The city of Trieste – known as the ‘Most Italian City’ for its ardent patriotism – has a long history dating all the way back to 128 BC, when it was founded by the Romans. The city was an important colony, but was long overshadowed by neighboring Aquileia. Trieste continued to be overshadowed during the Middle Ages by its rival Venice. In the 19th century Trieste experienced a demographic and economic boom, quickly elevating it to the largest and most important port city in the Adriatic.
The millennial Italianity of Trieste has often been underestimated and depreciated by outsiders, while the importance of the German and Slavic elements have been grossly distorted and exaggerated to absurd levels. At the same time, the historical tragedies suffered by the Italian population under the Habsburgs and Yugoslavs, and the attempts to destroy Trieste's Italian character in the 19th and 20th centuries, have been almost wholly suppressed or ignored by historians since the end of World War II.
Although the anti-Italian policies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire used to be fairly well-known both inside and outside of Italy, and came to the forefront of world attention at the time of the First World War, today this history is all but forgotten – and intentionally so. Prior to the First World War, the Habsburg government enacted a policy of ethnic cleansing in Trieste and the surrounding Italian regions. At the end of the Second World War, the Yugoslav Communists led by dictator Josip Broz Tito made a second attempt to accomplish this ethnic cleansing against Italians.
In short, the Austrians and the Yugoslavs attempted to “make Trieste Slavic”. They failed in this mission in Trieste, but were more successful in Istria and Dalmatia. To read more about this, see the full article: Making Trieste Slavic: Ethnic Cleansing and the Attempted Slavicization of Trieste
Here is a condensed overview of the historical points covered in the article:
- The earliest inhabitants of Trieste were settlers from Italy.
- Trieste was politically part of Italy since the 1st century BC.
- Trieste continued to be united to Italy and the successive Italian States in an unbroken historical line until 1382.
- After 1382 Trieste was an autonomous city under the protection of the Habsburgs, but retained a local Italian government.
- Trieste has been home to a predominantly Italian population for as long as historical records exist.
- Slavs did not live anywhere near Trieste until the 13th century.
- There was no sizable Slav population in Trieste until the 19th century.
- The only official languages in Trieste's history were Latin and Italian.
- After Latin, the spoken languages of Trieste have always been dialects of Italian.
- Neither the German nor Slavic languages ever played a significant role in the life of Trieste, neither in administration, nor in culture, nor in the everyday life of the people.
- Slavic high culture, such as literature, music and art, was non-existent in Trieste prior to the late 19th century.
- In 1813 Trieste's autonomy was revoked by the Habsburgs.
- From 1866 to 1918 the Habsburgs adopted an official policy of forced Germanization and Slavicization in Italian lands, specifically South Tyrol, Dalmatia and the Adriatic coast.
- Methods of Slavicization included: closing Italian schools; removing Italians from political offices and courts; disbanding Italian cultural associations; banning and burning Italian newspapers; imposing the Slavic tongue; attempting to ban the Italian language.
- The Austrian government also encouraged Slavs (especially Slovenes) to immigrate en masse to Trieste, in what amounted to an attempt at ethnic cleansing against Italians by means of demographic replacement.
- In 1886 the local government of Trieste protested against Austria's attempts to Slavicize the city.
- Slovene nationalists advocated the annexation of Trieste to an independent Slovenia; some endorsed the Slovenization of Trieste and the elimination of the Italian population.
- In 1913 Prince Hohenlohe banned all Italian citizens from public office and civil service.
- Italian policy towards the Slovenes and Germans in the interwar period (1919-1939) was a direct response to the systematic persecution of Italians by the Slavs and Germans during the Austro-Hungarian period (1866-1918).
- Decades of anti-Italian policy influenced the rise and popularity of Fascism in Trieste.
- The systematic persecution of Italians and attempted ethnic cleansing under the Habsburgs are often suppressed or ignored by post-war historians for political reasons.
- From 1927 to 1941 Slovene terrorists (called TIGR) engaged in acts of domestic terrorism, including systematic assassinations and bombings against Italians and schoolchildren in Trieste and other regions.
- During and after World War II, the Slovene minority in Trieste collaborated with Yugoslav Communists and participated in the rounding up of Italians. Many Italians were sent to concentration camps and killed in the Foibe Massacres.
- The ‘Free’ Territory of Trieste was anything but free.
- From 1947 to 1954 the Slovene minority in Trieste supported the local Communist Party and agitated for the annexation of Trieste to Communist Yugoslavia.
- Today the Slovene minority in Trieste (which amounts to a mere 5.7% of the population; remnants of turn of the century immigrants) still strongly supports Communism and persistently provokes the Italian majority.
- Trieste remains one of the most staunchly patriotic Italian cities in all of Italy.