10/2007 – The Italian language and the Dante Alighieri Society in the Eastern Adriatic Regions

The Italian language and the Dante Alighieri Society in the Eastern Adriatic Regions

The 2006 yearbook of the Dante Alighieri society, in its presentation regarding knowledge of Italian in the world, dedicates ample space to the situation in the countries of the eastern Adriatic, highlighting a strong growth in the desire to learn Italian.
I believe that the reasons for this growth can be summed up in better economic relations and work prospects, in the perceived nearness of western Europe, and in the gradual overcoming, on the part of the younger generation, of old historical divisions. The increase in studying Italian can be noted in inland regions, the regions east of the Julian and Dinaric Alps. The most prevalent areas for this growth of knowledge and study of the Italian language, however, are on the other side of these mountains, and specifically in Dalmatia and the territories formerly part of  Italian Venezia-Giulia.

Montenegro and Croatia

The most positive situation for this trend in studying Italian can be found in Montenegro, as described in an article by Professor Pasqualina Corropolese, former lecturer of Italian in Montenegro, and deeply involved in sustaining the committee of the Dante Alighieri Society of Cattaro. In this country with a population of little more than 600,000, approximately 30,000 children and young adults study Italian in primary, middle, and high schools. These statistics are part of an extremely positive situation, one in which the Italian Community, founded in 2004, is now close to counting 500 members, almost all of them local natives of Montenegrin Dalmatia.
The situation in Croatia is described in an article by Mara Agostini and Snjezana Nives Bralic, professors associated both with the university and the committee of the Dante Alighieri Society of Spalato. The article focuses mainly on Dalmatia, where “while (Italian) remains a secondary language compared to the obligatory English, which is, of course, considered of primary importance and usefulness, it is chosen as an elective language much more often than other European languages.” In Spalato in the year 2000, of the 31,510 students aged 6 to 14 who were studying a foreign language, 541 were studying Italian. Five years later, that number had quadrupled.
“This is due to the fact that Italian, in Dalmatia, is considered almost a second local language, much different than English, which is chosen and studied out of necessity. In other words, Italian is chosen because of affection, for Italy’s geographic closeness, and for what Italian represents: culture, way of life, mentality. In general, Dalmatians feel very close to Italians.”
The situation in Fiume is even better, and better still in Istria. These are areas in which there exist Italian public schools, sustained by the Italian government. No Italian schools exist in Dalmatia. The project for an Italian kindergarten in Zara has been delayed for years, due to lengthy red tape. This, even though the Croatian government committed itself in 1996 (in the Dini-Granic agreement) to gradually concede to the Italian minority  the treatment guaranteed by international treaty in the ex-Zone B to all the territories historically Italian. This is proof above and beyond the goals, and therefore the contents, of the cited article. Nevertheless, it shows a positive, grassroots trend, and which, predictably, will cover the negative politcal aspects that still persist.

No “Dante” Committee in Slovenia

In Slovenia there doesn’t exist a Dante Alighieri committee. The yearbook offers an extensive article by Antonia Blasina of the Committee of Gorizia. The article states that the teaching of Italian is obligatory in the municipalities of Capodistria, Isola d’Istria, and Pirano, where there exist Italian public schools, given the Italian minority that still lives there, and in the remaining schools Italian is taught as a “lingua d’ambiente”, in the recognition of Italian’s importance in the area.
 In the rest of Slovenia, Italian is taught as an elective foreign language from the 7th through the 9th years of elementary school, as well as in high schools. Italian is taught in 64 elementary schools and 57 high schools, mainly on the west side of the Julian Alps. As the number of Slovenian citizens who declare themselves to be Italian diminishes, the number of people who request instruction of Italian increases, and the number of people who declare themselves to be speakers of Italian remains more or less the same. This is a symptom of a certain politically-based closure.

The request for Italian instruction is increasing notably in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a nation that has a minimal part of its territory on the Adriatic coast. It is worthy to note that a committee of the Dante Alighieri society was recently established in Sarajevo.
There is a blatant difference between the situation in Croatia and Slovenia, and that of Montenegro. In Croatia and Slovenia, the gradual improvement of the situation, especially due to the positive outlook of the newer generations, still finds roadblocks of a political nature. This is often explained as a natural position of psychological defence on behalf of smaller states in their relationship with larger states, such as Italy. All the more reason to admire Montenegro, which is much smaller than Slovenia and Croatia, and yet is moving ahead without any such psychological complexes and, consequently, is looking towards the future with better prospects for growth.

Elio Ricciardi
(traduzioni di Lorie Ballarin)