The comment in "Il Piccolo"

Divergences and meeting points in the document written by the Joint Committee of historians and experts.

Agreeing on facts, but not on responsibilities
The Slovene always consider Italy an enemy, whereas the Italians make a distinction about fascism

In the ‘90s the Italian and Slovenian historiography raised the qualitative bar of their studies on border history, in particular thanks to the documents from the former Yugoslav archives, which were finally made available. The starting points differed a lot, because the Italian historiography had already faced its fascist past, while the Yugoslav historiography had been influenced and shaped by the official propaganda of Tito’s regime.
In the new post Yugoslav and post-communist era the opinions changed and partly converged, but there are still many differences in the historical approach used to deal with some focal points in the history of the 20th century. This is particularly true if we analyze some publications of the last decade. The Italian publications, that we are going to examine, were written by Elio Apih, Marina Cattaruzza, Raoul Pupo, Fulvio Salimbeni, Roberto Spazzali and Anna Vinci, while the Slovene authors are Milica Kacin, Boris Mlakar, Natasa Nemec, Joze Pirjevec and Nevenka Troha

The first world war
For the Slovene academics the war fought by Italy against Austria was basically an imperialist war, because it aimed at expanding the Italian border beyond the so called “ethnic” borders. According to the ethnic nationalism theory, which dominates the Slavic political ideology, the city belongs to the surrounding countryside. The opposite is true for the Italian political tradition.

For the Italian academics the first world war has a dual nature: it’s the last war of the Risorgimento and therefore aimed at completing the national unity process, but it was also a challenge for Italy, that had to prove its power by participating in a global conflict.

The first post war period
The Slovene experts don’t make any distinction between the Italian liberal government period and fascism. The liberal government suppressed the Slovenian national movement in Venezia Giulia by closing schools and sending in exile scholars and other prominent personalities. During fascism these single actions became part of an organic political plan of denationalization. 

For the Italian experts the Italian government and administration of the post war period were characterized by impreparation and contradictions. Therefore, they make a clear distinction between liberal government and fascist regime, but also between local authorities and the central authority in Rome in the first years after the end of the war. Until 1922 the political line followed by the government was that of a “soft” approach in the annexation of the new territories to the Kingdom of Italy. Local self-government and protection of minorities were granted. However, on a local level, the authorities, and in particular the military forces, often applied overtly anti-Slavic policies, influenced by extremist milieus. After 1922 self-government policies were abolished and the regime launched a new plan under the name of “bonifica dei Carsi” - improvement of the Karst region.


There are no significant differences in the interpretation of the fascist politics towards Slavic people. In order to understand that period, the Italian historiography, in particular with Elio Apih, coined two definitions: “border fascism” and “cultural genocide”. The first refers to a political vision combining anti-socialism and anti-Slavism together with the desire for an imperialistic foreign policy against the Balkan region. The second one refers to the target of destruction of Slovenian and Croatian national identities.
There is some disagreement on the numeric data of the Slavic population’s migration from Venezia Giulia. The Yugoslav sources have always referred to a symbolic figure, 100.000 people, but it has been harshly criticized by the Italian counterpart, also on the basis of recent Slovenian studies.
There are also different points of view in regard of the role of the Church and in particular of the Italian archbishops of Trieste and Gorizia. From the Slovenian point of view the ban on the use of Slovene language during ceremonies and religious education represents a submission of the clergy to the fascist regime. From the Italian point of view the Church is responsible for religion on a national level and is a reference point for both Italian and Slavic communities. Furthermore, the archbishops were forced to follow certain rules as they were part of the Vatican’s directives to all European areas where the State tried to impose its control over the church, since the area was characterized by a variety of nationalities.

The Italian occupation of Yugoslavia
Divergence on this matter is still quite limited. Italian and Slovene experts studied together the occupation policies implemented in the province of Ljubljana, including the deportation of part of the civil population in the concentration camps in Italian cities like Arbe, Gonars and Renicci.
All research on the topic showed that the Italian occupation was initially more moderate compared to the German one but adopted extremely harsh methods and repression procedures at the outbreak of the partisan guerilla.
In the last few years experts from both countries have cast a new light on the phenomenon of the Slovenian collaborating with the occupying forces, which was much more widespread than it was believed to be.

The Resistance

The studies that were carried out in the last ten years in both countries outlined some fundamental issues summed up in the following list: the Italian resistance model - politically pluralist - in contrast with the Yugoslav communist model; the combination of traditional national claims inside the Slovenian and Croatian resistance and the goals of the revolution;
the resulting desire to control the developments of the Italian resistance in the territories claimed by Yugoslavia; the ideological influence exercised by Yugoslav communists on the Italian communist groups, on a local level, as well as on Togliatti’s political orientation.
The Slovene historiography still accuses the Julian CLN of claiming the Rapallo border, whereas the Italian counterpart accuses the Slovenian Liberation Front of deceivingly playing both sides and reprimands its hunger for power and hegemony.
The traditional controversy on the liberation or occupation of Trieste in the spring of 1945 has been brought to an end by the acknowledgement that the different national groups within the Julian society were each waiting for their own liberator, who was at the same time an enemy for the other part of the society.

The foibe

Most recent Slovenian studies point out two factors as triggering reasons for the massive violence manifested in the spring of 1945. The main factor is the reckoning with fascism, the main responsible for the outbreak of violence in 1945. The other factor is the desire of the new communist regime to eliminate all its opponents, similarly to what happened in the rest of Yugoslavia.
The number of the victims is not certain, the estimates are different and difficult to calculate. According to Slovenian sources there had been around 2000 victims, among them many Slovenes, mostly from the Isonzo valley. However, many victims, generally considered Italian because of their political orientation, are considered Slovene from Slovene estimates because of the victims’ origins.
Italian experts, following the idea proposed by Elio Apih already in 1988, draw a clear distinction between the “scenario of mass anger”, i.e. revenge against fascist crimes, and the “political nature of the tragedy”. This last expression refers to the “preventive cleansing” of the Julian society in order to get rid of those opposing the political project of Tito’s communist movement.  This project, as many Italian historians underline, combines two different aspects: the ideological aspect, which justifies the death of many Slovene anti-communists, and the national one, which is responsible for the violence against the Italian population, since it opposed the annexation to Yugoslavia.
Slovene historians insist on talking about “spontaneous” violence outbreaks, yet Italian scholars believe and talk about “State violence”, resulting from the transition of a revolutionary movement into a Stalinist regime.
No Italian historian of any political orientation - who are not to be confused with members belonging to associations reuniting foibe victims’ relatives or exiled people - has ever talked about “ethnic cleansing” in regard of the foibe of 1945, which are a clear example of political mass violence.
As for the figures, Italian researchers are very careful in defining the term “infoibati”, i.e. people thrown into the foibe, the Karst ditches, which may generate misunderstanding. The victims of the foibe, so called infoibati, were immediately killed and thrown into the ditches in the spring of 1945. Their number is not so high and usually the victims were soldiers or other military group members. Less than 500 corpses have been exhumed, but even considering the uncollected bodies, it is very unlikely to reach more than 1000 deaths. On the other hand, the number of people died in Yugoslav concentration camps is far higher, running into the thousands.

The post war period
The historical facts concerning post war Trieste have been mostly studied by Italian historians without much controversy from the Slovenian experts. The Slovenian historiography focuses on the sacrifice of giving up Trieste for the sake of the Yugoslav State and the national persecution of the Slavic inhabitants of the Natisone valleys.
The opinions on the Istrian exodus are still quite distant, even though, in recent years, several Slovene authors recognized that the Italian population was under great political pressure.
Generally, the Slovenian historiography prefers to use the term “migration” caused by economic struggle in the establishment of a socialist model in a place where Italians had a privileged position in the society, and by the political orientation of the national government.
Italian historians, on the contrary, have always pointed out the political nature of the exodus. The reasons behind the diaspora are the imposition of annexation to Yugoslavia and the transition to a communist regime.
Italian researchers also underline the limits of the “Italian-Slovenian brotherhood”, officially in force until 1948, year of the rift between Stalin and Tito, thus marking the beginning of the Italian communists’ persecution.
This political propaganda was actually meant for a limited part of the Italian population, namely only some categories of the Italian working class that supported the annexation to Yugoslavia and the ideological and national assets of the new regime. On a national level, the Italian archives report De Gasperi’s desire to limit as far as possible the exodus, so as not to compromise possible future territorial claims.
The last studies dealt with a specific matter, namely the identity crisis many Italians of the B zone experienced after the transformations imposed by the Yugoslav regime. The Italians were made feel “foreigners at home” and forced to go away if they wanted to keep up their national identity.
Slovene historians tend to present Italy as an enemy to Slavic people in all its historical phases. The differences between the liberal, fascist and democratic governments are not clearly illustrated, they seem all alike because, in any case, each of them opposed the Slovenian national claims.
It is recurrent to read of the cause and effect link between the fascist violence in the 1920s and 1930s and the aggressive reaction by the Slovenes in the post-war period.
Italian historians are well aware of the legacy of the past, yet they do draw a comparison between the two nationalistic regimes that tried to oppress the other at every turn. It also stated the need to consider the Julian history in the broader European context. The fascist de-nationalization policies can thus be studied as part of a bigger phenomenon, experienced by all national minorities during the two world wars, although the fascist regime had been certainly extremely harsh.
The exodus is, on the other hand, part of the so called “ethnic simplification” procedures, implemented during the 20th century in all those territories that once belonged to pluri-national empires or kingdoms of central Europe.