Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Plea From Fiume to Italy

(Written by Edoardo Susmel, taken from the journal “Italy Today: A Fortnightly Bulletin”, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1919.)

The sacred rights of Fiume are still being contested; but right and truth stand above contestation, beyond dispute. Fiume has always been Italian. Its Italian origins are lost in the history of Rome. The historical evolution of our city shows that it sprang from the Roman city of Tarsatica. Theodore Mommsen mentions it; the Roman arch proves it; the most recent excavations in the Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, which brought to light Roman houses, walls, stones, wells, vases, and coins are proof of it. The most important Roman element in our city is the duumviral system of government, which lasted throughout the middle ages, even after our city ceased to be a Roman municipality, down to the middle of the nineteenth century. The Italian city of Fiume therefore originated as the Roman city of Tarsatica.

Under the Lords of Duino our city awakened itself to a new municipal life, which was none other but the continuation of the tradition of the Romans; the people were ever conscious of the true rights of the city; under the ashes of feudalism glowed the embers of the ancient spirit of the municipality. And when the feudal rule began to relax, there arose a new Commune, based on the old Roman institutions not created, but evolved from the Roman traditions just as the Italian language in Fiume was evolved from the Latin of the Roman days.

The commune originated with the peace of 1183, and the good effects of the peace of Constance were felt even by those who did not take part in the league, for by seeing the other cities partly or totally independent, they too became imbued with the desire to emancipate themselves from feudalism and to establish a free municipal government. Fiume governed herself in accordance with her ancestral traditional rights, which through the munificence of the Lords of Duino, Walsee, and Hapsburg were continually increased by new privileges.

Fiume was placed on the map only in 1530. In this year Emperor Ferdinand I sanctioned the ancient statutes of Fiume. Our city had, even before then, its statutes and laws, but they had not been collected in orderly fashion and sanctioned by anyone. We know this to be the truth from the fact that our city, when it came under the banner of Saint Mark, sent orators to Venice to implore that its statutes and privileges be confirmed; and we also know that the Republic declared itself ready to respect, and wherever necessary, to increase the rights of Fiume.

The Statutes were a body of laws upon which the constitution of Fiume was based. Those laws gave our city a truly remarkable position. At that time Fiume was, although so small, a little State, not annexed to any province, but independent, governed by its own laws. In other words, our city when establishing its new municipal rules, tried to fashion itself along the lines of a republic with its own legislative and executive systems. It was on a level with other cities. To several Italian cities, notably Ancona, Messina, Manfredonia, Civitavecchia, Fiume sent its own consuls. The commune was therefore in direct contact with foreign states to which it sent ambassadors nominated by its own council.

During the fifteenth century Fiume was clearly of an Italian character. In every way this city of the Quarnaro was a daughter of the glorious queen of the Adriatic. Not only the language, but the dwellings, clothing, the ornaments, the names, holidays, dances, games, the nocturnal serenades, and the masquerades, gave to Fiume its Italian character.

Even then Fiume lived on the sea and from the sea. On the shores of the port the shipbuilders labored, constructing new boats or restoring and rebuilding old ones; and there was pride on the face of the master-builders as they surveyed the many types of ships under construction in the port.

Released from feudal servitude, Fiume, from behind her high walls smiles on the green fields and glaucous waves below; nestled about the foot of the castle, as devoutly as though it were a church, she lives in a whirl of work; the chimes of the palace ring gaily; she dictates her own laws; meets out justice and jealously guards her treasured liberties; she rules within the walls of her city, for her conception of Country did not go beyond them.

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are a preface to our community life ; a period in which the spirit of guarding zealously the ancient privileges of the Roman City was fostered. On the statutes of Ferdinand, Fiume based her autonomous position. The laws of 1807, 1848, 1868 tried to annex the free city of Fiume to the Hungarian Crown, but Fiume even to the present has maintained her character as a separate entity. Among the past documents which are proof of this is the Peace of Worms, where Fiume is considered as a state, and the Pragmatic Sanction of 1720, which was recognized and accepted separately by our city. For the present it is sufficient to cite the fundamental law of Hungary where it is stated that the three factors which constitute the crown of Saint Stephen are, Hungary, Fiume and its territory, and Croatia-Slavonia.

But history teaches still another great truth — that Fiume never belonged politically to Croatia. Fiume has always lived a life of its own, purely Italian. There was even a marked boundary line between Fiume and Croatia in ancient times, according to ancient historians. Not history alone but ethnology itself favors an Italian Fiume. The autonomous element of the city has always been Italian; the oldest writings, the books of the chancellors, the public documents, are in Italian; Venetian is its architecture, its dialect, its houses, its roads, its gardens, its clothing; Italian are its sentiments, its spirit, the names of its streets and squares, its schools, its societies, its institutions, its theatres, its newspapers; Italian is its city hall, that invincible rock of the ancient rights of Fiume.

Innumerable were the attempts made to break into our city government, to denationalize its schools, to attack the Italian character of our institutions, to stop the spread of our language. Especially in the past few years has Fiume lived through days of sorrow and of terror. Citizens, men and women, have been thrown into prison and exiled; natives have been carried afar off into strange lands, persecuted and killed by the hundreds. The autonomous association has been disbanded, the Literary Club, the Popular Library, "Alessandro Manzoni," and the Popular University have been dissolved; the press has been gagged, our poor women offended, ill-treated by the local police; our ways, our squares, schools, churches, theatres, the city hall have become Hungarian. Every Italian vestige has been violently removed by the newly imposed state police.

The past three years have been the most wicked in the history of our city; the tyrants, Wickenburg and Kesmarky, will be forever notorious for their infamy. But even in the hour of grief, even in the anguish of death, Fiume, strengthened by immutable faith in its destiny, watched and waited; worship for our ancient mother, love for Italy lived in our souls and kept alive in us the hope for a better future.

The sacrifice of our women was worthy of the greatness of Rome. The disaster of Caporetto threw our city into deep mourning. Our homes knew naught else but the cries and sobs of our souls; and while the government offices celebrated with Hungarian and Croatian flags the joy of victory, the hearts of the people of Fiume were bleeding. And with the disaster of Caporetto the martyrdom of our prisoners began; by the hundreds, by the thousands, soldiers of Italy, wounded, hungry and foot-sore, flocked to our city. They trembled from the cold and died of hunger.

Although facing the danger of exile, groups of women of Fiume eagerly sought to help these prisoners with hidden pieces of bread, bottles of milk stowed away in their pockets or muffs, with bits of cooked meat, woolen stockings hidden up their sleeves; but this was not enough. Hunger and cold claimed a heavy toll among them. Some of them, who succeeded in eluding the police, were hidden in our homes, fed and nursed by our women, and the dead buried by our own hands in the dead of the night. The women of Fiume did not consider what they did as sacrifices; it was a small thing for them to face the greatest dangers; it was an honor, and proudly they did it for love of Italy. One could see the graves of the Italian soldiers covered with red, white and green flowers, and one morning the tomb of the Sicilian aviator, who fell August 1, 1916, was found covered with white and red roses.

The Italian spirit of Fiume asserted itself at every occasion. The patriotism of its citizens is not a modern thing. We find that they have fought in the war of independence for Italy; we find them at the sides of our greatest leaders in all the battles of the Risorgimento; we find them today arming themselves for the glory of Italy, for the redemption of Trenton, Trieste and Fiume. As an example we cite the young Noferi, who came from America and fell as a hero for the just cause of Italy; we cite Ipparco Baccich, who died on the Carso with the cry on his lips, "Evviva l'ltalia!".

A select band of young men of Fiume became valiant soldiers of Italy. Fiume conducted herself in a manner worthy of a daughter of Italy. The city of the Quarnaro could not inhibit her longing for liberty. On the twenty-eighth of October, Fiume, first of all the Italian cities in the crumbling empire, raised the flag of Italy, and proclaimed herself united to Italy. The plebiscite of the citizens of Fiume, expressing their desire to be united to their mother country, excited great enthusiasm, profound commotion, a veritable delirium. The windows were adorned with the tricolor of Italy, the facades of the houses were decorated with flags; on the squares, from the housetops flew the standard of Savoy; the chimes of the tower of San Vito rang out for joy, and everywhere there were flowers, ribbons and banners. The arrival of the Italian fleet was greeted by an immense throng of citizens and a mass of flags; they sang patriotic songs, shouted and cheered, and in a powerful chorus sang the praises of Italy, her King, her Navy, Admiral Raineri, her Army.

Fiume had manifested her desire. The homage she paid to the victorious King of Italy, the greeting and promise of King Victor Emanuel III at the national Italian Council, the wonderful patriotic manifestation of the city for the triumph of the Italian arms, the resolution of the delegates from Fiume on the Capitoline hill, all these are incidents of decisive importance in these historic days for they demonstrate the firm, unshakable determination of the people of Fiume to become Italian citizens. No one can any longer contest this right of theirs. We long for liberty. We hurl our cry for liberty to our Mother, Italy, to the entire world. Let there be freedom for all peoples, and let there be freedom for us! We do not wish to change masters and be in the same servile status; our liberty can come from no other source but Italy, mother of Liberty and Justice. Italy alone can regive to us that liberty which we seek.

Therefore let Italy come! We implore her. Italy could not remain insensible to our cry of pain, which was a cry for liberty, and she sent to us her ships to safeguard the life of the citizens and protect the interests and rights of Italy. We salute the glorious Italian navy and victorious army which have redeemed us and our sister cities to fulfill the high destinies of Italy. Again and always we shall salute them, and we anxiously await the moment in which the Great Mother will again embrace her devoted daughter in a bond which will be eternal.