Vittorio Emanuele Orlando

Vittorio Emanuele Orlando

[awr-lan-doh; also, for 1, It. awr-lahn-daw]
Orlando, Vittorio Emanuele, 1860-1952, Italian statesman and jurist. He held several cabinet posts from 1903 to 1917 and was premier from 1917 to 1919. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he demanded the fulfillment of the secret Treaty of London of 1915, by which the Allies had promised Italy ample territorial compensation in Dalmatia for its entry into World War I. Meeting stubborn opposition from Woodrow Wilson and failing to secure British or French support, he dramatically left the conference in Apr., 1919, but returned in May. Even then no solution satisfactory to Italy was found; Orlando resigned and was succeeded as premier by Francesco Nitti. Opposing Fascism, Orlando gave up (1925) his seat in parliament and devoted himself to teaching and writing.
Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (May 19 1860 - December 1 1952) was an Italian diplomat and political figure. He was born in Palermo, Sicily. His father, a landed gentleman, delayed venturing out to register his son's birth for fear of Giuseppe Garibaldi's 1,000 patriots who had just stormed into Sicily on the first leg of their march to build an Italian nation.

In 1897 he was elected in the Italian Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) for the district of Partinico for which he was constantly reelected until 1925. He aligned himself with Giovanni Giolitti, who was Prime Minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921.

Aside from his prominent political role Orlando is also known for his writings, over a hundred works, on legal and judicial issues; Orlando was himself a professor of law.

Minister and Prime Minister

A liberal, Orlando served in various roles as a minister. In 1903 he served as Minister of Education under Prime Minister Giolitti. In 1907 he was appointed Minister of Justice, a role he retained until 1909. He was re-appointed to the same ministry in November 1914 in the government of Antonio Salandra until his appointment as Minister of the Interior in June 1916 under Paolo Boselli. After the Italian military disaster in World War I at Caporetto on October 25, 1917, which led to the fall of the Boselli government, Orlando became Prime Minister, and continued in that role through the rest of the war. He had been a strong supporter of Italy's entry in the war. Orlando was encouraged in his support of the Allies because of secret promises made by the latter promising significant Italian territorial gains in Dalmatia (at the 1915 London Pact).

The Italians later won the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in November 1918, a feat that coincided with the collapse of Austro-Hungarian Army and the end on the First World War on the Italian Front, as well as the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The fact that Italy recovered and ended up on the winning side in 1918 earned for Orlando the title "Premier of Victory."

Paris Peace Conference 1919

Although, as prime minister, he was the head of the Italian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Orlando's inability to speak English and his weak political position at home allowed the conservative foreign minister, the half-Welsh Sidney Sonnino, to play a dominant role.

Their differences proved to be disastrous during the negotiations. Orlando was prepared to renounce territorial claims for Dalmatia to annex Rijeka (or Fiume as the Italians called the town) - the principal seaport on the Adriatic Sea - while Sonnino was not prepared to give up Dalmatia. Italy ended up claiming both and got none, running up against U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's policy of national self-determination.

Orlando dramatically left the conference early in April 1919, returning only to reluctantly sign the resultant Treaty of Versailles the following month. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau dubbed him "The Weeper," and Orlando himself recalled proudly: "When ... I knew they would not give us what we were entitled to ... I writhed on the floor. I knocked my head against the wall. I cried. I wanted to die."

His political position was seriously undermined by his failure to secure Italian interests at the Paris Peace Conference. Orlando resigned on 23 June 1919, following his inability to acquire Fiume for Italy in the peace settlement. In December 1919 he was elected president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, but never again served as prime minister.

Supporting Mussolini

When Benito Mussolini seized power in 1922, Orlando initially supported him, but broke with Il Duce over the murder of Giacomo Matteotti in 1924. After that he abandoned politics, in 1925 he resigned from the Chamber of Deputies, until in 1935 Mussolini's march into Ethiopia stirred Orlando's nationalism. He reappeared briefly in the political spotlight when he wrote Mussolini a fan letter.

In 1944, he made something of a political comeback. With the fall of Mussolini, Orlando became leader of the Conservative Democratic Union. He was elected speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, where he served until 1946. In 1946, he was elected to the Constituent Assembly of Italy. In 1948 he was nominated senator for life, and was a candidate for the presidency of the republic (elected by Parliament) but was defeated by Luigi Einaudi. He died in 1952 in Rome.

Links with the Mafia

Orlando was connected to the Mafia and mafiosi from beginning to end of his long parliamentary career. The Mafia pentito – a state witness – Tommaso Buscetta claimed that Orlando actually was a member of the Mafia, a man of honour, himself. In Partinico he was supported by the Mafia boss Frank Coppola who had been deported by back to Italy from the US.

In 1925, Orlando stated in the Italian senate that he was proud of being mafioso:

“if by the word 'mafia' we understand a sense of honour pitched in the highest key; a refusal to tolerate anyone’s prominence or overbearing behaviour; … a generosity of spirit which, while it meets strength head on, is indulgent to the weak; loyalty to friends … If such feelings and such behaviour are what people mean by 'the mafia', … then we are actually speaking of the special characteristics of the Sicilian soul: and I declare that I am a mafioso, and proud to be one.”


  • Arlacchi, Pino (1988). Mafia Business. The Mafia Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-285197-7
  • Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet ISBN 0-340-82435-2
  • Servadio, Gaia (1976). Mafioso. A history of the Mafia from its origins to the present day, London: Secker & Warburg ISBN 0440551048

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