PERIOD 1945-1956






1. In Venezia Giulia, in the Valleys of Natisone, Torre and Resia and in the Canale Valley, where the Slovene and Italian nations live side by side, many borders were established in the course of history, however, never so many as in the post-war decade. From May 1945 to September 1947, two Anglo-American military administrations with their headquarters in Trieste and Udine, and a Yugoslav military administration operated in this area. Venezia Giulia was divided into two zones of occupation: Zone A under the AMG (The Allied Military Government - the 13th Corps Venezia Giulia), and Zone B under the military administration of the Yugoslav Army (VUJA). The Valleys of Natisone, Torre and Resia and the Canale Valley were under the AMG with its headquarters in Udine.

After 1945, international relations were evolving into a global confrontation between the East and the West. Although new standards in the diplomatic relations between the superpowers were only gradually established, the political behaviour of people living at the border between Italy and Yugoslavia was soon predominated by the atmosphere of conflict between the two civilisations. While at the end of World War I, due to the disturbance of the balance of power in Europe, the border dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia was concentrated at the eastern boundary of the disputed territory, the shift in the balance of power between the two countries after World War II transferred the aspirations to the border on the western-most part of the territory. With this new frontier, Yugoslavia, a state invaded by Italy, was rewarded for its contribution to the victory of the Allied Forces. It also to a large extent satisfied the expectations inspiring the struggle of Slovenes and Croatians on the Littoral for victory over Fascism and for national liberation. The endeavour to draw the state frontier along the lines of the national border, however, proved ineffective, due to the prevalence of the policy of power and also to the characteristic settlement features of the Littoral population, together with the differences in the population's understanding of national affiliation. As was the case after 1918, and as is typical of the time of nationalistic movements, the fulfilment of a nation's national programme (even if in the case of Slovenes it was incomplete) was achieved to the detriment of the neighbouring nation.

Soon after the Treaty of Peace - which established the Free Territory of Trieste (FTT) - as a compromise solution entered into force, the logic of the cold war also prevailed in the Yugoslav-Italian relations. This period reached its peak in 1948 when, on 20 March, due to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Italy, the western governments issued a trilateral note, in which they advocated the return of the whole Free Territory of Trieste to Italy.

After the break with the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia had not aligned itself with any military or political bloc, which the western forces rewarded with economic and political concessions, despite the fact that it was governed by a totalitarian regime. When bilateral negotiations on the fate of the FTT came to a halt, and the crisis which was brought about by the issue of the bilateral note of 8 October 1953 was overcome, a Memorandum of Understanding was adopted in London on 5 October 1954 on the initiative of the Atlantic superpowers.

The delineation determined by the Treaty of Peace and finalised by the Memorandum of Understanding was more to the benefit of Yugoslavia, since it acquired the majority of the territory claimed, excluding Gorizia and a part of the Goriziano, Monfalcone area with its surroundings, and Zone A of the never realised Free Territory of Trieste, which were also inhabited by Slovenes. Despite the Yugoslav claims, the Valleys of Natisone, Torre and Resia and the Canale Valley were not subject to negotiation.

The population concerned experienced the resolution of the border conflict in a different manner. While the majority of the Italian public enthusiastically welcomed the decision that Trieste, which gradually became the symbol of the long-lasting diplomatic border conflict between Italy and Yugoslavia, would be returned to Italy, the loss of Istria left a deep scar on the collective memory of Italians in Venezia Giulia. Slovene satisfaction with the acquisition of the Slovene rural areas on the Karst and in the Posocje was, however, spoilt by the rejected historical claims to Trieste and Gorizia, although they were partially compensated by the annexation of the coastal area around Koper - where there was a considerable Italian presence - which granted Slovenia exit to the sea.

While after the negotiations the Croatian population of the then disputed area was entirely assigned to the Republic of Croatia, a constituent part of the Yugoslav federation, some of the Slovene population, living in the provinces of Trieste, Gorizia and Udine, remained within the borders of Italy. On the other hand, some of the Italian population remained within the borders of Yugoslavia, although at the time of the Memorandum of Understanding it had already to a large extent moved from those areas which were assigned to Croatia by the Treaty of Peace.

2. In the areas where the Italian administration was re-established after 1947, the restoration of the normal state of affairs was impeded by persistent adherence to the nationalistic stance, which arose partly from the resentment about the developments during the Yugoslav occupation in 1945. The return of the Italian authorities to the Goriziano/Goriško was accompanied by a wave of violence against the Slovenes and individuals favourably disposed to Yugoslavia. The Italian authorities treated Slovenes with general mistrust; although they respected their individual rights, they, nevertheless, did not support their national development, and in some cases even tried to assimilate them. The new frontier, dividing the former province, was a great setback for the Goriško, since it cut off the mountainous hinterland of the Posocje from its centre in the lowlands and greatly affected the Slovene inhabitants, who were thereby separated from their countrymen. The new circumstances brought about the decision by Slovenes to build Nova Gorica; later in a more favourable atmosphere this new town, despite many obstacles, succeeded in establishing contacts with the city centre, which remained within Italy and recovered with great difficulty only at the end of the fifties.

3. More difficult was the situation for Slovenes in the Valleys of Natisone, Torre and Resia and the Canale Valley since they were never recognised as a national minority by the authorities; therefore, they were refused the right to instruction in their mother tongue and to the use of the mother tongue in their dealings with the authorities. Following the last years of war, the Slovene national awareness had been experiencing a revival, but the rise of political tendencies favouring Yugoslavia among the population which had always demonstrated loyalty to the Italian state made the Italian side suspect - also due to the prevailing atmosphere of the cold war - that they were a manifestation of a political movement spreading from the other side of the border and not the result of an autonomous development. Advocates of such tendencies were intimidated, imprisoned and in some cases also physically assaulted by members of the far-right and paramilitary groups. Also the Slovene clergy had problems with the civilian and church authorities, mostly because the authorities saw them as pillars in the struggle for the preservation of the identity of the Venetian Slovenes, starting with the use of the Slovene language in the pastoral activities.

There is no doubt that in these areas the Italian authorities persistently evaded their responsibility to carry out the protection policy, which should have corresponded to the spirit of the democratic constitution. Delays were also due to the international situation and to the political controversies arising from it. That is also why the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia was established relatively late, since the constituent assembly required its autonomous statute to pay more attention to the minority needs.

4. Zones A and B of Venezia Giulia and - from 1947 - Zones A and B of the FTT were under two provisional occupation administrations, which differed in some essential aspects. While the AMG was in fact merely an occupation authority, the Yugoslav military administration simultaneously represented the country which claimed this territory for itself, and this influenced its operation. The Anglo-Americans, who had established a liberal and democratic order in Zone A and kept total political and military control over their territory all along, tried at first to involve all political movements in the administration. However, because the organisations in favour of Yugoslavia refused to take part, and the cold war took an ever greater toll - until 1948 the area of the north Adriatic was one of its focal points - subsequently only pro-Italian and anti-Communist forces were engaged in the administration. The AMG took measures to guarantee the Slovene population the right to use their mother tongue in public and in schools, nevertheless, at the same time it tried to hamper its contacts with their state of origin. Although local self-government was established rather late, the free elections of 1949 and 1952 enabled Slovenes to elect their representatives after more than two decades of isolation from public life. In those years, part of the Slovenes who fled the country during both wars returned to Trieste and Gorizia. Among them there were several intellectuals, who subsequently took on responsible tasks in the fields of politics and culture.

5. Until 1954, the issue concerning the state to which Zone A belonged was more important than all other issues. It was connected with the disputes of the cold war, brought polarisation into the political struggle and badly hampered the revival of democratic relations. The dividing line between the pro-Yugoslav and pro-Italian camps was neither of national character, nor of class or ideological nature only, since all these factors were intertwined. Until 1947, both camps witnessed the fading of political differences, whereas nationalistic passions were flaring up. In time, their inner diversity revealed itself, and although the national dispute still caused differences of opinion, the Italian democratic forces, which took the command of politics in the zone, tried in their actions to fence themselves off from the far-right movement. Similarly, the so-far blurred ideological differences among Slovenes also became publicly visible, and parties and groups opposing the new Yugoslav authorities were established. Furthermore, aspirations for autonomy arose, which joined some Slovene and Italian circles advocating the idea of the FTT finally gaining its full status.

Until the issuing of the Informbiro's resolution, everyday coexistence on the common land continued and was enriched by close cooperation between Slovenes and Italians in the province, based mainly on sharing the same class and the experience of the partisan struggle. In some circles, this dispelled many a myth, including that of natural aversion between the two nations. Solidarity between the Italian and Slovene Communists, which lasted until the rift between Yugoslavia and the Informbiro (June 1948), derived - in particular in Zone A - from the decision of the majority part of the Italian working class to favour annexation to Yugoslavia, a state which was building Communism; the ties between them, however, became weaker due to the growing differences in understanding internationalism, the role of the Party and other key issues, e.g. to which state Venezia Giulia belonged. Despite different positions with respect to some issues, cooperation - established between the Communist Parties of Italy and Slovenia (the Communist Party of Yugoslavia) during their joint fight against Fascism and the occupier - remained close.

Differences revealed themselves, however, when the Informbiro resolution was issued which was supported by the majority of the Italian Communists. This was followed not only by the long-lasting severing of contacts, but also by open hatred between the supporters of the Informbiro and those of Tito. Consequently, many Italian Communists - regardless of the fact that they were native Istrians or workers who had moved there in order to "build socialism" - were imprisoned, deported or forced into exile. The Informbiro generated a fatal friction among Slovenes in the Zone A of the FTT, since also the majority of the leftists declared themselves in favour of the Soviet Union and against Yugoslavia. Consequently, Slovenes were for a long time divided into three opposing and often hostile camps: the democrats, the Informbiro supporters and the followers of Tito.

6. Although in 1945 Zone B of Venezia Giulia encompassed the vast territory between the frontier established by the Treaty of Rapallo and the Morgan line, the Italian population on the territory administered by the Slovene authorities was dense only along the coast, whereas the population in the hinterland was prevalently Slovene. In 1947, from the coastal area at Koper and the Buje region that was under Croatian administration, Zone B of the FTT was formed. In this zone, the VUJA transferred part of its competencies to the civil bodies of the people's rule and tried to strengthen the political structure of the Communist authority, which did not respect the rights of individuals. In contrast to its mandate to provisionally administer the occupied territory - which was not supposed to influence the future decision to which state it would belong - the Yugoslav authority tried to force its annexation by the policy of fait accompli. Apart from granting Slovenes national rights, which they had not enjoyed so far, they tried to force Italians - also by way of intimidation and violence - to consent to the annexation to Yugoslavia.

At the same time, the new legislation and the severing of contacts between the neighbouring zones undermined the economic basis of the Italian population, which had so far played the leading role in society. The social hierarchy was established anew also due to the disintegration of the Italian higher classes. Apart from that, the authority strove to do away with the natural strongholds of culture of the Italian community. The establishment of new cultural institutions under strict supervision of the authorities, for example the Italian radio station, however, did not amount to much, since the authorities gradually expelled teachers and - after 1948 - undermined the system of education in the Italian language and its substance. This led to the weakening of ties between the Italian national minority and its country of origin and to denigration of Italy. Furthermore, the regime's persecution of religion as in the case of the Italian clergy - which was one of the key elements safeguarding national identity - unintentionally acquired the characteristics of assimilation.

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.

In the Koper district, this caused a constant, although not numerous, emigration of the population, with the number of departures and flights growing especially at the beginning of the fifties. When, after the conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding in 1954, Italians gave up hope that their situation might improve, members of the Italian national community began to depart in large numbers. The reasons were that despite the obligations imposed by the Memorandum of Understanding, the authorities persisted in their previous conduct, and that the Memorandum set a deadline by which it was still possible to opt for Italy.

In the post-war period, the Istrian territory which came under Slovene sovereignty, witnessed the departure of over 27,000 persons, more or less the whole Italian population. Furthermore, several thousands of Slovenes joined the crowd of essentially Italian refugees from Croatian Istria and Dalmatia, which were under Croatian sovereignty (200,000 to 300,000 refugees according to the new estimates). Among the Italians who did not emigrate (8% of the total population), the majority were elderly workers and farmers, left-wing intellectuals and post-war political immigrants.

7. Among the reasons for emigration, one should above all mention the oppression by the regime, which with its totalitarian nature made it impossible for people to freely express their national identity, oppose the redistribution of the leading national and social roles in Istria, and refuse major changes in the economy. The oppressed and frightened people were not so much attracted by the propaganda of the local Italian agencies, spread without any special instructions from the Italian government, but more by the neighbouring democratic Italian nation state, although the Italian government more than once exerted its influence to stop or at least restrict immigration. One should also not ignore the deterioration of the living conditions, which was typical of socialist societies, and the break of contacts with Trieste, which made Italians in Istria fear that they would find themselves on the wrong side of the "iron curtain". The Italian population recognised the impossibility of retaining its national identity - with the conglomerate of the living habits and feelings, exceeding the mere political and ideological dimension - in the situation offered by the Yugoslav state, and experienced emigration as the choice of freedom.

8. Within the broader historical framework, the special features of the Italian emigration from Istria belong to a more general process of the formation of nation states on ethnically mixed territories, which led to the disintegration of the multilingual and multicultural reality in Central and South Eastern Europe. The fact that Italians emigrated from a federal state, based on the internationalist ideology, demonstrates that national differences and discrepancies within the framework of the Communist social and political systems continuously and profoundly conditioned the political developments.

9. The conclusion of the London Memorandum of Understanding did not solve all open bilateral issues, not even the issue of minority treatment; however, it did put an end to one of the most tense periods in Slovene-Italian relations and - on the basis of the Udine Agreements (1955, 1962) - brought about a new period of gradual establishment of border cooperation and steady growth of cultural and economic relations. As soon as the Treaty of Peace was concluded, Italy and Yugoslavia, despite the unsolved problems, started to establish ever closer contacts, so that in the late sixties the border between them was considered to be the most open border between two European countries with different social systems. The credit for this goes mostly to both minorities. Consequently, after decades of heated discussions, and despite periodic deadlocks, the neighbouring nations finally found their way towards promoting fruitful cooperation.


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