Following is the entire text of the speech given at the Quirinale on February 10th, 2008, by the Vice President of the Federation of the Associations of Exiles and President of the National Venezia-Giulia and Dalmatia Association,at the solemn ceremony of conferment of honors for the relatives of foibe victims, by National President Giorgio Napolitano.
Encouraged by your words of a year ago, Mr.President, we wanted to examine more thoroughly the primary reasons for the events which occurred involving the Italian of the Eastern coast of the Adriatic.
The words of a Head of State express the will of an entire nation, and we are grateful to you for the message you sent to all Italians on February 10th, 2007, allowing us to feel, after so many years of silence, that we were close to the hearts of all of our people, and to the history of our country, which we have always loved and will always continue to love.
But we also asked ourselves, as was our duty, why this message was not fully understood, neither inside nor outside our borders.
The law defining the Day of Remembrance speaks of “the most ample context” in which the tragedies surrounding the Foibe and Exodus are placed. This past year, along with the scholars who are close to us and our cause, we have reflected on this “ample context”.
After all, we, as Istriani, Fiumani and Dalmatians, are not the only people to have faced persecution, ethnic cleansing and genocide due solely to its national identity. It is right, therefore, to compare our situation to that of other nations, near or far.
Giving equal emphasis to sense and sensibility, reflection and political passion, we realized that, at the roots of the dramatic situation of our homelands – where we lived peacefully alongside others of the same land but who spoke different languages – there are causes, both intrinsic and explicit, regarding our particular geographical position and the history of Europe itself, causes which are near and causes which are more remote.
Certainly, among the explicit and near causes we must consider the clashes of nationalistic ideologies of the 1800s, and the socio-political causes of the1900s, which led to the destruction of our fathers’ dream of being reunited with the Mother country and the detachment from the Motherland which had nourished us for so many generations.
The contradictions between opposing national aspirations in such a borderland could only lead to a clash between those who wanted this region to belong solely to Italy, and those who shared equal nationalistic feelings for the same region, and thus wanted it to belong to another State.
The clash between different imperialism, which was at the heart of the First World War, and the clash between opposing ideologies, some totalitarian, which was at the heart of the Second World War, did not favor reciprocal comprehension, but rather pushed it away, leaving deep scars, rancor, and vindication.
That which couldn’t be understood then, in a state of prejudices and ideologies, pretenses of racial or nationalistic superiorities, today, as adult citizens of a united Europe, we can and we must understand. But there are also remote causes, intrinsic to the essence of our identity as Italians of the Eastern coast of the Adriatic, which must be explored and deepened with serenity of spirit.
The Liberal roots of Adriatic Irredentism
Who can find fault with us, as exiles from Istria, Fiume and Dalmatia, for having loved the Italian nation, felt a part of it, for having preserved our language and our culture in the face of threats and pressures that put our own security and well being at risk? And even our own lives?
As we deepened our research, especially regarding 19th Century liberal and democratic ideals and their development, it is impossible not to note how these ideas have been the basic inspiration for the protection of the Italian tradition in the Istrian peninsula, among the islands of the Quarner Gulf, and along the coast of Dalmatia.
Autonomism was the key to this political mindset, which noted the multilingual aspect of our regions and wanted to preserve its characteristics as an asset and vital resource for the nations it represents, and not reason for hatred and conflict.
As Autonimism failed, due to the international political situation that ignored us, Adriatic Irredentism took root, similar to the kind in South Tirol. Within this movement the prevailing attitude was not one of closure and excess, but rather a national movement that brought together different peoples. The words and actions of Nicolò Tommaseo, Antonio Baiamonti, Carlo Combi, Antonio Grossich and other leaders of the “Italian Party” of Istria, Dalmatia and Fiume were extremely far from chauvinist oppressiveness. Scipio Slataper and Giani Stuparich were just as far from these attitudes.
These liberal roots explain, on the one hand, the openness towards our aspirations regarding the most advanced part of the Italian culture of that time, both in the Republican and Catholica and Socialist spheres; on the other hand, they explain the drama that our people lived through, along with their leadership class, upon the rise of the fascist regime which, while it sought to claim its place as the heir of the Risorgimento, it was in in philosophical and moral contrast to it.
But if we head even further back into the past, we can observe an even deeper root of Latin and Veneto peoples in the region, in much more ancient times as well as in the modern era. These autochthonous roots are the consequence of a juridical culture, jealously preserved within the representative institutions of our free cities, which sought to link the ancient common Libertates with the model of modern liberal democracies.
The modern age has not been capable of preserving this civil society, pushing our lives into the downward spiral of the ideological exasperation of the 1900s. This “short century” of barbarianisms brought upon us, as an ultimate consequence, the tragedy of the Foibe and the drama of our Exodus, under the force of a cruel Communist dictatorship.
Why do we not return to the source of these ideals, in a Europe that is seeking its own identity and a sense of unity?
Why don’t we use our own painful experience to promote a change for good: a project of shared living and sense of community among all the nations of the Adriatic?
This is the question that we ask today, of those who still refuse to open heart and mind to the highest and most true meaning of the Day of Remembrance. And we Italians of Istria, Fiume and Dalmatia ask this: a return to Reason and Truth: our place in the history of the Italian nation, its culture, and its civic progress.
The artists, the musicians, and the scholars of these regions made decisive contributions to Italian culture, often serving as a bridge to Central and Eastern European cultures. It is not a matter of considering only literature of Trieste of the 1900s but rather a long chain of humanists, architects, and scientists who linked the Roman-Byzantine tradition of the East Adriatic to the Rinascimento and the modern and contemporary era. This is a contribution that has continued into our day, in all sectors of life at a national level, from market production to the public administration, sport, cinema and theatre.
It is also right to remember that men and women from Istria, Fiume and Dalmatia participated in the process of national unification: in politics, diplomacy, and the wars of independence. The Exiles gave their lives for the nation, and their children have, too, in the latest decades, as members of the armed and civilian forces which serve the Republic.
We ask that this contribution be recognized, in order to respect history. And that, in school books and university texts, the names of Pola, Fiume, Zara, Pirano or Rovigno not be ignored, but that they may named, and serve to feed a brotherhood on both sides of the Adriatic.
Of the three elements that make up a State – nation, territory, and institutions – the loss of the second does not imply the cancellation of the first. This can be confirmed in Article 51, comma two, of the Italian Constitution.
It follows naturally to include, as a corollary to these considerations, the aspirations of the Exiles to see a full recognition of their rights in terms of the abandoned properties and goods that their ancestors acquired as fruits of their own labor, and which a freedom-choking regime took away from them. In the same way, they aspire to have these “beni abandonati” justly repayed, by a State that is honest, capable of recognizing its juridical and moral obligations towards a people who gave literally everything to their nation.
In the same spirit, our Italian brothers who are still present in our home region have the right to be protected. They have kept their Italian identity alive through great hardships. For them, we request, starting with bilingualism, the “protection of diversity of identity”, one of the basic points of European integration: Italy was one of the founders of the European community founded upon these ideals, and Slovenia is currently the temporary head.
At the end of this road to justice there will be the reconciliation that is our final goal. For us, Mr. President, this is the true sense of the Day of Remembrance.