The fate of the Italians in Dalmatia, Fiume, Istria


by Eugenio Battaglia.
The fate of the Italians in Dalmatia, Fiume, Istria plus the unconditional surrender of 1943 with a partial change of fronts were two major catastrophes for Italy.

The first started on 12 November 1866 when the new Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ceccobeppe (as Franz Josef was contemptuously known in Italian) declared:

"His Majesty has expressed the precise order to act in a strong manner against the influence of the Italians still (in recently lost Venice) present in some regions of the Empire and, properly occupying the places of the employees of the State, of the Judiciary system, of the teachers as well as the newspapers, in order to operate in the South Tyrol, Dalmatia and the Litoral (Trieste, Istria, and Fiume) for the Germanization and Slavization of said territories, with energy and irrespective of any consideration."

If at that time all the towns of Dalmatia had had Italian mayors for 50 years, only Zara remained completely Italian. The situation was relatively better for Italians in the Litoral.

The second event created the Morte della Patria (Death of the Fatherland). However, in the very first days after the surrender/treason of the king (no capital letter please) and his entourage, at least 90,000-100,000 Italian soldiers, including all legions of the Black Shirts except one, plus many others in primis the X Mas of Prince Borghese, reached local agreements with the German commanders to continue the fight together. They could have been many more but inept bureaucrats from Berlin issued strong instructions to deal with the Italian "traitors," stupidly requiring their full integration into the German Wehrmacht.

The mishandling of Cefalonia had a strong negative influence, plus the Spalato case where some Italian forces reached agreements with the partisans.

For instance, most of the 40,000 Italian soldiers that General Gambara rallied to defend Fiume from Tito's partisans were transferred to Germany/Poland instead of using them to continue the fight.

On 8 September 1943, due to the lack of orders from "high up," many Italians at Spalato tried to go home to the Peninsula and turned their arms over to the partisans, both communist and anti-communist, in exchange for boats, so the Germans considered them genuine traitors. Other Italians in Croatia even joined the partisans, creating the Garibaldi and Matteotti brigades, but they were despised and few could return to Italy (don't ask me to cry for them).

In the Northeast region of Italy in the final two years of war the situation was very complicated, as the two allies of the Third Reich, the Croatian Ustase and the RSI, were enemies in practice, as the Croatians had ambitions on part of the Italian territories. The Germans created the OZAK (Operation Zone Adriatic Kustenland) under military administration, but officially the authority of the RSI continued unchanged. However, some officers of the Third Reich of Austrian origin sympathized with the Croats, and in a few cases, the volunteers of the RSI had to draw their weapons to assert their sovereignty and the flag.

Another dark page comes from the Italian air force of the so-called regular government of the South: they actively participated in support of Tito's forces, with bombing and the supply of arms, equipment, etc.

The historic town of Zara (the Italian Dresden) was 85% destroyed by the Allies, for no military reason other than eliminating the local Italians.

During the Tito era, the Croats not only destroyed monuments, the Lions of St. Mark symbol of Venice (now called Post-Illirian Lions), but they also used bulldozers to destroy the cemeteries to wipe out any trace of Italians in the previous centuries/millennia.

Now, the new Croatia changes the names of historical Italian/Venetians leaders, artists, shipowners, etc giving them Croatian names. I am sure that you know the great "Croat" explorer/voyager Marko Pilic (1254-1324) who visited China and was a minister of Kublai Khan.

After all the several exoduses from Dalmatia, 1866, 1920, 1945, 1953 (when all Italian schools were abolished), and the 1991 Yugoslavian wars, the Italians in Croatia number only 35,000. They are more or less united in the UI (Italian Union), probably there are more but many are still afraid to call themselves Italians.

At present they have few elementary schools in some towns, while in Fiume there is also a lycee and a daily newspaper plus some magazines.

At Spalato (Split) there are few hundred (500?) ethnic Italians and a branch of the Italian Union.

Italian tourists may spread again the Italian language but at the same time they are a stimulus for the local Italians to emigrate to the Peninsula for good.

JE comments: Eugenio, why would Ceccobeppe ("Frank Joey") prefer the Slavs to the Italians? Present-day Slovenia and Croatia were subjected not only to Italian revanchism, but also to the pan-Slavism sponsored by Serbia. Was it because Italy was perceived as a rival Great Power (or potentially so) and Serbia was not?

They don't talk about "Balkanization" for nothing. Fascinating and complex history.