The rise of nationalistic movements and aspects in the Austro-Hungarian Empire leads to tension between Italians and Slovenes.
RISE, GROWTH AND COLLISION BETWEEN PATRIOTIC MOVEMENTS
Intransigenza da entrambe le parti, scarse le iniziative che invitano alla convivenza
Italian-Slovene relations in the Adriatic region started in the period of crisis which followed the end of the Roman Empire, when, on the one hand the Italian identity developed from the Roman foundations, whereas, on the other, the territory was settled by the Slovene population. After several hundred years of neighborhood and co-existence we are dealing here with a period which began around 1880, marked by conflict relations and the Slovene-Italian national dispute. The conflict developed in the state and political framework of the Habsburg Monarchy, of which the regions of Austrian Littoral became part gradually between the second half of 14th century Abd 1797. In the second half of 19th century, the multinational Habsburg Monarchy was not able to give life to a political system whose state structure would completely reflect its multinational society. Therefore, it was tormented by the national issue the Monarchy could not resolve. The Slovene-Italian conflict is a part of the Habsburg national issue, affected by the process of modernization and economic change present in all Central Europe as well as in the area along the Adriatic. Italian-Slovene relations are marked - following a model implemented in the then Habsburg society in other cases - by the dispute between Italians, who requested the preservation of the political-national and socio-economic state of
possession (Besitzland), and Slovenes, who tried to change the existing situation. The issue became even more complex due to the cultural and emotional, albeit not always political reaction of the Italian population in Austria, encouraged by the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, and maybe
even more by the inclusion of the neighboring territories of Veneto and Friuli. On one side Italians started looking beyond the borders of the Monarchy, on the other Slovenes tried to break the political and administrative borders, since they were divided among several Kronländer (apart from three Länder on the Littoral region, there were also Carniola, Carinthia and Styria. This was an obstacle to their mutual relations and political cooperation. The annexation of Veneto to the Kingdom of Italy also raised a question which directly involves Italian-Slovene relations. In 1866 the Valleys of Natisone, Torre and Resia (Venetian Slovenia) became part of the Italian state. The policy adopted by Italy towards the Slovene population directly reflected the difference between the old provincial state of the Venetian Republic and the new national state. Since the Kingdom of Italy wanted to achieve equal conditions all over the state, it decided to suppress the linguistic particularities, and took no account of the loyalty of the population whom the measures were addressed. Around 1880, Slovenes had solid foundations for an autonomous political and economic system in those Austrian administrative units in which they lived. On the Austrian littoral, the political movement of the Slovenes of Trieste, Gorizia and Istria was a part of the political movement of Slovenes in general. The assimilation of the Slovene (and Croatian) population which moved to the towns, especially to Trieste, therefore diminished and subsequently stopped almost completely. Greater political and national awareness and economic strength created a phenomenon which upset elite circles of the Italian population and forced them into the frequently narrow-minded national-defense policy typical of this environment until 1915 and contributed to creating more tension in the relations between the two national communities. On top of that, let’s not forget the opposing Italian-Slovene tendencies to demarcate national territories.
In all three parts of the Austrian littoral (Trieste, the Gorizia and Gradisca counties, Istria) Slovenes and Italians were living side by side. In the County of Gorizia the national boundaries were the clearest along the dividing line running North-South. Gorizia was the only ethnically mixed city, in which the number of Slovenes grew so much that, prior to World War I, the Slovene politicians believed that Slovenes would soon become the majority in the town by the Isonzo river. In Trieste the majority was represented by Italians, whereas in the surroundings it was the Slovene population. Slovenes lived in the Northern parts of Istria, mostly in the surrounding of coastal towns where Italians constituted the majority. In the entire Istrian peninsula, the national and political movement of Slovenes merged with the Croatian one, which sometimes did not allow separate discussion of the two different South Slavic components of the peninsula. The characteristic feature of Italian and Slovene settlements on the Austrian littoral showed that Slovenes formed mostly the rural population, whereas Italians the urban population. This distinction must, however, not be generalized. One should not forget the Italian rural areas in Istria and the County of Gorizia, in East Friuli, as well as the Slovene population in the towns of Trieste and Gorizia, whose growth had been already mentioned above. Although a too strongly marked separation between the urban and the rural world should be avoided, the relation between town and countryside was in fact one of the basic focal points of political struggle on the Littoral (the Primorska); it introduced a mixture of national and social elements to the Slovene-Italian conflict, thus impeding its settlement. The focal point of the relation between the town and the countryside was at the same time the main point in the ongoing political and historiographic debate on the real national image of the Littoral.
The Slovene side considered that the town belonged to the countryside, since rural areas should preserve the original identity of the given environment, without influence from cultural and social processes, and since the new national image of towns was considered to have been a consequence of assimilation processes that led to impoverishment in Slovenia.
The loss of national identity in the process of assimilation even after several decades was a painful and tragic experience which should not be repeated. The Italian side rejected this by referring to the principle of national affiliation as the consequence of a free cultural and moral choice, and not of ethnic-linguistic origin. According to the Italian interpretation of the relation between town and countryside, it’s the town that shapes the surrounding territory through its cultural and social traditions. Such a different position later
fueled the conflict around the concept of an ethnic border and the interpretation of statistics about the nationality of the population in border areas, which - according to Slovenes - were probably distorted by the presence of mainly Italian urban centers.
Although there are some common elements concerning the national issue in the Habsburg Monarchy, the conflicting relations in certain areas and thus also on the Littoral, differ in their specific features. The Italian side also attributed the rapid development of the Slovene political and economic movement, as well as demographic growth of Slovenes in towns, to the activity of the Austrian national authorities, which allegedly supported the Slovenian population on a political level in opposing Italian autonomy and nationalism, since they considered it more loyal than Italy. This is confirmed by the statements of the Austrian authorities. Since it was considered that the level of Slovene development was artificially achieved, the natural relation - linking urban centers to the countryside - was not taken into consideration; this is particularly true for the relation between Trieste, the prospering metropolis in full swing, and its surroundings. Such a relation corresponds to economic rules and not to political plans as already then highlighted by Angelo Vivante and Scipio Slataper.
The Italian nationalist and liberal circles often criticized the Catholic Church and the government authorities for treating Slovenes better, thereby referring to the active engagement of the clergy in the Slovenian political movement. In the political-administrative field, the urgent national issue prevented or impeded the agreed harmonization of institutions and linguistic relations with the constitutional principles and liberal ideas. The amendments to the local election laws maintained the principle of census. Therefore, the composition of province and city councils did not reflect the real numerical proportion between the two national groups (for example in Gorizia, Italians prevailed in the provincial council, although two thirds of the population in the area were Slovene). The evolution of Slovene language and education in school systems was stopped by the regional authorities in areas with an Italian majority, since they prevented consistent equality of the two languages spoken on the Littoral - two in the Gorizia and Gradisca counties and Trieste, and three in Istria.
In the decades preceding WW1, Slovenes and Italians did not create political links. The only exception was the Assembly of the County of Gorizia in which unusual alliances were formed between Slovene Catholics and Italian Liberals. Such links at times encouraged alliances between Slovene Liberals and Italian Catholics in the Assembly. The latter had power in the County of Gorizia, particularly in the Friuli countryside where the Friuli People's Party was active and whose leaders were later accused of supporting Austria. An attempt to establish Slovene-Italian Catholic organizations in the beginning of the 70s failed; nor did the subsequent Christian-social movement in both nations encourage such collaborations. It is evident that the reference to national affiliation prevailed over ideological reasons. This tendency was even more evident in Istria where the Italian People's Party was closer to nationalist positions and where the politics was full of contradictions between the Italian side- which tried to maintain power of Italians in political institutions and in the educational system - and the Slovene-Croatian side, which tried to change the existing situation. On the Littoral the Liberal and the Catholic block had their own "national" parties opposing each other. Instead, solid links were established within the socialist movement, looking towards internationalism,
although it was based on national principles set out at the 1897 Vienna
Congress. According to the implementation of this principle the assimilation of the Slovene workers was limited. It is clear that there were tensions between socialists of both nations. The difference in their visions was manifested at the end of WW1, both in the discussions as to which country
Trieste should belong, and in debates on its national identity.
The Croatian idea on common resistance to the so called germanisation of the Habsburg Monarchy could have led to the "Adriatic Pact" among the nations living by the Adriatic, but according to Slovenes, it would have given Italians extensive areas of influence which would have harmed Slovene interests.
The lack of Italian-Slovene dialogue and cooperation prior to the outbreak of World War I profoundly influenced Trieste and, to a lesser extent, Istria and Gorizia. Slovenes and Italians were too worried about their own national identities and were not able to develop a feeling of common affiliation to the environment in which both national communities had roots. Slovenes were attracted by the idea of Trieste as Centre of Slovenian economic growth; they underlined its central role in the development, and although the Slovene population in Trieste was in the minority, there were more Slovene inhabitants in Trieste than in Ljubljana due to the different demographic composition of the two towns. The demographic expansion they experienced led them to believe that Slovenes in Gorizia would soon become the majority. In the long-term, a similar result was foreseen also for Trieste. The majority of the Italian population resorted to the policy of intransigent national defense striving to preserve the unchanged Italian image of the town. While Slovenes were attached to the immediate hinterland, Italians were attached to the inner hinterland of the Monarchy, as well as to the Kingdom of Italy.
Ruggero Timeus developed extreme and radical nationalism in the Italian block, which remained in the minority and based its ideas on the cultural and national mission of the city and on the imperative of economic expansion of the Italianism to the Adriatic. The most representative political force of Italians in Trieste was the Liberal-National Party, in which the minor part was connected to the idea of "Mazzinianism", while the majority considered that the direct role of irredentism was the defense of the Italian identity of the town and its institutions.
In this tense and charged atmosphere, there began to emerge the ideas of people who belonged to the world of culture and were active in the same field as the contributors to the magazine "La Favilla" from the period of 1848. This was the group gathering around the Florentine magazine "La Voce", which published initiatives for coexistence between nations and wished to recognize the pluri ethnic reality of Trieste and its surroundings. Some young people from Trieste collaborated with this magazine, among others Scipio Slataper and the brothers Carlo and Giani Stuparich. In opposition to political irredentism they defined their position as cultural irredentism and intended to develop Italian culture through dialogue and cooperation with South Slavic and German cultures.
Trieste should, according to their view, become a place in which different peoples and civilizations would meet; until 1914 their political opinions were similar to the opinions of the Trieste socialists. Indeed, the most mature result of socialist thinking was published in the magazine "La Voce" - the book by Vivante on Adriatic irredentism.
There was no proper response from the Slovene side, and no reaction to Vivante's book was noted. Slovenes were still deeply involved in searching for their own identity, therefore they were not able to decide on searching for other identities. Rare were those who were able to overcome nationalist barriers, as for example some judgements on the issue of the establishment of the Trieste university. The tensions were too acute, and the South-Slavic solution of the basic problems which stirred the Austrian Monarchy at the outbreak of World War I seemed closer and more accessible to Slovenes.
With the outbreak of World War I, the programme of irredentism became a constituent part of the Italian national policy programme, although the conviction prevailed (at least until spring 1918) that the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy - considerably reduced in terms of its territory - would survive the war despite everything.
Even before Italy entered into war, the Italian diplomat Carlo Galli, on the assignment of his Government, met with Slovene representatives during his mission in Trieste. For the Slovene leadership these were the first official contacts with a foreign state. But already by signing the London Pact (1915) the Italian Government had adopted the programme of expansionism which, apart from the national principle, also considered geographic and strategic reasons.
The general loyalty of Slovenes to the Austrian State drew from the publishing of the first news on the imperialistic aspect of the London Pact and from the solutions contained in the Pact with respect to the eastern border of the Kingdom of Italy, as well as due to the attitude of the Italian military authorities in the first occupied zones.
The defeat of Italians at Kobarid/Caporetto brought about a switch in relation to Slovenes, since it gave place to the policy of dialogue between the nations under the Austro-Hungarian yoke, which culminated at the Rome Congress in 1918 and in the and in the agreement with the Yugoslav Committee.