Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Habsburg Genocide in Dalmatia

(Written by Marco De Turris, taken from the blog “L'Italia e' la mia Patria”, September 13, 2010)

The so-called Austrian Empire (Austria-Hungary after 1866) was responsible for a great deal of persecution, abuse and violence against the Italian nation. We know how this decisively contributed to perpetuating the long state of division of Italy, the colonial possession of its vast territories under foreign rule, the condition of economic exploitation, cultural repression, political oppression and ethnic discrimination of its Italian subjects. However, what is less known is how the Empire planned and accomplished after 1866 a true genocide (in the sense of forced denationalization) to the detriment of the Italian residents in their possessions. An objective and truthful assessment of the Habsburg Empire, founded on the principle of the hegemony of the ethnic Austrian element, can be introduced by recalling the minutes of the decision expressed in the Imperial Council of Ministers on November 12, 1866, held under the presidency of Emperor Franz Joseph. The minutes of the meeting reads as follows:
“His Majesty has expressed the precise order that we decisively oppose the influence of the Italian element still present in some Crown lands, and to aim unsparingly and without the slightest compunction at the Germanization or Slavicization – depending on the circumstances – of the areas in question, through a suitable entrustment of posts to political magistrates and teachers, as well as through the influence of the press in South Tyrol, Dalmatia, and the Adriatic Coast.”
[See Luciano Monzali, "Italiani di Dalmazia", Florence 2004, p. 69; Angelo Filipuzzi (edited by), “La campagna del 1866 nei documenti militari austriaci: operazioni terrestri”, Padua 1966, pp. 396.]
The Imperial decision of Franz Joseph to carry out an ethnic cleansing against the Italians in Trentino-Alto Adige, Venezia Giulia, and Dalmatia, can be found in Die Protokolle des Österreichischen Ministerrates 1848-1867. VI Abteilung: Das Ministerium Belcredi. Band 2: 8. April 1866-6. Februar 1867, Österreichischer Bundesverlag für Unterricht, Wissenschaft und Kunst (Wien 1973); the quote appears in Section VI, vol. 2, meeting of November 12, 1866, p. 297. The quotation in German appears in a section titled "Measures against the Italian element in some territories of the Crown", or rather "Maßregeln gegen das italienische Element in einigen Kronländern":
“Se. Majestät sprach den bestimmten Befehl aus, daß auf die entschiedenste Art dem Einflusse des in einigen Kronländern noch vorhandenen italienischen Elementes entgegengetreten und durch geeignete Besetzung der Stellen von politischen, Gerichtsbeamten, Lehrern sowie durch den Einfluß der Presse in Südtirol, Dalmatien und dem Küstenlande auf die Germanisierung oder Slawisierung der betreffenden Landesteile je nach Umständen mit aller Energie und ohne alle Rücksicht hingearbeitet werde. Se. Majestät legt es allen Zentralstellen als strenge Pflicht auf, in diesem Sinne planmäßig vorzugehen.”
This was followed by a call to all the central offices, giving them the strict duty of carrying out the order according to the will of the emperor. This government decision, made at the highest level by Emperor Franz Joseph and his council, to proceed with the Germanization and Slavicization of the regions with Italian population, Trentino, Venezia Giulia and Dalmatia, "unsparingly and without the slightest compunction", attests unequivocally to the discriminatory and oppressive nature of the Habsburg Empire against the Italian minority: remember however that this is only one example among many of the anti-Italian policy of Austria. This act of the government, directly ordered by the emperor himself, expresses a clear intention to perpetrate an anti-Italian genocide (not in the sense of physical extermination, but in the sense of eradicating national and cultural identity, that would lead precisely to the "death of a people"), which was then actually realized in Dalmatia (Austrian censuses report the reduction of the Italian ethnic group from nearly 20% to just over 2%) and undertaken in Venezia Giulia and Trentino: only the war and the Italian victory prevented the same from happening in these last two regions that happened in Dalmatia, where the Italian presence was eliminated.

This project, consciously elaborated by the highest authorities of the Habsburg Empire and by the manifest will of Franz Joseph himself, was then carried out against the Italians in a plurality of ways. The rear measures against the Italians were carried out from 1866 until 1918 and were different according to the place, the time, and the authorities (civil or military, central or local) that promoted it. However, they all followed the pattern laid down by a substantial hostility of the Austrian ruling class against the Italians:
  1. Mass expulsions (in the first years of the 20th century alone more than 35,000 Italians were expelled from Venezia Giulia);
  2. Deportation to concentration camps (over 100,000 Italians deported during World War I);
  3. Use of Slavic nationalist squads to exercise massive amounts of violence against Italians (with countless acts of violence, bombings, assaults, murders, etc. These actions were often substantially tolerated by the authorities or were not effectively suppressed);
  4. Police repression;
  5. Immigration of Slavs and Germans into Italian territories favored by the imperial authorities, to promote the gradual "submersion" of the native Italians;
  6. Educational and cultural Germanization and Slavicization (Italian school closed, elimination of Italian place names and proper names, prohibition of Italian culture in all its forms: the question of education in Dalmatia in particular was very serious);
  7. Deprivation or restriction of political rights (elections in Dalmatia saw very heavy vote rigging in favour of Slavic nationalists; communes ruled by Italians were dissolved by the Austrian authorities, etc.);
  8. Restriction of civil rights (dissolution of political associations, cultural associations, trade unions, people were arrested or convicted for trivial reasons, etc).
There is a wealth of material about all this, both in contemporary sources and in historiography.