Wednesday, November 1, 2023


This November I am going to follow my last month research of information about the disappearance in Dalmatia of the authocthonous Italians of Spalato (a city called "Split" in Croatian language).

Antonio Bajamonti, famous Mayor of Spalato and leader of the Autonomist Party (ca. 1880)
We all know that Spalato from roman times until the XIX century was a city where the romance speaking population was authocthonous and was the majority of the citizens. But in the last two centuries (when the city was united to Italy in two periods: with Napoleon's "Kingdom of Italy" & with the WW2 "Governorato di Dalmazia") this authocthonous population has disappeared in a way that some scholars define as an "ethnic cleansing" (please read my former issue of October 2023).

Here are in small detail the approximate changes in percentage of the authocthonous romance population of Spalato before the "possible, but clearly evident" austrian-croatian ethnic cleansing:

700 AD - 100% romance spealing (arrive the first few Slavs)
1000 AD - 80% romance speaking (20% Slavs, mostly after the X century)
1300 AD - 67% romance speaking (33% Slavs; Venice domination with first Slav refugees)
1500 AD - 55% romance speaking (45% Slavs, mostly Vlachs/Morlachs escaping the Turks)
1797 AD - 51% romance speaking (49% Slavs; ends Republic of Venice, begins nationalism)
1810 AD - 54% romance speaking (46% Slavs; Spalato is in the Napoleon's kingdom of Italy)
1825 AD - 50% romance speaking (50% Slavs; with Spalato population of nearly 10,000)

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that croatian nationalists (like historian Grga Novak: "Povijest Splita. II. Split: Matica Hrvatska"; pp=264. Split, 1961) during Tito's dictatorship have asserted that most of the population of Spalato was croatian speaking around the year 1000 AD, because of studies about the family surnames of these medioeval years. But these studies were based on fake data (from church documents falsified by croatian nationalist priests during the austrian rule of the city; please read my issue of October 2023) and -most important- they are totally rejected by the only original document of these centuries (the famous “Book of Roger” or "Tabula Rogeriana", written by the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi at the court of King Roger II of Sicily in 1154 AD). In this book it is written that Spalato had a population of authocthonous Dalmatian latins with only a minority of (recently immigrated after the X century) Croatians!

Two "Manifesto" (promoted by Antonio Tacconi) requesting the union of Spalato to the kingdom of Italy, issued on November/December 1918, when WW1 finished"

Furthermore as a confirmation of this "disappearance" it is noteworthy to pinpoint that -according to official census - there were in:
* 1890: italians 1,969 (12,5%), croats 12,961 (82,5%), germans 193 (1,2%), in a total of 15,697 inhabitants.
* 1910: italians 2,082 (9,7%), croats 18,235 (85,2%), germans 92 (0,4%), in a total of 21,407 inhabitants.

As in the previous month, because I want to research in full detail this issue, I am going to translate excerpts from the famous book of Luciano Monzali "ANTONIO TACCONI E LA COMUNITÀ ITALIANA DI SPALATO" (


The Italians of Spalato (1922-1935)

"....the 1910 census helps us to outline a picture of the Italian presence in Dalmatia before the first world war. The largest Italian nucleus was concentrated in the captaincy (Bezirk) of Zara/Zadar, where, according to official data, there were 11,768 Italians compared to 70,838 Serbs and Croats: Italians were the majority nationality in the urban center of Zara, while the countryside was massively Croatian and Serbian. The other area with a high Italian concentration was the city of Spalato/Split, in whose captaincy 2,357 Italians were declared present (concentrated in the capital) together with 95,869 Croats and Serbs. There were also substantial Italian communities in the Dalmatian islands: 444 Italians in Curzola/Korcula, 265 in Brazza/Brac, 586 in Lesina/Hvar, 149 in Arbe/Rab, present in the main urban centers (Curzola, Arbe, San Pietro/Supetar, Neresica/Nerezica, Lesina/Hvar and Cittavecchia/Starigrad). Other not insignificant Italian nuclei existed in Lissa/Vir and in the captaincies of Sebenico/Sibenik (968), Ragusa/Dubrovnik (526) and Cattaro/Kotor (538), always concentrated in the cities. Important Italian communities were present in Veglia/Krk, Cherso/Cres and Lussino/Losinj, geographically Dalmatian islands, but on an administrative level belonging to Habsburg Istria. In these islands, a lot close to Istria and Italy, the consistency of the Italian element had remained very strong and compact, especially in the main urban centers with a clear Italian majority, also thanks to the fact that the administrative belonging to Istria, dominated from the "Italian liberal party", had guaranteed a certain favor from the austrian provincial and local authorities. In the captaincy of Lussino and Cherso the 1910 census reported the presence of 9,883 Italians and 9,998 Croats, while in that of Veglia/Krk there were 19,553 Croatians and 1,543 Italians, the latter largely concentrated in the town of Veglia (where they were the majority). Luciano Monzali: Italiani di Dalmazia"

The end of the Habsburg Empire, the rise of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the struggles between Italy and the Yugoslav state caused a progressive weakening of the Italian community of Spalato. A few hundred Italian families emigrated in search of better living conditions outside Yugoslavia. The remaining Italian community split when faced with the choice of citizenship, dividing itself between Yugoslav citizens and Italian opting citizens.

Above: 1920 photo of Spalato's Riva Vecchia & Fontana Bajamonti----------Bottom: 1925 photo of Via Ognisanti (in the Italian area of Spalato)

For the Italian and Yugoslav political culture of the time, which strongly identified national identity and the State, the "Italians" of Spalato after 1922 were exclusively the optants, those who were in possession of the citizenship of the Kingdom of Italy. The assumption of Italian citizenship meant that the optants were progressively excluded from the central hubs of the Spalato society. The exclusion of those opting from public administrations, an authentic stronghold of Italian Dalmatians until 1918, from the professions of lawyer, doctor, notary and engineer, led to the progressive loss of economic and intellectual importance of the Italian minority in Split and Dalmatia.

This is what Carlo Galli noted at the end of the 1920s, when the process of weakening the Italian community of Spalato was further highlighted:

"....The institute of "options" and the formation of the class of "opters" gave rise to the formation of our definitive minority in Dalmatia,...... but at the same time created a closed social group which as all closed social groups are condemned to emigrate or slowly die out."

Despite this progressive weakening, the Italian community continued to exist in Spalato and to play a not entirely marginal role in the cultural and economic life of the city. But how many Italians were there in Spalato? Based on official data from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 1927 in the city of Split there were 3,337 Italian citizens (1,855 males and 1,482 females), of which 2,652 were natives. To these should be added a few thousand Spalato citizens of Italian language and culture who had decided to maintain Yugoslav citizenship: for the political culture of Italy between the two world wars, they were the so-called "renegades", men and women with little or weak national conscience, therefore politically unreliable people.

After 1919 together with the primary school of the Cultural League ("Lega Culturale"), the other main Italian institutions in Spalato in the interwar period were the Reading Cabinet ("Gabinetto di Lettura"), the Workers' Society ("Societa' Operaia") and the church of Holy spirit. The Reading Cabinet remained the meeting place of the Italian elite. With the emigration of many to Italy and abroad after 1918, the number of members of the society had a sharp decline: in 1939 the Reading Cabinet had only 61 members, mostly the last representatives of the old families of the authocthonous Italian bourgeoisie of Spalato: Bettiza, Boglich, Burich, Calebotta, Capogrosso, Capurso, Carstulovich, Cazafura, Dadich, Dal Lago, David, Dolcher, Fiorina, Foretich, Gliubich, Graf, Guina, Illich, Karaman, Korencan, Lunazzi, Michieli, Mitturi, Milisich, Miotto, Morpurgo, Olivieri, Pezzi, Pezzoli, Rolli, Roich,Romich, Romiti, Rubcich, Ruzzier, Sacerdote, Savo, Stoch, Storich, Tacconi, Tocigl, Valle, Vio and Vitale. The Società Operaia di Mutuo Soccorso was the most important Italian association as it had the largest number of members and had the function of mutual aid for its member compatriots....However, it experienced a decline in the number of members during the twenties and thirties, going from over a thousand to a few hundred members. The Italian church of Holy spirit was established on an administrative and financial level by the "Confraternity of the Saint Spirit and devotees of Saint Joseph", of which about thirty Italian citizens were members. Other Italian companies active in Spalato were the Popular library, the Italian Charity Association, the Unione Cooperativa and the Choral Society.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the difficult political and economic conditions of life in Spalato favored the emigration of many Italians, who sold their goods and abandoned the city. This phenomenon greatly worried the political leaders of the minority and the government of Rome, who tried to slow down the exodus with economic and financial aid. In May and June 1927 Antonio Tacconi raised the need for government measures in favor of the Italians of the Yugoslav Dalmatia, in order to allow them to resist «the systematic action deployed by the Yugoslav Government to eliminate the Italian element in Dalmatia».

Tacconi obtained from the italian government the granting of financial funds intended for new subsidies for Italian citizens and for the construction of the "Casa degli Italiani", which was completed in 1928........ The economic weakening of the Italians of Spalato and the international developments (with the war in Ethiopia, the new "world" directives of Mussolini's foreign policy and Italy's subsequent rapprochement with Hitler's Germany) facilitated the growing fascistization of the Italian community. The first half of the 1930s was an era of further economic crisis for the Italians of Spalato.

During the second half of the 1930s Antonio Tacconi continued to fight to save the economic positions of the Italians of Spalato as much as possible, advocating aid for companies and families in Spalato with the Italian state and financial institutions. But Tacconi's efforts did not prevent a further decline of Spalato's Italian community.

The strong economic crisis that hit Spalato and Dalmatia during the 1930s caused a further numerical weakening of the Italian-Dalmatian minority, in particular of those in possession of Italian citizenship. The number of Spalato citizens with Italian citizenship continued to decline. In 1937, the italian Consul Cuneo declared that in the entire consular district of Spalato (including the city, its hinterland and various islands of central Dalmatia) there were around 2,400 Italian citizens, of which approximately 1,800 "optioning" and 600 with full italian rights. The quantification of the number of Italians in possession of Yugoslav citizenship was more difficult: Cuneo said that "Regarding Yugoslav citizens of Italian nationality, the number undergoes very strong fluctuations whether or not all the elements relating to the nationality criterion are considered; so that people to be considered Italian nationals in every respect now number around 300; for constant use of language and traditions around 4,000; much higher number for knowledge and intermittent use of the language." In a city that doubled its population within twenty years, the Italian element regressed numerically. Spalato was less and less Italian and more and more Croatian and Yugoslav.

But on April 6, 1941, German troops invaded Yugoslavia. It was the beginning of the war of aggression against the Yugoslav state in which Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary also participated. Within a few days the Yugoslavian army, undermined by the desertions of Slovenian and Croatian soldiers, many of whom saw the German aggression as the beginning of their definitive national emancipation, collapsed. Between 12 and 17 April the Italian armed forces invaded the main centers of Dalmatia. On 15 April the division Torino occupied Spalato. On the 18th of the same month, the hostilities had already ended, with the full victory of the Axis forces. After such an easy victory, the Italian government and public opinion enthusiastically took part in the division of the Yugoslav territories.

Photo of an Italian military band with many Italian "Spalatini" listening in summer 1941, after the italian conquest of the city during WW2

On April 16, 1941 the Italian consul in Spalato, Arduini, prepared a note on Dalmatia and the consistency of the Italian element in the region. For him the Italian citizens residing in "unredeemed Dalmatia" ("Dalmazia irredenta") on the eve of the WW2 conflict amounted to around 4,000, concentrated exclusively in the cities, of which 20% were royals and 80% opting. They were distributed as follows: 2,200 in Spalato, 300 in Sebenico, 500 in Ragusa, 1,000 in Veglia. According to Arduini, the majority of native Dalmatian Italians were made up of workers, artisans and, to a minimal extent, agricultural settlers: many of these lived in precarious economic conditions and they were subsidized by the Italian Consulates. In the Italian communities there was also a certain number of professionals, well-to-do traders and landowners, who, however, had become increasingly thinner from 1921 onwards due to the hostile policy of the Belgrade government, the application of the Yugoslav law of agrarian reform and the difficulty of finding employment in Dalmatia. In addition to Italian citizens, in Dalmatia there were also Italians with Yugoslav citizenship: Arduini wrote that "To the aforementioned compatriots must be added all those "Italians of origin" who for family needs, for work needs, for mere opportunism, have voluntarily assumed Yugoslav citizenship starting from 1921 and who constitute a very significant number to be calculated at approximately 10,000 people . The existence of such elements, who, apart from their more or less artificial and heartfelt hatred against everything Italian, live, think and maintain purely Italian customs and use our language fluently in the family alongside the Slavic one, will contribute without doubt to facilitate that process of re-assimilation of our people and their affirmation on the "third shore" which is the basis of our claims in Dalmatia".

For a few weeks, the disintegration of Yugoslavia seemed likely to consecrate the definitive rise of Antonio Tacconi to the level of an important political leader. Once Spalato was occupied, the government of Rome proposed the appointment of Tacconi as civil commissioner of the city. Tacconi expressed some doubts about this offer, but he ended up accepting. On 28 April Antonio Tacconi was appointed civil commissioner of Spalato. In those days Tacconi thought he had reached the peak of his political career. He, the political heir of the Italian Autonomist Party, had regained the city power that had been lost by Antonio Bajamonti in 1882.

Tacconi tried to take advantage of the initial attitude towards the Italian occupation of a substantial part of the Spalaro croatian population, who for a few months considered it a lesser evil than inclusion in a Croatian state dominated by the Ustasha, an extremist party lacking a strong consensus in the city; many Spalatians, then, hoped that the Italian occupation would lead to an improvement in local economic conditions. Tacconi, a notable relative and linked to numerous local Croatian and Yugoslavian families, an observant Catholic and in good relations with ecclesiastical circles, hoped for the support of the Spalatine Catholic Church, led by Bishop Quirino Clement Bonefacic´ with whom he would have good relations, and of all those citizen groups (politicians, entrepreneurs, traders) of the Yugoslavian tendency who are opposed to the USSR and are in favor of Italian dominion for a simple reason of personal survival. It is no coincidence that Tacconi's first government actions aimed at calming the Croatian and Yugoslavian elements and at improving the living conditions of all the population of Spalato.

But a serious problem for Tacconi was his political weakness within the fascist regime, which soon reduced the personal power of the senator and carried out an occupation policy in Dalmatia which ignored and contrasted the ideas and ideals of the old Spalato politician. After the annexation of central-northern Dalmatia, the fascist regime organized the new province, giving maximum political and administrative powers to the governor, the prefects and the secretaries of the fascist federations. Tacconi was deprived of the role of leader of the Dalmatian Fascists and, although civil commissioner of Spalato, found himself in a subordinate position with respect to the fascist hierarchs coming from the Peninsula and the representatives of the Italian State. With the creation, at the end of May 1941, of the Government of Dalmatia ("Governorato di Dalmazia"), the powers of the civil commissioners were drastically reduced (in June) : the central figure at the local level became the prefect, representing the Governorate and the central State (and consequently Tacconi lost most of his full power in Spalato).

In the first months of italian occupation there was a certain calm in the city, with small and negligible incidents. But, in those weeks, a few kilometers north of Spalato, a cruel civil war broke out in Croatia, caused by the attempts of the Ustasha Party to create a totalitarian state of National Socialist inspiration and homogeneous from an ethnic point of view. nic and religious.The new Croatian power immediately proceeded with harsh persecution against political opponents, real and potential, and established a violent regime of repression against Serbs and Jews.

Coming from Croatia and Serbia, many Jews and Serbs, seeking a difficult salvation, tried to take refuge in the Dalmatian territories annexed by Italy or simply occupied by the Italian armed forces.Despite formal entry bans, with the collaboration of local smugglers or Italian soldiers, many Serbian and Croatian Jews managed to take refuge in Dalmatia, and Spalato -the main city of the region- became a center where hundreds of Jews concentrated in search of safety.The little Jewish community of Spalato became the reference and assistance center for refugees, led by Vittorio Morpurgo, in close contact with the Italian Jewish communities.

The exodus of Dalmatian Italians during WW2: Photo of Dalmatian Italian families from the outskirts of Spalato going toward the ship that will bring them to Venice in October 1943.

After the italian military conquest and some summer months of relative "peace & calm" (with the acceptance of the Italian control of the city by the majority of the local croatians), in Spalato started to begin the croatian rejection of the Italian "Governorato di Dalmazia": in September 1941 happened the first murder of italian soldiers by the communist resistance of Tito.

Indeed the croatian communist guerrilla started inside the city (after the September 1943 surrender of Italy) and decimated also the italian civilians of Spalato.The final result: in 1945 the Dalmatian italians of Spalato (called "Spalatini") disappeared forever.

Actually there it is only a small "Comunita' degli italiani di Spalato" that had 96 members (in 2010:, however many were not "Spalatini" but from Sebenico, Trau and the Brazza island.