(Written by Antonio Cippico, taken from “The Fortnightly Review”, Volume 104, 1915.)
(...) Some, very few happily, have dared to express the opinion even in this country that Italy’s intervention, belated and undesirable, was due to sheer imperialistic motives. Never a statement has carried within itself such an evident contradiction. If Italy had really been moved by selfish and grasping reasons, her neutrality, openly declared at the beginning of August, would have been offered to the highest bidder; and Italy would have spared herself all the ghastly miseries and uncertainties of war. A French writer said, with reason, that by her present intervention Italy could hardly do more for the cause of justice and civilisation than what she had done already by her declaration of neutrality, which saved not only Paris but the whole of Europe.
The reasons of Italy’s neutrality as well as the reasons of her present intervention spring from the same source. Never has a source been purer, and never a neutrality and a war have been inspired by loftier aspirations and interests, than those which have guided the Italian Government and are guiding now the fortunes of the Italian Army and Navy towards the Alps and the sea, towards the barriers that nature and history have given her. The German and Austrian statesmen, as well as the very few mischief-makers who are trying new to misinterpret Italy's aims and ideals, are denouncing her as the violator of the principle of nationality upon which her first Risorgimento was based, just because she wishes to liberate those of her children who are now under Austrian tyrannic rule. “The constant policy of Austria has aimed for many years at the destruction of Italian nationality and civilisation along the Adriatic coast.” These words by Baron Sonnino, the Italian Foreign Minister, are from the circular despatch sent on May 23rd to the representatives of Italy abroad. Very seldom a war has been declared upon a clearer and graver indictment. This is supported in the official document by a short quotation of facts and tendencies which ought already to be well known to the whole world, and which ought to be seriously meditated upon by German statesmen and Pan-Slav agents all over Europe.
“The progressive replacing,” wrote Baron Sonnino, “of officials of Italian race by officials of other nationality, and the artificial immigration of hundreds of families of other nationalities, which have taken place at Trieste, the decrees aiming at exclusion from the town of Trieste and the industries exploited by the town of Italian employees, the denationalisation of the principal services of the town of Trieste and the diminution of municipal powers; the obstacles of all sorts placed in the way of the institution of new national schools; the denationalisation of the judicial administration; the question of a university which formed the subject of diplomatic negotiations; and the denationalisation of shipping companies, were preparing intensively policies tending to favour another nationality to the detriment of the Italians. The unjustified and constantly increasing methodical expulsion of Italian subjects and the constant policy of Austria towards her Italian populations were not solely due to internal reasons or reasons connected with the different nationalities struggling in the monarchy. It, on the contrary, appeared to be largely inspired by a strong sentiment of hostility and hatred towards Italy which prevailed in some circles close to the Austrian Government, and had a determining influence upon its decisions.”
This constant policy of “the destruction of Italian nationality and civilisation along the Adriatic coasts,” so solemnly stated by the Italian Consults, although being the gravest point of accusation in the long list of grievances against her hereditary foe, Austria, for which Italy is now waging her war, has been frequently, and sometimes even intentionally, overlooked by some overzealous champions of the boundless aspirations of minor nationalities, which in their past, and especially in the present, history have not always revealed themselves as the too scrupulous champions of the principle of nationality.
The disclosures of the official Green Book ought to have cleared up any possible uncertainties or misconstructions as to Italy’s motives and as to the highmindedness that has once more inspired Italian statesmanship.
Italy has never once, through all the thirty-two years of her alliance with the Central Empires, swerved from the path of duty and faith towards her obligations. Nor was this limited to an adherence to the letter of the Triple Alliance. It carried out the spirit with which it was formed, namely, the preservation of the peace and of the political equilibrium of Europe, and she has carried out her mission by firmness and moderation, by a firmness which has not been shaken even in the face of the most painful sacrifices.
These “most painful sacrifices” to which Italy has submitted herself for nearly fifty years of her recent history ought not to be lost sight of. The reasons of the present Italian war, as well as the open affirmation of the Italian aspirations and rights, are deeply rooted in those “sacrifices” of the new and not yet completed nation, as well as in the long and indescribable sufferings of the Italians of the eastern shore of the Adriatic—and more especially of the Italians of Dalmatia—through the iniquitous denationalising policy pursued by Austria.
Of all the problems which had been left unsolved by the unification of the country in 1870, and especially those concerning its present unnatural and most dangerous frontiers on the Alps and across the Adriatic (frontiers imposed upon Italy by Austria after her cession of Lombardy and Venetia, in 1859 and 1866), the historical problem of the Adriatic has proved to be the most deeply felt by the whole nation. After having submitted with resignation to the yoke of the Triple Alliance, which through its intimate combination of Berlin with Vienna has always appeared to the eyes of some of us as the continuation of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire, the Italians felt that the time had come to settle it once and for all by restoring Italy’s position in that narrow sea which had been hers for twenty centuries until Campoformio (1797), or even until July, 1866, when Italy's fleet was beaten by Tegethoff at Lissa, and the Austrians, in order to exclude Italy from her sea and Russia from the Balkans, had begun to denationalise Dalmatia and Istria by pursuing their policy of oppressing Italians in favour of the Croatians. Real Croatians, Croatians of Croatia, having been the strenuous supporters of Austria and of the Hapsburg dynasty in 1848 against the Hungarian struggle for national independence, have bitterly felt in the last decades what racial oppression meant. Their brethren or cousins, however, the Croatians of Dalmatia, faithful and blind tools of Austrian dynastic policy of the denationalisation of the Adriatic, have made Italians of the eastern coast of that sea feel what national hatred and tyranny meant. Without the unfortunate result of the battle of Lissa, without the Austrian defeat of Sadowa, Austrian policy of the Drang nach Osten, as the unconscious forerunner of Germany towards Salonika and the Aegean Sea, would have never probably tempted the shrewd and far-reaching mind of Bismarck. And as the national existence of the Italians of Dalmatia and Istria has most bitterly been tried in consequence of Lissa and of the still unaccomplished unity of Italy, the relations between Italians and Slavs on those Adriatic shores—where there have always been two nationalities and two languages at least since the seventh century, and where the Latin and Italian element is the sole and autochthonous element of the country and of the country’s history, civilisation, and art—would have probably continued to be the most cordial and close, as they have always been throughout the past centuries. Without Austria’s venomous policy of the divide et impera, the Slavs, we are sure, will prove loyal and friendly in the future, as they have always proved before Austrian interference, towards the Italian natives of those shores, who have—even if they are, as in Dalmatia, for instance, a minority—national rights as well as the Slavs.
But Austria, after Koniggraetz, had turned her attention from the north to the south and the east. Prussia and the Hohenzollerns, having barred her influence for ever in her former provinces, Austria with her Hapsburg dynasty began to pursue the Drang nach Osten policy. This policy meant the total exclusion of Italy from her historic sea; but it meant especially the violent denationalisation of Dalmatia, of Fiume, of Istria, and of Trieste. Croatians and Slovenes, the people loyal to Hapsburg and to the Catholicism, had to become under Austrian rule the new masters of the Italian Sea. An Austrian emissary, the Baron von Pfluck, was sent from Vienna to Dalmatia in 1870 in order to start the new order of things planned by Vienna. The Italian majority of the Dalmatian representatives in the Viennese Parliament and in the Diet of Zara was upset from one day to the other. All the Italian municipalities fell into the hands of the Croatians. All the Italian schools (and this was the biggest crime) were unscrupulously suppressed from one day to the other. Only Zara was allowed to keep one; and this is the only reason, perhaps, why Zara, my native town, has been able to remain, notwithstanding her many Slav schools, the most Italian of all the Italian towns.
With the abolition of all the political rights of the Italians, with the suppression of all the Italian schools, with the total elimination of the Italian language, which was the official one till only three years ago, from all the offices, it is not surprising if Austria’s statistics of the population in Dalmatia and in Istria have dared to reduce the figures of the Italians to an extraordinarily low percentage. The Austrian statistical lies, ad usum Croatorium, however, have not only been accepted without reserve by the few jealous authorities on the Jugo-Slav question in this country, but have been very carefully exaggerated in order to impress more deeply the British public opinion.
Statistics and census, however, count very little if manipulated by notorious forgers of the truth, as is the case with the Austrian officials. They count even less in countries in which, like Dalmatia and Istria, every sign of civilisation belongs to the autochthonous population of the very narrow coast between the sea and the Dinaric Alps, in countries in which the Italian language and the Venetian dialect are nearly exclusively spoken in every civilised family, even in those belonging to the most fanatic haters of Italians, in countries in which the powerful resistance of the martyred Italians of those provinces is clearly proving to-day to the whole world that Austrian mission of hatred and tyranny has finished for ever, if Italy be victorious, in the Adriatic.
Men of every party in Italy are resolved to-day therefore that Italy’s national, geographical, and strategical unity should finally be accomplished. Without restoring her position in Dalmatia and Istria, it is universally felt Italy would perpetuate her present conditions of unrest and insecurity in the Adriatic, where her actual frontiers, from Venice down to Brindisi and Santa Maria d’Leuca, are indefensible and purely artificial, where every town and village on the opposite shore is a harmonic imitation and continuation in the architecture as well as in the language and the costumes of Venice.
Dalmatia and Istria have never, neither in geography nor in history, belonged to the Balkans. Those two provinces, secluded by the three nearly impervious chains of the Carso, of the Velebit, and of the Dinaric Alps, from the Slav lands of the Balkans, will be, as they have always been, the natural bridges between Italy and the Balkan people, between the Western civilisation and the East.
With feelings of dismay and surprise, therefore, Italians, to whatever party they may belong, have recently seen the unfair and hostile attitude of a very small band of British writers with regard to their legitimate and vital interests in the Adriatic. The want of understanding and sympathy towards their most sacred aspirations, towards their martyred brothers of Dalmatia and Istria, has puzzled and upset them. It is inconceivable for them that even a few in this country, which we love so much and which is bound to Italy as no other nation is by ties of close, natural, more even than diplomatic, friendship, should have represented these interests and aspirations as grasping; should have totally ignored or misinterpreted that hard national suffering of the Italians of the eastern shore of the Adriatic, victims of Austria’s dynastic policy of Croatisation. All sorts of historical falsehoods have been circulated in order to deceive the unwary into crediting the legend that Italy wishes to deny the Slavs an outlet in the Adriatic. And while the case of the Southern Slavs, and even of those Croatians who have been the tools of Austrian tyranny in the last fifty years, has been exploited and accepted with sympathy, Italy's rights have been not only ignored, but even violently attacked.
Italy, as everyone knows, is a highly liberal and democratic nation. Every Englishman ought to be convinced that her return to the countries which have always belonged to her, and which Austria has wantonly tried to denationalise, will not endanger the free national development and liberties of the Slavs who, mixed with Italians, compose the population of those countries. Serbia at the end of the war will get probably ten times as much as Italy, and in some territories allotted to her (as, for instance, in Albania, and even in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the most Serbian of all Serbian provinces, where there are more than eight hundred thousand of Mussulmans) she may find many more non-Serbians than the Slavs Italy will have to rule in Istria and her portion of Dalmatia, who do not even altogether amount to the number of inhabitants of a London suburb.
Italy has now entered the war, and is ready to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of human lives and milliards of francs, and to stake the immortal beauty and art treasures of Venice, of Ravenna, of Rimini, of Bari, and her other most beautiful Adriatic towns, and to stake even her very national existence. It would be sheer madness to think that she will renounce her claim to the Adriatic, or encourage the further denationalisation of its eastern shores, after having strenuously fought for it and for her own existence. We do not yet know in what fashion the Italian Army is likely to proceed through the Alps and the plains in its invasion of Austria, in its firm will to reach the Austrian capital. We know only that the war in the Adriatic will be the most difficult task for our nation.
This is, therefore, the wish of the Italians that everybody, especially in this country, should try to understand Italy’s enormous difficulties, the incalculable value of her present intervention, and her very modest aspirations. Such a serene understanding will prove at the end most beneficial to the ever closer friendship between their country and the Entente.
Italy at this hour wishes, as I said, to safeguard herself and to accomplish that unity which circumstances had prevented her from doing before—that is, the union of all Italians under the Italian flag. Nor can this in any way clash with the principle of nationality, of which, as all know, Italy has always been a warm supporter. The restoration of the Trentino, Trieste, Istria, Fiume, and part of Dalmatia to Italy is not territorial aggrandisement, for Italy is recovering what she has been mistress of for twenty centuries. Since the days of the first Risorgimento, Italy has stood for freedom and justice and for the highest democratic ideals. They are those for which she is now fighting, those which bind her so closely to the British people.
It is very important, especially at this juncture, that there should be no possible ground or loophole for misunderstandings. It is of supreme and vital interest that the English should fully understand Italy's position and her aims, which are identical with those of her other Allies.
In an interview in the Den, a few days ago, M. Sazonoff dwelt upon the tremendous importance and value of Italy’s intervention in helping materially to shorten the war. He also pointed out that Serbo-Italian relations are of the most friendly kind, and that Serbia would receive good ports and her desire for access to the “sea of Venice” would be fully satisfied.
This statement, coupled with that of M. Pasich to the effect that Serbia was willing to accept the agreement come to between Russia and Italy with regard to the eastern coast of the Adriatic, should once and for all set at rest unfounded fears which some worthy ultra-Pan-Slavists have had as to Italy's programme in the Adriatic.
Moreover, this is incorporated in the agreement signed on April 27th by the Entente Powers.
Any further discussion of this matter, based on more or less inaccurate information, can only be of harm to the united cause of the Allies, and lead to harmful and useless friction between the now united Italian and Serbian peoples—a unity which all Italians and all Englishmen have always sincerely desired.
Italy does not belong to those nations whose most instinctive habit is the violation of agreements. Anybody daring to discuss or proposing to violate the agreement between Italy and the Entente, which has brought Italy on the side of the Allies, fighting for the cause of justice and freedom, would prove to be an enemy not only of Italy, but of his own country, and, what is even worse, of justice and freedom.
England and Italy’s war has, however, definitely frustrated the vain attempts of the apostles of Pan-German and Pan-Slav imperialisms. Cordial, fair, and straightforward compromise is the unique way of settling for long time—and let us hope for ever —the restless and selfish instincts of humanity.