The term Istrian-Dalmatian exodus refers to the post-World War II departure of ethnic Italians from the Yugoslav territory of Istria, as well as the cities of Zadar and Rijeka. Istria, Rijeka, and Zadar were ethnically mixed, with Croatian, Italian, and Slovene communities. Istria, Rijeka, and parts of Dalmatia including Zadar, had been annexed to Italy after World War I. At the end of World War II the former Italian territories in Istria and Dalmatia became part of Yugoslavia by the Treaty of peace with Italy, the only exception being the Province of Trieste. The former territories which became part of Yugoslavia are part of the present-day Republic of Croatia and Republic of Slovenia.
According to various sources, the exodus is estimated to have amounted to between some 230,000 and 350,000 people (including several thousand anti-communist Croats and Slovenes) leaving the areas in the aftermath of the conflict. The exodus started in 1943 and ended completely only in 1960.
The formal responsibility of the Yugoslav authorities for the exodus is still argued over by historians, but in many cases the pressure put on the ethnic Italians (killings and summary executions during the first years of the exodus, replaced after 1947 by less violent forms of intimidation such as nationalization, expropriation and discriminatory taxation) gave them little option other than emigration.
According to the 1910 Austrian census results (Istria included here parts of the Karst and Liburnia which are not really part of Istria), out of 404,309 inhabitants in Istria, 168,116 (41.6%) spoke Croatian, 147,416 (36.5%) spoke Italian, 55,365 (13.7%) spoke Slovene, 13,279 (3.3%) spoke German, 882 (0.2%) spoke Romanian, 2,116 (0.5%) spoke other languages and 17,135 (4.2%) were non-citizens, which had not been asked for their language of communication. So, in the peninsula of Istria before World War I the Italians accounted for about a third (36.5%) of the local inhabitants.
Those Italians who were not part of the indigenous Venetian-speaking Istrians arrived between 1918–1943, when Primorska and Istria, Rijeka, part of Dalmatia, and the islands of Cres, Lastovo, and Palagruža (and, from 1941-43, Krk) were part of Italy. The Kingdom of Italy's 1936 census indicated approximately 230,000 people who listed Italian as their language of communication in what is now the territory of Slovenia and Croatia, then part of the Italian state (ca. 194,000 in today's Croatia and ca. 36,000 in today’s Slovenia).
From the end of World War II until 1953, according to various data, between 250,000 and 350,000 people emigrated from these regions. According to some estimates, one-third were Slovenes and Croats who opposed the Communist government in Yugoslavia, while two-thirds were ethnic Italians, emigrants who were living permanently in this region on 10 June 1940 and who expressed their wish to obtain Italian citizenship and emigrate to Italy, and were called optanti (opting ones) in Yugoslavia and esuli (exiles) in Italy. The emigration of Italians reduced the total population of the region and altered its historical ethnic structure.
In 1953, there were 36,000 declared Italians in Yugoslavia, just 16% of the Italian population before World War II. In 2002, according to official Slovenian and Croatian censa, only 23,398 declared Italian ethnicity. The number of speakers of Italian is larger if taking into account non-Italians who speak it as a second language. In addition, since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, a significant portion of the population of Istria opted for a regional declaration in the census instead of a national one. As such, more people have Italian as a first language than those having declared Italian. Interestingly, the number of people resident in Croatia declaring themselves Italian almost doubled between 1981 and 1991 censa (i.e. before and after the dissolution of Yugoslavia).
During the war for Croatia there were no military battles in Istria. Therefore, the Croat Government settled in Istria the ethnic Croatian refugees from the regions that were under control of the Republic of Srpska Krajina, Herzegovina and central Bosnia. Many of these refugees settled permanently in Istria. The settlements were politically motivated, to “strengthen the Croatian stock” in Istria, because during the decade 1981-1991 the number of Italians in Istria statistically had increased more than 80% as a result of the new political conditions in Croatia.
Evidence of Italic people living alongside those from other ethnic groups on the eastern side of the Adriatic as far north as the Alps goes back at least to the Bronze Age, and the populations have been mixed ever since. A 2001 population census counted 23 languages spoken by the people of Istria.
From the Middle Ages onwards numbers of Slavic people near and on the Adriatic coast were ever increasing, due to their expanding population and due to pressure from the Turks pushing them from the south and east. This led to Italic people becoming ever more confined to urban areas, while the countryside was populated by Slavs, with certain isolated exceptions.
In 1915, Italy abrogated its alliance and declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, leading to bloody conflict mainly on the Isonzo and Piave fronts. Britain, France and Russia had been "keen to bring neutral Italy into World War I on their side. However, Italy drove a hard bargain, demanding extensive territorial concessions once the war had been won". In a deal to bring Italy into the war, under the London Pact, Italy would be allowed to annex not only Italian-speaking Trentino and Trieste, but also German-speaking South Tyrol, Istria (which included large non-Italian communities), and the northern part of Dalmatia including the areas of Zadar (Zara) and Šibenik (Sebenico). Mainly Italian Fiume (present-day Rijeka) was excluded.
After the war, the Treaty of Rapallo between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and the Kingdom of Italy (12 November 1920), Italy annexed Zadar in Dalmatia and some minor islands, almost all of Istria along with Trieste, excluding the island of Krk, and part of Kastav commune, which mostly went to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. By the Treaty of Rome (27 January 1924), the Free State of Fiume (Rijeka) was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia.
Between 31 December 1910, and 1 December 1921, Istria lost 15.1% of its population. The last survey under the Austrian empire recorded 404,309 inhabitants, which dropped to 343,401 by the first Italian census after the war. While the decrease was certainly related to World War I and the changes in political administration, emigration also was a major factor. In the immediate post World War I period, Istria saw an intense migration outflow. Pula, for example, was badly affected by the drastic dismantling of its massive Austrian military and bureaucratic apparatus of more than 20,000 soldiers and security forces, as well as the dismissal of the employees from its naval shipyard. A serious economic crisis in the rest of Italy forced thousands of Croat peasants to move to Yugoslavia, which became the main destination of the Istrian exodus.
Due to a lack of reliable statistics, the true magnitude of Istrian emigration during that period cannot be assessed accurately. Estimates provided by varying sources with different research methods show that about 30,000 Istrians migrated between 1918 and 1921.
After World War I, under the Treaty of Rapallo between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and the Kingdom of Italy (12 November 1920), Italy obtained almost all of Istria with Trieste, the exception being the island of Krk and part of Kastav commune, which went to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. By the Treaty of Rome (27 January 1924) Italy took Rijeka as well, which had been planned to become an independent state.
In these areas, there was a forced policy of Italianization of the population in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, there were acts of fascist violence not hampered by the authorities, such as the torching of the Narodni dom (National House) in Pula and Trieste carried out at night by Fascists with the connivance of the police (July 13, 1920). The situation deteriorated further after the annexation of the Julian March, especially after Benito Mussolini came to power (1922).
In Istria the use of Croatian and Slovene languages in the administration and in the courts had already been restricted during the occupation (1918–1920). In March 1923 the prefect of the Julian March prohibited the use of Croatian and Slovene in the administration, whilst their use in law courts was forbidden by Royal decree on 15 October 1925.
The activities of Croatian and Slovenian societies and associations (Sokol, reading rooms, etc.) had already been forbidden during the occupation, but specifically so later with the Law on Associations (1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public Order (1926). All Slovenian and Croatian societies and sporting and cultural associations had to cease every activity in line with a decision of provincial fascist secretaries dated 12 June 1927. On a specific order from the prefect of Trieste on 19 November 1928 the Edinost political society was also dissolved. Croatian and Slovenian co-operatives in Istria, which at first were absorbed by the Pula or Trieste Savings Banks, were gradually liquidated.
Following the Wehrmacht invasion of Yugoslavia (6 April 1941), the Italian zone of occupation was further expanded. Italy annexed large areas of Croatia (including most of coastal Dalmatia) and Slovenia (including its capital Ljubljana).
Helped by the Ustaše, a Croatian fascist movement animated by Catholicism and ultranationalism, the Italian occupation continued its repression of Partisan activities and the killing and imprisonment of thousands of Yugoslav civilians in concentration camps (such as the Rab concentration camp) in the newly annexed provinces. This increased the anti-Italian sentiments of the Slovenian and Croatian subjects of Fascist Italy.
During the Italian occupation until its capitulation in September 1943, the population was subjected to atrocities described by Italian historian Claudio Pavone as “aggressive and violent. Not so much an eye for an eye as a head for an eye”; atrocities were often carried out with the help of the Ustaše.
After World War II, there were large-scale movements of people choosing Italy rather than continuing to live in communist Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, the people who left were called optanti, which translates as 'choosers'; they call themselves esuli or exiles. Their motives included fear of reprisals, as well as economic and ethnic persecution.
When the Fascist regime collapsed in 1943 reprisals against Italian fascists took place. Several hundred Italians were killed by Josip Broz Tito's resistance movement in September 1943; some had been connected to the fascist regime, while others were victims of personal hatred or the attempt of the Partisan resistance to get rid of its real or supposed enemies.
Between 1943 and 1947, the exodus was bolstered by a wave of violence taking place in Istria, known as the "Foibe massacres". Some Italian sources claim these killings amounted to ethnic cleansing, forcing Italians to emigrate.
The mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission, established in 1995 by the two governments to investigate these matters, described the circumstances of the 1945 killings:
14. These events were triggered by the atmosphere of settling accounts with the fascists; but, as it seems, they mostly proceeded from a preliminary plan which included several tendencies: endeavors to remove persons and structures who were in one way or another (regardless of their personal responsibility) linked with Fascism, with the Nazi supremacy, with collaboration and with the Italian state, and endeavors to carry out preventive cleansing of real, potential or only alleged opponents of the communist regime, and the annexation of Julian March to the new SFR Yugoslavia. The initial impulse was instigated by the revolutionary movement, which was changed into a political regime and transformed the charge of national and ideological intolerance between the partisans into violence at the national level.
The number of victims is not certain. The Italian historian Raoul Pupo suggests 4,500 were killed (including the events of 1943), mostly Italians, but bodies wearing Partisan uniforms were found as well, so the number is subject to many interpretations. Other sources suggest numbers reaching up to 20,000 killed or missing, with the most likely number approaching 10,000.
Economic insecurity, ethnic hatred and the international political context that eventually led to the Iron Curtain resulted in up to 350,000 people, mostly Italians, choosing to leave Istria (and even Dalmatia and northern "Venezia Giulia").
Furthermore, the nearly complete disappearance of the Dalmatian Italians (there were 45,000 or nearly 20% of the total Dalmatian population in 1848, while now there are only 300) has been related to democide and ethnic cleansing by scholars like R. J. Rummel.
The exiles were to be given compensation for their loss of property and other indemnity by the Italian state under the terms of the peace treaties, but in the end did not receive anything. The exiles having fled intolerable conditions in their homeland on the promise of aid in the Italian homeland, were herded together in former concentration camps and prisons. Exiles also encountered hostility from those Italians who viewed them as taking away scarce food and jobs. Following the exodus, the areas were settled with Yugoslav people.
In a 1991 interview with the Italian magazine Panorama, prominent Yugoslav political dissident Milovan Đilas claimed to have been dispatched to Istria alongside Edvard Kardelj in 1946, to organize anti-Italian propaganda. He stated it was seen as "necessary to employ all kinds of pressure to persuade Italians to leave", due to their constituting a majority in urban areas. Although he was to be stripped of his offices in 1954, in 1946 Đilas was a high-ranking Yugoslav politician: a member of the Yugoslav Communist Party's Central Committee, in charge of its department of propaganda.
During the years 1946 and 1947 there was also a counter-exodus. In a gesture of comradeship hundreds of Italians Communists workers from the city of Monfalcone and Trieste, moved to Yugoslavia and more precisely to the shipyards of Rijeka taking the place of the departed Italians. They viewed the new Yugoslavia of Tito as the only place where the building of socialism was possible. They were soon bitterly disappointed. They were accused of deviationism by the Yugoslav Regime and some were deported to concentration camps.
The Italian bishop of the Catholic diocese of Poreč and Pula Raffaele Radossi was replaced by Slovene Mihovil Toroš on 2 July 1947. In September 1946 while Bishop Radossi was in Žbandaj officiating a confirmation local activists surrounded him in a Partisan kolo dance.
Bishop Radossi subsequently moved from the bishop's residence in Poreč to Pula, which was under a joint United Kingdom-United States Allied Administration at the time. He officiated his last confirmation in October 1946 in Filipana where he narrowly avoided an attack by a group of thugs. The Bishop of Rijeka, Ugo Camozzo, also left for Italy on 3 August 1947.
The exodus took place between 1943 and 1960, with the main movements of population having place in the following years:
The first period took place after the surrender of the Italian army and the beginning of the first wave of anti-fascist violence. The Wehrmacht was engaged in a front-wide retreat from the Yugoslav Partisans, along with the local collaborationist forces (the Ustaše, the Domobranci, the Chetniks, and units of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic). The first city to see a massive departure of ethnic Italians was Zadar. Between November 1943 and Zadar was bombed by the Allies, with serious civilian casualties (fatalities recorded range from under 1,000 to as many ad 4,000 of over 20,000 city's inhabitants). Many died in carpet bombings. Many landmarks and centuries old works of art were destroyed. A significant number of civilians fled the city.
In late October 1944 the German army and most of the Italian civilian administration abandoned the city. On 31 October 1944, the Partisans seized the city, until then a part of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic. At the start of World War II, Zadar had a population of 24,000 and, by the end of 1944, this had decreased to 6,000. Formally, the city remained under Italian sovereignty until 15 September 1947 but by that date the exodus from the city had been already almost total (Paris Peace Treaties).
On 2–3 May 1945, Rijeka was occupied by vanguards of the Yugoslav Army. Here more than 500 collaborators, Italian military and public servants were summarily executed; the leaders of the local Autonomist Party, including Mario Blasich and Nevio Skull, were also murdered. By January 1946, more than 20,000 people had left the province.
After 1945, the departure of the ethnic Italians was bolstered by events of less violent nature. According to the American historian Pamela Ballinger:
After 1945 physical threats generally gave way to subtler forms of intimidation such as the nationalization and confiscation of properties, the interruption of transport services (by both land and sea) to the city of Trieste, the heavy taxation of salaries of those who worked in Zone A and lived in Zone B, the persecution of clergy and teachers, and economic hardship caused by the creation of a special border currency, the Jugolira.
The third part of the exodus took place after the Paris peace treaty, when Istria was assigned to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, except for a small area in the northwest part that formed the independent Free Territory of Trieste. The coastal city of Pula was the site of the large-scale exodus of its Italian population. Between December 1946 and September 1947, Pula almost completely emptied as its residents left all their possessions and "opted" for Italian citizenship. 28,000 of the city's population of 32,000 left.
The fourth period took place after the Memorandum of Understanding in London. It gave provisional civil administration of Zone A (with Trieste), to Italy, and Zone B to Yugoslavia. Finally, in 1975 the Treaty of Osimo divided the former Free Territory of Trieste.
Several estimates of the exodus by historians:
The mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission verified 27,000 Italian and 3,000 Slovene migrants from Slovenian territory. After decades of silence from the Yugoslav authorities (the history of the Istrian Exodus remained a tabooed topic in Yugoslav public discourse), Tito himself would declare in 1972 during a speech in Montenegro that three hundred thousands Istrians had left the peninsula after the war.
Those whose families left Istria or Dalmatia in the post-World War II period include:
On 18 February 1983 Yugoslavia and Italy signed a treaty in Rome where Yugoslavia agreed to pay US$110 million for the compensation of the exiles' property which was confiscated after the war in the Zone B of Free Territory of Trieste.
However, the issue of the property reparation is of big complexity and is still of actuality as by 2014 the exiles have not been compensated yet. Indeed, there is very little probability that exiles out of the Zone B of the Free Territory of Trieste will ever be compensated. The matter of property compensation is included in the program of the Istrian Democratic Assembly, the regional party currently administrating the Istria County.
In connection with exodus and during the period of communist Yugoslavia (1945–1991), the equality of ethno-nations and national minorities and how to handle inter-ethnic relations was one of the key questions of Yugoslav internal politics. In November 1943, the federation of Yugoslavia was proclaimed by the second assembly of the Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ). The fourth paragraph of the proclamation stated that "Ethnic minorities in Yugoslavia shall be granted all national rights". These principles were codified in the 1946 and 1963 constitutions and reaffirmed again, in great detail, by the last federal constitution of 1974.
It declared that the nations and nationalities should have equal rights (Article 245). It further stated that “… each nationality has the sovereign right freely to use its own language and script, to foster its own culture, to set up organizations for this purpose, and to enjoy other constitutionally guaranteed rights…” (Article 274)
There is not yet complete agreement amongst historians about the causes and the events triggering the Istrian exodus.
According to the historian Pertti Ahonen:
Motivations behind the emigration are complex. Fear caused by the initial post-war violence (summary killings, confiscations, pressure from the governmental authorities) was a factor. On the Yugoslav side, it does not appear that an official decision for expulsion of Italians in Yugoslavia was ever taken. The actions of the Yugoslav authorities were contradictory: on the one hand, there were efforts to stem the flow of emigrants, such as placement of bureaucratic hurdles for emigration and suppression of its local proponents. On the other hand, Italians were pressured to leave quickly and en masse.
If does not appear that Yugoslavia ever meant to exterminate its Italian population but also clearly wanted to avoid any subsequent claim from defeated Italy over its new acquisitions. The impact of the killings and lynching of Italian Italian Social Republic (RSI) fascists and supposed nationalists in 1945 (especially in the context of the huge casualties of World War II Yugoslav front), has been questioned.
Slovenian historian Darko Darovec writes:
It is clear, however, that at the peace conferences the new State borders were not being drawn using ideological criteria, but on the basis of national considerations. The ideological criteria were then used to convince the national minorities to line up with one or the other side. To this end socio-political organisations with high-sounding names were created, The most important of them being SIAU, the Slavic-Italian Anti-Fascist Union, which by the necessities of the political struggle mobilised the masses in the name of 'democracy'. Anyone who thought differently, or was nationally 'inconsistent', would be subjected to the so-called 'commissions of purification'. The first great success of such a policy in the national field was the massive exodus from Pula, following the coming into effect of the peace treaty with Italy (15 September 1947). Great ideological pressure was exerted also at the time of the clash with the Kominform which caused the emigration of numerous sympathisers of the CP, Italians and others, from Istra and from Zone B of the FTT (Free Territory of Trieste)
For the mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission:
Since the first post-war days, some local activists, who wreaked their anger over the acts of the Istrian Fascists upon the Italian population, had made their intention clear to rid themselves of the Italians who revolted against the new authorities. However, expert findings to-date do not confirm the testimonies of some - although influential - Yugoslav personalities about the intentional expulsion of Italians. Such a plan can be deduced - on the basis of the conduct of the Yugoslav leadership - only after the break with the Informbiro in 1948, when the great majority of the Italian Communists in Zone B - despite the initial cooperation with the Yugoslav authorities, against which more and more reservations were expressed - declared themselves against Tito's Party. Therefore, the people's government abandoned the political orientation towards the "brotherhood of the Slavs and Italians", which within the framework of the Yugoslav socialist state allowed for the existence of the politically and socially purified Italian population that would respect the ideological orientation and the national policy of the regime. The Yugoslav side perceived the departure of Italians from their native land with growing satisfaction, and in its relation to the Italian national community the wavering in the negotiations on the fate of the FTT was more and more clearly reflected. Violence, which flared up again after the 1950 elections and the 1953 Trieste crisis, and the forceful expulsion of unwanted persons were accompanied by measures to close the borders between the two zones. The national composition of Zone B was also altered by the immigration of Yugoslavs to the previously more or less exclusively Italian cities.
While most of the population in the towns, especially those on or near the coast, was Italian, Istria's interior was overwhelmingly Slavic – mostly Croatian, but with a sizeable Slovenian area as well.
Mi hanno cacciato dal mio paese quando avevo tredici anni. Si chiamava Isola d'Istria, Oggi è una cittadina della Slovenia (I was expelled from my country when I was thirteen. It was called Isola d'Istria, today is a town in Slovenia)