I.R.C.I. conference on historical Italian-Slovene relations

by Pierluigi Sabatti

The report of the Italian and Slovene authors on the relations of the two countries between 1880 and 1956 is neither to be seen as “official history” nor as a comprehensive report of such a complex and sensitive period of time.

It’s not official history because the governments of both countries did not want a document that would give a final and undeniable version of the facts. The aim was to invite the experts to examine together the most important moments and events of that time in order to pave the way for future and more comprehensive researches.

Personally, I think this document is a brand-new starting point, free of prejudices and ideal to work together in harmony in order to reach an acceptable result for all those living in this territory.

However, to understand why the two governments decided to establish a joint committee consisting of historians and experts, it is necessary to take a step back.

The idea developed in the 1990s in the municipal council of Trieste, that, with the support of all parties, unanimously passed a motion for the setting up of an Italian-Yugoslav committee for historical matters. Its task would have been examining the historical relations between the two countries in the chosen period. First to sign was the Democratic Christian Giuseppe Depangher. This decision was in line with the desire for truth and knowledge that broke out after the revolutionary fall of the Berlin Wall. Reading the speeches of the council members of that time, from Menia to Costa, it becomes clear that Trieste was also trying to tear down the walls of incomprehension that suffocated the city. However, the project, then, aimed at an Italian-Yugoslav committee that was never created. During the period of time between the finalizing of the motion and the establishment of the committee, Yugoslavia dissolved into new national states like Slovenia and Croatia. In 1993 the Ministers for foreign affairs Beniamino Andreatta and Lojze Peterle (Slovenia) were forced to create a double committee: an Italian-Slovenian committee chaired by constitutionalist professor Sergio Bartole along with a Croatian-Italian committee. This last one organized only a few meetings and broke up shortly after. Croatia had other priorities, after all, as it was at war with Serbia. On the other side, the Italian Slovenian committee started working. Yet, the committee was largely limited, because many aspects of the Italian-Slovenian history are closely linked to a Slovenia that belonged to the Habsburg Empire, then to the Yugoslav Kingdom and eventually to Tito’s Yugoslavia. These realities constituted the context for action - more or less independently - of Slovenia.

But this aspect will be tackled by historians.

Personally, talking exclusively about the activity of the joint Italian-Slovene committee, I can add that their work continued until 1996. In that year the committee’s activities were interrupted, because professor Bartole had to resign from his position, as he had accepted other posts that were incompatible with his post as chairman of the committee. Elio Apih, prominent historian from Trieste, was also forced to abandon the group for health problems. On top of that author Fulvio Tomizza’s death gave the coup de grace to the committee’s work.

In 1996 the group’s activity was interrupted and restarted only one and a half year later thanks to the joint action of the Italian and Slovenian under-secretaries for Foreign Affairs, Franco Juri and Umberto Ranieri. A new chairman for the Italian part of the committee was appointed, professor of international law Giorgio Conetti. Apih and Tomizza were replaced and the other new members were historians Angelo Ara, Fulvio Salimbeni, Raoul Pupo, Marina Cattaruzza, senator Lucio Toth of the “Association Venezia Giulia and Dalmatia” and Paola Pagnini, professor of geography in Trieste. The new committee completed their task in July 2000 and submit the document to their Ministries of Foreign Affairs.

Since then the text has been archived among the ministries’ files. The Slovenian government has repeatedly solicited the Italian ministry to go public with the document, but the answer so far has been negative.

In the meantime, the civil society also insisted on publishing the contents of the document. Thirty intellectuals, politicians and journalists of the Slovenian Littoral signed a petition and sent it to both ministries in March. Left-wing democrat from Pordenone, Antonio Di Bisceglie, pointed out the problem in the order of the day in Parliament. But nothing changed, and the Italian central government continued to oppose the requests.

On 23 March 2001 the draft of the document was finally published in the Slovenian weekly newspaper “Primorkse Novice”. It wasn’t the full text, even though this was not specified by the newspaper, but only the draft. Slovene history experts criticized this decision to the point that President  Milica Kacin-Wohinz sent a letter clarifying it was only a draft.

The government's hesitation to publish the report soon became a mainstream topic in the national press. The Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that the authors and history experts had to support the publication of the text. Chairman of the committee Conetti replied that their duty was to write a document whose use had to be determined by the Ministry.

To avoid further speculations and possibilities to exploit the situation for political reasons, I managed to get the full text published in the newspaper “Piccolo” in the 4 April 2001 issue. Concomitantly it was published in the "Primorski Dnevnik" on behalf of professor Wohinz. The Slovenian newspaper discovered from Ansa on 4 April that the “Piccolo” was going to publish the document on the following day and requested the Slovenian version to professor Wohinz.

People had the right to access the contents of the document and express their opinion about it.

Why was the Italian Foreign Ministry so hesitant? To be honest, I didn’t understand it. One hypothesis was that it was not the right moment, given that elections were taking place first in Slovenia and then in Italy, supposition that has been rejected by under-secretary Ranieri. I believe that for issues regarding the East, our Ministry overreacts. I think that the public opinion is mature enough to understand and interpret this document correctly.

In this sense it is necessary to underline that this text is the result of compromises between the historians and actually does not add anything new to what was already known. Maybe this is exactly its limit. But it’s not my place to comment on the contents. My task was to report on this umpteenth case on the Eastern border.