PERIOD 1880-1918






1. Slovene-Italian relations in the Adriatic region have their origins in the period of crisis which followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, when, on the one hand the Italian identity developed from the Roman foundations, while, on the other, the territory was settled by the Slovene population. Following several hundred years of neighbourhood and co-existence we are dealing here with a period which began around 1880, marked by conflict relations and the Slovene-Italian national dispute. The conflict developed in the state and political framework of the Habsburg Monarchy, of which the regions of Austrian Littoral became part gradually between the second half of 14th century abd 1797. In the second half of 19th century, the multinational Habsburg Monarchy was not able to give life to a political system whose state structure would completely reflect its multinational society. Therefore it was tormented by the national issue which the Monarchy could not resolve. The Slovene-Italian conflict is a part of the Habsburg national issue, which was affected by the processes of modernisation and economic changes which permeated all Central Europe as well as the area along the Adriatic.

Slovene-Italian relations are marked - following the pattern which also appeared in the then Habsburg society in other cases - by the dispute between Italians, who advocated the preservation of the politico-national and socio-economic state of possession (Besitzstand), and Slovenes, who endeavoured to change the existing situation. The issue became even more complex due to the cultural and emotional, albeit not always political response among the Italian population in Austria, encouraged by the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, and perhaps even more by the inclusion of the neighbouring territories of Veneto and Friuli into its state framework. While Italians looked beyond the borders of the Monarchy, Slovenes tried to break the political and administrative borders, since they were divided among several Länder (apart from three Länder on the Littoral region, there were also Carniola (the Kranjska), Carinthia (the Koroška) and Styria (the Štajerska)), since this hindered their mutual relations and politico-national cooperation. The annexation of the Veneto to the Kingdom of Italy also raised a question which directly concerns Slovene-Italian relations. In 1866 the Valleys of Natisone, Torre and Resia (Venetian Slovenia) became part of the Italian state. The policy conducted by Italy in that part towards the Slovene population directly reflected the difference between the old provincial state of the Venetian Republic and the new national state. Since the Kingdom of Italy strove to achieve uniform conditions all over the state, it resorted to suppressing the linguistic particularities, and took no account of the loyalty of the population for whom the measures were intended.

2. Around 1880, Slovenes had quite solid foundations of political and economic life in those Austrian administrative units in which they lived. On the Austrian littoral, the political movement of the Slovenes of Trieste, Gorizia and Istria was a part of the political movement of Slovenes in general.

The assimilation of the Slovene (and Croatian) population which moved to city centres, to Trieste in particular, therefore diminished and subsequently ceased almost completely. Greater political and national awareness and economic strength created a phenomenon which upset elite circles of the Italian population and forced them into the frequently narrow-minded national-defence policy typical of this environment until 1915 and contributed to the straining of relations between the two national communities, also due to the opposing Slovene-Italian tendencies to delimit national territories.

3. In all three parts of the Austrian littoral (Trieste, the Gorizia and Gradisca counties, Istria) Slovenes and Italians were living side by side. In the County of Gorizia the national delimitation was the most clear along the dividing line running in the direction north-south. Gorizia was the only ethnically mixed town, in which the number of Slovenes grew to such an extent that prior to World War I, the Slovene politicians believed that Slovenes would soon be the majority population in this town by the Isonzo river. In Trieste the majority population was Italian while in the surroundings the Slovene population prevailed. In this case the size of the Slovene population also increased. Slovenes lived in northern parts of Istria, mostly in the surroundings of coastal towns in which Italians prevailed. In the entire Istrian peninsula the national and political movement of Slovenes merged with the Croatian one, which sometimes hindered separate discussion of both south Slav components of the peninsula. The characteristic feature of Italian and Slovene settlements on the Austrian littoral consisted in Slovenes forming mostly the rural population, and Italians mostly the urban population. This phenomenon is not to be considered as absolute. One should not forget the Italian rural areas in Istria and the County of Gorizia, the so-called East Friuli, as well as the Slovene population in the towns of Trieste and Gorizia which grew in number as already mentioned.

Although a too strongly marked distinction between the urban and the rural reality should be avoided, the relation between the city and the country was in fact one of the basic focal points of political struggle on the Littoral (the Primorska); it introduced a mixture of national and social elements to the Slovene-Italian conflict, thus impeding its settlement. The focal point of the relation between the town and the country was at the same time the centre of the ongoing political and historiographic debate on the real national image of the Littoral. The Slovene side considered that the town belonged to the country, since rural areas should preserve their intact original identity of the given environment, free from cultural and social processes, and since the national image of towns was considered to have been a consequence of assimilation processes which impoverished the Slovene nation. Slovenes suffered the loss of national identity in the process of assimilation after several decades of still painful and dramatic experience which should not be repeated. The Italian side rejected this by referring to the principle of national affiliation as the consequence of a free cultural and moral choice, and not of an ethnic-linguistic origin.

According to the Italian interpretation of the relation between the town and the country, the cultural and civilian tradition of towns should create the image and the character of the surrounding territory. Such a different formulation later stirred up the conflict about the concept of an ethnic border and about the significance of statistics on the nationality of the population in border areas, which - according to Slovenes - were presumably distorted by the presence of mainly Italian urban centres.

4. Although there are some common characteristics of the national issue in the Habsburg Monarchy, the conflicting relations in certain areas and consequently also on the Littoral differ in their specific features. The Italian side also attributed the rapid development of the Slovene political and economic movement, as well as demographic growth of Slovenes in towns, to the activity of the Austrian state authorities which allegedly provided political support to the Slovene population (they considered it more loyal than the Italian one, as witnessed by the statements of the Austrian authorities) to make a stand against the Italian autonomy and nationalism.

Since it was considered that the level of Slovene development was artificially achieved, the natural relation - linking urban centres to the country - was not taken into consideration; this applies particularly to the relation between Trieste, the prospering metropolis in full swing, and its surroundings. Such a relation corresponds to economic rules and not to political plans as already then stressed by Angelo Vivante and Scipio Slataper.

The Italian nationalist and liberal circles often reproached the Catholic Church and the government authorities for treating Slovenes more favourably, thereby referring to the active involvement of the clergy in the Slovene political movement.

In the politico-administrative field, the burning national issue prevented or impeded the agreed harmonisation of institutions and linguistic relations with the constitutional principles and liberal ideas. The modifications of the local election legislation maintained the principle of census: in such a manner that the composition of provincial and city councils did not reflect the real numerical proportion between the two nations (for example in Gorizia, Italians prevailed in the provincial council, although Slovenes constituted two thirds of population in the area). The evolution of the language and education was impeded by the regional authorities in areas with an Italian majority, since they prevented consistent equality of the two languages spoken on the Littoral, two in the Gorizia and Gradisca counties and Trieste, and three in Istria.

5. In the decades prior to World War I, Slovenes and Italians did not establish political links. The only exception was the Assembly of the County of Gorizia in which unusual alliances were formed between Slovene Catholics and Italian Liberals. Such links at times encouraged alliances between Slovene Liberals and Italian Catholics in the Assembly. The latter had power in the County of Gorizia particularly in the Friuli countryside where the Friuli People's Party was active and whose leaders were later accused of Austrianism. An attempt to establish Slovene-Italian Catholic associations in the beginning of the seventies failed; nor did the subsequent Christian-social movement in both nations encourage such links. It is evident that the reference to national affiliation prevailed over ideological reasons. This tendency was even more evident in Istria where the Italian People's Party was closer to nationalist positions and where the political life was permeated with contradictions between the Italian block - which tried to maintain power of Italians in political institutions and in the educational system - and the Slovene-Croatian block, which tried to change the existing situation. On the Littoral the Liberal and the Catholic block had in their midst their own "national" parties opposing each other. Instead, solid links were established within the socialist movement which was oriented towards internationalism, although it was organised on the basis of national principles at the 1897 Vienna Congress. According to the implementation of this principle the assimilation of the Slovene workers was restrained. It is evident that there were frictions between the socialists of both nations. The difference of views was manifested at the end of World War I, both in the course of discussions as to which country Trieste should belong, and in debates on its national identity.

The Croatian idea on common resistance to the alleged germanisation of the Habsburg Monarchy could have given life to the "Adriatic Pact" among the nations living by the Adriatic, but according to Slovenes, it would attribute to Italians extensive areas of influence which would harm the Slovene interests.

6. The lack of Slovene-Italian dialogue and cooperation prior to the outbreak of World War I profoundly influenced the atmosphere in Trieste and, to a lesser extent, in Istria and Gorizia. Slovenes and Italians were overwhelmed by the feelings of their own national identities and were not able to develop a feeling of common affiliation to the environment in which both national communities had roots. Slovenes pursued the idea of Trieste as a centre of Slovene economic growth; they underlined its central role in the development, and although the Slovene population in Trieste was in the minority, there were more Slovene inhabitants in Trieste than in Ljubljana due to the different demographic composition of the two towns.

The demographic expansion they experienced led them to believe that Slovenes in Gorizia would soon prevail in number. In the long-term, a similar result was expected also for Trieste. The majority of the Italian population resorted to the policy of intransigent national defence striving to preserve the unchanged Italian image of the town. While Slovenes were attached to the immediate hinterland, Italians were attached to the inner hinterland of the Monarchy, and also to the Kingdom of Italy.

Ruggero Timeus developed extreme and radical nationalism in the Italian block, which remained in the minority and based its ideas on the cultural and national mission of the city and on the imperative of economic expansion of the Italianism to the Adriatic. The most representative political force of Italians in Trieste was the Liberal-National Party, in which the minor part was connected to the idea of "Mazzinianism", while the majority considered that the direct role of irredentism was the defence of the Italian identity of the town and its institutions.

In this tense and charged atmosphere, there began to emerge the ideas of people who belonged to the world of culture and were active in the same field as the contributors to the magazine "La Favilla" from the period of 1848. This was the group gathering around the Florentine magazine "La Voce", which published initiatives for coexistence between nations and wished to recognise the pluriethnic reality of Trieste and its surroundings. Some young people from Trieste collaborated with this magazine, among others Scipio Slataper and the brothers Carlo and Giani Stuparich. In opposition to political irredentism they defined their position as cultural irredentism, and intended to develop Italian culture through dialogue and cooperation with South Slavic and German cultures. Trieste should, according to their view, become a place in which different peoples and civilisations would meet; until 1914 their political opinions were similar to the opinions of the Trieste socialists. Indeed, the most mature result of socialist thinking was published in the magazine "La Voce" - the book by Vivante on Adriatic irredentism.

There was no proper response from the Slovene side, and no reaction to Vivante's book was noted. Slovenes were still deeply involved in searching for their own identity, therefore they were not able to decide on searching for other identities. Rare were those who were able to overcome nationalist barriers, as for example some judgements on the issue of the establishment of the Trieste university. The tensions were too acute, and the South-Slavic solution of the basic problems which stirred the Austrian Monarchy at the outbreak of World War I seemed closer and more accessible to Slovenes.

7. With the outbreak of World War I, the programme of irredentism became a constituent part of the Italian national policy programme, although the conviction prevailed (at least until spring 1918) that the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy - considerably reduced in terms of its territory - would survive the war despite everything. Even before Italy entered into war, the Italian diplomat Carlo Galli, on the assignment of his Government, met with Slovene representatives during his mission in Trieste. For the Slovene leadership these were the first official contacts with a foreign state. But already by signing the London Pact (1915) the Italian Government had adopted the programme of expansionism which, apart from the national principle, also considered geographic and strategic reasons. The general loyalty of Slovenes to the Austrian State drew from the publishing of the first news on the imperialistic aspect of the London Pact and from the solutions contained in the Pact with respect to the eastern border of the Kingdom of Italy, as well as due to the attitude of the Italian military authorities in the first occupied zones. The defeat of Italians at Kobarid/Caporetto brought about a switch in relation to Slovenes, since it gave place to the policy of dialogue between the nations under the Austro-Hungarian yoke, which culminated at the Rome Congress in 1918 and in the agreement with the Yugoslav Committee. While loyalty to the Habsburg Monarchy seemed increasingly contradictory to the processes of the internal disintegration of the Austrian State, the right to self-determination and the idea about South Slavic solidarity started to spread. During the final stages of war and after it, the contrast between the Slovene and Yugoslav thesis on the "ethnic" border and the Italian thesis advocating a geographic and strategic border became perfectly clear. The first one was based on the conception that the towns belonged to the countryside, and that the "ethnic" border substantially coincided with the Italian-Austrian border from 1866. The Italian thesis prevailed in the peninsula thanks to the most radical flows of the politico-psychological need to offer to the public opinion the tangible signs of territorial gains in order to ensure for the towns and for the Istrian coast, which were mostly Italian, a safe border as a compensation for the enormous sacrifices of war.


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