Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Italian Language Returning to Fiume?

The former Italian city of Fiume — today called Rijeka

The Lista per Fiume, a regional political party in Croatia, has proposed a bill to reintroduce visual bilingualism in the city of Fiume.

Fiume, which has been officially known as Rijeka since 1947, was formerly an Italian city where the majority of the population spoke Italian. Today however the city is almost entirely Croatian. If the bill to introduce bilingualism passes and is implemented, it would mean the visible return of the Italian language to Fiume for the first time since the end of World War II.

The city of Fiume belonged to Italy during the interwar period. In 1918 Fiume and its environs counted 28,911 Italians (62.5%) and 9,092 Croats (19.6%); in the city alone there were 14,194 Italians (83.3%) and 2,094 Croats (12.3%). In an exercise of self-determination, Fiume proclaimed itself united to Italy in 1918. This act was formalized in 1924 following a short-lived provisional government led by Italian warrior-poet Gabriele D'Annunzio.

In 1945 the city of Fiume was occupied by the Yugoslav Communist Partisans, who unleashed a reign of terror against the Italian population: at least 700 Italian civilians from Fiume were murdered by the Yugoslavs in the Foibe Massacres. Between 1945 and 1954 approximately 90% of Fiume's population was lost when 54,000 Italians (out of a total of 60,000 in Fiume) were forced into exile in an event known as the Julian-Dalmatian Exodus or Istrian Exodus.

Following the mass expulsion of Italians, Croatian migrants arrived to repopulate the city. The few Italians who remained became a persecuted minority. Fiume was formally annexed to Yugoslavia in 1947 and every trace of Italianity was erased under the brutal dictatorship of Josip Broz Tito. By 1953 all Italian schools were closed, all Italian street signs were destroyed, the Italian names of all the squares were changed, Fiume itself was renamed Rijeka and the city was thoroughly Croatized.

Fiume was annexed to Croatia in 1991 following the breakup of Yugoslavia. The Italians of Fiume today represent only about 5% of the population, forming a registered community of some 7,000 people who identify as ethnic Italians, although only 2,445 people declared Italian nationality in the 2011 census. For years the Italian community of Fiume – currently led by Orietta Marot – has struggled to gain political representation and have its rights recognized.

On November 4, 2017 a round table discussion was held in Fiume dedicated to the subject of bilingualism. It was attended by both Italian and Croatian representatives, and also by a representative of the Serb minority. The participants agreed on the need to repair the wrongs and correct the injustices done against the Italian population of Fiume, who comprised the core social fabric of the city for two millenia.

Ivan Jakovcic, a Croatian politician and former President of the Istrian Democratic Assembly, who was in attendance, suggested that bilingualism should be introduced “for the names of streets, squares and other sites within the historical city of Fiume”. The round table participants emphasized that this should not be enacted merely as a political act, but as an act of culture and civilization.

If the initiative is officially approved by the government in Fiume, it would be the first step towards finally recognizing Fiume's Italian history, culture, heritage and spirit, thereby beginning the road to restoration after more than half a century of erasion, silence and neglect. It would also be a symbolic act of justice to those unfortunate Italian men and women who lost their homes and lives after World War II merely for the crime of being Italian.