Thursday, December 1, 2022


The following is a translation in english of some excerpts of a research done by Michele Pigliucci, about the nearly complete disappearance of the italian community in the "Venezia Giulia" and "Dalmazia" regions of Italy during the ten years after the end of World War 2. This disappearance has been defined by some historians (like Sabbatucci) with the word "ethnocide" (mainly in Dalmatia, where the italians of Dalmatia are now reduced to only a few dozens!).

The Italians of "Piemonte d'Istria" exiled in 1954 in Trieste. Photo done in 1959

"La diaspora dei giuliani e dei dalmati: una ferita ancora da sanare" (The diaspora of Julians and Dalmatians: a wound still to be healed), by Michele Pigliucci

The Julian-Dalmatian exodus refers to the mass migratory phenomenon that occurred between 1944 and 1954 which involved a substantial percentage of the inhabitants of the Italian region Venezia Giulia, a geographical region enclosed between the Julian Alps, the Isonzo river and the sea, and including the Gorizia karst , the Trieste karst and the Istrian peninsula up to the Gulf of Quarnaro.

The phenomenon largely occurred after the cessation of hostilities during the Second World War, at the end of which almost all of the Venezia Giulia region had passed under the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; it was a phenomenon that involved the majority of the Italian population of the region, who decided to abandon their homes to flee to Italy, often in a daring way, taking with them what was possible to close in a chest or pile up on a cart and often even the coffins containing the remains of their own deads.

The figures referring to the extent of the phenomenon have often been manipulated for political interests, oscillating between the three hundred and fifty thousand mentioned by Father Flaminio Rocchi and the two hundred thousand reported by the Slovenian scholar Zerjavic.

But the most reliable figure is that of the "Opera Profughi" (Opera Refugees), who took a census of 201,440 people to which the historian Raoul Pupo believes it is necessary to add the number of those who for various reasons escaped the count, thus arriving at a reliable total of just over three hundred thousand people.

This is almost all of the Italian population in the area, an exodus of dimensions indeed impressive, unprecedented in the history of Italy.

When Italy signed the armistice in september 1943, the Yugoslav partisans of the Popular Committee for the Liberation of Istria proclaimed from Pisino (actual Pazin in central Istria), with a nationalistic language, the return of Istria to the Croatian motherland, and occupied the whole region left without any political and military authority; established people's courts with which they began a ferocious liquidation of Italians (but also of some fascist Slovenians and Croatians) accused of being enemies of the people.

Several hundred people disappeared in those few months when drowned in the sea or shot on the edge of a foiba, often thrown alive and after being tortured; the victims were both military and civilians with positions during the regime, but also people completely unrelated to fascism such as Norma Cossetto, a university student who was arrested and raped by several men before being thrown alive into a foiba.

The region (after a few weeks of partizan occupation) remained under German administration up to spring of 1945, when the last Allied advance got the better of the exhausted Nazi-fascist troops: the 4th Yugoslav Army also took part in the offensive -which was ordered by Marshal Tito- to give the absolute precedence to the full occupation of Trieste. The city was reached on May 1 even earlier than Lubliana, just one day earlier than upon the arrival of New Zealand soldiers. It was the so-called «race for Trieste», which Tito knew was strategic for the purposes of the future structure geopolitics of the area.

With the withdrawal of the German troops and the definitive disbandment of the departments of the Italian Social Republic, all of Venezia Giulia was also occupied by the Yugoslavs who resumed arrests, summary trials and eliminations of those who for various reasons were denounced as enemies of the people by the many informants in the area. After forty-two days of occupation the Yugoslavs left Trieste, Gorizia and Pola while the rest of the istrian territory became de jure Yugoslav territory (with the exception of the north-western coastal area up to the Mirna river which will constitute the "Free Territory of Trieste" until 1954).

It was then when began the "exodus" of the Italian population, whose origin can be traced back to three reasons: one linked to security, one political and one national.

The flight of the Italians was above all a reaction to the liquidations and the violence implemented by the Yugoslav regime and in particular by the secret police, the OZNA. The large number of people disappeared and killed in sinkholes (called "foibe" in italian) throughout the territory greatly frightened the Italian population, so much so that historian Sabbatucci does not hesitate to speak of "ethnic cleansing" towards the Italians, convinced that there was precisely behind these liquidations the will of modify the ethnic structure of the territory by eliminating the Italians especially before the Peace Conference defined sovereignty over the area.

The political motivation, consisting in the desire not to submit to a communist regime, then played a fundamental role both in the Italians of the exodus and in the "remained" italian community (confident in the nascent regime) and both for the Italian workers who decided to cross the border in the opposite direction in order to do adherence to the ideal of socialism. Many of those workers, however, will be persecuted as "cominformists" after the break between Tito and Stalin.

Finally, it affected the choice to flee also the national identity, on which the exile memoir insists a lot, which often tells of a voluntary exile, motivated by the desire to continue living in an Italian land. The strong national sense of these populations, on which they had Irredentism and Fascism, and the millenary rivalry with the Slavs, found fertile ground and certainly contributed to this choice. In the first post-war years, together wjth the violence, the regime titino undertook a work of Slavicisation of the region similar to that of Italianization conceived by fascism: the Italian shop signs, the use of the Italian language was substantially prohibited, many Italian schools were closed and it was banned enrollment in the same to all children whose surname ended in «-ch», automatically considered Italianized Slavs.

The five exodus waves

The exodus materialized in five main waves corresponding to as many historical events:

1) A first wave followed the fierce Anglo-American bombing of Zara, whose inhabitants had already sought refuge in Italy in 1944: the abandoned city would later be occupied by Tito's partisans and the Italians would never return.
2) The second wave followed the definitive annexation of the vast majority of the Istrian region, Fiume and the Dalmatian lands in June 1945.
3) A third wave took place in the winter of 1947, when also Pola passed under Yugoslav control following the signing of the Peace Treaty: in the city there were tens of thousands of inhabitants (nearly all the "Polani") who decided to embark to reach Italy.
4) In 1948 a new wave affected the communists who had wanted to stay or who had moved to Tito Yugoslavia and who, after the Tito's expulsion from the Cominform in 1948, had ended up as enemies of the yugoslav regime because loyals to the Partito Comunista Italiano.
5) The last big wave finally occurred in October 1954, no less than nine years after the end of the war, when the London Memorandum established the passage of Trieste to Italy but handed over to Yugoslavia the coastal area from Capodistria (now called Koper) up to the river Quieto (now called Mirna).
The arrival of the exiles on the national territory in 1945 and 1946 was the cause of harsh political disputes: the docks of the ports of Venice and Ancona they hosted, upon the arrival of the steamers, protest demonstrations from the side of dock workers who accused the Giuliani of fascism as fugitives from a communist regime. Disembarked on land, the exiles were then sorted onto the various trains that would take them to the 120 refugee camps scattered throughout Italy to host them as best they could: during the passage of one of these trains to the Bologna station, the workers even threatened to strike if the authorities had allowed the convoy to stop to receive the comfort of the Red Cross.

The Communist Party helped to spread hostility towards the exiles even in the final destinations of the journey, favoring the identification of the Giulians with war criminals forced to flee from Venezia Giulia to escape the reaction of their victims. This distrust spread significantly in Italy, also fueled by the precarious living conditions in which the exiles found themselves in the refugee camps.

In accordance with this attitude of mistrust the historiography official has ignored for decades the extent and sometimes the very existence of this tragedy. Still in the 90s of the twentieth century the manuals only marginally reported this page of history, which survived relegated to neo-fascist political propaganda and the memoirs of exiles. The bad reception given to refugees on the docks of the ports and in the stations was the prodrome of a more general removal not only of the story of the exodus, but also of much of the history of the Italian presence in Venezia Giulia and Dalmatia.

But among the causes that had led to the collective removal of this story of Italy it is impossible to deny how contributed the "shame" (promoted mainly by the Italian communists) due to the presence of the Italian element in Venezia Giulia & Dalmatia, considered alien and of colonial origin by the Yugoslavia of Tito. This belief results completely unfounded as the Latin element in Istria and in Dalmatia is autochthonous, historically documented without solution continuity from the Roman imperial age up to national Italian unification (called "Risorgimento") to which provided an important blood contribution.

Historical evidence does not permit misunderstandings: Italy, defeated in the Second World War, had to give away as a "repair" an entire region of its metropolitan territory (Venetia Giulia, Istria and areas of coastal Dalmatia), as large as Tuscany, whose population for the most part chose the path of exile both to escape the terror of the new communist regime Yugoslavian and to preserve its national identity.