Monday, January 29, 2018

A Visit to Fiume

(Written by Joseph Galtier, taken from the magazine “The Living Age”, Vol. 301, May 24, 1919.)

... Trieste is still in the full joy of its reunion with Italy. The Italian tricolor floats from all the public monuments; the streets are filled with soldiers and officers. Public conveyance is rare. Military autos and camions, on the other hand, roll noisily along the sonorous pavements of the town. Trieste is paved like the squares of Venice, with great, clean blocks of stone. ...yet in spite of this engaging aspect, Trieste does not quite win one's heart. One feels one's self far away and in a foreign land. I do not mean to say that Trieste has the air of not being Italian, it is, on the contrary, very much so, both in sentiment and language. Only Italian is spoken on the public ways; the names of streets, and signboards are also in Italian. ...

The whole Italian population of Fiume was badly and tyrannically treated during the war; the instruments of the Austrians being imprisonment and deportation. All the able-bodied men up to fifty years of age were either mobilized upon the front or packed off to repugnant duties in the rear. The Italians of Trieste fought in Russia and in Rumania. The population which once numbered 250,000 inhabitants, of which four fifths were Italians, fell during the war to 120,000. Altogether, 20,000 Italians went to the mother country.

... Fiume is attached to its mountain and lies on the beach at the head of a gulf which forms a very commodious port. The town lies partly on the flank of the mountain and partly on the shore of the sea. To the east, a breach, a kind of deep gulf, separates it from Sussak, a Croat town. A simple metal bridge marks the two towns closely juxtaposed. The river and the breach are the natural limits of the town.

The city of Fiume has an Italian population, which, after a census made in 1918, represents three fourths of the entire population. It counts 28,911 Italians against 10,927 Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs, and 6,000 Hungarians and Germans. A census made by the Hungarian government in 1910, gave 24,212 Italians, 15,687 Jugo-Slavs, and 6,493 Magyars. It is to be seen, therefore, how much the Italian element is in the majority at Fiume.

... In order to understand the question of Fiume, it seems to me necessary to show how this town, or better, this commune, has been jealous of its independence for centuries, has been opposed to all Austrian, Hungarian, or Croat domination and attached to its Italianism. Always struggling against the Slav influence, the Italian element has kept to its Italian sentiments in a state of extreme tension. Events which preceded and followed the armistice gave to this element, if one may so speak, a more than ever Italian character. The independence of the city and its Italian character are thus the two essential factors of the question.

There exists, further behind in the past, a patent of Ferdinand I, who in 1530 recognized the statutes of the commune of Fiume. This magnificent lord-captain, chosen by the Emperor to govern Fiume, made at the moment of his entry to the town a solemn oath, swearing to preserve and amplify the statutes, laws, rights, and privileges of the commune. Moreover, Fiume rendered homage to the new Emperor, homage reserved to Trieste and Fiume, which distinguished them from the other towns of Austria. This explains why Charles VI, in order to assure the throne to Maria-Theresa, expressly invited the free commune to recognize and accept the new disposition of the Pragmatic Sanction.

In 1776, Maria Theresa breaking the tradition of history united Fiume to Croatia. The town resisted and revolted so well that after three years, Maria-Theresa was forced to abrogate the decree of 1776. Closer to our times, in 1848, the Croats occupied the city by force. The struggle, constant and bitter, lasted nineteen years, until 1867, an epoch in which both Croatia and Hungary recognized the privileged situation of Fiume. The Italians of Fiume accepted so little the Croat domination that the governor of Fiume, in 1861, declared that because of the ‘constant struggle of party,’ the town and district of Fiume was to be considered in a state of siege. One sees that it is not since yesterday that this free and proud commune has been a scene of turbulence. Let us take note also that the Croats, before 1867, invited the citizens of Fiume to send deputies to the Diet of Agram to ask for the union of Fiume with Croatia; these deputies, however, brought only a protestation against all projects of union.

Let us now consider the recent facts. ... On the 29th [of 1918], there arrived at Fiume, with the title of ‘Supreme Count’ a kind of prefect accompanied by 500 armed men, Croats from the Austrian army. This prefect sent the mayor an order in Croat. This was contrary to all precedents; the orders from Budapest having always been in Italian; in the courts, Italian was spoken and the Hungarian governor, on taking office, came to the hall of the Municipal Council to take the oath in Italian and to swear respect to the privileges of Fiume. As soon as this violation of customary usage was known, the town covered itself with the Italian colors. There was a kind of general uprising. An enormous mob gathered in the public squares and in the street, acclaiming seven names as members of the National Council, this number was later augmented by fourteen, which brought the number of men composing the Directive Council to twenty-one. The syndic (the podesta) gave in his resignation but was reelected by popular acclamation.

This National Council had no force at its disposition, no police, no civil guard. I have been told that during the night a Croat machine gun, hoping to frighten the population, fired ceaselessly into the air. ... On the other hand, we must reckon the state of mind of the town of Fiume, of Italian Fiume, of independent Fiume, jealous of its rights and mistress of its future. A delicate situation!

The Italians of Fiume are more Italian than the Italians. In this city, questions of nationality have all the bitterness of implacable party struggles. There are rivalries and hatreds embittered to an extreme degree and this the other Allies were not quite able to understand. Let me also add that the taking over of Fiume as a base for our eastern armies, or perhaps, those of the Danube, has not made either the population of the town or the Italian army look upon us with a friendly eye, but the town is calm as far as I can see. ...

To conclude, I do not think it doubtful that the city of Fiume is Italian by a large majority. Even at the time of the Pragmatic Sanction, the delegation from Fiume which signed the document had Italian names; twenty-eight names, indisputably Italian. Recently, an American arriving at Fiume had the idea of going to the cemetery to read the names on the tombs. This performance gave the municipality the idea of a referendum at the cemetery. The dead were to vote. The result was decisive, more than eighty per cent of the inscriptions are in Italian. The figures have shown no partiality, and the arithmetic is not political.

I do not think that the Jugo-Slavs contest the Italian majority of Fiume. They bring forward other reasons supporting their claim to this port. They declare that the town is by majority Italian, while Sussak, on the other hand, includes a majority of Croats. If Sussak is to be sacrificed to the Italians, why should not Fiume be turned over to the Jugo-Slavs? The argument is not allowable.

... The Peace Conference must decide this difficult problem; but, I repeat, the question of Fiume is already decided for anyone who visits the town; Fiume is Italian.