2/2007 – Remembering the pain of the past to build a better future

Remembering the pain of the past to build a better future

An article published by Paolo Barbi, honorary counsellor of ANVGD,  for Remembrance Day 2006.

January 25th: Holocaust Memorial Day. February 10th: Foibe Remembrance Day. Is there a connection between the two events? I think there is. Although the dimensions of the two are radically different (the former is European or even worldwide, and the latter is regional or, at most, national),  both represent the intention never to forget the disgraceful manifestations of  inhuman cruelty that determined the aberrant cultural and political concessions of ethnic cleansing, produced and fed by exasperated and chauvinistic 18th- and 19th-century nationalism. On the altar of an idol called the “Nation-State” – a concept made all-powerful by Nazi and communist totalitarian regimes – it was deemed necessary to sacrifice not only the rights but even the human dignity  and life itself of minorities which “polluted” the purity and uniformity of the dominant national group. Millions of Jews, Gypsies and other minorities fell victim to this in Germany; tens of millions of free peasants, Tartars, religious leaders and political dissidents in the USSR. And also hundreds of thousands of Italians on the other side of the Adriatic: many tortured, executed by shooting, or by being thrown into the “foibe”, and nearly all the rest forced into “exiled repatriation”. From Pola and all of Istria, from Fiume and the Quarnaro Gulf, from Zara and all of Dalmatia, Italians fled by every means possible and often risking their lives: for fear of persecution, to be sure, but also, in most cases, to escape from Tito’s totalitarian regime (which had created that reign of terror intentionally) in order to remain free, to continue living as Italians and Christians, to remain loyal to their Italian homeland.
The political developments of those years, the international situation, and the conditioning brought about by the Cold War reduced the coveted Motherland, for which native sons had once sacrificed all,  to the status of mere Stepmother. Italy was forced, in haste, to resolve and close its “Adriatic Matter” – because Tito had to be placated, and encouraged to break with Moscow – and thus it was persuaded to eliminate the Julian-Dalmatian refugee problem, to cause the refugees to be forgotten. And this was the most painful aspect of exile: to feel ignored regarding material needs and rights, and, even worse, erased from the memory of one’s own nation.
 But now, with Tito dead and Yugoslavia tragically dissolved,  communism a failure and the international balance – or imbalance! – of power radically changed, it has become possible to break through the silence and allow memory to live again. Last year – even before the UN codified the “Holocaust Memory Day”, in fact – the Italian Parliament voted unanimously to ratify a law establishing “Remembrance Day” of the Julian-Istrian exodus, evoking that 10th of February 1947 on which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, marking the “loss of the Territories of the Eastern Adriatic”.
 But how can we best live this day? How best can we use the roots of historic memory to cultivate the plant of present and future life? Above all, I feel that the survivors of the Istrian Exodus, by now a dwindling number, need to free themselves from the strong, and humanly understandable, temptation to succomb to recriminations regarding the sufferings and hardships they went through, and also the nobile but sterile feelings of homesickness for their native land. Moreover, I would like to see an end put to the intolerable political speculations that certain parties have made, and continue to make, regarding our tragic history, and I would suggest that these parties might do better to use this occasion to reflect on how damaging it can be to perpetuate theories of  opposing nationalisms, with their consequences of  dreams of revenge, proposals of vendettas, and explosions of hatred and violence.
 We are now half a century past our tragedy; today there is no need for recrimination, nor to plan any kind of revenge. What we do need is historical reflection that abandons any pretense of condemning or defending and which, instead, proposes to understand the reasons behind that conflict and the tragic events that saw us participants and victims. We need to understand the errors of both sides, in order to move ahead and heal the wounds and sufferings of our people, to allow our nostalgia of the past nourish our hopes for the future
“To move ahead” and build, realistically and concretely, the future of the Italian presence on the eastern shore of the Adriatic – which was produced and maintained not by firepower, but by cultural and commercial values. This is possible today – with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and, hopefully, the extension of the European Union to include the countries of ex-Yugoslavia – because the way has been cleared for peaceful human relations, and the cultural and economic ties that, for centuries, characterized the relationships among all peoples on both sides of the Adriatic, before this relationship was poisoned by the most ill-omened of nationalisms.

Paolo Barbi
(traduzioni di Lorie Ballarin)


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