Monday, January 15, 2018

Amy Bernardy Defends Italian Claims

(Written by Amy A. Bernardy, taken from “The New Republic“, Volume 11, 1917.)

Sir: I trust that only accidental misinformation caused the misstatements regarding the conditions of Italia Irredenta and the position of Italy in the Allied war in your leading editorial of June 23rd.

To begin with, Italy has not been swayed by imperialistic or economic conditions when she entered the war, with a full knowledge and consciousness of the issues thereby entailed, and the hardships of it. Wholesale and irresponsible imperialism doesn’t "dominate" Italy, and her King is such not only by the grace of God, but “by the will of the nation.”

The writer who calls attention to the fact that Trieste has been under Hapsburg rule since 1382 betrays a rather incomplete historical training: the act of 1382, by which the “respublica Tergestina" submits to the high protectorate of Austrian Archduke, is practically a commercial transaction, an arrangement for peace in the interests of trade. But it must not be forgotten that when, in 1523, this free Latin Commune is requested to use officially the German language, it answers thus: “Cum Latini simus, linguam ignoramus teutonicam,” and repeats further on: “quia civitas tergestina est in finibus et in limitibus Italiae, omnes cives habent proprium sermonem et idioma italicum.” [“We are Latins, we do not know the German language,” and “The city of Trieste is located within the borders of Italy. All citizens have the same origin; our language is Italian.”]

In 1719 Trieste was “porto franco,” the same as Genoa, Venice and Leghorn [Livorno]; and the interchange of mariners and tradesmen never was that of a great Austrian seaport, but that of a great Italian city. . . . The contention that, because Trieste now belongs to Austria it must not be taken from her, and her Italian population must consequently be submitted to whatever outrage and oppression it may please Austria to heap upon her—and it does please Austria to heap it ruthlessly—is rather hazardous, to say the least. Ownership as a result of violence and an occasion for outrage is at least open to discussion; and the fact that the American colonies were in British possession did not prevent the Liberty Bell from sounding when the time for the great crisis came.

. . . But the attribution of economic motives or claims to Italy in the question of Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia is a side issue, if at all; Italy’s motive for the war lies not in that; Italy fights for her hearths and homes under foreign stress and oppression; for her racial and ancestral seats, which no strange violence can ever wrench from her national heart and soul; for the monuments and records of her religion, her history and her civilization. The pride of Trieste, Fiume, Zara and their sister-cities, in their Latin race and character is not “a memory of the Roman Empire,” but the poignant truth and the vital issue of centuries, upheld in a long struggle, which has come just now to its ultimate, inevitable crisis.

. . . Austria has taken those thoroughly Venetian and Italian regions, has filled them with a state immigration of alien inland Slavs, has systematically persecuted and suppressed the Italian natives in them, and now would hold them forth as a righteous Slavic heritage; infer, in fact, that Italy claims that which is not hers. Now, it ought to be made very clear that Italy does emphatically not claim Croatia, or anybody else's land or sea, that she does not begrudge outlets on the Adriatic to reasonable neighbors, that she does not want to oust any Slav from his home where the Slav has not ousted Italians from theirs; and the proof of it is that it was the navy of Italy, and of Italy alone, who transported to safe havens across the Adriatic the valiant remains of that Serbian army which, duly refreshed and reorganized, will ultimately make possible the restoration of a greater Serbia and the eventual bringing together of the Southern Slavs.

But Croatia’s natural geographical and political metropolis is Agram, or Zagreb that one may wish to call it, certainly not Fiume or Pola, whose very names bear witness to their Italian character.

As for Dalmatia, the character of the land has always been dominantly and significantly Italian. The “purely Slavic” lands lie back of the Dinaric Alps, nor does Italy concern herself with these; but with the Austrian state policy of denaturalization and denationalization of the Adriatic seacoast. Against this, what your writer is pleased to call the “prosperous Italian minority” has been protesting for years with word and pen, votes and lives. And the assumption that “it is not likely to cause much trouble now” is adding insult to injury. Neither does, to the best of human knowledge, the dying gasp of the murdered man “cause much trouble” in the circle of the murderer's friends, or to the cynic the heaving sigh of a soul in despair. But crimes that have been committed call for redress in a world of men.