Thursday, March 28, 2019

The First Dalmatian Exodus, 1870-1880

Postcard featuring Dante Alighieri and the coats of arms of the unredeemed
Italian lands under the Habsburgs: Gorizia, Trento, Dalmatia, Trieste & Istria

(Printed in Zara, Editrice Libreria Internazionale, 1902

(Written by Mario Bortoluzzi, taken from the magazine “Il Borghese”, May 2014)

Objectors say: “The exodus of the Istrians, Fiumans and Dalmatians is a consequence of the events of the Second World War, the violence committed by the Slavs was merely in retaliation to the violence committed by Fascists during the Italian occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.”

This is a claim that has been made every year around the time of the Day of Remembrance for the last decade, repeated like a mantra by the media of our country, which is controlled by a well-defined school of thought. In essence, they claim that the anti-Italian violence by Tito's Slavs was perhaps a bit much, but was caused by the violence and oppression of the occupying Italian army.

These claims demonstrate their ignorance – their ignorance of the history of Istria and Dalmatia.

These lands were never divorced from Italian history, as we shall see, but rightfully belong to our national history, no less so than all the other current regions of Italy.

What Tito did was only the final act of a process that began in 1860, and quite frankly the Communist ideology professed by Tito was not the triggering factor; if anything it was the ideological glue that held the Slavic peoples (Slovenes, Serbs, Croats) together in their anti-Italian operation.

The history of those lands, which were Roman and then Venetian for nearly a thousand years, is part of the history of our Fatherland and should be studied in schools in all grades.

But today it is forgotten history, indeed its history is unacknowledged and hidden. That is why, for example, nothing is ever said about what took place in Istria and Dalmatia between the time of the Risorgimento and the First World War.

That is why they fail to teach and explain that the methods used by the Italian government from 1918 to 1945 (the famous compulsory use of the Italian language in schools, the supposed “italianization” of surnames and violence during the war), although considered wrong by people today, were not considered wrong according to the mentality of the time; during that time these policies were regarded as the only feasible way to repair the injustices suffered by Italians in previous decades. Remember, nothing ever happens for no reason.

In order to discuss the origin of the conflict between the nationalities in these areas it is first necessary to give a basic account of Dalmatian history, from the beginning.

Ancient Dalmatia, called “Illyria”, entered history beginning in 156 BC with the first of eight wars that were waged against Rome. Dalmatia became a senatorial province in 27 BC and later an imperial province. It was fully integrated with the Roman world and was the birthplace of Roman Emperors like Probus, Claudius, Carus and Diocletian.

The entire Dalmatian coast and islands were Latinized by the Romans who founded cities and favored a fusion with the native Illyrian element.

In 475 A.D. Emperor Julius Nepos took refuge in Dalmatia, while Romulus Augustulus was raised to the purple in Ravenna. In 476 A.D. the latter was deposed by Odoacer and the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist. But Julius Nepos survived in Dalmatia with the Emperor's insignia and remained a representative of Roman world until 480, the year of his death.

In the seventh century A.D., the barbarian invasions began. In particular, the Avars invaded the Balkans with their slaves, the Slavic tribes, and later invaded the Adriatic coast. The Latin people then retreated to the fortified towns of Dalmatia. As the Slavs advanced towards Zara and Spalato, municipalities arose in the Roman cities of Dalmatia with characteristics similar to those existing in the Italian peninsula. The Slavs eventually reached the sea along the Velebit channel and occupied the the mouths of the Narenta river where they devoted themselves to piracy. The Dalmatian cities sought help from the rising Venetian power; seeing as its trade was threatened, Venice decided to intervene.

On Ascension Day in the year 1000, after refusing to pay the pretium pacis to the Croats, i.e. a tax to avoid attacks on Venetian convoys, the Doge Pietro Orseolo II set sail for Dalmatia with his ships and his warriors, obtained an oath of submission from all the Latin cities, and defeated the Croatian pirates everywhere, reaching down to Spalato and Curzola. This was an historical act of immense importance. Venice would forever consider it a perpetual and inalienable acquisition and one of the fundamental cornerstones of its statal right. From then on until 1797, with some losses and re-conquests, the submission of the Latin cities was uninterrupted, and since the fifteenth century all of Dalmatia became an integral part of the Venetian “Stato da Mar”.

Cities such as Zara, Spalato, Traù, Sebenico, Cattaro, Ragusa (the modern Dubrovnik, which was the 5th Italian maritime republic after becoming independent from Venice), islands such as Curzola, Lissa, Lesina, Brazza, Meleda and a hundred other towns of Dalmatia still carry the signs of Venetian culture and political presence today in their urban layout, artistic and military monuments, palaces and streets.

The Slavs were never able to impose their language on the Dalmatians, whose language was a vernacular derivative of Latin known as Dalmatico.

In the fourteenth century the Dalmatian language was gradually replaced by Venetian, which became the official language of the region and the language of culture.

Until the fall of the Republic on May 12, 1797, Dalmatia flourished in institutions, in the arts, in culture and in commercial activities under the Venetian banner.

Even the Slavic-Croatian element, invited by the Venetians to repopulate the countryside affected by the plague, peacefully coexisted for centuries with the Latin element, sharing uses and customs; even the language spoken by the Slavs on the coast from Fiume to Spalato, known as “chakavian”, a special variety of language distinct from Croatian, is rich in Venetian words that are unknown to the Croats of Zagreb. These new “Dalmatian Slavs” (peasants, sailors, fishermen), who were in contact with the Latin element, are anthropologically “Mediterranean”. The most loyal Slavs, the Oltremarini, were the last troops to leave Venice after the fall of the Republic. The Morlochs of Latin blood, pastores Romanorum, for centuries fought under the banner of San Marco and the Stratioti (mercenaries) which provided light cavalry to Venice were used against the Turks.

All felt united and protected under the wings of the Venetian Lion.

Just as the Roman Empire survived in Dalmatia even after 476 A.D., so the Venetian Signoria continued on in Dalmatia for some time after the fall of the Republic.

In Zara the flag of San Marco was lowered on July 1, brought to the Cathedral, kissed and bathed in tears by the people.

The last and most poignant farewell was given on August 23 by the inhabitants of the town of Perasto, bearer of the battle flag of the Venetian fleet, in the Bay of Cattaro.

The Commander of the fortress, after placing the fallen Venetian banner under the altar, pronounced a noble speech of which we will quote the most famous line:
“For three hundred and seventy-seven years our bodies, our blood and our lives have always been for You, O San Marco; and most faithful we have always thought ourselves, You with us, we with You; and always with You on the sea we have been illustrious and full of valor. No one with You has seen us flee, no one with You has seen us defeated or fearful...”
With the Treaty of Campo Formio, Dalmatia was sold by Napoleon to Austria, but a few years later, in 1806, Dalmatia returned to the Kingdom of Italy, together with Istria. Later, after a few decades marked by bitter disputes, the region returned to Austria again.

And so we come to 1815, the year in which we can date the beginning of the Risorgimento, also in Dalmatia. The Austrian police immediately realized that the Italian citizens supported the ideas of independence and reunification with Italy. They discovered Carbonari lodges, and later, in 1830, found supporters of Mazzini's Young Italy movement.

It was in 1847 that Nicolò Tommaseo of Sebenico entered the history of Dalmatia. Adhering to the opinions of Mazzini, he advocated the destruction of the Habsburg Empire and the resurrection of nationalities.

Therefore Hungarians, Italians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, Albanians, “must rise up and form a living nation of young associated nations.”

The Dalmatians pursued camaraderie with the Slavs and therefore multiplied the initiatives of scientists, scholars, jurists.

But, when the uprisings broke out in 1848, the Croats remained indifferent because they were pursuing the consolidation of the Habsburg dynasty through a Croatian movement that they hoped would become a pillar of the Empire's strength.

The Croats thus became the military arm of Austrian absolutism and they aspired, as part of the Empire, to annex Dalmatia to Croatia.

Now, Dalmatia in 1848 was nationally the same as how Venice left it.

Up to that point Dalmatia had been preserved by Austria: it was totally Italian in culture, in administration, in its ecclesiastical hierarchy, in wealth, in commerce, in navigation, in artisanry. Austria never changed the names of the cities, islands, mountains or rivers. These names remained Italian under Austria for 120 years because they had existed for tens of centuries.

But the Italian element, in the eyes of the imperialists, represented an element whose loyalty to the Empire was questionable. The sea was the only thing that separated the Dalmatians from their Italian Motherland and Austria was well aware of this.

In early March of 1848 Milan, Venice, Zara, Sebenico and Spalato revolted together. The swift Austrian suppression nipped in the bud any possibility of success. The Dalmatian cities were surrounded by Austro-Croatian troops and the Croatian peasants of the countryside were armed and incited against the Dalmatians. They were also incited by the Croatian clergy, who depicted the Italians as godless Freemasons.

On the political plane the Croats of Zagreb began to require a pledge of their loyalty to the Empire and openly demanded the annexation of Dalmatia to Croatia.

In 1860, after years of Croatian attempts and strenuous opposition by the Dalmatians (it is sufficient to recall Spalato's response to a letter sent by Zagreb proposing annexation: “Dalmatia is Italian: only one citizen of Spalato, out of 12,000, was able to translate your honorable words [from Croatian]”), the Croats, supported by the Empire, proclaimed the forced annexation of Dalmatia to Croatia.

The elections of a Diet of Dalmatia to be sent to Zagreb were held and the ballot boxes gave 29 Italian representatives and 12 Croats. But the majority of the Diet refused to go to Zagreb. The Croatian delegates departed for Zagreb to join the Croatian delegation which soon left for Vienna.

To counter the Croats, the Diet of Dalmatia, all in unison and guided by the ailing Archbishop of Zara Giuseppe Godeassi, left for Vienna and was received on May 8 by Emperor Franz Joseph, who realized the adamant will of the Dalmatians to remain autonomous from Zagreb. No one spoke of annexation to Croatia any longer. But this victory was not attained without sacrifice: Archbishop Godeassi returned to his homeland in agony and died on September 5.

Unfortunately, the slow and inexorable operation of croatizing Dalmatia continued.

On June 15, 1866 an imperial ordinance limited the use of the Italian language in offices and forced officials to learn Croatian.

On June 14, 1867 another decree ordered the Slavicization of the grammar school in Zara; in the same year there were the first anti-Italian street riots provoked by masses of Slavic peasants; citizens were forbidden access to the countryside; the Italian landowners had their vines chopped, trees cut down, crops stolen; the Croatian friars in Signo refused to administer the sacraments to the Italian population.

In Sebenico on July 31, 1869 a Croatian mob attacked and killed 14 sailors of the Royal Italian ship Monzambano which was anchored in the port of the Dalmatian city.

On February 15, 1870 the Croats attempted to set fire to the Verdi Theatre of Zara, a temple of Italian art.

All of these incidents led to the first exodus of the Dalmatian population towards Zara, Istria and the Italian Motherland. Croatian Slavic irredentism, which aimed at annexing Dalmatia to Croatia, thus was able in such a short time to destroy centuries of peaceful coexistence guaranteed by the good governance of the Republic of San Marco.

And in Italy? The young Kingdom of Savoy made it known to Austria that “as far as a solution to the problems of the East, Italy intends to participate with its own ideas and in defense of its own interests.”

This position of Italy rekindled the hopes of the Italians of Dalmatia, despite the difficulties due to the daily harassment they suffered, so much so that the Italian Chamber of Deputies burst into uncontrollable applause during the communication of the greeting and thanksgiving from the city of Zara.

Trento, Trieste, Istria, Gorizia and Zara were the names of the places that needed to be liberated and were on the lips of every Italian irredentist.

But forty-eight long years passed before part of Dalmatia was finally reunited with the Italian Motherland.

Meanwhile the Austrians inexorably continued the forced Croatization of Dalmatia. It began with threats and abuses to change the balance of power within the provincial Diet: more power was given to Croatian politicians and less to Italians, which brought about a reversal of the anti-annexation results of 1860; now there was a new 24 to 16 majority in favor of the Croatian annexationists. By means of electoral fraud, violence, corruption and intimidation, one by one the Italian cities of Dalmatia fell. The offices, schools, churches and all public institutions were then Croatized, always with the consent of the Austrians.

This situation dragged on through thick and thin until the eve of the First World War, but with a constant progressive loss by the Italian Dalmatians, as if it were a battle in retreat, slow and tenacious but forced to surrender the land inch by inch.

In the provincial Diet – where until 1865 the discussions were held only in Italian – from 1866 onward Croatian was gradually imposed alongside the Italian language until 1883, when the use of the Croatian language was made exclusive and Italian was forcibly excluded.

This early slow and steady ethnic cleansing paved the way for Italy's re-Italianization policy in the years following World War I, when a few parts of Dalmatia passed to the Italian State after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Cherso, Lussino, Zara and the islands of Lagosta and Pelagosa were restored to Italy. But the majority of Dalmatian territory, including the islands, came under the rule of the newly-formed Kingdom of Yugoslavia on the basis of the Treaty of Rapallo (November 12, 1920).

General Caviglia spoke during the discussion in the Senate regarding the Treaty of Rapallo. His words were prophetic:
“Certainly the Treaty of Rapallo will be judged by history, but we can determine right now that this treaty has consumed a historical event of great importance and laid the seeds of endless troubles in a soil too fertile. After twelve centuries of slow advance and four centuries of struggle with the Italian race, the Slavic race was able to obtain from Italy, in an official document – the first in history – the recognition of its undisputed dominion on the east side of the Adriatic. This historical fact is consumated by the Treaty of Rapallo. Using the lesson of history, allow me to make some predictions. All of modern history indicates a strong movement of expansion of the Slavic race in all directions. As serfs, slaves, mercenaries, feudatories, they will expand westward, penetrate the boundaries of various neighboring nationalities and will replace the populations.
They do not carry a civilization of their own, but absorb the civilization of the peoples they replace, changing the names of the lands. But the expelled nationality preserves its identity; and thus the Italian will be forced to migrate to Italy, the German forced to migrate to Germany and Austria, the Greek to Greece, the Hungarian to Hungary. Voltaire, in his history of Charles XII of Sweden, found to his regret the disappearance of Greek-Byzantine civilization in the lands to the south-east of Poland due to the advance of the Slavs and the substitution of Greek names of rivers and cities with new Slavic names; with greater sorrow Italy will see the disappearance of Italian names from the eastern shore of the Adriatic and their replacement with Slavic names. Our people will gradually be driven from the eastern shore of the Adriatic; our merchant ships and our fishing boats will gradually encounter more and more obstacles forbidding us to exercise our millennial rights; we will end up having to flee from the eastern coast, and the Italian flag, which represents the banner of Rome and Venice with their most noble traditions, will be forced to abandon the coast of Dalmatia.”
The Slavicization of Dalmatia and the gradual expulsion of the Italian element thus become a fait accompli.

All this was before the advent of the Fascist regime, before the attempted re-Italianization of these lands by the Italians (1918-1941), and before the Italo-German military occupation of World War II. The poisonous seeds of ethnic hatred had certainly been planted, as can be seen, not by the Italians, but by the Slavs, and the plants unfortunately grew between 1943 and 1945 with the tragedy of the Foibe Massacres and the final exodus of the Italians in the years after.

The nationalisms that caused the collapse of the Central Powers were unable to reconstruct that centuries-old peaceful coexistence among the people of Dalmatia which the Republic of Venice had managed to wisely guarantee from the fourteenth century until its fall. A peaceful coexistence which still remains as a witness and example for all generations.

See also:
The Agony of Italian Dalmatia Under Franz Joseph
Brief History of Dalmatia in the 19th Century
The Population of Dalmatia in the 12th Century
Quotes on the Italianity of Dalmatia
Quotes on the Italianity of Fiume
Quotes on the Italianity of Istria
Quotes on the Italianity of the Quarnaro
Quotes on the Italianity of Ragusa