Thursday, February 16, 2006

Territorial autonomy for Istria (Republic of Croatia)?

When thinking about the claims for territorial autonomy in the Western Balkans one usually thinks about Serbia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the eyes of many today’s Croatia does not have these ‘problems’. After the mass exodus of Serbs from the Republic of Croatia caused by the operation storm in 1995, Croatia seemed peaceful with its centralized model of governance. This is, however, not the case, at the beginning of 2006 Democratic Union of Istria-Dieta Democratica Istriana, dominant party in this part of Croatia, announced its plan to fight for the granting of territorial autonomy for this costal region of Croatia close to Slovenia and Italy.

Istria had a rather turbulent history constantly changing rulers, after World War I Istria passed from Austrian Habsburg rule to that of Italy. The Slavs were exposed to a policy of forced Italianization. Some claim that the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini colonized Istria with up to 50,000 Italians. Others claim that there is not clear evidence for such high number of immigrants from southern Italy.

After the end of World War II, parts of Istria were assigned to Tito's Yugoslavia. This time it was the local Slavic population who committed, what would be in todays’ jargon called ethnic cleansing of the region, from 1945 to 1956, thousands of Italians, were killed and their bodies thrown into caves (foibe) and about 300,000 Italians forcibly left the region to settle in Italy. The ethnic cleansing (‘esodo’) was completed in 1956 and the rest of the region was incorporated into Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Following the exodus, the areas were settled with additional Croats, Slovenians and a small number of other Yugoslav nationalities like Macedonians, Albanians, Serbs or Montenegrins. Istria, a potentially rich region, presented ‘California’ of Tito’s Yugoslavia where many people from all parts of former Yugoslavia poured. These migrations resulted in an extremely heterogeneous population mix in this region. Despite the fact that many Istrians are ethnic Croats, a strong regional identity has existed over the years. It is largely for this reason, in combination with historic legacy of striving for independence, that the calls for the autonomy of Istria come back to the political agenda in Croatia.

Since Croatia's first multi-party elections in 1990, the regional party Istrian Democratic Assembly (Istarski Demokratski Sabor or Dieta Democratica Istriana IDS DDI) has consistently received an absolute majority of the vote and maintained a position often contrary to the government in Zagreb (despite the authoritarian nature of Tudjman's regime) with regards to their regional autonomy. Today, IDS-DDI is asking for the establishment of the territorial autonomy of Istria once Croatia enters the European Union.

5 comments:

Matej Avbelj said...

Dear Srdjan,

I would like to draw your attention to the following paragraph of your interesting comment on Istria.

"After the end of World War II, parts of Istria were assigned to Tito's Yugoslavia. This time it was the local Slavic population who committed, what would be in todays’ jargon called ethnic cleansing of the region, from 1945 to 1956, thousands of Italians, were killed and their bodies thrown into caves (foibe) and about 300,000 Italians forcibly left the region to settle in Italy. The ethnic cleansing (‘esodo’) was completed in 1956 and the rest of the region was incorporated into Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia"

This paragrapah is full of mistakes and even the most revanscist Italian right-wing proponents would not dare to put it like you have. First:

1. Local population did not commit any ethnic cleansing, it was the communist party and its partisan forces.

2. Was there ethnic cleansing at all? Was there forced exodus? Srdjan, I am sure you know the post-war history of Trieste neutral zone, the bilateral agreements between Italy and Yugoslavia, culminating in the set of agreements called agreements of Osimo. People on the both side of the borders had the right to move or to stay - and Slovenia and Croatia have even reimbursed Italians for their property left behind. But, also Slovenians moved from what is today's Italy around Trieste and Monfalcone.

3. There were foibe as there were many foibe in the entire Slovenia (cca. 200.000 undeclared graves) - all result of the revolutionary rage of the Slovenian and YU communist forces led by dicator Tito. This practice was and it is, of course, highly deplorable - but nobody would there to assert that there were thousands of Italians thrown into foibe. This number is clear exaggeration, which historians on both sides would confirm.

4. 300.000 Italians did not leave just Istria, but the entire Adriatic coast - above all Dalmatia. And among them were not just Italians, but non-communist Slovenians and Croatians as well. Some I have even met here in the streets of Florence, they long for their country, for their language but they would never go and have not ever gone back - even if just accross the Adriatic. That is their forgotten homeland. As it is also true that (above all) pro-communist Italians have stayed in Istria - and they have all possible minority rights.

5. Srdjan, your post opens a very important, a very interesting topic. It has been under close scrutiny of the joint historical commissions of Italian and Slovenian historians. They have come to the agreement that people in this region - individuals as such - have been exploited by two blody totalitarian regimes. Fascism and Communism. Slovenians were executed in Trieste in 1920s, their Palace of culture was burnt, the use of Slovenian language was banned, people persecuted. Italy was according to Rappal treaty occupying almost 1/3 of today's Slovenian territory, and the fascist government would do everything to Italianize the territory. Then Fascist Italy collapsed, and as Mussolini was executed in Milan, so where many fascist in Istria region. But, so where many people who just were not communists. Regrettably so.

6. This is painful part of history, it is part of national mithology, still abused by extremists on all sides. But, we as reasonable and moral people have to agree that the picture was not black and white, but highly complex and above all cruel.

It started with fascist oppression and it ended up in communist executions.

It is something which must not be repeated. And EU is a guarantee that it will not.

7. There is so much more to say on this issue, but it is impossible to say it here.

Matej

Srdjan Cvijic said...

Matej, you are quite right there are two mistakes in this paragraph, I am sorry for this, looking at it now I understand your point, it is unfair to say that the local Slavic population committed these hideous crimes...since, yes, these crimes were largely committed by the forces of Tito's partisans (some times though with the help of the population who were avenging their loved ones killed by the Fascist forces)

You are also right to point out to the fact that 300, 000 Italians did not leave Istria alone by the wider region of Dalmatia...

As far as the rest of your arguments are concerned I wander how fair is it to say "People on the both side of the borders had the right to move or to stay". No one was accusing the Slovenian and Croatian present governments for these crimes and it is all but commendable to offer financial retributions, however, such an act cannot somehow correct the wrongs done in the past, it is more directed at better Italo-Slovenian and Italo-Croatian relationships in the future.

As far as your comment about the Slovenes being thrown out from Monfalcone, I must say that I was not talking about the exodus of Slovenians from Italy, this is why I did not mention it ( This is generally quite a deplorable thing to count victims on both sides and when I write about particular event in the past confined to one geographic area I generally do not feel compelled to ‘balance’, if you know what I mean, this is the favourite sport of the Serbian nationalist I very much so wish to avoid). The aim of this paragraph was just to indicate the turbulent history of Istiria as such, for a completely different reason, so I do not see why brining that up.

Also the fact that there were many ‘foibe’ in the entire Slovenia, I know about Kocevski Rog and other places of communist terror , however, I was just speaking about the terror committed against the Italian population. True some Italian communists remained in Yugoslavia and some of them were later prosecuted by Tito as Stalinists (FYI, for fun you could read a very interesting Italian fiction book Wuming, "1954" you can find it in any Italian bookstore, Wuming is the name of the author, or better a group of authors hiding behind this name), however, this is not an argument that is any way related to the forced exodus of the Italian population from Croatia and Slovenia, you could also quote, although I am sure you would like to avoid doing so, Palmiro Togliatti who at certain points even justified ‘esodo’ implying that this was expectable bearing in mind the Italian crimes committed during the Second World War in Yugoslavia. I am sure you do not support such logic of ‘revanchisme’.

Another thing, you say "Was there ethnic cleansing at all? Was there forced exodus? Srdjan, I am sure you know the post-war history of Trieste neutral zone, the bilateral agreements between Italy and Yugoslavia, culminating in the set of agreements called agreements of Osimo." What do you want to say by this? If you were implying to say, that the agreement between Italy and Yugoslavia in some sense recognizes that what was done in the aftermath of the Second World War was accepted by both sides then you are wrong. This might have been the case at that particular point in time, however, we all know that these billateral agreements were a result of a geopolitical reckoning between the two blocks in then emerging cold war struggle, Italians were the losing side and they had to agree to the conditions imposed upon them...in simple words, they were told here you are keep Trieste, but forget about the foibe, forget about Istria, forget about the towns in Dalmatia...Yugoslavia was on the winning side and despite the fact that it was communist it had an important leverage in the negotiation process...the overall victim was the population on both sides...and it is not revanshism to invoke the ‘esodo’ from the past, one thing is political instrumentalization of these historical events, the other is the wrong done to Italians who were forced out of Yugoslavia...The proof that Italy was not ‘appeased’ by the agreements of Osimo, is the fact that this argument is still very much alive in the political agenda of some main stream Italian political parties, and the entire political spectre has to recon with it…then again this was not the very purpose of my blog entry…however I agree with you it is an interesting debate.

bathmate said...

very good posting. i liked it. :-)

bathmate

Anonymous said...

I think the point has been missed concerning the intimidation and threatening techniques used by the Communists in order to ensure the Italians left.
According to one Titini,
"I [was] sent by Tito into Istria. Our mission was to use all kinds of pressures to induce all Italians to leave. And so we did."
Furthermore,
"People on the both side of the borders had the right to move or to stay - and Slovenia and Croatia have even reimbursed Italians for their property left behind."
This is not true. Squatters brought into the country by the Croatian government inhabit many of these homes which they have never paid their rightful owners for.
Due to this Croatia is still unable to enter into the EU until all their property disputes are cleared.

So to say that Istria "is their forgotten homeland" is nothing less than ignorant for these people were forced to leave, and is far from forgotten as you claim.


It seems as though you see this heartbreaking time in history through the eyes of one who is biased.
Some of your comments are just complete blasphemy to those who experienced and who have family who lived through these times in Istria.
Check your facts.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Istria and I strong advocating for autonomous region of Istria. In next 6 months Croatia will become a member of EU, and there are a lot of hopes for Istrians.