In the 19th century Italy fought three wars of independence against Austria, and the two nations became bitter enemies. For this reason, the Austrians adopted a de-nationalization policy towards their Italian subjects, and Trieste became one of the primary targets. The Habsburg government attempted to intentionally Slavicize the city of Trieste and replace the native Italian population. It was during this time period that Trieste witnessed a significant influx of Slavic immigrants and experienced major hostilities against the Italian inhabitants. This anti-Italian policy led to Trieste becoming one of the main centres of Italian irredentism – a movement for unification with Italy.
Brief History: Origins to Middle Ages
In pre-historic times the area of what is now Trieste was inhabited by the Veneti, an Italic tribe. The area was conquered by the Romans in 178-177 BC. The city of Trieste was founded by the Romans in 128 BC and was called Tergeste or Tergestum, from which the modern name Trieste derives. It was a Roman colony, and was settled by Italic peoples from Italy. Since the 1st century BC the city of Trieste was part of Italy, included in Regio X Venetia et Histria (the tenth region of Italy). Trieste flourished in antiquity, but always remained overshadowed by the neighboring Aquileia, which was the capital of the region.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the city of Trieste became part of the Kingdom of Italy under the barbarians but was ruled according to Roman law. In the 6th century it became part of the Exarchate of Italy, where it remained until 751. In the 8th century Trieste became part of the Kingdom of Italy for the next few centuries. Beginning in the 10th century it became autonomously ruled by the Italian Count-Bishops of Trieste, who were still dependent on the Kingdom of Italy. At this point it should be noted that Trieste had been part of Italy for a millennium. In the following centuries it was disputed over between the Republic of Venice and the Patriarch of Aquileia. Trieste swore allegiance to Venice on multiple occasions, but ultimately rejected Venetian rule. In 1382 the city of Trieste formally agreed to become a protectorate of the House of Habsburg. In exchange, the Habsburgs guaranteed they would recognize and respect the autonomy of Trieste.
Modern Slavic revisionists have attempted to argue that because Trieste was a Habsburg subject and resisted Venetian rule in the Middle Ages, that this means the city was not Italian. But this is a historically absurd and fallacious argument. During the Middle Ages, when Italy broke apart into several different states, many Italian states fought against other Italian states in fratricidal wars, and sometimes even made alliances with foreign states in order to maintain or expand their own power and defeat their political enemies. Italian cities also competed with each other, which often led to wars between rival Italian cities, such as between Como and Milan, Florence and Milan, Florence and Siena, Genoa and Pisa, Genoa and Venice, Venice and Aquileia, Venice and Milan, and Venice and Trieste. Much the same as German cities and states often fought wars against other German cities and states, and just as ancient Hellenic city-states fought against each other.
In 1382 the local government of Trieste preferred to maintain their own autonomous government as subjects of the Habsburgs, rather than become part of the Republic of Venice or Aquileia and lose their independence and power completely. This was merely a political decision by a municipal government which desired municipal autonomy. This does not mean that Trieste was not an Italian city. Regardless of whom it was subject to, Trieste was still ethnically, culturally, linguistically and geographically an Italian city with an Italian government.
Moreover, immediately after the government of Trieste renounced its ties to Venice and swore allegiance to the Habsburg dukes, popular anti-Habsburg uprisings broke out in the city in 1383 and 1384, which had to be suppressed with force. Evidently the decision of the municipal government to abandon Venice and submit to the Habsburgs was quite unpopular among the common people.
Nor did Trieste ever form part of Austria, as some Slavic revisionists mistakenly argue in an attempt to deny the Italian character of the city. Trieste was an autonomous city and a protectorate of the House of Habsburg. Until 1804, with the foundation of the Austrian Empire, the Habsburg realm did not exist as a solitary centralized state. After the Austrian Empire was established, Trieste remained politically and administratively distinct from Austria proper (which was composed only of Upper and Lower Austria). Even when the Habsburg government attempted to remove and restrict Trieste's autonomy, at no point did the city ever form part of Austria proper.
The Arrival of the Slovenes
Traditionally, the Slovenes have been called “a people without history”. For most of their history the Slovenes were illiterate and extremely insular. They primarily lived as peasant farmers in remote villages in the countryside, far away from the cities, and played no active role in political or cultural life. The Italians and Slovenes lived in general peace and separate from each other. But this began to change in the 19th century, especially during the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In this period the Austrian government established Slovenian schools, encouraged immigration to the Italian cities, and attempted to indoctrinate the masses of uneducated Slovene peasants in the ideas of nationalism and pan-slavism, in order to incite them against the Italian population (which at the time was anti-Austrian and sought to break free from Habsburg rule). This led to ethnic tension and the first conflicts between the Italian and Slovene populations.
The presumed ancestors of the Slovenes made their first incursions into Italian territory at the opening of the 7th century when hordes of Slavs invaded and plundered Istria. The Slavs continued to make raids and attacks throughout the 7th century, but made no permanent settlement in the territory of today's Italy until the 9th century. They attempted to expand into the Duchy of Friuli in the early 8th century, but were pushed out after being defeated in the Battle of Lauriana in 720 near the current Italian-Slovene border. In 776 the King of Italy created the March of Friuli, a defensive frontier region of the Kingdom of Italy established to prevent any further incursions of the Slavs into Italian territory. The March of Istria was created in 799 for the same reason.
Between the 9th and 11th centuries, after the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity by Italian missionaries, Italian rulers intermittently permitted the migration of small numbers of Slavs into the countryside of eastern Friuli and Julian Venetia. However, Slavic immigration towards Trieste was very slow and gradual. This is demonstrated by the fact that the earliest Slavic grave sites in the Carso region date only to the 9th and 10th centuries, and the first Slavic names in the Carso Triestino (the rocky area surrounding Trieste) do not appear until 1234.
Slavs immigrated to the rural countryside outside Trieste beginning only in the 13th century: Slavic immigrants first arrived in the villages of Longera in 1234 and Santa Croce in 1260, in the villages of Basovizza and San Giuseppe della Chiusa in the same century, and in the village of Prosecco in the 14th century. An onomastic study shows that during the 14th century, out of the 68 villages located outside Trieste, 58 of the toponyms were of Italian origin, while only four were of Slavic origin (Basovizza, Berda, Opicina and San Giuseppe della Chiusa).
Slavic immigration to the rural villages near Trieste continued after 1382, when Trieste became a Habsburg protectorate, with Slavs arriving in the village of Contovello in 1413. As for the city proper, there is no documentary evidence of any individual Slavs living in Trieste before the 13th century, and there is no record of any sizable Slav population in the city of Trieste until the 19th century.
The Language of Trieste
The original language of Trieste, naturally, was Latin, which over the centuries organically evolved into a dialect known as Tergestino – a Ladin-Italian dialect. This dialect, sometimes called Friulian in historical documents, was spoken by the population of Trieste for several centuries.
In 1719 Trieste became a free port and experienced an enormous population growth. It rapidly grew from a small city of just 3,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 18th century to more than 134,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century. As a consequence, the local dialect of Tergestino went extinct by the 19th century and was replaced with Triestino, a Venetian-Italian dialect. Thus one Italian dialect was replaced with another. The language of Trieste was never Slavic at any point in history. The Slavic tongue was spoken only by a minority of Slav immigrants of the countryside, while German was spoken by a minority of foreign Austrian aristocrats residing in the city.
In 1523, when the Imperial Chancellery sent Trieste an act written in German, the city returned it with the following message written in Latin:
“We are Latins, we do not know the German language.”
(“Nos cum latini simus, linguam ignoramus theutonicam.”)In 1524, the following year, the city responded again to the Imperial Chancellery with even greater pride and indignation:
“The city of Trieste is located within the borders of Italy. All citizens have the same origin; our language is the Italian mother tongue.”
“Quia civitas Tergestina est in finibus et limitibus Italiae; omnes civis et ibidem oriundi habent proprium sermonem et idioma Italicum per linguam maternam.”)Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Bishop of Cittanova d'Istria, noted in the 17th century:
“The language of the inhabitants of Trieste is a corrupted Friulian; and there are some who use German or Slavic, but they are not natives.”Although the original spoken dialect of Trieste was related to Friulian, the language of law, administration, literature, education and cultural life – after Latin – was standard Italian based on Tuscan, as was the case with almost all other Italian cities and states since the 14th century. The Statutes of Trieste (1550) were originally written in Latin, but then published in Italian (1625) by Antonio Turini, the first printer in Trieste.
(“La lingua di questi abitanti [di Trieste] è forlana corotta; e vi sono molti che usano la lingua slava, e la tedesca ma non sono quivi naturali.”)
Between 1784 and 1787 Emperor Joseph II declared German the sole language of state administration and judicial proceedings in the Habsburg realm. However, this evidently did not apply to the city of Trieste, either due to special exemption or due to simply ignoring the proclamation, since the State Archive in Trieste shows that Italian remained the dominant language of Trieste both during and after the reign of Joseph II.
There is a complete lack of Slovene documents in Trieste until the second half of the 19th century, demonstrating that Slovene was never a language of law and administration. Furthermore, Slovene judicial documents do not begin to appear in significant numbers until the period between 1890 and 1918. Not accidentally, this coincides with the period of mass Slovene immigration to Trieste, fostered by the Habsburg government, which will be discussed later.
Despite five centuries under the Habsburgs and a wave of Slovene migration at the turn of the 20th century, the language of Trieste remained incredibly consistent for its entire existence: the language of law, administration, literature, education and cultural life was first Latin, then Italian, while the language spoken by the general population was initially Latin, followed by local Italian dialects derived from Latin. Neither German nor Slavic ever had a significant place in the history of Trieste.
Loss of Autonomy and the Beginning of De-Italianization
The process of de-Italianization of Trieste can be traced at least as far back as 1813, when Trieste was restored to the Habsburgs after a brief occupation by Napoleon. The Habsburgs refused to recognize the ancient autonomy of Trieste, thereby completely ignoring and violating the agreement by which Trieste became a subject of the Habsburgs in 1382. The subtle process of Slovenization began soon after: the Slovenian nationalist and Jansenist priest Matteo Ravnikar (also called Matteo Raunicher) was nominated Bishop of Trieste and Capodistria by Emperor Francis II in 1831, becoming the first Slovenian bishop of these two cities, whose populations were exclusively Italian. Ravnikar spent the duration of his episcopate advocating the institutionalization of the Slavic language in the Italian regions of the Empire.
The autonomy of Trieste was finally restored in 1860, but was very limited compared to past centuries. Over the course of the next several years Trieste's autonomy continued to be progressively reduced. As the fourth largest city in the entire Austrian Empire (after Vienna, Budapest and Prague), and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire's primary port and main outlet to the Adriatic and Meditteranean seas, the Habsburgs sought ever tighter control over the city's administration and economy.
Indeed, Trieste had become so important to the economy of Austria and Central Europe that in the period of World War I the defenders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire used Trieste's economic importance (27% of all Austrian mercantile trade passed through the Port of Trieste before the war, second only to Hamburg) as one of the primary arguments why Austria should retain possession of Trieste, claiming that the wealth and prosperity of the Habsburgs' Empire – which partly depended on Trieste – justified their continued exploitation and domination over the Mediterranean city.
Intensification of the De-Italianization Process
In the 19th century Italy was one of the primary enemies of Austria, and the Habsburg monarchy was determined to crush the Italian Risorgimento movement which posed a threat to Austrian dominance in the crown lands inhabited by Italians. On November 12, 1866, in the aftermath of the Third Italian War of Independence against Austria, Emperor Franz Joseph issued the decision to forcibly Slavicize the ethnic Italian territories of the Austrian Empire, including Trieste:
“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.”Throughout the Italian-speaking territories the Austrians enacted a policy of forced Slavicization (slovenization or croatization, depending on the region; in Trieste they generally followed the policy of slovenization). They opened Slavic schools, installed Slavs in the courts and government posts and imposed the Slavic tongue, while at the same time they closed Italian schools, disbanded Italian cultural associations, banned and burned Italian newspapers, removed Italians from political offices and replaced them with Slavs, and at one point even banned the Italian language in the Istrian Diet.
(“Sua maestà ha espresso il preciso ordine di opporsi in modo risolutivo all'influsso dell'elemento italiano ancora presente in alcuni Kronländer, e di mirare alla germanizzazione o slavizzazione – a seconda delle circostanze – delle zone in questione con tutte le energie e senza alcun riguardo, mediante un adeguato affidamento di incarichi a magistrati politici ed insegnanti, nonché attraverso l'influenza della stampa in Tirolo meridionale, Dalmazia e Litorale adriatico.”)
Many cases of Slavic violence against the Italian population were recorded. Italian surnames were forcibly slavicized, elections were rigged and baptism records were falsified. Even the Italian clergy and ecclesiastical hierarchy in the Italian territories were replaced with Slavic priests and bishops, who were often anti-Italian, supporters of Slavic nationalism and loyal to the Habsburg Monarchy. In line with this policy, the Croatian nationalist priest Juraj Dobrila, previously appointed Bishop of Parenzo and Pola by Emperor Franz Joseph, was also appointed Bishop of Trieste and Capodistria in 1875, becoming the first Croatian bishop in these two Italian cities.
Italians were also subjected to frequent police raids and mass arrests on charges of “criminal activity”, due to distributing pro-Italian newspapers or pamphlets, which were strictly censored and prohibited by the Austrian government. Those who opposed the Habsburgs' anti-Italian policies or supported Italian unification were often forced into exile to avoid imprisonment.
Furthermore, despite its restored autonomy, the administration of Trieste had been largely taken over by German officials, although Italians remained the mayors of the city and Italian remained the official language. However, the Italian language was not permitted in state schools by the new German-dominated government, even though nearly the entire population was Italian, and every effort was made by the Austrian government to block the foundation of an Italian university in Trieste.
Massacre of 1868
Following a petition signed by 5,858 citizens of Trieste demanding the right for the Italian language to be used in state schools, which was rejected by the Austrian government, the Italians held demonstrations in the main streets of Trieste. Between July 10 and July 12, 1868 violence broke out against the Italians when Austrian officials attacked the crowds. During the clashes, Slovene members of the Austrian military stabbed and killed a young student Rodolfo Parisi and two workers named Francesco Sussa and Niccolò Zecchia. The young Parisi was stabbed twenty-six times with bayonets. Nearly two hundred other Italians were also seriously injured in the violence.
Assassination Attempt and Revolt of the Bilingual Tables
In 1848, when the Italian regions of the Austrian Empire rebelled against the Habsburgs, Trieste was the only major Italian city which did not take part in the revolt. For this reason, Emperor Franz Joseph thought Trieste was a loyal subject and called it Città Fedelissima – the Most Faithful City. This may have been true in 1848, but it did not remain true for much longer. The Austrians had mistreated Trieste since 1813, when its autonomy was revoked, which was an issue of growing resentment. And after 1866 the Austrian policy of administrative suffocation and Slavicization became ever more intolerable for the local government and people of Trieste. Popular hatred for the Habsburgs increased by the day among the Italian population.
In 1882, when Emperor Franz Joseph visited Trieste to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Habsburg submission, he was met with anti-Austrian demonstrations. The anti-Italian policies of the Emperor caused such discontent amongst Italians that during his visit in Trieste he was nearly assassinated by the Italian patriot Guglielmo Oberdan, a native of Trieste, and the Istrian pharmacist Donato Ragosa. Oberdan was executed for high treason on December 20, 1882. Just before his execution, he cried “Viva l'Italia, viva Trieste libera, fuori lo straniero!” (“Long live Italy, long live free Trieste, out with the foreigner!”). The Emperor never visited Trieste again.
In 1894 the city of Pirano – an Italian city in Istria – revolted after the Slavic language was forcibly introduced into the Istrian courts for the first time by the Austrians. The city of Trieste later took part in the uprising, known as the Revolt of the Bilingual Tables, which was forcibly suppressed by the Austrian government with the aid of Croatian bayonets. The following year, the Austrian government forbade Trieste from erecting a memorial plaque commemorating the revolt which said:
“Here on November 2, 1894 the mayor and the delegates of Istria reaffirmed that human power can not erase twenty centuries of Latin life.”
(“Il giorno 2 novembre 1894 qui convennero i podestà e i delegati dell'Istria a riaffermare che umano potere non cancella venti secoli di vita latina.”)
The University of Trieste and the Innsbruck Riots
Since 1866 the Italians of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were deprived of their own universities and were forced to attend German universities such as Vienna, Innsbruck and Graz. For decades the Italians sought to establish an Italian university in Trieste, but the unyielding policy of the Austro-Hungarian authorities was relentless opposition to the establishment of any Italian university, due to fear that creating Italian schools of higher education would foster a closer relationship between the Kingdom of Italy and the Italian regions subject to Austria.
In 1904 the Austrian government reluctantly compromised and permitted an Italian faculty of law at the University of Innsbruck, hoping that the concession would suppress the Italian demand for a university in Trieste. Hundreds of Italians from the Italian provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – namely Julian Venetia, Dalmatia and Trentino – traveled to Innsbruck to attend the grand opening, but unsuspectingly walked into a trap. On November 4, 1904, at the inauguration ceremony of the Italian faculty in Innsbruck, a German mob rioted and attacked the Italian students and professors.
A city-wide pogrom against Italians began; the Italian faculty of law, shops and hotels were ransacked and destroyed. Outnumbered by a hundred to one, the Italians had to be evacuated from the city after military intervention by the Kaiserjäger. The casualties were one dead and dozens wounded. The Austrian news falsely reported that the Italians started the riot by shooting into a crowd of German students. It was soon revealed that the anti-Italian riots were orchestrated by German nationalists with the complicity of the local police and government of Innsbruck who opposed the opening of an Italian faculty. It also conveniently served as a pretext for the arrest of 138 Italians who were detained for several weeks on false charges.
On November 5, 1904, the day following the incident, a disturbance erupted at the Teatro Ciscutti in the Italian city of Pola, in Istria. The angry audience shouted: “Out with the barbarians of Innsbruck! We want an Italian university in Trieste! Enough!” The foundation of the University of Trieste remained strictly prohibited by the Austrian government, and did not finally take place until 1924, after Trieste joined the Kingdom of Italy.
The Hohenlohe Decrees
In August 1913, on the eve of the First World War, the Austrian governor of Trieste Prince Konrad Hohenlohe issued several decrees banning all Italian citizens from public office and civil service, with the aim of severing the strong political, cultural and social connections between Trieste and Italy. During this time, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy were joined together in a formal alliance, the Triple Alliance, but this did not prevent the Austrian government from persecuting the Italians in their realm and violating both the spirit and letter of the alliance.
Already in the previous decades the Austrian authorities had been excluding Italians from employment in the civil sector (at railways, post offices and other state agencies) and had been reserving these jobs almost exclusively for Slovene immigrants, preventing Italians from finding employment in their own city. Prince Hohenlohe merely officialized a policy which the Austrian government had already been practicing in secret for the past several years.
The Hohenlohe Decrees led to public outrage, demonstrations and condemnation in Italian newspapers. In Italy these decrees were regarded as an act of hostility by Austria, which further contributed to the negative attitude of the Italian population and government toward Austria in the days leading up to the First World War.
The Attempted Demographic Replacement of Italians
The Austrian government also attempted an ethnic cleansing by means of internal colonization. The Austrian authorities encouraged Slavic immigrants to migrate en masse to Trieste in an attempt to Slovenize the Italian city and supplant the native Italian population.
In 1810 the population of Trieste was only 29,908 people, exclusively Italian with only a tiny fraction of minorities. The hinterland surrounding the city had an additional 8,078 people for a total provincial population of 37,986. But by 1910 the population of Trieste and its hinterland had almost 230,000 people and was 24% Slavic—at least according to the 1910 Austro-Hungarian census.
The 1910 census was proven to be infamously manipulated by the Austro-Hungarian government in several instances (in favour of Slavs, against Italians) and therefore is not reliable. But if the census is taken at face value, then within just one century from 1810 to 1910 the population of Trieste and its surroundings nearly sextupled, i.e. grew six times its size, and became almost a full quarter Slovenian, although Italians still retained an absolute majority according to the same census.
As early as 1886 the local government of Trieste had issued a formal complaint condemning the Austrian central government's attempts to destroy the Italian character of the city. On December 29, 1886 the City Council of Trieste declared:
“The City Council recognizes in these actions a clear attempt to propagate Slavism, which is incompatible with the office of the Episcopal Curia, harmful to our schools, likewise to religion and to the public government, unfair to young Italians who wish to devote themselves to to the priestly profession, dangerous to the peace and well-being of the city, and a most serious offense to the national character of the country, to the feeling of its people and to its centuries-old civilization. The City Council very strongly protests against these actions, and in the meantime reserves the right, within the limited means of its powers, to instruct the most illustrious Signor Mayor to give a summary of this resolution to the Imperial Royal Government.”In 1869 the city of Trieste had a population of 70,274, and was Italian in language, culture and ethnic composition. By 1910 the city's population more than doubled to 160,993 people and only 47.71% were native-born. Most of the new arrivals were economic migrants and rural peasants.
(“Il Consìglio della città ravvisa nel complesso dì codesti atti una manifesta opera di propagazione dello slavismo, non compatibile coll'uffìcio della Curia vescovile, dannosa alle nostre scuole, del pari che alla religione ed al governo della publica cosa, ingiusta verso i giovani italiani che si vogliono dedicare alla professione sacerdotale, pericolosa alla pace ed al benessere della città, offesa gravissima al carattere nazionale del paese, al sentimento de' suoi abitanti ed alle forme del secolare suo incivilimento. Epperò il Consiglio della città altamente protesta contro il complesso di codesti atti, e nel mentre si riserva di provvedere entro il limite dei mezzi e delle sue attribuzioni, incarica l'illustrissimo sig. Podestà di dar atto dell presenta risoluzione tanto all'i. r. Governo.”)
In 1880 the city of Trieste had a total population of 74,544, of which 67,995 were Italian (91.2%) and only 2,817 (3.7%) were Slovene. This means that in the three decades between 1880 and 1910 the Slovene population in Trieste increased by an unprecedented rate of 623%.
A startling demographic change can be observed also in the decade between 1900 and 1910. According to the Austro-Hungarian census, in 1900 the total population of Trieste and its hinterland was 178,599 people, of which 116,825 (65%) were Italian and just 24,679 (13.8%) were Slovene, while the remainder of the population was split between smaller minorities, such as Jews, Greeks, Serbo-Croats and German officials. In the city itself the population in 1900 was 134,143 people: Italians numbered 95,230 (70.9%), while Slovenes were only 5,017 (3.7%) in the city of Trieste.
The true percentage of Italians in the city of Trieste in 1900 would in reality be 87.1% if the 21,699 Italian residents from the Kingdom of Italy were included; but on the census they were categorized separately as regnicoli for political reasons. Italian citizens (or “regnicoli”) from Italy who lived in Trieste were always excluded from the censuses, whereas Slovene migrants from other regions of the Austrian Empire were always included in the censuses. This is one of the many ways in which the Austro-Hungarian authorities manipulated census statistics in order to bolster the number of the Slavs, while artificially reducing the number of Italians. But even when the regnicoli were excluded, the Italian population in 1900 was still counted at 70.9% and the Slovenes at only 3.7%.
But a mere 10 years later – according to the Austro-Hungarian census – in 1910, the total population of Trieste and the surrounding province grew from 178,599 people to 229,510 people. That is an increase of more than 50,000 people in a single decade, most of whom were Slavs, more specifically Slovenes. In the same decade, the Italian population of the city dropped from 70.9% in 1900 to 59.4% in 1910 (although the true number of Italians in 1910 would be 76.8% if the 27,924 Italian regnicoli were included). At the same time, the Slovene population of the city quadrupled, rising from just 5,017 (3.7%) in 1900 to 20,358 (12.6%) in 1910.
In 1914 the total population of Trieste and its environs was counted at 244,655. That is another significant increase of 15,000 people in only four years. But in the same year there were 4,813 deaths and only 6,434 births, demonstrating that most of this population growth was due to the arrival of more new immigrants.
An overview according to the Austro-Hungarian censuses, including regnicoli:
Demographics of the City of Trieste:
1880: Italians 67,995 (91.2%); Slovenes 2,817 (3.7%)
1900: Italians 116,929 (87.1%); Slovenes 5,017 (3.7%)
1910: Italians 123,654 (76.8%); Slovenes 20,358 (12.6%)
Demographics of Trieste with Hinterland:If the Austro-Hungarian censuses are to be believed, then the statistics clearly reveal a very high rate of Slovene immigration to Trieste in the years before World War I, which is consistent with the Austrian plan to replace the Italian population and Slovenize the city. The ethnic composition of Trieste dramatically changed from 91.2% Italian in 1880 to 76.8% Italian in 1910. The city of Trieste was being intentionally suffocated by a seemingly endless tide of Slavic migrants from the other regions of the Empire, guided by the Austrian government.
1900: Italians 138,524 (77.5%); Slovenes 24,679 (13.8%)
1910: Italians 148,398 (64.6%); Slovenes 56,916 (24.7%)
In 1911, at a Slavic teachers conference, the leading Austro-Slovene politician Otokar Rybar acknowledged the rapid demographic changes and even went so far as to proclaim:
“Within thirty years, Trieste will lose its Italian character.”
(“Nell'arco di trent'anni la città perderà la sua impronta esteriore italiana.”)In reality, the Slavs still had a very long way to go in order to achieve this goal. According to the statistics above, in 1910 the Slovenes were still only 12.6% of the city population, while Italians were 76.8%. But if these radical demographic trends had continued unopposed for several more decades, then it is probable that the Italians of Trieste would have eventually been wiped out by a tide of migrant-colonists: the Habsburg government would have achieved a perfect ethnic cleansing without having to fire a single shot. However, these demographic replacement policies came to an end when the Kingdom of Italy defeated the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I (1915-1918), thereby preventing this ethnic cleansing from being accomplished.
The plan to Slovenize the city of Trieste ultimately backfired and failed. Indeed, the Austrians and Slavs never really came close to completing this task in Trieste. But nonetheless the attempt was made, and the Habsburgs paid for it with the loss of their Empire.
Slovene Nationalism and Ambition
By 1910, the Trieste metropolitan area hosted the largest Slovene population in Europe, having more Slovenes than any other metropolitan region, but only by number, not by percentage. At no point in history did the Slovenes ever form a majority in Trieste, nor anywhere close to a majority. According to the 1910 census, at their peak the Slovenes grew to 24.8% of the overall provincial population and 12.6% of the city's population. Meanwhile, in 1910 the Italians were still 64.6% of the overall provincial population and 76.8% of the city's population. In all cases the Italians formed an absolute majority. Slavs were never, at any time in history, anything more than a minority in Trieste. Moreover, almost all of the Slovenes inhabiting the city of Trieste at the time were first-generation immigrants who arrived during the mass wave of Slavic immigration between 1900-1914. They were not natives of the city, and about half of them emigrated back home a few years later.
However, based on the mere fact that Trieste had the fastest-rising Slovene population in Europe (due to a mass immigration plan) and had a higher number of Slavs than the small city of Ljubljana (the modern capital of Slovenia), Slovene nationalists became convinced that Trieste belonged to them and began to proclaim Trieste a “Slavic city”. Of course, this is just as ridiculous as calling New York City an “Italian city” merely because there are more Italians living in New York than in Naples. Following the same logic, São Paulo would also be an “Italian city” since there are more Italians in São Paulo than in Rome, Milan and Naples combined. Never mind that the Italians of São Paulo are mostly descendants of recent immigrants, and never mind that they are still a minority by percentage, according to this argument the Brazilian city should belong to Italy anyway. Such logic is obviously ludicrous and deeply-flawed. But Slavic nationalism has always been strongly based on ludicrous revisionist propaganda, romantic myth and fantasy, rather than on reality.
Incited by romantic nationalism, the Slovene intellectuals sought to create a new country called Slovenia and sought to annex Trieste and other Italian territories to their newly-proposed country. This despite the fact that Slovene cultural activity in Trieste (literature, music, art) only emerged for the first time in the late 19th century, prior to which Slovene culture was entirely unknown in Trieste. This also despite the fact that Trieste had ethnically and culturally been an Italian city for about 2,000 years, and still was a majority Italian city by population. Even according to Austro-Hungarian statistics, which were notoriously biased in favour of Slavs, Slovenes at their demographic height were no more than 24% of the provincial population and a mere 12.6% of the city population.
Aware that Trieste was still culturally and ethnically an Italian city, Slovene nationalists promoted more immigration and even advocated ethnic cleansing as a solution to increase the Slovene population and seize control of the city. Slovene intellectuals and journalists did not hide their hatred of Italians, nor did they hide their desire to exterminate Italians and destroy the Italianity of Trieste. In fact, ethnic cleansing against Italians was openly endorsed and glorified. The Austro-Slovene newspaper Edinost (founded in Trieste in 1876 by a Slovene immigrant, Ivan Dolinar) boldly proclaimed on January 7, 1911:
“We will not abandon our struggle until we have eliminated the Italian character of Trieste and reduced it to ashes. Up until now we have fought for equality, but tomorrow we will fight for domination. We will not stop until we are in control of Trieste. The Italianity of Trieste is in decline, it is celebrating its final orgy before death. We Slovenes will rejoice in its death.”
(“Non abbandoneremo la nostra lotta fino a quando non avremo sotto i piedi, ridotta in polvere, l'italianità di Trieste. Fin ora la nostra lotta era per l'uguaglianza, domani diremo agli italiani che la nostra lotta è per il dominio. Non cesseremo finché non comanderemo noi. L'italianità di Trieste, che si trova agli sgoccioli, festeggia la sua ultima orgia prima della morte. Noi sloveni inviteremo domani questi votati alla morte a recitare il confiteor.”)None of the editors of Edinost were natives of Trieste. All chief editors of this newspaper were Slovene immigrants who moved to Trieste in the second half of the 19th century:
• Ivan Dolinar, born in Bischofslack (Škofja Loka, Slovenia)Another Slovene figure during this period was Vekoslav Raič, also an immigrant. Born to a peasant family in Zween, Luttenberg (now Cven, Slovenia) with the German name Alois Reich, he later slavicized his name and immigrated to Trieste around 1867. There in 1869 he co-founded a workers' association for Slovene immigrants in Trieste, and in 1871 he founded the Slovene newspaper Primorec. In the pages of this newspaper he asserted that the fate of Trieste was that of being occupied by Slavs and annexed in the future to a “South Slavic State”.
• France Cegnar, born in Bischofslack (Škofja Loka, Slovenia)
• Viktor Dolenc, born in Senosecchia (Senožeče, Slovenia)
• Lovro Žvab, born in Duttogliano (Dutovlje, Slovenia)
• Makso Cotič, born in Vipacco (Vipava, Slovenia)
• Engelbert Besednjak, born in Gorizia to immigrant parents (Branik & Trnovo, Slovenia)
• Filip Peric, born in Sella (Sela na Krasu, Slovenia)
These Slovene agitators — from Dolinar to Raič — emigrated to Trieste to engage in political propaganda, to advocate for government Slavicization programs, to undermine the Italianity of Istria and Trieste, and to rally other Slovenes to fight against the native Italians in order to achieve their ambitious nationalist and expansionist goals of an independent and imperial Slovenia.
Trieste in the First World War
Following the collapse of the Triple Alliance and Austria's declaration of war against Serbia, the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire on May 23, 1915.
On the night of May 23, 1915, the day that Italy declared war, anti-Italian groups composed of Austrians and Slovenes set fire to the headquarters of Il Piccolo, the largest Italian newspaper in Trieste. On the same night they also burned the premises of the Triestine Gymnastics Society and the Lega Nazionale, an Italian association established in 1891 to protect the cultural heritage of Trieste. Soon after, the Austrian authorities banned the Lega Nazionale, seized all its assets and closed all its schools. The anti-Italian violence continued as bands of Austrians and Slovenes marched through the Italian city, sacking coffee shops and looting Italian-owned stores. The Monument to Giuseppe Verdi was also destroyed.
During World War I, the economic life of Trieste came to a halt: trade was frozen by the Austrian authorities. The political life of Trieste was also extinguished: Italian newspapers were shut down by the Habsburg government, and many Italians were imprisoned for their political beliefs, namely their support for independence and union with Italy. Not only were political individuals targeted, but also many innocent civilians with no ties to politics were attacked.
The Austrians made ruthless use of concentration camps known as lagers to imprison civilians. Thousands of Italian civilians were accused or suspected of being spies, saboteurs, political opponents and sympathizers of Italy. On the whole, Italians were regarded as disloyal enemies by the Habsburgs. As a result, Italian civilians were systematically rounded up, deported from their homes and interned in concentration camps throughout the Empire. In total, some tens of thousands of Italians from Istria and Trieste – not only suspects but also their entire families, wives and children – were arrested, deported to concentration camps and forced to live in fatal conditions.
As a result of the disastrous wartime policies of Austria, Trieste's population declined from 244,655 people in 1914 to about 170,000 people by the end of 1918. Many Italian citizens fled to Italy to avoid imprisonment and persecution; while most of the Slovene immigrants who had migrated to Trieste between 1900-1914 left and returned to their homelands.
The Kingdom of Italy defeated the Austro-Hungarian Empire in October-November 1918. Already on October 30, 1918, prior to Austria's official surrender, the population of Trieste proclaimed its union to Italy and raised Italian flags over the city. The Committee of Public Safety of Trieste declared that “Austria no longer has possession of the Italian Adriatic lands”. The Austrians, conscious of their inevitable defeat, recognized the Committee's decisions, and on the following day all the Habsburg officials and 3,000 garrison soldiers abandoned the city.
Italian forces entered Trieste on November 4, 1918 without any resistance. The troops led by General Carlo Pettiti were cheerfully greeted at the pier by the entire population. The General declared: “In the name of the King of Italy, I take possession of the city of Trieste!”. The people responded by singing and chanting “Viva Trieste italiana!” (“Long live Italian Trieste!”).
Policies of the Kingdom of Italy
After World War I, when Trieste was reunited with Italy, the Habsburgs' political policies were reversed. In response to the half a century of systematic persecution against the Italian population during the Austro-Hungarian period, in the 1920's a series of measures were undertaken by the Italian government to reverse any changes that occurred under Austro-Hungarian rule.
Contrary to popular belief, Slavic surnames were not forcibly changed or Italianized. On the contrary, Italian citizens whose original Latin and Italian surnames had been altered, falsified and slavicized by the previous Austrian administration were granted the option of voluntarily reverting their surname back to their original Latin and Italian forms. According to Italian law, changes to surnames could be made only upon request and were purely voluntary.
However, the following involuntary policies were adopted, in order to counter the previous Austrian policy of forced Slavicization: the Italian language was made compulsory in schools; the teaching of Slovenian in schools was forbidden; Slovene newspapers were obliged to publish bilingual texts in both Italian and Slovene. Such laws against openly-hostile minority groups were not uncommon at the time. Similar and even more severe policies were practiced by many other countries in the same period, including Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Switzerland and the United States.
The Italian government also adhered to the principle that Slavs are guests on Italian soil and, as such, they should respect and acknowledge the language, laws and customs of the land in which they are guests. This was a principle which was followed by nearly all of the above-mentioned countries during the same time period. Each of these countries also enacted significantly harsher policies against minority populations than Italy, and with far less historical justification than Italy.
Indeed these Italian measures – aimed at assimilating the Slovene minority and restoring Italian culture to its proper place, in territories that historically and rightfully belonged to Italy – were in fact much more mild than the aggressive policies of demographic replacement and ethnocide undertaken by the Slavs and Austrians against the Italian population in the previous decades.
The Rise of Fascism and the Burning of the National Hall
The anti-Italian sentiment and ethnic tension instigated by the Habsburgs among the Slavs in the 19th century carried over into the 20th century, leading to violence against Italians, especially in Dalmatia. A deadly attack took place in 1920, in an event known as the July 11 Incident, when two Italian soldiers were killed and some others were wounded by a Slavic mob in Spalato, Dalmatia.
Outraged by this provocation, the Italians gathered in Trieste on July 13, 1920 and held a pro-Dalmatian rally. Several of the participants were Italians from Dalmatia. During the rally scuffles broke out: several Italian civilians were wounded and a 17-year-old Dalmatian boy Giovanni Nini was stabbed to death by a Slavic assailant.
Later that day a group of Slovene militants barricaded themselves in the Slovene National Hall (Narodni dom) in Trieste. They fired shots into the crowd and threw grenades and explosives from the windows of the hall, injuring several people on the ground and killing carabinieri lieutenant Luigi Casciana, who was trying to guard the building from angry protesters. The Italian military was forced to intervene, and the Slovene militants began exchanging gunfire with the Italian military and police.
In retaliation for these incidents, a group of Fascists reportedly arrived on the scene and burned down the Slovene National Hall. Although according to other reports the building caught fire by accident, when a stockpile of munitions inside the hall was hit by a bullet during the exchange of gunfire with the police, igniting the arsenal. In any case, the building was completely destroyed.
The National Hall (Narodni dom) was founded in 1901 by Slovenian nationalists with the backing of the Austrian Imperial government, and was a centre of Slovene immigration, political agitation and territorial aspirations over Trieste, which was strongly resented by the Italian majority. At the time, the hall hosted a clandestine Yugoslav military organization. It was also the headquarters of Edinost, an anti-Italian group whose newspaper was owned and edited by Slovene immigrants.
The decades of anti-Italian persecution by the Austrians and Slavs before World War I, coupled with Slavic violence against Italians, the spread of Communism among the Slavic population and ongoing political unrest in the aftermath of the war (including threats of a Soviet-backed revolution and fears of a coup d'etat by Communists), all contributed to the widespread popularity of Fascism in Trieste. Indeed, ever since the birth of the Fascist movement in 1919, Trieste had become one of the main centres of Fascism, as the Italians viewed Fascism as an expression of patriotism and regarded it as a means of defending themselves, their identity and their city from foreign elements and attacks. In the 1921 elections the Fascists in Trieste received 45% of the vote.
The Rise of Slavic Terrorism
In previous decades, Slavic violence against Italians generally occurred in the form of disorganized attacks by radical individuals and flash mobs. But in the 1920's Slavic radicals in Italy began to organize and form domestic terrorist groups.
In 1927 a group of Slavs formed an anti-Fascist and anti-Italian terrorist group called TIGR (an abbreviation of Trieste-Istria-Gorizia-Fiume or Trst-Istra-Gorica-Reka). They carried out several bombings and assassinations in Italy with the goal of annexing Trieste and other Italian lands to Yugoslavia. In addition to various murders, bombings and voter intimidation, they also burned down several schools and kindergartens between 1927-1932, including ones in Prosecco and Cattinara in Trieste. They also executed a number of Slovenes whom they regarded as “pro-Italian” and thus as “traitors”. TIGR was aligned with Communists by the 1930's and was supported by the Yugoslav and British secret services. They smuggled weapons from Yugoslavia, in anticipation of an armed insurrection against Italy. In 1938 they planned an assassination attempt against Benito Mussolini.
By 1940-1941 the group began to disappear due to most of its leaders being arrested, tried and sentenced by courts of law in Trieste. Many members of TIGR later joined the Yugoslav Partisans.
The Forty Days of Trieste: Trieste Under Communism
On May 1, 1945, at the end of World War II, the Yugoslav Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito, the future Communist dictator of Yugoslavia, entered the city of Trieste and began the brutal 42-day occupation known as the Forty Days of Trieste. During these days the Yugoslavs committed many massacres and atrocities against Italians. Several thousand Italians from Trieste disappeared, simply vanishing without a trace. Later it was discovered that many were arrested and sent to Yugoslav concentration camps in Borovnica and Goli Otok, from which they never returned, while the rest were murdered and dumped in mass graves known as foibe. This was part of the Foibe Massacres in which thousands of Italian civilians were murdered by the Yugoslavs, who intended to eliminate the native Italian population and annex Trieste and other northeastern Italian territories to Communist Yugoslavia.
The primary foibe of Trieste were those of Basovizza and Monrupino, located just outside the city, but Italian bodies were also dumped in mass graves in the foibe at Opicina, Gropada, Ternovizza and several other villages after being murdered by the Yugoslavs.
The Yugoslavs even committed some atrocities in the open, such as the Massacre of Via Imbriani. On May 5, 1945 approximately 50,000 Italians organized a peaceful demonstration in Trieste to protest against Yugoslav annexation plans. They waved Italian flags and sang Italian songs, to demonstrate that Trieste was an Italian city. When a column of protesters turned onto Via Imbriani (a street in Trieste), the Yugoslav soldiers opened fire on the unarmed civilians, killing five and wounding ten. Three of the victims were women.
The Italian population was persecuted and terrorized in various other ways as well. A May 8, 1945 memorandum published by the US State Department stated:
“The Yugoslavs are even trying to establish civil control in the eastern part of Udine, the Italian province beyond Venezia Giulia. In Trieste the Yugoslavs are using all the familiar tactics of terror. Every Italian of any importance is being arrested. Yugoslavs have taken over complete control and are conscripting Italians for forced labor, seizing the banks and other valuable property, and requisitioning grain and other supplies on a large scale. The Archbishop of Gorizia and other priests have been arrested, and many others are threatened.”During Tito's occupation, the city of Trieste was transformed into one large concentration camp. Just as the Slavs had done in Dalmatia, Istria, Fiume and the rest of Julian Venetia, Tito tried to “make Trieste Yugoslav”. He targeted not only Fascists, but also left-wing Italians, indiscriminately making slaughter of both Fascist and anti-Fascist, military and civilian, male and female, adult and child, proving that the Yugoslavs targeted Italians primarily on ethnic grounds, not only political grounds. Tito sought to violently ethnically cleanse Trieste of Italians, replace them with Slavic people and annex the city to Yugoslavia. He was only prevented from doing so by the Western Allies, who assumed control of the city on June 12, 1945.
(“A Trieste gli jugoslavi stanno usando tutte le familiari tattiche di terrore. Ogni italiano di una qualche importanza viene arrestato. Gli Jugoslavi hanno assunto un controllo completo e stanno attuando la coscrizione degli italiani per il lavoro forzato, rilevando le banche e altre proprietà di valore e requisendo cereali e altre vettovaglie in grande quantità.”)
Slovene Collaboration and Collective Amnesia
When Tito's Partisans occupied Trieste, a large portion of the Slovenian population in Italy welcomed the Yugoslav Communists as “liberators”. Many Slovenes living in the hinterland outside the city supported Communism and collaborated with the Yugoslav invaders, freely helping them to hunt down Italians and anti-Communists. At the end of the war, most of the Slovenes living in Italy campaigned for the annexation of Trieste to the Communist dictatorship of Yugoslavia, even as Italian civilians were being actively massacred by the Yugoslavs.
After the end of World War II, when the new borders were drawn, all of this was conveniently forgotten. The Slovenes who remained on the Italian side of the border claimed they were innocent victims of Fascist oppression and persecution, and defended their participation in partisan terrorist activities by arguing that they “helped liberate Italy from Fascism”. This view is still endorsed by mainstream Allied historians who are eager to depict Italy in the worst possible light due to its taboo association with Fascism, and due to the inane logic that all ethnic minorities and anti-Fascist groups must be defended at all costs, even at the expense of honesty and historical facts.
The Habsburg Myth
Moreover, in the post-war period the Habsburgs underwent a sort of historical “rehabilitation”: the Austro-Hungarian Empire was presented by post-war revisionists as a paradise of multiculturalism, and was nostalgically depicted as a multi-ethnic utopia under the good government of the tolerant Austrian Habsburgs. This is known today as the Habsburg Myth.
This mythical rehabilitation of the Habsburgs became part of a conscious effort by Allied historians to re-write and romanticize the history of Europe before the rise of Fascism and National Socialism. This was done primarily to emphasize Austrian statehood and depict Austria as a victim of Nazi Germany, so as to keep Austria separated from Germany after the war. But it also conveniently served to portray the Yugoslavs as sympathetic victims of Italian Fascists, and erase all traces of Austro-Slavic violence and aggression against Italians before the rise of the Fascist movement.
The Habsburg policy of forced Slavicization from 1866-1918 and the persecution of Italians by Austrians, Slovenes and Croats during the Austro-Hungarian period, which greatly influenced the policy of the Italian government between the world wars, is often hidden and ignored. The entire history preceding the advent of Fascism is often neglected and ignored because it conflicts with the official Allied narrative of Slovenes as innocent victims. According to this narrative, the Slovenes were merely reacting to Fascist aggression and therefore their actions were justified.
In reality, history shows that the Slavs were very much the aggressors in this case. The hostility of the Slavs towards the Italian population predated the existence of Fascism by almost a century. For several decades the Slovenes actively participated in an attempted ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide against Italians under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But many academics today are reluctant to admit this, because acknowledging this historical truth would seemingly absolve Fascist policy, and would also undermine many of the questionable political decisions made by the Allied Powers in the aftermath of the Second World War, such as delivering Istria and Dalmatia to Yugoslavia, instead of recognizing them as historical Italian territories.
Both Yugoslav and Western Allied historians have a keen interest in painting history in a deceptive manner. Both would prefer to ignore or suppress these troubling facts and pretend that the history of conflict between Italians and Slavs only began with the rise of Fascism, rather than acknowledge the historical truth that the ethnic conflicts arose in the Austro-Hungarian period and were instigated first by the Austrians for the purpose of preserving Habsburg power and hegemony, and second by Slovene and Croatian nationalists for the purpose of nation-building and territorial expansion.
The ‘Free’ Territory of Trieste
In 1947 the Allied Powers created the ‘Free’ Territory of Trieste – a supposedly free and independent state. In reality Trieste was neither free nor independent, but was under the control of the newly-formed United Nations and was subject to Allied military occupation. The ‘Free’ Territory of Trieste was divided into two zones: Zone A (which included the actual city of Trieste and a small strip of hinterland) governed by the British and American forces known as AMGOT; and Zone B (a much larger piece of land, although less populous, which included several Istrian towns) governed by the Yugoslavs. Italians formed the overwhelming majority of the population in both occupation zones.
From 1947 to 1954, the Slovene minority in Italy continued to support Communism and Yugoslav imperial expansion. The Communist Party of the Free Territory of Trieste (PCTLT) was founded in 1947 by Slovenes who agitated for the annexation of Trieste to Communist Yugoslavia, even though Italians formed the overwhelming majority of the population in both occupation zones and even though the territory had never belonged to Slavs at any point in history.
According to the estimated statistics of the Allied Military Government in 1949, the ‘Free’ Territory of Trieste had a total population of 370,000, of which 290,200 (78%) were Italian and only 71,000 (19%) were Slovene. Zone A, under American and British occupation, had a population of 302,000 people: 239,200 (79%) were Italian, while 63,000 (21%) were Slovene. Zone B, under Yugoslav occupation, in 1946 had a population of 68,000 people: 51,000 (75%) were Italian, while Slovenes and Croats combined were 17,000 (25%). Slovenes by themselves were only 8,000 (11%) in Zone B, while Croats by themselves were just 9,000 (13%). Later, as many as 40,000 Italians were forced to leave Zone B to escape the Yugoslav Communist government.
The Revolt of Trieste
In 1953 the Allies announced their intention to divide the ‘Free’ Territory of Trieste between Italy and Yugoslavia, which angered the Italians. Additionally, even though political demonstrations were banned by the Allied government, on October 14, 1953 a large number of pro-Yugoslav protesters were permitted to march in Trieste by the British police, which angered Italians further.
The final blow came on November 3, 1953, the feast of Trieste's patron saint and the 35th anniversary of the entrance of Italian troops into Trieste in 1918. To celebrate the occasion, the mayor Gianni Bartoli raised the Italian flag over the City Hall of Trieste. The Allied authorities had the Italian flag removed and publicly burned. In response, a crowd of two hundred protesters gathered on the following day and demanded the flag be restored. The British police charged and attacked the unarmed crowd, causing the Italians to rebel against the Allied military occupational government.
Riots and skirmishes between police and civilians ensued. The revolt culminated with British police shooting into crowds of Italian demonstrators, killing 6 civilians, including a 14 year old boy, and wounding hundreds. The Revolt of Trieste ended on November 6, 1953 when American troops occupied the city.
The Return of Trieste to Italy
On October 26, 1954 Trieste was finally returned to Italy, together with the small strip of land of Zone A. When Italian troops arrived in Trieste they were enthusiastically welcomed with cheers and emotion by the entire city: 150,000 people filled the squares, waving the Italian flag, celebrating and singing Italy's national anthem in a mass demonstration of patriotism.
However, the area of Zone B was given to Yugoslavia by the Allies as a punishment to Italy. The Yugoslav Communist government was not satisfied with its gains and continued to claim that Trieste rightfully belonged to Yugoslavia until 1975, when Yugoslavia signed the Treaty of Osimo and relinquished their claims to Trieste. However, in the process, Italy permanently lost Istria.
Each year on October 26 the Italians celebrate the anniversary of the return of Trieste to Italy.
Slovene Provocations in Trieste Today
According to the 1971 census – Italy's last ethnic census – the Slovenes numbered 15,564 people in the city of Trieste (5.7% of the population; the descendants of those Slavic immigrants who came to Trieste in the 19th and 20th centuries) while Italians numbered 254,257 (93%). To this day most Slovenes do not truly live in the historical city of Trieste; most still live in the environs and small villages outside the city proper.
Today the Slovene minority in Italy is protected by law, and the Italian government is fully devoted to enforcing multiculturalism, even though the culture and civilization of Trieste has always been Italian. The Italian population is forced to tolerate this policy, ignore history and cater to the Slovenes due to their protected minority status. Meanwhile, many Slovenes in Italy are political agitators and are still attached to their Communist past: they still refer to the members of TIGR as “freedom fighters” and continue to hold celebrations in honour of the domestic terrorists. The same terrorist organization is also officially honoured by the Republic of Slovenia.
Members of the Slovene minority in Trieste regularly hold celebrations for the Yugoslav Partisans, and many are also negationists who deny the historicity of the Foibe Massacres or seek to mitigate or justify them. Despite the fact that Trieste has never been a Slovene city, and the fact that these lands have never belonged to Slovenia, and the fact that the ancestors of the Slovenes arrived in Italy first as invaders and then as guests on Italian soil, Slovene nationalists and Communists continue to assert that Trieste belongs to them.
Even though the Slovenes have special rights and privileges bestowed upon them, and are officially protected by the Italian State, they still persist in being openly anti-Italian. They frequently desecrate Italian monuments with graffiti and Communist symbols.
In 2009 a group of Slovenes demonstrated in Trieste with Slovenian flags and Communist banners; in 2013 and 2014 many Slovenes participated in demonstrations in support of the MTL, a secessionist group in Trieste led by a collaborator of the Slovene secret services. A considerable portion of their supporters are Slovene minorities living in the suburbs near Trieste. On May 1, 2016 a group of Slovenes again demonstrated in Trieste with Slovenian flags and Yugoslav Communist banners in support of Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito. On the next day they vandalized an Italian monument fountain on the Hill of San Giusto in Trieste.
To add insult to injury, the current President of the Communal Council of Trieste since 2011 is Iztok Furlanič, a member of the Slovene minority and the first Slovene to ever hold this post. He is a descendant of Partisans and is also the provincial secretary of the Communist Refoundation Party. He is both a Titoist and an advocate of the Slavicization of Trieste, a city which is more than 90% Italian. This would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, but this is the current twisted political climate in which the Italian people are forced to live. Ironically, the surname Furlanič is the slavicized form of the Italian surname Furlan (a name of Venetian dialectal origin, meaning Friulian) which indicates his family is likely of at least partial Italian origin, but today pretends to be Slovene.
The Patriotism of Trieste, the Most Italian City
Trieste is known as la città più italiana or la città italianissima – the Most Italian City.
The anti-Italian policies of the Habsburgs and their attempts at forcible Slavicization prior to World War I, together with the 42-day occupation of the Yugoslavs and the Foibe Massacres at the end of World War II (amounting to two attempted ethnic cleansings in under a century), in addition to the decade-long military occupation by the Western Allies after the war, not to mention the current political climate and the presence of a very small but very vocal and hostile anti-Italian Slovene minority, has all only served to reinforce the strong Italian patriotism of Trieste.
A small percentage of the current citizens of Trieste are Italian Exiles and descendants of Exiles who were fraternally welcomed by the city and people of Trieste after being forced to flee their ancient homes in Istria, Dalmatia and Julian Venetia in order to escape massacre and persecution at the hands of the Yugoslav Communists at the end of World War II.
Today Trieste remains one of the most proud and patriotic cities in all of Italy and is home to a number of patriotic, nationalist and irredentist organizations devoted to defending Trieste and its millennial Italian civilization.