“The Eastern border in modern Italian history”
A seminar in Venice reports on recent research
“The Eastern border in modern Italian history”: this is the title of the seminar held on December 1st, 2007, in Venice in the Cornoldi Conference Hall, on Riva degli Schiavoni.
After some years’ experience with meetings and various encounters surrounding the Day of Remembrance and its organization, exiles and friends of exiles, famous intellectuals in the full sense of the term, have begun handling the matter of coordinating and setting up a message on the realities, both past and present, of Italy’s eastern border, so that there may be an evolution of collective memory that would allow the history of a civilization be known.
The exile and the foibe are a warning, the tragedy of a people that becomes emblematic and meaningful for a collective reflection on what must never be allowed to be repeated in the history of Europe and the world. Now, sixty years after these tragic events that shook us, it is good and right to give meaning to so much suffering, by means of a strong message that rises above banal, everyday metters, and is allowed to be relayed to others.
This gives rise to the need to single out individual, shared answers, in order to create a solid network of reflections. There is a strong necessity to discuss certain basic strategies: how to iunderline the importance of the eastern border in Italian history, whether anciant, modern, or contemporary, on the diplomatic, military, economic, cultural, and political fronts; how to juggle the central European component of the eastern border together with Adriatic-Mediterranean projection; how to avoid, among the exile groups, the projection of being specifically an association of survivors: this would imply that, statistically and demographically, they will forcibly peter out in the near future; how to change the image of the eastern border from a place of massacres and exile in order to bring out the long and rich history of artistic, literary and religious culture in Istria, Dalmatia, and the Quarnar region; how to place the experiences of the Italians of the eastern Adriatic within the context of the present and future problems of globalization and European integration; how to learn from the history of Istria, Fiume and Dalmatia in the period from the 1800s through the 1900s in order to prevent and solve ethnic and religious conflict.
There is no doubt that in all of these events there is a certain geographic determinism, waiting to be explored, but only if political will and historical research are able to guide then towards positive comprehension and collaboration. A new consciousness in the media has emerged from these reflections, influencing public opinion and political debates, from the rediscovering of the tragedy of the foibe and the Julilan-Dalmatian exile of 1944-45, to the complex political, cultural, and economic implications which the various central European and Balkan states will have to take into account in their interactions.
An Eastern Adriatic region “torn to pieces” to give preference to economic, political, and geostrategic interests. The history of these regions is not a peaceful stroll through the centuries, but rather a constantly-boiling pot, characterized by people and facts, occurrences and prejudices which have generated contrasting positions difficult to categorize and even more difficult to explain. It is easier to move along using generalizations and cliches which, especially when we consider the events of the 1900s, have become a constant for justifying tragedies and connivances, to justify anachronistic reality, to create comfortable alibis for new strategies of power, to divide that world, generated by wars, into blocks.
But half a century later, now that the great ideologies have passed away, the opening of historical archives opens also the debate of historiography, both the official one, in the hands of specialists, and the popular one, made of slogans passed down to ordinary people, creating confusion even among the more informed of its leaders. The time has come to put things in order, to let the truth be known. What should be said to the nation, and to people of good will, who want to know what really happened sixty years ago, and what has gone on since then?
The need for self-interrogation
After the establishment of the February 10th Day of Remembrance, this fundamental need has given rise to another need, that of self-interrogation regarding what happened all those years ago, and to establish strategies to tell Italy and the world an emblematic event, one that is rich with details to be analyzed; with negative implications, to be sure, for the cruelty with which the destiny of a people was determined, and with positive implications if we take into account the degree and the example of civility that the people from these lands were able to express in the world. Thus we come to mention last Saturday’s meeting in Venice, carried out by the Federation of the Associations of Exiles, organized with a contribution of the CDM of Trieste and the participation of the Region of Veneto with the Head of the Department of International Relations, International Cooperation, Human Rights, and Equal Opportunities, Diego Vecchiato, who oversaw what has become an ongoing project, as historians, political scientists, and representatives from the exile communities work together to develop strategies for transforming February 10th from mere remembrance into a media event of fundamental importance for maintaining and developing the memory and realities of a people, and spreading the knowledge of these events to the general public.
Starting from history, or, more correctly, from the writing of history – as professors Raoul Pupo, Fulvio Salimbeni, and Luciano Monzali emphasize – which delves into the details of a border situation that is at once exhilirating and penalizing, having witnessed Italians as occupiers and the occupied, we can see that victims and massacres have been reported in such a way as to produce ambiguous or biased interpretations of the whole truth. Current opinion on historical debate tends to regard more ample, mixed examples, such as the absurd Italian occupation of the Lubiana district and the reality of those killed in Yugoslav internment camps even after the end of the war, victims of the shameful silence and assent of the international political community.
Keeping these facts quiet has not in any way stopped similar crimes from being committed: the ethnic cleansing that occurred after the breakup of Yugoslavia is an example of this. Cities overturned, lives interrupted, and once again, the civilized world felt no responsibility whatsoever for the tragedy. The same had held true for the Exodus and the foibe, over which a blanket of silence had been meant to fall, forever.
The rediscovery of the Adriatic
And instead, as Lucio Toth confirms, we are working on the rediscovery of the Adriatic as a means of bringing our culture ahead, to overcome the ancestral prejudices which we exiles have carried with us and which risk crushing us. Because the real battle needs to be fought against those who don’t have knowledge of the history of the eastern border, those who are convinced that any sign of Italian roots in our region are simply recent, having been imposed by a migration in Fascist times. This is the true provincialism of Italians who ignore historical reality, and of the bureaucrats in Rome who know nothing of our history.
The commemoration of February 10th has made a strong contribution to the fact that, now, more is being written, and knowledge about what needs to be saved is being diffused. Raoul Pupo affirms that anxiety of the possibility of extinction has been overcome. The material compiled in recent years – particularly by the Trieste-based IRCI and the Rovigno-based CRS – represents a strong focal point for historical research and the serenity of a dispersed world. Even if the subjects to be studied are many: the geography of exile, for example, and the digitalization of the statistical data so far compiled, especially information on refugees. On a general level, the Exodus must be considered within the more ample theme of movements of populations at the end of World War II, and within which there are plenty of analogies to be found, along with profound differences that help to define the situation clearly.
In discussing borders on the national level, affirms Salimbeni, it is important to compare Venezia-Giulia with Valle d’Aosta and Trentino- Alto Adige, these last two regions having been willingly allowed to remain Italian while the Adriatic lands were allowed to be lost. In the Italian national conscioence, Istria was a rocky, barren land, with no wealth to be had, and this image worked to justify letting it go. The other important point that needs to be explained to the public is the conviction that Italy has no need to own up to its responsibilities in having allied itself, for three years, with the Nazis. We must remember that even Ciano, during the regime, affirmed that, had the Germans requested Trieste and its territory, Italy would have given it up.
According to Monzali, it is in the conducting of Italian foreign policy that we find the key to the Adriatic “ills”, and not only the most recent ones. The Adriatic was not the key to major economic interests and, at the political and national levels, it had been a font of constant tensions since the dawn of the nation-state, due to its inborn attatchment to local ethnic groups and realities: an uncomfortable situation that wasn’t at all difficult to relinquish. This, according to Toth, is yet another demonstration of Roman provincialism that ignores our history.
Many decades after the facts, it is difficult to unmask deeply-rooted prejudices and well.established ignorance. It is difficult to arrive at an exact and correct perception of these events as part of our national history. This bitterness is expressed by Paolo Segatti, sociologist and political scientist, who, after investigations carried out between 1994 and 2004, regarding the Italian general conscience on Adriatic matters, found the same attitude and the same results: Italy ignores the problem. And those who have a minimum of awareness of the matter identify it as one of the sweeping themes of the right-wing electoral political arena, as if it were nothing more than a figment of the Right’s imagination.
Our identity, explains Professor Giuseppe de Vergottini of “Adriatic Coordination” and leading faculty member of the Bologna University School of Law, is distracted and not very motivated, and it is on this that we must work. It is not by chance that the EU charter, signed in Lisbon, promotes one of the principals of recognition of the identity of the European States as one of the fundamental projects of Europe itself.
Stelio Spadaro concluded that, in substance, we need to create a situation that, through these encounters, and the useful debate that is created by them, stimulates interest that can maintain the ideals of February 10th alive all year around.
The testimony given during this debating and discussion time have been important: from Lorenzo Rovis, president of the Association of Istrian Communites of Trieste, already involved in a similar project of conferences on the themes of the Exodus; Liliana Martissi, who illustrated the involvement in this area by the “Adriatic Coordination” of Bologna; Marino Micich, of the Society of Fiume Studies, who showed the precious, and unique, example of collaboration between Italian and Croatian historians (from Rome and Zagreb) regarding the research and publication of the names of the “missing” in Fiume in the immediate post-war period; Carlo Cetteo Cipriani, on the role of the Archeological Society and the History of the Motherland; Renzo de’ Vidovich of the Rustia Traine Association on the strategies already adopted by dalmatians to maintain the relationship between the cities of Dalmatia and local Italian Communities, “work”, he affirms, “that we know if it is accepted in official and/or media circles”; Tullio Valery of the Dalmatian School of Venice, on the theme of reciprocal recognition; Francesca Gambaro of the ANVGD Committee of Milan, on the necessity of more operations in communications; Bruno Crevato Selvaggi, on the need to unite in networks, and create an area of Consulting among the various Societies, for archeological and national-historical associations; Donatella Schurzel, on the relations with schools and the need to allow young people to learn about the Adriatic lands.
Renzo Codarin and Lucio Toth concluded that the goal of this meeting was not to come together and examine what has been achieved up to now, but to understand what has gone wrong and what can be done to correct it, and the space yet to be conquered, denouncing, where it is necessary, the egotistical aspects of Italian politics towards us.
The encounter opened wide another door: in fact, it doesn’t end with the conference in Venice. Repeatedly it was underlined that it is an ongoing project, one that will continue, after February 10th, 2008, in an encounter in Bologna, sponsored by the “Adriatic Coordination” and the University. On that occasion, there will be an even greater number of specialists involoved, and Italian Union representatives will also be present (they were invited to the Venice meeting, but were unable to come due to other commitments); we also count on people of good will who have the intention of promoting new strategies to help the Adriatic people’s “voices” travel far and wide.
Rosanna Turcinovich Giuricin
(for the entire report,
please see www.arcipelagoadriatico.it)
(traduzioni di Lorie Ballarin)