December 2—The Diary of Gino Speranza: Italy, 1915-1919
I have been trying to gather the views of different Italian observers on the Adriatic Question.
Tomaso Sillani, the Dalmatian propagandist, came to see me yesterday and talked very interestingly and convincingly of Italian rights in the Adriatic. He will send me some special reports.
Professor Dainelli of Pisa University has forwarded me a brief summary of Dalmatian history and culture, which I shall submit to our mission in Paris.
Dalmatia was controlled by the Romans for six successive centuries. After the fall of the Western Empire it came into the possession of the Goths and then of the Byzantine Empire. In the seventh century it fell under the dominion of the Croats and Servians, and, in the twelfth, was swallowed up, as part of the Croatian kingdom, by the Hungarians who maintained a loose rule over it until 1409 when they handed it over to Venice for the sum of 100,000 ducats. It remained in Venetian hands until the eighteenth century except for occasional periods during which some of the rural districts succumbed to the Turks, but not the cities on the coast or the islands. On the fall of Venice in 1797 Dalmatia was assigned to Austria, but, during the ephemeral kingdom of Italy, created by Napoleon, it became Italian again, only to return once more to Austria in 1815, as part of the Venetian territory.
Not until 1866 was it separated politically from the Italian peninsula.
The economic and cultural relations of Dalmatia and Italy have always been close, for the Adriatic Sea joins rather than divides them.
On the other hand the Dinaric Alps, despite their relatively moderate elevation, have always obstructed communication between the Dalmatian coast and its hinterland. Whoever doubts the Italian character of Dalmatia, says Dainelli, will find, on consulting any atlas, that all the names of the canals, gulfs, islands, promontories, and coastal cities are Italian. The manifestations of culture, such as schools, libraries, philanthropic and athletic societies, have been initiated and supported chiefly by Italians, as is natural in a population that contains, according to the Austrian statistics of 1900, illiterates in the proportion of 67 percent Slav to 17 percent Italian. Shipping and industry are controlled chiefly by the Italians. The official language of the Austrian Navy was Italian until a few years ago when German was substituted; but the merchant marine continues to use Italian. The statement that the majority of the population of Dalmatia is Slav — Croat for the most part because the Servian element is small — and the Italian minority cannot be challenged, though there is reason to doubt the accuracy of Austrian statistics of racial origin. It is almost impossible to believe, for instance, that between 1880 and 1900, the number of Italians in Comisa dropped from 1,197 to 37 and in Trau from 1,960 to 170. Dalmatia owes its civilization to Italy, and Italy, for many centuries, owed its strategic safety in the Adriatic to Dalmatia. It is as true today as yesterday that whoever controls the rich system of canals and sheltered harbors on the eastern shores of the Adriatic is master of that sea.
Here we have another excerpt from the diary of Gino Speranza, from December 21, 1918:
December 21—The Diary of Gino Speranza: Italy, 1915-1919
[...] Far more difficult is the Jugo-Slav question. The Jugo-Slavs do not exist; they have never existed. They are merely Croats, and we know by bitter experience what that word implies. They are more or less savages controlled by the priests, and they have only one feeling: hatred of Italy.
Istria, I believe, will be ours. But how far Italy should extend into Dalmatia, with its cities largely Italian, and its rural districts Croat, is a question. The Austrians held the Croats in Dalmatia firmly in check, as I can personally testify, though they were more partial to them individually than to the Italians. The Hungarians also kept them well in hand in Fiume, though not so successfully as did the Austrians in Dalmatia. If President Wilson places Dalmatia and Fiume under the control of the Jugo-Slavs, the Italian minorities in these places will be obliged to flee. On the other hand Croatia, Bosnia, and Servia must have outlets to the sea. Could a way be devised of allowing the Dalmatian cities to remain Italian, even without annexation to Italy, we might well afford to make generous port concessions to the Croats. But to leave Fiume, Spalato, and Zara completely in their hands would bring on a revolution in Italy; if not a revolution, certainly a war inside of two years as a consequence of the massacre of Italians that would undoubtedly occur.