.

Caracciolo opened the presentation by praising the contributors of the book for their interesting analysis of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the editors of the volume for their cohesive account of the conference.

Professor Aga Rossi then pointed out how the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact deeply influenced the subsequent European situation. Rossi then focused on the misleading title of the pact. Originally labeled “the non-aggression” pact, she stated that, “it was, by all means, an aggression pact.” The label, however, has promoted a historic misinterpretation that lasted for the entire USSR era. “The USSR has denied the existence of secret protocols that were, in fact, published in 1948, but considered false,” Rossi argued.

Communist countries had the hardest time accepting the consequences of the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact, even after the collapse of the USSR. In Italy, an actual misinformation process took place in which the Polish partition and the Katyn massacres were disregarded by official historic accounts and high school textbooks. Rossi explained that the misinformation surrounding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact continues today and emphasized that the volume is an incredible achievement precisely for this reason.

Upon concluding her speech, professor Aga Rossi passed the floor to Marta Herling. Herling, daughter of the Polish author and Gulag survivor Gustaw Herling-Grudziski and grandaughter of the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, focused on the Polish position within the framework of the pact. Herling quoted Sandra Cavallucci’s essay on how Poland was incapable of negotiating with the USSR and had the sole choice of opposing the superpower.

On the same subject, Herling also referenced Marek Kornat’s analysis on the consequences of the Polish “double invasion.” Herling then dedicated the second part of her speech to professor Federigo Argentieri’s essay, “Testimoni e storici del patto Hitler-Stalin,” which partially dealt with her father’s story. She recounted his difficult journey from Poland to Naples, Italy, the obstacles he faced in publishing his memoir, and the ideological clash with the Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi.

At the end of Herling’s speech, the audience posed some questions to the speakers. The meeting was closed by Valentina Sommella, who thanked the speakers, the authors and editors of the volume, and the organizers of the meeting. Before concluding, Sommella briefly echoed Aga Rossi’s arguments and stressed the importance of the Partito Comunista Italiano in forging the Italian interpretation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.