WHEN Prime Minister Churchill stated in the House of Commons on September 21, 1943, that the Italian Empire "has been lost -- irretrievably lost" he no doubt referred to all the territory which since 1936 has been termed "Italian East Africa," that is, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. From 1936 to 1943 these territories formed King Victor Emanuel III's "empire." On November 30, 1943, the Italian Cabinet headed by Marshal Badoglio officially stripped the King of his title of "Emperor," officially acknowledging the doom of the East African Empire.

Cyrenaica, the eastern section of Libya, seems destined to become part of Egypt, under one guise or another. The southern sections of Libya, i.e. Tibesti and Fezzan, will most likely go to France. The latter are the most wretched spots of the Sahara Desert, but they are wide and they make a big show on maps, to the satisfaction of empty-headed imperialists. What will happen to Tripolitania, the western section which borders Tunisia, is still the secret of the gods. Some Italians hope that Tripolitania at least will be left them as fiche de consolation. Neither Tripolitania nor any other Italian colony ever brought any economic advantage to the Italian people. They swallowed up enormous sums of taxpayers' money and only civil and military bureaucrats and contractors profited.

None of the colonies would ever solve, or even help to lessen, the Italian problem of overpopulation. The few thousand farmers who by 1940 were eking out a meager living in Libya had been transported there at public expense and were supported by heavy subsidies. Each of them would have become a prosperous landowner in Italy had he been given that money at home. Economic delusions, strategic fancies and above all a hankering after prestige prompted the Italian colonial enterprises. Colonies were like the jewels with which millionaires deck their mistresses; but the Italian people never were rich enough to afford such luxuries and they will be even less able to afford them when this war is over. Railways, roads, bridges, harbors, land reclamation works, water power stations, aqueducts and cities by the hundreds will have to be rebuilt. Large sections of Milan, Turin and Genoa, the wealthiest cities of Italy, have been reduced to heaps of ruins. Hundreds of years of labor have been annulled. Only a man who was out of his senses would advise the Italian people to squander more money on Tripolitania or any other colony. Italians who worry about the former colonies are like a man who fusses over the looks of his necktie while falling from the top of Giotto's Tower. Since I love the Italian people from whom I came, I pray that all the former Italian colonies will be handed over to someone who hates the Italian people and therefore has to be punished for his unchristian sin.

The Italian Government has to get out of the Dodecanese Islands and Albania not only because Italy lost this war, but because she never had any right to administer either of those territories anyway. The Dodecanese will no doubt go to Greece. And the Italian Cabinet stripped the monarch of his title, "King of Albania," at the same time that it admitted that he was no longer an Emperor.

Dalmatia lies outside the frontiers of Italy no less than do the African colonies, the Dodecanese and Albania. To be sure, there are Italian nuclei along the seaboard of Dalmatia, last remnants of mediæval Venetian settlers -- about 15,000 people in all in the midst of 600,000 Slavs. Of those 15,000 Italians, about 8,000 were in the city of Zara when the present war broke out. What has happened to them and the other Italians in Dalmatia during these last months Heaven alone knows. What should be done with those who still are left when the war is over?

The Nazi mentality is spreading outside of Germany, thanks to the moral degradation brought about by war. Nowadays we speak calmly of tossing millions of human beings from their homes to nowhere in order to get rid of troublesome "racial minorities" and to create "national uniformity" everywhere. Hitler set the example in the countries that came under his control, and we seem to be ready to do the same even though we boast that we are fighting to prevent Hitler from Hitlerizing the world. If this brutal frame of mind prevails among the "peacemakers" of the United Nations, the Italians of Dalmatia will be uprooted and chased out so that some politicians of Belgrade or Zagreb may grab their houses, lands and shops.

Let us hope that the Slavs are more intelligent than certain of their western advisers and that they will allow the last remnants of Venetian civilization to die out little by little, year after year, where they are now. If Italy and Jugoslavia ever learn how to become friends the Great Powers will no longer be able to make use of them as toys in their games. If they go on quarreling about a few fig trees and some nests of lizards, the Great Powers will always find among them suitable clients for their balance of power policies at the expense of the "natives."

In addition to Dalmatia, the eastern section of what the Italians term "Venezia Giulia" and the Slavs call "Julian Mark" should go to Jugoslavia. This eastern section is inhabited by a compactly Slav population. The Triple Entente promised it to Italy in the ill-contrived Pact of London of April 26, 1915, and it became part of the Italian Kingdom as a result of the Treaty of Rapallo, November 12, 1920. (For the frontier of 1914, the Pact of London line of 1915, the line favored by President Wilson in 1919 and the boundary as established in 1920 see accompanying map.) This territory should never have been annexed to Italy. Populations which are tied against their will to an alien nation, and which look longingly across the boundary toward their own kinsmen, are a source of weakness and not of strength, of disgrace and not of prestige, to the dominant nationality.

The policies of the pre-Fascist régime toward the Slav population of this area were clumsy and incoherent. They could not have been much better, since the Slavs did not wish to be ruled by Italians either well or badly. However, the pre-Fascist régime was not criminal, as the Fascist régime was to be. Of the latter, nothing but shame can be recorded. The day on which these Slav people are united politically with their parent stock will be an auspicious one for the Italians themselves. A stain will be washed from Italy's face. And let us hope that the blunders and crimes of these last 25 years will as soon as possible be forgotten, or at least forgiven.

As I have said, the eastern section of Venezia Giulia must go to Jugoslavia. But what of the western section, i.e. the part which includes the cities of Gorizia and Trieste, and western Istria? Austrian language statistics, in 1910, indicated that while the eastern section of Venezia Giulia was inhabited by a compactly Slav population, the western section was inhabited by a mixed Italo-Slav population. In this western section the Italians predominated in the cities, while the Slavs occupied the countryside and filtered into the cities. It would have been impossible to split the cities from their countrysides. And even in the cities one could not split Slavs from Italians in adjoining houses or in the same apartment houses. The Italian census of 1931 took care to ignore national differences and gave only the total population for each city and its district. On the other hand the Fascist régime did not shrink from the most sordid means to force Slavs to flee to Jugoslavia and to make those who remained adopt Italian names and display Italian feelings. At the same time it imported from Italy as many people as it could to replace those who were thrown out from their jobs or forced to emigrate. During the present war, there has been wholesale murder. What the present situation is we do not know.

However, to take it as the basis of Italian claims would be to reward crime. The only honest way of approaching the problem is to take the situation of 1910 as basic and to assume that from that time to 1940 the Italians and the Slavs increased at the same rate as previously. If we make this assumption, and if Jugoslavia or any other political organism which takes the place of Jugoslavia receives the districts which have a Slav majority, that is, if a total of about 400,000 souls go to Jugoslavia, then an area inhabited by a mixed Italo-Slav population of about 500,000 would remain to be allotted. To whom should it be allotted?

Among those 500,000 people, 300,000 are Italians and 200,000 are Slavs. But figures do not tell the whole story. The problem to be solved is not to count noses and hand over the land to the more numerous noses. The problem to be solved is whether the administration of that mixed territory would have to overcome greater difficulties if the Italians or the Slavs were in control. Would a city like Trieste with 119,000 Italian inhabitants (in 1910; the figure was presumably 170,000 by 1931) be easier to manage if 54,000 Slavs (in 1910; the figure was presumably 80,000 by 1931) got control? According to the 1943 "Statesman's Year Book" Gorizia had 46,000 inhabitants and Pola 46,000; Monfalcone had 18,000, Pirano 19,000, Capodistria 13,000, Parenzo 12,000, Dignano 11,000, Rovigno 10,000. Most Slavs, even when they appear in statistics as forming part of municipalities with populations not much below 10,000, are scattered in small nuclei over the countryside; whereas the Italians are all gathered in the cities. There is no reason to think that city dwellers are more intelligent or honest than peasants, be they Italians or Slavs. But under present social conditions who can expect a city like Trieste to be ruled by the Slav minority of its suburbs and the Slav peasantry scattered over the neighboring stony and sparsely inhabited Carso? Can any sensible man expect the Slav peasantry to administer the Italians in Gorizia and the cities of western Istria? Or do those Italians have to be thrown into the sea?

The American scholars who in 1918, on behalf of President Wilson, traced what would have been the most suitable frontier between Italy and Jugoslavia, were not moved by any bias in favor of Italy. Yet they drew a line (see map) that almost perfectly coincides with that which divides the mixed Italo-Slav territory from the Slav territory. Obviously they took into account not only dead figures but social conditions; they thought that the solution most conducive to peace, provided the rights of national minorities were respected, was to establish Italian rule over that mixed territory. Perhaps the present writer will be allowed to record that before the American scholars produced that solution, he himself, in coöperation with an Italian geographer, had reached an identical conclusion,[i] to the great scandal of Italian nationalist firebrands. Nor would it be amiss to remember that in the fall of 1914 the Serbian Prime Minister, Nikola Pashitch, spontaneously admitted that Trieste and Istria should go to Italy; that in March 1915, while the Treaty of London was being negotiated, Mr. Sazonov, the Russian Prime Minister, energetically and rightly protested against Italian claims to Dalmatia, but did not raise any objections against Italian claims to Trieste and Istria; and that in the summer of 1917 Pashitch again offered Italian Foreign Minister Sonnino a compromise, accepting his claims to Trieste and Istria but not the claim to Dalmatia. And though Augustus would understand very little indeed of today's mess, he would perhaps remind us of the fact that he established the eastern administrative boundary of Italy precisely at the Arsa River (see map).

When the eastern section of Venezia Giulia goes to Jugoslavia, the city of Fiume (Rijeka) will become a small enclave surrounded by territory which is Slav not only ethnically but also politically. Before 1914 the city contained 24,000 Italians intermingled with 15,000 Slavs. It is divided, by a ditch hardly worthy to be termed a river, from Sušak, which before 1914 was inhabited by 11,000 Slavs and 1,500 Italians. If those who make the peace put aside the brutish thought of chasing the Italians from their homes, and if they devise a suitable system for the protection of the rights of minorities in Jugoslavia (as elsewhere), no sensible man will object if Fiume is transferred from Italian to Jugoslav sovereignty. The case of Zara is analogous to that of Fiume.

The Wilson line of 1919, slightly improved in favor of the Slavs, would be the best frontier today, provided the personal and political rights of the Slav minority were respected by the Italians and provided the Slavs respected the rights of the Italian minority in Dalmatia, Fiume and their part of Venezia Giulia. Unfortunately, neither the Italians nor the Slavs nor any other European people deserve to be trusted in such matters. The history of all mixed territories in Europe, if one excepts Switzerland, is the history of hatreds and crimes. The problem can be solved only by the method which has insured its solution in Switzerland and in the United States -- by granting equal personal and political rights to every man, irrespective of his nationality. And some external force must be in existence to protect minorities against majorities until the time comes when everybody, after trying the wrong way, realizes that honesty pays best.[ii]

The national problem of Italo-Slav cohabitation in Venezia Giulia, Fiume and Dalmatia has nothing to do with the economic problem of Trieste and Fiume as ports. Trieste and Fiume serve a Middle European hinterland. Even if there were no local national Italo-Slav problems, the international economic problem of these two ports would still exist. A right or a wrong solution of the local national problems would not lead to a right or a wrong solution of the international economic problem, and vice versa. It is absurd to say that Trieste and Fiume have to be politically annexed to their hinterland. First of all, that hinterland is not only Jugoslav but also Hungarian, German, Czech and Polish. Moreover, there is no greater reason for a port to be politically annexed to its hinterland than for its hinterland to be politically annexed to the port. Switzerland is the hinterland of Genoa. Has Genoa to be annexed to Switzerland? Has Switzerland to be annexed to Genoa? If there are national or other reasons for politically annexing the port to the hinterland, all right. But let us not mix up economic necessities with national rights.

The economic problems of the ports of Trieste and Fiume are problems not only of local facilities but above all of customs tariffs and railway rates in Central Europe. They would not be solved through handing over Trieste and Fiume either to Italy or to Jugoslavia. The key to these problems has to be found also in the arrangements made for the ports of Constanza, Saloniki, Venice, Genoa, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Danzig -- for all of which Central Europe is a hinterland. If they refuse to coöperate and endeavor to kill each other off by cutthroat competition, no solution of the local national problem will prevent the two ports and cities from going to rack and ruin. They can be brought to coöperate only by an international administration.

Besides the problem of the Italo-Jugoslav frontier, that of the Italo-German frontier will have to be confronted (see accompanying map). South Tyrol -- that is, the territory between the Brenner and the Salorno gap -- was allotted to Italy by the Pact of London of 1915, and in 1919 President Wilson endorsed that single point of the Treaty of London. The American experts were dismayed by the decision, but they could do nothing about it. This territory was inhabited by a population that was almost completely German in language and national sentiment. The two ranges of mountains that go from the Stelvio Pass and the Dobbiaco Pass toward the Salorno gap would have been an almost perfect line of division between Germans and Italians. Professional soldiers and others who worry about what the proper strategical frontier would be have not yet realized that the airplane and the robot bomb have obliterated all "strategical frontiers." There no longer are strategic frontiers. There are geographical positions, economic resources and alliances.

The national feelings of the populations are also realities. Those feelings should not be deeply wounded if mankind is to prepare for peace and not for fresh carnage. If things today were what they were in 1939, there would be no doubt in my mind that South Tyrol should be severed from Italy. But in 1939 Hitler and Mussolini agreed that those Germans who did not wish to become Italians should move to Germany. In all, 179,083 German-speaking inhabitants chose to leave their homes rather than live under Italian rule, and 89,000 remained. The Italian Government paid for the property and possessions of the emigrants, who were to be compensated by the German Government with bonds.

Under such conditions I have to confess that I am doubtful what would be a fair solution of this problem. The Hitler-Mussolini deal of 1939 inflicted great sufferings upon those thousands of men, women, children and old people who were uprooted from the land on which they had been born and where their ancestors had lived from immemorial times. But can they be brought back to their homes? On the other hand, would not the 89,000 Germans who remained in South Tyrol be as restive and stubborn under a free Italian régime as they were under the Fascist régime? Was their choice of Italian citizenship the result of sincere feelings or was it wrapped up in mental reservation? Italians have stepped into the places of the evacuees. Must they be ousted in favor of people who made the great mistake of showing their confidence in Hitler and who left for Germany? Perhaps the only way of solving this riddle wisely will be to entrust some commission of honest men with the task of finding out on the spot what situation prevails at the present time and of devising some method of mending the evil already done without adding fresh sufferings to the old ones.

[i] C. Maranelli and G. Salvemini, "La Questione dell'Adriatico." Rome: La Voce, 1920.

[ii] The present writer and Professor George LaPiana outlined a solution of this problem in their book, "What To Do with Italy" (New York: Duell, 1943).

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  • GAETANO SALVEMINI, formerly Professor of Modern History at the University of Florence, now Lecturer in History of Italian Civilization at Harvard; author of many books on Italy
  • More By Gaetano Salvemini