(Written by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, taken from the journal “The Independent”, Volume 97, 1919.)
In the Balkans began the war from which we are just emerging, a war precipitated from tense conditions that had there been forced to a crisis. The equitable settlement of Balkan affairs and the provision of sufficient safeguards to ensure the world against a recurrence of the catastrophe thru which we have just passed is the most delicate problem confronting the Peace Conference. First and foremost in this task is the adjustment of the controversy between Italy and the Jugoslavs about portions of the Adriatic coast to which both lay claim. (...)
Nevertheless, it is so evident to any one who has carefully and thoughtfully followed the coarse of events that a serious crux of the peace settlement is going to center about the Adriatic and certain national boundaries thereto adjacent that the issue in all its aspects must be faced squarely. As a first step to getting a clear conception of the whole situation we must compare the conflicting territorial claims advanced by Italy and the Jugoslavs and then examine the grounds upon which those claims are made.
The Jugoslavs claim (1) the Austrian province of Carniola and the province of Gorizia and Gradisca; (2) all of Istria along with Trieste and Fiume: (3) Croatia, Slavonia and all of Dalmatia; (4) Bosnia and Herzegovina, and they desire to unite with Serbia and Montenegro. Italy claims (1) a small portion of Carniola and the province of Gorizia and Gradisca—in other words, the territory west and south of the Julian and Carnic Alps, whose watershed they regard as their natural boundary; (2) the whole of Istria, along with Trieste, and the port of Fiume. According to the Treaty of London Fiume was given to the Jugoslavs. Ever since that time the people of Fiume, by an overwhelming majority, have declared their desire to be under the Italian flag. Italy, therefore, now proposes to make Fiume, which is in Croatia, a free port under Italian protection; (3) Certain islands of the Quarnero off the Croatian coast; (4) a portion of Dalmatia and most of the Dalmatian archipelago.
An examination of the accompanying maps will show which islands and what part of Dalmatia fall within the claims of Italy, so far as we know the terms of the Treaty of London. That treaty, be it remembered, up to the present time, we know only thru the medium of a garbled Bolshevik publication. It should be added that the people of Italy feel that the boundaries indicated by these limits, with respect to Dalmatia and some of the islands, do not include all to which they are rightfully entitled by considerations both historic and ethnographic and that, in accepting them, they are making substantial renunciations in favor of the Jugoslavs, whose cause and aspirations they desire to further in every way compatible with reason and justice. It will be seen that the territory in dispute includes (1) the portion of Carniola west of the Alpine watershed, with the province of Gorizia and Gradisca, lying west of the Julian and Carnic Alps; (2) Istria, Trieste and Fiume; (3) Dalmatia and the adjacent islands.
The Jugoslavs base their claims upon (1) history, (2) upon ethnographic conditions, and (3) upon economic and geographic necessity. Italy bases her claims (1) upon history, (2) upon ethnographic conditions, (3) upon the principles of immutable geographic boundaries, and (4) upon the obvious necessity of having adequate military and naval guarantees of frontier defense.
The portion of Carniola west of the Julian and Carnic Alps, along with Gorizia and Gradisca, the Jugoslavs regard as theirs by right of successive waves of immigration and settlement that began in the seventh century, and by right of residence during the sundry vicissitudes of Hungarian and Austrian sway under which they have lived. They also base their claim upon the right of numerical preponderance and the consequent principle of self-determination. To Istria, along with Trieste and Fiume, the Jugoslavs base their claim upon the same grounds and, further, stress the necessity of possessing Fiume as a seaport essential to their economic welfare. To Dalmatia, likewise, their claims are ranged with great emphasis under all three heads.
To the same territory Italy lays claim upon historic grounds. Passing by the phase of Roman colonization—the first link in the brief of title—and the turbulent era of conflict between the Western and Eastern Empires, with its incidents of barbarian invasion, we come to the medieval period when the region in question—the eastern part of the district of Friuli—was chiefly under the control of the Counts of Gorizia. Upon the failure of their line in 1500, the territory was appropriated by Maximilian I and “remained in the possession of the house of Austria” thereafter with the exception of a brief period during the Napoleonic regime. The annexation to the opportunist Austrian hotch-potch of nationalities, however, only changed the political allegiance of the country and did not alter the essentially Italian character of its population and culture. Geographically Gorizia and Gradisca are one with Friuli and ought not to be arbitrarily severed.
Without at all denying the gradual infiltration of a numerous Slovene element into this territory that was first part of a Roman province, then a small and virtually independent state like other feudal states in medieval Italy, and then an appanage of the Austrian crown, Italy maintains that the Slavic element assimilated Italian culture and ideals, gladly profited by the higher order of civilization with which it came in contact, that the Italic and Slavic elements formed an amalgamation that was essentially Italian, and that all the architectural and other cultural remains of the period support the contention. Precisely similar conditions obtained in Istria, with an even stronger historic claim, for Istria belonged to the Republic of Venice until filched from her by the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. Istria is just as necessary to the completion of Italy's natural boundaries and rightful bulwarks as the rest of the unredeemed land west of the Julian Alps. So long as Italy is without this territory she is unable to shut the door of her house against invasion—a privilege and safeguard that ought not to be denied to any nation.
Historically Dalmatia and the islands of the Dalmatian archipelago present an unusually checkered career, even for eastern Europe. When the empire crumbled and the Pax Romana became only a name, this territory fell prey to the vicissitudes of piracy and invasion. At an early date, for her own safety Venice had to suppress the pirates infesting the harbors and bays of this No Man's Land. Between 1102 and 1420 Venice and Hungary contended for mastery of the Dalmatian coast, the Venetians being generally possest of it. From 1420 onward Venetian sway was broken only by occasional Turkish invasions until the Treaty of Campo Formio, which made Austria mistress of the land.
Owing to its peculiar development. Dalmatia never attained complete political or racial unity. The towns and cities, which represented the bulk of the population, were overwhelmingly Italian—the architecture alone would show this, even if there were no historical records to prove that all the culture was Italian and all affiliations with Italy. The sparsely peopled rural districts were chiefly Slavic. (...)
Geographically Dalmatia and the Dalmatian islands are of the utmost importance to Italy. Whoever controls them controls Italy's east coast, which is undefended and incapable of defense—in other words, the master of Dalmatia holds the keys to Italy's house. So much for the past and so much for geographic considerations advanced by Italy. (...)
Before all else, Italians of all ranks and all shades of political opinion feel that their strongest claim to all the unredeemed regions just discussed, the claim most obligatory upon them to press, is that their blood kindred there, not only in this last war but for years past, have sealed with their blood their ardent desire for redemption and political union with their mother land; that these men of unredeemed Italy have always protested Austrian domination just as vigorously as did their brothers in the territory wrested back from Austria in 1806, and that a surrender of Italian claims now would be a foul betrayal of all the men who have died for Italy's cause from 1866, and indeed long before, till November, 1918.
That the Slavic element seems numerically preponderant in some of these districts, Italy admits, and that the Slavs are now actually in the majority in Dalmatia Italy also admits. But this Slavic preponderance is artificial. Back of it lie fifty years of Austrian guile, treachery, injustice and cruelty, with the deliberate intent of crushing out the Italianity of these regions. In the past decade the process has been carried forward with feverish haste. The fostering of racial animosity in the Slavs against the Italians has been a part of Austrian stock in trade, oppression and persecution of every kind have been visited upon the Italians, while the falsification of census returns and the juggling with statistics have been so flagrant and shameless that even Viennese bureaucracy has been scandalized. Any evidence more than abundant of all these facts is available. In precisely the same way the Austrians have grievously wronged and opprest the Slavs in other places when it suited their purpose to do so. It has always been Austrian policy to play one element off against another and profit by the dissension.
It is absurd to urge against Italy's claims that the lands in question never formed part of the Kingdom of Italy, for the Kingdom of Italy did not exist until a comparatively short time ago. (Much of it did form part of the Venetian Republic and therefore automatically became Italy's rightful inheritance.) It is also equally absurd for us to shut our eyes to the fact that the present great and powerful Italian Irredentist sentiment is merely the logical and legitimate outcome of the Risorgimento, which all freedom-loving men have ever applauded, and that Italy now is not seeking annexations but restoration, redemption, the full fruition of her long-cherished ideals of Italian unity—ideals handed down from Mazzini, Cavour and Garibaldi.
To this summary and consideration of Italian and Jugoslav claims in the Adriatic it should be added that, while the Treaty of London gives the Jugoslavs admirable harbors so that they are not at all shut off from the Adriatic, the isolated and semi-barren Dalmatian coast allotted to Italy is of no great economic value to them; that the natural geographic outlet of the great Balkan region, shut off as it is from most of the Adriatic by the formidable barrier of the Velebit and the Dinaric Alps, is thru the valleys of the Danube and the Vardar and that all natural economic development must inevitably follow these lines of least resistance; and that, as both the Italians of the unredeemed lands and the Slavs have been among the races opprest by Austria, common sense and justice alike forbid that one side be favored to the hurt of the other. For her own defense, as well as for the righting of an ancient injustice. Italy needs the Dalmatian lands as shown on the accompanying map. The economic value is not great. The Jugoslavs have the parts already-mentioned which amply satisfy their economic needs. For defense they have the Velebit and the Dinaric Alps. Here, surely, is a just basis for composing differences. In certain quarters among the Jugoslavs there now appears to be a willingness to assign to Italy the western portion of Gorizia and Istria by drawing a line down the middle of the Istrian peninsula, leaving Trieste and Pola to Italy. This is a promising sign. It is to be hoped that wisdom and reason will convince them of the justice of Italy's Dalmatian claims.