FIFTY YEARS OF TRIESTE IN ITALY
On 26 October 1954 Trieste officially returned to Italy after an absence lasting nine years. On that day, on behalf of the Italian State, an Italian official – General Edmondo De Renzi – substituted the Allied Military Government which had run the city since 12 June 1945, the date which marked the end of the Yugoslavian occupation.
Those nine years were some of the most difficult and tragic for Trieste, marked by mourning and suffering. Today the Municipality commemorates this event not only in remembrance of a national identity which the city ceaselessly reaffirmed, even at the cost of human life, but also because it appears legitimate and right to go over the events of its own recent history, so that the members of the younger generation – who did not live through those events – are aware of the historical memory preceding them, without which even the future appears uncertain.
As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, the Municipality has the aims of reviewing those events, reproducing moments of daily life through exhibitions and displays, tackling the difficult and complex events of those nine years with a rigorously historical outlook open to all cultural components of the city, and reliving the sentiments and anxiety which moved the inhabitants of Trieste at that time through photographs and period films. This is to be done without rhetoric, but rather with the desire to render a service to both those who remember those times with the same emotion today as they felt half a century ago, and those who are approaching the subject for the first time and need to be informed to be able to recognise themselves in this complex and marvellous national sentiment.
In this respect Trieste is a city which in those nine years yearned to be Italian. The city’s sense of national identity arises from a difficult and troubled choice: denied the right to return to the homeland, Trieste had the resolve and the courage to resist and to constantly feed that sense of national belonging. In a certain sense it was lucky because in the end its request was granted, being reunited to Italy with the Memorandum of Understanding signed in London on 5 October 1954. For other cities and other areas the same Memorandum sanctioned the end of hope and signified the definitive handing over of the “B zone” to Yugoslavia, a transfer which was sanctioned by the Osimo Treaty in 1975.
The vicissitudes which led to the reunification of Trieste to Italy demonstrate the extent of this desire.
On 30 April 1945, at the end of the second world war, Trieste was occupied by the troops of the IX Yugoslavian Corps. Tito insisted on drawing the border with Italy at the Isonzo river, and for two cities, Gorizia and Trieste, a severe see-sawing of options began. In the forty-five days of the Yugoslavian occupation, Trieste suffered violence and deportations directed at the Italian inhabitants and the “well-to-do”, regardless of political affiliation: in fact victims of the violence also included many antifascists who saw the inclusion of Trieste within the Italian state as a logical solution. The outlook of communist totalitarianism which inspired Tito’s Yugoslavia aimed not only at the denationalisation of those areas, but also at the end of the economic elites established there for decades, in favour of a collectivist vision of goods and property.
This situation, which lasted for only forty-five days, was to be the cause of not only the phenomenon of the foibe or mass graves, but also the deportation of defenceless people to Yugoslavian concentration camps. In Istria, Fiume-Rijeka and Dalmatia on the other hand, the situation drew out for months, forcing more than 300 000 people to abandon those regions so as to maintain their own national identity.
On 12 June 1945 the Allies forced Tito to leave the city, which was then administered by the Allied Military Government. The Julian area was divided into two zones: the A Zone under direct Anglo-American control and the B Zone administered by Yugoslavia.
The Peace Treaty signed in Paris by the Italian government on 10 February 1947 officially sanctioned the division of the two zones within the Free Territory of Trieste, a political-administrative unit which extended from Duino to Cittanova-Novigrad in Istria and which encompassed 360 000 inhabitants. The political life of the years of the Allied Military Government was lived out according to the book in the A Zone, whereas the B Zone immediately suffered the Yugoslavian action of violent coercion against the Italian communities, which were numerous and in the majority particularly along the Istrian coast. In Trieste the local elections held in 1949 and 1952 were a clear sign of the inhabitants’ desire to be Italian.
1953 was an eventful year marked by a number of tragic episodes. Following an agreement reached by the United States and the United Kingdom on 8 October 1953 which anticipated the withdrawal of the allied troops from the A Zone and their substitution with Italian troops, Belgrade held that the destiny of Trieste was definitively compromised and Tito decided to manifest his opposition with a hard line in the face of the allied decisions. The Italian government, at the time led by Giuseppe Pella, strongly reacted against the Yugoslavian protests, which led to the events of 3-4 November. Trieste had already seen violent clashes in March which caused dozens of injuries. On 4 November, faced with the refusal of the allied commander to allow the flying of the Italian flag outside the town hall, a request made by the mayor Gianni Bartoli, the city arose. In the clashes which followed between 4 and 6 November six demonstrators lost their lives, struck by a police force which reacted disproportionately in the face of the unarmed demonstrators.
By December secret negotiations began between the Allies and the Yugoslavian government to define the situation. The talks lead to the aforementioned Memorandum of Understanding which established the handing over of Trieste to Italy and the B Zone to Yugoslavia.
So ended the complex events of the eastern border, which nonetheless left open wounds, with a human cost – the foibe and the exodus – which can not easily be erased. The situation of the Italians who remained across the border was a cause for controversy, owing to the difficulties that the Italian communities faced for a long period in openly expressing their own cultural identity.
Today, in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the return of Trieste to Italy, there is the conviction that the defence of the respective cultural identities no longer means nationalistic abuse of power, but simply the respect for the history, culture and sentiments of a people. The European perspective will be able to heal old wounds, in a broader outlook which nonetheless maintains the sense of cultural belonging and the respective national identities and which transforms those diversities, which were the cause of mourning and tragedy, into mutual enrichment. This is not a simple perspective, but the European project, if it is not limited simply to a different management of the borders, may prove to be an important resource for cooperation and peace in this region.