(Written by Arundel del Re, taken from the review “The New Age: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature and Art”, 1915.)
Sir, — It was, I believe, an English diplomat who once said, "First comes a fib, then a lie, and lastly Austrian statistics." The Imperial Royal Government has, however, set great store by this branch of statesmanship, and has used it to blind its anti-national policy in Bosnia, as also in Trieste and Dalmatia.
As I have said in this paper on another occasion, Dalmatia is Italian historically as well as racially and culturally. So late as Campoformio, Napoleon, while robbing Venice of her liberty, for strategic and political reasons incorporated Istria and Dalmatia into the newly formed kingdom of Italy. The tradition is clear and unassailable, from whatever point of view one may look at it.
Dalmatia was first conquered by Rome in the second century B.C., so as to free the Adriatic from the Illyrian pirates who occupied it, and were called respectively Dalmatians in the north and Liburnians in the south. These Illyrians had nothing whatsoever to do with the Slavs, and had been completely absorbed by Latinity when the Slavs broke into Dalmatia in the seventh century A.D. This invasion pushed the native population to the coast and the islands, where they definitely settled as Latin municipia under the nominal suzerainty of Byzantium, the successor of Rome in the Adriatic, until its place was later taken by the Republic of Venice. About the eleventh century, Doge Pietro Orseolo II conquered the whole of the coast-line as far as Le Bocche di Cattaro, with the exception of the territory of the Republic of Ragusa, to protect the Adriatic from the pirates of the Narenta. In 1409 Venice acquired all the rights that Ladislaus of Naples and King of Hungary claimed over Dalmatia.
During the whole of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the dealings between Hungary and Serbia and Dalmatia were of a friendly nature, the cities of the latter being considered as equals and sovereign States. The collection of statutes and ordinances were either written in Latin or translated into Italian, and were essentially Roman in character. These covered a period of 500 years (until 1808). One case alone has been found of a statute translated into the Serbian language and bearing traces of Serbian law. This is that of the little mountain Republic of Poglizza, where many Serbs and Croatians fled during the Turkish invasion. Each and every detail of the life, the language, the customs, the place-names, the religion, and the arts of Dalmatia, as well as its people, prove it to be Latin and Italian, just as are the cities and the people on the other side of the Adriatic. There are many, however, who will question this statement as not being true at the present, though it may have been in the past. Dalmatia, they say, is Serbian; the Italians are in a great minority. Furthermore, Serbia and Croatia need an outlet. As to the latter argument, Italy does not make any objection. It is a case for mutual understanding and goodwill. (...)
Since the defeat of Sadowa and other unfortunate Western ventures, Austria determined at all costs to force her way eastward towards Salonika. An immediate result of this Drang nach Osten policy was the Croatisation and the Slavicisation of Dalmatia. It commenced by attempting to awake a national spirit among the Croatians and Slavs at the expense of the Italians, and in order to accomplish this it started, among other things, to prove the Slavic character and origin of Dalmatia by misreading and even deliberately misinterpreting the documents and remains in the archives. It attempted further to Slavicise Italian culture by assuming that Dalmatian poets and writers of the Renaissance, such as Flora Zuzzeri (Zuzzerich), Giovanni Gondola (Gundulich), who happened to have translated several Italian classics into Croatian, were ipso facto not Italian but Croatians, and accordingly modified their names. Had they lived to-day, they would doubtlessly have been counted as Croatians in the census of Dalmatia. I know personally of cases in which families who are wholly Italian even in name, and violently anti-Austrian to wit, but who happen to occupy important Government posts, are put down as Croatians or Serbs. It is frequent in Dalmatia to find families of Italian parents whose children are put down as Croatians or Serbs.
The official statistics of 1910, duly tampered with by the Croatian communes of Dalmatia, gave only 20,000 Italian inhabitants, while the Italians in reality amount at least to 60,000. In support of this statement Prof. Dudan points out that during the last general election (1911) with universal suffrage, the Italian candidates in the eleven electoral districts received 6,000 votes. The percentage of voters was 50 per cent., so that the voters may roughly be taken to be 12,000. As in Austria each voter under universal suffrage is calculated as representing five inhabitants (women, children, and men up to 24 years of age), the total of Italian inhabitants would amount to 60,000. Another striking instance of Austrian malpractice is given by the Island of Lesina. In 1880 it had 314 Italian inhabitants per 1,000. Ten years later the whole island had only 27 Italians left, and this without any epidemic or sudden emigration. Now as to actual figures. The total population of Dalmatia is 600,000 inhabitants. Of these, 400,000 are totally uncivilised, and live in the Carsus and the Dinaric Alps, and take no part in the life of the country; 100,000 are mixed Slav and Italian in equal degree. As regards the remainder, 60,000 are pure Italian and 40,000 pure Slavs and Croatians. So much for the validity of this argument.
There is, however, another and directer way of ousting the Italians from Dalmatia: the forced importation of Serbs and Croatians from the countryside. In connection with this, it may be interesting to observe that until 50 years ago the Italian coast-dwellers and the inland agricultural Slav population were very friendly, neither infringing the other's domains. Austrian domination, however, has modified these conditions. It has sought by every means to sow dissension and to awaken racial antagonism. This policy is in itself one of the best proofs of the purely Italian character of Dalmatia. As in Bosnia-Herzegovina since Austrian annexation, so here the Catholic Church, subsidised by the Government, has been a powerful ally in the work of denationalisation. But whereas in Bosnia it tried to destroy the Orthodox Church and so strike at the heart of the Serbian race, in Dalmatia it has been used to create a schism in the Church. Until very recently the parish priests and the bishops were Italians; few of the Slav population were sufficiently cultured to enter the priesthood, hence in some parishes the Latin language was replaced by special dispensation by the native dialect (Glagolitic). At present, wherever a vacancy occurs, it is filled by Slavs and Croatians who are anti-Italian and have gone so far as to refuse baptism and burial in consecrated ground to Italian Catholics. They have also disregarded the papal decrees limiting the use of Glagolitic to those churches where the custom has prevailed for over ten years.
The same policy has been adopted with regard to the administrative side of Dalmatian life. Until 1883 the whole local government was managed by Italians. Intellectually and economically superior — the agricultural population around the towns and inland had no culture to speak of, and what they had, as in the case of Bosnia, was Latin and Italian — Italian civilisation absorbed any element that came into contact with it; Italian money endowed schools and commercial enterprises; Italian, too, were the ideals and aspirations of the people to whom the Adriatic was, and is, not a barrier but a link. The life of the coast towns of the peninsula and Venice is in constant and immediate touch with those on the coast of Dalmatia. The boundaries of Italy lie across this, that might be compared to an Italian lake, in the Dinaric Alps and the Carsus. Nor is it a physical and technical frontier, but a natural one. Without Dalmatia, the whole coast-line from the Po to the Cape Sta Maria di Leuca lies open to the Power that happens to control the Adriatic.
Since 1883 the Slav invasion, stimulated and aided by Austria, has slowly been making headway. In that year the comune of Spalato, the largest town in Dalmatia, through incredible electioneering fraud and actual violence — during the elections the city was placed under martial law, Italian voters were arrested so as to prevent them voting, or their votes annulled — fell into Croatian hands. The same thing occurred in other important towns. Not only according to law, the official language was Italian, Serb or Croatian being only allowed for external purposes, but any foreigner wishing to settle in the Dalmatian towns had to learn it in order to be admitted into polite society or to trade with the Italians. In 1912 this law was revoked by a ministerial decree (sic)! This work of forced Croatisation has been further helped through the establishment of numerous Croatian schools in which the Italian language is not taught or spoken, while, on the other hand, the Government has suppressed and as far as possible prohibited Italian schools, even though self-supporting. Thus on all sides Austria is carrying on her intensive campaign of denationalisation in Dalmatia, imposing violently a new, forced, and unnatural Slav civilisation. Italy has no desire to prevent or to hinder the natural expansion of the Croatians or the Serbs, but can no longer stand by and watch a part of her people being strangled inch by inch by an artificial force which under the cloak of nationalism violates the elementary principles of the rights of nationality.