Mussolini and the Nobel Peace Prize

By Asle Sveen
Treaty of Locarno

The peace negotiations in Versailles after WWI ended with the humiliation of the defeated Germany. At the same time, Italy, one of the victors, was dissatisfied because the country was not given as much of the spoils of war as expected when the Italians joined the war on the allied side. In the early 1920s there were frustration, a longing for revenge and fear of a communist revolution in both countries. In 1922, Benito Mussolini, the leader of the fascist party, seized power through a march to Rome with his black shirts. Meanwhile Germany was more and more humiliated. In 1923 French troops occupied the industrial areas in the western part of the country to force the Germans to pay war reparations. At the same time a destructive inflation wiped out the savings of ordinary people. Bitterness against the victors increased in Germany. In the autumn 1923 Adolf Hitler tried to copy Mussolini by a march to Berlin, but his coup failed.

The allied powers understood that something had to be done to prevent a new war of revenge between the arch enemies France and Germany. In 1924 Germany got better terms for the war reparations and access to American loans through a plan headed by U.S vice president Charles Dawes. The next year the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Great Britain and Mussolini from Italy met in the Swiss city of Locarno. An agreement was reached where Germany recognized her borders with France and Belgium. In return the occupying forces were withdrawn and Germany was allowed to join the League of Nations. Great Britain and Italy guarantied this agreement. (1) This act of reconciliation was in 1926 awarded with the Peace Prize for 1925 to Charles Dawes and the British foreign minister Austen Chamberlain, and the prize for 1926 to the foreign ministers of France and Germany, Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann.

Stresemann, Chamberlain and Briand at the Locarno conference 1925. Photo. Bundesarchiv. Wikimedia Commons

Mussolini wanted the Peace Prize

After the announcement of these prizes in December 1926, the Italian ambassador in Norway paid a visit to Fredrik Stang, the chairman of the Nobel Committee. He told Stang that he already had met with the Norwegian prime-and foreign minister Ivar Lykke to protest against the fact that Mussolini had not been awarded the Peace Prize. According to Stang´s diary Stang supposed that Lykke had advised the ambassador to take his complaint to him (probably because Lykke had explained that the Nobel Committee was independent of Norwegian authorities). (2) The ambassador told Stang that Mussolini had represented Italy in Locarno. He claimed that there had been no agreement without Mussolini and that the omission of a Peace Prize to him had to be perceived "as an act of unfriendliness towards Italy and Mussolini." (3)

According to Stang´s diary he answered that the Peace Prize could not be awarded to more than four people. The ambassador then wanted to write down what was said between Stang and him, and when Stang refused, the ambassador threatened Stang by saying that he intended to report him to the Norwegian government. Stang answered that he was free to do that, and in addition told that the Nobel Committee "never tells motives for our awards. I also reminded him that in Locarno not only France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy were represented, but also Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The ambassador answered that Italy was a bigger power than these countries, whereas I said that we did not take that into consideration." (4) Stang then made the following remark in his diary: "So: Mussolini expected to be awarded the Peace Prize." (5)

It is obvious that neither Mussolini nor his ambassador understood that a Nobel Peace Prize to a brand new dictator was unlikely - and besides that: nobody had nominated Mussolini.

Mussolini making a speech in Milan in 1930. Photo: Bundesarchiv. Wikimedia Commons.
The nomination of Mussolini in 1935

Nine years later however, in 1935, Mussolini was nominated for the Peace Prize by German professors from the faculty of law at the University of Giessen and by professor Gilbert Gidel by faculté de droit in Paris.(6) What made them nominate Mussolini? We do not know! Their written nominations are not to be found in the Nobel Institute archives. A possible explanation for the nomination could be that Mussolini´s Italy in the early 1930s stood out as a history of success. For instance the newly elected president of the USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke about Mussolini in positive terms. (7) Mussolini had made a reconciliation agreement with the Pope and he had gotten the Italian economy in good shape. Italian sportsmen had success and the dramatist and fan of Mussolini, Luigi Pirandello, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934.

But again the Nobel Committee was not impressed. Mussolini was not put on the short list and therefore no adviser wrote a report on him. In 1935 many later peace prize winners were nominated, among them Lord Cecil (1937), Carlos Saavedra Lamas (1936), Albert Schweitzer (1952) and foremost Carl von Ossietzky (the prize for 1935 in 1936). In the diary of the newly appointed Norwegian foreign minister and member of the Nobel Committee, Halvdan Koht, Mussolini is not mentioned among the candidates discussed in the debate about a possible prize winner that year. The disagreement in the committee was so great that they decided not to award a peace prize for 1935. (8) In October the same year Mussolini started the invasion of Ethiopia and made himself impossible as a Peace Prize candidate for the future.

Italian soldiers during the invasion of Ethiopia. Photo: Collezione cartoline Albertomos. Wikimedia Commons.

Notes

1 The Nobel Institute. Adviser reports on the Nobel Peace Prize 1926. Mussolini is not mentioned as an important person in any of the reports written on the four peace prize winners that year.

2 The National Library, Oslo. Fredrik Stang´s diary December 12 1926.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 The Nobel Institute. Adviser reports on the Nobel Peace Prize 1935 page 11.

7 http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/hitler-mussolini-roosevelt

8 The Nobel Institute. Halvdan Koht´s diary. Report from the Nobel Committee November 18 1935. According to Koht Christian Lous Lange wanted to award the peace prize to Lord Cecil, Bernhard Hanssen to Lamas and the Brasilian foreign minister de Mello Franco, while Koht himself wanted to award the international association of historians (Comité international des sciences historiques)

The chairman Fredrik Stang and Johan Ludwig Mowinckel did not want to award a prize that year, and that became the conclusion.