Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brief History of Dalmatia in the 19th Century

The nineteenth century witnessed the rise of national consciousness in many European peoples (the era of romantic nationalism). The Risorgimento began in Italy, and national consciousness also began to rise in the Balkans, initially in the form of the Pan-Slavism movement.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Illyrian movement, headed by the Croat Ljudevit Gaj, began to spread in Dalmatia. This movement intended to create a single culture and political consciousness among the Southern Slavs. Although it remained confined mostly to Croatian areas, members of the Serb community of Dalmatia also joined them. The Illyrian movement of the early 19th century transformed into the so-called “Croatian national movement” after 1848, which gave rise to the “Croatian popular resurgence” (hrvatski narodni preporod) in Dalmatia and clashes with the dominant Italian Dalmatian community.

Up until that point in Dalmatia, both the Italians and Slavs had had lived without any problems or prejudice, but the birth of Pan-Slavism led to the first tensions between Italians, who were concentrated in the coastal cities (and formed a majority in most of the cities), and the Croats, who had become an overall majority in Dalmatia after the 16th century as a result of plagues which devastated the Romance population, and above all due to the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans which had sparked a mass migration of Slav refugees into Venetian territory. At the beginning of the 19th century Italians still formed about 33% (one-third) of the entire Dalmatian population.

Between 1848 and 1918 – especially after the loss of Venetia following the Third Italian War of Independence (1866) – the Austro-Hungarian Empire encouraged the rise of the Slavic ethnicity to counteract the irredentism of the Italian population. During the meeting of the Council of Ministers of 12 November 1866 Emperor Franz Joseph outlined a major project:
“His Majesty has expressed the precise order that we decisively oppose the influence of the Italian element still present in some Crown lands, and to aim unsparingly and without the slightest compunction at the Germanization or Slavicization – depending on the circumstances – of the areas in question, through a suitable entrustment of posts to political magistrates and teachers, as well as through the influence of the press in South Tyrol, Dalmatia, and the Adriatic Coast.”
Regarding the pro-Savic policy of the Imperial government and Franz Joseph's order of Germanization and Slavicization, the observations of Massimo Spinetti, former Italian ambassador in Vienna, in his article “Costantino Nigra ambasciatore a Vienna (1885-1904)”, are very interesting. Spinetti maintained among other things that:
“This anti-Italian policy found particular application in Dalmatia, especially after the announcement of the marriage between Crown Prince Vittorio Emanuele III and Princess Elena of Montenegro.”
The introduction of the constitutional regime in 1860 led to profound changes in Dalmatia: the freedom of press and association favored the Croatian national movement which had hitherto been held back by the Viennese authorities (although they also were using it against Italian irredentist aspirations, in compliance with the policy of “divide and conquer”). The Austrian electoral laws favored universal suffrage (and therefore favored nationalities with larger numbers), which is why Italians lost political hegemony in Dalmatia between 1860 and 1885: only the city of Zara remained ruled by Italians until the First World War, guided by the Autonomist Party (Partito Autonomista). It was a process parallel to that of other Austrian provinces, such as Carniola and Bohemia, where the Slavs were able to conquer the institutions of provincial autonomy. In Dalmatia, however, this process was even more traumatic for the Italian community, since, unlike the Germans of Bohemia and Carniola, the Italians could not rely on political support from the central government in Vienna. The central government, which had frequently supported Croatian parties in Dalmatia, was ready to make concessions to the Slavs in Dalmatia which they never offered to the Slovenes in Carniola or the Czechs in Bohemia. Therefore middle schools, which depended on the central government (in contrast to elementary schools), were gradually Croatized. The same happened with primary schools in the municipalities governed by the Slavs. The Italian language thus lost its historical status, although it retained its prestige as a “cultural language” (so that even Frano Supilo, one of the leaders of the Croatian national movement, said “Despite being a Croat, I think in Italian”). The size of the Italian community in the coastal cities began to gradually decrease, with the exception of the aforementioned Zara.

The historian Matteo Bartoli, in his book “Le parlate italiane della Venezia Giulia e della Dalmazia”, wrote that:
“After the naval battle of Lissa of 1866, in Dalmatia, just as in Trentino and Julian Venetia, all things Italian were opposed by the Austrians. Unable to Germanize Dalmatia because it was too far away from Austria, the authorities favored the Slavs to the detriment of Italians. In the various Dalmatian cities the administrations gradually passed from Italians to the Croats. In 1861 all of the 84 municipalities of Dalmatia were administered by Italians. In 1875 it so happened that 39 of them now had a Croatian administration, 19 had an Italian administration, and the remaining ones had a mixed Italian-Croatian administration. The municipalities with an Italian administration were: Blatta, Brazza, Cittavecchia di Lesina, Clissa, Comisa, Lissa, Meleda, Mezzo, Milnà, Pago, Ragusa, Sabbioncello, Selve, Slarino, Spalato, Solta, Traù, Verbosa and Zara. In 1873 Sebenico passed to a Croatian administration, in 1882 Spalato also passed to a Croatian administration, followed by Traù in 1886, Arbe in 1904 and Slarino in 1910, leaving only Zara. Also from 1866 to 1914 – with the exception of Zara – Italian schools were closed while Croatian ones were opened. The collapse of the Italian component in Dalmatia is mainly due to this fact, since Italians did not have freedom of cultural expression. The transformation of Italian schools into Croatian schools was accompanied by numerous protests, even in the remote city of Tenin where numerous families demanded they be allowed to retain the Italian language. In Lissa a petition was even brought to the Emperor. Therefore the National League (Lega Nazionale) was founded in the 1890's, and in Dalmatia they had to fund private Italian schools with their own money. The National League had sections in: Cattaro, Ragusa, Curzola, Cittavecchia di Lesina, Spalato, Imoschi, Traù, Sebenico, Scardona, Tenin, Ceraria, Borgo Erizzo, Zara and Arbe, as well as in Veglia, Cherso, Unie and Lussino. All this took place in a climate of continual harassment by the Slavs who had conquered political power. Antonio Baiamonti was the last mayor of Spalato before it fell into the hands of the Croats. He devoted all his life and put all his substances into his city, substances that were never reimbursed by the Austrians despite repeated promises. He died at age 69 in debt up to his neck. He often said: “We Italians of Dalmatia retain a single right: to suffer!”.”
In 1909 the Italian language was prohibited in all public buildings and the Dalmatian Italians were ousted from the municipal administrations. Consequently, by the end of the First World War (1914-1918) the Italian population was almost completely eliminated from Dalmatia, with the exception of some Dalmatian cities and islands.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rampant Croatization

(Written by Liliana Martissa, taken from the association “Coordinamento Adriatico”, 1999)

The cities of the Istrian and Dalmatian coast, which had been inhabited for centuries by a population of Roman origin, who spoke Latin, followed by the local vernacular (Dalmatian, Istriot, Istro-Venetian) and finally Venetian and Italian, are more and more openly being considered historically “Croatian”, while all the artistic manifestations which belong to Latin-Venetian-Italian cultural heritage are being attributed to “Croatian civilization”. This process of Slavicization has accelerated in recent years, perhaps because the Croats were encouraged by the silence and the lack of reaction from the Italian world which has completely abandoned the study and dissemination of the history of Istria and Dalmatia.

Just to give a few examples, let's recall that when the Euphrasian Basilica of Parenzo was proclaimed a world heritage site protected by UNESCO, this same Byzantine-Ravennate style basilica was defined as a “high expression of Croatian art”, when in the period of its construction (6th century) the Croats did not even arrive yet in Parenzo! Let's also remember that for the four hundredth anniversary of his death, the philosopher Francesco Patrizi (Franciscus Patricius) of Cherso, who came from an Italian family of Italian culture, was defined as a “Croat” and renamed “Frane Petric Petrisevic” during an international conference.

A peculiarity of the Southern Slavic peoples unfortunately consists of a type of ethnic nationalism that aims not only at the expulsion (if not annihilation) of the population regarded as being outside its own territory, but also to the destruction of the historical and cultural evidence of its existence. Emblematic, in this sense, in the recent war that bloodied the Balkans, was the burning of the library of Sarajevo, the destruction of the Stari Most bridge, and the destructive rage against churches and mosques, which were considered symbols and testimonies of the enemy's civilization and faith.

As for Istria and Dalmatia, the eradication of memories of the past, conducted by the Slavs, is more subtle: they do not destroy most of the monuments belonging to other peoples civilization, but instead they claim these monuments are “Croatian”.

In the near future there will be two important international events organized by Croatia: the exhibition at the Vatican on “Croats religious faith and culture” that will be inaugurated on October 20, 1999, and the exhibition in Spalato on “Croats and Carolingians”, scheduled for December 2000 as part of the international event whose theme is: “Charlemagne and the birth of Europe” and has as its seat five European cities (the first major exposition has already been prepared in Paderborn, Germany). Regarding the exhibition at the Vatican, we have only journalistic anticipations from which it is possible to conclude that most of the exhibits will be of Dalmatian origin. And as for the exhibition in Spalato, we have the accurate English presentation in which some historical falsifications appear.

Istria is called “Croatian land”, but in fact it can not be defined as such in the Carolingian period (it will only become so in the twentieth century) neither for political affiliation, since it belonged to the Kingdom of Italy under the Holy Roman Empire, nor for ethnic composition, since it was inhabited by a neo-Latin population (descendants of the romanized Histri of Region X of Roman Italy “Venetia et Histria”) that even under Byzantine rule had maintained the laws and customs of its fathers (the Roman municipal system) and for this very reason intolerably opposed the new feudal system introduced by the Franks (as evidenced by the Placitum of Risano in the year 804). Just like Istria, the cities of Zara (which was mentioned several times in the exhibition catalog) and Spalato (seat of the exhibition itself) had nothing to do with the Croats, because they belonged to Byzantine Dalmatia and were inhabited by a people who spoke a neo-Latin Romance language. So then, why is it titled “Croats and Carolingians”? Considering the cultural offensive launched by Croatia in the international arena, we hope that Italian scholars will abandon their attitude of indifference in this regard, and start paying special attention to the above-mentioned events.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Pits of Death Give up Their Grisly Secret

(Written by Andrew Gumbel, taken from the newspaper “The Independent”, London, August 31, 1996)

Andrew Gumbel in Trieste explains why the story of a massacre went untold for 50 years.

History teaches that the perpetrators of war crimes all too often elude capture and get forgotten. But at least the war crimes themselves, especially when they involve the massacre of innocent civilians, are remembered and committed to collective memory. Or are they?

In the past few days, Italy has been making a painful discovery: for the past 50 years it has turned a blind eye to a horrific slaughter of its own citizens at the end of the Second World War.

The victims were Italians living in an area near Trieste, on either side of the much-contested border between Italy and Slovenia. Between 1943 and 1948, several thousand were rounded up - first by Tito's partisans and then, after the war, by the Yugoslav secret police. They were tortured and mutilated in prisons and concentration camps, then thrown into deep limestone pits while they were still alive to suffer a horrifically slow death.

It seems extraordinary that the massacre of the Foibe (the local dialect word for the pits) should simply disappear from the national consciousness. The main reason was the titanic struggle between Fascists and Communists at the end of the war, and the deep polarisations in Italian society this caused.

The Foibe were forgotten because the Italians living in the Trieste area and the Istra peninsula were associated with Mussolini's expansionist ambitions, and thus deemed to be Fascists unworthy of any compassion. Moreover, the Italian partisan movement was dominated by the Communist Party, which at the end of the war was so keen to build bridges with Yugoslavia that it preferred not to ask awkward questions about Tito's own territorial ambitions around Trieste - the driving force behind the massacres in the first place.

Soon, a deliberate policy of collective blindness was in place. In 1946 the Italian Communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti, visited a notorious prison- house in the Slovene capital, Ljubljana, that was stuffed with Italian civilians. Togliatti saw none of them, because they had been herded into a cellar, allowing him to return to Italy saying, "there are no Italian prisoners in Yugoslavia".

Later, a repatriation scheme allowed left-wing Italians to go home from Yugoslavia through the good offices of the Communist Party, on the tacit understanding that they would keep their mouths shut. Soon the only Italians making a fuss about the Foibe were the neo-Fascists, whose credibility was so tattered nobody took them seriously.

Postwar Italy became so divided that its memories of the war split along ideological lines. There were "left-wing" massacres perpetrated by the Nazis and the Fascists - which became part of the mythology of the new Italian democratic state - and there were "right-wing" massacres such as the Foibe, which sank into popular obloquy.

So things might have remained had it not been for the recent, farcical trial of Erich Priebke, a former SS captain responsible for the most notorious of the "left-wing" massacres, the killing of 335 Jews, resistance fighters and their families in 1944 in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome.

Soon the usual left-right game began. The left wanted to focus on the Ardeatine Caves, while the neo-Fascist right wanted to include the Foibe as well. Then there was a breakthrough. In Trieste, the local secretary of the PDS, successor to the Italian Communist Party, came out with a statement describing the Foibe as one of the great tragedies of the century and urging the left to look critically at its record on the issue.

The PDS has now promised to open its archives on the subject, and a Roman magistrate has begun looking for war criminals who can still be prosecuted.

What is striking is how little is known about the Foibe - even a reliable death toll. Roberto Spazzali, an academic specialist on the subject, says only 600 corpses have been exhumed [editor: as of August 1996]. Considering the number of people who went missing, the true figure is likely to be in the thousands [editor: after more extensive research since the publication of this article 20 years ago, experts place the death toll at between 20,000 and 30,000 Italians].

The truth now emerging is that most of the victims of the Foibe were not Fascists at all - they included a number of pro-left resistance leaders opposed to Tito's expansionism. The bitter irony after all these years is that the Foibe was a tragedy for the Italian left, too.