(Written by Dr. G. Furlani, taken from the journal “Italy Today: A Fortnightly Bulletin”, Volume 1, Issue 8, 1918)
Italy's claim to permanent retention of her lost and recently regained Adriatic provinces of Istria and Dalmatia, are recognized by the Allied Powers and incorporated both in the Treaty of London and the terms of the armistice with Austria. They deal, however, with certain complications that to the man in the street may render their justice less clear than our somewhat more obvious right to the restoration of Trentino and Southern Tyrol. Chief among these complications is the recent demand on the part of certain Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, formerly held by Austria, that Italy evacuate the so-called Jugo-Slav territory now occupied by her under the terms of the armistice, and allow it to be united with Serbia in a single Jugo-Slav state.
I desire, therefore, to clear up various misapprehensions that may exist in the minds of the generality of the American public. We Italians of the now redeemed provinces value highly the warm spirit of brotherhood between our mother country and America that has developed new bonds of strength during the world war. We feel that the continuation of spirit of this friendship in the future depends on a thorough understanding by private American citizens as well as statesmen of the practical aims and ideals of the reunited democracy of Italy.
I speak as an Irredento. I believe I voice the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of my fellow Irredentists in Istria and Dalmatia, whether of Slavic or Latin origin, when I say that we recognize Italy as our mother country and desire a permanent return to the shelter of the beloved flag under which our kindred have for three bloody years fought for our liberty.
The grounds on which we base our arguments for the justice of this desire are four — historical, ethnological and traditional, military and political.
Historically, Istria and Dalmatia are part and parcel of the original Italy of the ancient Roman Republic. The first expansion of the early Roman people north and south from their city on its seven hills followed a natural geographical course. On the peninsula proper it was limited by the sea. To the north and to the east along the shore of the Adriatic it found its natural boundary in the great Alpine water-shed between the Adriatic and the Black Seas. It is the portion of this water-shed known as the Julian Alps to the north and the Dinaric Alps at the south bounding on the east respectively Istria and Dalmatia which in those early Roman days formed the natural geographical northeastern boundary of Italy.
The lands of Istria and Dalmatia were settled by Romans and completely Romanized. Out of this territory bordering the Adriatic Rome formed two Latin provinces which were politically integral parts of Italy and not colonies in any sense of the word. All of these inhabitants spoke the language and were as truly Roman citizens as the inhabitants of the Eternal City itself. The municipalities of these provinces were organized on the Roman plan. Their monuments of sculpture and architecture stand today, mute testimonials to the ancient spirit of Rome that originally civilized those lands and has never been entirely killed by the foreign oppressors.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire Istria and Dalmatia fell under the sway of the Byzantine Empire. As a natural result of being thus arbitrarily torn from their mother country, political and commercial decline followed. From that time until well into the Middle Ages these provinces played a small role among the nations.
With the rise of the Italian republics out of the ruins of the Roman Empire Venice reconquered these Adriatic lands. With this reunion of the Istrians and Dalmatians with their own people on the main peninsula during the second half of the Middle Ages a new and brilliant period in their history began. Under Venetian rule their ports, their industries and their commerce were developed. They became rich and prosperous. They adopted the dialect of Venetia and shared in the rich culture of that republic. All the greater art monuments of Istria and Dalmatia date from that period.
Then came Napoleon and split up the lands of the Venetian Republic, giving to Austria the Adriatic provinces. There followed another decline from which under the tyrannical Austrian rule these provinces have never recovered. It was the policy of Austria from the first to stamp out Italian sentiment and the Italian language. She sought first to Germanize these provinces. She imported colonies of Austrian-Germans. She endeavored to Germanize laws, institutions, and customs but in this she failed miserably. The sturdy Italian spirit survived in spite of her every effort. The people clung to their mother tongue and fought at every step of other changes that Austria sought to impose.
Next Austria tried to use a Slavic element in uprooting Italianism. She imported great masses of Magyar and Slavic peoples into the Italian cities. She put these cities under a regime of direct government control. She gave every encouragement to the Germans, the Magyars and the Slavs and sought in every way to oppress and discourage the Italians, depriving them of the right to vote and so dividing them into artificial administrative districts as to break up their unity. She closed their schools and established in their stead German, Magyar and Slavic schools. She used every expedient to force them to renounce their own language, occasionally resorting even to massacres. In Dalmatia, for example, she helped the Slavic element to gain control of sea-coast towns by sending war ships to terrorize the voters. Yet despite this long century of oppression Dalmatia and Istria remain ethnologically truly Italian today. There are 400,000 Italians speaking the Italian tongue still inhabiting those provinces. It is true that in some sections, owing to Austria's method of colonization and oppression, the majority of the population are Slavic but these Slavs are for the most part illiterate peasants of whom the greater portion in fact speak Italian and are only too glad to do business with Italians. In the larger centers commerce and industry are carried on almost entirely by Italians. The professions are in Italian hands. The administration is for the most part Italian. Trieste, for instance, is administrated entirely by Italians, the Slavic population there being very small. The same is true of the larger cities of Istria. Italy, in short, gives the real character to the country.
When it comes to the question of mutual self-defense as affecting Italy as a whole as well as the Italians of the Irredent lands the same argument applies in the Adriatic provinces as applied in the northern provinces of Trentino and Southern Tyrol. The strategic boundary from the standpoint of military defense is the water-shed between the Adriatic and the Black Sea just as it is at the north. This principle was recognized in the Treaty of London under the terms of which Italy entered the war. It was recognized again as a military expedient when the armistice was signed with Austria. It is probable that the populations of the disintegrated empire of old Austro-Hungary will in the years to come unite under commercial agreements. The next step logically is a political agreement. The third step, the possibility of which Italy and Europe as a whole must provide for, is a return of the old dynastic spirit of conquest. Against such temptation to disturb again the peace of Europe and once more enslave a part of the Italian people Italy must stand behind the bulwark of her ancient natural boundary.
Another danger against which we Irredenti seek protection is that of the spread of Bolshevism now threatening to overrun the Slavic and German populations to the north of us. Bolshevism must not set foot across the divide. Against such anarchy we seek the protection of the Italian flag.
Politically, as I have already shown, the representative part of the Istrian and Dalmatian population has never been in sympathy with Austro-Hungarian rule. Austrian traditions are autocratic. The democratic spirit of Istria and Dalmatia has never died since the days of the early Roman Republic. We wish to live in peace with the new Jugo-Slavic government that is arising without our borders. We are glad the Jugo-Slavs have won freedom out of the great war as we have won it. We are in full sympathy with them and ask them in turn to grant that sympathy to us. We wish to recognize fully the rights and racial traditions of those Jugo-Slavs who remain within our borders. We wish them to understand that as citizens of Istria and Dalmatia they will enjoy every right and privilege accorded to those of Italian ancestry and language.
And I believe that the more substantial element among the Jugo-Slavs of the Adriatic provinces agree with this sentiment and will welcome the permanent rule of Italy. I venture to believe that those so-called representatives of the Jugo-Slavs of these provinces who at present are attracting so much attention by their demands for Italian evacuation are not truly representing the Jugo-Slavic population as a whole. I believe that when the dust of controversy clears away Italy will find in her reclaimed provinces across the Adriatic a united and loyal people.