The sinkholes: between denialism and revisionism

(To Carmine Savoia)

The February 10 marks the "day of remembrance" in memory of the massacre perpetrated by the Yugoslav forces of Marshal Tito against the Italian population in Istria, Venezia Giulia and Dalmatia in the years immediately following the Italian armistice of the 8 September 1943. It is worth remembering in particular the brutality with which Tito wanted to purge all traces of Italianness from those territories, bringing to completion summary and arbitrary executions, throwing thousands of people alive inside the foibe, or the caves of karstic origin present in abundance in the region , gorges that for hundreds of meters sink into the bowels of the earth and have become the tomb of many thousands of our compatriots.

A story, that of foibe, literally infoibata. Even today there are those who belittle the facts and discredit the numbers, as if all these years had not already been enough in which the quantity of testimony and evidence could easily be circumscribed. Years in which politics has ignored the drama of our countrymen, both that of infoibati and exiles, sometimes preferring to affirm their political sympathies and proximity to Tito to the affirmation of truth and justice. In this sense, the absence of the highest offices of the State at the commemorations scheduled for today is a source of surprise.

History, unfortunately, the winners write and if sometimes the walls of denial are not enough to prevent the truth from coming to light, we get to use the weapon of historical justification to cover our war crimes and those of our comrades. Yes, historical analyzes are recurrent that with malicious factiousness attempt to reduce the slaughter of the sinkholes to isolated acts of sudden and therefore unpremeditated violence, the result of the reversal in the face, through which the Slavs have avenged the years of "fierce occupation ”Italian, started in the 1918 with the end of the First World War. In this sense the numbers are reduced, the Slavic discontent and resentment towards the Italians are exaggerated and above all the Italianization policy adopted by Fascist Italy in those lands is underlined, trying to put all the responsibility for the massacre, insinuating that the annexation of Istria, Venezia Giulia and Dalmatia had no historical and irredentist reasons and above all there was a proportionality between the Italian actions carried out during the government of the region and the incursions of the partisans of Tito continued then in the years of the Yugoslav domination .

First of all, let's refute the first argument, namely the fable according to which the Venezia Giulia, Istria and Dalmatia could not be considered, in the early years of the '900, as unredeemed lands to be annexed to complete national unification, like the others .

The Italian character of those lands is sanctioned by history and has deep roots that date back to the 3rd century BC when Rome had its first contacts with the inhabitants of the Istri and Liburnians present in the region. Over the centuries, the foundation of the colonies of Aquileia, Tergeste (Trieste) and Pula followed, the development of important commercial traffic and the arrival of Roman culture, customs and customs. From this moment on, the history of Venezia Giulia, Istria and Dalmatia was not unlike that of the other regions of northern Italy. In fact, as in much of Italy, there have been several dominations since the fall of the Roman Empire: that of the Goths, the Byzantines and the Franks of Charlemagne; while the only Slavic trace present in this story dates back to the Middle Ages, between the 6th and the 7th century, and among other things we are talking about an invasion. Finally, the Republic of Venice ruled Istria and Dalmatia for a good four centuries until its fall, in the 1797, when Austrian domination began, a domination shared with the rest of north-eastern Italy.

In this perspective, the Italian Risorgimento movements of the 1848 had a strong emotional appeal to the Italians of Venezia Giulia, Istria and Dalmatia, fostering in their minds a decisive political separatist will towards Austria, which subsequently led them to claim annexation to the Kingdom of Italy formed in the 1861.

With the First World War, despite the "mutilated victory", Italy annexed a large part of the Region, with the exception of Fiume and almost all of Dalmatia, completing what appears to be a clear process of completing national unity. We will have to wait for the Rome Treaty of 1924 to resolve the issue of Fiume instead.

After the war, with the advent of the Italian administration, the contrasts between the various souls present in the region, namely the Italian - majority - and those of the Slavic minority are inflamed. To refute the second argument, namely that which asserts that the responsibility of the slaughtering slaughter is a direct consequence of the policies implemented by Italy, let us go into the history of the last years before the sinkholes, those ranging from 1918 to 1943.

It is doubtful that the Italian administration in the immediate post-war period was unprepared and unable to create a climate of détente between Italy and the Slavic linguistic minorities. With the advent of fascism this climate worsened, as the same Italian minority present in Yugoslavia, precisely in Dalmatia, suffered continuous discrimination, which, although never resulted in a collective and systematic violence, nonetheless led to a period of mutual retaliation.

The policy implemented by fascism to Italianize the region provided for the imposition of the Italian language within the schools at the expense of the Slovenian and Croatian language; cultural, sports and other associations of the two minorities were suppressed. It is clear that this policy, however discriminatory and unjust, has not had that character of physical violence that can give a glimpse of a sort of proportionality between it and the cruelty of the systematic violence perpetrated by Tito and his militias through the sinkholes.

With the Second World War, on the other hand, and with the invasion of Yugoslavia by the Axis forces in the April of 1941 Italy incorporated to it a large part of Dalmatia with its islands, thus obtaining full control of the banks of the Adriatic sea.

After the armistice of the 8 September of the 1943 the German forces arrived in the region, which aimed mainly at controlling the communication routes and the strategic infrastructures; this meant that the Yugoslav partisan militias were established in the hinterland and in the most inaccessible territories. 

From this moment begin the first macabre rituals of the foibe: in fact in the countries, where the Germans did not reach quickly, the power vacuum was filled by Tito's "Popular Powers". A climate of widespread violence was generated and not only the former local fascist squadrists were affected, but also people totally unrelated to politics. A summary violence, arbitrary and many times totally gratuitous, in which racial hatred of Italians prevailed more than a feeling of national revenge. In this perspective, the latter were arrested, deported and killed: we are talking about members of the police force, representatives of the Italian state administration, civil professionals, doctors, pharmacists and therefore essentially anyone who represented Italy, even minimally.

But if in the 1943 the purification activity of the Italians remained in some ways limited, it is from the 1944-45 that the total diffusion of these phenomena takes place. 

When the German forces were finally defeated in April 1945, the regions of Venezia Giulia and Istria came under the control of Tito's Yugoslav army. The Yugoslav units arrived in Trieste on 1945 May XNUMX, anticipating the Anglo-American forces; Tito's army then entered Fiume and Pola, completing the occupation of the entire Venezia Giulia. Thus Tito declared the annexation of the entire region: the arrests and deportations of thousands of people began by the Yugoslav Secret Police, the OZNA.

All those who could represent an obstacle to Yugoslav annexation plans ended up in the eye of the OZNA. Not even the so-called white partisans, or even some anti-fascist members of the National Liberation Committee, were spared.

In conclusion, it is clear that any argument aimed at revising the massacre, diminishing it and justifying its reasons, has no historical basis. Unfortunately, the reluctance shown by certain Italian politics to bring out the massacre and the long Yugoslav occupation of Istria and Dalmatia does not allow today - after almost more than fifty years - to have certain numbers about those who were arrested, killed and thrown into the sinkholes. The sources are inconsistent with each other: there is talk of about 1000 deaths for the events of the 1943, while for those of the 1945 they are estimated about 6000, even if there are plenty of sources that define the total victims of the 30.000 massacre.