Thursday, August 23, 2018

Yugoslavia Between the World Wars: Anti-Italian Terrorism and Forced Slavicization From 1918-1941

Trieste was the site of numerous assassinations and terror attacks
by Yugoslav terrorist groups in the 1920's and 1930's

(Written by the editors of the page “Nuovo Risorgimento per l'Italia”, December 23, 2014.)


The brief historical reconstruction we published which summarized the long genocide perpetrated by the Slavs—from the Slavic invasion in the 7th century after Christ to the Foibe Massacres in the 20th century, passing through the harsh persecutions carried out against the Italians under the Habsburg Empire from 1866-1918, and under the Yugoslav monarchy in the period between the two world wars—certainly did not please those who would like to forcibly slavicize Trieste and Gorizia and detach them from the Motherland.

Not wanting to advertise secessionists and deniers of the Foibe Massacres, we prefer not to mention their names and not to repeat their words. Their aggressive and insulting responses do however demonstrate that we have told the truth and have hit the nail right on the head. What they wrote, with their typically banal and obsolete paraphernalia of stereotypes, also demonstrates that denial of the Foibe Massacres is unfortunately still very much alive.

In response to these deniers of the Foibe and the Julian-Dalmatian Exodus, we want to publish this agile article that synthetically covers the policies of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between 1918 and 1941, which aimed at expelling Italians from Dalmatia and Venezia Giulia, which is further proof of the fact that the plan to carry out a genocide against Italians in these regions had already arisen well before the arrival of Dictator Tito's partisans, and indeed can be traced as far back as the 19th century.

1. Yugoslavia continues the Habsburg program of forcibly slavicizing Venezia Giulia

Yugoslavia—dominated by the Serbian ethnic element, which has always been very hostile to Austria, and which during the First World War had come into conflict with the Habsburg Empire—at the peace conference demanded the whole of Dalmatia and the whole of Venezia Giulia, up to the Italian-Austrian border of 1866, and even claimed territories that were already Italian at that date, and asked that the border be moved to the Tagliamento.

The reason for this request, which completely violated both the agreements between the states of the Entente, and also the "Fourteen Points of Wilson", consisted in the fact that the Slovenian and Croatian nationalists who entered the new kingdom resumed the programs and the ideologies that had developed during the period of Habsburg domination, naturally including the project of "trialism", which meant slavicizing and annexing Venezia Giulia, with Trieste as its capital.

The ideologues and arguments supporting these claims were essentially the same, without interruption.

2. 1920: A new stage in the destruction of Italianity in Dalmatia

Another chain of ferocious violence and persecution against Italians by the Slavs occurred in 1920, causing another mass exodus of Italians from Dalmatia, which was the second such exodus since 1866 and subsequent years.

Also in this case, as had already happened before under the Habsburg regime, the Yugoslav authorities did nothing to prevent violence and criminal acts, indeed they even took direct part in these actions. Raimondo Deranez, an Italian from Dalmatia, wrote a work in 1919 entitled "Some Details on the Martyrdom of Dalmatia" in which he enumerated the uninterrupted succession of violence, arrogance, aggression, harassment, etc. which struck the Italian Dalmatians since 1866, declaring that the Austrian authorities were "complicit with the Croats, tolerating brutality and barbarism", while "the Serbian garrisons of Yugoslavian Dalmatia not only tolerates atrocities, but takes part in them."

The Italian presence in Dalmatia—a region that had been entirely Latin up until the arrival of the Slavs in the seventh century A.D., and which had remained majority Italian during most of its centuries-old Venetian history—was thus reduced to just a few cities and islets, which became almost like besieged fortresses, whereas prior to 1866 the Italians still inhabited an extensive portion of the rural areas. The Yugoslav actions in 1943-1945 aimed at erasing the last relics of the more than 2000 year old Latin presence in Dalmatia.

3. Yugoslav terrorism in Venezia Giulia

Moreover, since the immediate post-war period, the Yugoslav government supported the action of Slavic terrorists who conducted assassinations in the territory of Venezia Giulia. A brief assessment of the extent of Slavic terrorism in Venezia Giulia can be seen by the following list of their operations, which is still largely incomplete:

In the period from 1920-1922 the following homicidal actions by Slavic terrorists took place:
  • Assassination of Armando Postiglione, Marshal of the Guardia di Finanza; assassination of the royal guards Giuffrida and Poldu; assassination of the customs officer Giuseppe Plutino; assassination of the carabiniere Giobbe Cecchin; assassination of lieutenant Spanò; and the assassination of sergeant Sessa, which took place in Trieste.
  • Assassination of the customs officer Francesco Stanganelli, which occurred in Postumia.
  • Assassination of the carabinieri brigadier Ferrara in Pola.
  • Assassination of the customs officer Salvatore Caravelli in Gorizia.
  • Assassination of the soldier Palmerindo, which occurred in Carnizza.

Beginning in 1924, despite the Italo-Yugoslav dispute being formally resolved, the Yugoslav State practiced a policy of duplicity, publicly and officially recognizing the agreed-upon border, while secretly supporting and financing terrorist groups which were responsible for the following actions:
  • Military attack on the posts of the Guardia di Finanza in Coterdasnizza and in Molini.
  • Assault carried out by a band of about twenty armed Yugoslavs, coming from across the border, who attacked the gatehouse at the border crossing of Unez, killing its commander, sub-brigadier Lorenzo Greco.
  • In April 1926 the Prestrane railway station was attacked and robbed; the railwayman Ugo Dal Fiume and the customs officer Domenico Tempesta were murdered.
  • In July 1926 a fire was set in the woods near Trieste.
  • In November 1926 a dynamite attack took place at the barracks in San Pietro del Carso, killing Antonio Chersevan and injuring Francesco Caucich and Emilio Crali.
  • On the night of February 10, 1927, there was an ambush against the military patrol near Raunach Castle (near San Pietro del Carso); Andrea Sluga and Francesco Rovina were injured in the shooting.
  • In May 1927, on the road between Postumia and San Pietro del Carso, another ambush was made against one of these patrols; the soldier Gino Cicimbri was wounded in the attack.
  • On December 29, 1927 the youth center in Prosecco (Ricreatorio di Prosecco) near Trieste was burned down.
  • In April 1928, again in Prosecco, the elementary school was burned down.
  • In May of the same year the elementary school in Cattinara near Trieste was burned down and there was an attempt to burn down the kindergarten in Tolmino.
  • On August 3, 1928 the municipal guard of San Canziano, Giuseppe Cerquenik, was treacherously assassinated.
  • In the same month, the recreation center of the Lega Nazionale in Prosecco was burned down.
  • At the beginning of September 1928 the school in Storie was burned down.
  • On September 22, 1928, in Gorizia, a student named Antonio Coghelli was murdered; Giuseppe Ventin, a soldier who tried to stop the assassin, was also murdered.
  • In January 1929 the kindergarten in Fontana del Conte was destroyed.
  • In March 1929 Francesco Tuchtan was murdered in Vermo.
  • In June 1929 the school in Smogliani was burned down.
  • In July 1929 the gunpowder magazine in Prosecco was blown up.
  • In November 1929 the post office in Ranziano was robbed.
  • In December 1929 there were attempted assassinations against agent Giovanni Curet in San Dorligo della Valle, near Trieste, and against the guard Francesco Fonda.
  • In January 1930 there was an attack on the Victory Lighthouse in Trieste.
  • In February the kindergarten in Corgnale was burned down.
  • Also in February the municipal messenger Goffredo Blasina was murdered in Cruscevie.
  • On February 10 there was a bombing at the headquarters of the newspaper Il Popolo di Trieste in which the stenographer Guido Neri was killed, while the proofreaders Dante Apollonio, Giuseppe Missori and the messenger Marcelle Bolle were seriously injured.
  • In May 1930 the Marangoni family was murdered in San Dorligo della Valle.
  • In the early days of September 1930, during an exchange of gunfire with Slovenian terrorists who were trying to invade the region, the customs officer Romano Moise was killed and his fellow officer Giuseppe Caminada was seriously injured.

Although the sheer number of serious terrorist acts enumerated above is already very large, it should be noted that this is only a partial list.

What makes these actions particularly serious is the fact that they were not the work of an independent clandestine group, but rather of terrorist organizations created, controlled and organized by the Yugoslav State itself.

The Yugoslav State pursued a policy of duplicity, on the one hand officially recognizing the border obtained by Italy, but on the other hand constituted armed terrorist groups, which had their headquarters in Yugoslav territory and which were organized, trained, armed and guided by the Yugolav army.

The use of such instruments was not new to the Yugoslav State, which inherited a tradition already common among the Serbs, who had also used terrorist organizations ("Black Hand" and "White Hand") to fight against the Habsburgs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Yugoslav terrorist associations, known by the names of "TIGR" and "Borba", although they had their structural system in Yugoslavia and were primarily made up of Yugoslavs, naturally also had ramifications in Venezia Giulia, and with the support of their associates they also carried out intense anti-Italian propaganda flanked by terrorist acts.

Yugoslav terrorism in Venezia Giulia, in addition to its intrinsic gravity, allows us to better understand what really happened during that period which the Slavic nationalists present as "Fascist persecution".

The burning of the Hotel Balkan, presented by some as a supreme act of Fascist violence against the Slavs in Venezia Giulia, was in fact the responsibility of Yugoslav terrorists. On July 13, 1920, following anti-Italian violence by the Yugoslavs in Dalmatia, the Fascists organized a demonstration in Trieste. An Italian, Giovanni Nini, who had taken part in the demonstration and who had shouted phrases in support of the Italianity of Dalmatia, was stabbed to death by unknown assailants. Given the circumstances, the assassins were in all likelihood Slavs.

A group of Fascists then headed towards the Narodni Dom (Hotel Balkan), but found it surrounded by over 400 Italian soldiers, armed and deployed, and they were halted. However, from the windows of the Narodni Dom, hand grenades rained down upon the Italian soldiers. The soldiers, finding themselves under assault, defended themselves by shooting at the building. The fire broke out following the explosion of ammunition and explosives contained inside the building, because the Narodni Dom was the headquarters of a clandestine military organization organized by the Yugoslav State to carry out attacks, violence and propaganda activities in Venezia Giulia. It was precisely the subsequent explosions of the aforementioned illegal weapons contained inside the Narodni Dom which prevented the firefighters from going inside the building to extinguish the fire.

This is the true story of what occurred, yet this is presented by Slovenian nationalists themselves as the pinnacle and highest expression of "Fascist oppression" against Slavs in Italy. It was not "Fascist aggression" against a "cultural center", but rather an exchange of fire between a regular unit of the Italian army and a group of Yugoslav terrorists nested inside the building, who had thrown hand grenades and opened fire against Italian soldiers.

4. Conclusion. From the "trialist" nationalism under the Habsburgs to the pan-slavic nationalism of Yugoslavia

As can be easily deduced from the above data, the Yugoslav State embraced Slovenian-Croatian nationalist ideology, which developed during the Habsburg period around the program known as "trialism". There is an uninterrupted continuity, both of men and of ideas and projects, between the Slovenian-Croatian "trialist" nationalism of the Habsburg period and the nationalism of the Yugoslav period.

This is tangible also in the political work of the Yugoslav nationalists. The anti-Italian persecutions in Dalmatia in 1920-1922 was nothing but a continuation of the persecutions of the Habsburg period, while in Venezia Giulia the Yugoslavs formed paramilitary units (in fact filiations of the Yugoslav army) to carry out acts of terrorism.

It should be remembered that the burning of the Narodni Dom, judged as the apex of "Fascist violence", was actually the result of a clash between Italian soldiers, who were assaulted, and Yugoslav terrorists, who were the aggressors.

Instances of Fascist violence certainly occurred in Venezia Giulia, as in the rest of Italy, but this happened only after the anti-Italian violence in Dalmatia and Venezia Giulia from 1918-1920, not to mention the violence that took place during the Habsburg period. Thus, the theory that the Foibe Massacres and the Julian-Dalmatia Exodus were a reaction to "Fascist violence" is a historical falsehood. In reality, Tito did nothing but continue a program already formulated in clear letters in the 19th century by Croatian and Slovenian nationalists, and pursued with uninterrupted violence from the Habsburgs to Tito. Furthermore, these paramilitary units, organized, armed and trained by the Yugoslav army, were never employed by Yugoslavia for use in their own national territory, but only to carry out acts of terrorism across the border.

According to contemporary terminology, the Yugoslav State was indeed the type of State that today would be called a "rogue state" and "terrorist state".