The austrian-venetian police in the first 1800's

After winning back the provinces of the Veneto, Vienna wanted to re-present the smooth Theresian administration so as to give a nearly good-natured image, not that of a purge. The recent impulses of the liberal-national movements, increasingly demanding for political autonomy and intolerant towards the bureaucratic centralism of the Hapsburg sharpened the political contrasts:

therefore the reactionary governments, and in particular the Viennese one, were urged to a strict closing against autonomies.

The political events of those years, (France was set on fire in July 1930) induced the Austrian Emperor to revise his previous policy of compromise with the local identities and to apply a tighter control over the periphery; The proliferation of carbonari and liberal movements, especially in the Due Sicilie Kingdom where they were led by Guglielmo Pepe; The uprising of Alexandria and the arrest of Silvio Pellico, Pietro Maroncelli and Federico Gonfalonieri, did not help to clear up the situation in Italy.

These events forced the governments of the westem coalitions to re-propose the Holy Alliance in the Münchengrätz and Teplitz.

The baptism of fire took place in Italy with the repression of the revolutionary attempt of Ciro Menotti, in the Duchies and of the following risings (rebellions) in Emilia and in Romagna;

moreover the situation in the European zone did not reassure Vienna because of the occupation of the Ancona port following a French sudden attack, emphasizing the already being carried out neo-absolutist centralization process of the Austrian government.

In order to achieve a better accomplishment of this new policy, the Austrian government needed an effective arm, (embodied) by the police, that therefore became the “longa manus” of the central policy.

The political term under which the various features of crime converged including a variety of common ones as provided in the 2° part of the Penal Code, such as serious political and police infringement, was the central core of this work.

I have tried to follow the development of the forces acting in Veneto and the activity of the police direction, and of the higher commissariats set in every province.

With the due differences the Commissariats activity appears similar to that carried out by modern Questure and the activity carried out and by the Direzione Generale similar to the “Dipartimento della pubblica sicurezza, set up by Viminale, in Italy.

If after about 200 years, the history of the Italian provinces of the Hapsburgic Empire is far from being explored, the history of the political institutions of that period among which the police is prominent, is equally unknown.

The fact that the Austrian government in the Lombardo-Veneto is mainly remembered for its image of police interference is not, however, only due to the weight of the risorgimental rhetoric, but tokes roots in the very structure of the system of powers led by Vienna.

More than an oppression of the centre on the periphery the result was the feeling of a gap in the political power in which the police easily intruded and succeeded in mastering the situation.

Therefore the general thought was: the police is the one that actually reigns on all the other offices of the Venetian provinces.

Although it was subject for its hierarchical order to two governments the police had absolute power on persons and especially on all the staff.

Contrary to all expectations, the bureaucratic link between Austria and Lombardo-Veneto was weak both from the former to the latter and vice versa;

consequently, although the bond between Vienna and its provinces was solid, it was not modern and various enough.

The bureaucratic centralization caused the untimely enterprise which wrapped the regional governments into a halo of impotence:

it is easily understandable how for most people in Lombardo-Veneto, the Austrian governments was identified with the police.

The police, was lined up with the political-administrative hierarchy, but independent from the latter and equipped with much greater discretionary powers;

it was the only structure that the citizens saw acting promptly and without hesitation which meant real independence from the centre.

The police, which could act more independently than the other statal apparatuses, gave the impression that the Lombardo-Veneto was neither governed nor administered but only repressed; it was the main tool of the Emperor’s paternal watch and it did not behave differently from the other Italian polices.

We could on the contrary sustain that the Italian police was better than the European polices as it at least adopted a minimum formal correctness that, on the other hand, was completely unrepeated in other countries, suck as the papal States.

Francesco I and Ferdinando’s true obsession of politicizing the civil society was the only reason why the police reports became the major source of information on the general situation of the Empire.

A Police Chief was, inside the new geometry of power, much more esteemed than a government councelor or a delegate in a province (except the general director of the police).

This was a true overturning of the roles in comparison with the typical hierarchy of powers in Napoleon’s age;

the police had become the main tool of the administration, which aimed at identifying itself with the executive, failing to support the judicial organization with should have been its original role.

The ones who complained for the way the police power expessed itself, but not for its existence, were the same officers who had prominence in the Napoleon’s police, Mulazzani in Venice and Guicciardi in Milan.

Another aspect to be considered is the territorial origin of the managing group as in the police apparatus there was a substantial presence of non-local staff differently from what happened in the political-administrative one.

To hold the office of a Police Chief were mostly bilingual people coming from Trentino and even some judges in charge of delicate political investigations, such as Paride Zajotti and Antonio Salvotti who were coming from Trentino, too.

The whole pamphlet literature of the Restoration, is full of sarcasm and taunts towards the police officers and the Trentine judges: all of them ended by embodying at the Napoleonic matrix’ officers’ eyes the tangible symbol of a power which was at a higher level than theirs.

If at a political level the police was an oppressive institution (although it executed the emperor’s orders), in its ordinary relationships the police was aiming at defending the rights of the common people from the vexation of the local authorities.

The purpose was clearly to undermine the authority of the district Police Chiefs, provincial delegates and the "Satellizio", as these institutions, especially for their social composition, tended to defend the interests of the wealthier classes of the population:

in particular the Satellizio, supplied a continuity with the past and effected a control of the territory balancing the powers of the control government and local authorities.

Playing a leading role (because of its consolidated informative and investigative structure) it had developed at the same time autonomy and a power which decreased only with its bureaucratizing and its turning into the Police Civil Guard.

Owing to the 1829 Rule a deep change come to pass: instead of being a structure inserted in the territory, but often in secret and close collaboration with the local interests it became a means of the Government’s control thanks to the stricter hierarchization and bureaucratization.

It was the policy of "divide et impera" which was part of the ideological background of the Viennese hierarchy and came to its completion in the ‘30s of the 19th century.

This policy caused the slow failing of the balance between local and central powers (peculiar to the early Austrian domination).

The neo-absolutism of the ‘30s was highlighted by the increasing of the Guard of military police at the Satellizio’s, expense:

the military police was dislocated in every province of the Veneto Kingdom, carrying out the complete militarization of the territory.

Therefore this body insinuated itself in every province: both its marked dependence on the military organ and its being composed by conscripts, turned into an istitution of strong repression impairing the already-established balance between local power and Satellizio.

The political choice to centralize the power was caused by particular circumstances although they clashed with the decisions taken in the early rule of the Emperor, that is, the maintenance of the local institutions.

These general lines were mainly dictated by patriotism, that modern national feeling which, arisen from the French Revolution, became one of the most formidable political powers of the XX century.

Therefore the aim was creating a national sovereign State, through the principle of self-determination, a concept without a univocal definition and which presupposed the development of postulates such as the sovereignty of the people, freedom and a romantic view of the people.

The exasperated worship of the national values, fostered the growth of the longing for power, chauvinism, which, while kindling a feeling of superiority towards those peoples and nationalities they considered lower, squeezed the Empire between France and the growing German Confederation.

The proclamation of Louis Philip I as king of the French and the following supremacy of the middle class in the kingdom were the main factors which led the Viennese monarchy towards the worsening of the relationships with the periphery.

Both historicism and idealism led to the development of nationalism, which in a moment of bureaucratic centralization intended to break the supranational Hapsburgic statal structure.

It must be said that the political class of Veneto proved to be unable to impose its course of action and therefore to stem this neo-absolutist development.

Yet during the meeting of COHC ( Central-Organisierungs Hof Commission) the veneti were divided and therefore the institutional structure (similar to the pre-revolutionary one) the Emperor would have liked could not be fulfilled.

As far as the regulations are concerned, a meaningful element was the one seen when the Piedmontese code was imposed in Lombardy: the forensic class openly condemned it thinking it was lower to the Austrian one both for the precepts and the penalties.

At any rate, in addition to the merely polical element of the debate on the Risorgimento we must admit the formal lawfulness introduced by the Austrian penal and adjective law, which, notwithstanding its hardness and repression, tried to abide by the minimum guarantee provided by the law.

In September 1843, Cattanei, the General Director of Venice police, in his monthly report to the Government wrote that "in comparison to the troubles occurring in the other European Countries we enjoy peacefulness under the Austrian domination, these citizens are happy in relation to those in other kingdoms therefore we can infer which and now much is the wise care of our Cabinet".

Few years later his words were crushingly denied by Daniel Manin and Niccolò Tommaseo who in March 1848 took possession of the power, setting up the San Marco Republic and placed count Giovanni Correr at the head of the Municipal Police.

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