Observations on a document from the Eastern side of the border

by Antonio Sema

The document published by the “PICCOLO” and written by the joint Italian-Slovene committee claims to be a document with historical value, which is, however, false. It is regrettable that academics of good education have agreed on the scientific validity of this political text. The document is disguised as a historical essay, is yet deceiving, full of omissions and misleading contents. Most of all it is dangerously misleading due to the arguments it contains.

The historiographic illusion
The supposedly scientific and historical validity of the text is, first, given by the Italian members of the committee: three full professors, i.e. Angelo Ara, Maria Paola Pagnini and Elio Apih; three associate professors or researchers, namely Silvio Salimbeni, Raoul Pupo and Marina Cattaruzza.
Giorgio Spini reports about the meeting with the Yugoslav colleagues in 1960. He participated together with Leo Valiani, Franco Venturi and Ernesto Sestan. After the first discussions “the Yugoslav experts adopted a more prudent attitude as they understood that people like Sestan and Venturi were better informed about Yugoslav history than them”, reports Spini.
As far as we know, no Slovenian member changed their attitude or worried about their knowledge on the argument. What we know is that, according to some members of the committee, the researchers “worked together, conducted studies and visited archives in Italy and Slovenia”. However, visiting a history archive does not automatically mean being able to read the texts and materials of the archive itself, since no Italian member of the committee, apart from Fulvio Tomizza (now passed away) and maybe Elio Alpih, who contributed only to some parts of the text, were able to read the original Slovenian and Yugoslav documents as they did not know the Slovenian or the Serbo-Croatian language.
To sum up, the text was written by two groups of academics with objectively different competences and documentation, even if we don’t consider the bibliography in detail. Bearing this in mind, or even because of all this, the first President of the Italian historical committee, Sergio Bartole, publicly admitted that “documenting the single facts would have resulted in a decades long work” in 1997 (and never denied his words).  Since the committee had worked for less than a decade, it becomes clear, as its own President admitted, that the members did not document the single facts, but instead made choices.

Manipulation of the text
This choice was, however, not neutral. Objective elements have been detected indicating that the text published in the “PICCOLO” is deceiving and gives a Slovenian point of view in all those parts of the document where events linked to the Venezia Giulia of the examined period are described.
The document is undeniably biased, because it intentionally gives up neutrality from the very beginning and adopts a precise point of view. The President of the Italian part of the committee, Sergio Bartole, publicly supported the idea of avoiding a too in-depth study about the communist past of Slovenia, so as not to affect negatively the delicate Slovenian national identity.

Pro-Slovenian orientation

The deceiving nature of the document derives, first of all, from the strong pro-Slovenian position. In this sense all kind of Slovenian collaboration with fascism and with the occupying powers on their territories is justified or minimized. On the other side nationalistic acts and territorial claims of the Slovenian people are fervently defended.

More in detail, it is possible to note that:

1) the document highlights the Slovenian national tension in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and compares the Slovenian people’s will to remove the political and administrative boundaries imposed by the Austro-Hungarian rule to the Italian territorial ambitions outside its borders, in particular looking at the Habsburg territory.

2) As for the territorial ambitions, the document describes the Slovenian and Yugoslav objectives in the end of WW1 as the aspiration for an ethnic dividing line that basically coincides with the Austro-Italian border of 1866. This is justified by the outdated belief that the city belongs to the countryside. The Italian ambitions are instead described as the desire to obtain a geographical and strategic border supported by the most radical powers of the country. It also said that this border was a political-psychological necessity to guarantee a safe border to the Italian cities and to the Italian coast of Istria.

3) Fascism is mentioned only in relation to some groups that joined the fascist ideology. There is no mention of the congratulations sent to the fascist headquarters in Gorizia by Virgil Scek on the night of the March on Rome.
There is also no mention of historian Diego Sedmak and of his controversial thesis about the existence of a Slovenian fascist party in the upper Isonzo valley in the 1920s. Not a word about the Slovenian participation in MVSN (Blackshirts) at least until 1927.
Livia Ragusin regrets that the Slovenian abandoned the movement in 1929, saying that their absence caused the rise of the anti-fascist terrorism of the TIGR group. Furthermore, there is no trace of the two CCNN legions of non-Italians from Venezia Giulia, who volunteered to go to Ethiopia and Spain, paraded for Mussolini in Piazza Unità in 1938 and were transferred from the Eastern front in preparation for the attack on Yugoslavia.

4) The relations with the Italian and German occupying units in Slovenia. The document understates the collaboration between Slovenian and Italian people, affirming that “in a first phase” the Italian occupation was “quite moderate” and was seen as the lesser evil compared to the German forces. Hence some forms of cooperation were possible, even though the political groups that allowed them were not necessarily pro-fascist. Most of the Slovenian population hoped that the Allied forces would win after that first period of uncertainty and saw the Slovenian nation as part of the anti-fascist coalition in the following period.

5) The “Adriatisches Kustenland”. In the text it is only written that the Germans accepted a “subordinate collaboration of military and police forces from Italy, but also from Slovenia” without further information.

6) The Slovenian territorial expansion plans in the end of WW2. According to the document, the new border satisfied most of the expectations that emerged in the Slovenian and Croatian anti-fascist resistance in Venezia Giulia. The document doesn’t indicate that those expectations existed for long before 1918, yet it repeats two times that the nationalist aspirations of the Slovenian people were achieved only in part, it repeats three times that the Peace Treaty was in favor of Yugoslavia, which obtained the majority of the claimed territories and concludes this section by repeating for the fourth time that for the Slovenian state “ the satisfaction for obtaining large rural territories in the Kars and upper Isonzo area was accompanied by the bitterness of not getting back Gorizia and Trieste, historically contended between Italy and Slovenia. A partial compensation was represented by the annexation of Koper and its coastal strip - where most of the population was Italian - that gave Slovenia access to the sea.

Omissions and biased information
Due to the pro Slovenian orientation adopted by the joint committee, the document presents omissions and biased contents, as it is demonstrated in the following part through objective reasons and observations.
The text refers to contemporary authors like Angelo Vivante and Scipio Slataper in order to criticize the Italian position towards the Slovenian expansionism, seen as “absolutely artificial”. Yet another, this time Slovenian, contemporary author, Henrik Tuma, is not mentioned. Tuma documented the Austrian efforts to bolster the Slovenian presence in Gorizia in the beginning of the 20th century.
A recurrent argument in the text is the “heavy-handed” treatment reserved to the Slovenian people by Italian authorities, as Slovenia started showing interest in joining Yugoslavia. Yet nothing is said neither about the Slovenian and Yugoslav modus operandi in Charintia, nor about the Yugoslav authorities’ actions in the multi-ethnic cross-border areas, even though Slovenia had been a loyal state to Yugoslavia and even held key positions in politics with such personalities like Mons. Korosek.
The document reports on the Slovenian participation in the partisan movement, but avoids mentioning that there twice as many Slovenian people helping collaborationists than partisans in the same temporal and geographical context.
It is stated - without burden of proof - that the Slovenian population’s participation into the partisan movement in Venezia Giulia, the actions of the military troops and those of the institutions are all demonstrations of the commitment shown by the population to bring back those territories to Slovenia. The same is neither said about the Istrian, Julian and Dalmatian movements of Italian descent during the WW1, nor about the partisan groups related to the Italian Resistance in Venezia Giulia. There is also no reference to the Italian Armed Forces soldiers of the Venezia Giulia area who fought for our country before and after 8 September 1943.
The text recognizes that until the summer of 1944, on both local and national level, the Italian Communist Party (PCI) did not approve the Yugoslav plan to annex the multi-lingual areas with a clear Italian cultural and linguistic predominance. After that date, Julian communists adopted the political line of the OF (Liberation Front of the Slovene Nation), since the political strategy line had changed and because of the rise of the Social Christian party, that took control of the Garibaldinis’ partisan group and the Communist party of Trieste.
Most importantly, it is omitted that in Venezia Giulia there were two different resistance movements that fought on the same territory for the same territory. Luigi Frasin gives priority to the armed struggle against the German occupier and the collaborationist fascist, on the basis of the self-determination principle. In line with this orientation, Frausin and the PCI joined the CLN, the National Liberation Committee. This collaboration ended only after the entire Communist and Internationalist party executive was removed through laying of information by Mariuccia Laurenti, spy of the Gestapo and sister of partisan commander Eugenio.
This fact is related to another important piece of information not included in the text. It deals with Vincenzo Bianco, member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and party representative for the Slovenians. He met Mariuccia and wanted to marry her. On 24 August Frausin is imprisoned, on 12 September Tito declares the right of the Slavic population to the territories of Venezia Giulia, Dalmatia and Carinthia, followed by the Slovenian declaration of annexation of Trieste and the coastal area. On 24 September, Bianco writes in a top-secret letter that the Italian partisan groups had to be under the Slovenian command  and accepts the Slovenian political claims.
Lidia Sentjurc reports that Bianco confessed what was written in the top-secret letter, because he became “humble” after her stern reprimand about his relationship with Mariuccia. Once Bianco came back to Milan, he was removed from the Central Committee and his directives annulled. The PCI of Trieste had been already deprived of the internationalist executive board and of Frausin. It became a puppet party in the hands of the Slovenian communist party. It would have left the CLN of Trieste soon after.
Numerous Italian partisans have been suspiciously removed from the text, like Giovanni Zol, commandant of the battalion of Trieste. In 1943, when the German forces occupied Istria, he escaped in the Istrian Kars. Zol tried to reach an agreement with the Slovenian forces that didn’t accept an independent Italian communist movement in the recently annexed territories. He was killed in November under unclear circumstances.
Giovanni pezza, another partisan, refused to join the Slovenian movement, set up the Italian independent Battalion of Giovanni Zol that had to stand up to the PCI in the Italian CLN context. In the end of February 1944, he was killed by a partisan section under command of Slovene Carlo Maslo. Ferdinando Marega, the military chief of the Assault Battalion of Trieste wanted to contact the PCI in Trieste while the group he was in command of was affiliated with the Slovenes. He was imprisoned by the Germans in Doberdò.
Furthermore, the autonomous Battalion Alma Vivoda received the order to break up in August 1944, but Vincenzo Gigante, awarded gold medal, refuses to execute the orders.
In October the CLN moves inside Istria, where it will be surrounded and annihilated by German forces.
Misunderstandings, omissions and half truths about the Italian Resistance in Venezia Giulia are intentionally used in order to corroborate the underlying position of the document. Without presenting any evidence, the committee states that “the Slovenian population participated actively to the Liberation movement, whereas the Italian participation was held back by the fear that their movement would be dominated by Slovenia”. This point of view reflects the Slovenian position on this matter as it was presented in the second issue of the clandestine newspaper “Unità Operaia - Delovska Enotnost” in August 1944, the same month Frausin was imprisoned: “the working class of Trieste is too concerned about the territorial claims, non-reactive and showing too little participation, something that many communists did not and still struggle to understand.
This opinion changes radically when the text refers to the following post-war period and Yugoslav occupation of Trieste. In this case the committee insists, once again without any historical evidence, that “the annexation to Yugoslavia was supported by the local Italian-speaking working class”. Another example of the committee’s inconsistency regards the consequences of the Cominform crisis. It is declared that in the Slovenian section of the A zone the minority wanted to follow Tito’s political line, whereas the majority sided the Soviet Union and opposed Yugoslavia”.
It is hard to understand that in the same document it is said that “the Slovenian population’s participation into the partisan movement in Venezia Giulia, the actions of the military troops and those of the institutions are all demonstrations of the commitment shown by the population to bring back those territories to Slovenia”, whereas in the following page, talking about the same territory and population, it is stated that in the Slovenian section of the A zone the minority wanted to follow Tito’s political line, whereas the majority sided the Soviet Union and opposed Yugoslavia”.
This derives from the fact that this document is not historical, but rather political, which means that the authors twist facts to validate their own position, demonstrating they’re right by omitting interpretation possibilities and controversial episodes. 

The text gives credit to the worst form of historical revisionism (denial of history) when facing the difficult task of recollecting the events and facts of the post war period in the so-called B zone. The committee admits that “the anti-Italian approach adopted by the local activists is undeniable”, but immediately adds that “the current knowledge and material on the matter fails to give historical evidence on the existence of an expulsion plan elaborated by the Yugoslav government. The available testimonies confirming its existence, some of which were pronounced by influential Yugoslav players, could not be verified”. Nevertheless, the authors admit that this plan “took shape only after the crisis with Comiform”.
In the bimonthly magazine “Panorama”, issue of 21 July 1991, Milovan Djilas himself affirmed that “in 1946 Kardelj and I went to Istria to organize the anti-Italian propaganda. We had to prove to the allied Commission that those territories belonged to Yugoslavia and not to Italy.
We organized protests with flags and banners...We had to make sure that the Italians would leave those territories and put them under pressure. That’s what we did”. Djilas never denied these words.
This implies that in order to accuse the Slovenian nationalists of nationalistic and anti-Italian behaviour, it is not sufficient to hear the testimonies of those directly accountable for these acts, but it is necessary to have documents of the Yugoslav documents or signed by Tito himself. It is the same supporting evidence method adopted by David Irving, British historian, who claims that since there are simply and undeniably no documents signed by Hitler, the so-called Holocaust has never existed. Obviously, any professional historian would deride such a position, but that is apparently not the case of the joint Italian-Slovene Committee.
The negationist approach is abandoned when the focus shifts on the causes of the Slavic migration - in particular Slovenian - from Venezia Giulia to Yugoslavia during the period between the two wars. For instance the Committee admits in this case the impossibility to “precisely quantify the Slovene contribution to this phenomenon”, but immediately afterwards adds that “as for the exiled people to Yugoslavia, in particular considering young people and scholars, there is a clear connection with the fascist political persecutions”.

Closing remarks
The analysis of the document highlights the deceiving and pro-Slovenian nature of the text that deliberately omits and twists contents for political reasons. Considering this orientation, agreed upon by both sides of the Committee, the foibe and the exodus are tackled by the Italian and Istrian authors so as to create an accurate trap that ensnared many - unwillingly or in bad faith. Among them reporters, pseudo history experts, politicians and ordinary people interested in this matter.
The first point we want to focus on is the dishonesty of the Italian politicians and politically biased historians. The Committee was founded in 1993 in particular thanks to two Christian-Democrat politicians, Beniamino Andreatta and Loize Peterle. It’s no coincidence that the final version of the text, signed by at least two former Christian-Democrat politicians - Raoul Pupo and Lucio Toth - deliberately fails to deal with the political role and uncontrolled nationalism of the Slovenian clergy in the period between the two wars, even though the clergy had a broad consensus in Slovenia at the time (around 70% of the votes). To return the favour for this omission, national and local Christian-Democratic policies are not examined either, nor in Italy neither in the Julian area.
Secondly, it is worth focusing on how this attitude and modus operandi of the Italian Centre-right parties are generally accepted, even though they carefully avoided to break up the joint Committee or, at least, to change its members in whole or in part.
Thirdly, it must be underlined that this behavior was kept up by all following governments, also in our days, that have always covered up the work of the Committee.
We can suppose that this happened partly because of a general political lack of interest for a matter already dismissed and, for someone, even solved, but also because it was convenient for them. Their target was to exploit the outcome of the committee on the matters “foibe” and exodus on a political level, since many representatives of the Italian political scene are ignorant of the matter.
It is undeniable that the media and the experts focused exclusively on dramatic and violent episodes - in any case single episodes - like the foibe and the exodus, without noticing that the Slovenian part of the committee manipulated the boneless Italian part in order to create the right and convenient frame for those single episodes. Therefore, a great Slovenian politician, Franco Juri, defined the document “an invaluable text...not so much for what’s in it...but because it is the history told by experts of both countries”.
The authors identified the responsible side for each single fact and this was useful for academics external to the committee who analyzed the text and tried to find documented facts out of those presented, but actually ended up confirming the validity of a text of political nature. They did not manage to change the general context in which everything was justified. In this context, in this manipulated scenario, it is acceptable to repeat four times that after 1945 the territorial ambitions of Slovenia were not fully satisfied, whereas there is no repetition of the Italian ambitions.
In 1997 I concluded an analysis based on public material regarding the work of the Italian part of the joint Committee. That time I wrote that before judging the committee on their work, it would be better to wait until they are completely done with it.
I hoped and was even convinced - how stupid of me - that the Italian members, as Italian and true experts, would have accomplished this hard task in the best way.
Unfortunately, they didn’t prove to be neither Italian nor true experts.