Istra under Italy
With the treaty of Rapallo, concluded between the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians (born of the voluntary fusion of the State of the Slovenians, Croatians and Serbs, the Kingdom of Montenegro and the Kingdom of Serbia) and the Kingdom of Italy (12 November 1920), Italy obtained almost the whole of Istra with Trieste, the exception being the island of Veglia and part of the commune of Kastav, which went to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians. With the treaty of Rome (27 January 1924) Italy obtained Rijeka as well, which was earlier planned to become an independent State.
Even during the brief preliminary period of occupation (1918-1920) Italy had begun to implement a policy of assimilation of Croatians and Slovenians. This resulted in the closure of the classical lyceum in Pazin, of the high school in Voloska (1918), the closure of the Slovenian and Croatian primary schools and the exile of some distinguished Slovenians and Croatians to Sardinia and to other places in Italy. To this must be added fascist terrorism not hampered by the authorities, like the torching of the Narodni dom (the National House) in Pula and Trieste carried out at night (13 July 1920). The situation deteriorated further after the annexation of Venezia Giulia, in particular after fascism came to power (1922). The official policy of getting rid of other nationalities was not under any outside restraint at all, since Italy had not had to give any undertaking to respect the rights of minorities in either the peace treaties or the treaty of Rapallo.
In Istra the use of Slovenian and Croatian in the administration and in the courts had already been restricted during the occupation (1918-1920). In March 1923 the prefect of Venezia Giulia prohibited the use of Slovenian and Croatian in the administration, whilst their use in courts of law was forbidden by royal decree on 15 October 1925. The death-blow to the Slovenian and Croatian school system in Istra was delivered on 1 October 1923 with the scholastic reform of the minister Gentile. The activities of Slovenian and Croatian societies and associations (Sokol, reading rooms, etc) had already been forbidden during the occupation, but specifically so later with the Law on Associations (1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public Order (1926). All Slovenian and Croatian societies and sporting and cultural associations had to cease every activity following the decision of the provincial fascist secretaries dated 12 June 1927. On a specific order from the prefect of Trieste on 19 November 1928 the political society Edinost was also dissolved. Slovenian and Croatian co-operatives in Istra, which at first were absorbed by the Savings Banks of Pula or of Trieste, were gradually liquidated.
After Tyrol, in 1927 it was the turn of Venezia Giulia to have imposed on it changes in family names (place names had already been Italianised in 1923). Surnames were 'restored' to their original spelling in cases where they had been translated to another language or where they had been deformed in the writing or in the endings. In this way nearly all Slovenian and Croatian names were Italianised.
As early as 1921 this policy provoked resistance on the part of the Slovenians and Croatians, at first of a social character and of internationalist inspiration (southern Istra - Prostimo/Roveria, the miners of Labin), but at Marezige with nationalistic content as well. Resistance to authority took hold particularly after the suppression of the societies and associations in 1927, when in the Trieste area young Slovenian Triestini founded the secret organisation 'Fight' (Tajna organizacija Borba). In the Gorica area meanwhile a similar organisation was born, which contained the first roots of another, much better known, which went by the acronym TIGR (Trieste, Istra, Gorica and Reka). The first victim of this organised resistance of the Slav population in Venezia Giulia was the Istran Vladimir Gortan. A member of the Borba organisation, he was condemned to death for taking part in an attempt to prevent a group of electors from going to vote in the fascist elections in Pazin. In the course of this attempt, a comrade of Gortan had accidentally killed someone.
Also members of the Borba organisation (and not as erroneously thought of TIGR) were the four heroes of Basovizza, condemned to capital punishment in 1930 for dynamite attacks against various institutions which had been implementing denationalisation. The penalty, which was intended to be a warning to others, was decided on the basis of the bomb placed in the editorial office of the newspaper Il Popolo di Trieste, which killed the editor of this Fascist daily.
During the 1930s the TIGR organisation operated in unison with its directorate located in Yugoslavia, where many Slovenians and Croatians had taken refuge immediately after the Italian occupation, whilst a second wave of refugees from Venezia Giulia poured over there at the end of the Twenties and at the start of the Thirties. In Yugoslavia Istrans formed several associations and societies, amongst which doubtlessly the main one was the society 'Istra', which also published a periodical by the same name. Slovenians and Croatians of Venezia Giulia met in societies, organised in their turn into the League of Yugoslav Societies for Migrants (from 1932 League of the Emigrants from Venezia Giulia) with its headquarters in Belgrade. The League was headed by Ivan Maria Čok. In their organ the review Istra published in Zagreb, they usually supported the official line from Belgrade. This soon gave rise to opposition, organised around the review Istarski glas (1939-1940).
The Neglected Province
Italy did not encourage the economic development of Istra. Many colonists from Italian countries were more concerned with establishing the Italian character of Istra than with helping its economic development There were admittedly some major works of infrastructure which can be admired even today, such as the improvement of the flow of the rivers Raša and Mirna, the salt works in Koper, waterworks in other parts of Istra and the asphaltation of all the important roads. But to a great extent these works were carried out chiefly because of imperialistic considerations, that is expansion towards the Balkans. Of the same character was the construction of a system of defence along the eastern border of the country.
The forecasts of Kandler and other proponents of autonomy of the preceding century, in regard to the role of Trieste within Italy, became reality, with the volume of traffic in the port of Trieste registering a big fall, due to the competition from the numerous Italian ports. The only Istran narrow-gauge railway line, of which the locals were proud, was closed down. Some say that, with the conquest of Abyssinia in 1936, the railway was transferred to that African country, others that it ended up as scrap metal somewhere in Sicily.
In search of better living conditions, many Slovenians and Croatians, anti-fascists or not, emigrated overseas or to Yugoslavia, to other regions in Italy, or else other European countries. Most of the Italian fighters in the international brigades of Republican Spain were Giuliani. Likewise most of those sentenced for political crimes by the special tribunal for the defence of the State were from Venezia Giulia.
Perhaps it is unnecessary to emphasise what a serious break in relationships amongst the various peoples of Istra was produced by fascism with its totalitarian mono-national politics. Thus we can perhaps more easily understand, but never justify, the actions of the regime (also totalitarian) that succeeded fascism, which kept the citizens oppressed with help from the equally 'sacred' communist ideal.
Istra in the Second World War
Istra went into the second world war with the rest of Italy. In September 1940 between Trbiž/Tarvisio and Rijeka the Italian command, as General M. Roatta states in his writings, called up two armies with a reserve, which together included 37 divisions and 38 companies of heavy artillery. This call to arms, in Roatta's judgement, represented the most impressive and solid work of preparation achieved by the Italian army in the course of the war. The top brass were fully aware of how serious the problem of 'quasi-aliens' was; it did not take long for these recruits to show their disloyalty; already before, and especially after the armistice they enrolled en masse in the overseas brigades. Together with the Yugoslav partisan troops, these brigades then fought Nazi fascism.
The situation was turbulent in the peninsula as well. Although in the opinion of the Communist International Istra should have been within the sphere of influence of the Italian Communist Party (CP), the Slovenian CP (chiefly on the basis of an accord of 1934 between the Italian CP and that of Austria), and the Croatian CP took the initiative in the organisation of anti-fascist resistance in Istra, which for two and a half years had been far from the principal hot spots of the anti-fascist struggle in Croatia and in Slovenia. The first cells of this movement, organised by militant communists who came from Slovenia (Oskar Kovačič) and from Croatia, fell under the fire of fascist police. Particularly hard were the setbacks suffered in the spring of 1943 at Labina, Pazin and Buzet. In June of 1942 a group of fighters had detached themselves from the Slovenian partisan formation which operated in the zone between Brkini and Mašun; they relocated themselves to Croatian Istra on Učka, but already towards the end of the year the group had been neutralised by detachments of the Italian army.
In Slovenian Istra from December 1942 there was a permanent organiser of the Liberation Front (LF - Osvobodilna fronta-OF), Vidko Hlaj. Between April and May 1943 he formed the Provincial Committee of the Slovenian Communist Party and the Provincial Council of the LF for Slovenian Istra. Similarly in March of the same year at Karojba the first permanent organ of Croatian Istra was established, the directorate of the Croatian Communist Party for Istra. The Italian Communist Party encouraged anti-fascist resistance by the Italian population in the coastal towns.
Resistance to the occupation was given great impulse by the fall of fascism, especially after the armistice (8 September 1943), when a general insurrection of the population took place. The whole of Istra was liberated, the administration taking shelter in Pula and in Trieste where the German army arrived soon after. The population of all three nationalities responded massively to the recruitment of partisan units. It is interesting that the chief of the so-called Independent Croatian State (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska - NDH) announced the sovereignty of his puppet State over Rijeka, Zadar/Zara, and Croatian Istra, whilst Mussolini's Republic of Salň asked the Germans to cede Istra to it. Instead, with a proclamation by the high commissar, the Gauleiter of Carinthia Rainer, on 1 October 1943 the 'Adriatisches Küstenland' operational zone was formed with headquarters in Trieste, comprising the provinces of Friuli and Gorizia, Trieste, Istra, Rijeka and Ljubljana. The legal status of this zone was not well defined in the proclamation, but from the government regulations issued subsequently the annexiationist intentions are quite clear. In two measures taken at the end of 1943 the Germans far exceeded the limits set by international law on the jurisdiction of occupying forces. The first introduced compulsory military service within the territories of the Adriatic Littoral, whilst the second instituted a territorial militia under the command of SS high officers and of the police.
From August 1944 conditions in the Istran partisan war were getting worse. Reinforcements for the occupying forces arrived in the region and the construction of coastal fortifications and other defensive lines intensified in anticipation of a landing by Allied troops. Violent acts by the occupying forces became more and more frequent, often with participation by units of the fascist militia. It is estimated that 30,000 Istrans took part in the resistance, while many had joined the overseas brigades and others were in work corps of the Anglo-American army.
Demarcation Problems of the Border with Croatia
Already during the war arguments had started between Croatians and Slovenians in regard to the border in Istra. The Provincial Committee of National Liberation of Croatian Istra proclaimed on 13 September 1943 the unification of Croatian Istra with the motherland, i.e. with Croatia, and after a few days, on 20 September, such a decision was confirmed by the highest Croatian legislative body (ZAVNOH). In the meantime, a plenary session of the Liberation Front (FL) proclaimed the unification of the 'Slovenian Littoral' with Slovenia. Given the lack of clarity of the terms used to describe territories which in reality were not entirely defined territorially at this time, such proclamations and decisions were creating problems of demarcation.
Administrative divisions in Istra, 1910 and 1945
Aware of this problem, the Istrans themselves (representatives of the Liberation Front in Slovenian Istra and representatives of the liberation movement in Croatian Istra) had already defined the Croatian-Slovenian border in Istra during the war (in February 1944). It was fixed along the Dragonja, through Topolovec, Pregara and Črnica until it reached the line Obrov-Rupa in north-east Istra. According to the sources located by F. Ostanek (cf. Annales 1/91, p 218), the Croatian representatives would have preferred dialectal borders to be followed in order to include into the Croatian side the localities of the mixed-language zone as well, but they were reminded of the general Slovenian nature of the zone.
The result of this demarcation was substantially what is still today the border line between the two States. The Slovenian-Croatian border on the Dragonja was also discussed at a higher level, namely at a meeting organised by the Partisan Scientific Institute at Semič in March 1944 (in the paper given by F. Zwitter).
B. Grafenauer, referring to the Slovenian tradition in geography, history and linguistic studies concerning the Slovenian-Croatian border, states that generally speaking there was no controversy on this and that therefore there was no need later for political agreements. These became perhaps necessary only for later minor alterations, desired by the people mainly for economic reasons (such as the cadastral communes of Pregara and Črnica near Buzet, or of Pasjak, Šapjane and Rupa to the north of Rijeka). People decided whether they would belong to one or the other republic by having recourse to a referendum (Pregara, Črnica). Nevertheless, even after 1954, agitators from either side of the border would show up regularly in areas that had been subject of controversies, to convince the inhabitants of the justice of their views.
The Diplomatic Fight for Istra after World War II.
After the liberation (some circles in Italy prefer to refer to it as the occupation) of Istra and Trieste in April-May of 1945 the diplomatic tug of war started, at the end of which all of Istra (except the communes of Muggia and San Dorligo) became part of Yugoslavia. For a brief period to 12 June Trieste was under the Yugoslav military government. After that the territory of Venezia Giulia was divided by the so-called Morgan line or 'blue line' into Zone A, under the jurisdiction of the Allied military government (AMG), and into Zone B, under the Yugoslav military government (VUJA). Pula and its surrounds belonged to Zone A of Venezia Giulia. Abbazia was the headquarters of Zone B under the occupation and also under the Yugoslav military government for Venezia Giulia, Rijeka, Istra and the Slovenian Littoral. The civilian government of Zone B was entrusted to the Council of the Provincial Committee of Popular Liberation of the Slovenian Littoral, with seat in Ajdovščina, and to the Provincial Committee of Popular Liberation of Istra in Labin.
At the meeting of foreign ministers of the four great powers in May 1946 the French proposal for the Free Territory of Trieste (FTT) was accepted. In Paris on 10 February 1947 the representatives of twenty-one countries signed the peace treaty with Italy, which took effect on 15 September 1947. On the same day the FTT was established, and it too was divided into Zone A and Zone B. The border followed the Morgan line, that is the partly modified border of 1910 of the Muggia commune.
According to the treaty, the territory of Zone B was under the jurisdiction of the Yugoslav military government (VUJA FTT), while Zone A was under the juris-diction of the Allied military government. The rest of Istran territory was assigned to Yugoslavia.
The Free Territory of Trieste
The territory of Zone B of the FTT was under the jurisdiction of the Istran Provincial Popular Committee located in Koper. It was divided into the districts of Koper and Buje.
From a territorial point of view, Zone B of the FTT was made up of the administrative-territorial units of the Austrian administrative constitution of 1910 in communes and cadastral communes. As established by L. Marin (in Annales 2/92), the following units formed Zone B of the FTT: the communes of Koper, Marezige, Pomjan, Izola, Piran, Buje, Novigrad, Umago and Brtonigla/Verteneglio, the cadastral commune Škofije of the commune of Muggia, the cadastral communes of Osp and Socerb of the commune of San Dorligo, the cadastral communes of Dekani, Tinjan and Rožar, and parts of the cadastral communes of S. Anton and S. Nedelja of the commune of Dekani, the cadastral commune of Topolovec of the commune of Oprtalj, the commune of Grožnjan, excluding the cadastral communes of Šterna and of Završje.
The Istran Provincial Popular Council adopted in December 1948 a decision on the registry of births, deaths, marriages, etc. The text of this document includes a list of all the popular councils of the district of Capodistria, the citizens' councils of Izola, Koper and Piran and the local councils of Korte, Strunjan/Strugnano, Kampel, Semedela, S. Toma, Vanganel, Šmarje, Koštabona, Dekani, S. Lucija, Osp, Škofije, Marezige, Čežarji, Sečovlje, Portorož, S. Peter and Boršt.
On the model of the administrative reforms carried out in Slovenia, the Istran Provincial Popular Council divided the province into districts and communes. The province of Istra was composed by the districts of Koper and of Buje, in their turn divided into communes. The district of Koper was made up of the following communes: Dekani, Izola (urban commune), Izola Territory, Koper (urban commune), Koper Territory, Marezige, Šmarje, Piran (urban commune), Sečovlje and Portorož. The district of Buje contained the following communes: Buje, Umago, Brtonigla, Grožnjan, Momjan and Novigrad.
This process was carried too far when even cadastral communes were subdivided, a unique case of fragmentation of territorial units in the post-war period. In other parts of Slovenia the tendency was to keep cadastral communes intact, so as maintain order in the cadastral office and cadastral registers.
According to data from the statistics bureau in the districts of Koper and of Buje, at the end of 1953 the administrative-territorial partition of Zone B of the FTT included the district of Koper with nine surrounding areas, (Ankaran, Izola, Koper, Piran, Portorož, Sečovlje, Semedela, Strunjan, Lucija) and the district of Buje with six (Bašanija - earlier in the cadastral commune of Kaštel and of Savudrija, Brtonigla, Buje, Grožnjan, Novigrad and Umag).
This arrangement lasted till the FTT came to an end in 1954 with the signing of the Memorandum of London. Then the former Zone B of the FTT became part of Yugoslavia, or to be more precise of Slovenia and Croatia, while Zone A became part of Italy.
The Great Slovenian Sacrifice for Yugoslavia
In Paris in 1946 international high diplomacy chose as the base for normalisation of relationships between Yugoslavia and Italy the so-called 'ethnic equilibrium', in accordance with which approximately as many persons of Yugoslav descent had to stay on in Italian territory (excluding the FTT) as there were Italians (by the 1910 census) in Yugoslav territory. If one takes into account the general Yugoslav situation, this requirement was almost met. However, if only Slovenians and Italians are counted, the results are surprising and prove above all a big Slovenian sacrifice on behalf of Yugoslavia. After the partitioning of the FTT in 1954, the final relationship was 1 to 4 to the disadvantage of the Slovenians.
It is true that Slovenia acquired a strip of land with an Italian majority-the area variously referred to as the coast, Littoral, or Riviera of Koper, or Slovenian Istra, of which much earlier S. Rutar (1899) had said that there 'one speaks Italian'. But it must not be forgotten that this represented compensation for the loss of the true Slovenian Littoral, the coastal strip between Barcola/Barkovlje, Villa Opicina/Opčine and S. Giovanni/Štivan where Slovenians had settled in remote times and where they made up 90% of the population. This area, however, was part of Zone A.
The consequence of the political division was an enormous change in ethnic relationships after 1947, when the number of Italians in Slovenia continued to drop, principally because of the exodus, till it dwindled to 3,000 in 1981 (barely 10% of Italians in the 1910 census). For the coastal strip of Slovenian Istra it represents a significant alteration in the ethnic composition of the population, to the detriment of the indigenous constituent.
Italian historiography often advances the phenomenon of the so-called fojbas or foibe (clefts in the Karst into which people were thrown after being killed or while still alive) as the main reason for the emigration of persons of Italian culture from Istra after World War II. Some Italian historians, however, have denied that there was such a mass activity except in the few months immediately following the end of the war, while a greater number of people could have met this sad fate in the period following the capitulation of Italy in 1943. In this latter period no mass emigrations from Istra have been noted, and therefore it is difficult to accept the thesis that this vindictive behaviour (inhuman indeed, but of a kind not uncommon in times of war and its immediate aftermath) was a direct cause of the emigration of the Italian population of Istra to Italy and other countries. Undoubtedly the very fact that this happened arouses extremely unpleasant feelings, and this is the reason why the phenomenon of the fojbas has often been used as a psychological factor in bilateral or multilateral propaganda activities.
It is, however, necessary to view the phenomenon of migrations, of 'esulism' (going into exile) and 'opting' as an extremely complex subject, which must be viewed from many different aspects. It should be pointed out that the observation of the Istran historian of the last century, C. de Franceschi, that the Slavs had never conquered Istra by force of arms (and that therefore the Italians were entitled to the territory), had now been invalidated. So some have advanced the opinion that the section of the population which had declared itself as Italian, after many centuries of ruleing and of being in control of all the important functions of the country, suddenly found itself in an inferior position, and still more, inferior to barbarians as the defenders of this earlier theory had called them. Therefore they may have preferred emigration to remaining in such a situation. Also, their new masters brought with them a system which officially acknowledged all religious beliefs, but was in fact clearly directed against the Church, so many religious Catholics doubted whether they would be allowed to practise their religion without being humiliated and neglected.
The Reasons for the Exodus
From any point of view, the Istran situation presented one of the most acute European problems in the first post-war decade. Together with the German question and that of Austria, the drama of Trieste which was played out in those years represented the legacy of a war-time alliance which had thrust together two social systems that could not be reconciled, capitalism and socialism. In spite of its formal recognition of human rights, and of the rights of minorities in the restructured nation the new power always exercised an ideological pressure on the population, however much it might be concealed behind the mask of communist internationalism.
It is clear, however, that at the peace conferences the new State borders were not being drawn using ideological criteria, but on the basis of national considerations. The ideological criteria were then used to convince the national minorities to line up with one or the other side. To this end socio-political organisations with high-sounding names were created, The most important of them being SIAU, the Slovenian-Italian Antifascist Union, which by the necessities of the political struggle mobilised the masses in the name of 'democracy'. Anyone who thought differently, or was nationally 'inconsistent', would be subjected to the so-called 'commissions of purification'. The first great success of such a policy in the national field was the massive exodus from Pula, following the coming into effect of the peace treaty with Italy (15 September 1947). Great ideological pressure was exerted also at the time of the clash with the Kominform which caused the emigration of numerous sympathisers of the CP, Italians and others, from Istra and from Zone B of the FTT.
It may be true that then things had not gone so far as direct physical violence (a matter which is yet to be researched), but nonetheless the very fact that everyone was being forced to choose a side and that the names of those suspected of being supporters of the Kominform were made public, is an indication of how much pressure was being put on individual people.
Even more massive was the exodus from Istra after 1953, when it became clear that Italy was going to lose the peninsula. A vast propaganda campaign was organised in favour of the exodus of the population, whereas up to then various ways had been tried to maintain the presence of the Italian population in Istra, in order to legitimise Italian territorial claims. Because of this ideological pressure, many people of Slav origin emigrated together with the Italian population. It follows that the theory according to which the main impetus of the exodus was not violent acts, but rather a feeling on the part of the Italians, who up to then had enjoyed a dominant position, that their subordination to the S'ciavi (Slavs) did not make due allowance for the value of the former and the inferiority of the latter, cannot be taken literally.
Any assumption which may be made about the number of exiles in advance of an in-depth study of the problem is pure speculation. It will be possible to unravel this problem only with the aid of the archives of the Yugoslav military government (which is in Belgrade) and of the State archives in England, USA and Italy, several of which are not yet accessible. The fundamental comparison in absolute or relative terms for any form of estimate remains assuredly the census of 1910.
As the northernmost peninsula in the Mediterranean, and therefore nearest to the Central European area by sea, Istra has always been in the centre of affairs, no matter how the world may have been defined in various historical eras and circumstances. Its people have followed and also often directly taken part in the major political, economic and ideological changes which have taken place, but they have always somehow been pushed into the background and marginalised and have found themselves on the outer limits of various civilisations, ethnic groups and national entities. They have been made the subject of the spheres of interest of 'major' politics and political history only when a 'history' has been created on their account in the name of the interests of the great powers. This is the picture which Istra shows even today, when Slavs and Romans, Croatians, Slovenians and Italians have lived in its territory for much more than a millenium, and throughout this shared history have more often been together than apart.
I conclude with one wish: that the multiethnic and multicultural society which has been created, whose coming into existence has been outlined on these pages, will lead to the development of the much to be desired example of respect, peaceful coexistence and economic development of the Istran peoples and their states on this peninsula. Life can only be enriched by cultural diversity, just as its quality is destroyed by enthnocentrism and intolerance.