Saturday, November 4, 2017

Italy and Jugo-Slavia

(Written by Alceste De Ambris, excerpt taken from the book “Italy and Jugo-Slavia”, 1919.)

Elements on Which to Base a Judgment.

Jugo-Slavia asserts its right to Istria, to Eastern Friuli and to Dalmatia; but Italy likewise asserts its rights to this territory. We must examine their claims to determine which has the strongest grounds for support.

It is necessary to reckon with diverse elements, none of which taken by itself can be decisive, although they would be decisive considered as a whole. These factors are: 1. Population, 2. Geography, 3. History, 4. Culture, 5. Political and economical necessities.

Population. The population of Istria and of Eastern Friuli always has been Italian in the past by a large majority. It is enough to look at any map to be convinced that the names of the cities and the villages of those regions are almost all Italian, even in the interior of the country. It is only within recent years that the Slav element has begun to have importance. It established itself in certain parts, as a voluntary immigration; and in others as an artificial influx from Austria to smother the Italian element, which never has ceased to manifest its desire to separate from the Danubian monarchy.

Altogether even today the Italians are on the coast in great numbers, inhabiting the busiest and wealthiest cities. Trieste, to which Italy's claim is disputed, contained 120,000 Italians before the war, subjects of Austria; 30,000 Italians who were Italian subjects; 6,000 Slovenes and 2,000 Croats, besides 12,000 Germans. Therefore the Italians comprised more than two-thirds of the whole. In the whole of Istria the number of Italians and Jugo-Slavs counter-balance, there being about 360,000 of each. The Jugo-Slavs are divided between Slovenes and Serbo-Croats.

Fiume Indisputably Italian.

Fiume likewise is indisputably Italian. Before the war its population was composed of 26,000 Italian subjects of Austria; 6,000 subjects of the king of Italy; 12,000 Croats and 6,000 Maygars. Therefore the Italians form 65 per cent of the population. In Zara, the capital of Dalmatia, there are 10,000 Italians and only 3,000 Croats. The population of the rest of Dalmatia instead, is Slav; but Italy asks only a small part of the coast.

Geography. Look at a map and from that point of view it would be easy to solve the problem. All of Istria and Eastern Friuli are included within the chain of the Alps which, with the sea, mark the natural confines of Italy. The great French geographer, Elisee Reclus, bears testimony moreover, that the whole of Istria and Eastern Friuli are absolutely Italian in orography, in hydrography, and in geology. In regard to Dalmatia there is more controversy, although authorities are not wanting who maintain the whole country belongs to Italy.

History. The whole history of Istria, of Italian Friuli and of Dalmatia is Italian history. Rome first, and Venice afterwards civilized those regions. The cities which did not belong to the republic of Venice were free cities and ever asserted their Italian character, as for instance did Aquileia, Fiume and Trieste. The history of Trieste is, more than any other, a continuous reassertion of its Italian character—from 1167, when it took part in the Lombard league against the German Barbarossa, down to the present time.

Culture. Wherever in Eastern Friuli, in Istria or in Dalmatia there is any trace of civility, that trace is Italian. The architecture is Italian (Roman or Venetian). The literature is Italian. The language spoken along the whole coast is Italian; the shipping is Italian and the language of commerce Italian. The Slavs themselves when they desire to take part in the life of the most polite centers are obliged to speak Italian.


I have said already that the coast cities, their trade and industries are all Italian. It is natural that the hinterland should gravitate toward Italy economically, and that, recognizing the Italian character of the centers of the coast, it is necessary to recognize as implicity the Italian right to the rural zone behind them as far as the limits of the boundary fixed by nature.

Noblest Sign of Italian Title. All these elements which bespeak the right of Italy to the country it liberated could be discussed altogether even if there were not another which constitutes in my opinion the noblest sign of the Italian character of those territories. That sign is the will of the peoples, expressed with ardent constancy through centuries of struggle, of suffering and martyrdom, stoically endured to vindicate the rights of their Italian nationality.

The history of Dalmatia and Trieste attests that only one political and national conscience finds expression in either. It is Italian. I have asserted before that Trieste took part in the Lombard League in 1167 to resist the Emperor Barbarossa. Its ships, in fact, fought with those of Venice on Ascension Day in 1177 in the waters of Salvore, defeating the imperial fleet. Trieste on that account shared the benefits of the peace of Constance signed in 1183 between the emperors and the Italian cities of which it had been the faithful ally.

Trieste Always Italian.

Even when it ceased to be a free city, Trieste never hesitated to proclaim itself proudly Italian in the face of the Austrian empire determined to nationalize it. In 1424, 1443, and in 1468, as a result, there were bloody conspiracies and insurrections in the beautiful Adriatic city. In turn history records movements, protests and declarations in support of the Italian character of Istria and Dalmatia in the years 1485, 1508, 1522, 1660, 1688, 1694, 1779 and 1797.

When the great movement for the unification of Italy was instituted, Istrians and Dalmatians took a large part in the conspiracies and tentative insurrections of 1821, 1833, and 1844. In the wars for Italian freedom Istrians and Dalmatians volunteered in large numbers to fight Austria. We find them, in fact, on the battle fields of Lombardy and Piedmont in 1848, in the defense of the Roman Republic and of that of Venice in 1849; and in the campaigns of '59, of '60, of '66, of '67, and of '70.

After that the struggle still continued. In 1879 a grave uprising against Austria occurred in Trieste. In 1882, [Guglielmo] Oberdan was hanged for asserting the Italian preferences of Trieste. In 1897, in 1902, in 1903, and in 1908 impressive manifestations of Italians occurred in Istria and Dalmatia with a long drawn out series of trials, death sentences and their ghastly toll of horrors.

When the world war broke out, Istrians, Dalmatians and Italians deserted the Austrian army in order not to fight under the flag of tyranny. They enlisted as volunteers in the Italian army as soon as Italy joined the conflict in May, 1915. Many of them fell in battle. Nazario Sauro, an Istrian was hanged before the eyes of his mother and sister. The same fate was meted out to the Dalmatian, Rismondo.

This is the noblest sign, the sign traced in blood, the sacred sign that nobody and no sophism can wipe out, of the love of their mother country shown by the Italians of Istria and Dalmatia.


...the natural borders of Italy, following the Italian national aspirations, stretch far outside the political borders demanded for Italy in the treaty of London. They are not only geographical lines. They are also the lines set by history, culture and ethnology. They are the lines of civilization which reveal the Italian character of those countries, some of which are now inhabited by Slav elements, artificially brought there, although they never have been able to amalgamate with or absorb the Italian element.