Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Forbidden Truths: Istria and Dalmatia Were Italian

(Written by Elisabetta de Dominis, descendant of the De Dominis family of Arbe, taken from the newspaper “La Voce di New York”, March 3, 2019.)

Conference in Trieste, February 26, 2019
From left to right: Massimiliano Fedriga, Elisabetta de Dominis, Fausto
Biloslavo, Massimiliano Lacota, Vittorio Feltri & Marcello Veneziani

What you are about to read is the speech I delivered at the conference on “The Role of Journalism in Preserving the Memory of the Julian-Dalmatian Exodus”. The conference was organized by Massimiliano Lacota, President of the Union of Istrians, at the Palazzo della Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia, in Trieste. In attendance were Massimiliano Fedriga, President of Friuli-Venezia Giulia; Vittorio Feltri, editor of “Libero”; Marcello Veneziani, journalist and political scientist; and Fausto Biloslavo, correspondent for “Il Giornale”.

In the beginning we had hope: we hoped to return to our lands. Then we dreamed about it: because returning was no longer possible. But the dream of living helps one to survive. Now we no longer dream. We have come to terms with reality – a reality which is not the historical reality, however. Too many people still do not know what happened to the Italians of the Adriatic Coast.

Then there are those who did know – those who participated in the killing, in the stealing, in inflicting suffering upon us. These are the friends, relatives or comrades of the modern-day Foibe-deniers of the Communist Party. These deniers deny the crimes proven by witnesses and deny the discovery of human remains, although many of the prisoners were made to disappear. By denying it, they defend and confirm the heinous actions of Tito's partisans. If today we deny a crime, then we admit that tomorrow it can be perpetrated again.

Not wanting to acknowledge what happened over 70 years ago, they do not allow history to teach us how to deal with the present, in the first place the symptoms of totalitarianism. It is always born from jealousies and social hatred, from disparity in wealth.

Nobody wants to accept that culture can make a difference, because culture is wealth. It can teach you to understand, to reason, to warn and even to honestly obtain a social position – without having skeletons in the closet or stolen paintings in the living room.

History must be told and repeated, because, as the Latins said: repetita iuvant.

Those who officially represent Italy internationally still do not have the courage to express themselves on the gravity of the historical events that occurred after the war on the Eastern Coast of Italy; they do not have the courage to respond to Pahor and Plenkovic, presidents of the nearby republics of Slovenia and of Croatia.

They almost seem to fear them: hic sunt leones, as the Romans said.

No, beyond the border there are no longer any lions; the only lion that was there was the lion of San Marco. Then came the jackals, eventually.

First, the presidents of Slovenia and Croatia should not have the audacity to complain about what is said in our country regarding the Foibe Massacres, because Italy is a sovereign state.

Second, Italy is a state of significantly greater European and international weight.

Third, it is time to reveal and dispel the taboos that haunt Slovenia and Croatia. And I wish to speak about this.

Taboo No. 1: Istria and Dalmatia were Italian lands and belonged to Italy.

We Triestines, many of whom are of Istrian or Dalmatian origin, know this. But how many Italians really know that these were regions of Italy and that our parents and grandparents fled their own homeland – not from Yugoslavia, which did not even exist yet as a federal socialist republic?

Still to this day they do not teach this in schools.

On Sunday February 10th, on the Day of Remembrance at the Foiba of Basovizza, Antonio Tajani saluted us by saying “Long live Italian Istria and Italian Dalmatia!”, in order to remind us what our nationality was and what the nationality of our lands were at that time.

Still today too few people are aware that those who remained behind [in Yugoslavia] had to deny their Italian heritage and declare themselves Slavic, and were forbidden to speak Italian.

I will not defend Tajani, because in the following days he proved incapable of even defending himself. Perhaps he does not know history. He could have confidently responded to the complaints of the Slovenian president Borut Pahor by simply saying: “I paid homage to what used to be the Eastern Coast of Italy and its heroic inhabitants.”

The day after the Day of Remembrance, I woke up in the middle of the night with this phrase: “Everyone is a hero unto himself and the Fatherland is where it begins.”

Taboo No. 2: The Slavs did not have their own written culture.

The only cultural identity along the Eastern Adriatic Coast was Italian cultural identity. The Slavs, who for centuries lived 100 km from the coast, were transferred en masse to the coastal towns by the Austro-Hungarian imperial government in order to turn the Italians into a minority. But the imperial government had to keep schools and all legal documents – everything from contracts to land registrations – in Italian, because the Slavs did not have their own written culture or national identity, as they had not had any kingdom for 800 years, having always been divided into different ethnicities and tribes. Indeed, the so-called Karadjordjevic “princes” were Serbian chieftains who were placed at the head of a kingdom created by the British at the end of the First World War, a kingdom which the Slovenes and Croats had joined only with reluctance, as later events show.

Taboo No. 3: False honor.

How can honor be built upon a crime, a robbery, a massacre? Tajani, with his “Long live...” speech, has put a dent in the public credibility of the neighboring republics, which they care about so viscerally.

By taking offense – as if these historical facts were made-up by Italy – presidents Pahor and Plenkovic demonstrated that at the bottom of their bowels lies their guilty conscience, which they are ashamed of and which they wish to conceal from the younger generations in their countries, who feel the need to know history and discover their non-existent roots.

Their children are kept in the dark about the 400 years of Venetian and then Italian history: in schools they begin with the Early Middle Ages and then pass to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And many kids do not know that they live in houses stained with the blood of its former Italian owners.

Taboo No. 4: Croatia and Slovenia do not have a history of their own.

After stealing our lives, our country, our affections, our land, our houses, our belongings, our tombs, Croatia and Slovenia are now also stealing our history from us, while our leaders remain silent.

Having never had national sovereignty, they need famous men in order to forge a history for themselves. And since they do not have any, they resort to translating the names of our ancestors into Slavic.

According to them, Marco Polo was “Croatian” and was born in Curzola. Too bad that at that time Curzola was an island of La Serenissima.

My ancestor, Giovanni de Dominis, commander of the Dalmatian fleet in the battle of Lepanto, aboard the galley San Giovanni, has now become “Ivan”. Fortunately, they did not translate the surname since it is Latin.

My ancestor Marcantonio de Dominis, an optical scientist, archbishop of Spalato and later dean of Windsor, has become “Marcantun”.

Taboo No. 5: Croatia and Slovenia have no roots.

Read the book “Les Slaves” by Francis Conte and you will understand: the Slavs inhabited the swampy and infertile areas of southern Russia, then pushed into the Balkans in the fifth century. They have always raided and killed in order to take possession of fertile land. And so it was, all the way up to the latest war in the 1990's. In order to effortlessly enrich themselves they have always liquidated and exterminated those who owned the land, whether by throwing them into a foiba or tossing them into the sea. The ancient Greeks called them sklavos, to emphasize that they had no dignity as a people: they served the highest bidder.

When you have no roots, you have no dignity. You are undignified.

Unlike them, we Istrians and Dalmatians have roots. These roots are in our hearts, which gave us the ability to make a dignified choice and to live in peace, because we know who we are and where we come from.

For centuries, we felt that we were citizens of the world, as Venice had taught us. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire we discovered Europeans before Europe itself did. But we always felt Italian, even when we found ourselves annexed to Central Europe, which was not exactly a place that we felt a part of. Because it is the Adriatic that was and has been our destiny.

I woke up very early one morning from a dream that I do not well recall, but I do remember this phrase: “Crushed between two eras, two wars, two civilizations, two cultures”.

Our Middle Adriatic Destiny?

Not lands in the middle of ours, like those of Central Europe, but lands in the middle of the sea, the Middle Adriatic land. The sea between the land, between the islands.

Are we more sea or more land?

We are like the sea: we have no land. We are the sea. And the land was only a landing place for us. Coveted yes, but not definitive. Only the sea is forever.

We on the east coast of Italy are neither meat nor fish. We eat meat and fish, but we prefer ham and scampi, salty and sweet at the same time. So we are: salty, pungent, biting and lovable, moderate, sentimental. This is why we are different: torn, uprooted, half and half. In the middle?

We are no longer there, but nor do we feel like we are from here, in this part of Italy, even if we were born here. Our roots remain in our hearts, in ours bowels, in our blood. In the memories of our fathers and mothers. Memories of joy and suffering.

Even if you [Croats and Slovenes] took everything, even our graves, you did not take our roots. We will continue to grow there, in our occupied lands. Where the spirit of our ancestors is, where our homes are, where our history can torment your consciences. Nor do you know how to dive into the sea and resurface on other shores. You are not sons of this sea.