Istrian-Dalmatian exodus

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The expression Istrian-Dalmatian exodus is used to indicate the diaspora or forced migration of ethnic Italians from Istria, Fiume, and Dalmatia, after World War II. Those territories were ethnically mixed since the Middle Ages with a majority of Italians, but even with Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and other communities.[1]

National Memorial Day of the Exiles and Foibe is Italian celebration in memory of all exiles and victims in massacres of Foibe: murdered and survived.

Characteristics[change | change source]

Istria including Fiume (Rijeka) and parts of Dalmatia including Zara (zadar), had been annexed to Italy after World War I. At the end of World War II the former Italian territories in Istria and Dalmatia became part of Yugoslavia by the Paris Peace Treaty (1947), with the only exception being the communes of Muggia and San Dorligo della Valle.

Italian sources claim that about 350,000 ethnic Italians had to leave the areas in the aftermath of the conflict.[2] Official data shows that between 1948 and 1961 (the exodus started in 1943 in Dalmatia and in 1945 in the rest of the territory) the numbers of ethnic Italians living in Slovenia - almost exclusively in Slovenian Istria and along the Italian border - actually decreased by nearly -87% (from 25,451 to 3,072). The data for the Former Yugoslavia shows a decrease in the same years from 113,278 to 25,615.[3]. According to Slovenian historian Matjaž Klemenčič, "in 1953 only 36,000 (Italians) lived in the region of former Yugoslavia, i.e. 16% of the Italian population before World War II. Italians also emigrated in later decades (most of them to the Australia, Canada, South America or the USA). Therefore their population declined in each subsequent census until 1981. We have to emphasize that the data of the Yugoslav census are unrealiable in relation to the real number if Italians, since many members of the Italian minority, for various reasons, chose 'Nationality Undeclared' or their regional identity (most as 'Istrians'). In the 1991 census there was a relatively large increase of Italians, (19,213 in the Regions of autochthonous settlements of Italians in Croatia) compared to 1981 census (15,132). Many Italians who in previous census did not declare as such, declared themselves 'Italians' in 1991 because they counted on the help of Italy in forthcoming crises in the region".[4]

In various municipalities in Croatia in Slovenia, census data shows that there are still significant numbers of Italians living in Istria, such as 66% of the population of Grisignano (519 Italians), 41% at Bertoniglia (652 Italians) and nearly 40% in Buie (2,118 Italians)[5].

Overview of the exodus[change | change source]

The Italians in coastal Slovenia and Croatia were mostly an indigenous population (in 1910 they accounted for more than a third of the local inhabitants, while in Istria they were nearly 55%), bolstered by new arrivals or the so called regnicoli, never well liked by the slavs[6] by the indigenous Venetian-speaking Istrians, who arrived between 1918-1943, when Istria, Fiume, part of Dalmatia, and the islands of Cres (Cherso), Lussino, Lagosta, and Pelagosa (Palagruža) were part of Italy. Austrian 1910 census indicated approximately 182,500 people who listed Italian as their language of communication in what is now the territory of Slovenia and Croatia: 137,131 in Istria, 28,911 in Fiume/Rijeka (1918), 11,487 in Zara/Zadar, 5,000 in Dalmatia[7], while the Italian 1936 census[8] indicated approximately 230,000 people who listed Italian as their language of communication in what is now the territory of Slovenia and Croatia, then part of the Italian state (ca. 194,000 in today’s Croatia and ca. 36,000 in today’s Slovenia). From the end of World War II until 1953, according to various data, between 250,000 and 350,000 people emigrated from these regions. Some thousands were Slovenes and Croats who opposed the Communist government in Yugoslavia [9], while most were ethnic Italians, the so-called optanti emigrants who were living permanently in this region on 10 June 1940 and who expressed their wish to obtain Italian citizenship and emigrate to Italy. The emigration of Italians greatly reduced the total population of the region and totally altered its ethnic structure.

In 1953, officially, only 36,000 Italians lived in Yugoslavia, 16% of the Italian population before World War II [9]. In its 1996 report on 'Local self-government, territorial integrity and protection of minorities' the Council of Europe's European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) put it that "a great majority of the local Italians, Italianites (of Slavic and other origin), many thousands of Slovenes and of nationally undefined bilingual 'Istrians' used their legal right from the peace treaty to 'opt out' of the Yugoslav controlled part of Istria. In several waves they moved to Italy and elsewhere (also overseas) and claimed Italian or other citizenship. The mass exodus of the optanti (or esuli as they were called in Italy) from 'godless communist Yugoslavia' was actively encouraged by the Italian authorities, Italian radio and the Roman Catholic bishop of Trieste. After this huge drain, the numerical strength of the remaining Italian minority became stable".[10]

History[change | change source]

Ancient times[change | change source]

Evidence of Italic people living alongside those from other ethnic groups on the eastern side of the Adriatic as far north as the Alps goes back at least to the Bronze Age [11], and the populations have been mixed ever since. A 2001 population census counted 23 languages spoken by the people of Istria [12]. Istria and Dalmatia were fully latinized at the fall of the Roman empuire in the fifth century.

From the Middle Ages onwards numbers of Slavic people near and on the Adriatic coast were ever increasing, due to their expanding population and due to pressure from the Turks pushing them from the south and east [13]. This led to Italic people becoming ever more confined to urban areas in Dalmatia, while the countryside was populated by Slavs, with certain isolated exceptions [14]. But Istria remained fully Italian until the Ottoman invasion in the sixteenth century.

The original majority Italian population suffered economic and political disadvantages, which gradually increased with the the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 19th century. This created a strong emigration: in Dalmatia the Dalmatian Italians were 25% in 1815, but a century later in 1915 they were only 2%.

World War I and the Post-War Period[change | change source]

In 1915, the Italians attacked the Austro-Hungarian Empire [15] leading to bloody conflict mainly on the Isonzo and Piave fronts. Britain, France and Russia had been "keen to bring neutral Italy into World War One on their side. Italy however drove a hard bargain, demanding extensive territorial concessions once the war had been won" [16]. In a deal to draw Italy into the war, under the London Pact, Italy was granted Trentino, Trieste, (the German-speaking) South Tyrol, and Istria including large non-Italian communities. But Dalmatia was excluded, as was Rijeka [17]. In Dalmatia, not granted to Italy by the London pact, Italy gained the city of Zadar and some islands.

After World War I, under the Treaty of Rapallo between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and the Kingdom of Italy (12 November 1920), Italy obtained all of Istria with Trieste, the exception being the island of Krk and part of Kastav commune, which went to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. By the Treaty of Rome (27 January 1924) the Free state of Fiume was split between Italy and Yugoslavia.

World War Two[change | change source]

After the Wehrmacht invasion of Yugoslavia (6 April 1941), the Italian zone of occupation was further expanded.[18] Italy annexed large areas of coastal Yugoslavia (including most of coastal Dalmatia) and Slovenia (including its capital Ljubljana). [19]

After the Second World War, there were large-scale movements of people choosing to move to Italy rather than live in Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, the people who left were called optanti, which translates as 'choosers', while they call themselves esuli or exiles. Their motives for leaving may have been fear of reprisals and murders, economic motives, or ethnically based.[20]

The foibe massacres[change | change source]

When the Fascist regime collapsed in 1943 reprisals against Italian fascists and civilians (even Italian communists) took place. At least 200 Italians were killed by Tito's resistance movement in September 1943; some had been connected to the fascist regime, while others were victims of personal hatred or the attempt of the partisan resistance to get rid of its real or supposed enemies. These events took place in central and eastern Istria, as well as in Slovenian Primorska.
The second wave of anti-Italian violence took place after occupation of Slav army in May 1945. This was known as the foibe massacres; actually it was a reenaction of what had been already began in 1943 but in larger scale.

Many Italian sources claim that these killings amounted to ethnic cleansing and genocide: Italian people was forced to mass migration by Tito supporters. [21]

The mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission, established in 1995 by the two governments to investigate the matters, succinctly described the circumstances of the 1945 killings:

14. These events were triggered by the atmosphere of settling accounts with the fascists; but, as it seems, they mostly proceeded from a preliminary plan which included several tendencies: endeavors to remove persons and structures who were in one way or another (regardless of their personal responsibility) linked with Fascism, with the Nazi supremacy, with collaboration and with the Italian state, and endeavors to carry out preventive cleansing of real, potential or only alleged opponents of the communist regime, and the annexation of Julian March to the new SFR Yugoslavia. The initial impulse was instigated by the revolutionary movement, which was changed into a political regime and transformed the charge of national and ideological intolerance between the partisans into violence at the national level.

The number of victims is not certain. The Italian historian Raoul Pupo suggests 4,500 were killed (including the events of 1943), mostly Italians, but many bodies wearing Partisan uniforms were found as well, so the number is subject to many interpretations. Other sources suggest numbers reaching up to 30,000 killed or missing.

The exodus[change | change source]

Economic insecurity, ethnic hatred and the international political context that eventually led to the Iron Curtain resulted in approximately 350,000 people, mostly Italians, choosing to leave the region. The London Memorandum of 1954 gave to the ethnic Italians the choice of either opting to leave (the so-called optants) or staying. These exiles were to be given compensation for their loss of property and other indemnity by the Italian state under the terms of the peace treaties. Following the exodus, the areas were settled with Yugoslav people.

Periods of the exodus[change | change source]

The exodus took place between 1943 and 1960; Italians allege that most of their numbers left in

  • 1943
  • 1945
  • 1947
  • 1954

The first period took place after the surrender of the Italian army and the beginning of the first wave of anti-fascist violence.

The second period was soon after the end of the war and approximately around the time of the second wave of anti-fascist violence. The Wehrmacht was engaged in a front-wide retreat from the Yugoslav Partisans, along with the local collaborationist forces (the Ustaše, the Domobranci, the Chetniks, and units of Mussolini's puppet Italian Social Republic).

The third period took place after the Paris peace treaty, when Istria was assigned to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, except for a small area in the northwest part that formed the independent Free Territory of Trieste. The fourth period took place after the Memorandum of Understanding in London. It gave provisional civil administration of Zone A (with Trieste), to Italy, and Zone B to Yugoslavia: in 1975 the Treaty of Osimo finally divided the former Free Territory of Trieste.

Estimates of the exodus[change | change source]

Several estimates of the exodus by historians:

The mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission verified 27,000 Italian and 3,000 Slovene migrants, but only from Slovenian territory.

Famous exiles[change | change source]

In the list are persons who worked in other places before the war and are also considered exiles due to their properties being confiscated by the communist dictatorship under Josip Broz. Famous postwar exiles from territories include:

Property reparation[change | change source]

On February 18, 1983 Yugoslavia and Italy signed a treaty in Rome where Yugoslavia agreed to pay US$110 million for the compensation of the exiles' property which was confiscated after the war in the Zone B of Free Territory of Trieste[30][31]. Up to its breakup in 1991, Yugoslavia had paid US$18 million. Slovenia and Croatia, two Yugoslav successors, agreed to share the remainder of this debt. Slovenia assumed 62% and Croatia the remaining 38%. Italy did not want to reveal the bank account number so in 1994 Slovenia opened a fiduciary account at Dresdner Bank in Luxembourg, informed Italy about it and started paying its US$55,976,930 share. The last payment was due in January 2002. Until today, the solution of the matter between Croatia and Italy has been delayed. None of the refugees from the Free Territory of Trieste saw a single penny so far.

Historical debate[change | change source]

It has been established that foibe massacres were been used by Slav communists for ethnic-political cleansing. In fact, foibe massacres and exodus were described as a democide and an ethnic-political cleansing by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.[32]

Slovenian historian Darko Darovec[33] writes:

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 (Italian Communist Party financed by Soviet Union), Italians and others, from Istra and from Zone B of the FTT (Free Territory of Trieste)

For the mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission[34]:

Since the first post-war days, some local activists, who wreaked their anger over the acts of the Istrian Fascists upon the Italian population, had made their intention clear to rid themselves of the Italians who revolted against the new authorities. However, expert findings to-date do not confirm the testimonies of some - although influential - Yugoslav personalities about the intentional expulsion of Italians. Such a plan can be deduced - on the basis of the conduct of the Yugoslav leadership - only after the break with the Informbiro in 1948, when the great majority of the Italian Communists in Zone B - despite the initial cooperation with the Yugoslav authorities, against which more and more reservations were expressed - declared themselves against Tito's Party. Therefore, the people's government abandoned the political orientation towards the "brotherhood of the Slavs and Italians", which within the framework of the Yugoslav socialist state allowed for the existence of the politically and socially purified Italian population that would respect the ideological orientation and the national policy of the regime. The Yugoslav side perceived the departure of Italians from their native land with growing satisfaction, and in its relation to the Italian national community the wavering in the negotiations on the fate of the FTT was more and more clearly reflected. Violence, which flared up again after the 1950 elections and the 1953 Trieste crisis, and the forceful expulsion of unwanted persons were accompanied by measures to close the borders between the two zones. The national composition of Zone B was also altered by the immigration of Yugoslavs to the previously more or less exclusively Italian cities.

References[change | change source]

  1. A tragedy revealed: the story of the Italian population of Istria, Dalmatia, and Venezia Giulia, 1943-1956 By Arrigo Petacco, Konrad Eisenbichler
  2. Summary of Ermanno Mattioli's book and Summary of historian Enrico Miletto's book
  3. Article with preface in Sloven language by the Sloven historian Matjaz Klemencic. Page 335: Data for Slovenia and Croatia (in 1948), i.e. for the region of the former Yugoslavia, are recounted for regions after the final boundaries were drawn in 1954 (...) and (In 1953) there are no data for the regions that were part of the Free Territory of Trieste/Territorio Libero di Trieste for 1953 and therefore are no data for ethnic affiliation of the population for Slovenia and Croatia nor for the region of Former Yugoslavia
  4. M.Klemenčič, The Effects of the Dissolution of Yugoslavia on Minority Rights: the Italian Minority in Post-Yugoslavia Slovenia and Croatia, p.335
  5. See census data from Croatia at http://www.dzs.hr/default_e.htm --> released data --> census 2001 --> tables --> population by mother tongue by towns/municipalities --> (scroll down) County of Istria
  6. From book in Italian and Slovene languages, read page number 24
  7. O.Mileta Mattiuz, Popolazioni dell'Istria, Fiume, Zara e Dalmazia (1850-2002). Ipotesi di quantificazione demografica, ADES 2005, pp. 57, 128, 159, 169
  8. VIII. Censimento della popolazione 21. aprile 1936. Vol II, Fasc. 24: Provincia del Friuli; Fasc. 31: Provincia del Carnero; Fasc. 32: Provincia di Gorizia, Fasc. 22: Provincia dell’Istria, Fasc. 34: Provincia di Trieste; Fasc. 35: Provincia di Zara, Rome 1936. Cited at http://www.cliohres.net/books/7/26.pdf
  9. 9.0 9.1 Matjaž Klemenčič, The Effects of the Dissolution of Yugoslavia on Minority Rights: the Italian Minority in Post-Yugoslav Slovenia and Croatia. See http://www.cliohres.net/books/7/26.pdf
  10. CDL-STD(1996)016 - English
  11. Little Humankind's History
  12. Istria on the Internet - Demography - 2001 Census
  13. http://www.demog.berkeley.edu/~gene/migr.html.
    See also http://www.istra-istria.hr/index.php?id=860
  14. "While most of the population in the towns, especially those on or near the coast, was Italian, Istria’s interior was overwhelmingly Slavic – mostly Croatian, but with a sizeable Slovenian area as well". See http://www.transdiffusion.org/emc/intertel/features/the_olive_grove.php
  15. First World War.com - Primary Documents - Italian Entry into the War, 23 May 1915
  16. First World War.com - Primary Documents - Treaty of London, 26 April 1915
  17. First World War.com - Primary Documents - Treaty of London, 26 April 1915
  18. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/ETO/East/Balkans/maps/AG/AG-Balkans-3.jpg
  19. Its brutal repression of Partisan activities and the killing and imprisonment of thousands of Yugoslav civilians in concentration camps (such as the Rab concentration camp) in the newly annexed provinces, and in Italy proper, fed the anti-Italian sentiments of the Slovenian and Croatian subjects of Fascist Italy. During the Italian occupation until their capitulation in September 1943, the population was subjected to atrocities, described by Italian historian Claudio Pavone as “aggressive and violent.
  20. Italian historian Raoul Pupo's article pertinent exodus or forced migration
  21. Article pertinent foibe and ethnic cleansing, with forced migration of Italians
  22. Article in Italian (scroll down for Benvenuti): Mi hanno cacciato dal mio paese quando avevo tredici anni. Si chiamava Isola d'Istria, Oggi è una cittadina della Slovenia (I was expelled from my country when I was thirteen. It was called Isola d'Istria, today is a town in Slovenia)
  23. Self-biografy of Sergio Endrigo in Italian. Endrigo stated: Sono nato a Pola (I was born in Pola) - Stavo partendo per andare a passare tre anni in un collegio per profughi giuliani e dalmati a Brindisi (nel 1947 la regione dell’Istria è stata riconosciuta alla Jugoslavia e tutti gli italiani lì residenti furono costretti ad espatriare) (I was starting to go to spend three years in a college for giuliano-dalmati refugees in Brindisi - in 1947 the region of Istria was recognized to Yugoslavia and all Italians living there were forced to expatriation)
  24. Miglia was the last director (until the great exile in 1947) of L'Arena di Pola, the Italian newspaper of Pola. Link in italian. Miglia stated: Stavamo tutti invecchiando in esilio (We were all ageing in exile)
  25. Article from the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. Missoni stated: "Io, esule da Zara..." (I'm exile from Zadar)
  26. Article in Croat language
  27. Article in Italian from the newspaper La Repubblica. Tomizza stated: Mi sono sempre sentito esule (I feel myself exile
  28. [1] Slovenian article (in English and in Italian) about Tomizza and his psicological analisys of the exile's world]
  29. Article in Italian from Il Corriere della Sera: Tomizza, poi esule... (Tomizza, then exile). Tomizza asks justice for the foibe massacres
  30. [2] The Teaty of Osimo (1975)
  31. La situazione giuridica dei beni abbandonati in Croazia e in Slovenia
  32. Napolitano-Mesic dispute
  33. Darko Darovec. "THE PERIOD OF TOTALITARIAN RÉGIMES-The Reasons for the Exodus". http://www2.arnes.si/~mkralj/istra-history/index.html.
  34. Slovene-Italian Relations 1880-1956. Report of the Slovene-Italian historical and cultural commission

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Raoul Pupo, Il lungo esodo. Istria: le persecuzioni, le foibe, l'esilio, Rizzoli, 2005, ISBN 88-17-00562-2.
  • Raoul Pupo and Roberto Spazzali, Foibe, Mondadori, 2003, ISBN 8842490156 .
  • Guido Rumici, Infoibati, Mursia, Milano, 2002, ISBN 88-425-2999-0.
  • Arrigo Petacco, L'esodo. La tragedia negata degli italiani d'Istria, Dalmazia e Venezia Giulia, Mondadori, Milano, 1999.English translation

Further reading[change | change source]

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Video[change | change source]