Italy and the Jugoslav Idea

Past and Present

Courtesy Reuters

ONE of the earliest prophets of political independence for the South Slavs was Mazzini. Immediately after the Italian wars against Austria in 1848-49 a bitter feeling naturally existed among the Italian masses against the Croats; for along with the Germans these had been the best Hapsburg soldiers on the battlefields of Lombardy. Mazzini was able to rise above this feeling, and with rare generosity and breadth of vision wrote as follows: "The movement of the South Slavs is, after that of the Italians, the most important in the Europe of the future." While not minimizing the obstacles in the path of Jugoslav unity, he nevertheless firmly believed that in time they would be overcome. "And," he continued, "if Italy were now to rise on behalf of all the peoples which are seeking freedom, and if, after each victory, she were to grant treaties of peace and liberty even to those who, though our enemies on this side of the Alps,[i] might, beyond those mountains, become our brothers . . . then all difficulties would disappear and the end of the Austrian Empire would be the reward of battle."[ii] In 1871, a year before his death, he predicted: "The Turkish Empire and the Austrian Empire are irrevocably condemned to perish. Italy must wish to hasten their death. And the sword that will kill them is in the hands of the Slavs."[iii]

Less well known than these passages from Mazzini are Cavour's clairvoyant words about the Slav movement and the Croat revolt against the Magyars, uttered October 20, 1848, in the Parliament at Turin. No other man in European public life saw realities so clearly as the young Piedmontese deputy. "Within the Empire there dwells the Slavic race," he said, "numerous, enterprising, audacious, but sorely proven for several centuries. It extends from the Danube to the mountains of Bohemia. It wishes to obtain its complete emancipation, reconquer its nationality. This cause is just and noble; it is supported by legions still rude but brave and energetic; it therefore in

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